Anyone who has read more than a few of my posts knows I write about God a lot. Up until very recently I hesitated to come out and say I am speaking for God. After all, who am I to suggest such a thing, to no less presume to speak for the Creator of the heavens and the earth?
Then there’s the “accountability” thing. I was always taught those who speak or teach God’s Word are going to be held accountable for what they teach.
James 3:1 Let not many of you be teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive heavier judgment.
2 For in many things we all stumble. If anyone doesn’t stumble in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. (WEB)
Well, gee, it might not matter much if I actually say I’m teaching or not. In fact, another scripture says I’m going to have to account for everything I say no matter what.
Matthew 12:36 I tell you that every idle word that men speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.
37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (WEB)
At this point I can only ask and pray for forgiveness because I know I’ve said a lot of stupid things. The good news is, when it comes to things pertaining to God, my tendency is to strive for accuracy and speak earnestly. If those “idle words” are going to count against me, I hope my inclination to be as accurate as possible when speaking God’s Word will be counted in my favor. Even so, I’d rather lean on grace than any sort of balance sheet.
Speak for GOD? ME?! What about YOU!?
Uh-oh, I stumbled across a bigger issue. Now let’s not forget that “idle word” thingy Jesus spoke of. I don’t know about you but I’m not all that clear on what he meant by an “idle word”. If the definition is broad, a lot of us could be in big trouble. For the record, Thayer’s defines the usage in this verse as “unprofitable” though the Greek word generally means “lazy” or “unproductive”. I have to admit, I’ve said a lot of “unprofitable” things in my own life. However, there’s this other thing nagging in the back of my mind. It goes to the concept of “good and evil” or “truth and lies”.
Look, James clearly indicates those who teach will be held to a higher standard, BUT Jesus said we would ALL be accounting for our words – at least the idle ones. The apostle Paul also wrote of giving an account to God.
Romans 14:12 So then each one of us will give account of himself to God. (WEB)
The difference is he didn’t limit the account to mere words.
I bring this up to point out how it looks like we are all going to be in the hot seat at some point. Now I’m not saying this to scare anyone. Granted, I do feel a chill run up my spine when I look back at some of the things I’ve said and done. Sure God is gracious and yes, I DO believe I’m forgiven. The thing is, I know I don’t deserve it. All the more reason to be thankful for God’s grace and forgiveness. And all the more reason to forgive others for their slights against me. My own slate needs more than a simple cleaning, it demands a good scrubbing.
So here we are looking ahead. Heck, why not look where we stand right now? Let’s say we can accept God has forgiven us for our past, um, indiscretions. Now what? My first thought is to give thanks. For me this is always a good place to start. My second thought is where I always stumble. I know me. The very idea of never again saying or doing anything ungodly is, well, like a pitcher vowing to pitch a perfect game every time for the rest of his career. I just don’t see it happening. So I’m already figuring I’m going to making mistakes. In comes my third thought: “so be it”.
Speaking for myself, I can mostly pick my way through life without actively doing wrong. For me, it’s my mouth that gets me in the most hot water. James had me pegged there.
James 3:5 So the tongue is also a little member, and boasts great things. See how a small fire can spread to a large forest!
6 And the tongue is a fire. The world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire by Gehenna.
7 For every kind of animal, bird, creeping thing, and thing in the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by mankind.
8 But nobody can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the image of God.
10 Out of the same mouth comes forth blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
Few of us are going to take a vow of silence. I’m sure I’d break a record for how fast I broke that vow. How about you? Would you be a contender for that record? I thought maybe. So what’s the alternative?
We can choose our words carefully. Lance Wallnau had a thought. He said, “Pray before you say anything about anyone.” While this may not be an easy habit to get into, I can see the usefulness. While I tend to hold back more in social situations, I am far freer with criticizing people I see on video, online, and in social media. Would these count as “idle words”? How could they not? Ouch.
Now… About That “Speaking for God” Bit…
So far most of what I’ve done is detail the downside. My goal was to impress upon you how all of our words are likely to count for something. Each of us will be responsible as to how our words will tally up. With this understanding under our belt it seems reasonable to, at the very least, tread carefully moving forward. That said, I contend we can do far better than that.
Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak truth each one with his neighbor. For we are members one of another.
26 “Be angry, and don’t sin.” Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath,
27 neither give place to the devil.
28 Let him who stole steal no more; but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have something to give to him who has need.
29 Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for building up as the need may be, that it may give grace to those who hear.
30 Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, outcry, and slander, be put away from you, with all malice.
32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you. (WEB)
While all of the above is well worth taking to heart, let us, for the moment, focus on those things dealing with our tongues:
Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak truth each one with his neighbor. For we are members one of another.
Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for building up as the need may be, that it may give grace to those who hear.
How much better would our lives be if we only stopped speaking falsehoods (yes, even those “little white lies”) and stopped badmouthing? (corrupt speech is directly translated as “putrid speech”). What if we stopped grumbling and complaining and instead, endeavored to give thanks?
On top of all this, what if we forgave others rather than curse them? I hate to admit this but a great deal of my own grumbling is directed at people who annoy me because of actions that are likely more thoughtless than evil. “Did she HAVE to pull out in front of me JUST to turn a half mile down the road?” Instead of cursing, what if I thought or said, “Thank you Father for allowing me plenty of time to slow down for this driver. I forgive her for pulling out in front of me so abruptly. Bless her and keep her.” Which reaction produces good fruit?
