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I don’t know about you, but some of my deepest grief, disappointment, embarrassment and hurt has come from words that should never have left my mouth. Jesus identifies the problem of wrongly spoken words in the Bible passage for today’s article.
He said, “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. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12.33-37).
Jesus pictures our inside condition as a treasure house. The treasures of that house are brought into view and put on display by the words that come out of our mouths.
Boasting, gossip, profanity, dishonest speech, criticism, words that divide, and such indicate something is wrong with our inside condition. We may try to keep these evil “treasures” hidden and pretend that we are really great people, but they will eventually escape and show what is actually in our hearts.
Gentle, humble, kind, truthful words, and speech that builds up people are the treasures of a heart that is aligned with the character of Jesus.
Facts About Words
Just so we don’t skip over this valuable lesson and choose to make no effort to change our inner treasure house that produces negative speech, let’s let the Bible encourage us to a process of change.
— Death and Life in Our Speech – An often quoted Proverb is:
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits.” (Proverbs 18.21)
I am a fan of Adam Hamilton, the pastor of the Church of the Resurrection. In 2004 we were in a meeting together. After the meeting, we spent thirty minutes in the parking lot getting acquainted. I was profoundly impressed that the pastor of the largest church in Kansas City talked very little about himself. In fact, during the entire conversation his primary effort seemed to be a desire to learn more about Maywood Baptist Church and me.
Adam Hamilton’s words gave life on that sunny afternoon. We have the opportunity to give life or not, depending on how we use our words.
— Words Give Life or Break the Spirit – Once again, the Book of Proverbs describes the effect that the two different kinds of speech have. It says,
“A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
keeping watch on the evil and the good.
A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” (Proverbs 15.1-4)
Gary Chapman points out that words can be either bullets or seeds. Bullet-like words will stir up anger, increase further the incidence of stupid-talk, and break the spirit of the person who is being attacked.
Seed-like-words planted in the heart of the hearer turn away wrath, increase knowledge, and produce life.
— Your Speech Reveals Your True Self – The Book of James takes up the issue of “the tongue.”
James writes, “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. 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” (James 3.8-12).
James learned about speech from his older brother, Jesus. He knew that we can’t dismiss the wrong kind of speech from our mouths as some kind of minor character flaw. He saw the improper use of words as an evil, a deadly poison, and something that should not be.
With great clarity, James and Jesus tell us that the fruit of our lips reveals what kind of tree we are. We can’t be “good people” and have bad speech. To think we can is to deceive ourselves.
— We Will Be Judged By Our Speech – We should use what comes out of our mouth as a gauge of our spiritual life. After all, Jesus states that our speech will commend us or condemn us in the judgment.
He said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12.36-37).
The reason why our words will judge us is because they reflect who we actually are. That was the point that both Jesus and James made in the verses we have read.
Is There Hope for Us?
I began this article with the word, “I don’t know about you.” Once again, I don’t know about you, but I have to plead guilty as I read the verses of our study today. I don’t want to excuse the speech that is connected to my heart too easily. So, I ask if there is any hope for me to change. I read this story yesterday and it may give some encouragement to us.
A shepherd left his home to rescue a lost sheep. The search began early in the day and continued into the night. As the effort continued the shepherd was hungry and thirsty, scratched by shrubs, and nearly exhausted. The sheep was also weary from his wanderings and the shepherd had to put him on his shoulders and carry him on the return trip home.
The Good Shepherd, Jesus (John 10), spent 33 years on earth looking for people like you and me. He wasn’t just scratched. He was whipped and crucified to rescue wandering sheep like you and me.
Here is a question that gives me hope: “If Jesus went to such lengths to find me, won’t he help me transform my inside condition, the treasure house of my soul, into something pleasing to him and helpful to others?”
The answer to that question is: “Yes, Jesus will. If we ask him to transform our inside condition in such a way that it is reflected by the words we speak, he will certainly do it.”
Paul sums up the hope we have in Jesus. He wrote, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1.6).
Dear Jesus, I am often ashamed by what comes out of my mouth. Arrogant, prideful, angry, and negative words are a sad indicator of what is inside the treasure of my heart. I ask you today to hear this prayer and to transform my inner self.