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Watch Your Mouth

By Michael Roop

This is the second blog in a five-part series. To catch up on previous articles, click here.

I’ve never been much of a chef, so I am immediately interested in anything that makes the process of cooking good food both easier and more dependable. That’s one of the reasons I really like our pressure cooker. Dial it to just the right pressure and length of time, and the work is almost done before you hit “start.” The boys and I have become fascinated by the moment when the cooking is finished and the vent switch is turned. For quite a while, and with a lot of noise and steam, the device empties out the pressure until it becomes safe to remove the lid.

Maybe I’m the only one, but there are times when I feel like I have a lot in common with that pressure cooker. Circumstances are dialed in just right to build up anger, frustration, or fear inside of me. As the pressure mounts, I begin to look for an opportunity to “vent” my feelings. If I can let my feelings out, the thinking goes, it will be safe to take the lid off without blowing a hole in my kitchen ceiling.

But a closer reflection on some of Jesus’ words reveals a truth more consistent with our experience. In the middle of yet another debate with the religious leaders - this time about ritual hand washing - Jesus said, “ is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Before we celebrate another win for Jesus, let’s look closely at His words.

Jesus later explained to His disciples, “...out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” The human heart, that part of us Solomon is telling us to guard with all vigilance (Prov. 4:23), is the source of sin. Yet, the evil that lives in our hearts doesn’t come to full maturity until it is expressed, and that expression usually comes in the form of words.

Perhaps this is why Solomon’s first of four heart-keeping disciplines is this: “Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you” (Prov. 4:24). When we give words to our evil thoughts, desires, and impulses, we validate them, bring them to full expression. Later, in Proverbs 29, we read, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back” (29:11). Startlingly, the “venting” we think cures the inner pressure is actually perpetuates it. Giving words to evil thoughts, desires, and impulses is the means by which they grow. And, by which we are defiled.

So the next time you’re tempted to reach for that vent switch and relieve that building inner pressure, listen to the timeless wisdom of Proverbs 4. Instead of giving full vent to your spirit, ask yourself why it is that this set of circumstances is getting such a rise out of you in the first place. Become curious about your emotional life, about the story told by your passions. Remind yourself that, over time, the words you use have a formative effect on your heart. So use the words that would be most natural to the person you’re hoping to become.

It’s sobering to reflect on the fact that we are created in the image of a God who created all things through the use of words. But in this reflection there is hope, that though giving voice to evil can defile us, so also, by God’s grace, can we be formed into greater degrees of Christ-likeness by giving voice to that which is beautiful, good, and true.
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