“For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” MATTHEW 12:34
When my son, Jimmy, was four, he was constantly talking. “Mama. Mama. Mama. Mama.” One afternoon while driving down a country road near our home, Jimmy would not stop chattering. I finally cracked, slammed on the brakes, and told him that if he did not stop talking for five minutes, I would leave him on the side of the road. Well, he quieted down. I drove about five feet and stopped the car again. At this point we were both crying. I climbed into the backseat, held his hands, told him how sorry I was for speaking to him that way, and asked him to forgive me. It broke my heart to think that my son might for a fleeting moment think I would ever desert him.
Where did that outburst of angry, hurtful words come from? Have you ever been utterly shocked by the words that seem to come pouring out of your mouth without any warning? Have you been surprised to hear foul language pass through your lips before you even knew it had formed on your tongue? How does that happen?
God’s Word says that our mouths speak out of the overflow of our hearts:
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
The word heart in verse 34 is the Greek word kardia. It refers to our thoughts, motives, feelings; our will; and our character. Kardia also implies the “center.” Thus, our hearts represent our whole inner person. Who we are inside overflows through the escape hatch of our mouths. When we are growing in godliness, the evidence of that growth will flow from the center of our beings and out through our mouths as godly words. However, if we are not turned toward God, what else can flow from us but that which is not honoring to Him?
In the NASB, Matthew 12:35 reads, “The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good.” Treasure is the Greek word thesauros, which has at its root the word tithemi, which means “to place.” Whatever we place in our hearts is what we have to “bring forth.” We have the responsibility and the power to place or store up either virtue or evil in our hearts.
“What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ . . . But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’”
Matthew 15:11, 18
In this confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus made it plain that a purely outward religion which ignored the condition of the heart was not pleasing to God. What defines a person is what fills his or her heart, and this is revealed by what comes out of his or her mouth.
Do you get the point that every time we open our mouths to speak, we are uncovering our characters? Baring our souls to the world? By means of the words we speak, everyone who hears can recognize precisely the kind of people we really are. This can be frightening! Just that thought is enough to make me want to whip myself into shape. But how?
A Christ-centered heart is foundational for producing godly communication. That’s why I put this chapter first. In my experience, the sooner we understand how to develop a Christ-centered heart, the sooner our lives and words will begin to reveal godly character. From Psalm 119:10–12 I have derived three steps to achieving a Christ-centered heart:
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, O LORD;
teach me your decrees.
1. -Seek God through genuine prayer for a righteous heart.
2. -Fill your heart with God’s Word.
3. -Train yourself for the purpose of godliness.
Let’s look at each step one by one.
Seek God Through Genuine Prayer for a Righteous Heart
In 1 Kings 3:1–15, God came to Solomon and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon’s request is in verse 9: “Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” God was so pleased that Solomon had not asked for a long life or riches but for a discerning heart that He gave Solomon what he asked—and then added riches and honor besides!
If God told you, “Ask of Me the one thing you desire most, and it will be yours,” what would you ask for? Would your request match Solomon’s—a righteous, discerning heart? That’s what we need most, isn’t it? A heart that can discern between right and wrong, a heart that honors God.
If our hearts aren’t discerning, what are they? God’s Word calls them “hardened.” When Jesus refers to hardness of heart, He is picturing hearts that have become spiritually unperceptive and insensitive (see Mark 8:17). But this condition doesn’t have to be permanent. Ezekiel gives us hope for change:
“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.”
If we ask Him to, God will take out our stony, deadened hearts and replace them with tender, responsive hearts “of flesh.” God will renew our hearts when we genuinely desire clean hearts. The key is genuine desire, as Solomon had. We have to really mean it when we pray for a new heart. This inevitably requires giving up things that have become significant to us, such as having our way and our familiar routines and patterns. In order to fill our hearts with Christ and His righteousness, we must empty them of all the ungodly garbage that so often fills them—things like selfishness, arrogance, and unforgiveness.
For example, consider my friend Tina and her husband Greg. Greg was dishonest with Tina throughout their entire marriage, and she forgave him time and time again. But finally, she just couldn’t take it anymore and packed up the children and their belongings and went to live with her parents. She felt so hurt and betrayed that she feared bitterness would take root in her heart. While Greg went through hours of counseling and was held accountable by a select group of godly men, Tina and the kids stayed away, separated from him indefinitely.
