You ARE Your WORDS – Matthew 12:33-37
I read a study this past week that showed there’s a significant difference in the number of words that are spoken by each gender. Ladies, can you guess how many words you say on an average day? According to this study, it’s 20,000. Now men, do you think you speak more, or less, than that? How many words do you think you say in an average day? According to this study, it’s 7,000.
That’s according to a 2006 study. A 2007 study said that women speak on average 16,215 a day and men speak on average 15,669 words a day. And that shows you that (1) Studies can be made to show whatever the people want to show; and (2) We speak a lot! 16,000 words a day is enough to fill a 300-page book every 5 days. Most of us won’t read a 300-page book in a year!
16,000 words a day is a lot, and we’re going to see from our passage tonight that those words matter – a lot!
Matthew 12:33-37 Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good: For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
To understand what’s going on here, you’ll need a little context. Maybe you’re wondering where that lovely phrase, you brood of vipers! came from. Who said it, and who was he talking to?
For those who may be new here, we’re continuing our study through the book of Matthew in the New Testament. Chapter twelve starts to really show a growing tension between Jesus and a group called the Pharisees – Jewish religious leaders, comparable maybe to pastors and Bible teachers today. Strange people for Jesus to be in tension with. But you see, Jesus had come to fulfil God’s Always Plan of restoring perfect relationship between God and man, and the Pharisees were all about keeping their hand on the controls of people’s lives.
And so we see at the beginning of chapter 12 that the Pharisees didn’t like Jesus’ disciples picking grain on the Sabbath (vss. 1-8); the Pharisees didn’t like Jesus’ healing a man on the Sabbath (vss. 9-14); the Pharisees didn’t like Jesus’ casting a demon out of a possessed man (vss. 22-23); and finally, in Barry’s last message in the evening last year, we saw that the Pharisees were claiming that Jesus performed these miracles by Beelzebub’s power. Jesus’ sharp response to this in vss. 25-32 shows that their accusation was illogical, inconsistent with their own practice, insurrection against God Himself, and inane. It was a stupid thing to say. And in our passage tonight, Jesus says, ‘Just by the way, stupid things said will be judged too.’
So this passage tonight was written to the lost who thought themselves safe, not primarily to followers of Jesus. The words Jesus spoke was against a group of people who were in open opposition to Him but still thought that God was their portion and very great reward. Ha! Fools. One of my favourite Psalms, Psalm 2, says: The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. “Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters.” The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
Jesus is livid with these guys. He calls them a ‘brood of vipers’ a couple of times, and they are the only group of people that Jesus speaks harshly to. Not to prostitutes or tax-collectors or criminals or even the demon-possessed. He harshly criticizes Torah-toting, prayer-shawl-sporting, temple-attending, tithe-paying, Sunday-night-Church-attending, self-worshiping blind guides who will teach Sunday school and spend eternity in hell with those they led there.
What can we learn from tonight’s passage in Matthew? Firstly:
WHAT YOU DO, AND SAY, YOU ARE
Vss. 33-34 Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.
For Jesus, looking at these Pharisees, he could tell without question whether they were children of God or children of Satan. Because he didn’t just hear their words, he knew their thoughts (vs. 25). For him it was clear which side of the war these Pharisees are on.
For the rest of us, it’s not so clear. I don’t know your thoughts, I can only hear your words and see your actions. So, this passage for us is meant to be a personal heart-check. I can’t apply this to you. I can’t call you either brood of vipers, or light of the world, because I don’t know your hearts – that’s between you and God.
This passage is a call to a personal heart-check; for each one to look at their own personal lives and ask themselves: Would Jesus have reason to say this to me? Would I have been a viper in this brood? And here’s one way we can check: What are the words that come out of my mouth. Our words and our works show our faith. Jesus is saying here that we can’t claim to be children of God if our WORDS and our WORKS are contrary to God’s heart.
My friends, this isn’t a light and fluffy thing. Jesus is saying here that if your words speak against God’s heart, stop kidding yourself that you’re in the faith and safe from God’s wrath. WORDS MATTER.
