The one who wanted to be the “fairest of them all” would ask her magical mirror, and in that children’s tale, the mirror would always be truthful. Words bare the honest resemblance of their author. I think this is the reason the author James wrote so strongly about our use of words in his book in the New Testament. He wanted to remind us how important it is to take a good look at the syllables that role off our tongues and the sentences we press out with our finger tips. James says that we reveal our maturity by the scrutiny with which we chose our words. “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is mature, able also to control the whole body” (4:2).
But even more is at stake. Paul writes in Colossians 4:6, “Let your conversation be attractive” (NLT). He builds on our natural desire to be pleasant to be with. We want to be attractive. When we look into the mirror with vanity, we want to be admired; but when we look in the mirror with charity, we want to beautify the experience of others. Either way we want to be attractive. But the purposes we have to choose from on the way to winning the beauty pageant are dramatically different.
This is why Jesus takes our talk so seriously. He said, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Jesus is making it a matter of judgement!
Why are the consequences so severe? Paul makes the point. “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone” (4:5-6 NLT). The point is that our words — our conversation — embody the substantial impression of ourselves that will mirror Christ and make him attractive or will instead mar up the image so that people can not see through us a reflection of the beauty of Jesus.
We create our voice in the world the same way God created our face: with words. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness….. So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female” (Genesis 1:26-27). The world around will learn to recognize our faces when they come to know who we are. They will come to know our hearts when they come to expect what we will say when we start talking. And they will come to recognize Jesus if our conversation matches our purposeful intent to shed light on the solution to all the problems that plague our society. Jesus is that solution.