“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.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
The context of this passage is the Pharisees have attributed to the devil the power of the Holy Spirit. In doing so they defamed God.
The people thought of the Pharisees as righteous, godly, holy men. Their pretense of holiness fooled the masses. No one dared speak ill of them. But Christ unmasked them. He showed their hypocrisy. Nothing is more inconsistent with honesty than hypocrisy.
Some think the statement “Make the tree good… or make the tree bad…” indicates men can choose good or evil. But this was only rhetorical speech. Christ was addressing the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He told how to tell the difference between the truth and a hypocrite.
The Pharisees did not gain admiration by gross sin. Their sins were subtle. They were pride, ambition, and envy. The Pharisees revealed their sins by their slanders. The people did not perceive these sins. But Christ dragged them into the light.
Christ called the Pharisees a bunch of snakes. So much for Jesus being kind. It is clear He had not read Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends and Influence People.”
The Pharisees held an unfounded conviction of their own righteousness. You could even say they were captives to that conviction. Their captivity was so strong they could not hear the truth. Ordinary warnings had no effect upon them. Christ needed to pierce their armor. Until then, they treated all correction with scorn and contempt.
The Pharisees’ words betrayed them. Their heart dictated what they were, hypocrites. For out of the heart the mouth speaks. (v34b) Christ condemned them for their hypocrisy. He did so in the harshest terms. There are other sins that deserve condemnation. But these hypocrites perverted what is right. They spun their sin to make it look righteous. In doing so they defamed God’s name. This passage shows how valuable God regards truth. He maintains and defends it with rigor.
Christ told the Pharisees on judgment day they must account for every idle word. You may not think your words have much weight. They are mere sound waves. They do not contain much energy. They don’t do anything. God may regard blasphemy as serious. But everything else is noise. Au contraire. We will account for every word that does not bring glory to God. Which means I have a lot to account for. I imagine you do too.
Jesus states words are important. Even those spoken in a careless manner. Scripture condemns verbal sins. It condemns lies, gossip, or insults as much as adultery and murder. (Matthew 5:22,37; 2 Corinthians 5:22, 37; 1 Timothy 1:10; Jame 3:5; Revelation 21:8)
Jesus goes on to say, “by your words you will be justified, and by your words, you will be condemned.” There are those who try to claim this passage sets aside the justification by faith. That is absurd. It ignores what Christ just said. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (v 34b) A man’s words do not justify him because words are the basis of justification. Christ is not addressing the ground of our justification. Rather, pure speech absolves us because our speech reveals our heart. So rather than annulling justification by faith alone, it upholds it.