Have you ever had a “slip of the tongue” and wished that you could take it back? Well I have news for you: There is no such thing as a slip of the tongue. That’s right. Nothing we say is by accident. Everything that we say proceeds directly from the heart.
When confronted by the Pharisees about why His disciples had not washed their hands before eating, Jesus rebuked them for their hypocrisy and then turned to the people saying, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Stunned and baffled, one of His disciples asked for an explanation of this statement to which He replied:
Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. 
Whew! It’s no wonder He was eventually crucified! This man spoke words that cut straight to the heart. Literally.
Now when I speak of the “heart,” I am not referring to the internal organ that pumps blood through the circulatory system. If that were the case, all we would have to do is perform open heart surgery and we’d be able to rid the heart of its impurities once and for all. I am referring to the heart that cannot be seen; it is the central and innermost part of our mental and spiritual lives—the seat of one’s personality. Our personalities are comprised of all that we feel, think, say, and do. The heart is the breeding ground for such activities.
Good things and bad things flow from the heart: Positive thoughts and negative thoughts, truth and deceit, love and hatred, desires to give birth and desires to kill. When we neglect to take better care of our hearts, all kinds of thoughts will “slip” out in the form of words, reducing the quality of our lives and of those around us. Here are four ways that we can begin to clean up our talk:
- Think before you speak. We hear this phrase quoted so often that it has almost become cliché. But there is power in stopping to examine our hearts before we open our mouths. The apostle James said, “The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.” The tongue is a fire that can set our relationships ablaze! We should make it one of our highest priorities in life to learn how to tame this small but very influential member of our bodies.
- Examine your heart after every “slip.” Even as we begin the journey of learning to tame our tongues, we must understand that we will never have the tongue under full control. (That, of course, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try!) We must prepare ourselves for those unguarded moments when we say things that should not be said. A simple question to ask ourselves during those times is “Why did I say that?” Then we need to wait for an answer, being honest with ourselves about our motives. Once we have determined the “why” behind our words, we can then genuinely apologize to the person or persons we have offended. A careful and thorough examination of the heart will make us less likely to repeat the offense.
- Confront issues sooner rather than later. A few years ago, I blurted out a word of rebuke to someone in the presence of her peers. I knew, the moment I closed my mouth, that I had offended her. Not only that, I made everyone else in the room feel very uncomfortable. With the nudge of two friends who were there and privately confronted me about my wrongdoing, I went to the woman, asked her forgiveness, and asked how my words and tactless behavior made her feel. She told me very truthfully that I hurt and embarrassed her a lot. Listening to her helped me to further examine my heart. I realized that none of this would have happened if I wasn’t letting minor offenses fester in my heart until they turned into reckless words and actions. It is not healthy to our relationships to let the sun go down while we are still angry. Confront. Clear the air. And do it privately.
- Begin to guard your heart. We all have “gateways” to the heart that must be guarded with all diligence. Some of those gateways include the eyes, the ears, and the reproductive organs. (I will save the reproductive organs for another discussion.) Everything that we take in through our eyes and ears begins to shape some aspect of our personalities. For this reason, King Solomon advises, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Whether it is our favorite television show or favorite song, whether it is an idea from a book or advice from a friend, we must exercise caution if we going to be good gatekeepers of the heart, for out of the treasury of the heart, the mouth speaks.
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“Don’t exercise your freedom of speech until you have exercised your freedom of thought.” – Tim Fargo