Tina asked for prayer for her heart, asking God to soften her and make her receptive to a changed Greg. She feared that anger, hurt, and resentment toward him would take over and characterize her; yet she also feared that if she let go of those things, Greg would just hurt her again. Tina could have put her trust in her anger and hurt as the means for Greg’s needed reformation, but would this really have changed him? No, only God and Greg could do that. If she wanted to be free to forgive Greg and learn to trust him again, she would have to be willing to let go of her bitterness, hurt, and resentment and trust that the new heart the Lord would give her was more than worth the risk.
In order to experience God’s power in our hearts, we must be willing, as Solomon was, to give up or lay aside the things that seem most important to us. You’ve heard the phrase, “Let go and let God.” That is what we must do if we truly want a righteous heart.
The words of King David are still the perfect and timely petition for us today:
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Fill Your Heart with God’s Word
Once we have turned our hearts over to God, we are ready for the next step. Phase two in the transformation of the heart is to fill our hearts with God’s words:
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
The Hebrew word used here for hidden means “to treasure, hide, protect, hoard, reserve.” This same word is used in Exodus 2:2, when Moses’ mother hid him from Pharaoh’s army for three months. God’s Word should be as precious to us as the baby Moses was to his mother!
When our hearts and minds are filled with the treasure of God’s Word, we have also gained a powerful weapon. Remember when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness? Jesus responded to every temptation by quoting Scripture: “It is written . . .”
Satan first suggested to Jesus, who had been fasting for forty days, that He turn the nearby stones into bread. But Jesus replied with Deuteronomy 8:3, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).
Next, Satan challenged Jesus to prove He was God by throwing Himself off the pinnacle of the temple and letting the angels catch Him. But Jesus answered using Deuteronomy 6:16: “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7).
Finally, Satan offered Jesus power over the world if only He would bow down and worship him. But Jesus replied from Deuteronomy 6:13: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’” (Matthew 4:10).
How do we get God’s Word into our hearts as Jesus did in His? It takes time and commitment. We must spend time in Scripture for it to become part of us. I can suggest four specific ways to prompt this result: (1) regular personal Bible study, (2) Scripture memory, (3) group Bible study, (4) Bible-based books.
Regular personal Bible study. While growing up, I was taught that you must have a quiet time first thing in the morning, every morning. Well, I am not much of a morning person, and if I missed a day, I felt so guilty I could hardly function.
Having daily Bible study first thing in the morning is an incredible discipline for which I still strive. However, the time of day is not as important as actually doing it. As a mother, I would like to have my devoted time in God’s Word first thing in the morning. But if my son wakes up extra early and prohibits my study time, it works out well for me to study God’s Word during his naptime. As a professional woman, I spent many lunch hours in the car at the park in Bible study. If you get coffee breaks at work, why not spend them in God’s Word? If you like to read before going to bed at night, why not read God’s Word instead of mail-order catalogs? Let me encourage you to not get so hung up on the time of day or the number of minutes. Just do it!
You can accomplish effective daily Bible study in several ways. Many people use a system that suggests certain passages of Scripture to read each day that will allow them to complete the entire Bible in a year. I use two different approaches: book study and word study. In book study, I choose a book of the Bible and read it through several times, each time digging deeper into its meaning. I use a concordance, several versions of Scripture, and other study guides to help me understand the context. I write my thoughts and questions in a journal and cross-reference until I am satisfied that my questions are resolved.
In word study, I choose a word, like heart, and try to find out everything that Scripture says about that particular word, again using different versions of Scripture, concordances, and other study materials. I journal my findings and write how these conclusions apply to my life. Each of these types of study can take weeks in which to weary myself, although I am confident I will never exhaust God’s Word.
There are assuredly other methods of personal Bible study. The key is to find a method that excites you and through which you can absorb God’s Word into your life.
Scripture memory. As part of your regular study time, you should incorporate Scripture memory. That is how you, too, will be able to respond to temptation with, “It is written . . .”
