May “Wise Words”
Week 1: “Words originate in the heart”
The average person speaks 4300 words per day.
That’s about 1.6 million words per year.
Some of you parents think your child at least doubles that number…maybe so.
If you get bored you could try to count…let me know what you find out.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
Beliefs and convictions are formed through words…written or spoken.
What we believe about life, ourselves, others…can destroy us or make us into fully thriving humans.
You can probably think of some words that have built you up throughout your life and some that have torn you down.
Maybe there are words, specific words…spoken a long time ago…that still ring in your ears and shape your life…for good or bad.
Think of it…the movement of a tongue, the vibrating of vocal cords…sending thoughts turned into sound waves to your ear drums then your heart…have caused ongoing pain or ongoing joy…for maybe decades.
Those simple things…words…maybe long forgotten by the speaker…continue to shape you and build you up…or shake you and tear you down.
Words…have sent armies to war…and killed millions.
Words…have formed religions and faiths…false and unreliable beliefs that have destroyed many lives.
Words…have ended marriages and friendships.
Words have caused nations to move towards peace and form alliances
Words…have spread the gospel…the good news of Jesus and the power of the gospel message spoken…has changed lives and the world.
God has designed things such that the power of the spoken word…can open hearts to the truth and transformation.
Words have inspired greatness and courage…words have taken courage and removed initiative…bringing despair.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
There is no exaggeration here:
*Death and life are literally in the power of the tongue…not just symbolically.
*We plant crops with words…we and others will eat that harvest…bitter or sweet though it may be.
James chapter 3 uses several analogies to describe the power of our tongue or words.
- If you never say the wrong thing…you are perfect…able to control all aspects of your body.
-This is how difficult it is to control the tongue.
-Get it under control…everything else is a comparative breeze.
- You can control a large horse with just a small bit in his mouth.
- Likewise you can steer a large ship with a small rudder.
- A small spark can set a fire that burns down a large forest.
- All kinds of animals have been tamed by humans…but no one can tame the tongue.
Wow so small, so powerful…so untamable…so why try?
Because we must be continually bringing our words into alignment with the reality of God…with wisdom.
We will not do so perfectly…but we must be diligent and consistent in the effort.
Words are common, normal…and yet they are enormously powerful.
If you have ever been in a car wreck you know that it makes you hesitate to want to drive, makes you hypervigilant for a time.
Suddenly you realize what has always been true…that you are moving through space at 60 mph in a machine that weight 1.5 tons and has the potential for an explosive impact the equivalent of a bomb.
One day you were driving, eating, talking on the phone, listening the radio…thinking about dinner…in this mobile bomb…but “hey, what can wrong?”
Then after an accident you are very aware…alert to your surroundings…aware of the power of this thing you were formerly so nonchalant about.
The same thing can happen with words…we toss them around casually…without thought or prayer…and then we do damage.
We hurt someone…we cause someone to lose trust, or lose heart, or lose faith.
Then we become aware of what was always true…words have the explosive power of life and death.
I can think of words I spoke to my daughters…many years ago…I can see their faces in my mind…I took courage from them…the opposite of encouragement.
I’m grateful…they can remember encouraging words I spoke…not just words that took courage from them.
But our words have explosive power…we cannot forget this and we must make choices to ensure, as best we can…our words have positive impact in the lives of others.
This year we are in Proverbs/Wisdom literature and this month we are looking at what Proverbs and James have to say about wise words.
Proverbs…by the way…has a lot to say about words.
In Proverbs 6:16-19 the writer lists 7 things the Lord hates, 7 things that are disgusting to God.
-That sounds interesting…sounds like some things you might want to avoid…doesn’t seem wise to do what God detests.
*3 of the 7 have to do with certain types of speech…our words…that is enlightening.
Today we are going to focus on the “source of words”…the heart…the command post.
Short reminder: In the Bible the heart (which is a key focus area in Proverbs) is the real, thinking, choosing “you”
It is the command post…the place where direction is given, resources are sent out…where the battle strategies are formed and directed.
It is the “inner you” that directs the “outer you”
So, again, one of our key verses for the year is Proverbs 4:23:
“Above all else guard your heart, it is the wellspring of life.”
Jesus said something very similar in Matthew 12:34:
“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”
So, first…let’s look at a few Proverbs that describe the heart as the source of our words.
