Speak from a Good Heart
“Offspring of vipers, how can you speak good things, when you are wicked? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure sends out good things, whereas the wicked man out of his wicked treasure sends out wicked things. I tell you that every unprofitable saying that men speak, they will render an account concerning it on Judgment Day; for by your words you will be vindicated, and by our words you will be condemned.”—Matt. 12:34-37.
1. To whom is man indebted for his power of speech, and how should he view it?
INTELLIGENT speech is as old as the human family. From the day that man was created the ability to speak was one of his gifts from Jehovah. Truly it is a great treasure. How blessed men are that they can easily communicate with one another through the power of speech! It is so common among mankind, many take it for granted and never stop to think of giving thanks to the great Creator for the marvelous privilege of speaking. But how difficult it would be to pursue our many daily activities were it not for the power of speech! Observing for a moment the problems of the deaf-mute should convince anyone of the great wisdom and intelligence Jehovah used in designing the highest form of earthly creation, man. Every day we should thank Jehovah for the ability we have to speak.
2. (a) How does the human body co-operate in producing good speech? (b) What explanation for good speech and wicked speech is found in the Bible?
2 Jehovah designed the human mouth, the tongue and the throat so man could speak good things. These parts of the human body function together, dependent upon other parts of the body. If they are to be used for speaking good things as Jehovah purposed, other parts of the body must co-operate. The right use of the power of speech depends on what is in the mind and the heart. When we hear a man speaking good things to the praise of the Creator we will find that his mind and heart have been trained in harmony with the Word of God. He has stored away truth securely inside, as one stores up good treasure. All men do not speak good things, and Jesus explains why: “Either you people make the tree fine and its fruit fine or make the tree rotten and its fruit rotten; for by its fruit the tree is known. Offspring of vipers, how can you speak good things, when you are wicked? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure sends out good things, whereas the wicked man out of his wicked treasure sends out wicked things. I tell you that every unprofitable saying that men speak, they will render an account concerning it on Judgment Day; for by your words you will be vindicated, and by your words you will be condemned.”—Matt. 12:33-37.
3. (a) Why do any men speak evil things? (b) What light is thrown on this by the words of Jesus at Matthew 15:1-11?
3 What is the reason for this difference in men, some speaking praise to God and others reproach? The history of the human family answers. The difference has existed since the rebellion, when Satan the Devil spoke in opposition to God in the garden of Eden and when Adam and Eve violated the commandment of God and also became opposers of God’s will. Their minds and hearts were contaminated with lies and wrong thoughts, and such is the heritage that has been handed down to the human family. Some men try to make the appearance of speaking good things, but their motives are not good, as seen by their fruits. They twist words, seeking their own advantage and seeking to gain honor among men. These are hypocrites, like the Pharisees and scribes whom Jesus encountered near Jerusalem: “Then there came to Jesus from Jerusalem Pharisees and scribes, saying: ‘Why is it your disciples overstep the tradition of the men of former times? For example, they do not wash their hands when about to eat a meal.’ In reply he said to them: ‘Why is it you also overstep the commandment of God because of your tradition? For example, God said: “Honor your father and your mother”; and, “Let him that reviles father or mother die the death.” But you say: “Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever I have by which you might get help from me is a gift dedicated to God,’ he must not honor his father at all.” And so you have made the word of God invalid because of your tradition. You hypocrites, Isaiah aptly prophesied about you, when he said: “This people honors me with their lips, yet their hearts are far removed from me. It is in vain that they keep paying respect to me, because they teach commands of men as doctrines.’” With that he called the crowd near and said to them: ‘Listen and get the sense of it: Not what enters into his mouth defiles a man; but it is what proceeds out of his mouth that defiles a man.’”—Matt. 15:1-11.
4. (a) In connection with speech, what causes the defilement of a man? (b) What does Romans 12:1, 2 show is the way to change from doing as defiled worldly people do?
4 According to Jesus, the human heart must be in harmony with God for man to speak correctly. In the present day one may hear many doctrines and philosophies. Strange theories are advanced by so-called learned men of science and educational institutions and echoed by all means of modern propagandizing. Their sayings must be sifted out. We may hear many things said, but upon the basis of the accurate knowledge found in the Word of God we can determine what is good and acceptable and what is not. We are not defiled if we hear of something evil, but if we reiterate the evil things or practice the evil things we are wrong. Since we are born in evil surroundings in this world our determination must be to avoid their influence and use our speech in the right ways. It is not natural to an imperfect man to speak only good automatically. He must train his mind and heart and give himself over completely to the Source of all good, Jehovah God. Thus he has a basis for speaking good and doing good. The apostle Paul put it this way: “Consequently, I entreat you by the compassions of God, brothers, to present your bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with your power of reason. And quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and complete will of God.”—Rom. 12:1, 2.
