A Gentle Reminder from Elizabeth Rice Handford

When I was a teenager I came across a Scripture that terrified me. Jesus said, “And I tell you this, that you must give an account on judgment day of every idle word you speak” (Matthew 12:36 nlt).

What was an “idle” word? Would I be judged if I just told a silly joke? What if I said, “Have a nice day,” when it was actually raining? Would God think it an idle word for me to play an April-fool joke on my sister?
Thank God I’ve learned He’s not that kind of finicky, disapproving Heavenly Father.

But I have suffered from someone’s “idle” words. You have, too.

A member of our church came to me one day and said, “Mrs. Handford, I’m so ashamed of you.”

“Oh, my dear! What have I done wrong?”

“A close friend told me you deliberately took away the time she’d always had with her hairdresser for her appointment. You didn’t even care that it upset her. I am so embarrassed that my pastor’s wife would do something like that.”

“I didn’t know. I promise you, I didn’t know. Tell her I’m sorry, and I’ll fix it right away.”

I wrote the woman an apology, and asked my hairdresser to change my standing appointment. “Libby, she’s never ever had an appointment with me for that hour. I can’t imagine why she said that. It’s just not true.”

Later, the woman apologized. “You know, how you get to talking, and you just ramble on and say things just to keep a conversation going. I don’t even know why I said it. It wasn’t true.”

I was glad to know I hadn’t done wrong. But how could I catch all the little bits of “idle” words that had drifted through the church family accusing me of bad behavior? It might be easier to catch every tiny bit of a handful of confetti thrown from the top of the Empire State Building.

But then comes a sobering thought: do I sometimes speak “idle” words myself, words that have a hurtful influence on someone else? If so, shouldn’t God hold me accountable for them?
Here’s what King David wrote:

Come, my children, and listen to me,
and I will teach you to fear the LORD.
Do any of you want to live a life that is long and good?
Then watch your tongue! Keep your lips from telling lies!
Turn away from evil and do good.
Work hard at living in peace with others.
The eyes of the LORD watch over those who do right;
His ears are open to their cries for help.
Psalm 34:11-15 (nlt)

As a child, I was terrified that God might be leaning over the battlements of Heaven with a big stick, just daring me to use an “idle” word. Instead, I learned I needed to guard