by Kristi Bay
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
We live in a time in which the current Christian trend is to focus on how our actions speak louder than our words; how it’s not enough to talk about Christ, but how we have to go out and actually do the things that Jesus would do. Doing what Jesus would do could be risky, unpopular, and uncomfortable. I think this is a wonderful trend and I applaud the writers, churches, bloggers, clergy, and fellow Christ-followers who are urging us all to rise to the example Christ set for us. What a great time to live in a community and watch the church be an organic, neighbor-helping-neighbor part of the community, rather than a separate stand-alone entity.
But like all good things, there is a shadow side to this, too. Sometimes, in our haste to emphasize our actions, we begin to forget that our words still matter. We also live in a time of unbridled, largely un-censored communication. Social media allows our words to blast into cyberspace, sometimes like verbal grenades, and we don’t even have to see the collateral damage they may leave in their wake.
The Bible demonstrates that ancient words are still powerful in our modern context. The very words of Scripture itself can be taken and used as verbal weapons of mass destruction, or as soothing balm to a parched and weary soul. In this Matthew 12 passage in which Jesus talks about knowing a tree by its fruit, he says that on “judgment day,” you will be held accountable for “every careless word you utter . . . for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
I can’t help but cringe, because we have so very many ways to utter careless words—Facebook statuses and comments, responses to media interviews, blogs, “open letters,” Tweets . . . the list goes on and on. We have a tendency to be swift and brutal with our words in ways that were not an option when Jesus uttered this warning.
In this season of Resurrection, may we spend more time reflecting on our words—particularly when they stem from places of anger, pride, conviction, insecurity or even passion, “for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Kristy Bay and her husband Zachary Bay recently relocated to Middlesboro, Kentucky, where Zach is the pastor of First Baptist Church. Kristy received her Master of Divinity degree from Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology. Her master’s thesis, titled When Narratives Collide, addresses meta-narratives and youth ministry. Kristy loves all things related to student ministry and most recently served as the associate pastor for youth and education at Milledge Avenue Baptist Church in Athens, Georgia. She also served on the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia’s coordinating council, has written for and led student ministry events such as March Mission Madness and Disciple Now, and has lead worship and done supply preaching in numerous churches. Her sermon, “The Road Map” was published in This is What a Preacher Looks Like, and she has written for Smyth & Helwys’s Reflections devotional guide and other NextSunday Resources projects.
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