Matthew 12:31-37 “By Your Words”

Translation & Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church Manhattan, KS, 17 Jun 2012


12:31 On account of this, I’m telling y’all that

            every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven to people,

            but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

 12:32 And whoever might speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven of him,

            but whoever might speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven of him

                        either in this age now or in the one which is coming.
12:33 Either start making the tree good and its fruit good

or start making the tree rotten and its fruit rotten,

            for it is by the fruit that the tree is recognized.

12:34 Offspring of vipers, how can y’all be able to utter good things when you are evil?

            For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth tends to speak.

 12:35 The good man, out of his good treasury casts forth good things,

            and the evil man, out of his evil treasury casts forth evil things.

12:36 But I’m telling y’all that every do-nothing word – whatever men might utter, they will give an account for it during the day of judgment.

 12:37 For it is by your words that you will be justified,

            and it is by your words that you will be condemned.


·         We’re going to be talking about fruit today, so I thought I’d start by showing some pictures of the fabulous different kinds of fruit my mission team got to eat in Costa Rica last week.

o       [Show pictures from the fruit-tasting event: Green mango, Cashew, Guanamana, Grenadilla, Mamones, Bananas, and Papayas, and “White Mouse” fruit.]

o       Of course, when Jesus talked about fruit, he wasn’t talking about literal fruit; He was talking figuratively about how what we say from our mouths is like fruit produced from our hearts.

·         In my last sermon, we looked at Jesus’ healing of another demon-possessed man and the accusation that the Pharisees made that Jesus was using the power of Satan to cast out demons. I focused on Jesus’ logical analysis of the Pharisee’s claim to show how absurd it was and to prove that Jesus’ power to heal came from God Himself.

·         Verses 31-32 bridge into a second response from Jesus related to the Pharisee’s accusation that He was allied with Satan, and that second response has to do with the words of our mouths – where they come from, and what their consequences are. The origin and consequence of what we say is what I want to focus on today.


12:31 On account of this, I’m telling y’all that every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven to people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.
Δια τουτο λεγωυμιν Πασααμαρτια και βλασφημια αφεθησεται [1] τοις ανθρωποιςη δε του Πνευματος βλασφημια ουκ αφεθησεται [τοις ανθρωποις-א,B,f1]

·         I ended the last sermon with an explanation about the difference between God’s offer of free grace to forgive any sinner who mourns over his sin and turns away from it, and the unforgivable situation of a person who is hardened in rebellion against God and who will never want forgiveness.


12:32 And whoever might speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven of him, but whoever might speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven of him either in this age now or in the one which is coming.
και ος εαν ειπη λογον κατα του Υιου του Ανθρωπου [2]αφεθησεται αυτω ος δαν ειπη κατα του πνευματος του αγιου ουκ αφεθησεται αυτω ουτε εν [τουτω[3]] τω νυν αιωνι ουτε εν τω μελλοντι

·         Here we see God’s mercy extended even to the Pharisees who had accused Jesus of being an occult practitioner.

o       God is a God who extends forgiveness much longer than we might expect. There have been countless men and women saved and forgiven on their deathbeds after a life of rebellion against God.

o       The prophet Joel, after describing the impending doom and destruction God was about to bring down upon the people of Israel said, “‘Yet even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘Return to Me with all your heart… For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness And relenting of evil.” (Joel 2:12-13)

·         Jesus is saying, “Listen, I can understand if you took one look at me in my humble condition and said, ‘Surely that loser is not God’s anointed.’ I am willing to overlook that if, upon further examination, you recognize me as your Lord and Savior. But what I’m not willing to overlook is your continued rejection of the ways of God once I have sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and brought closure to this phase of revealing myself as the Son of God. If you still buck at that, I won’t give you any more wiggle room; you’re finished.”

·         John 16:8 says that it is the role of the Holy Spirit to “convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment,” but if there is enmity between a person and the Holy Spirit, that person will never be convicted that he has offended God, will never look to God to provide righteousness to him (because he believes he is good in and of himself as a human), and he will never fear God’s judgment or try to appease it (because he doesn’t believe there is a God outside of himself who will call him to account). Such a person has no hope of being forgiven. He doesn’t want it, neither does the Spirit of God want to give it to him; the feeling is mutual, so he (or she) won’t be forgiven and will be condemned to a Christless eternity.