5. According to Philippians 4:6-8, what mental habits must be formed, and what results therefrom?
5 How are we going to be able to do this? We must be determined to put forth a strong effort and must have help to build up and strengthen our mental powers for doing good with our tongue. We must seek the help of the Creator. “In everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God, and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.” (Phil. 4:6-8) With proper training we can gain true wisdom and build up the right motives in our hearts, which will cause right speaking. “The heart of the wise one causes his mouth to show insight, and to his lips it adds persuasiveness.”—Prov. 16:23.
THE TONGUE NEEDS ATTENTION
6. What do the opening verses of James 3:1-6 tell us about the great problems of controlling the tongue?
6 Because one is a Christian and has presented his body a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, with his power of reason, it does not mean that he can automatically bridle his tongue. Even from the beginnings of Christianity the taming of the tongue presented a problem. The disciple James emphasizes the problem in Jas chapter three, verse 2: “For we all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man, able to bridle also all his body.” Then he goes on to show how man has learned to control horses with a bridle or to steer great ships with a small rudder, but the small tongue in the body presents a greater problem. It is like a small fire that can consume a great forest. “For every kind of wild beast as well as bird and creeping thing and sea creature is to be tamed and has been tamed by humankind. But the tongue, not one of mankind can get it tamed. An unruly injurious thing, it is full of death-dealing poison. With it we bless Jehovah, even the Father, and yet with it we curse men who have come into existence ‘in the likeness of God’. Out of the same mouth come forth blessing and cursing.”—Jas. 3:7-10.
7. (a) How do we know that James is not wanting anyone to give up in trying to control his speaking? (b) What is required to speak correctly, according to James 3:13-18?
7 Is James saying that we should become defeatists or give up in our fight to control the tongue? Is it a losing battle? Is there no use fighting? If that were so, he would hardly have continued his reasoning, saying: “It is not proper, my brothers, for these things to go on occurring this way. A fountain does not cause the sweet and the bitter to bubble out of the same opening, does it? My brothers, a fig tree cannot produce olives or a vine figs, can it? Neither can salt water produce sweet water.” (Jas. 3:10-12) Indeed, it is not proper that men abuse their power of speech by cursing other men or speaking evilly of them. The only basis for overcoming the problem is to be found in conforming to the wisdom that comes down from above. To take in such wisdom one needs meekness and he must have a desire to conduct himself correctly. Lying, bragging, cursing or other wrong uses of speech are earthly or demonic in origin. Only the wisdom that comes from above can overcome the wrong tendencies with which imperfect man is born. Wisdom coming from the study of God’s Word must be pursued if we are to make the tongue speak what is clean, peaceable and righteous. (Read James 3:13-18.)
8. What is the relationship between control of the tongue and pure worship?
8 If it were the thought of James that there is no use trying to tame the tongue because it is impossible to do it, so we might as well let the tongue take its own course, then it would be futile to try to work with God. But he did not say that. Tying in the control of the tongue with our pure worship, James urged: “If any man seems to himself to be a formal worshiper and yet does not bridle his tongue, but goes on deceiving his own heart, this man’s form of worship is futile. The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.”—Jas. 1:26, 27.
9. (a) What motives may prompt speech that leads to disunity, and why should such speech be avoided? (b) Judging by 1 Peter 3:8-12, who receives the blessing?
