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"True Character"

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Matthew 12:33-37

“True Character”



James Frey was a drug addict, a criminal that had tangled with the police on more than one occasion. He later wrote a run-away best-seller about his life and it quickly became number one on the New York Times Bestseller list. The publisher described the book as “brutally honest.” The problem was that it was all a lie. James Frey had made up a large portion of his troubles and achieved money and fame for it.

Belgian born Misha Defonseca was a child of the Jewish Holocaust. She was forced to live in the woods as a child while her family was persecuted by the Nazis. During this time she would actually follow a pack of wolves on a 1,900 mile journey all over war-torn Europe. Defonseca who now lives in Massachusetts wrote a book about her childhood. The book was translated into 18 different languages and has been a best seller for many years. Even a French movie was made about her life. The problem was that it was all a lie.

Joseph believed God appeared to him when he was just 14 years old. He was unsure of which church he should join so he went to a grove of trees to pray. He had a vision where he saw God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, appear to him as two separate, glorious, resurrected beings (in other accounts, they are described as heavenly beings). They told him that none of the churches established at the time were correct, and so he should join none of them.

Three years later, Joseph reported another vision, a resurrected prophet named Moroni led to his finding and unearthing a long-buried book, inscribed on metal plates, which contained a record of God's dealings with the ancient Israelite inhabitants of the Americas. The record, along with other artifacts (including a breastplate) was buried in a hill near his home in New York. Joseph said that an angel allowed him (after 4 years of waiting and preparation) to take the plates and other artifacts. Almost immediately thereafter Joseph began having difficulties with people trying to discover where the plates were hidden on the family’s farm. Although no one had seen the strange metal plates, Joseph said that they contained what he called reformed Egyptian writings. No one would ever see the plates or anything else Joseph claimed God showed him unless they too had a special vision from God which amounted to just three chosen men. Nevertheless Joseph translated these metal plates and they are now known as the Book of Mormon. There are now over 11 million people following the teachings of Joseph Smith.

Transition: The first question that we often think is “how could this happen?” Why do people lie? Why is there a tendency to add details to conversations that are not true? Why is there this inclination to say more than is entirely accurate? Why do our conversations tend to take on a sensational flavor?

This morning we will look at Matthew 12:33-37

In the verses just before this you will remember that the Pharisees used their tongues to unfurl the most wicked statements ever uttered.

They used their tongues to attribute the work of the Spirit in the ministry of Christ to Satan himself. Jesus called it blasphemy in verse 31 and he said in verse 32 that it will never be forgiven.

Coming away from that particular episode it is only fitting then that Jesus now turns to the use of the tongue. Words have the power of life and death.

We have learned a lot about words in this passage and that will continue as we look at verses 33-27 this morning. We can divide these verses into two sections which both reveal something about the nature and use of our words.


Proposition: Jesus shows us that every word we utter reveals the truth about our character. What do our words reveal about our character? What do your words say about you?

  1. (Matt. 12:33-35) Words reveal the true desires of our hearts




a)      First we notice that Jesus Matt. 12:33 Jesus delivers the truth in the package of a parable.

o       Verse 33 is actually a shortened parable. Parables are like explosive hand grenades with the pin already pulled. In most cases, Jesus will make a statement and then he waits to see what is going to happen. Jesus pulls the pin and when it goes off it is going to go off powerfully.

o       Matt. 12:33 “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.”

o       If a tree is diseased, its fruit will be rotten or unfit to eat.

o       Who does this parable refer to?  Obviously, Jesus is speaking here to the Pharisees but is he speaking about the Pharisees?

o       Who is the “tree” in verse 33?

o       If we say that Jesus is speaking about the Pharisees here then he is ordering them to do something that they cannot do. “Make the tree good or make the tree bad.”

o       The tree is Jesus Himself.

o       They have seen Jesus do a good thing that cannot be denied (he cast out a demon) but they attributed this to a bad thing (the power of Satan).

o       In effect Jesus is saying, “If you acknowledge that what I have done is good then you must acknowledge that it comes from a good source “for the tree is known by its fruit.”

o       So Jesus lays the foundation for what he is about to teach by pointing us back to himself. He is the standard of righteousness, consistency and of what is good.

o       John 10:25 Jesus said “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in my Father’s name, these testify of Me.”

o       John 10:37-38 “If I do not do the works of my Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”

o       We can also make a fitting application here: everything that the Lord brings your way is from am infinitely good source because it is from Christ.



b)      Now in Matt. 12:34 Jesus turns his attention to the Pharisees and Jesus specifically addresses the Pharisees with a question:

o       Matt. 12:34a “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good?”

o       The Pharisees are like the offspring of a poisonous snake.

o       When Jesus uses this phrase he is addressing the Pharisees

o       He uses this only two other times in Matthew and both in reference to the Pharisees (Matt. 3:7; 23:33).

o       The gloves have come off and Jesus says here they are “evil.” They are actively, viciously wicked.

o       How could anything good come out of their mouths?

o       Jesus says here that an x-ray of their souls can be read through the lens of their words.

