The Bible tells us that life and death are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21), God spoke the universe into creation with a word and he made humans in his image a speaking creatures.
Every day you and I speak thousands of words! In fact, just the average speaker in a year could author 264 books of over 200 pages. Which equates to hundreds of millions of words in your lifetime.
No matter how many words you speak, every word matters.
Not only do you and I speak a great number of words, but our words move in one of two directions. Author Paul David Tripp says it this way,
“if your words are moving in the life direction, they will be words of encouragement, hope, love, peace, unity, instruction, wisdom, and correction. But if your words are moving in a death direction, they will be words of anger, malice, slander, jealousy, gossip, division, contempt, racism, violence, judgment, and condemnation. May God help us never to look at talk as something that doesn’t matter.”
In Matthew Chapter 12, Jesus provides a foundation for just how important our words are. He had been conversing with the Pharisees and they accused Jesus’ disciples of sinning by eating the grain on the Sabbath, but Jesus reminds them that he is Lord of the Sabbath.
Proving this to be true, he heals the withered hand of the man in the temple and later heals a man oppressed by demons. The pharisees again use their words to condemn Jesus and this time to accuse him of being in league with Satan. Jesus then warns them that if they blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, if they persist in rejecting the comforter and the salvation of Christ, there is no forgiveness for them. Then Jesus says,
“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 clearly believed that words matter. And because our words matter, we must know where our words come from, we must examine the fruit of our words, discover the root of our words, and remember the result of our words.
- What is the fruit of our Words? (v. 33)
Here are just a few examples one biblical counselor observed from the words people used to discuss their communication with friends and loved ones:
“I never thought when we were going together that he would talk to me the way he does now!”
“She hung up on me right in the middle of a sentence.”
“My parents never talk to me unless I am in trouble.”
“He only talks to me nicely when he wants something.”
“He talks so much it’s hard to get a word in edgewise.”
“Why do we always seem to end up in an argument?”
“What happened? We seemed to be so close and now we hardly ever talk.”
“Yes, he asked for my forgiveness, but I’m having a hard time letting go of the hurt. What he said was so cruel.”
“Sometimes I think it would be better if we quit talking altogether.”
The classic illustration for words is a tube of toothpaste, once you have spoken them, they are impossible to take back and put them back in the tube. But what I believe we really need to know is what to do after. After the toothpaste has come out of the tube, do you just walk away and leave the mess? Or do you fix the mess?
Changing out the words we use and exchanging them for other words is never going to address the true problem. Our words are evidence of our hearts beyond the syllables and vowels and consonants. This is also true of nonverbal communication! When we say “you look……. nice today”, or “thank you” (With a sarcastic sigh), Love you too! (with an eye roll). These responses are not the root, only the fruit.
Do you see that you struggle with your words? I do too!
I believe is we are honest with ourselves, we all know that we can grow in this area, but our hearts can become good ground for good words.
- What is the root of our words? (vs. 34-35)
Where do our words come from? Our hearts. Maybe you are like me and have sometimes said things and once it is out, you realize that it’s too late. The classic illustration rings true here of toothpaste being put back into its tube, you can’t take back what you have said. You can choose to run away from the mess you made or you can clean up the mess.
What I want us to see here is that Jesus makes a clear distinction between the tree that produces good fruit and the tree that produces rotten fruit. And both demonstrate fruit by what is inside them, just like you and me.
“A corrupt and unholy heart eventually will be exposed by corrupt and unholy speech… If the tongue is not controlled by God, it is a sure indicator that the heart is not, either.”John MacArthur
Where do words come from? We often think of our words as being external. That they are brought about by the words and actions of others.
But the truth of the matter is that they come from within us. I love coffee; I make a fresh cup of pour-over coffee in my chemex every morning. First, I go over to the kitchen sink, usually at that time with Susannah on my hip (Mommy graciously takes the first shift so Daddy can sleep a bit longer), and then I set it back on the burner to heat.
As the heat is applied as the pressure in the kettle heats, what comes out?
Steam! Hot, steam from the water heated in the kettle. Now, imagine instead that instead of steam, black goo like molasses started bubbling out of the tea-spout! What might you think? Or as we come back to our text, if you plant an apple tree that starts producing pears, it wasn’t an apple tree to begin with.
When pressures, stresses, anxieties, fears, etc. happen in our lives and we feel that pressure start bubbling over, what comes out is not a result of the pressure. It is the natural reaction of what was already inside. The same is true of our words revealing what kind of root our hearts have.
- What is the result of our words? (vs. 36-37)
Even if you decide to say nothing, “better to be silent” says the Proverb.
If you do it with the intent to harm, to hurt, to wound, to avoid speaking truth, you are still in the wrong. You are responsible for the words that come out of your mouth.
The result of our words will always be either words that direct toward life, or words that perpetuate the path of death.
Perfection in our words is impossible, but that is not what Jesus is teaching.
That is not what is being said here. What is being indicated is that the most accurate measure of our hearts is what comes out of our mouths.
Why such a strong emphasis?
Because they matter. Every word you speak, or don’t speak reveals the trajectory of your life and the root of your heart. Let us repent for where our words have been rooted in selfishness, pride, sinfulness, arrogance, and ask God to forgive us and help us to use our words to give life and speak the truth in love.
Let us pray with the Psalmist,
Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! (Psalm 141:3)