Careless Words (Matthew 12:36)

A few days ago a dear friend who I respect a lot picked a very ill-timed moment to tease me and left me on the verge of tears.  Before you write me off as overly emotional, let me tell you that I am not, but the timing of the comments were such that I have no doubt the enemy saw an opportunity to kick me when I was down. This moment brought to mind something I have been pondering for years (literally), but as yet hadn’t blogged on… joking, sarcasm and careless words.

To begin lets take a look at Matthew 12:36-37 (ESV)

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

I think in general we think joking/teasing/sarcasm are acceptable simply because we don’t view them as a big deal; however, it is clear from this verse that the Father DOES.  They are significant enough that we will be judged for the words we speak and His judgment is righteous (see The Judgment of YHVH).

This also brings to mind the post I wrote on Permissible vs. Beneficial (if you haven’t read it it is a good one to ponder) because at best our teasing is permissible… at worst it may even be sin.  Lets look at a few more scriptures.

Proverbs 12:18 (CJB)

Idle talk can pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise can heal.

The piercing like a sword is exactly what I had experienced, even though I knew he would never intentionally hurt me that didn’t mean that his words didn’t; they were spoken thoughtlessly, which makes sense because the Hebrew word that has been translated here as “idle talk” is bata (H981) is also defined as speaking thoughtlessly (i.e. without thought).   I think this often describes our careless words, they sort of pop out or are not thought through completely, which reminds me of James 1:26 where we’re told that if you don’t bridle your tongue, your religion is worthless.

Here’s a few more verses that feel related:

  • Matthew 5:22 (CJB) – But I tell you that anyone who nurses anger against his brother will be subject to judgment; that whoever calls his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing!’ will be brought before the Sanhedrin; that whoever says, ‘Fool!’ incurs the penalty of burning in the fire of Gei-Hinnom!
  • Proverbs 26:18-19 (ESV) – Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!”
  • Ephesians 4:25 (ESV) – Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
  • Ephesians 4:29 (ESV) – Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

In the last verse the Greek word for “corrupting” is sapros (G4550), which is also defined as worthless. So it again holds to the same theme.  Basically, what we see so far is scripturally it is NOT ok to lie to someone even in jest, nor to call them derogatory or insulting names in jest. We are to speak with intention and forethought for the purpose of bringing life.

Let’s venture specifically into sarcasm since it is so widely used in our culture.  This is one I’ve long been troubled by having found myself left stinging on a number of occasions after someone had made a sarcastic “joke”. I have found that in reality sarcasm is often used as a passive aggressive way of making a point. Somehow it feels easier to the joker to poke at it rather than directly address it (often because directly addressing it would make them vulnerable).

In my opinion, the verse that best embodies why sarcasm is an issue is Psalm 1:1 (AMP)

Blessed (happy, fortunate, prosperous, and enviable) is the man who walks and lives not in the counsel of the ungodly [following their advice, their plans and purposes], nor stands [submissive and inactive] in the path where sinners walk, nor sits down [to relax and rest] where the scornful [and the mockers] gather.

Sarcasm is kin to mocking and scorn (to support this statement, a portion of Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged definition of mock is “ridicule, to make a sham of”), so this scripture is saying we are blessed when we do NOT sit down/rest (in essence make our place with) the scorners/mockers.

A good friend posted a status on this earlier this month that hit home for me:

I had a couple of friends last week who were hurt and/or confused by peoples’ sarcasm. It really made me more aware of the concept of “speaking life” to people…the fact is, your sarcasm probably isn’t funny to anybody but you, and you’ll feel better about yourself and make others feel better, too, if you skip it and just speak life & truth. And YES, that’s directed mostly at myself 🙂

What a great point – speak life instead!  The truth is if you are avoiding directly addressing an issue by coming at it with a sarcastic comments, you are robbing both yourself and the other person of a character building moment, and in truth most likely creating more of a mess in the meanwhile!  Remember that we are to be known by our love (John 13:35) – so what is the loving thing to do?  To speak plainly and in love to someone even if it is a correction? Or to simply make a sarcastic dig back at them?

In the end am I saying ALL joking is bad? No, not necessarily. We see Elijah use it with intention in 1 Kings 18:27, but the key here is with intention. I challenge you to consider the following before you speak:

  • What is the spirit behind what I am about to say?
  • Is what I am saying loving?
  • Am I speaking something that brings life?
  • Am I avoiding dealing with an issue by what I am about to say?
  • Would I want someone to speak to me in the way I am about to speak?
  • Is this an appropriate moment for a jest?
  • Is what I am about to say truth?
  • Are these words careless?
  • Are these words beneficial?
  • Whose kingdom am I furthering with my words?

Father, help us to bridle our tongues and to speak with intention in love to bring life!  Help our speech be edifying and honoring to You.  Be glorified through our words and in our lives!

10 thoughts on “Careless Words (Matthew 12:36)

  1. Good words…at times I wish I were ‘funnier’ but I have trouble doing that sometimes without being sarcastic. It’s much easier for me to just be kind! 🙂

  2. That’s a great reminder! The Greek word from which we get “sarcasm” means to rip or tear the flesh like a dog. I always think about that when tempted to give such remarks.

  3. wow, good word Meghan,. to be very transparent, the opening scripture is one that scares the stuffing out of me. my mom was the queen of sarcasm and in our household sarcasm was considered “intelligent” joking or word sparring……. I will have a lot to give account for, thankfully, I can plead “The Blood” and be as careful as I can now, but sometimes it does slip out……

  4. Thanks for telling people this. I have been saying it for years and mostly just get laughed as for being paranoid. As it says in Proverbs 18:21a “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” We have been taught wrongly for years. Even sayings that we think are harmless can be curses. Think about it. “I Love you to death”. Regardless of the fact you used the word Love we are pronouncing death. We have much unlearning to learn. (Excuse the pun.) I could go on. I was laughing so hard I almost died ectera. I was really good about my mouth for a long while, but I have noticed lately when I am among worldly people I have been slipping a lot on FB and in real life. And over the last few days Holy Spirit has been dealing with me on it. And have started to improve again. Thanks for this reminder

  5. could not resist copying and pasting this. This is a Pastor who preaches much about grace and truth out of Singapore

    Joseph Prince
    “Oh dear, my memory is not as good as it used to be. I must be getting old.” Have you heard that before? Maybe you have even said it yourself a couple of times! But who says that as you grow older, you are supposed to forget things?

    Dear friends, the Word of God says that you have the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ is not old, slow or forgetful! I don’t care how old you get. You don’t have to become forgetful. Don’t believe and confess what medical science or your friends say. Believe and confess the Word of God which brings life.

    “… we have the mind of Christ” -1 Corinthians 2:16

  6. Meghan, thank you. This is a very serious subject that many think doesn’t matter. The enemy wants you to think that your words don’t really add up to much and that your words can be thrown around loosely. This is a wonderful reminder that Abba does care how we speak and that we should absolutely be mindful as well. I know that I am guilty of being neglectful of how I speak on many, many occasions. I may not mean harm, but I have carelessly spoken. Rhonda brought up another good and valid point, too. The sayings that we have heard over and over are not speaking life over or into anything and can be harmful rather than funny or witty.
    I just want to thank you again for reminding us that our words matter very much—ALL of them.

  7. Pingback: Meghan W » Blog Archive » Who Will You Worship

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