The words shot out of his mouth like a horse out of the starting gate. And the moment they hit the air, shock and horror filled his face at what he had just heard in his own voice. In a flash of anger, my little boy had looked at his brother and shouted, “You’re the worst brother ever!” He didn’t mean it. He knew it wasn’t true. But it was done—it had been said. And the heavy realization that it could never be taken back seemed to wash over him all at once.
These playroom spats happen in all homes, and we usually smile to ourselves as we remember them and brush them quickly aside. But the truth my little boy learned that day about the power of his tongue is a truth we would do well to rehearse again and again.
We communicate at ever increasing speed these days. Words are spoken, written, texted, and posted with the push of a button. And many times, they are read, repeated, commented on, and retweeted all before we even have time to take in a breath. In the midst of all this lightening speed, I fear perhaps something has been lost—namely, the discipline of pausing before we speak or write or type…of contemplating, not only the weight of our words but also their witness.
Listen with me to our Lord’s word of warning in Matthew 12:
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 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.” (vv.33-37)
“Every careless word…” Our words have weight…all of them. Our words bear witness. They bear witness as to what’s inside of us. If I am honest with myself and honest with you, I know what’s inside me. Inside my heart lies the propensity to do unspeakable evil. Inside my heart is selfishness and deception and things I would be ashamed for anyone to know. And more often than I care to admit, my words bear witness to that. And it is in those moments, when I forget the truth of Jeremiah 17:9, that my heart “is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” my words become careless and hurtful and wrong.
Perhaps what we need most before speaking, is to ponder the true condition of our hearts, and our utmost need of a Savior. The only hope I will ever have of my words being right and true and good is for my heart to be transformed into what is right and true and good. And only Jesus can do that for me. I think Dr. Jason K. Allen says it best when he says, “…to practice true loving discourse, you don’t need a more polished or polite tongue; you need a redeemed one.”