“The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Like a spring, words well up and flow out of our hearts. The things that captivate our hearts and imaginations inevitably find their way back out through our words. Although words can be deceptive, stay around a person long enough and you will discover where their heart resides by the content of their words.
Words become even more telling when we find ourselves in situations that provoke great emotion or reaction within us. Whether it is fear, anger, jealousy, bitterness, hope, joy, or confidence, situations that bring our emotions to the surface can also reveal more keenly what lies in our heart. If you’ve followed anything on the media, especially social media, recently, you quickly realize how polarizing, heated, and passionate the discussions have been around a variety of topics. And, just as quickly, it is easy to note, based on people’s words, what motivates their actions or reactions to the news.
Scripture cautions us to control our words, lest our words control us. James 1:26 reads, “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” I can hardly point the finger of blame at others about this flaw without recognizing my own propensity to speak hurtful words. In the urgency of being right or being heard, I railroad people, categorize people, and dismiss people. We’ve all done it. When our words betray the Gospel of Love, which upholds human dignity, then I have made “my religion worthless,” no matter how “right” I may be. The Book of James cautions us to look at the underlying motivation of our words. What is at work in our hearts that causes us to speak? Is it for the benefit of others or is it to exert my power over others?
Of course, it’s easy to rationalize the need for us to speak. If we don’t stand up and say it, who will? Yet, too often, charitable discourse is displaced by our urgent need to speak “truth,” at least our rendition of it. Much of language that has been recently used, by both polarities on the various topics under discussion in the public forum, is concrete with little wiggle room. We might not frame it this way, but it comes across as saying: “There’s my way or the wrong way. Period.” There is no willingness to listen. We are quick to speak. And, we’re quick to demonize anyone that might possibly think differently than me.
This kind of rigid certainty that does not create space for real dialogue is detrimental to faith because it is based in fear. We fear being wrong, we fear what the new future might hold, we fear that we might have to change, we fear God might be more mysterious than makes us comfortable. And, there’s the rub. We desperately want a god we’ve figured out, that we control, that we have no doubt we fully comprehend. But, if God is not big enough for us to wrestle with one another and with God about these deep issues, then perhaps God is too small or not God at all!
I would imagine we might bristle at that notion. But, it highlights that our fear usually creates an idol out of our idea of God, which we must protect tooth and nail. If it falls over, we have to stand it back up. If it falls apart, we have to superglue it back together like Humpty Dumpty. Our words may very well indicate that we have substituted God with something that reflects our desires and hopes, not God’s. That’s why it might be good to hold off posting the meme, blog, or post until you’ve had time to reflect on what is bubbling up from your heart. Does it really glorify God? Or, is it your attempt to hold on to your own power (idolatry)? Do our words reflect Christ? Or, do they sound more like partisan politics?
Don’t make your “religion” worthless by failing to bridle your tongue. May the words that overflow from your heart be words of God’s peace, mercy, joy, and love. May our words testify to our hope in the work of Christ and the holiness of God in redeeming all of Creation. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).