9 So to preserve one’s worship undefiled before God he must learn to exercise self-control and speak in harmony with God’s righteousness. It must not be speech out of wrath, which would bring disunity. “Know this, my beloved brothers. Every man must be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath; for man’s wrath does not produce God’s righteousness.” (Jas. 1:19, 20) Those to whom James wrote were fighting among themselves and speaking against one another, proud and bragging. They had to be shown the need to control their tongues and preserve the peace of the congregation. Only bad motives in the heart prompt vilifying speech. James mentioned jealousy, contentiousness, bragging and lying, and showed how they bring disorder. If one has hatred toward his brother, it will show up in his speech. If he is jealous of another’s privileges and blessings or desires to be seen himself or to be prominent, he may go around trying to tear down respect for his fellow man. Some may feel they are not prominent enough and want to show off, so they asperse or slander and bring forth strife. They prove themselves immature, as a “good-for-nothing man.” “A good-for-nothing man is digging up what is bad, and upon his lips there is, as it were, a scorching fire. A man of intrigues keeps sending forth strife, and a slanderer is separating those familiar with one another.” (Prov. 16:27, 28) Therefore, instead of the sower of strife gaining prominence and being looked up to by others, he will, in the eyes of mature Christians, lose all respect. Jehovah blesses the peacemakers.—1 Pet. 3:8-12.
KEEPING THE PEACE
10. What causes quarreling among brothers?
10 Following his discussion of the taming of the tongue James speaks of the wars and fights among brothers. There must have been a spirit of reciprocity or there could not have been wars. A person by himself cannot have a fight. Someone else must be there to fight with him. If there had been but one individual who was of bad heart and not holding his tongue with a bridle it would hardly have been necessary for James to write as he did. It would have been possible to avoid that condition among the brothers if matters had been attended to properly in the pursuit of peace.
11, 12. (a) What is David’s good example of self-control? (b) Explain the formula for settling differences presented by Jesus at Matthew 18:15-17.
11 How can the peace be preserved when an individual speaks offendingly? The first thing to remember is not to reciprocate with like speech. When a brother offends you as an individual, you can exercise the same determined self-control as David, who wrote: “I said, ‘I will guard my ways to keep from sinning with my tongue. I will set a muzzle as a guard to my own mouth as long as anyone wicked is in front of me.’” (Ps. 39:1) This is a good principle to follow, whether dealing with worldly wicked people or brothers who offend us. We must control our spirit and not let any sudden anger or disgust that may rise up throw us off balance. Control is a mark of spiritual maturity. More often than not it is possible to rectify matters by going to the offending individual privately without letting a lot of time elapse. This is the formula Jesus presented at Matthew 18:15-17 for the solution of many a problem.
12 When an offender of good heart sees his mistake he will apologize and ask forgiveness of the one he has offended. Indeed, as servants of God we should be ready and willing to forgive. James encourages such forgiveness by showing that we can all err with the tongue and not one of us is perfect. If a matter can be settled between two individuals and there can be apology and forgiveness, it will go no farther and there will be no occasion for it to come before any in the congregation and be a means of causing bad feelings or taking sides. It is only where an offender will not listen that as a last resort it becomes necessary to seek the advice of the servants in the congregation and perhaps let them join in talking to the offender.
13. How must Christians exercise tongue control if dealing with offenses committed by brothers?
13 Another opportunity to bridle the tongue out of respect for the peace and unity of the congregation is in connection with any violation of God’s law by a member of the Christian congregation. When we hear that someone erred or even engaged in immorality, it is not proper to pass gossip around quickly and cause a stir. Matters of that nature are the business of the congregation servants who represent the congregation, and the controlled tongue will speak to them. One should not seek prominence by telling everyone all he knows, but in due humility consider the interest of the congregation as a whole. Let the congregation committee decide what action to take and what information to pass on to the congregation. If you heard something that was actually false and you went spreading it about you would fall in the class of slanderers. “The one walking about as a slanderer is uncovering confidential talk, but the one faithful in spirit is covering over a matter.”—Prov. 11:13.
14. What influence does a heart filled with love have upon speech concerning disciplined transgressors?
14 When a matter has been dealt with individually with a personal offender or if the congregation has dealt with an offense that required probation or disfellowshiping of a member and after some time a brother or sister has been reinstated, no benefit can come to anyone by a continual harping on the transgression that was committed. Where is there love for brothers in that manner of speaking? When something has been settled and forgiven, then let it die out. “The one covering over transgression is seeking love, and he that keeps talking about a matter is separating those familiar with one another.”—Prov. 17:9.
15, 16. (a) What does it mean to forgive an offender, and how did Jesus prove the necessity for exercising true forgiveness? (b) How did Paul show the need for humility and forgiveness?
