Out Of the Abundance of the Heart, the Mouth Speaks

3609748362.jpg Violating a social taboo has been a universal technique for generating laughter in a cohesive society. For example, in some tribal societies, the clown-shaman could make the group laugh by pretending to drink cow urine and enjoy the taste. This may be the Ur “shock” comedy.

However, rather than universal, most comedy is social, that is, relative to a particular group’s experience and values. Johnny Carson said that “when you walk out and do a piece of humorous business, it’s not going to affect everybody the same because it is all relative to their own individual experience with it – how they relate to it.”

So what is a Christian to think when an attempt to produce laughter by violating a social taboo (in this case, forbidden words), encounters, not a cohesive audience laughing, but rather, a diverse audience, for whom the words produce anger, sadness, and fear? (I’m talking about the case of Don Imus, late of CBS radio and MSNBC television.)

The Bible contains no jokes or clowns. Joy, rather than laughter, is the fruit of life in the Kingdom of God. God does, however, have a lot to say about our tongue and its words.

The wisest man, Solomon, learned that “the one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18). In other words, the problem is in our hearts – we either try to cover up our heart’s bad attitude with deceitful words (becoming actors – “hypocrites”- as Jesus labels us), or we speak our true feelings, avoid being hypocrites, but become, instead, fools. What is the answer? As always, we need a heart transplant, and that can only be done by Another.

The posture of our heart is the key. If we have made Jesus the head of our lives, our heart and our tongues seek to become more like Him as we live in the Kingdom of God. Our tongues seek to have His intentions as we speak. But if we choose to remain the head of our lives, our tongues will say whatever we need for them to say to get what we want, as we go our merry way in the Present Evil Age. (Most of us, wanting to follow Jesus, nevertheless walk the linguistic line between the Ages Present and Yet To Come.)

Solomon also predicted that “if you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.” (Proverbs 9:12). He positions wise words as the antithesis of mocking words. In both the Hebrew and the Greek, “mock” means to deride, ridicule, scorn, or sneer at. “Mocker” -“empaiktes” in Greek – means false teacher, suggesting the effect of mockery on others: from mockery we learn to think poorly of ourselves or of others.

Clearly, in the Kingdom of God, we are to speak words that heal rather than words that hurt. But what of those of us who claim our words do not truly reflect who we really are? Jesus was blunt:

“The tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,  for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:33-37)

Our mouths convict us.

Do we pray, “Thank you, Lord, that I am not like Don Imus?” Or should we pray, “God have mercy on me, a sinner”?


  • Great post, Paul. What I find interesting, and I beg your forgiveness if I’m taking the conversation a completely different direction from that which you intended, is our reaction when the language takes place on stage (or in film). I wouldn’t have used Imus’ language in person, but what If I’m askd to portray Imus in a production about the incident?

    As a Christian on stage, I’m often placed in the role of someone who acts and speaks in ways I (as a follower of Jesus) wouldn’t act or speak in person. If I’m going to be truthful in my portrayal, I may say things I normally wouldn’t say. I played a naval commander in one show in which I acted like a crusty, old naval commander – complete with a crusty vocabulary. Even though the swearing was mild by today’s standards, I received chastisement from more than one believer about my language on stage. My attempt to explain that I don’t speak like that, but the character I protrayed does was completely lost on the deaf ears of the offended.

    It saddens me that the church seems to have lost an understanding of metaphor and the role that the stage and film play in communicating truth – even a truthful portrayal of those who don’t know Christ.

    Again – I may have strayed from the intent of your post, but your words spurred my thoughts in that direction. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Well said, Paul, and exactly the answer I’ve come to with fellow Christian actors. Much like eating meat sacrificed to idols for the early Church, each actor much find the answer in their heart through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and respect their fellow believers if they are convicted differently. Personally, I consider the theme of the play, my witness to other members of the production, the truths that are ultimately being communicated and the value of the message for the audience. Does my character and this production have redeeming qualities for the audience? Does my participation in this production allow me a witness to others to whom I might not otherwise have opportunity? A few times, I have chosen to turn down an opportunity because I believed not to participate would provide the best witness.

    In response to Tertullian, I would find it interesting the context in which he proposed the question. Knowing the debauchery to which the Roman theatre had sunk during his lifetime, I would imagine that productions with any redeeming value might have been few and far between for a believing actor!

    Thanks for conversation. Sadly, this isn’t a dialogue I get to enjoy very often!

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