For the month of November the leadership team at my church (of which I’m a member) is reading through the book of Proverbs – one chapter a day, and the date of the month corresponds to the chapter we read (so since today is the 11th we are reading the 11th chapter). Reading a Proverb a day is actually something I learned a long time ago from my dad, who has consistently read through the book every month for years (literally) – I remember as a kid seeing him reading every morning, and it was typically in the book of Proverbs. It was a discipline I had through my college years, but it’s not something I’ve continued with great faithfulness like he has (to my shame). So the exercise this month with some other guys at my church has been both a return to the familiar and also a journey into the new revelations God has in store for me (and us).
While I certainly will not post about my readings every day (obviously – since I’m 1/3 of the way into the month and haven’t posted a single thing yet!), there’s been a common theme over the last several days that I wanted to reflect on. And it has to do with the words we speak. For anyone who’s even glimpsed the book of Proverbs, the amount of space dedicated to the words we speak is obvious and difficult to miss. In addition to Proverbs, many Christians are familiar with James’ teaching on the tongue (see James 3:3-12), as well as Paul’s (see Eph 4:29) command to not let unwholesome talk come from our lips.
But I guess I’ve missed a key connection on many of these verses before. Proverbs 10:20 reads, “The tongue of the righteous is pure silver; the heart of the wicked is of little value.” Many times proverbs are set up as two contrasting ideas – working vs. laziness, purity vs. wickedness, etc. So when I read this verse and it contrasted the tongue and the heart it peaked my interest – and it was as if God told me to go back and meditate on it and read it again. So I did, and I was reminded of this verse: “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (Luke 6:45) (emphasis mine). And I realized that this proverb, like many others, is actually creating a contrast – a contrast of the heart. Jesus said that what we speak comes from our heart; if you’re not a follower of Jesus, here’s an extra-biblical quote that is similar:
So Solomon (the author of Proverbs) is telling us what Jesus also told us: the words we speak are a reflection of our heart – the words of the righteous reflect a righteous heart while the words of the wicked reflect a wicked heart. Connected with all of this was the Ephesians passage listed above, which we discussed at some length this past week in our small group. One of the things that convicts me when I read Paul’s words is that it says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth.” It doesn’t list exceptions (ie, when you’re angry or venting or sad). None. That’s how much we’re “allowed”. And I think the reason is that our words reflect (and often betray) our heart to those around us. My colleagues at work think I never curse – and every time they curse around me they typically apologize (not sure why they feel the need to do this, because I’ve certainly never said anything about it – they just have never heard me curse and I guess they figure I’m greatly offended by it). My wife once told me that her grandmother told her cursing revealed a weak mind – it was what we said when we were too ignorant to use a better word. Now I certainly won’t tell you that my words have always been (or always are) free of four letter words, because on occasion (typically when I’m alone and angry), one slips out – especially on the road. Not something I’m proud of, simply stating a fact. But it’s also something I’ve worked hard to overcome over the years – and, if my work colleagues are any judge, God has certainly been gracious to me.
Don’t take this post as an anti-cursing post, because that’s certainly not it. The purpose of this reflection is to ask the question, “If my words overflow from my heart, what do they say about the condition of my heart?”
If I say I love Jesus, do people hear me talking about Him? If I say I’ve surrendered to Him and I strive to serve my family and faithfully lead my wife and kids to be more like Jesus, is it apparent in my speech? If I value the covenant and commitment I made to my wife on our wedding day do I participate in “wife” jokes when I’m out with the guys to get a laugh? How about when my kids want to play a game – do I speak harsh words to them? Am I dishonest when asked a question, or manipulative, or un-trustworthy? How about when someone comes to me with a problem they need advice on or someone to help them process – does it stay between us or do I turn around and use it as gossip with the next person I see?
Now I know the old saying that, “Talk is cheap”, and I’m not suggesting that just because we say something we do something. I’m simply suggesting that often times our words (or lack thereof) say something different than what we want them to say – and is that because of an inconsistency in our actions (we don’t practice what we preach) or is it because the words themselves reflect a problem in our hearts? God promised us in Ezekiel that he would give us a “new heart”, and Paul certainly preaches that we are “new creations” (see Ezekiel 36:26 and 2 Corinthians 5:17). Yet how does this play out in our words? If we’re to take Solomon (and Jesus) at his word, then we need to recognize there really is a connection between our words and heart. The words we speak and the tone we use to say them reveal a wealth of information about the state of our heart. What do your words say about you?