Matthew 12:33-37

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Matthew 12

33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

In Ryan Holiday’s amazing book, Ego is the Enemy, he writes

In Aristotle’s famous Ethics, he uses the analogy of a warped piece of wood to describe human nature. In order to eliminate warping or curvature, a skilled woodworker slowly applies pressure in the opposite direction—essentially, bending it straight. Of course, a couple of thousand years later Kant snorted, “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, nothing can be made straight.”[1]

It is fascinating to see the great philosophers wrestle with the question of human nature. The picture of warped wood is not a bad one for human nature…and neither, frankly, is Kant’s skepticism at the idea that the twisted natures of men can be made straight simply by virtue of strategic pressure being applied.

This much is true: if human nature is twisted, then we will live twisted lives. We live out of the condition of our natures, our hearts. Jesus, after having spoken of the sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit—a sin the Pharisees had just committed in Matthew 12 when they accused Jesus of working with the power of Satan—moves on to discuss the reality of human nature and the ways that our behavior and particularly our speech reveal that reality.

The reality of our hearts inevitably manifests itself in our lives.

Jesus first says that we live from the inside out. He says this by appealing to the image of a tree and its fruit.

33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.

Note that the tree precedes the fruit. Make the tree good and the fruit will be good. Make the tree bad and fruit will be bad. “The tree is known by its fruit.” That is, the fruit we see in our lives is simply the manifestation of the reality of our hearts. Who you are inwardly reveals itself in outward action. The same can be seen using the imagery of treasure. Jesus says:

35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.

Good comes out of good treasure. Evil comes out of evil treasure. In Matthew 6, Jesus says:

21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

There is, then, a direct connection between essence and action in human life. Who we are in our essence reveals itself in our actions. Seen the other way, our actions are clues to the reality of our essence. We live from the inside out. Dallas Willard has written:

We live from our heart.

            The part of us that drives and organizes our life is not the physical. This remains true even if we deny it. You have a spirit within you and it has been formed. It has taken on a specific character. I have a spirit and it has been formed. This is true of everyone…We live from our depths—most of which we do not understand.[2]

Yes, we live from our depths, from our hearts. The Pharisees wrongly accused Jesus of wickedness because they themselves were wicked. The Pharisees of Matthew 12 were bad trees, bad treasures. As such, they brought forth bad fruit and wickedness. But what is important to understand more generally is that the Bible applies this reality to all human beings, not just to pernicious Pharisees. For instance, in Genesis 6 we read:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

This is a statement on mankind in general, on all of humanity. Human beings:

  • are wicked;
  • are thoroughly wicked (i.e., every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually);
  • grieve the Lord God with our wickedness.

We are bad trees. We have bad treasures. Thus, we do bad things. Jesus, in Matthew 7, applied this truth generally to those listening to the Sermon on the Mount.

11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Here, then, are two components of the reality of human life that we must all come to terms with:

  • We are twisted in our hearts.
  • We live out of our twisted hearts.

Our speech is the greatest indicator of the heart’s true state.

There is more. Jesus, in responding specifically to the evil words of the Pharisees about Him says that speech itself tends to reveal the true state of our hearts, our natures, our souls.

34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

This could not be clearer: “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Who you are inwardly will inevitably reveal itself in your speech. Try as we may to fool one another about the true state of our hearts, our tongues will betray us by showing who we really are. In James 3, James spoke at length about this reality.

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. 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. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.

James says that out tongues, our words, our speech carry enormous destructive potential. He uses numerous metaphors to say this: bits in horse’s mouths, rudders on ships, flames that start wildfires. He then speaks of the power of the tongue: “no human being can tame the tongue” (v.8). And then James moves on to the same point that Jesus makes in Matthew 12: the tongue simply reveals the inward reality of our hearts.

10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

A water source must inevitably produce the kind of water that constitutes it.

A fig tree must bear a certain type of fruit: figs.

A grapevine must produce a certain type of fruit: grapes.

So, too, the heart! A corrupt heart will pour forth corrupt speech. A redeemed heart will pour forth redeemed speech.

We live from the inside out and the most inevitably outward manifestation of our inward reality is speech.

Think of this: what you say when you are brutally honest is the best indicator of the true nature of your heart. Gossip, profane speech, cruel words, slander, obscenity: these are simply indicators that our hears are gossiping, profane, cruel, slanderous, obscene hearts! So when the Pharisees of Matthew 12 actually accused Jesus of working miracles in the power of Satan, they were revealing how far their hearts were from God.

So I ask you and I ask myself this question: if our speech in its truest form (i.e., when we are being really honest and not posing and posturing before others) reveals our true hearts, what does your speech reveal about your heart? Remember: “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Your mouth will show who you really are! What does your mouth reveal about you?

We will be held accountable for the reality of our hearts, not for what we project to others.

This matters. Why? Because of what Jesus says next:

36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Sit with this for a while. How can we not shudder before these words! Image giving an “account for every careless word” you have ever said “on the day of judgment.”

Every lie.

Every obscene joke.

Every half-truth.

Every faulty insinuation.

Every bullying word.

Every cutting word.

Every selfish complaint.

Every hypocritical utterance.

Every “careless word.”

And then imagine your very justification before God hinging on your words! Oh my! Oh no!

What, then, are we to do? How can we twisted-hearted, twisted-tongued people stand before God? Simply put, we must let God change our hearts and save us. In Isaiah 1 we read:

16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. 18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

Our scarlet hearts can be made white as snow. Our sins can be forgiven! How so? In Ephesians 5 we are told how:

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

By the self-giving of Christ. Christ has “given himself up for” us. That is, He has given Himself on the cross. And what is the result of this? The result is that we who come to Christ can be sanctified, cleansed, and presented to Jesus “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” Indeed, we can “be holy and without blemish.”

All because of Jesus.

Only because of Jesus.

And this brings us back to the statement I began our sermon with:

In Aristotle’s famous Ethics, he uses the analogy of a warped piece of wood to describe human nature. In order to eliminate warping or curvature, a skilled woodworker slowly applies pressure in the opposite direction—essentially, bending it straight. Of course, a couple of thousand years later Kant snorted, “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, nothing can be made straight.”[3]

I am struck by this for this reason: contrary to Aristotle’s idea that the twisted wood of the human heart can be straightened by the exertion of contrary pressure, we should say instead that the twisted wood of the human heart can only be made straight when it is nailed to the wood of the cross of Jesus Christ! Christ took the pressure upon Himself on Calvary that can straighten our hearts! We were unable to do this straightening, but Christ could.

If we live out of our hearts, then that means we will only live rightly when our hearts are given over to the only One who can rightly steward them, forgive them, redeem them, transform them.

Christ can give our tongues a new song!

Christ can give our hearts new fruit!

Christ can save us.

 

[1] Holiday, Ryan. Ego Is the Enemy (p. xxv). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2012), p.13.

[3] Holiday, Ryan. Ego Is the Enemy (p. xxv). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

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