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Idle Words

Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
Preventive Medicine

"But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37)

A Serious Matter

"Idle words" - What are they? What did Jesus mean when He used the term? In the minds of many, "idle words" have to do with those "meaningless phrases and expletives that border on profanity" (Ed. 236). But is this all it means? What was Jesus really talking about in Matthew 12:36? Whatever it was, it must be serious, for "closely connected with Christ's warning in regard to the sin against the Holy Spirit is a warning against idle and evil words." (DA 323).

Definitions:

The word "idle" in the context of Matthew 12:22-37 comes from the Greek word "argos" which, according to the SDA Commentary means literally "not working," "unprofitable," "useless," and thus, as here, "pernicious." In charging Christ with casting out demons by the prince of demons (v. 24), the Pharisees made a statement they knew was not true. Notice the various shades of meaning brought out by the following translations and paraphrases:

"careless" (Goodspeed, Moffatt, Twentieth Century New Testament)
"unfounded" (The Jerusalem Bible)
"useless" (American Standard Bible)
"thoughtless" (The New English Bible)

Webster's treatment of the word adds further shades of meaning: "Vain, empty; useless; having no contents; groundless; leading to nothing; vain, as an idle story; idle theorizing (Matthew 12:36 cited); not turned to appropriate use; waste; consume; foolish; stupid; silly; uselessness, fruitlessness, triviality, folly; silliness; vanity." (Webster's International Dictionary)

Agents of Satan

Notice especially the definition as it applies to Matthew 12:36 "idle theorizing." That is precisely what the Pharisees were doing. They knew that it was through the power of God that Jesus cast out demons, but they were jealous of Him because He had more influence over the people than they did. So they tried to undermine Him by making a statement they could not prove - an idle theory- that He cast out devils through Beelzebub the prince of the devils. Those proud leaders were not aware that they themselves were agents of Satan. How tactfully the Master exposed their shallow thinking. "Every Kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges." (Matthew 12:25-27). They were actually fighting against God by allowing an evil spirit to control their tongues. This, if not corrected, was an unpardonable sin. Their words revealed who had control of their hearts, just as a tree is known by its fruit. Jesus called them a "generation of vipers." Their pernicious, irresponsible speech evoked from Him the words of our text, "That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment."

A Solemn Warning

The spirit which governed the Pharisees of old, is controlling the tongues of many today. From the pen of inspiration comes this solemn warning: "Cease to dwell upon the shortcomings of others. Keep the tongue sanctified unto God. Refrain from saying anything that might detract from the influence of another; for by indulging in these words of criticism, you blaspheme God's holy name as verily as you would were you to swear.... We need especially to guard against a tongue that is sanctified to Satan. The tongue that God has given is to be used to glorify Him in speech. Unless it is, we shall be standing directly in the way of God's work in this world, and the judgments of heaven will surely fall upon us." (5 BC 1093)

Our Only Hope

This is alarming, especially when one realizes that Satan's power to control the human tongue is still the same today as it was in olden times. In fact, his ability to deceive has greatly increased by reason of many additional years of practice and experience. "Satan will, if possible, keep the tongue active in his service. Of ourselves we cannot control the unruly member. Divine grace is our only hope." (ST 175) Let our prayer be, "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips." (Ps. 141:3) "Let us strive with all the power that God has given us to be among the one hundred and forty four thousand." (RH, March 9, 1905) "In their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God." (Rev. 14:5)

IDLE WORDS "A SECOND LOOK"

Introduction

Concerning the law of Jehovah, David declared, "I have seen a limit to all perfection; Thy commandment is exceedingly broad." (Ps. 119:96 ASB) In like manner, it can be said of this subject, "It is exceedingly broad."

"...We must give an account of what we say to God. We will be brought into judgment for our hasty words, that do no good to the speaker or to the hearer. Then let us speak words that will tend to edification. Remember that you are of value to God. Allow no cheap, foolish talk or wrong principles to compose your Christian experience." (FE 458)

"When we speak idle, unkind, or evil words, we separate ourselves from Christ." (Christ Our Saviour, p. 30)

Foolish and Frivolous

"The thought of foolishness is sin...." (Prov. 24:9) "Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks." (Eph. 5:4)

"The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness." (Prov. 15:2)

"...All frivolous words, all lightness and trifling, are enticements of the enemy to deprive you of spiritual strength. Brace yourselves against this evil, in the name of the God of Israel.... Trim your lamps, and keep them burning, that wherever you may go, you may reveal in speech and action precious rays of light." (9T 133:2)

