Editor's Note: This post is Part 2 of a 5-part series entitled, "Using Your Words Wisely." Part 1 is available here.
Let us frequently remember the shortness and uncertainty of our lives, and how that, after we have taken a few more turns more in this world, and conversed a little longer amongst men, we must all go down into the dark and silent grave, and carry nothing along with us but anguish and regret for all our sinful enjoyments, and then think what horror must needs be seize the guilty soul, to find itself naked and all alone before the severe and impartial Judge of the world, to render an exact account, not only of its more important and considerable transactions, but of every word that the tongue hath uttered, and the swiftest and most secret thought that ever passed through the mind. – Henry Scougal, The Life of God in the Soul of Man
In Matthew 12:36, Jesus lobs one of the most stunning statements of his earthly ministry at—not surprisingly!—the Pharisees: “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.” Jesus had just finished landing a haymaker upside the Pharisees’ jaw in verse 34, calling them a “brood of vipers,” which should make everyone’s “Top 5” list of things you never want to hear the Lord of all creation toss in your general direction. “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” (Matthew 12:33-34).
Jesus’ point is clear: the Pharisees' words function as if they were a trail lined with freshly sloughed skins witnessing to the state of their snakish hearts. Their words were incontestable evidence leading to an unarguable conclusion. The Pharisees, though having a reputation for being the most spiritual and godly folk around, were, in actuality, just spiritually dead serpent carcasses. Eesh! They’re like their father, that ancient dragon, who used his venomous, forked tongue to bring down our entire race of image bearers.
Your words will stand up and testify for or against you on judgment day. And, for these particular Pharisees who are now long dead, they will endure an eternity of always dying but never finding death, and always morally devolving, but never reaching the bottom of either of those two grizzly realities.
Your Words Reveal Your Eternal Destination
“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.” (Matthew 12:33)
One way to draw out Jesus’ meaning in v. 33 is to expand on his metaphor. If you have a diseased tree with brown rot that hasn’t produced fruit in years, would it make any sense to liberally apply a bit of nutrient spray to the leaves? No! Why? Because the problem is deeper than that. There’s something wrong at the core of the tree. The root of the tree is dead and no amount of cultivation will bring a dead tree back to life. Paul says much the same in Ephesians 2:1-2 about anyone who hasn’t had a saving experience with the resurrected Jesus: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…”
Our passage in Matthew points to the fact that our words and how we use them prove whether we have been converted or are still dead in our sins. Those who are “in Christ” will be continually minted and reminted, formed and reformed into the image of Christ (Romans 12:1-2). Our words, then, will be like the lively leaves of that holy reality. They’ll show what we are eternally.
The reality of the sanctification process in the life of a Christian necessarily means that on judgment day Christians will be less sinful with their words than they were on the day of their conversion. We will bring forth good fruit; our words will justify us in that they’ll provide the burden of proof of our life in Christ as opposed to death in Satan.
Your Words Are a Reflex of Your Heart
What’s rolling around in your head is eventually going to make its way out in your conversations:
“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matt 12:34b)
Biblically speaking, this word “heart” is a junk drawer term. It stands for the whole psychological self. Currently in Western cultures, the word “heart” is often understood to be synonymous with “feelings” (thanks a lot, Disney!). But when the Bible refers to the heart, it intends to encompass not just our feelings but all of our thoughts as well. It refers to the entire internal, non-physical part of a person (i.e., mind, will, beliefs, emotions).
What you believe in your heart to be true, valuable, and important drives your thought life, which then informs—even dictates—your feelings, which will reflexively make themselves evident in your speech. Throughout our lives, we fluctuate back and forth between these two poles of belief and feelings, which then manifest themselves in our words. Your words are reciprocal in nature. You speak your words, then somewhere along the way, your words begin speaking you. Your words make you what you are.
This is the psychology of your spiritual cardiology.
Consider how Proverbs 4:23 speaks about the heart when it says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Or Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
Christians must guard their hearts like they would their physical diet, but even then in this sub-resurrection realm, your heart can go rogue on you. And to the contrary, the natural, unconverted heart, is ever hell bent on deathlike talk.
The heart is that which steers you through life, both in the short and long run. And your words are really nothing more than the outward manifestations of what’s percolating and bubbling up in your heart.
If your mouth is full of complaining, you have a thankless heart.
If you constantly lash out at people, there is no kindness in your heart.
If your tongue oozes “scarcasm,” you probably lack the wonderment of the gospel.
Your Words Are Eternal
“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)
I don’t know about you, but I am paralyzed by Jesus’ words in this verse. So, you and I “will give account for every careless word” we have ever spoken? Yes. They are on record in the impeccable memory of our omniscient God. I, for one, have said a lot of sinful, hurtful, disrespectful, blasphemous, and hateful things in my life—both pre- and post-conversion. In our text, Jesus is saying that on judgment day, your words will be like a traceable cookie crumb trail leading to an unarguable conclusion. You’re either dead or alive, and your words will accurately evidence whether you were or were not a follower of Jesus. Was he King or not? Your words will tell.
By repenting and placing your faith in Jesus Christ, God takes away every pound of your guilt and due wrath. The proper death sentence and due wrath of your sinful jokes, ill-natured remarks, sarcastic conversations, social media outbursts, and careless words were laid upon the Son of God instead of you. Christian, there is no anger left in the Father for you; he spent it all on the Son because it was the only way to purchase you.
Jesus, then, is the only one who can make a rotten, dead tree burst forth with new life (1 Corinthians 1:18). That’s what happens every time a lost, dark, and depraved sinner turns his heart toward the miracle working, Soul Surgeon.
But for those who reject Jesus, they can only expect that their words will stand on record against them on the day of judgment. They will be judged by their every word with no vindication, no lawyer to plead their case.
You need Jesus to save you from your mouth. You need Him to put a song of thanksgiving in your heart so that you do not go on slandering your neighbor and blaspheming God.
In your fight for holiness you will have the promise of Colossians 2:13–15, which says, “God made [you] alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God made a way to change your death-slinging tongue into a life-giving one.