Then we will conclude with several applications for how to move toward wisdom in both heart and corresponding words. (inner and outer aspects of who we are)
12:23 “The wise don’t make a show of their knowledge, but the hearts of fools broadcast their foolishness.”
This Proverb demonstrates that the wise are humble, while fools are not…no news value there…no big surprise.
The wise speak words that are true and helpful…but not in order to put themselves in the limelight.
Fools, on the other hand, are happy to broadcast any stupid idea (some translations translate “foolishness” here as “stupidity.”)
What is clear in both cases is that the knowledge of the wise and the stupidity of the foolish…both flow from hearts not just mouths.
The wise don’t show off knowledge…because they have humble hearts.
-They don’t merely decide “don’t be a showoff”
-It is just not “in them”…not who they are…less and less who they are.
While fools display their folly…from their heart to their mouth comes stupidity.
To quote Forest Gump “Stupid is as stupid does.”
What is inside shows up on the outside.
16:23 “From a wise heart comes wise speech; the words of the wise are persuasive.”
Pretty straightforward…wise speech, from a wise heart.
With an addition…wise heart equals wise speech equals persuasiveness
This doesn’t mean the wise heart uses wise words to push his or her own agenda…it means that others are going to recognize…both the quality of the words and the quality of the heart behind the words.
This proves to be persuasive in the lives of others.
Not a guarantee others will be persuaded by your wise words…but if you want to have positive, loving impact in the lives of others…including your own children…you want to pursue a wise heart…that produces wise words.
This wise heart (a heart surrendered to Jesus) often proves to produce over time…persuasive words.
So…one application…do you want to have real influence?…don’t try to look smart, seek to be godly…influence flows from the heart that belongs to Jesus.
Sometimes words and heart are used in parallel…that is, they are used interchangeably…showing how linked our hearts and words are…listen to this.
10:20 “The words of the godly are like sterling silver; the heart of a fool is worthless.”
So, the “precious character” of the godly’s words are compared to the “worthless character” of the fool’s heart.
Words and heart are used interchangeably…they are so closely linked.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know the heart behind the words…a fool can learn to use the right words.
26:3 “Smooth words may hide a wicked heart, just as a pretty glaze covers a clay pot.”
-Glaze is only on the surface of the pot…just a few microns deep
Such are the words of the fool who has learned to “parrot” the words of the wise…but has not actually become wise.
But eventually the glaze will wear off and the true condition of the heart will be revealed…look at the next few verses.
26:24-26 “People may cover their hatred with pleasant words, but they’re deceiving you. They pretend to be kind, but don’t believe them. Their hearts are full of many evils. While their hatred may be concealed by trickery, their wrongdoing will finally come to light for all to see.”
What is in the heart can’t be concealed forever…even with the “right words”…eventually what is there, inside, will come out.
This is why the Biblical principle of faithfulness over time…that we have shortened to TWT (time will tell) is so important.
Whether it is hiring someone, marrying someone, giving someone leadership…or a host of other scenarios…we must let time tell its tale.
The bad heart can cloak itself in wise words for a period of time…but the energy of keeping up the unreality will eventually prove to be too much…and the true heart will be revealed.
There are more like these…but what we are doing this month and in the remainder of the year is looking at Proverbs theme by them…rather than verse by verse.
Because that is how it is written…the themes are scattered throughout chapters 10-31.
So…we get the point for today…words and hearts are intertwined…they cannot be fully separated.
Let’s move to some applications.: 3 with subpoints.
- Our only hope for producing, consistent, life giving words from our hearts…is that Jesus change our hearts.
- This is not an excuse to say foolish things in the meantime.
“Well, I’m a work in progress…Jesus is not finished with me yet…so you will just have to take what you get in terms of my words…till Jesus fixes my heart.
No…Jesus said we will be held to account for every word we speak.
So, it’s true our hearts are a work in progress and our words originate there…but it’s also true we are completely responsible for both the condition our hearts and for the words we use.
So, we must do all we can to choose our words…to speak wise words, healing words, encouraging words.
Which brings us to the second sub-point:
- Part of the way God changes our hearts is through personal disciplines
Grace empowers effort.
We make certain choices that change our hearts that change our choices…it is an upward spiral.
*Those heart-shaping disciplines include: time in God’s word, in prayer and with God’s people.
*Memorize verses, do self-evaluation, ask for help, repent when you say stupid things.
Paul Comegys asked me to signal him when he was talking too much in group or other conversations…and I did.