"Not one word is to be spoken unadvisedly. No evil-speaking, no frivolous talk... will escape the lips of him who is following Christ." (COL 337:2)

Jesting and Joking

"We are forbidden by God to engage in trifling, foolish conversation, in jesting, joking, or speaking any idle words." (FE 458:1)

"Jesting, joking, and worldly conversation belong to the world. Christians who have the peace of God in their hearts, will be cheerful and happy without indulging in lightness or frivolity. While watching unto prayer, they will have a serenity and peace which will elevate them above all superfluities." (GW 129:3)

Cheap, Common Talk

"The tenor or the conversation reveals the treasure of the heart. The cheap, common talk, the words of flattery, the foolish witticism, spoken to create a laugh, are the merchandise of Satan, and all who indulge in this talk are trading in his goods." (CT 340:2)

"It is no time for lightness, vanity, or trifling. The scenes of this earth's history are soon to close." (GW 131:1, also 3T 474:1)

"Some men of good capabilities, who might fill important positions, do not know what spirit they are of. They run in a jovial mood as naturally as water flows downhill. They talk nonsense, and sport with young girls, while almost daily listening to the most soul-stirring truths. These men have a religion of the head, but their hearts are not sanctified by the truths they hear. Such can never lead others to the Fountain of living waters until they have drunk of the stream themselves." (GW 130:2)

Trifling Conversation

"Angels are watching over and guarding us; we often grieve these angels by indulging in trifling conversation, jesting, and joking, and also by sinking down into a careless state." (EW 111:2)

"Those who profess to believe the third angel's message often wound the cause of God by lightness, joking, and trifling. I was shown that this evil was all through our ranks." (1T 133:3)

Jovial Talk

"Both brethren and sisters indulge in too much jovial talk when in each other's society. Women professing godliness indulge in much jesting, joking, and laughing. This is unbecoming, and grieves the Spirit of God." (2T 455:3)

"When students sit at the table, if Christ is abiding in the soul there will come forth from the treasure-house of the heart words which are pure and uplifting; if Christ is not abiding there, a satisfaction will be found in frivolity, in jesting and joking, which is a hindrance to spiritual growth, and a cause of grief to the angels of God. The tongue is an unruly member, but it should not be so. It should be converted; for the talent of speech is a very precious talent. Christ is ever ready to impart of His riches, and we should gather the jewels that come from Him, that when we speak these jewels may drop from our lips." (6T 173:3)

Levity

"You may never know in this world the mischief you have done to some soul by your little acts of frivolity, your cheap talk, your levity, which was wholly inconsistent with your holy faith." (MYP 201:1)

"So frivolity, selfish indulgence, and careless indifference on the part of professed Christians, are turning away many souls from the path of life. Many there are who will fear to meet at the bar of God the results of their influence." (COL 341:1)

"You will, if you are indeed Christians, feel more like mourning over the moral darkness in the world than indulging in levity and pride of dress." (3T 370:2)

Positive Counsel

"We are never alone.... Nothing that is said or done or thought can escape His attention. To your every word or deed you have a witness - the holy, sin-hating God. Before you speak or act, always think of this.... Say no word, do no act, that shall bring dishonor upon 'that worthy name by the which ye are called.'

"Study carefully the divine-human character, and constantly inquire, 'What would Jesus do were He in my place?' ...

"...Indulge in no lightness or trifling. Let no low witticism escape your lips." (MH 490-491)

"Our Saviour was deeply serious and intensely in earnest, but never gloomy or morose. The life of those who imitate Him will be full of earnest purpose; they will have a deep sense of personal responsibility. Levity will be repressed; there will be no boisterous merriment, no rude jesting...." (SC 125-126)

When in the company of those who indulge in foolish talk, it is our duty to change the subject of conversation if possible. By the help of the grace of God we should quietly drop words or introduce a subject that will turn the conversation into a profitable channel." (COL 337:3)

Careless Speech Especially Censurable in Gospel Workers and Ministers

"Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour; so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor." (Eccl. 10:1)

"What can the minister do without Jesus? Verily, nothing. Then if he is a frivolous, joking man, he is not prepared to perform the duty laid upon him by the Lord. 'Without me,' says Christ, 'ye can do nothing.' The flippant words that fall from his lips, the trifling anecdotes, the words spoken to create a laugh, are all condemned by the word of God, and are entirely out of place in the sacred desk...."

