A verse in Matthew 12:36 says that men shall give account of every idle word they speak. Some may focus their thoughts on how God is keeping tabs on every word we speak. Others may wonder how our words will be played back before us on the day of judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10), that is, the Bema Seat for the redeemed, which is a day of rewarding. But one thing we ought to reflect on is how God desires us to act responsibly in the area of our speech life. God holds us accountable for what we say. Clearly, He does not want us to be thoughtless about the words that come out of our mouths.
The New International Version translates the original word used to “empty” instead of KJV’s “idle, while the ESV translates it as “careless”. The Amplified Bible explains the original word as “inoperative and nonworking.” From these translations we get a better understanding of what idle words are.
Idle words are careless words.
Careless words are spoken with little or [no] thought for avoiding error or harm. You may have the best intention but if you do not put your words together with care, you may end up causing more harm than good. If you speak carelessly, conflicts may deepen rather than become resolved. Avoid speaking idle words by considering how to better get your ideas and opinions across. Consider the feelings and the state of mind and heart of the person you are talking to. No matter how good your words are, if someone is not ready or prepared to listen, nothing good will come out of the conversation. Time your words and seek not only to impart truth but to impart understanding. Also, fact check first before forming opinions and drawing conclusions. Then, speak your mind.
Idle words are unprofitable words.
Some have the habit of speaking their mind constantly. Well, speaking one’s mind is a necessity. There’s nothing wrong with that. But to be on a constant, unrestrained habit of speaking your mind can be irresponsible. It is important to get things off of your chest, but you shouldn’t abuse your right to do that. A Christian who seeks to be responsible with his speech life must learn to choose words that benefit others, not just oneself. A growing Christian understands that even in talking, one should not be selfish nor self-centered. The thing you want to speak about must benefit both you and the person you are talking to, otherwise, it’s not a helpful matter to discuss. Information, correction, teaching; these are all profitable. How about gossip, plain criticism, shaming. Are the people involved in the conversation made better after talking and hearing these?
Idle words are meaningless words.
Fluff, fillers, exaggerations, and at times, flatteries; these types of speech are in danger of being meaningless. Meaningless words have no purpose, no reason, and no significance. Often, it’s only the foolish who like fluffy words, exaggerations, and flatteries. The thinkers, the no-nonsense non-time wasters, prefer the actualities all the time. Simple flatteries can boost esteem. They can fan the flame and encourage people to do better. But a mountain full of flatteries can weigh a person or a project down. When people fail to see where things really stand, needful changes are hard to discern. Growth slows down, nothing gets better.
There is a way to “not mince words” yet to speak your mind with tact, respect, and concern. There is a way to speak the truth in love and it’s not about honey coating your words. Speaking the truth in love is not having words made artificially sweet. There’s no need to do that. When you speak the truth in love, you come from a place where the intention is pure love; you come from a place where there is a careful consideration of the person’s feelings; you come from a place where the words chosen are most beneficial. Come from a place like that and your words will be naturally sweet and pleasant to a willing listener. What you say may even hurt, but to the right listener who knows and trust your character, what you say will bring fruit.