“...For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matt 12:34b-37; NIV
When we are hurt by someone, we often lash out verbally. I have written about the tendency to label someone as “all bad,” and when we do that, it is often more than just a label. It can be an all-out verbal assault, where we vent our pain at the person's expense, either to their face or behind their backs to other people. We can be cruel and harsh, feeling justified because we have been damaged by them. It can feel like justice, to reveal the truth about what they did to hurt you. It might even be the case that what we're saying is true.
The issue isn't justice or truth. The issue is what we allow to fill our hearts.
I have been hurt by someone. At the time, I felt like it was intentional. I couldn't keep silent, I let them have it, verbally. I thought they deserved it. But I was acting out of a wrong heart. I was refusing to listen to God. You may have had a similar experience, confronted with some deep pain, and found yourself responding verbally. If you haven't been hurt that badly yet, you may be one day.
Jesus is speaking in this passage to Pharisees, religious hypocrites who were accusing him of being empowered by Satan. Those are the words he is speaking of. It would be easy to interpret the context of his words narrowly, to this specific group of people, to avoid the general point. What comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what is going on inside of us. However justified we feel over what we say, however wronged we have been by others, God has no part in rage, bitterness, and payback. Unlike the Pharisees, those who know Christ will face no condemnation, but if we think that God is in support of harsh words, whether true or not, we are very mistaken.
My pastor spoke on this passage today, along with some verses out of Proverbs, and I don't think I have ever felt more convicted in a church service. Not only because of things I have said, but by the knowledge that in not controlling my words, my heart was far from where it should have been. God wants me to turn my pain over to him and not try to relieve it by unloading verbally. He wants me to trust that he is in control, and will make all things right. It is not my right to make someone pay. God wants me to offer others the same mercy he has shown me.
It takes discipline to keep our mouths closed, sometimes. Richard Foster writes,
“Silence frees us from the need to control others. One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others. A frantic stream of words flows from us in an attempt to straighten others out. We want so desperately for them to agree with us, to see things our way. We evaluate people, judge people, condemn people. We devour people with our words. Silence is one of the deepest Disciplines of the Spirit simply because it puts the stopper on that. When we become quiet enough to let go of people, we learn compassion for them.”
* Richard J. Foster, Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World.
At the root of it all is our pain. We think that our words will correct wrongs and bring justice. We think condemning others will make us feel better. Instead, we inflict on others the pain we feel ourselves, and in the process, allow that pain to become more deeply rooted in our hearts. Keeping silent or speaking graciously is not just what God wants for us, it is part of acknowledging that he is in control. It is a necessary step in having lives that honor him and reflect his goodness. It allows God to bring healing and transformation to our hearts. In withholding condemning words, we not only let go of those who have hurt us, we let go of the past. It is the first step to being set free.
God let us off the hook. Now it's our turn to do the same for others.