o       Verse 34b “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.”

o       The heart is a reservoir and the overflow shows what is in the reservoir.


c)      Jesus offers another look into the heart in Matt. 12:35 “The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.”

o       The Greek word for treasure here gives our English word “thesaurus.” It refers here to a storehouse or a treasury.

o       Each of us stores up in our hearts what we think is valuable. It is in the heart that we store up thoughts, ideas, philosophies, judgments, intentions, convictions and many other resources.

o       When the occasion arises we draw from what is there.

o       We make withdrawals from the bank accounts of our souls [illus: I have noticed that my bank will only allow me to draw out what is actually in my account.]

o       Out of the treasure of our heart will come good treasure or evil treasure.

o       Here, Jesus wants us to see humanity as he sees humanity.

o       Words have meaning and meaning is always found in its original context and the original context of humanity is the soul.

o       What is in your soul is who you really are. It is through our words that we express the thoughts and intentions of our hearts.

o       This tells us that words are more than phonetic sounds strung together, they convey overflow of our hearts.

o       Jer. 17:9 “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?

So the first thing our words reveal about our character is our desires.

  1. (Matt. 12:36-37) Words reveal the fruits of our confession


a)      Verse 36 “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.”

o       Jesus says every “careless/useless” word. We see that every word is important. [illustration: I asked JDM to explain the doctrine of inspiration at his ordination council last Wed. night. “Verbal-plenary”].

o       The word “careless” means useless, barren, unproductive, or otherwise worthless. It refers to words that are flippant, irresponsible, hypocritical or in any way inappropriate.

o       It doesn’t mean every casual word like a carefree joke or something said in passing.

o       The reference here is to fallacious words that are empty. They make empty promises that contain empty chatter that causes harm.

o       Be careful not to confuse “careless” here with being “causual.” Otherwise we’ll have Christians who will look like they were baptized in vinegar and can never enjoy a light moment.

o       If we look a little more closely at what Scripture says about “careless words” we see that these are far more sinister than casual conversations.

o       They are words that express:

§         lust (Prov. 5:3–4) 3 For the lips of an adulteress drip honey And smoother than oil is her speech; 4 But in the end she is bitter as wormwood, Sharp as a two-edged sword.”

§         deceit (Jer. 9:8) “Their tongue is a deadly arrow; It speaks deceit; With his mouth one speaks peace to his neighbor, But inwardly he sets an ambush for him.”

§         cursing and oppression (Ps. 10:7) “His mouth is full of curses and deceit and oppression; Under his tongue is mischief and wickedness.”

§          lying (Prov. 6:12; 12:22) 12 A worthless person, a wicked man, Is the one who walks with a perverse mouth, 12:22 Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, But those who deal faithfully are His delight.

§         destruction (Prov. 11:11) “By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, But by the mouth of the wicked it is torn down.”

§         vanity (2 Pet. 2:18) “For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error”

§         flattery (Prov. 26:28) “. . . a flattering mouth works ruin.

§         foolishness (Prov. 15:2) “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly.”

§         Talking too much  (Eccles. 10:14) “Yet the fool multiplies words.”

§         vulgarity (Col. 3:8) 8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.

§         gossip (Prov. 26:20) 20 For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.

o        “Well that’s just the way I am, I can’t help it.” Jesus came to save us from the way we are.

o       We learn here that God holds each of us accountable for our words (vs. 36 “they shall give an accounting”).

o       Every person will be held accountable for their words. Some James says will even be held more accountable. James 3:1 “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”

o       “day of judgment”

§         The day of judgment for unbelievers culminates at the great white throne judgment (Rev. 20:11ff). Christians’ sins have all been dealt with at the Cross, our sins will be dismissed by the atoning blood of Christ applied on to our account. Every believer has sinned with his mouth after salvation, but Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to cover that and every other sin he commits. However the evil words and deeds of unbelievers will remain to stand in evidence against them. Rev. 20:13 says they will be judged by their deeds which encompasses both words and works.

§         “My sin—O the bliss of this glorious thought— My sin not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul.”

o       Jesus says here in verse 37 “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

o       The confession of our life will be revealed one day and we will either stand because we confess with our words and life the work that Christ did on the cross or we will have to stand on our own merits.

o       “by your words you will be justified” Romans 10:10 “for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

o       “and by your words you will be condemned.” We have raised a generation of people who have been told to “believe in themselves” yet all who seek to stand on their own works will be crushed under the weight of God’s righteous wrath.


The good news is that our words can be redemptive tools used for God’s glory?

  1. We can go out of our way to show others that care is used in our conversations. Col. 4:6 “let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt.”
  2. We can learn to show restraint and watchfulness in our words. Ps. 39:1 “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin.” Ps. 141:3 “I will set a guard over my mouth and watch the door of my lips.”
  3. We can stay humble about our own abilities to use words. James 3:2 “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body.”
  4. We can listen more. Prov. 18:13 “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.”

Before us this morning is a tangible reminder that all of this is impossible without the work of Christ.

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