I’m a word guy because I was raised in a word family. Because my mom was a writer, words colored our families’ world. When I was a kid, just for fun, we would spell and define words out of the dictionary, and we were all well-trained in the art of debate (not so much fun for anyone who married in). This has all served me well as God weaved that training into the fabric of my calling as a pastor. But there has been a dark side too. The harmful use of words was one of the first issues I would deal with in my journey toward holiness, and it is a subject to which I have had to return repeatedly. My abuse of words has included sarcasm (my native language), grammar policing (you don’t hear me, but it goes on in my head) as well as more direct and hurtful things like criticism and put-downs (and much worse). We tend to try and minimize the negative effects of our word use and downplay the importance of shepherding our words, but Jesus does not. Quite the opposite, He tells us what happens at the end of all things concerning our words, “I promise you that on the day of judgment, everyone will have to account for every careless word they have spoken.” Matthew 12:36 (CEV). At issue here is not getting wacked by God for language choices. This is a heart matter. Two verses before, Jesus says, “For whatever is in your heart determines what you say.” (verse 34b). Since we are called to live out of the heart of Jesus, the care that is supposed to be involved in our word choice can be exercised by asking this question, “Are these the words Jesus would use?” The world system says that our words don’t matter, only our intentions, but the Word teaches that our words not only reveal our intentions but can become a gateway through which our heart can be affected negatively (and a snowball effect can be fed). This is so acute to me today because I had a dream in the night in which I was using words from the old me and the old life. It made me queasy. I have given all that old to Jesus and I never want any part of it back. But my native sarcasm and cynicism have been tapping me on the shoulder the last couple of days. If I’m careless and let them in, there’s no telling what un-Christlike words I could end up using, and each one matters to Him. How are your words? I’ll leave you with a verse written by Paul, the first century follower of Jesus and writer of much of the New Testament. I submit two different translations of the same verse because, together, they address a broad range of a cultural carelessness of words. Take the one that challenges you most and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you about your words. “When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need—words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who listen to you.” Ephesians 4:29 (New Century Version); “Stop all your dirty talk. Say the right thing at the right time and help others by what you say.” Ephesians 4:29 (Contemporary English Version).