·         And eternity is a long time. Mark’s parallel passage explains “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29, NASB) The unforgiven state of the rebel will remain unchanged when he passes into eternity; there is no second chance. This is very serious business.


12:33 Either start making the tree good and its fruit good or start making the tree rotten [corruptKJV/bad] and its fruit rotten, for it is by the fruit that the tree is [known] recognized.
η ποιησατε το δενδρον καλον και τον καρπον αυτου καλον η ποιησατε το δενδρον σαπρον και τον καρπον αυτου σαπρον εκ γαρ του καρπου το δενδρον γινωσκεται

·         This is a very interesting set of commands from Jesus to either have a good tree and good fruit or a bad tree and bad fruit. What does this mean?

o       It would be totally out of character for Jesus to tell people to do evil things, so I think we can agree that He is not saying to make bad trees and bad fruit.

o       Likewise, those of us who understand the Biblical doctrine of the total depravity of mankind would agree that this is not a command from Jesus to generate good out of ourselves because Romans 7:18 teaches us that “nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (NIV) So it would not make sense for Jesus to command us to do what we cannot do.

o       From this I conclude that Jesus is not telling people to pull goodness out of themselves, and He is not telling people to try to be more evil either.

·         I think what Jesus is saying is that we should stop being hypocrites: make your tree and your fruit the same rather than trying to act or look different from what you really are.

o        Are you like the Pharisees who hated Jesus but who tried to act like they loved God? Do you live life for your own pleasure and power and possessions? You have a rotten tree; don’t try to hang good fruit on your tree to deceive other people into thinking that you have a good tree. If you entice sincere people into your rebellion against God by making them think you are full of good, religious stuff, you are heaping more judgment upon yourself. Might as well be the rebel that you are without adding hypocrisy to it!

o       It cuts the other way as well. Are you a slave of Christ? Were you bought by Jesus’ blood and no longer your own? Are you a member of His kingdom of light? Are you an ambassador of Christ called to reconcile men to God? Then don’t dress and act like you are a member of the kingdom of darkness. Don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t try hanging the rotten fruit of slovenly or immodest dress, defacement through tattoos and body peircings, a sullen rebellious attitude, crass speech – or even clean speech but speech which avoids talking about Jesus – don’t display that kind of fruit in hopes of attracting non-Christians to Christ, because that is not who you are, and anyone with good sense is going to see right through the façade.

o       Now, I realize that there is a certain amount of latitude we have in identifying with other people culturally. I’m not trying to set up a legalistic standard for you to measure your faithfulness to Christ based on how many or few tattoos or body peircings you have or how high or low your jeans ride. What I’m saying is that we need to think through where all these – and other – customs came from and what they communicate to other people, and make wise decisions for ourselves to distinguish the difference between the ground that our roots are sunk in and the fruit that we will bear on our tree – what will we will do to identify with our culture, and what will we do to distinguish between the rotten fruits of evil which grow out of a heart of rebellion against God and the good fruits which grow out of a heart that is vitally connected to the Holy Spirit?

o       For example, when I moved to Manhattan, I started buying royal purple shirts to identify with my new culture of Kansas Wildcats. In my judgment at this time, wearing purple does not indicate Christian or non-Christian, good or evil; it just communicates that one loves K-State, so I’ll use that; that’s ground that my tree is now rooted in.

o       But say it was popular for guys in Manhattan to put Playboy bunny stickers on their car windows; should I do that also in order to be like everybody else? No, because to put that symbol on my window would indicate that I love pornography, which is breaking the commandment not to harbor idols of any created being – and breaking the commandments not to lust or commit adultery; that would be hanging rotten fruit on my tree. Jesus commands me not to associate with the deeds of darkness – even if I’m not actually engaged in that sin, and even if it would make me more acceptable to others to display that symbol.

o       On the other hand, there are fruits that I will display in my life which are a result of my Christian faith. One of these is the way I try to take my kids with me whenever I can and use those opportunities to teach my kids. People who have never heard of God’s command in Deuteronomy 6 to teach your kids “when you rise up and when you lie down and when you walk by the way” can look at me and say, “What’s up with that? He’s always got a kid with him.” That’s one of the fruits I hang on my tree to be consistent with who I am as a Christian.

o       Jesus Himself was consistent; He was God in the flesh and He did the works of God: healing the sick and freeing people from bondage to Satan. Those who had eyes to see could see that His fruit matched who He was.

o       The point is, be consistent with who you are, either as a rebel against God or as a lover of God; don’t be a fake and make things worse. Make the fruit that people see on the outside be the same as what you are on the inside.

o       What practices do you do that are fruits people can see to discern who you are?

