Lips, Lips: The Window to the Heart (Psalm 12)


1 Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men. 2 They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak. 3 The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things: 4 Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us? 5 For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him. 6 The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever. 8 The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted. (Psalm 12:1-8)

“The godly man ceases” (v.1) and “The wicked walk on every side” (v.8). In 1 Kings 19:10, Elijah makes a similar complaint: “the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left.”

David and Elijah both felt like Noahs in their generation — the only God-fearing people in a corrupt world. God always has a remnant, but sometimes God’s people feel like lost children, alone in a sea of people who do not know God, love God, obey God, or think about God. David surmised that even within God’s chosen, covenant people, there were none left who feared God.

The Lips and the Heart

When David claims that all godly people of his day have either passed off the scene or backslidden and forgotten God, one might expect him to list the people’s many sins to prove this startling proposition, for as Paul says in Galatians, “the works of the flesh are evident.” One might expect David to make it evident that the righteous have ceased, vanished, and failed by pointing to “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery…and things like these….[for] those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

While these very things were likely being indulged in by the nation of Israel, David essentially gives one evidence of the people’s wickedness: unclean lips. He writes,

“They speak vanity.”
They have “Flattering lips.”
“With a double heart do they speak.”
(Again) They have “Flattering lips.”
They have “tongues that speak proud things.”
They boast, “With our tongue we will prevail.”
They insist, “our lips are our own.”

When “empty talk, smooth talk, and double talk” (Derek Kidner) prevail, nobody knows who to trust, deception becomes a way of life, and the truth is hard to uncover. When the currency of words is debased, reality is twisted, the weak are deceived, and authority is rejected. It happens in families, businesses, and even churches.

In verse 1 and 8, David is clear that unclean lips are synonymous with those who are ungodly, faithless, wicked, and vile. Romans 3 says, “None is righteous, no, not one” and presents the evidence that “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

David seems to suggest that more than any other thing, the lips reveal the heart. If it is only those with a pure heart who see God, then our lips are of the greatest importance. We should expect our lips to alert us if something unclean has crept into our hearts and is threatening to destroy our faith.

Words that are unloving and selfish, make us look better than we really are, are harsh and insensitive, are less than honest, or cast the blame away from us and onto another, are a sure indicator of a heart problem.

In Matthew 12, Jesus says to “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” Jesus is speaking of the tree of the heart and the fruit of our words. Words are the fruit of the heart. He continues:

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. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

While we are saved as a result of faithful, believing hearts and “Not of works,” including words, “lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:9), Jesus addresses the question, “How does God determines who has a faithful, believing heart and who has an evil, unbelieving heart?” He looks at our words. Our words justify us in the sense that they evidence true faith. Evil fruit (words) is proof of an unbelieving heart and leads to a just condemnation. Good fruit (words) are proof of a believing heart and leads to an entrance into eternal glory.

One of the most shining examples of a faithful, believing man recorded in the Bible is blameless Job. It’s no coincidence that lips are mentioned ten times in the book of Job. Job declares, “My words shall be of the uprightness of my heart: and my lips shall utter knowledge clearly.” When Job’s miserable wife urged him to curse God and die, “he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”

Outnumbering the references in Job are the 42 times that lips are mentioned in the book of Proverbs (almost one-third of the total Old Testament references to lips). Proverbs 24:2 says, “For their heart studieth destruction, and their lips talk of mischief.” Proverbs 26:23 associates “burning lips” and a “a wicked heart.” Proverbs 15:7 is especially interesting: “The lips of the wise disperse knowledge: but the heart of the foolish doeth not so.” He does not say, “wise lips speak knowledge, but foolish lips do not”; he says, “foolish hearts do not.” Of course, the heart doesn’t literally speak at all, yet the heart and the lips are so closely related that the proverb uses them interchangeably.

James chapter 3 warns that two kinds of speech come from two kinds of hearts: “With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”

If a man is speaking both good and bad things — sometimes kind and sometimes cruel; sometimes arrogant and sometimes humble; sometimes spiritual and sometimes hurtful — there is something wrong with his spring. Pure springs don’t produce two kinds of water. Two-faced speech is evidence of a deeper spiritual problem.

Hypocritical Lips (v.2)

In Psalm 12:2, David says, “They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.”

“Double heart” literally means “a heart and a heart.” The figure of speech “double heart” “brings out the source of the deception, namely, ‘the heart.’ The wicked are ‘double-hearted’ by the very way they speak. In other words, they are hypocritical,” (Longman and Garland) like the man described in James 3.

What makes someone’s lips unclean is not just what they say, but whether or not what they say is consistent with what is in their hearts. Isaiah 29:13 is a familiar warning about hypocrisy: “this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” In Matthew 15, Jesus quotes this verse: “called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. … But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart

[Jesus] called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. … But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.

The words of the Pharisees did not sound corrupt to the undiscerning ear. In fact, their words probably sounded very much like the words of a careful, conservative Christian. But their words were abominable to God because they were not consistent with what was in their heart. James 1:26 warns, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” God’s standard for right speaking is truth in love.

