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The Overflow of the Heart


In my ninety-three years of life I have heard many dirty words. There were places I expected to hear them, like when I was working in the Omaha stockyards as a teenager and in the U.S. Navy as an enlisted man. My memory focuses on the unexpected times I heard them. They came from the mouths of a four-year-old boy, a woman, boy scouts in the scout clubhouse, midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, and a cousin of mine when we were pheasant hunting as teenagers. All of these shocks happened before I was a Christian. I was idealistic. To me, women did not talk that way, boy scouts were clean, four-year-olds were innocent, midshipmen were the all-American boys, and cousins were part of my family where words like that were not used.

Early in my Christian life, my eyes were opened. I came to realize that my heart and the hearts of boy scouts, midshipmen, four-year-olds, women, and my family all started out overflowing with evil. Jesus gave an explanation of why people are this way:

"Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:33-37).

Whatever is “stored up” flows out. The good man brings out good things from the good stored up in him. The evil man brings out evil from the evil stored up in him. If the tree is good, the fruit is good. If the tree is bad, the fruit is bad. What a tree is, is what a tree does.

The mouth is an overflow valve of the heart. We can try to watch our mouths. That might keep the stored-up evil inside for a while, but it is like blocking the safety valve on a pressure cooker. Sooner or later there is going to be an explosion.

The emphasis of the Matthew 12 passage is on the heart, not the mouth. If we store up good in our hearts, we do not need to watch our mouths. If we store up evil in our hearts, watching our mouths will not stop it from coming out.

When I talk with Chinese graduate students who come to the U.S. from schools that have been teaching atheism for generations, the word “God” gets a look of non-comprehension. However, if I mention a “dirty heart,” there are a lot of nodding heads.

There are two reasons for having a dirty heart:

1)    The heart has never been cleaned. It has been collecting crud since birth. The mouth spills out the overflow.

2)    The heart has been cleansed by the blood of Christ, but it has not been kept clean. Its owner has not been walking in the light. This is why Christians say things from their hearts that do not sound like Christian things.

The first reason is easy to understand. The second is a contradiction.

"With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water" (James 3:9-12).

Where is your heart? Do you need to know the Father through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ?

*Excerpted from Being Christian. To purchase, visit


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