·         There were words for lots of different trees in Greek, and most of them had to do with the kind of fruit they bore:

o       ἐλαία = olive tree

o       Θάμαρ = palm tree

o       θύΐνος = the citron tree

o       λίβανος = the frankincense tree

o       ξύλον = any lumber-producing tree

o       σίναπι = mustard tree

o       συκῆ = fig tree

o       συκομωραία = sycomore tree

o       φοῖνιξ = date palm

o       In this case, Jesus uses a more generic word for tree: δένδρον, which is similar to the word for “oak tree”

·         This discourse about trees and fruits adds on to what Jesus already said in 7:15 Stay away from the false prophets, which come to y’all in sheep’s clothing, but inside they are [sheep-]snatching wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruit. They don’t gather grapes off brambles, or figs off sand-burs, do they? 17 Likewise, every good tree makes nice fruit, but the rotten tree makes bad fruit. 18 It’s not possible for a good tree to make bad fruit or for a rotten tree to make nice fruit. 19 Every tree not making nice fruit gets cut down and thrown into a fire. 20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.

·         One more point from John Calvin about this goodness: “What Christ requires is not a precise and complete perfection, but only a simple and sincere affection; and from this the Pharisees He was addressing had wandered very far. For, as Scripture calls those who are devoted to Satan ‘evil’ and ‘wicked,’ so it calls the sincere worshippers of God ‘good,’ even though they are encompassed by the weakness of their flesh and by many faults. And it is by God’s free kindness that those who aspire after goodness are given such an honorable title.”[4]


12:34 [GenerationKJV/BroodNAS,NIV,ESV,NKJ] Offspring of vipers, how can y’all be able to utter good things when you are [beingKJV,NAS] evil? For out of the [overflowNIV/that which fillsNAS] abundance  of the heart the mouth tends to speak.
γεννηματα εχιδνων πως δυνασθε αγαθα λαλειν πονηροι οντες εκ γαρ του περισσευματος της καρδιας το στομα λαλει

·         Here Jesus, the Word of God, echoes the prophetic word which His Holy Spirit had communi­cated through John the Baptizer in Matt. 3:7: But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Offspring of vipers, who revealed it to y’all to flee from the impending wrath? 8. Produce fruit therefore in keeping with repentance. 9. And stop thinking about saying among yourselves, ‘We have Abraham (for) a father.’ For I am saying to you that God is able to raise up out of these rocks children to Abraham. 10. But already the axe is being laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore not producing good fruit is cut out and is thrown into a fire.”

·         Here Jesus observes that the Pharisees in v.24 who had accused Jesus of using the power of Satan to cast out demons are already so evil themselves that they could not possibly be expected to say anything good. They shouldn’t think they could fool anybody into thinking that they were right with God by spouting off pious platitudes.

·         As a general rule, whatever is in your heart (which of course is a figure of speech for your thoughts and emotions, for nowhere in the New Testament does this Greek word for “heart” refer to the organ that pumps blood) whatever is in your heart will inevitably come out in your speech.

·         I’ve noticed this personally: There have been occasions when I have watched a movie that had curse words in it, and then the next day when I got frustrated, I was startled to hear curse words came to my lips. Where did they come from? They came from my heart that I had dropped curse words into the night before while watching that movie.

·         Some things are better not to even know about: “in evil be infants” (1 Cor. 14:20). Don’t let peer pressure or curiosity tempt you to fill your mind with something that you don’t want coming back out of yourself later! It takes mental discipline to preserve purity in a world that is actively trying to defile us.

·         If you want to talk about good things, you’d better fill your mind with good things.


12:35 The good man, out of his good treasury casts forth good things, and the evil man, out of his evil treasury casts forth evil things.
ο αγαθος ανθρωπος εκ του αγαθου θησαυρου [της καρδιαςL,f1,33,TR] εκβαλλει [ταא,C,f1] αγαθα και ο πονηρος ανθρωπος εκ του πονηρου θησαυρου εκβαλλει πονηρα

·         The picture that comes to my mind is a 4th of July parade. Here you see a float for First Bank, and there’s people sitting on the trailer with buckets in their hands, and they’re reaching into those buckets and throwing something at you on the sidewalks. You run to see what it is and discover that they’re throwing packages of licorice. YUCK! I’m not interested in First Bank! But then another group comes down the line; it’s a marching band from the Army, and they’re throwing lollipops to the crowd. YUM, that’s what I want! Go Army!