And his heart changed in many ways…from the outside in and his words changed from the inside out.
The process is, in many ways, a bit of a paradox…or mystery…but it works none the less.
We choose…God works…we change…enabling us to choose…so that God will work.
*The disciplines of a godly life…clearly outlined in Scripture are the means by which God brings change to our hearts.
Part of that discipline is what we are doing right now…thinking deeply about what God has said in his word about our words and our hearts.
Our words come from our hearts…and we want hearts and words that please God.
- This is not an excuse to say foolish things in the meantime.
- But our hearts are going to be full of passion and emotion…so our words will not always be calm, dispassionate, clinical…just what others want us to say…and everyone will always like what we say.
We want to speak wise words…but the goal is not word and heart void of passion.
Paul the Apostle got fired up at times, passionate, very direct.
Sometimes he sinned in what he said and when he did…he backed up…but he stayed “fired up”
In Acts 23 Paul was on trial before the religious ruling body and he said “I’m good to go…my conscience is clear.”
At that point the High Priest ordered Paul be struck on the mouth…a way of saying “If you won’t shut your mouth, we will shut it for you.”
Paul responded with “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall.” (meaning hypocrite)
Paul was right to speak out against their treatment of him…but he didn’t know he was speaking against the High Priest.
When he was told so…he immediately backed up “My bad, I didn’t know that’s who he was…for it is written, you shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.”
But then went right back into the fray…proclaiming the truth with great passion.
Paul made mistakes…and he would have preferred to never make any mistakes in what he said…but his ruling passion was to be faithful…not avoid making any mistakes.
Faith and faithfulness involve some risk.
Proverbs gives us the path of “word risk management” but not a path of “risk avoidance.”
Risk management is pray, discipline yourself, listen, be slow to speak…all that.
Risk avoidance is “Say nothing do nothing because you might say something or do something stupid.”
NO…the gospel needs to be spoken, at times rebuke needs to be verbalized, and warnings need to be given…and even encouragement that maybe people don’t receive as intended…still needs to be given.
Christy and I don’t play it safe with our words…we try to be wise…but we make lots of mistakes.
-When I try to play it safe…shut down…don’t want to fail…self-protective
-She won’t let me stay there.
We don’t want a “mistake free life”(we do, but that is not the goal)…we want deep, growing relationship…and that involves risk.
*In the first century a conquered Briton King said of the Roman empire “They make a wilderness and call it peace.”
We want wise words from a wise heart…but we want passionate words from a heart full of passion…and being human there is risk that.
The key is “Guard your heart”…not try to make every single word perfect.
Which brings us to the final major point of application.
- We need to give others the grace that we want from them.
Jesus said…do to others as you would have them to do you.
I really like it when people give me “do-overs” with my words.
I like when people gave me grace and not the judgment I deserve.
If I want that…and don’t we want that?
Shouldn’t we give that grace to others?
James wrote…if anyone is never at fault in what he says he is a perfect person
This was not an excuse to say foolish things…it is the reality that we will not have perfect hearts and imperfect hearts will produce imperfect words at times.
We need to give and receive grace in our words.
And at the same time…we need to be resolute in our efforts and prayers to be people with hearts that produce words that honor God and encourage others.
Okay, I get it…I should give grace…but if words come from the heart and someone says something that hurts me…it reveals who they really are right?
We all say things that “we mean, but we don’t mean”
Do you ever do things that “you don’t want to do”…like Romans 7 speaks of?
Well if you didn’t want to do it…why did you do it?
Because we know our hearts are mixed bags.
They are not binary things…they are “already changed…being changed…and yet to be changed.”
So, our words and actions…are inconsistent…but they should be becoming more and more reflective of our relationship with Jesus and of a transformed heart.
So, let’s bring it home.
Fight on two fronts simultaneously
- Out here: practice disciplines that will help shape your habits.
- In there: practice disciplines that will help shape your heart.
Very similar…require God’s resources…his Spirit, his word, and his people.
In all of it…cry out to God to make you a person of wise speech flowing wise heart.
And willing to take risks for his glory and the good of others.
When you fail…at the heart and habit level…mess up, fess up…move on.
Error free speech is not the goal…that is sort of a non-goal.
God honoring, people loving speech is the goal…and having that as the goal…helps change us at the heart level.
This goal…can help empower both habit and heart change in our words.