There was only one time my mother-in-law and I “had words.” During my second year of marriage, in the middle of discussing an unrelated misunderstanding, my mother-in-law brought up the topic of my wedding. She didn’t have kind things to say.
As she spoke, I felt a spike of self-righteous indignation. How dare she say such unforgiving things about the day I cherished so deeply? In my hurt and anger, I flung an accusation back, saying her heart was bitter and hardened. When she immediately denied this, I zapped her with a verse that I thought settled the matter:
“For of the abundance of the heart (the) mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
Words and Hearts
It’s true that our words betray our hearts. This verse is tagged onto a mini-parable Jesus told about trees and how there’s no such thing as a hypocritical tree. Fig trees bears figs and only figs. Thorn bushes bears thorns and only thorns. So a thorn bush cannot get away with saying it’s a fig tree because the thorns it produces prove otherwise.
Jesus said there’s no such thing as a hypocritical heart, either. An evil heart cannot get away with saying it’s good because the words it produces prove otherwise. This is the logic I used on my mother-in-law. But I didn’t realize I used it all wrong.
Years, later, when my Bible study group was studying this passage about the trees, I noticed a little connector word “for.”
“For no good tree bears bad fruit” (Luke 6:43, ESV, emphasis added).
The “for” links this paragraph to the previous one—which is the story of the guy with the log in his eye who thinks he can see clearly to remove the speck in the other guy’s eye. The log-in-the-eye guy is a hypocrite. He wanted to correct others but not himself.
Then Jesus talked about non-hypocritical trees. By linking the two images together, Jesus was saying, “If you want to avoid being a hypocrite who corrects everyone but yourself, check out your fruit. Listen to the words coming out of your mouth. Then you will know what needs to change in your heart.”
Suddenly, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks,” had new meaning for me. Jesus wasn’t giving His people a way to zap each other in judgment. He was showing us how to avoid hypocrisy, how to judge our own hearts before we correct others.
When we think someone else is wrong, often the last thing we’re looking at is ourselves. The last thing we’re measuring is our own motives. The last thing we’re considering is our own heart. But Jesus said we should look at these things first.
Though it’s been almost two decades since I quoted Luke 6:45 to my mother-in-law, I can still picture the scene perfectly—her sitting stiffly in a chair near our guestroom window and me perched on the edge of the bed near the door. Always before, when I revisited this scene, I only heard the anger in her words, revealing the bitterness in her heart. I could see with perfect clarity that she was wrong! Look at her thorn-bush-type words!
But now, I turned the camera of my memory back on myself. I heard the anger in my words and heard the bitterness of my heart. Look at my thorns! How had I been so blind to myself? I was like the log-in-the-eye guy! I was a hypocrite.
Luke 6:44 says, “Each tree is known by its own fruit.” Like fruit on a tree, the words on our lips cannot lie. They tell the truth about our hearts. They help us see what our hearts are like. And yes, they help us see what other people’s hearts are like too. But we need the most help, not with judging others but with judging ourselves.
Even 15 years later, my words showed me my heart. Once I was willing to inspect my own fruit, I saw my own heart. I saw my own hypocrisy. I saw my own log in my own eye. And I was so thankful! I shared with my Bible study group how God had opened my eyes to the true meaning of Luke 6:45 and how convicted I was over the way I had used the verse to judge my mother-in-law but not myself.
Susan, my group’s leader, said softly, “Are you going to tell your mother-in-law? I think you should … .”
Clearly Susan had no idea what she was suggesting. It was one thing to confess my hypocrisy to my Bible study group. But my mother-in-law? My stomach churned at the very thought!
Especially in the early years of my marriage, I often sensed underlying tension with my mother-in-law. I had to work through many private frustrations and hurt feelings, diligently surrendering each situation to God. After many years, with both of us carefully trying to show kindness and understanding, we had ironed things out. It hadn’t been easy, but things were finally settled and peaceful between us. The thought of dragging up the single most painful moment in our history and naming my sin from 15 years prior caused me to seriously cringe.
I cried all the way home from Bible study that day, sensing the Spirit of God prompting me to do exactly what Susan had suggested. Oh, how I dreaded it! It’s quite humbling to say, “Sorry about getting it all wrong. I had a log in my eye.”