Every Idle Word
Strive against negativity in your conversation, and rise above habitual cynicism.

Pause for a moment and think about how blessed we are to serve a positive, merciful God. He never tears us down. He never belittles us. He doesn’t want us to fail. He doesn’t search for things to criticize. He wants us to succeed. He encourages us, uplifts us, and focuses on the positive.

And it is that ultra-positive God whom we should be striving to emulate. Sadly, we often fall short of being positive as God is. Humans, especially young humans, are prone to cynicism, mockery and negativity. This probably presents itself most often in our conversation. We can actually become habitually cynical in our speaking, and we might not even notice we’re slipping into a negative pattern in the way we speak to others.

Have you ever heard of Pavlov’s dogs? Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov did an experiment where he rang a bell or started a metronome before he fed his dogs. After a while, the dogs began to associate the sound of the bell or metronome with food, and they would begin to salivate when they heard the noise.

Similarly, we can get used to a positive reaction to cynical behavior—perhaps your sarcastic jokes always get laughs. When we make our friends laugh, we feel good. If you make a mocking joke a few times and get a positive reaction, you’re more likely to keep doing it, and you’ll associate just making the joke itself with the pleasure of making your friends laugh. As a result, we often end up taking jokes way too far. We keep on making the same type of jokes even after it stops being funny, even to a point where it could start causing harm.

In the February 2019 True Education, Mr. Joel Hilliker wrote about the tendency to make fun of everything. He writes, “This is an easy attitude to have, and it can make people laugh—but it can turn you into something you don’t want to be. … Not even the good, the true, the beautiful or the praiseworthy can escape your sarcastic ridicule.” Making cynical jokes can become a bad habit that you don’t even think about. Our conversation should rise above habitual cynicism. “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” (Matthew 12:36) God holds you accountable for every idle word that you speak. Idle means lazy, or shunning the labor one ought to perform. Don’t lazily blurt the easy catchphrase; carefully choose the right words. Make every word a choice, not just idle words.

Habitual mockery can actually be very dangerous. I’m sure we’ve all heard someone take a joke way too far, or make a joke at the wrong time, or in the wrong way. We can cause offense by carelessness even if we weren’t malicious in our intent. I’m sure all of us have said at some point “what? I was just kidding.” Just kidding is not a good excuse (Proverbs 26:19). If you find yourself defending your words by saying you were just kidding, chances are some careless words came first. Don’t wait until you’ve gone too far to change direction. Even if you don’t think much about mindless insults, somebody else will.

James 3:2 says “For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” In this verse, the original Greek word for “perfect” can mean “complete, wanting nothing necessary to completeness, consummate human integrity and virtue of men, full grown, mature.”

This same word is used in Matthew 5:48, and it is referring to God. If you can just master your tongue, you can master your whole body—and you will become more like God. Your words become actions, your actions become habits, your habits become character, and your character becomes destiny. Our goal is to build godly character so we can become God. You can start now by mastering your tongue.

Negativity in our conversation could impact your perception on everything. If your first reaction is to find the negative, then you will find plenty of negatives. It can become a powerful habit that changes your approach to life and causes you to miss out on some truly spectacular things.

Did you know that there are several one-star reviews online for the Grand Canyon? Some people go to one of the most magnificent spectacles in the world, one of America’s national treasures, a sight that should humble and amaze all who see it, they see the views that leave other men breathless—and they don’t think it’s worth the trip. They zone in on the negatives and in their mind the negatives outweigh the majesty of the Grand Canyon. You don’t want to get so cynical that you can’t appreciate the Grand Canyon. If all you can talk about is the negative, you’re going to miss out on some real beauty.

Proverbs 15:2 says “The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness.” It is very easy to pour out foolishness. Reacting with a sarcastic joke is actually quite easy for most of us. But joking isn’t bad. There are times when good-natured teasing and a clever remark would be the exact right thing to say. The right use of humor draws us closer to each other, and it can even build others up. But using humor in this way takes thought and care; it requires wisdom and discernment. It’s not going to be the first thing you think to say. Remember the first part of the proverb above, “The tongue of the wise uses knowledge aright.” If you’ve been gifted with keen wit, or you can use irony to make a solid point, that is something to be developed, honed, and used for good. Even Christ used irony to make powerful points, but He never tore anyone down with cynicism.

We all struggle to talk about the positive. We are human, and we love to complain. We easily focus in on the negative. It can be a challenge to talk about positive things sometimes. But we must challenge ourselves to do it. Rather than tearing others down, we must try to build others up. If you struggle with staying positive in your conversation, or you find yourself frequently making sarcastic remarks, try something else. Try talking about something you really love with a friend. Focus on the positive in your reviews of your day’s activity. Try to sincerely compliment others; focus on the praiseworthy. Forget the idle words, and strive to stay positive in conversation.