Idle Words

In a say-what’s-on-your-mind culture, words get flung around, overlooked and trampled like a penny on the ground. Does this mean that our words are becoming obsolete like the penny?

Some people seem to talk just to hear the sound of their own voices. Some talk to draw attention to themselves, good or bad. Others talk in an attempt to prove intelligence, and still others talk as if searching for their own value.

For certain, the more words spoken, the less words heard. At least, the more I talk, the less my kids listen and the more they seem to grow distant. The value of words seems to decrease the more words spoken.

If the value of words is declining, why bother?

Why bother thinking about if Words Matter, if Tone Matters, or if Timing Matters? What’s the point of considering why you should Check Your SourceHere’s why:

Idle 1

That’s right, EVERY word. Not some. ALL OF THEM. Every lazy, thoughtless, pointless word. Every emotionally-wrought word. Every utterance coming out of our mouths. That’s why we bother with considering our words carefully.

Jesus also adds this statement about the impact personally of our words.

Idle words 1

Perhaps Jesus’ words here are why James says,

Idle 3

Not only do the words we speak as well as how and when we speak them either strengthen or damage relationships, they also determine the status of our lives after we die. Yes, Jesus is ultimately referring to our words about Him, but doesn’t every aspect of ourselves reflect on our relationship with Him? Our words tell of the state of our inner lives, our hearts, and it is this condition with which God is most concerned.

A blog friend and regular commenter on this site expresses the idea this way:

Idle words 2

Knowing that my words convict or justify me, that they define my character, and that I will be held accountable for every single one of them, motivates me to constantly use caution with my words as well as to continually improve their value. But then I read James 3 and feel defeated, just one verse of it actually.

Idle 4

Does this mean my efforts to guard my words are useless? Am I in a battle I cannot win? As long as I seek to fight it under my own power, yes it does and yes I am. Fortunately, God is in the business of making the impossible happen (Matthew 19:26).

In fact, His Word says a tremendous amount about tongue taming, which indicates its importance, and much of that instruction revolves around a few key points to help us obtain that goal. We’ll look at those instructions next time when we close out our detailed look at words.

DISCUSSION: How do you feel about the impossibility of ever taming your tongue?

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21 Replies to “Idle Words”

  1. Because I am an extrovert this is a real issue ALL THE TIME. Even when I tell myself, "Bill, take your time. Think through your words," they tend to come out before I can finish the sentence. just the other day I hurt Jo by my tone. It is maddening. maybe I ought to wear a muzzle? Nah, I'd still find a way to say something to hurt someone. It is a never-ending battle, but one I will continue to fight to win.
    My recent post More

    1. Bill, this happens even to us introverts. I say things before I think them through. I do this way too often with my kids, especially. Sure, it's a constant struggle, but I believe we can have victory within that struggle. You have the first step in that victory right… keep fighting!

  2. It's important to note the context where Jesus is speaking about being judged by our words. He specifically is addressing how we respond to God's work through His Holy Spirit. Prior to the judging empty words statement, Jesus speaks about forgiveness for talking bad about "the Son of Man." And he notes that forgiveness is God's primary response to our slander and our sin. I believe what we say, how we say it, and when we say it is has the power to bless and curse. That's important. But like everything else in our walk, we rely both on the grace of God and the power of His Holy Spirit to speak and act more like the Lord Jesus whom we love.

    1. You're right, Tom, remembering the context is very important. I hope I did not seem to be brushing over that or misrepresenting it. Thank you for clarifying. Our words definitely have the power to bless and to curse, and we absolutely need the grace of God and the power of His Holy Spirit to be more like Jesus. In all of that, we must also constantly realize that what we say and how we say it reflects on Jesus, and it is that sentiment that I was attempting to illustrate. I really appreciate you expanding on this!

