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The DEEP

A Moment on the Lips, an Eternity on the Heart

Wisdom and guarding your mouth

Proverbs 4:23-24

23 Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life.

24 Put away from you a deceitful mouth,
And put perverse lips far from you.

 

“Do you kiss your mama with that mouth?” You may have heard this phrase before as a common retort when someone utters a curse word or a particularly nasty insult. When I was a kid I was no stranger to a bar of soap, properly administered by my mother when was caught telling a lie or if she overheard me say a “dirty word”–or a “colorful metaphor” as Star Trek’s Mr. Spock so aptly described the profanity of earth.

Here in Proverbs 4, Solomon is instructing his young learners on the power of speech. However, he is doing something more than simply conveying to his son a divine warning against “potty mouth.” He he is passing on wisdom that relates directly to the heart that lies behind the words we speak. 

In verse 23, Solomon exhorts you to “keep your heart” closely guarded against the poisons of this fallen world, for from your heart flows your very character:

23 Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life.–Proverbs 4:23

Satan prowls like a roaring lion (I Peter 5:8) always seeking to pounce, and he will seek every unlocked window and door to your heart. As Walter Chantry writes that “to guard your heart is to know your heart.” How can you guard against the Devil unless you know the things that trigger your sins? He will surely sniff them out and is prepared to use them against you.

After all, the Devil knew that delicious bread would be just the thing to tempt Jesus, hungry in the desert. Yet, the Savior knew that the direction Satan’s attack would come and thus did not give in.

How do the “issues of life” spring from your heart? Solomon uses the next three verses to show you how the rest of your body follows the heart. Bruce Waltke points out that it is not enough to restrain your heart, but you must keep track of your body too. The first of these extensions of your heart is the mouth:

24 Put away from you a deceitful mouth,
And put perverse lips far from you.–Proverbs 4:24

In ancient cultures, the heart, and not the brain, was the source of all behavior. The mouth held precedence over other body parts because of its perceived connections with the heart. In Egyptian writing, for instance, the mouth was the “direct conduit to and from the heart.”

Solomon is telling you that part of guarding your heart is also keeping close watch on the words you say and the way you handle truth. 

If you are like me and sometimes have the urge to eat an entire package or Oreos, you may have heard the phrase,  “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.” This dietary adage is a reminder that a few moments of a delicious treat may mean miles on the treadmill or the button popping off your khaki pants. A variation of this phrase can apply to words: “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the heart.” 

How often in your life has someone said something cruel, insulting or simply been dismissive in passing–and you still carry the pain of those few moments even to this day? Solomon, in these proverbs is indicating that wisdom is found not only in saying wise and helpful things, but also in being mindful of the darkness that we willfully, or even casually, express. As Old Testament scholar Derek Kidner explains:

Superficial habits of talk react on the mind; so that, e.g., cynical chatter, fashionable grumbles, flippancy, half-truths, barely meant in the first place, harden into well-established habits of thought. - Derek Kidner, “The Book of Proverbs” 

The trouble with lies is that when you tell one, you invariably must tell another to cover it up. In time you may even come to believe your own lies and they can become a part of you, distorting reality–and hurting those around you. The country trio “The Band Perry” has an entertaining song called “You Lie” that describes this colorfully: 


You like like the man with the slick black hair who sold me that Ford
You like like a palm tree in the back yard after last month's storm
You like like a penny in the parking lot at the grocery store
It just comes way too natural to you

Falsehoods will eventually work their way into your heart to where even you believe them. Likewise gossip and grumbling can harden you. Tim Keller warns that, “if we speak bitterly against someone, we can sour our heart toward them.”

If you are to be a bearer of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, can you really afford to allow your heart to become bitter toward anyone whom may be saved?

Are you tempted to gripe about things? Complaining can be cathartic and fun.  Believe me, I know. This reminds me of an exchange between Homer and Marge Simpson:

Marge Simpson: You know, Homer, it's very easy to criticize. 

Homer Simpson: Fun too!

It is easy to comment to a friend that the pastor or leaders at your church are not running things the right way–or to listen and nod when someone else complains. In a flash you have become a grumbler in the church, about whom Moses warns in Exodus 16:7 that, “Your complaints are not against us but against the Lord.”

