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Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 12:33-37

A Tree Is Known by Its Fruit

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. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”


In last week’s reading (Matthew 12:22-32) Jesus said that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit brings eternal condemnation.

He was speaking to the Pharisees, who accused Him of having satanic power. That, He said, was a grievous sin against the Holy Spirit.

In today’s reading our Lord continued His message to the Pharisees. He said that one knows a tree by its fruit (verse 33). ‘Make’ in this context may refer to a graft or tending the tree. Where people are concerned, Matthew Henry explains, our words manifest our true natures (emphases mine):

Where grace is the reigning principle in the heart, the language will be the language of Canaan and, on the contrary, whatever lust reigns in the heart it will break out diseased lungs make an offensive breath: men’s language discovers what country they are of, so likewise what manner of spirit they are of: “Either make the tree good, and then the fruit will be good get pure hearts and then you will have pure lips and pure lives or else the tree will be corrupt, and the fruit accordingly. You may make a crab-stock to become a good tree, by grafting into it a shoot from a good tree, and then the fruit will be good but if the tree be still the same, plant it where you will, and water it how you will, the fruit will be still corrupt.” Note, Unless the heart be transformed, the life will never be thoroughly reformed. These Pharisees were shy of speaking out their wicked thoughts of Jesus Christ but Christ here intimates, how vain it was for them to seek to hide that root of bitterness in them, that bore this gall and wormwood, when they never sought to mortify it. Note, It should be more our care to be good really, than to seem good outwardly.

Jesus called the Pharisees a brood of vipers (verse 34), an allusion to Satan and evil serpents. He said this not only in front of them but also the crowd that was present. It’s a strong and damning statement. Earlier, John the Baptist used the phrase in his own ministry (Luke 3:7).

John MacArthur analyses this wording for us:

What does the phrase mean? A viper is the name of a poisonous snake, and that’s the perspective of the passage. The Lord would have been well-acquainted with the many snakes in the land of Palestine; they ranged from very small to large vipers. The majority of them were sort of small, and common in the desert. In fact, their color even hid them and they sometimes looked like dead branches, or like the soil around. Sometimes they would hide beneath rocks or trees, in the shade or in caves, and a man would unwarily come near. They would clamp their teeth into a man and sink them in, pumping in the poison and clinging to the individual’s flesh. That was the case in Acts 28:3, where the Apostle Paul had a viper bite and cling to him, unwilling to release itself. Job spoke of the tongue of the viper that will kill, and that’s the idea. They are dangerous, poisonous snakes.

Why does He select vipers? Because they were perhaps the most dangerous creature in that part of the world; they were the subtlest to be sure, the most deceitful. I also think that they represent the Old Serpent himself, Satan, the Devil – the original snake in Eden. He is the father of these other vipers, if you will. They descended from the Devil himself. They were filled with the poison of deadly legalism, self-righteousness, fatal hypocrisy, treachery, and moral filth. They pumped that into their victims.

The word ‘brood’ could also be translated ‘generation.’ It could mean generation in the sense that they were generated of Satan, or it could also be the idea of a brood. These snakes were produced out of their mothers at a rate of 12-50 in volume. Whenever this little group of Pharisees appeared, they looked to Jesus like a brood of snakes, all co-mingled together with evil, poisonous intent. So Jesus calls them subtle killers with poisoned tongues.

Jesus said that the mouth reveals what is in the heart. The speech of a good person will be good. An evil person’s speech will be bad: if not at first, eventually it will be (verse 35). Henry explains:

The complete Christian in this bears the image of God, that he both is good, and does good.

… It is the character of an evil man, that he has an evil treasure in his heart, and out of it bringeth forth evil things. Lusts and corruptions dwelling and reigning in the heart are an evil treasure, out of which the sinner brings forth bad words and actions, to the dishonour of God, and the hurt of others.

Jesus then warned that on the Last Day, we will be judged by our words (verses 36, 37). Our words reveal our fruits of faith or otherwise. MacArthur says:

What this says is not to obviate or negate salvation by grace through faith, but simply to show you that salvation by grace through faith will demonstrate itself in good works and good words, so that they become the objective criteria by which God can make that judgment.

The words of men are accurate gagues of their hearts; if you have a transformed heart and Jesus Christ has come into your life and transformed your heart, then you will speak words by which God will justify you. If Christ has never changed your heart, then you will speak words by which God will condemn you.

This does not mean we’re not saved by grace. We are saved by grace through faith, that not of works, lest any man should boast. But the next verse says, Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

We are saved by grace through faith unto works and words. The works and the words prove that the faith has been there. So God can look objectively at your words and know whether you’ve been redeemed, and so can you. If you have any question about whether you’re saved, listen to yourself when you talk when no one is around, or when you’re angry, irritated, upset, or thoughtless. Words will reveal what is in your heart.

This also relates to idle, incessant talking that serves no purpose and often leads to gossip. Henry cautions us:

We must shortly account for these idle words[;] they will be produced in evidence against us, to prove us unprofitable servants, that have not improved the faculties of reason and speech, which are part of the talents we are entrusted with. If we repent not of our idle words, and our account for them be not balanced by the blood of Christ, we are undone.

We can pray for help in this regard. MacArthur says:

Our speech should be spiritual, wholesome, fitting, kind, sensitive, loving, purposeful, edifying, gentle, truthful speech, and we should pray what the psalmist prayed in Psalm 141:3, when he said, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.”

In the 1970s, he said that a survey of speech showed the average person spoke 25,000 words a day, which, if written down, would amount to between 50 and 60 pages of written text!

If we were to read a transcription of what we said today, what would the content reveal?

The truth of the matter is that the Lord is aware of what each of us has said. May we repent of idle speech which does not serve Him or spread the Gospel message.

Next time: Matthew 12:38-42



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