Seeing The Lord’s Lips (v.6)

In brilliant contrast to the deceitful words of the wicked, read in verse 6 that “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.” The “furnace” refers to a crucible used for melting the silver, and can be as hot as 2,000 degrees. When silver is liquified, the dross (impurities) rises to the top and is skimmed off. After repeating this process several times, a metal is considered pure. Seven times is excessive. After seven times, there is virtually nothing else a person could do (with the technology available in Bible times) to make the metal any purer.

God’s lips are not just pure, they are perfectly pure. There is nothing we can do to improve on God’s words. “Lying lips are abomination to the Lord: but they that deal truly are his delight” (Prov. 12:22); what would it be like to confront God’s radiant purity and know that our impurity is an abomination to Him? What would it be like to stand before a God with this degree of fearsome holiness and know that our lips are unclean?

Isaiah answers the question, when he retells his vision of God’s holiness. When he “saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up,” and the seraphim crying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory,” he cried out, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6).

Lips of Judgment (v.3-5)

Verse 3 of our Psalm says there is a day coming when “The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things.” Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead, reveal the hearts of men, and forever silence unclean lips.

God’s lips — radiantly pure and fearsome in holiness — will consume the unclean lips of godless people. Isaiah 11 says that when Jesus comes, “he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.” The same powerful word that God spoke to create the universe — the same mighty breath that he used to create a living soul — will bring terror in that day. Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power,” and will one day judge it with the same word. His word, lips, and breath are instruments of judgment for the unclean.

Verse 5 of Psalm 12 says that God will arise to vindicate the poor and the oppressed — those who have been abused and deceived by the unclean words of unclean men. Isaiah 30:27 warns, “Behold, the name of the Lord comes from afar, burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke; his lips are full of fury, and his tongue is like a devouring fire.”

According to verse 4, the wicked claim, “our lips are our own: who is lord over us?” But God will be exalted over the evildoers. He created our lips, and it is right that our lips should glorify Him. He is lord of every lip, and when He comes in judgment, every knee shall bow and every tongue (and lip) shall confess that He is Lord. God is coming to reveal and condemn hypocrisy, insincerity, lying, flattery, deception, and other such sins. Revelation 16 says that in the day of judgment, people will gnaw their tongues — the tongues which refused to confess Him on earth — in anguish (Rev. 16:10).

Pleading For Pure Lips

We know from experience that we cannot tame our own tongue nor purify our own lips. James makes this quite clear:

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (Jas. 3:5-8)

James tells us that we cannot purify our lips by a mere act of our will. They are too restless. They are too deadly. They are harder to tame than beasts and reptiles and sea creatures. So, what are we to do? Isaiah, humbled in the presence of God’s radiantly pure lips, shows us the way:

Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?

“Then said I” — with new, pure lips, purified by the blood of the Lamb who was slain before foundation of the world — “Here am I; send me.” Jesus, because of His atonement, made it possible for God to impart His righteousness to men, and cleanse their lips from everything that is defiling. “Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate” (Heb. 13:12).

Those in need of pure lips must come to Him in faith, pleading for God’s purifying power. The tongues of fire that rested over the apostles at Pentecost are evidence that His Spirit is the only answer for the needs of our heart. Those who are under the Spirit’s control are the only ones who have control over their tongues.

The Beauty of Clean Lips

Clean lips are a beautiful thing. Clean lips bless God always, and bless others, who are made in the image of God. Clean lips “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb. 13:15). Clean lips do not wait to confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Clean lips speak the truth in love.

Once our lips have been cleansed by the atoning blood of Jesus and bridled by the Spirit’s power, we must continue to guard our lips day by day.

Oh be careful little mouth what you say
Oh be careful little mouth what you say
There’s a Father up above
And He’s looking down in love
So, be careful little mouth what you say.

As we grow in grace, our lips will grow more loving and more truthful. Our daily prayer will be, “O Lord, ‘Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from thee.’” Our every word will be “yes, yes,” and “no, no” — straightforward and honest. We will be quick to admit when we are wrong, and quick to accept the blame. We will be slow to accept praise, or talk about our achievements, preferring to praise the achievements of others and, most of all, praise the works of our God. We will be careful to vow and diligent to keep. Our “speech [will be] always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6). We will be increasingly sensitive about how our words impact others.

With our lips God gave a blessing,
But be careful how you speak;
Bitter words and hasty speeches
Crush the tender and the weak
Many times along life’s journey
Angry words give others pain;
Once they’re spoken, tears and sorrow
Cannot bring them back again.
There are hearts now wrung with anguish
At the mem’ry of the past;
Cruel words to loved ones spoken—
How they pierce the heart at last.”
As we think of precious jewels
Lying still and cold in death;
Thoughtless words once harshly spoken,
Haunt us till our latest breath.
Of the lips be ever watchful,
Let your words be gentle, meek,
Do not wound the hearts around you;
Oh be careful, how you speak.

Peter writes:

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. (1 Pet. 3:8-12)

Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is President and Founder of Holy Joys. He serves as a preaching and teaching pastor in Newport, PA, where he lives with his wife Alexandra and son Adam. You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.