When I was a kid, I remember seeing an illustration regarding my words. Maybe you’ve seen this illustration as well: two individuals are put head to head, squeezing toothpaste out of a tube as fast as they can. Once completed, the participants are then instructed to put the toothpaste back inside the tube. As you can imagine, this is an impossible feat and you’re left with a mess.
I’m not sure exactly when in my childhood I participated in this experiment, but it has stuck with me for at least 15 years. Usually, if you do this activity with a group of kids, the atmosphere is fun and playful (unless you are the one in charge of cleaning everything afterward) and I think this helped the lesson stick with me. I remember the teacher explaining to us that our words are like the toothpaste, “Once you say something, you can’t take it back. It’s out there.”
Unfortunately, the illustration falls short when it comes to the clean-up. A mess made by toothpaste is much easier to clean-up than a mess made by words.
Read what James has to say about the tongue:
…the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. – James 3:5-6
James goes on to concisely explain that our words come from our heart. He echoes the words of Jesus, who said, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (Luke 6:45).
The water bottle illustration that Shannon uses is particularly helpful when trying to understand this point. When I angrily yell at my wife or curse at someone on the road or belittle my coworker or slander my boss, my words are reflecting my heart. Our circumstances will test what is in our hearts; the pressure of our circumstances bring forth that which is already inside.
That’s why water comes out of a water bottle when tipped. That’s why toothpaste comes out of a toothpaste tube when squeezed. It is the same with the human heart. Suffering, or even just being inconvenienced, can bring out of us what already lies inside of our heart. We should all keep a close watch on our tongue.
We should all keep a close watch on our tongue. Thankfully, when our words reveal a wicked, sinful heart, we know we have an advocate with the Father in Jesus Christ. As we desire to grow and become more like Christ, God is faithful to mold us into His image. As you pay attention to your words this week, pray that God would reveal what’s in your heart and that He would replace it with more of Himself.