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FIRST-PERSON: Words expose the heart

Have you ever said something and instantly regretted it? We all undoubtedly know the devastating disappointment of hurtful words spoken in uncharitable tones. I’ll never forget when I was 13 years old and told my mother she was ruining my life (she wasn’t). Even in my youthfulness, I instantly regretted the foolish outburst. In that moment I expressed a greater desire for authority and control rather than a godly desire to honor my mother. I learned very quickly that words not only bring hurt, but also expose the desires of our hearts. 

The difficult truth of life is that every word comes from our greatest momentary heart desire. Words are external indicators of the internal affections of the heart. When speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus warns that words reveal the heart: “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34b). A few chapters later, Jesus again affirms this connection between words and the heart saying: “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart … for out of the heart come evil thoughts …” (Matthew 15:18-19). Drawing from Proverbs 4:23-24, Jesus teaches that God cares about what our words say of our hearts. God wants to transform hearts, not merely behavior.

The ultimate human problem is wickedness in our hearts. Unkind words flow from sinful hearts. Uncharitable speech results from ungodly desires rather than circumstances. Our greatest problem is first the desires of our hearts not our tongues.

Therefore, the answer to unloving speech is for the Gospel to transform our deepest heart desires. David affirmed this when he cried out to the Lord in repentance: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). He recognized that his sins of word and deed were due to the sinful desires of his heart. He sinned because in the moment of opportunity, his greatest desire was to sin. Only through seeking the Lord in honest confession could David joyfully proclaim, “O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare your praise” (Psalm 51:15). His changed heart produced changed words to the Lord.

Taking ownership of sinful desires is difficult but necessary to be right with God. What we say in the privacy of our homes says more of our hearts than our public prayers. Who we are when we speak is an accurate expression of who we are in our hearts.

Christians would be wise to view our mouths as portals to our deepest desires and affections. We would be wise to guard our tongues that can produce great wickedness (James 3:8). Most importantly, Christians ought to be daily transformed by the Gospel by looking to Christ. As the Lord transforms our hearts, so too will he transform our words. Though everything around us might fail, the Lord “is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). May the words spoken by God’s people evidence pure hearts transformed by the power of the Gospel.