The Heart of Words
Words are powerful. They transform lives and make history. They birth nations and topple empires. They make peace and fuel wars. They make covenants in marriage and wound those we most cherish. They change hearts and give news of eternal life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Words are foundational to everything we think, do, and say in all of life. Nevertheless, words are not ends in themselves. Words exist because God spoke them into existence that He might communicate with us. He spoke the world into existence and has graciously spoken to us in His sacred Word. When He created us in His image, He gave us the gift of speech in order that we might commune with Him in prayer, fellowship with one another, hear and preach the life-giving gospel, train our children in the way they should go, and open our lips that we might proclaim His praises.
However, we have abused God’s gift. Rather than praising God, we take His name in vain. Rather than building up one another, we flatter, gossip, and slander. Rather than speaking the truth in love, we hide the truth under a basket. Rather than patiently training our children, we yell at them. And as James says, with our tongue, “we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing” (James 3:9–10). We are called to love the Lord our God with all of our heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves. One way we practice such love is through our words, not only what we say, but what we don’t say. Nevertheless, what comes out of our mouths isn’t the real problem. Our fundamental problem isn’t a tongue problem, it’s a heart problem.
Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). What is in the well of our hearts comes up in the bucket of our mouths. What we say is the overflow of what we believe. We need to watch our mouths, but more importantly we need to guard our hearts. The heart is the seat of our affections, encompassing everything we are, everything we do, everything we desire, everything we think, and everything we say. But because we are sinners, our hearts are deceitful above all things, and desperately sick (Jer. 17:9). And as John Calvin said, “The human heart has so many crannies where vanity hides, so many holes where falsehood lurks, is so decked out with deceiving hypocrisy, that it often dupes itself.” Contrary to the self-esteem-building mantra of so many well-intentioned mothers and fathers, we do not have good hearts—we have idol-making hearts. The only hope for our hearts is that they be conquered, invaded, and replaced by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit who causes the Word of Christ to dwell within us richly and enables us to die daily to self and live each day coram Deo, before the face of God.
This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.