My view of words was that there are good words and bad words but that most speech is neutral. After all, how can you sin ordering a cheesesteak hoagie?
But the more I go, the more I see spoken words as falling into either what "gathers" or what "scatters." Partly this new awe is born of reflecting on mysteries like "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3) and "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). There is undoubtedly creative and destructive power in an utterance, analogous to God's own.
It has not escaped my notice that carcasses littered the wilderness of Sinai because people "grumbled" (Numbers 14:29). This is emphasized to us again in 1 Corinthians 10, a "testimony of two witnesses," in case you thought only things like murder and pedophilia were consequential:
"These things happened to them as an example but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come" (v.11).
It is a rare person who will recognize himself in a moral example. We are sure we would never have been the Pharisees or Job's wife or Elisha's servant Gehazi. We paint waxed moustaches on them, while we ourselves, by contrast, do not grumble but "share" or "discuss" or "confess" or make "prayer requests."
It helps me to think of speech as a zero-sum game: It is important not only to avoid outright sinful words, but also worthless and insipid words, where words of life might have seized an opportunity for the kingdom. Jesus' bar is higher than ours. We feel we've had a good day if we didn't swear, lie, or gossip. Jesus says, "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak" (Matthew 12:36).
I hate to think of the times I went for a cheap laugh rather than turn a conversation to eternally weighty things
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