Tuesday, May 15, 2007

It's A Matter of the Heart

The following is a response (with a couple of minor edits) I recently wrote to a friend concerning the topic of swearing and whether it matters if we do it or not.

Hey [friend],

Thanks for the response. I appreciate the time and thought you put into writing this up. With that, I'd like to respond.

As I read what you wrote, my concern isn't even so much with swearing. I think that is a symptom of a much bigger issue that concerns me.

You mentioned this line from the Grudem article in passing but didn't comment on it whatsoever:

"It struck me at the time how a person's purity or impurity of speech is often an indicator of purity or impurity of heart."

The problem with the entire argument that you made is that it doesn't take into account that there is any connection between your heart and what comes out of your mouth. You seem to assume that actions are more important than speech, which at best is superficial. It sounds like a good idea to me except for one thing: it's not from the Bible.

Jesus, in speaking of when He will return, says:

"On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"
Matthew 7:22,23

This has been called by one of my favorite pastors (John MacArthur) "the scariest verse in the Bible". In case you don't think so, read it again. Read it five times. Ten times. Our actions (works) are NOT what God is ultimately interested in.

And lest you think that I believe that God is ultimately interested in our speech then I will "seemingly" contradict my own argument with these words of Jesus (who is here quoting Isaiah the prophet) as He speaks of the Pharisees:

"This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;"
Matthew 15:8

So NO, I don't think that God is ultimately interested in our speech either. But Jesus here does makes it clear what God is interested in: our hearts.

Now this is a tricky thing because the heart in many ways seems like an abstract thing. How can you show what's inside the heart? You can't! Only God knows what's there. And that is exactly why Christianity isn't like every other religion that can be reduced down to do's and don't's. It's about loving God. And that means our affections are bent towards God. We feel towards God more than what we feel towards mom, dad, brother, sister, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife or whatever we are inclined to love in this life. That requires complete and utter transformation of the heart.

So what I'm concerned with isn't that you stop swearing. I'm concerned with whether you long for, pray for, are desperate for complete and utter transformation of the heart.

I'm talking about the kind of transformed heart that says with the psalmist:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Psalm 63:1

This is a man in love with God if I've ever seen one and that is what I want to be. And because he is a man in love with God, seemingly all that his lips are used for is praise (verses 3, 4, 5, 7 of the same psalm). This is amazing!

David in this Psalm shows the positive side of what Jesus means when he criticizes the Pharisees by saying:

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
Matthew 12:34

So there is no doubt in my mind that if you longed for this kind of heart transformation (I'm not talking about possessing it because that is something that God alone can do--and this should make you tremble because "the wind blows where it wishes [John 3:8]" ), we wouldn't be having this conversation. You would recognize that your lips don't praise God enough and ask for God's mercy to give you a heart that praises Him more. I do hope that this would be your prayer.

In closing, I want to look at Ephesians 5:3-5.

3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Notice what Paul does here. In verse 4, he forbids three actions that involve the mouth and I would say that swearing is counted in this category of things. Most believe that it is filthy. If you don't believe me, then why don't we teach our children these words? And at best, it is foolish talk. I wonder what else Paul would include here? And often our crude joking includes swearing. Then notice what Paul sets these three things against to, in my opinion, show that he is referring to what should be done with the mouth. He sets them against thanksgiving! How do we primarily give thanks? By speaking! We say thank you and that is how we primarily (though not the only way) express gratitude.

Now this is where we should become stunned. Paul concludes his argument (I say that because he uses the word "for" which is the ground of everything that comes before it. You can replace it with "because".) in verse 5 by saying that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure or covetous has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. What!?!? Do you see what he just did? He just put that which we do with our mouths in the same category as that which we do with our sexual desires and sexual organs! You can't separate the two because that (sexual immorality) is what Paul started with in verse 3 before going on to verses 4 and 5. He didn't have to write verse 4 for this sequence of thought to make sense. But he did! Why? Because Paul knows (as learned from Jesus) that these all point to the heart. And the heart is what will determine whether or not we inherit the kingdom of Christ and God.

So please take heed. In your letter you said alot about not judging others. And you got it right when you said that you don't do this because God will judge them. But did you take it a step further? What does it mean for God to judge them? What does it mean for God to judge you?

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Romans 14:12

And that account won't be of how we interacted with other people I can assure you. It will be an account of how our heart was before God. This ultimately has nothing to do with other people. There will be many on that day standing before God of whom there will be nobody in the world to have anything other than good words to say about them. And they will be without excuse because they never thought about how their heart was before God.

So join me in trembling with fear before the One whom we will not see if our hearts are not pure before Him.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Matthew 5:8

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