·         Actually this word “treasure/treasury” is the same word used for the containers that the Magi opened to bring forth gold, frankincense and myrrh to give to the baby Jesus. (Mt. 2:11)

·         Jesus pictures good men and evil men alike “bringing” stuff out of their treasure-boxes – literally flinging them away, “spewing it out” (Calvin) in a “spontaneous eruption of the heart” (JFB). And the stuff that’s coming from the good guys’ treasure chests is good, but the stuff coming from the bad guy’s treasure chests is sick.

·         Note that there are only two products: good and bad. Nothing inbetween. I like what commenta­tors Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown wrote, “There are but two kingdoms, two interests… if I promote the one, I cannot belong to the other, but they that [oppose] the kingdom of light openly proclaim to what other kingdom they belong.”

·         Those of you reading from a King James edition may notice that I did not read the words “of his heart.” This is because the vast majority of Greek manuscripts do not have those words, and none of the oldest manuscripts have those words. They were apparently added to a few manuscripts several hundred years after the original to explain Jesus’ metaphor better, and those few manu­scripts happened to be the ones that Erasmus found to compile in his Greek New Testament, from which the KJV was translated. In this case, I think it is an honest explanation that helps us to see that Jesus was speaking figuratively, although the context of the verses both before and after this verse already indicates to us that Jesus is talking about our words when he refers to “treasures” here.

·         Our hearts and minds are our treasure chests, and every day, when we say something, we’re grabbing ideas out of the treasuries of our hearts and tossing them out on the table for other people to interact with.

·         The way the NIV puts it, each person has been storing up things in his mind so that he can bring them out for others.

·         Please note, however, that the good things were not produced by our hearts. Our hearts, left to themselves, do not generate good things. As Jeremiah 17:9 puts it, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…” (KJV). The good has to come from outside of ourselves, and God is the only source of what is good.

·         Jesus said… “No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19) NASB

·         The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. (3Jn 1:11b, NASB)

·         But God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed (2Cor. 9:8, NASB)

·         What is it that we can do to be equipped to do good? Receive the teaching of God’s word! Let us be people who hide God’s word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), who think on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever has a good reputation, whatever is excellent and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). For, all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2Tim. 3:16-17, NASB)


12:36 But I’m telling y’all that every do-nothing [idleKJV/carelessNAS,NIV,ESV] word, whatever men might utter, they will give an account for it during the day of judgment.
λεγω δε υμιν οτι παν ρημα αργον ο [εαν] λαλησωσιν[5] οι ανθρωποι αποδωσουσιν περι αυτου λογον εν ημερα κρισεως

·         This formula of a proverb followed by Jesus saying, “But I tell you…” is just like Jesus’ discourse on the law in chapter 5.

·         This is Jesus in action as a discipler, drawing in an idea from His environment, and then telling His disciples what God has to say about that idea. That’s what we should be doing as well.

·         The great classical Greek scholar, Marvin Vincent, in his Word Studies of the New Testament explained that the Greek word αργον, translated “idle/careless” is a compound of two Greek words meaning “not” (α) and “work” (εργον). He defined it as “morally useless and unprofitable… a word with no legitimate work, office, or business.” It’s a no-good word. Every word which is not harnessed to the purpose of furthering God’s work in this world is what this is talking about, and every last word like this uttered by our mouths will have to be accounted for before the judgment seat of Christ.

o       We’ll see this word later on in Matt. 20:3-6 to describe workmen who are standing around in the marketplace unemployed, waiting for someone to hire them.

o       It shows up in 1 Tim. 5:13 to describe women who hang out at their friends houses gossiping and being busybodies.

o       and in Titus 1:12 it describes dishonest Cretans who eat gluttonously instead of working.

o       James 2:20 uses the same word to describe faith that is devoid of action – “faith without works is useless

o       So what can we to avoid such useless words? 2 Pet. 1:8  “…If these qualities [faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love] are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (NASB)

·         God’s word warns us about the consequences of saying words we don’t really mean: “Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words. When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God.” (Eccl. 5:2-7 , NASB ) “I didn’t really mean it,” holds no weight as an argument before God who made our minds and our lips.

·         It may come as a surprise to see how valuable each word is that you speak; your words are such a valuable commodity that God will take incredible amounts of time at the final judgment weigh­ing every single word for its usefulness toward accomplishing His will on this earth. That’s an incredibly heavy responsibility, but thankfully we have the Holy Spirit to help us.