The 1% Solution
In his groundbreaking book “Atomic Habits”, James Clear advocates pursuing tiny changes – aiming at improving a mere 1% per day. Imagine applying that concept to your walk with God. Too often we consider an idea by allowing our minds to run to the finish line. Winning a marathon is simply too high a goal for many of us. Heck, the thought of running a whole mile makes me shudder, but anyone can walk around the block. A simple 1% improvement over that each day could result in walking a marathon distance. At some point, many of us could improve our health to run a bit, then a bit more.
Now apply this concept to your walk with God. Can you do one thing consistently that you do not now do? Build on that. Walk an additional step tomorrow and the next day.
Philippians 3:13 Brothers, I don’t regard myself as yet having taken hold, but one thing I do. Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before,
14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
If anyone in scripture could be pegged as an example of a Christian who continually tried to improve, I cannot point to any better than the apostle Paul. Not only did he dedicate his life to speaking the gospel, but he kept his “day job” as a tentmaker, earning his own way so as not to burden others financially. As dedicated and as godly as Paul was, he strove to do better. What better example to follow than his?
As we will have to give an account anyway, why not strive to improve ourselves every day? Instead of vowing to “turn over a new leaf”, doesn’t it make more sense to look for ways to improve a little every day. To that end, I highly recommend “Atomic Habits”. James Clear’s method is easy to understand and simple to implement. That said, what “habits” should we strive to build?
Three habits come to mind for starters – prayer, reading and studying scripture. Of these, studying scripture may be more daunting than the others. Though I’ve heard countless excuses why people just “don’t have time” to read their bibles. They are fooling themselves. Of course one has time. We all do. We all have the same amount of time each day – exactly 24 hours. How we prioritize our time is a more accurate measure. If your priority is your walk with God, then you will make time for these things. Whatever reasons you may have for not pursuing them are something you should consider in light of your walk. For example what if someone says “I’m to busy making a living.” Is such a person acknowledging God as their sufficiency in all things? You get the idea.
Sad to say, the habit of grumbling, cursing and such, may be one of the more difficult habit’s to address. Even Clear’s book doesn’t sufficiently address it. Why? Because this habit is more reactionary than others. For me, I have to first catch myself grumbling. I am making progress but it is easy to slip. I liken it to when I smoked. That habit of reaching for a cigarette after a meal or when walking out of a building can be a toughie. Even though the cigarettes are long gone (24 years now), it took a long time to reframe that desire.
My regular prayer time helps as I include prayer to help me pray more during the day as well as to be more aware of what I say. I also pray that I can bring hymns and spiritual songs to mind throughout the day. In keeping with both these endeavors, I’ve developed one habit of singing “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy” at least every time I begin down my driveway. Now I’m branching out to do so whenever I get in my car. To spare any passengers, I sing to myself when I am not alone. 🙂
Our Christian Privilege
As Christians, it is our privilege to speak God’s word. As a practical matter we have a choice with every word we speak. Will we choose to speak words that edify – build up or words that tear down? What words do you want to be accountable for? Beyond that, those things we say indicate where are hearts are.
Matthew 15:17 Don’t you understand that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the belly, and then out of the body?
18 But the things which proceed out of the mouth come out of the heart, and they defile the man.
19 For out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual sins, thefts, false testimony, and blasphemies.
If you spend your day cursing, grumbling, complaining and such – where is your heart? Where is God in your life? Do you think such individuals are drawing closer to God or moving away from him?
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your heart to the Lord.
17 Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father, through him.
I cannot speak for you but as I visualize the above verse in my mind, I have a hard time placing myself in the picture. Once I ran across a woman in a supermarket. She was a Christian who was so at peace she radiated with joy. She told me God had healed her from a terminal illness and it changed her life. While I did not envy how she got to where she was, I admired her walk. If that store lost power, I’m almost certain we could all navigate by the light she gave off. I am certain every single one of us can walk as she walked.
Philippians 2:13 For it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without murmurings and disputes,
15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you are seen as lights in the world,
16 holding up the word of life; that I may have something to boast in the day of Christ, that I didn’t run in vain nor labor in vain.
Wherever we go it is God who is working in us, yes, even on our bad days. As I said, I don’t always see myself as such, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. What I’ve found is the more I seek God, the more I endeavor to put on that new man, the easier it gets.
Today I am privileged to share these thoughts, these words with you. When I leave this keyboard to go out into the world, I am privileged to speak the word to others, to shine as a light in the world. While I didn’t get where I am today all at once and I am far from where I’d like to be, I strive make that little 1% progress each day. It adds up.
1 Thessalonians 1:6 You became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,
7 so that you became an example to all who believe in Macedonia and in Achaia.
8 For from you has sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth; so that we need not to say anything.
9 For they themselves report concerning us what kind of a reception we had from you; and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God,
Colossians 4:6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.
1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, with humility and fear:
You, too, are privileged. You also have a choice. You can take your privilege for granted or you can embrace it, make it you own, live it. Even if you see yourself as the most miserable human being on the planet, you can change. The hardest part may be the decision to take that first step. Thankfully, these steps often reap instant rewards, and if they don’t, those rewards will be waiting for you in heaven. The decision you make now will affect your entire life, even if you decide to do nothing. I’m rooting for you to decide to accept your privilege and make the most of it. God bless you.