In conversation with people whether we recognize it or not we are continually engaged in a study of the person whom we are conversing with. Sometimes we proactively try to get information by asking specific questions. What’s your name? Where are you from? But we do not end with such simple interview-like questions. After some time, we desire to take the conversations into higher depths of knowledge about the person. We desire for the person to be open with us, to disclose information about themselves which we haven’t even demanded of them. The conversations that most engage us are the ones with very few barriers, with minimal “noise” that do not subtract from the meaning of what is being said or contribute to the tendency for words to be misunderstood. We are social beings. We have an insatiable thirst to know in order to reduce our uncertainty and thereby be in better position to relate with our fellow beings.
The Bible continually uses interchangeably words like, the inner man, the hidden man, the soul, the spirit, or the heart of a man, when it speaks of the “true self” or the “real person” or whatever else you would like to call it. In conversation, what we really want to know about a person is not how they look, or anything about their outward appearance. We see them and thus it is information that is readily available to us. There is no need for conversation to know what the color of a person’s hair is. What we really want to know is the information that is hidden. What we really want to know is what a person’s favorite color is, what a person’s dreams and aspirations are, what a person likes and dislikes. In other words we seek information about the hidden man which we cannot possibly attain just by looking at a person but which we can only attain in conversation. You learn more about a person by their own words than by any other means.
In Matthew 12:34 Jesus reveals the secret to knowing a person. He says to the Pharisees “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh”. The Pharisees always touted themselves about as holy men. They practiced aloud spiritual disciplines and put on a show to deceive people into thinking that their hearts were really good. On the outside, haven’t engaged in conversation with them, the information that one got from observing the Pharisees was “here are people who are very righteous and holy and good”. But whenever there was a situation that required an expression of love, the Pharisees exposed themselves as the evil people they truly were. They were the first in line to stone the prostitute caught in adultery. They were the ones to criticize Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath. In the end it is surprising that not the hardest of criminals were the ones to kill an innocent man, but it was the Pharisees who’s accusation nailed Jesus to the cross.
Jesus teaches us the secret by which we can truly know a person — out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The true person is revealed in what they say in casual conversation. When a man often casually jokes about being abusive to women, he is providing hints that he is an abusive man. When a person often makes bawdy jokes about sex, he is showing himself to be a man chiefly concerned and motivated by lust and not love. When a person often speaks words of negativity, they are showing themselves to be people of fear, people of tremendous worry and unremitting anxiety. The words of a man in casual conversation betray his attempt to cover up and hide who he really is. “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things”.
In practical application, let us not ignore the hints that people provide us when we converse with them. Let us not downplay the lewd comments, the offensive jokes, the misogynist remarks, the angst and bitterness in tone of voice. To ignore them and to embrace all sorts of people is to admit into our circle evil friends who do not have our best interests at heart. Rather let us seek the company of the ones who constantly speak blessings. Let us limit admittance into our inner circle those grateful and loving hearts who are always in haste to say “thank you” or “I love you”.