"But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” - Matthew 12:36-37
We know that words are powerful. In our own lives we have experienced words spoken to us that bring life and those that leave us empty and defeated. God thinks words carry a lot of weight, too. After all, by the power of His words He created the universe, the world, and all that is in it (see Genesis, chapter 1). As we read in Matthew 12:36-37, we will be held accountable for the words we speak and judged for the empty ones.
According to a study done by the University of Arizona, on average we manage to spew out around 16,000 words a day. Take into account for a moment what your 16,000 words consisted of today. Examine your speech: do your words seek to build up others or yourself? Does what you say bring glory to God or to you? When we examine our words, they reveal a lot about us, our priorities, character, and the way we value people by the words we speak. The effect of words in our lives is so great that the very words we speak have the power to shape others and us.
"Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord." Ephesians 5:6-10
“Empty words” are words without weight, meaning, or effect; they are unsubstantial, void, and destitute, unfurnished with intellect or knowledge. These are the type of words we are not to be taken captive by or let escape our lips. These are the ones we will be judged for. We seldom realize the power we wield with the words we speak. I heard on the radio that it takes seven positive remarks to make up for one negative one. Now I know you don’t trust everything you hear, but it is an idea worth pondering. God has truly given us responsibility in gifting us with the ability to speak.
"With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?" James 3:9-11
Please do not see this warning as the need for a vow of silence, for as believers we have God's Spirit and His words in us. We can speak God's words with confidence knowing that His words will not return void. God says so in Isaiah 55:11: “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."
God knows and loves us. He has plans for the words we speak just like He did for Jeremiah and Isaiah. His promises to use their words still ring true for us today as God’s very Spirit resides in us.
Jeremiah says in Jeremiah 1:4-9: "The Word of the Lord came to me, saying ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a profit to the nations.’ ‘Alas, Sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am young.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am too young.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord. Then the Lord reached out His hand and touched my mouth."
Isaiah’s testimony in Isaiah chapter 6 is similarly powerful: "In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a thrown; and the train of his robe filled the temple…’Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ and I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” (Isaiah 6:1, 5-8).
The purpose of God’s Word is to reveal Himself to people; God’s purpose for our words is to bring Him glory. In words the weakness of our intellect is met with the understanding provided by God’s power. In the brokenness of our sentences, God’s Word comes through with wisdom and answers to a searching heart, and in the midst of the language gap God provides us with His Spirit to work in us and in those who hear the words we speak. To me, the power of God’s Word and Spirit was evident when God used what to me sounded like my blabbering to bring a young girl to Christ. It humbled me to be able to see God work in me and use His words spoken by my mouth to bring Him glory. I know He has plans to do the same with you as we are told in Ephesians 2:10: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10).
God’s words fill us. They ignite a fire in our soul to share them with others in our lives through action, word, and deed. When God’s Word dwells in us it gives us the wisdom and discernment to filter the words that are being spoken all around us. God’s Word is truth and the only word we need to allow to take root in our hearts and bring forth fruit in our lives, as we guard our minds and mouths from lies and empty words.
"Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of our Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." Colossians 3:16-17
It is not surprising that one of the main ways to keep our words in check is with thankfulness. Thankfulness requires humility. When we are being thankful our words will naturally be filled with praise to God and respect for others and bring a good attitude to our own hearts. We cannot just avoid emptiness in our words; they have to be filled with something. May our words reflect God’s Word. May we make the most of every opportunity filling our words with grace and seasoning them with salt (Colossians 4:6). And the best place to find a definition for what our words should be full of is in God’s Word, as in Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that may benefit those who listen.”
Today, may you use your words wisely. May we listen to God’s Word so that we may speak words of life to ourselves and those around us knowing that those words come from God and will truly bring life to those who listen. But above all do not lose sight of God's Word. The power of His Word brings existence from non-existence (Genesis 1), life from death (John 11:43-44), and peaceful calm from chaotic storms (Mark 4:39). The Word that became flesh to pay the penalty for our sins and empty words, who’s death on the cross reconciled us to God, and who’s resurrection gives us eternal life and hope (John 1:1-18): this is God’s Word. His Word we can’t live without.
"My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and health to a man's whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." Proverbs 4:20-23