While it is important to give your church leaders feedback and to be able to identify true abuse of power–you must resist becoming a grumbler at all costs. It is tempting to gather supporters and build a “constituency” within the church, but this will only foment division–and that is what Satan loves. 

Another way to translate the word “deceitful” is “crooked.” This is speech that distorts disfigures, dissembles and deforms the truth. As Waltke again defines in his commentary:

In sum, what is meant is to keep oneself as far away as possible from all falsity in speech, namely, lying, deception, insensitivity, hurting, disfiguring, disproportion, and brutality. The proverbs of Solomon are full of straight talk about talking straight.–Waltke

How you handle the truth in your life will say much about you–and define your walk with Christ, who was The Way, The Truth, and The Life (John 14:6).

It was Winston Churchill who said that in war, truth is attended by a “bodyguard of lies,” but unless you are trying to defeat the Nazis, your best bet will be to stick to the truth at all costs. 

It can be tempting to “bend the truth,” especially when we are dealing with one another. Maybe you do not wish to offend or hurt feelings. Perhaps you feel that telling the truth can put you in direct conflict with someone, and this will be unpleasant.  C.S. Lewis talks of the “slippery slope” of this in “The Screwtape Letters:”

It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, letter XII).

Jesus commands you to tell the truth, to deal in the truth with others as someone who is familiar with the ultimate truth: 

37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.–Matthew 5:37

Here, Jesus is speaking about oath taking but this is simply a specific type of truth-telling. Jesus says that the truth comes out of your heart like “good treasure” and if your heart is His, then nothing but the truth should flow forth from you:

35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”–Matthew 12:35

Jesus is saying in this passage that not only will you be judged for the truth you speak as well as the idle words, gossip or lies you tell. How do you handle the truth in your dealings with others? Maybe you are hesitant to “make waves” or offend, in this way you you can run afoul of “lies of omission,” or truth withheld. Kind of like the Lynyrd Skynyrd song, Don’t ask me no questions, and I won’t tell you no lies.

Mark Twain has an amusing essay on lying that he wrote in response to the big corporate lies that were emerging in the Gilded Age in which he lived. Here he describes the “silent lie:”  

Among other common lies, we have the silent lie—the deception which one conveys by simply keeping still and concealing the truth. Many obstinate truth-mongers indulge in this dissipation, imagining that if they speak no lie, they lie not at all. - Mark Twain, “On the Decay of the Art of Lying”

Maybe you are of a bold personality. If you are self-assured then you may sometimes find yourself dealing out truth with hammer blows-and possibly causing pain to weaker brothers and sisters in Christ. Robert Ruark, a columnist in for Field & Stream in the 1950’s and ’60’s wrote of the raw truthiness of an uncle of his:

Rob was blunt with a Scotsman’s bluntness, which sometimes lost him friends. He had a habit of saying what he thought, regardless of consequence. On one occasion, when Aunt May had trapped him into going to church, he glanced down the prayerful aisles to a female relative who was somewhat lacking in beauty.

“…that’s an ugly woman,” Rob muttered.

“Shhh, Rob,” Aunt May said. “The poor thing can’t help it if she’s ugly.”

“No, she can’t help it if she’s ugly,” Rob muttered back, “but, she could stay home.”- Robert Ruark, “The Old Man’s Boy Grows Up”

So what do you do? How do you live truthfully, but in kindness, not lying but also avoiding causing needless pain? No one ever said that it would be easy–although sticking to the truth should be the easiest thing you ever do. Paul gives a simple set of instructions to the Ephesians on how to do this:

29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.–Ephesians 4:29 

R. C. Sproul points out that the Greek term translated “corrupt” in Ephesians 4:29 is used elsewhere to describe spoiled fruit, rotten fish, and anything else that is worn out and useless. Paul gets more specific in Colossians:

5 Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.–Colossians 4:5-6 

Simply put, learn to handle the truth with grace and not with the rottenness of the sinful world. After decades of suffering with the lies of totalitarianism, Russian dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn resolved to live his life by the truth and to never speak a lie again. He acknowledged the difficulty–and freedom–of this:

You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.–Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

Can you live your life by the truth? To be wise is to know that the truth of Christ may be on your lips for a moment, but it will stay for an eternity on your heart, and the hearts of so many others. 

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The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

 

 

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