You can memorize Scripture in many ways. In college, my friend Alicia had a little Lucite box attached to the dash of her car. In it were several small cards with verses printed on them. She would memorize Scripture on the long drive between the university and her home on the weekends. My friend Val writes out verses that she needs to memorize on 4 x 6 index cards and keeps them in her kitchen so she can look at them regularly. I keep index cards in my study next to the computer, because I am there frequently. When I worked in an office, these index cards were tacked to the bulletin board at my desk. Gideons International provides their members with a small, folding, wallet-like packet that holds cards imprinted with Scripture that can be carried easily in a pocket or handbag. A Bible study in which I participated a few years ago suggested that if you have difficulty memorizing Scripture, you should write out the verse you wish to learn ten times. By the time you are done, you know it.
Again, find a method that works for you. Whether you memo-rize a verse a month, a verse a week, or a whole book of the Bible, you are making progress in filling your heart with God’s words.
A great place to start your Scripture memory would be using the verses quoted in this book. Write them on index cards and put them where you can go over them frequently. Once you know them, whenever you are tempted to participate in unwholesome speech, you can respond with, “It is written . . .”
Group Bible study. The church I attend has a strong emphasis on small group Bible studies. We have several groups of a dozen or so people who meet together frequently for in-depth Bible study. My husband and I meet with a group of about twelve men and women on Wednesday nights in our home. We often study a specific book of the Bible using a workbook or study guide. This is an incredible opportunity for us to study together. The group also provides a wonderful forum for discussion.
If your church doesn’t offer small group Bible study, many towns have community Bible study programs, or perhaps another church in your area does have small groups. If you can’t find either of these, start a Bible study group of your own. During the summer, our church usually does not offer a formal women’s Bible study program. So a friend and I invite some other ladies and have our own group study for the summer. This past summer we studied prayer using Kay Arthur’s Lord, Teach Me to Pray and Bruce Wilkinson’s The Prayer of Jabez.
Bible-based books. I strongly encourage everyone I meet to read Bible-based nonfiction books. Whether it is a book about losing weight or about raising children, if it incorporates Scripture within the text, it will help you incorporate Scripture into your everyday life. Many books are available that have opened up God’s Word to thousands of people by helping them apply Scripture to their health, to raising children, to having a successful marriage, and even to organizing their closets. All the books I have read by Kay Arthur or Beth Moore have amazed me at how God’s Word so perfectly applies to my life today.
These are all merely suggestions. Other ways to get God’s Word into your heart include learning and singing Scripture-based songs like “He Who Began a Good Work in You,” which is based on Philippians 1:6. Many other effective avenues for hiding God’s Word in your heart are available. The point is to begin today to actively pursue that goal, so when you are tempted to communicate in an ungodly manner, you can respond with, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
Train Yourself for the Purpose of Godliness
Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.
1 Timothy 4:7
Paul was instructing Timothy to avoid “worldly fables fit only for old women” (NASB). This refers to fables being taught as truth in that day that mixed Christianity and paganism.1 Isn’t it interesting that Scripture contrasts participating in this type of ungodly talk with disciplining yourself for godliness?
Martha Peace, in The Excellent Wife, calls this training a “process of diligence.” It takes work. She points out that the New Testament Greek word for discipline is gumnaz?o, which means “to exercise or train.” In other words, it means to do it over and over until you get it right. The English word gymnastics comes from this Greek word. How godly we become depends on how hard we work at it, how hard we exercise. “Old habits of sinful thoughts and responses do not just disappear. They have to be replaced with new, godly ways of thinking and responding.”2 As Paul wrote:
We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:5
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed
by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve
what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
As we take our ungodly thoughts captive (grab them before they get out of our mouths), then replace them with godly thoughts and comments, eventually the godly response becomes the automatic response.
Our words reveal our character. Those words come from the overflow of our hearts. God’s Word tells us that what we put into our hearts is what is recycled into our words. We have the responsibility and the power to alter our hearts. We must decide that having a righteous heart is the most important objective by asking God, first and foremost, to give us a new heart. Then we can ultimately transform our hearts by filling them with God’s Word—hiding His Word in our hearts. Finally, we must be continuously training ourselves for the purpose of godliness by diligently capturing sinful thoughts, feelings, and motives and replacing them with new, godly ways of thinking and responding.