Do a check on this past week; what has been the bulk of the book of words you spoke: What came out of your mouths? Was it complaining? Gossip? Harsh criticism? There are many that go to Church week after week and take nothing from the worship but points to complain about and nothing from the sermon except for points to argue. Harsh criticism. Are your words condemning – You will never achieve your goals! Do you use your words to lie and deceive others – even for what you might call a ‘good reason’? Are you ‘jokingly racist’ or ‘jokingly sexist’? Are you flippant, or sarcastic, or prideful or vain or self-centred?
Your words matter – they matter to God. Those words don’t come from your lungs, they come from your heart and they show God and us who you are.
A few years ago I was preaching in the youth group and one of the teenagers stopped me mid-message and said she had a question. What if a friend of hers is really a good person but just does bad things? I had so much pity for this young lady because she’d bought into the world’s logic that you absolutely can get bad fruit from good trees. An apple tree absolutely will grow sour lemons, in fact most do – better believe it! It doesn’t make sense, but we can sometimes believe that we can lie, gossip, condemn, speak just like the devil but actually be children of God. It’s nonsense!
Your words matter – what you say is what comes out of your heart.
But let’s look at the other side. What has been the bulk of the book of words you spoke this past week? What came out of your mouths? Was it encouraging? Did you highlight someone’s godly characteristics? Did you not criticise but humbly correct a brother in the faith? Did you remind someone of God’s promises and how they can step into them? Did you build someone up? Did you bless someone? Were your words beneficial to those who heard them? Did your words bring hope and life?
Let’s not just focus on what shouldn’t be said, but be inspired by what should be said. I challenge you this week to make Ephesians 4:29 your motto, and Psalm 19:14 your prayer; that is, ‘Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up the one in need and bringing grace to those who listen,’ and ‘[God, may the] words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight…’
Your words matter – they matter to people around you, and they matter to God. They matter so much to God that He promises to use them as the evidence in His judgement one day.
WHAT YOU DO AND SAY WILL BE JUDGED
Vss. 35-37 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
This statement looks back to the hard, bitter words of the Pharisees in verse 25 (???). Maybe they thought that they were ‘just voicing an opinion’, but Jesus stops them and says, ‘Hey, words have an impact, words have meaning, and for that reason, God will hold you accountable for your words.’
It reminds me of the proverb (18:21), ‘Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit’. We probably know the first half of that proverb well, but what about the second half. Not only do our words have the power to kill or heal, but we ourselves will also die or live as consequence for our words. What you say will either poison you or nourish you.
What you say carries consequences. That’s why my parents were so much on my case about how what I said growing up. I remember being so upset after feeling verbally attacked by a teacher one day at school and telling my Dad about it. Instead of getting riled up with me against this terrible injustice, he tested me again and again, ‘Is that really what your teacher said? No, what did they say?’ My Dad, wisely, wasn’t going to go to battle against the school for my perceived offenses; but he would eagerly go to battle for me against actual offenses. My Mom, on the other side, frequently cautioned us: ‘If you don’t have anything kind to say, don’t say anything at all’ (Eph. 4:29).
I grew up learning to be very careful with my words, and I’m so glad I did, because words have an impact. Think about the impact of your words on your testimony; both before men and before God.
TESTIMONY BEFORE MEN
The way you talk in your workplace or your classroom impacts your testimony towards your colleagues or classmates. Those in your workplace will rejoice and despair at your use of filthy, irreverent, unholy language. When you talk badly of other Churches, when you complain about the country, when you gossip about the boss, your colleagues will rejoice because your unholiness proves their sin acceptable in their eyes – ‘Hey, I thought this person really believed what they were saying about God, but look at how they live.’ And they will also despair, even subconsciously, because your rightness is (or was) their hope. But not anymore.
I remember in school, before I became a follower of Christ, I learnt that I could be popular by the words I said. I loved to shock my friends, who believed I was a Christian, by swearing or criticising or gossiping. They would smile in gleeful shock when I did that, so happy that I was no different from them. It made them feel unafraid of being like me and still being ‘safe’ with God.
