When I was in high school I had a job with this girl who you might say had a potty mouth. But that’s probably not the best way to describe her mouth. It was much worse than that. Let me try again. Her mouth was more like the bathroom at a rest area in New Jersey. There, that’s more like it.
But she wanted to change. And she had a friend who was willing to help. When she went away to college, her roommate put a jar on the shelf. Whenever someone spoke one of those words one might find written on the wall in the restroom at a New Jersey rest area, they had to put cash in the jar. Now I never saw that jar but my guess is that by the time the first semester was over, there was enough money in there to pay off the national debt, get tickets to the Super Bowl and buy yourself a little something nice at Starbucks on the way.
The jar didn’t work.
That’s because this girl’s real problem was not her dirty mouth. She’s no different than the rest of us. Paying money, trying harder and those sorts of things are good for window dressing. But they’re no good for repairing the actual problem.
My kids are in that stage right now where they are asking me a lot of questions about cuss words. You should hear our conversations on the way home from school. It always makes me stop and think when I have to explain to them what makes one word bad and the other word okay. A lot of it comes down to culture. Ma’am, for example is polite in the south. I know guys in the northeast who tell me that saying ma’am to their mother would have gotten them sent to the ER.
Maybe you’ve noticed that the Bible never gives a list of the words we’re not supposed to say. I think that’s because you can stay away from saying the words that will get you kicked off of public airwaves and still have the same problem that my foul-mouthed co-worker had.
Rather than simply giving us a list of words to avoid saying, Jesus reminds us that, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). That means that even those of us who have the hardest time watching our language do not really have a mouth problem.
We have a heart problem.
There are plenty of good, church going folks who would never even dream of saying anything worse than fiddlesticks or good giggly wiggly. They would easily pass the money in the jar test. So much for paying down the national debt. But when it comes to the words they use toward their husband, their kids or the lady who’s been driving for the past three miles with her blinker on, things aren’t quite as good. They miserably fail the heart test.
Put all the money you want in a jar when you let out a few words on the golf course but it will do nothing to help the actual problem. It will just make you poorer. Instead of a jar, we need grace.
Grace opens our eyes to our true need. Grace reminds us of who we are and what is ours when we fail. Grace does what we cannot do on our own. Dead trees don’t suddenly start producing fruit. There has to be a drastic transformation. That’s what grace does to us.
By now, we all know that the old saying about sticks and stones breaking our bones and words never hurting us is a big lie. Words do hurt. Just one careless word spoken from a mother to her daughter can mean a lifetime of pain. But that’s not all that words do. Along with being hammers that can crush others, our words can also be scalpels that rip us open and expose the true nature of our heart.
Perhaps you haven’t said a cuss word in 25 years.
But perhaps this morning, like some evil scientist, you mixed together a bunch of perfectly acceptable words to create a horrible sentence that crushed your husband.
No jar can repair that damage or keep it from happening again.
Only grace can.
So the remedy is not to suddenly add scores of new four letter words to our vocabulary, just as long as we say them in a nice way. Rather, we should remember that our words are important. They are important for the impact that they have on others. And they are even more important for the impact that they will have on us when we stand before Christ.
So don’t just watch your mouth.
Watch your heart too.
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak. Matthew 12:36 (ESV)