Words are important.
There was a peasant with a troubled conscience who went to a monk for advice. He said that he had circulated an awful story about a friend, only to find out later that the story was not true. “If you want to make peace with your conscience,” the monk said, “you must fill a bag with chicken feathers, go to every door in the village, and drop at each of them one fluffy feather.” The peasant did as he was told. Then he returned to the monk and announced that he had done penance for his folly. “Not yet,” replied the monk. “Take your bag, make the rounds again and gather up every feather that you have dropped.” “But by now the wind has certainly blown them all away,” said the peasant. The monk replied, “So it is when you speak ill of another.”
In 1 Timothy 5:13, the apostle Paul condemns “gossips and busybodies,” those who go about “saying things they ought not to.” The problem with “Did you hear about so-and-so,” is that once you drop that feather, there is no telling where the wind is going to blow it. Words, once spoken, can never be unspoken. That’s why Paul commands us in Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
We’ve all heard the children’s rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We also all know how untrue that is. Words do hurt. Sometimes, words hurt deeply. In fact, hurtful words are so powerful that they can do serious emotional damage to the person targeted by those words.
Jesus Himself told us just exactly how important our words are in Matthew 12:36. “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” So, according to Jesus, the words that come out of my mouth can literally mean the difference between heaven and hell! There is no question about the importance of our words.
But where do our words come from? Jesus answered that question as well. “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Our words come from our thoughts. Whatever I’m feeding into my mind and my heart on a regular basis is going to overflow out of my mouth in the things I say.
If I think hateful thoughts, I will eventually speak hateful words. If I think loving thoughts, I will speak loving words. If I put positive thoughts into my mind, positive words will come out of my mouth. If I put negative thoughts into my mind, negative words will come out of my mouth. If I feed my mind on God’s word, His words will find their way into my conversations. “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Our prayer every day should be the same prayer that David uttered in Psalm 19:14. “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Our thoughts determine our words.
Dr. Judith Reisman is President of The Institute for Media Education. As a scientist, researcher, and educator, Dr. Reisman is sought worldwide to speak, lecture, testify, and counsel individuals, organizations, professionals, and government agencies regarding fraudulent sex science, sex education, and the power and effect of images and the media to alter human behavior. The focus of her work has been and continues to be the negative influence of these factors on children and society.
Her extensive research has led her to the conclusion that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between pornography and rape. She cites numerous studies, and quotes many experts, all leading to that same conclusion. She does not say that everyone who indulges in pornography will become a rapist. She does show quite convincingly, however, that putting pornographic images and thoughts into a man’s mind can, over time, pre-dispose that man to acting out the fantasies represented by those images and thoughts. This is a perfect example, though certainly a dark one, of the principle that our thoughts―in addition to determining our words―also determine our actions.
The things that we think about and focus our attention on will find expression in our actions and behaviors. It seems logical, then, that the way to avoid negative, unhealthy, unwholesome, sinful behaviors is to think positive, healthy, wholesome thoughts, and to avoid negative, unhealthy, unwholesome thoughts. It’s no wonder that the Psalmist wrote these words in Psalm 119:11: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
Living a life that is free from sin is what each Christian should strive for every day. Think how much more fulfilling and rewarding your life would be if you could master the art of not sinning. Don’t get me wrong; I understand that none of us is sinless, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). I understand that.
But shouldn’t that still be something that we strive for, to live sinless lives? That was the goal of the Psalmist, to not sin against God. And what did he say was the key? “I have hidden your word in my heart.” When we put God’s word in our hearts on a regular, consistent basis, we have a much better chance of winning the battle when Satan comes at us with temptation. We have a much better chance of not sinning.
In Matthew 4, when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, do you remember how Jesus responded to each temptation? He quoted Scripture. God’s word was in His heart, and He used that to fight temptation.
If we base our thoughts on God’s word, then His word becomes a lamp to our feet and a light for our path (Psalm 119:105). His word literally changes the direction of our lives. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
Our thoughts determine our words, and our thoughts also determine our actions.
Finally, our thoughts define who we are.
“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).
During the years that I served as a Youth Minister, I frequently encouraged young people to pay attention to the songs they were listening to, the TV shows and movies they were watching, and the things they chose to read. Why? Because, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
If the music you listen to makes you think like a thug, you are a thug. If the stuff you look at on the internet makes you think filthy thoughts, you are filthy. The kind of stuff you put into your mind determines the kind of person you become.
But do you know what’s exciting about that principle? In Philippians 4:8, Paul identified the kinds of things we are supposed to think about. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
If you regularly think about good things, you will become a good person. If you regularly think about things that are true, you will become a person of truth. If you regularly think about things that are noble, you will become a noble person. If you regularly think about things that are lovely, you will become a lovely person. You can become the kind of person God wants you to be, simply by choosing to think the kinds of thoughts that God wants you to think.
“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
Our thoughts determine our words. Our thoughts determine our actions. Our thoughts define who we are.
Put God’s words in your heart, and you will become a godly person.
– Paul O’Rear is the Involvement and Education Minister at Brown Street Church of Christ in Waxahachie, TX.