The things we say and think are incredibly, incredibly important. Our words, which express the thoughts of our heart, have such tremendous potential to edify or damage the heart of others that Jesus said even his own disciples could be “liable to the hell of fire” if their words tore down their brothers or sisters. As I looked closer at what Jesus and the apostles had to say about the tongue, I was honestly surprised how radical some of their statements were. I quoted a few of their statements below, with my commentary in blue. As you read, keep in mind that Jesus’ “new commandment” to his followers was to love one-another as he loved us. This “law of love” is much deeper than the written law of Moses which was the central focus of Israel before Christ. The primary difference between the two is that the law of love deals with the heart, not just outward behavior. (I wrote a lot more about that recently, here and here).
(Matthew 5:21-22 ESV): (Jesus said) “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Notice the escalation in the offenses and punishments: first anger resulting in liability to judgment, then insult resulting in liability to “the council” (literally “the Sanhedrin,” a religious court in Jesus’ day), and finally an attack on a brother’s identity making one liable to the hell of fire. To understand what “the hell of fire” refers to, we have to understand what is meant by “hell.” The Greek word translated “hell” is gehenna, which comes from a mixture of two Hebrew words, meaning the “valley of Hinnom.” In my opinion, “hell” is a very confusing translation of this word, carrying ideas with it that are very different from what Jesus meant. This illustrates why it’s vital that you seek for yourself and not just “be carried along”1 with what you’re taught. The valley of Hinnom was a literal place in Jesus’ day, just south of Jerusalem (more info about it here). It was previously used as a place of idol worship and sacrifice, but in Jesus’ day it was used like a landfill, where dead bodies and trash would be dumped and burned. Gehenna/hell was therefore used by Jesus as a familiar physical illustration of a spiritual place or state where filth and death would be burned up and destroyed.
(Matthew 12:34-37 ESV): (Jesus said) “How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Again, our words (and thoughts) reveal the true state of our heart and affect the heart of others, hence their importance. Jesus particularly warns against “careless” words, or “idle” words in other translations, but neither really brings out Jesus’ meaning very well. The Greek word translated “careless” is argos, which means “idle, inactive, unhelpful.” Jesus’ point is that we will be held liable for every useless, unhelpful, unedifying, or harmful word we speak, especially toward others within the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes love, saying in one place love doesn’t reckon wrongdoing against someone, but it believes and hopes the best for them; viewing them (and speaking to them), I believe, not according to their actions, but in light of the radical shift that was made at the cross of Christ. God is looking for His spirit within us to bear the fruit of love, and what we think and say (to others and to ourself) not only reflects what’s in our heart, but can help edify or damage the potential for His love in another’s heart.
(James 1:26 ESV): “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” I think what James is saying is if you believe in your heart that you are religious (pleasing to God by your works) yet speak things that aren’t edifying and founded on truth and love, then you’re deceived, because God considers the heart,2 and “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” In other words, no matter what you claim or think, if your tongue isn’t bridled to only speak what is edifying and true, then your heart is corrupt and your religion (outward service to God) is worthless, period. In my next post, I want to look at the most extensive passage on “the tongue” in the New Testament, found in James chapter 3, and I want to examine the interesting fact that both Jesus and James make a connection between the tongue, hell, and fire, to see what they meant. Should be very interesting and enlightening. God bless you.
- (Ephesians 4:14 KJV): “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive…” Luke 16:15: “And (Jesus) said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knows your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”
- (Luke 16:15) And (Jesus) said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knows your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?search=God+heart&version=KJV&searchtype=all&bookset=2&resultspp=100