When I was a teenager I would spend hours each weekend reading my Bible. I still remember how Titus 1:15 jumped out at me as a life lesson. It provided the first step toward a practical realization.
Titus 1:15 is crisp and succinct. “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure.” Put another way, people interpret the world around them based upon who they are on the inside.
Thus two people might gaze upon the same pastoral painting of a decently clothed young woman. Yet the mind of one turns to smut while another marvels at the skill and technique capable of capturing life. A third person’s mind might gravitate toward God’s power to create the beauty depicted by the painting.
Additional examples are easily multiplied. Raised in bigotry, someone’s thoughts dehumanize, diminish and dismiss another person. Having filled her mind with God’s love and power towards broken people, a woman has hope for someone in the vice of addiction. Jaded by experiencing the worst within humanity, a senior officer views crowds through cynical eyes. And so it goes.
Grasping the basic truth that what is inside of us shapes how we interpret our world prepared me to embrace another simple truth. Jesus taught: “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34) and “the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart” (Matthew 15:17). Combining Paul’s statement with Jesus’ pronouncement suggested to my earlier teenage self that when people talk about others, they reveal themselves.
Consider an example where a guy named Bob slanders Sally. The first step involved Bob’s heart coloring how he perceived and interpreted Sally. Thus even though Sally’s actions might have been noble, if Bob disliked something about her he can easily impugn her motives. “She only did that to impress and claim she is better than others. She’s a hypocrite!”
Second, if Bob is then willing to verbally accuse Sally of being fake or a hypocrite, what had resided within his heart now explodes into full view for all to see. His words publicize not only how he is willing to hurt another human being, but they also broadcast how his heart interpreted Sally in the first place. Our words expose the nature of what lies within.
As a teenager, these thoughts led me to conclude that what people say about others might reveal more about who they are rather than inform us about those they are denouncing! Likewise, when people spout how offended they are at someone, this might reveal more about the one doing the spouting than the supposed offender.
So, what do our words reveal about us? As one spiritual song says, “Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.”