Harmlessly Indifferent

But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. ~ Matthew 5:37

But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. ~ Matthew 5:37

    But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. ~ Matthew 12:36

This verse haunts me. Every so often something will trigger its memory. It’s a sober verse I should not let slip, but it seems to get away so easily.

Any verse that speaks of “judgment” and “account” should be given due heed, but we just do not like to face those realities. I mean, I have bills to pay, a garage to clean, and a magazine article I started the other day that needs to be finished. I am only half-way through the ten ways to know if I perceive myself the same way my friends perceive me. Where did I put that magazine?

Just kidding about the magazine. The point is: There are endless activities and pursuits that keep us from meditating on the Word of God and otherwise fulfilling God’s Word in ways that bear Christ-glorifying fruit in the world. Taken on the surface, these things are not inherently bad or wrong. We think of them as harmlessly indifferent. But that brings us back to our text and the fact that harmlessly indifferent is an oxymoron.

Jesus’ warning states that people will give an account of “every idle word” they speak. This warning doesn’t get the traction it should because it doesn’t fit the typical categories. We associate judgment or giving account with the categories good or bad. There are good words and bad words. As long as we stay a mark above bad on the scale, we are fine. We acknowledge the existence of idle words, but we think they don’t matter. We think they are harmlessly indifferent.

According to our text, God thinks much differently about idle words. The word for idle here literally means inactive, unfruitful, barren. It is used here in the sense of ineffective or worthless. Idle words are worthless words. They are not bad words, just words that are unuseful.

Though idle words may technically be morally neutral, they do matter. Jesus said that God will require an account of every one. When they are placed in a balance, they will tip the scale to bad. I am not suggesting idle words are unforgivable sins. Christ died for our idle words as much as our other sins. The point is: Idle words are not harmless and therefore, they are not really indifferent either.

About Jeff Short