Monday, April 18, 2011

The Heart's Overflow

Perhaps my earliest model of eloquence is from the world of sports; yet he was not an athlete. I was a basketball spectator, but there were times when I was more fascinated with Joe Cantada's use of words than with what's happening in the hardcourt:

"Tanduay draws first blood"
"The Bicolano Superman turns garbage into gold."

From listening to sportscasters, I moved to reading sports writers. When I was a 10-year old boy visiting San Carlos City's  Public Library, the only reason why I picked the newspapers was because of the sports pages. That would change later for I would then become interested in news and current events. Yet sports writers were my first models of creative writing. That explains why my ticket to the Regional Secondary Schools Press Conference was winning a medal for sports writing in the city division level.

I would soon be enlightened that is not enough to be fascinated with eloquence and literary flair. Communication is one of God's gifts to humanity. Adam could understand direct commands from God. He himself was given the ability to articulate what's on his mind that when he saw his suitable partner for the first time, he suddenly turned into a poet:

"This is now bone of my bones
      and flesh of my flesh;
    she shall be called `woman,'
      for she was taken out of man." (Gen.2:23)

Since the ability to communicate is from God, we should use it in a way that glorifies him. Words are meant to be powerful (not in the positive confession sense-- that false teaching which says you posses what you confess). The book of Proverbs testify about the power of words fitly used

"A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." (25:11)
"Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." (16:24)

In the New Testament, God has designed the fellowship of saints to preserve us from sin's decomposing effects (Heb 3:13). We also learn from Col.3:16 that even the songs we sing to each other is closely connected to the teaching ministry and so it has the same purpose. Though I don't think that secular songs are not necessarily bad, you invest in the spiritual well being of the brethren when we sing truth-founded lyrics. What a thought! I could be a blessing to my brethren, I could keep them from spiritual decay if my mouth shall utter sanctifying truth.

Having learned that truth, I made a resolution: I will deliberately seek to speak what is Scripture-founded so I could glorify God with my speech and at the same time minister to my fellowmen.

But there's a problem, and its not in the resolution. The resolution is good for it is an expression of a desire to follow Colossians 4:6 "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." However, the problem is me.

After teaching a class early morning on the significance of Heb.3:13 and why Christians must seek to speak what is edifying, by lunch time I was conversing to the very persons I taught and what I'm seeking is to make them laugh. Well there is nothing wrong with humor in itself. Humor is a gift of God. The problem is that when the chief end of your speech is not the glory of God and the the welfare of your fellowmen but to be funny.

Why is it so easy for us to talk about senseless things? Why is it so easy for us to fall into flippancy? Why are we so easily provoked to anger? Why is it that even Christians go to the level of backbiters and slanderers? Matt. 12:33-37 provides some answer for us:

"Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.  You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him." (NIV 1984)

This string of verses hurts, but it is a scalpel we need for a much needed surgery. It tells us that if what comes out of our mouth are worthless things, it is because what's in our hearts are worthless too. When the words uttered stink, it is just an indication that something is decaying inside.

In the context of the narrative, there were people who reject Jesus as the Messiah and some of them are top religious leaders. They are so evil that they even attributed God's works as the works of the devil. Jesus says here that the reason they can't confess the right things is because they are by nature evil (v.38). Perhaps you are not on that level. Perhaps you confess him as your Lord. But the principle here is general. A polluted creek overflows polluted water. A  healthy creek overflows refreshing and life-giving water.

We must see the metaphor of storage here (v.35). If what is stored inside is good, what will come out of his mouth is good. If what's stored inside is bad, then what will come out is bad. If a man frequently cracks obscene jokes, that only shows what is stored in his heart. There is a treasury of obscenity inside that man. When there is bitterness and anger at how you respond to circumstances, like you curse and malign your professor for what you perceive as unfairness on his part, it is not the professor who deposited that bitterness and anger in your heart. He is outside you; the verses we read says the problem is inside.

Paul David Tripp offers this insight:
"Your behavior isn't caused by the situations and relationships outside of you. This passage teaches that your experiences influence, but do not determine, your behavior. Your behavior is shaped and caused by how your heart reacts to and interacts with the situations and relationships that are outside of you."1

Now that we have diagnosed the problem, we have to find a cure. Since it is a heart problem, there must be a radical change in us from inside out. D.A. Carson prescribes the same cure: "How, then, can those who are evil say anything good? What is needed is a change of heart."2

Nothing renews the heart of man except the word of God. For whatever we lack, the Word of God is sufficient to bring the necessary teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Tim.3:16-17). It is the Word of God that incinerates the deposit of garbage within and replaces it with a deposit of gold. As the word of God is is stored in the heart, the sinfulness planted in the soul is uprooted. Spiritual halitosis is cured; the man will now exhale fresh air.

If you want your mouth to be a fountain of God-glorifying and soul-sanctifying speech, you yourself must immerse your soul in the word of God. Be diligent in bible reading and bible study, expose yourself to powerful preaching, read godly authors. Determine what is good and eat-all-you can.

1. Paul David Trip, War of Words: Getting to the Heart for God's Sake, Chapter 1 in The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, eds. John Piper and Justin Taylor
2. D.A. Carson, Matthew. Expositor's Bible Commentary, ed. Frank Gaebelein

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