Saturday, June 15, 2019
Every Idle Word
One night years ago, my husband Richard and I were rudely awakened from a sound sleep by the shrill ring of the phone. It was a business acquaintance of his, asking if it were true that Richard was stranded in Spain after his credit cards, cash and passport were stolen. How much money did he need to borrow, and how could she wire it to him?
Emerging from our dazed confusion, we finally pieced together that Richard’s email account had been hacked, and that the hacker had sent an email to each of my husband’s contacts, explaining the above made-up scenario and requesting a loan. Unlike most junk email and phishing scams, this one appeared to come from my husband’s correct email address and contained his name, increasing the chances that a good-hearted recipient would think it was a legitimate call for help rather than a blatant lie.
This incident reminded us that “evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33); that we must avoid “corrupt communication” (Ephesians 4:29); and that we should let our “communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay” (Matthew 5:37).
Our family, friends and brothers and sisters in Christ who know we claim His name regard us as His representative (2 Corinthians 5:20). Even for our unsaved acquaintances, what we say therefore reflects on Him, whether rightly or wrongly. Those in positions of leadership must be especially careful not only that their speech honors Him (Colossians 4:6), but also that it is doctrinally sound and pure (Titus 2:1-8).
Our time on earth to do God’s work is limited (Job 14:1), both collectively as the body of Christ (Romans 12:5) as His return draws ever nearer, and individually, for we are not promised tomorrow (James 4:14), and we don’t know when He will call us home. The fields of unsaved souls are ripe for harvest, but laborers are few (John 4:35; Matthew 9:37).
Throughout our life once we are saved, God provides us with divine appointments to witness for Him. This may be to a stranger we will never see again, or to those who are closest to us whom we see every day. For those in positions of leadership, these appointments may occur at the pulpit, in a Bible study class, or in a music or other ministry.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul explains the Gospel of grace – that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again (v. 1-4), that all who have faith in Him will have eternal life. He warns against “evil communications” (v. 33) with those who would dilute or even deny this truth, which is the only means to salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). We must not allow false teachers to compromise our knowledge of this truth (2 Peter 2:1) and our urgency to share it with others, as Christ commanded (Matthew 28:18-20).
Our own testimony and witness to others must not in any way corrupt the Gospel. Instead, it must build up and instruct the hearer regarding God’s grace and salvation through His Son (Ephesians 4:29). Similarly, Jesus warns us to speak the truth plainly – yes meaning yes, and no meaning no (Matthew 5:37). If we muddle these together, we distort what is right and wrong, black and white, into shades of gray.
In these End Times (Matthew 24), Satan has infiltrated governments, world systems, universities, and even seminaries and churches with his ministers, with “spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). His minions can be “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” (Matthew 7:15) perverting God’s Word just enough to be damnable heresy, but not enough to be noticed by those who are doctrinally weak.
For the most part, these false teachers and false prophets are unsaved, and unless they become born again (John 3:3-8), they will spend eternity in hell. But what about those saved church leaders who may be doctrinally sound, but do not fully use the opportunity God has given them to share His Word? Who but God knows if the time allotted to their message is the only time an unsaved soul would have to hear the Gospel?
I believe that church leaders will be accountable to Jesus for their ministry when they face Him at the judgment seat (1 Corinthians 3:10-13). Will they hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21) or instead have the horrible realization that they wasted precious time and opportunity by rambling with idle words (Matthew 12:36), not as led by the Spirit (Romans 8:1,4), but for indifference or lack of preparation. Or, even worse, did they use their ministry to flatter themselves, build up their own ego, further a political agenda, or even for financial gain?
It is not just church leaders who will be held accountable, for all who are born again are commanded to share the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). We don’t need a divinity degree or formal ministry to do this, any more than did the shepherds to whom the angels proclaimed Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8-17), or the Samaritan woman at the well who ran off to tell everyone, even her enemies, that she had found the Messiah (John 4:21-42).
As we grow as Christians and become more mature in His Word, our ability to share the Gospel should improve (1 Corinthians 3:2; Hebrews 5:12). But lack of knowledge should not keep even the newest Christian from sharing the simple truth of how Jesus changed their life, and how they trusted in His death, burial and resurrection to know for sure they will go to Heaven (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Jesus said that at the judgment, we will suffer loss over our idle words (Matthew 12:36). I believe this refers not to sins involving words, such as lying, blasphemy, hateful speech, verbal abuse, or slander. We have already been judged for all our sins, past, present, and future, at Calvary, where Christ paid in full for our sin debt (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). Rather, I believe Christ will judge us for our idle chatter that frittered away opportunities to share His Word or to edify others (Romans 14:19; 15:2) rather than tearing them down.
When God opens the door for us to testify for Him at work or in a social setting, do we walk through it, or do we nervously change the conversation to sports, shopping or politics? Do we welcome gossip, even if under the guise of a prayer request replete with salacious details that may actually be true? There are situations when Christian responsibility does require us to convey unpleasant facts to others. Examples might include informing a church leader that the person he was considering to be treasurer had been fired because of embezzlement, or telling a friend that her husband was spotted embracing another woman.
Yet telling others about such incidents when they have no need to know amounts to gossip and can harm the hearer and tale bearer, as well as the subject of the tale. There is an old story of a woman who confessed to her priest that she had spread a rumor about the infidelity of a parishioner. The rumor turned out not to be true but had irreparably damaged the reputation of that person.
The gossiping woman had expected her priest to ask her to recite several Hail Marys and Our Fathers as penance, and was shocked when he instead asked her to find the largest feather pillow she had, go up to her rooftop on a windy day, and shred the pillow to bits with a kitchen knife. She returned a week later and announced that she had completed the task.
“Fine,” the priest replied. “Now go pick up all the scattered feathers.” We cannot undo the harm of gossip any more than we can retrieve the germs that escape from an uncovered sneeze or feathers scattered to the winds.
We must speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), not being hurtful or judgmental, or causing offense that would be a stumbling block to another’s faith (Romans 14:13; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 8:9; 1 Peter 2:8; 1 John 2:10). Yet in our eagerness to be kind, accepted or politically correct, we must not dilute or distort doctrine or gloss over truths that may be painful to hear.
Saying “He’s in a better place,” about a lost person who died may make his family feel better, but it is directly opposed to Biblical truth and may remove the urgency the family members might otherwise feel about getting right with God. It is true that only God knows the heart (Psalm 44:21; Luke 16:15; Acts 15:8; 1 John 3:20) and that deathbed conversions may occur, so we can’t know for sure what any person’s eternal destiny may be. In the above situation, it may be best to focus on that, and to thank God for offering eternal life in heaven to “whosoever” believes in His Son’s death, burial and resurrection to pay for our sins (John 3:16).
May we recognize the power of life and death that is in our tongue (Proverbs 18:21), learn to bridle it for good rather than for evil (James 3), and avoid diluting the saving power of the Gospel message with idle words!
© 2019 Laurie Collett