A few years ago my university started videotaping courses and posting lectures on iTunes U and YouTube. Two of my courses were selected and the effect it had on me was profound. Standing in front of my class and seeing the red light above the camera was a constant reminder that every word, joke, impromptu comment, critique, and response to students would be recorded and soon posted on the Web. Before it could be posted, a school administrator watched it to make sure how I was coming across represented the standards of the university. If I came across harsh, or unkind to students the video would not be posted and I would have to meet with someone to give an account of my actions.
One day driving home from school I had a disturbing thought. What if the cameras followed me home? How I interacted with my kids and spouse would be recorded and posted on the Web. What if that day I had happened to have a disagreement with my spouse? How would I come across? Was I gracious, or judgmental? Were my words harsh, or kind?
In one of the most disturbing passages of the Bible, Jesus declares that we all will be held accountable for every word uttered. At the end of our lives, each of us will have to give an account for the millions of words we have spoken (Matt. 12:36). Why are our words so important? Christ explains: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). For the biblical writers the heart represents the center of a person’s personality, emotions, intellect, and volition. It is through our communication with others that we glean a robust picture of a person. While all of communication exposes our inner person, Christ particularly isolates “careless” words that are spoken with little forethought (Matt. 12:36).
In one of the most disturbing passages of the Bible, Jesus declares that we all will be held accountable for every word uttered.
Being recorded in the classroom—and knowing someone in authority would watch me—motivated me to be careful in what I said. I intentionally began to think about my word usage and even my tone. Mostly, it helped me understand that there are no careless comments—all will be recorded and reflect who I am.
The problem with marital communication is that it’s often done in private. We make sure not to argue in public, or in front of the kids. However, what if you knew that your next disagreement would be recorded and watched by someone you cared about? A pastor, family friend, co-worker, or neighbor would see and hear you. What if you knew Christ was watching? What changes, if any, would we make?
When Jesus tells us that our words reflect our heart, he was mirroring the attitude of many Roman and Greek philosophers who taught, talis oratio, quails vita (“As the speech, so the life”). If someone were to watch you speaking with your spouse, what would they learn about how you communicate? Most importantly, what would they learn about you?
If someone were to watch you speaking with your spouse, what would they learn about how you communicate? Most importantly, what would they learn about you?
Tim Muehlhoff is a professor of communication at Biola University and author of several books, including I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting. For the past 18 years, he and his wife, Noreen, have been frequent speakers at FamilyLife marriage conferences. Muehlhoff regularly writes and speaks for the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. Follow Dr. Muehlhoff on Twitter.