      1. I think Jesus underscores how hopeless our situation is to please God in our own efforts. If vain and empty words sink a person, we're all sunk. Jesus expands our understanding of our need for God to be merciful and gracious toward us. It's not simply the act of adultery, it's the very thought of it. It's not only murder, it's harsh, critical words. Sin's reach goes far and deep. Pluck out an eye, chop off an offending hand. Or … place it all at the foot of the cross. And I think, on a day when ice on the roads has kept me home, your post has been a catalyst for me to think deeper about this faith thing in my life. Thank you for your faithfulness in posting and making room for thought and conversation at Struggle to Victory.

        1. I really appreciate your encouragement, Tom. I also appreciate you getting deeper and more into details that I did get into as I wrote the post. Sin's reach certainly is far and deep, and a focus on God's grace is really where we want and need to go rather than on sin's depth. Thanks again for challenging me.

  3. Great point – the greater the value we place on what we think and share, the less likely to find our words laying around like a discarded penny. Thanks Kari for the reminder.

  4. I'm convicted by your post, Kari.
    Recently my words have shown that my heart is fragile and not resting in God as it should.
    I wrote a post to go out tomorrow over how Christ was tempted as we are…yet without sin.
    He was tempted to use His words in an unkind manner.

    I can't wait to hear your wisdom on my post tomorrow.

    thank you for adding to what God has been telling me for the past few days.

    1. Isn't it amazing how much our words truly reveal our inward reality? Even if not the words themselves but the tone of the words. Convicting for me to, my friend. I look forward to reading your post tomorrow.

  5. What do you think about those words we should have said? That we left idle in our brain. The words that would not have left someone deceived. The words of encouragement, compassion, forgiveness, and love that we could not bring ourselves to say.

    I think you are right with God's help and with a lot of intention and discipline we can work to be in better control of what we say. I also think just because we may think the battle may be lost we shall not give up the fight. To fight should be determined based on the worthiness of what you are fighting for not some perceived outcome.

    1. Great point to address, Mark. I think that the less we say idle words, the more room there is for the words we should say. Saying less of what we shouldn't helps us be able to more balanced in what we do and should say. You're also right in that we simply cannot give up. Instead, we can improve our own listening & speaking skills and in or own way, win battles. As we get closer to God, we become more aware of the battles we should find as well as their worthiness. Great additions!

  6. Oh I have been struggling for years with this issue. Yes, I feel I will NEVER win, but then I remember I am not in the battle alone. With God’s help, all things are possible. That gives me hope. Thanks for the good reminder!

  7. I like how you put it, “The more words spoke, the less words heard”. Certainly we live in a world of many words. It seems to me that I have to be careful of what I allow myself to listen too because I will probably start speaking in the same way. My dad is a great example for me. He is not a man of many words but when he does speak others stop and listen because you know he’s going to have some jewels of wisdom.
    My recent post 13 Ways to Age Faster and Look Older Sooner

    1. You brought something up that really needs emphasized, the importance of what we listen to or allow to influence us. It determines so much of how we think, which determines what we say. So crucial to be aware of and to deliberately choose as much as possible.

  8. This is such a struggle. Something I always pray to do better . . . to speak words of encouragement, compassion, kindness, truth, and forgiveness. It's almost like a doctor's pledge, "First, do no harm." The internet has certainly intensified this problem with words. In fact, it's what I felt the need to talk about on CMB today. Thanks Kari, for always giving us good things to ponder.
    My recent post I’m So Sorry. I Care. I’m Praying.

    1. Funny, I was just thinking about the Hippocratic Oath the other day and its application beyond medicine. Works here too for sure. No, our culture doesn't help. We certainly need to regularly assess where we are with this and keep adjusting. So thankful for the Holy Spirit's help in this!

  9. Hello Kari,

    James 1:19 is one of my favorite verses. Though it's impossible to fully tame our tough, since we are sinful humans, we can better control it. We can learn how to not say something or chose different words. It's something that I've had to learn. Great post!

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