Your words you say can weaken the impact of God’s grace in the lives of those around you, or even stop the power of God’s gospel from impacting others’ lives.
TESTIMONY BEFORE GOD
And think about the impact of your words in your testimony before God. One day you and I will stand before God’s throne and have to give an account not just of the way we lived, but also for the way we spoke. We might say, ‘God, I went to Church,’ and God can say, ‘But you argued with your wife the whole way there,’ ‘God, I paid my tithes,’ ‘Yes, but you complained about every sermon to every person but the preacher,’ ‘God, I prayed every morning on my way to work,’ ‘Yes, but you cursed every aggressive driver on the way home from work.’
These Pharisees had many, many good actions to point to in order to ‘show God’ that they were righteous, many, many good actions – far more than you or I have. But Jesus declared that their words proved that their actions were godless, and therefore worthless. May your words not prove your actions worthless!
And that’s why Jesus concludes: By your WORDS you will either be acquitted, or condemned.
Here’s the rub, though: No matter how careful we have been with our words in our lifetime, there is more than enough evidence to condemn us to hell forever. If you’ve lived 40 years and spoken enough to fill 3,000 books, you don’t need 2,999 books of wicked words to be condemned; you just need one wrong word. That’s what James (2:10) says: For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
If this is the end of the matter, then we are all hopeless, condemned sinners. And if you’re like me, you tend to focus on the negative of Jesus’ last statement here: By your words you will be condemned…
But the glimmer of hope of justification is seen also in verse 37. The word ‘acquitted’ simply means to justify or to declare in the right. The sentence is translated in the ESV, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. Some commentators go a long way to explain why the gospel word ‘justified’ is used here. It’s a foreshadowing of what Paul talks about in Romans 10:5-10:
For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says… “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
And so we find that though this passage in Matthew tonight has a strike of terror, for those who are willing to surrender,
WE HAVE HOPE IN CHRIST
Our words most certainly describe what’s going on in our hearts, and we can find joy in the fact that God calls us not just to keep our mouths shut to avoid sin, but to open them up and declare boldly: I BELIEVE THAT JESUS IS LORD.
So I want to share the gospel promise with you tonight. If the general story of your words paint a picture of a heart at war with God, you might actually be at war with God and stand to receive the eternal punishment that comes to God’s enemies.
But there’s hope! If you want to be a part of God’s family, you don’t have to try and live a better life – polish that fruit that grows on your tree. No, you just have to surrender your heart to God and allow Him to turn the bad tree of your heart into a good tree. He’s not in the business of shining rotten fruit; He’s in the business of transforming trees, restoring life. You can tell Jesus tonight that your words show your life is not His, but you want it to be. The Lord has never forsaken those who seek Him.
And here’s another thing.
If you do give your life to Jesus, you are a Child of God. Jesus would no longer bunch you with the brood of vipers, but celebrate you as the light of the world. Now that we have hope as Christians, let us have something to work towards.
It’s not only unbelievers who will face judgment, but for true Christians there will be an accounting as well, as Jesus points out here. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
Of course, that doesn’t hold any fear for Christians because Paul has already said in Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” There’s no condemnation, but there will be an accounting for what we have said and done (1 Corinthians 3:12-15): “If any man build on this foundation [of Jesus Christ] using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the [Judgement] Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”
If you live to the good age of 80 and have 6,000 books worth of words to account for, how much of it will be burned up and how much of it will remain? Will Jesus have a paragraph left to reward you on – Well, you said something nice to little Suzie when you were in grade 2, and then you had a kind word to say to your wife on your wedding day – I can count those. Or will He be able to reward whole books of encouraging, kind, uplifting, God-honouring, worshipful words? Do you want Jesus to reward book after book after book of words pleasing to Him and beneficial to His Church? What will you write this week? What will you write tonight?
So I want to challenge you tonight to make Ephesians 4:29 your motto, and Psalm 19:14 your prayer. Let’s pray it together now.