what goes in and what comes out

I’ve been thinking about what goes in and what comes out.

Not my diet and bathroom habits. That is a subject worthy of some consideration, but not in a public blog post.

I’m thinking of what goes in through my eyes and ears, and of what comes out through my mouth.

I’m not the only one who says things she later regrets, or has thought she wishes she didn’t. Scripture tells me a lot about what comes out of my mouth (and what should come out of my mouth).

Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell (James 3:5-6).

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 (Ephesians 4:29).

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:4).

But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips (Colossians 3:8).

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4:6).

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing (I Thessalonians 5:11).

It also speaks to the underlying problem: my thought life.

For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34b).

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (II Corinthians 10:5).

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander (Matthew 15:19).

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23).

In this age of abundant media, it seems difficult to interpret these verses. Some Christian believers assume that what goes in must affect what comes out, so they refrain from movies and television completely. Others see the matter differently, and regularly attend movies fraught with sex and violence. I’m not sure where my own line is drawn, so I’m far from criticizing anyone’s point of view.

Concerning “what goes in,” my two thoughts are these: (1) where my line is drawn is not the point. I am living in freedom; not under the law. In one sense, I’m off the hook. (2) But this issue is important. If I am alive in the Spirit and have the life of Christ in me, I should want to pursue Philippians 4:9: “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.” That doesn’t mean I can’t watch an R-rated movie or read an edgy book, but it means I will consider what I am feeding my mind.

What comes out is more important than what goes in. Jesus said it.

“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean'” (Matthew 15:17-18).

James 3 is a series of painful blows. I have a tongue, and I’ve used it for destructive purposes. And I know how it feels to be at the receiving end of another person’s destructive words. We all do. We’re guilty of blessing and cursing out of the same mouth. We build people up and tear people down. We please God and disappoint Him – sometimes in the same breath.

I don’t have the answer. Not exactly. But I know it cannot come from imposing rules and laws on myself. To God, I’m like a little child, and if you tell a little child “don’t do that!” what do you suppose he wants to do?

But if you tell the child, “Don’t do that – here, do this instead,” that works better. If I’m not pursuing sin and destruction, I need to pursue something better. I need to pursue beauty. I need to know God’s character so well that I recognize facets of it wherever it is, hidden even in literature, art, and film created by unbelievers. I need to replace harsh words with kind words, doubting words with faithful words, and frustrated words with patient words. And words come from thoughts, and thoughts come from the deepest places of my mind and my heart.


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