Do the (so-called) private thoughts which pass through our minds have any bearing on the nature of our lives? The answer given in the Bible is Yes. In Matthew 9:4 Jesus asks the scribes, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” He knew that the net result of those thoughts would end in his crucifixion, especially since they were about to accuse him of blaspheme after he forgave the paralytic of his sins.
Their thoughts condemned them. Their thoughts revealed the reality of what was in their hearts. And though thoughts are often considered exclusively private (unless the thinker chooses to reveal them), actually Jesus shows that to be a false conclusion. Our thoughts have a major bearing on the types of people we are and become. They also have great impact on the people closest to us.
So, as followers of Christ Jesus, it is imperative that we not think evil thoughts. Jesus implies this strongly as he teaches principles like this:
Matthew 5:27-28 You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
But what makes one thought good and another thought evil? The glory of God. If a thought either consciously or subconsciously has the glory of God as its end goal, then it is a good thought. But if a thought detracts from, covers over, or blurs in any way the glory of God, then it is evil. God’s innate and shining glory is the fulcrum point between good and evil.
One thing to note about evil thinking is that it can come in many forms. Really there are two that could summarize them all. First, there is a secular version of evil thoughts. Perhaps the younger son of Luke’s famous story is a good example of this version. “The younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living” (Luke 15:13).
“Reckless living” means he thought about getting himself drunk, and then he did it. He thought about illicit sexual relationships, and then engaged in them. He thought about creative ways to squander his inheritance, and he did it. And he did all this with a secular (empty of God’s wisdom) mindset. He was self-centered, greedy, and demanded immediate gratification of his flesh.
The other form of evil thoughts is the religious version. These types of thoughts are illustrated in the basic demeanor of the elder son in the same story. When this big brother found out that his young, foolish sibling had been accepted back into the family by his father, and that a party was currently in process in his honor, he was enraged.
Luke 15:28-30 He was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!”
This is the “good” brother. He stayed home with dad and did not openly rebel. He did not spend money on parties and prostitutes. He was “home” with the father. He was at church, doing the right thing. But he was not happy. In fact, he seems here to be just as miserable as the younger brother was when he was muddy in the pigsty.
This older brother is also very angry, bitter, and condescending. He looks down his “good” nose (which he has worked so hard to keep clean) at his younger brother and also at his father. Notice that he has no respect for his father. Indeed, he is just as self-centered and self-focused as his younger brother.
His thoughts were also just as evil as his younger brother’s, albeit more self-righteous. Surely, he thought things like, “My brother does not even deserve to live. I wish he were dead. I can’t believe he is shaming my family in this way. My father is an idiot for accepting him back. Why have I not been elevated to a higher station around here anyway? I am the better of the two sons!”
When people think things like this, they are also “thinking evil in their hearts.” This is the attitude of many people who file into churches every Sunday morning. They think evil things like, “Where are the Jones’? I see they aren’t here this morning! Must have stayed out a bit too long last night.” Or they think, “I can’t believe she is wearing that to church? Yuck!” Or they think, “I can’t believe that nasty guy came in and is sitting in the back of our church. Where did he come from and when is the last time he had a bath!” Or they think, “Can you believe that white man married that black woman!” Or they think, “Poor Mr. and Mrs. Cornbuckle had to file bankruptcy this week. I don’t suppose they know much about money.”
In all of these evil thoughts we find judgment and condemnation. And the person making these types of statements is likely quick to add, “I’m glad I’m not like that.” Sometimes the person (like the Pharisee) even thanks God for it! “Thank you, Lord, that I’m not like that.”
Whether it is the secular version of the religious version, evil thoughts are evil thoughts. Instead, here is our instruction, as followers of Christ, about the types of thoughts we should permit to course through our minds:
Philippians 4:8 Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.