15 That may not be the world’s standard, but it is the standard of loving Christians. When Jesus taught the model prayer recorded in Matthew 6:9-13 he taught us essentials, and by what he said we should learn how important it is really to forgive an offender and pursue peace with all men. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; whereas if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14, 15) Do you forgive persons who trespass, or do you only think you forgive? Webster says: “Forgive implies the giving up not only of any claim to requital or retribution but also of any resentment or desire for revenge.” After you have been involved in a matter and you have agreed to forgive an offender against you, do you still harbor any resentment, or can you greet the brother and treat him as a brother just as if this offense had not been committed? It may be a strong test of your love, but if there is a feeling of revenge or resentment you have really not forgiven him. Even though you may have been very angry at the time, if you were possessed of the spirit of self-control you would have reflected on the fact that you too could offend sometime and you would have bridled your tongue.
16 Paul told the Galatians (6:1) “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to restore such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted.” And he told the Ephesians (4:31, 32): “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all injuriousness. But become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you.” If Jehovah and Christ Jesus, who do not commit trespasses, can lovingly and completely forgive trespasses of others, cannot we imperfect men with due humility learn to really forgive one another?
OTHER OFFENSES OF THE TONGUE
17, 18. (a) Why is obscene speech not becoming to Christian ministers? (b) What kind of conversation is produced by mature Christians? (c) How can we explain anyone’s wanting to speak obscene things?
17 What is popular in this world is frequently not right. As the world deteriorates more and more, the morals and general ethics of the people degenerate too. That is why we have been admonished to quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making the mind over. The example of many of the world’s prominent entertainers and popular speakers and the trend of the conversation in clubs, social gatherings and even in the schools among the children is that obscene speech makes one outstanding and popular. Children, observing others, may be led to believe that swearing and obscene speech are an evidence of one’s being grown up and of one’s manliness, but as a matter of fact such proves only one’s worldliness. For over nineteen centuries Christians have had the inspired counsel of the apostle Paul: “Let fornication and uncleanness of every kind or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people, neither shameful conduct nor foolish talking nor obscene jesting, things which are not becoming, but rather the giving of thanks.”—Eph. 5:3, 4; Col. 3:5-8.
18 Harking back to the words of James 3:11, can our fountain of speech give out both sweet and bitter waters? What explanation is there for a person’s wanting to talk about obscenity or evil things at any time, even when in association with worldly people during secular work? Is he a Christian minister only when at a congregation meeting? When you are with others, what do you talk about? Are you always talking about worldly things, or do you make it a practice to uplift the conversation by talking on spiritual or constructive things? When there is an occasion to be with your brothers, are you talking about the latest cinema shows or sporting events, the daily gossip or scandals? Christ Jesus gives us the answers to all this at Matthew 15:18-20: “However, the things proceeding out of the mouth come out of the heart, and those things defile a man. For example, out of the heart come wicked reasonings, murders, adulteries, fornications, thieveries, false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things defiling a man.” So it goes back to what a person has put deep down in his heart. What is really interesting to him is what he will be speaking about regularly and zestfully.
19. (a) In the light of Galatians 5:16-26 how must we view the way one uses his power of speech? (b) Why is it important to have the heart filled with good things and then speak them out?
19 If we are to analyze the situation, how each one uses his power of speech is governed by whether one pursues the works of the flesh or has evidence of bearing the fruitage of the spirit. Wrong speech comes about through the heart’s being set on fornication, uncleanness, hatred, jealousy, drunkenness, revelries, selfishness, pride and personal gain. Those who know nothing of God’s righteous law and do not try to follow it use bad language and speak continually of fleshly things; that is the influence we see abroad in the world today. But where one’s mind and heart have been influenced by God’s spirit and where the individual has transformed his mind, we find him speaking on spiritual things. He has gained self-control, which is a fruit of the spirit, and he thinks before he speaks. He does not fly into a rage and speak without thinking, but is long-suffering and kind and speaks with mildness. That does not mean he does not speak forcefully in denouncing wickedness, but he does it in the same dignified manner as Jesus Christ used to speak out against wickedness, misleading traditions and hypocrisy. The taming of the tongue and the submitting of oneself to the guidance of God’s spirit and his Word are closely related. Jehovah judges, not by outward appearances, but by what is in the heart. Therefore the desire of every God-fearing person should be to fill his heart with spiritual things, to have a good heart for the refreshment and benefit of others and to become as a cool spring that continually bubbles forth sweet water on a summer day. Right speech leads to salvation.—1 Sam. 16:7; Rev. 2:23; Matt. 23:1-17; Gal. 5:16-26.