How often have you said something—and immediately wished there were a rewind button you could push and edit out what you just said? Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 12:33–37.
Your words can condemn you. You have to give account for every careless word. God himself calls you to account. Jesus’ “But I tell you…” emphasizes the importance of what he says. The setting for evaluating your words is the day of judgment. God himself is the judge in that venue. You may consider your words unimportant. God’s evaluation differs. We think of words as idle or careless. Walk through a mall, and listen to people chatter or talk on their phones. You might be more concerned if you knew that all of your words were being recorded. God himself remembers what you say. You are God’s people, living in a culture that is deeply divided, a world in which accusations of lying are leveled by multiple sides. As God’s pople, guard against repeating something, just because it is directed against those with you you have strong disagreements. Make sure you are speaking the truth. Even in Christian circles you hear mocking language directed at fellow believers with whom the speaker disagrees. Evil words incur God’s judgment.
Evil words reveal an evil heart. The setting involves words spoken against the Messiah. The Pharisees were plotting how to kill Jesus, verse 14. They said that his miracle of healing the demoniac was done by the power of Beelzebub, verse 24. Evil words like these come from an evil heart. Jesus uses a variety of word pictures. These are bad trees with bad fruit. They are a brood of vipers. (Jesus reserves language like this for the persistently unrepentant, the hypocritical. He echoes the language of John the Baptist.) They are evil men bringing evil from within them. Words flow out of the heart. Yes, words can be crafted and even false, but especially unguarded words can be revealing. By nature all of us are totally depraved. That depravity not only mars our hearts, but it seeps out in the language that one uses.
By your words you will be acquitted. Confess Jesus as the Messiah. The context does include people speaking evil of Jesus. But the passage challenges you to confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (see Romans 10:9). The miracle of healing results in some expressing the possibility that this could be the Son of David, verse 23. The very warning against speaking against the Son of man and against the Spirit summons you to understand and speak the truth about who Jesus is and what his work is. The presence of one greater than Jonah (verse 41) and greater than Solomon (verse 42) calls for you to recognize him. Confess Jesus. Recognize that he is the Messiah, that he is God incarnate. Believe that God has raised him from the dead (the culminating event in redemptive history). Trust him as your sin-bearer. Your words acquit you as you truly confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Make that confession! Watching your words means much more than (although it includes) making sure that inappropriate language doesn’t slip out of your mouth. Your words need to focus on your Savior. “[I]n Paul’s writings the translation ‘vindicate’ is preferable, in the sense of both (1) vindicating persons from the guilty verdict on their sin and thus establishing a relationship with Christ during this age, and (2) vindicating such people before God’s judgment seat at the end of the age against the wrongful verdict pronounced by the world (i.e., against the world’s unjust verdict concerning the wrongness of believers’ faith and of God’s prior verdict of acquital upn them). This second aspect of vindication is in view in Matt. 12:36–37….” (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, p. 520)
Bring forth good! The confession that Jesus is Lord can come only from a heart and life made new by God’s Spirit. Now your heart is going to produce language that is not evil, that is not merely idle, but words that praise God and lift up his people. “Let us be humble as we read this passage, in the recollection of time past. How many idle, foolish, vain light frivolous, sinful, and unprofitable things we have all said! How many words we used which, like thistle-down, have flown far and wide, and sown mischief in the hearts of others that will never die!… Let us be watchful as we read this passage about words, when we look forward to our days yet to come. Let us resolve, by God’s grace, to be more carefl over out tongues, and more particular about our use of them.” (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, on Matthew 12:36–37) One of the ways you image God is through speech. Look at the way that God introduces himself in Genesis 1: “And God said…” becomes a refrain. This speaking God formed you in his image. Your words are not creative in the sense that his were, but as you are renewed in Jesus Christ, your words can uplift. They can help nourish and strengthen God’s people. As they communicate the good news, they can even help in that process of re-creation. Consciously guard and use your speech to glorify your Creator-Redeemer. Do that in the way you speak to your spouse, to your children, to your parents. Do that as you chat and joke with your friends (remember that God holds you accountable for even your careless words). Use your speech to his glory in your work, whatever it is. Use your words to praise God. The joy of the best worship service on earth is a faint reflection of the praise that you will be bringing in heaven.