"What is the object of the ministry? Is it to mix the comical with the religious? The theater is the place for such exhibitions. If Christ is formed within, if the truth with its sanctifying power is brought into the inner sanctuary of the soul, you will not have jolly men, neither will you have sour, cross, crabbed men, to teach the precious lessons of Christ to perishing souls." (TM 142-143)

"A jovial minister in the pulpit, or one who is stretching beyond his measure to win praise, is a spectacle that crucifies the Son of God afresh, and puts Him to open shame. There must be... vigilant watchfulness, unceasing prayer...." (TM 146:2)

"When a minister bearing the solemn message of warning to the world, receives the hospitable courtesies of friends and brethren, and neglects the duties of a shepherd of the flock, and is careless in his example and deportment, engaging with the young in trifling conversation, in jesting and joking, and in relating humorous anecdotes to create laughter, he is unworthy of being a gospel minister, and needs to be converted before he is entrusted with the care of the sheep and lambs...." (GW 131:3)

"Ministers should set the youth a worthy example, one corresponding to their holy calling. They should help the young to be frank, yet modest and dignified in all their associations. Day by day they are sowing seed that will spring up and bear fruit. They are to put away all coarseness, all trifling, ever remembering that they are educators; that, whether they will or not, their words and acts are to those with whom they come in contact a savor of life or of death." (GW 126:2)

Hasty, Harsh, Sharp Words

"Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few." (Eccl. 5:2)

"We must give an account of what we say to God. We will be brought into judgment for our hasty words, that do no good to the speaker or to the hearer. Then let us all speak words that will tend to edification.... Allow no cheap, foolish talk or wrong principles to compose your Christian experience." (FE 458:1)

"In giving reproof or counsel, many indulge in sharp, severe speech, words not adapted to heal the wounded soul. By these ill-advised expressions the spirit is chafed, and often the erring ones are stirred to rebellion." (COL 337:1)

"Seest thou a man that is hasty in his word? There is more hope of a fool than of him." (Prov. 29:20)

Corrupt Words

"Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearer." (Eph. 4:29).

Corrupt: (definition) "Changed from a state of uprightness, correctness, truth, etc., to a worse state; spoiled; tainted; unsound." (Webster)

"A corrupt communication does not mean only words that are vile. It means any expression contrary to holy principles and pure and undefiled religion. It includes impure hints and covert insinuations of evil. Unless instantly resisted, these lead to great sin." (COL 337:2)

"God's word condemns also the use of those meaningless phrases and expletives that border on profanity. It condemns the deceptive compliments, the evasions of truth, the exaggerations, the misrepresentations in trade, that are current in society and in the business world. 'Let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay; and whatsoever is more than these is of the evil one.' " (Education 236:1)

Sober, Righteous, Holy Words, Instead of Idle Words

"Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world. Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." (Titus 2:12-13)

"But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation." (I Peter 1:15)

"Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?" (2 Peter 3:11)

"For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ." (Phil. 3:20)

Speaking of Enoch, who is a type of those who will be translated at the coming of Christ, we read: "His mind, his heart, his conversation, were in heaven." (PP 87:2)

"We should accustom ourselves to speak in pleasant tones, to use pure and correct language, and words that are kind and courteous. Sweet, kind words are as dew and gentle showers to the soul." (COL 336:4)

"As followers of Christ we should make our words such as to be a help and an encouragement to one another in the Christian life. Far more than we do, we need to speak of the precious chapters in our experience. We should speak of the mercy and loving-kindness of God, of the matchless depths of the Saviour's love. Our words should be words of praise and thanksgiving. If the mind and heart are full of the love of God, this will be revealed in the conversation. It will not be a difficult matter to impart that which enters into our spiritual life. Great thoughts, noble aspirations, clear perceptions of truth, unselfish purposes, yearnings for piety and holiness will bear fruit in words that reveal the character of the heart-treasure. When Christ is thus revealed in our speech, it will have power in winning souls to Him." (COL 338:1)

"I saw that none could share the 'refreshing' unless they obtain the victory over every besetment, over pride, selfishness, love of the world, and over every wrong word and action." (EW 71)

"By watchfulness and prayer, he may so guard his weakest points that they will become his strongest points." (GW 126:1)

"... Every thought and word and deed of our lives will meet us again." (5T 466:2)

"Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer." (Ps. 19:14)

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