·         Now, Jesus switches from the plural “y’all” to the singular “you” in v.37, “emphatically addressing each individual person in the audience, as if that individual were no longer in the group, but alone and face to face with the Lord:” (Hendricksen, p.531)


12:37 For it is by your words that you will be justified, and it is by your words that you will be condemned.
εκ γαρ των λογων σου δικαιωθηση και εκ των λογων σου καταδικασθηση

·         When I was preaching through Matthew 3, I made the point that the Bible speaks of our words as being the figurative fruit of our lives.

·         Hebrews 13:15 “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” (KJV)

·         Back in Matt. 3:8, John the Baptizer told some of the same people to “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance... Every tree therefore not producing good fruit is cut out and is thrown into a fire.”

·         Note that it doesn’t take big sins like robbing a bank or murdering someone to go to hell; all it takes is a careless word to condemn you, and we’ve all done that.

·         In an age when your Facebook posts and emails can be instantly distributed to a billion people, where even our mouse-clicks are recorded and our cell-phone conversations are archived, every word counts.

·         “This tells us how precious truth is to the Lord… And if every useless word is called into account, how shall God spare the open blasphemies and irreligious influences of those who snarl against His glory?!” (Calvin)

·         Note that the whole council of scripture lets us know that it will be more than just our words which come before review on judgment day. Our actions will also be evaluated (as we see in the account of the sheep and the goats in Mt. 25.31ff), but, more than that, the relationship we have with to God will be the determining factor.

o       “Words, as the index of the heart, however idle they may seem, will be taken account of, whether good or bad, in estimating character in the day of judgment.” (JFB)

o       “works, reflecting the man’s degree of loyalty to his Maker and Redeemer, figure in the determination of his degree of glory. They figure similarly in establishing the degree of punishment for those who perish.” (Hendricksen, p.531.)

o       But because Jesus is still responding to the verbal accusation that He was in league with Satan, so His focus here is on words. Yet, words are related to the larger picture:

o       Diagram: GOD -> HEART -> WORDS

·         “But since no one is so sparing in speech and so wise and temperate that he does not sometimes sink into some idle words, nothing would remain for us all but desperation if God acted towards us with strict Law. But since our trust in our salvation is founded on God not entering into judgment with us but freely burying in oblivion our sins which deserve unnumbered deaths, let us not doubt that when He wipes out the guilt of our whole life, He therewith pardons the sin of empty speaking.” (Calvin, v.2, p.50)

·         There is hope in Jesus’ words that there is justification available. Note that this word “justified” is not in the active or reflexive voice – we do not justify ourselves; it is in the passive voice, “you will be justified.” It is Jesus who will justify us. He is the one who will make us all right even though our words and hearts and actions have been all wrong, by advocating for us and saying, “I died to appease the wrath of God which rages against his sins/her sins, so this one is forgiven and related to me as my brother/my sister; there can be no condemnation for him/no condemnation for her.”

[1] A couple of early Greek texts (B, f1) have the word “you” here, but the editors of our Greek New Testaments (Textus Receptus, Patriarchal, and UBS) all consider it a spurious addition.

[2] Curiously, the Vaticanus inserts ouk/not here, negating the distinction between blasphemy against Jesus and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It seems to be the only Greek manuscript which does so. Even though this is one of the oldest manuscripts known, and scholars put much weight upon it, this aberration gives us reason to be cautious and not put all our weight upon it. Later in this verse where all other Greek manuscripts have the simple negative (ouk) concerning forgiveness of words spoken against the HS, the Sinaitius and Vaticanus have a stronger negative (ou me).

[3] This is in the majority of Greek manuscripts and appears in the Greek Orthodox NT, but does not appear in the Textus Receptus or the Critical Text. The definite article (tw), however, can carry the force of the near demonstrative (toutw) and thus the meaning is not different.

[4] Calvin, Vol. 2, p.48

[5] This Present Active Subjunctive spelling (“might speak”) is the reading of the Majority of Greek manuscripts, including W, f1 and f13. A significant minority spell this word in the indicative mood, including D, which renders it Present tense (“are speaking”), and א,B&C, which render it in the Future tense (λαλησουσιν – “will speak”). The practical difference is negligible, as humans with sin natures are certain to continue speaking idle words to each other, yet we cannot know for certain which words exactly they will use.