Speak Life Free Sample
Words: the fruit and the fashioning of our character
Readings: Proverbs 4:23; Proverbs 12:14; Proverbs 14:5; Proverbs 15:2, 7; Proverbs 16:23
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).
One of the ways in which words are powerful is the way in which they relate to our core character. Proverbs provides insights that our words both reveal what’s deep within us and contribute to the development of our inner life.
Today’s key verse emphasises the first of these insights. The concept of the “heart” is a rich one in Hebrew thought, not easily comparable to a Western understanding of it being the seat of emotions. In Hebrew thought, the heart is both the place of choice and decision-making (that is, having an intellectual component), but it also represents the basic orientation of a person, what is really in them. We see this reflected in phrases that we use, like describing someone as a “good-hearted” person. As we saw yesterday, choice over our words leads to great potential for good or ill. This is why the sage behind Proverbs 4:23 asks us to guard our heart. The original Hebrew of this verse is quite strong. The phrase in the NIV version “Above all else” comes from a Hebrew term literally meaning the way a prison guard vigilantly watches over their prisoners. Watching over our heart is a matter of great importance because our heart is likened to a well that spills over into our life. The Hebrew literally reads, “from the heart are the goings out of life.”
Jesus highlighted our words as being the fruit of our hearts. “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45). “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them” (Matthew 15:18). Our words will ultimately reveal what is really in our hearts. Yes, we can play a game and seek to use language which gives a deceptive picture of what is within, but both Jesus and Proverbs convey the idea that you can’t hide forever what is really on the inside; one way or another our words will eventually give us away, particularly what we speak in unguarded moments.
William Shakespeare hints at the way our words betray the contents of our hearts when he places the following lines on the lips of a boy in his play Henry V: “I did never know so full a voice issue from so empty a heart. But the saying is true: ‘The empty vessel makes the greatest sound.’ ” (Act 4, Scene 4).
Proverbs 16:23 likewise conveys the idea of our hearts guiding our mouths. I like the way Old Testament scholar Robert Murphy translates this verse: “A wise heart makes a smart mouth.” . These insights imply that we can gauge someone’s character from the words they speak, provided we are convinced they are speaking genuinely. Proverbs 14:5 teaches that a person who speaks truthful words has a trustworthy character.
But there is another side in Proverbs to the interplay between heart and words. Within the wisdom of Proverbs is the sense in which the words we speak help to fashion our characters, for good or ill. Proverbs 12:14 speaks of people being filled with good things out of the words they speak. And Proverbs 15 verses 2 and 7 convey a similar perspective. This is a very Hebrew way of thinking. Words carry creative power (after all, you only have to look at the very first chapter of the Bible to see God creating with His words). Through the words we speak, our very character is being shaped. We can speak our way to a better or worse inner life. When we choose to speak with grace and integrity, then those positive qualities get deepened within us. If we choose a negative path with our spoken words, then we end up dying a bit more on the inside.
The powerful interplay between heart and mouth calls us to reflect upon the state of our hearts and what is means to “guard our heart”. What activities lead to the improvement of our hearts before God? What habits and disciplines contribute to our “good-heartedness”? Similarly it is good to reflect on our experience of how our choice to speak good words positively impacts our hearts. For instance, when you choose to speak the truth, can you feel the peace that comes to your conscience? Never play down the inner experience of what our spoken words create. Even if you cannot feel a stirring in your heart as you choose good words, trust that God will use their creative power to do good at the very deepest level of your life.
Pursue whatever good habits promote the wellbeing of your heart and act like with the vigilance of a prison guard to stop good values escaping and to bar the way to negative influences. The fruit of our hearts will be heard from our lips. The sweeter our hearts, the sweeter the sound of our words.
Heavenly Father, I know that my heart can be fickle. Only you can create in me a clean heart. So I invite you by your Spirit to work in my heart and make it more like yours. Grant me courage to choose to speak positive words. Please take the creative power of those words and use them in the fashioning of my heart. Lord, I cannot stop my words being the fruit of my heart, so please keep working on the improvement of my heart. Help me to guard my heart so it will be a wellspring of life to me. Amen.
 Murphy R, Proverbs, Word Biblical Commentary, 1998, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, p117