Matthew 12:33–37: Speaking from the Heart
In the previous passage, Jesus disproved the Pharisees’ assertion that he had cast out demons by the power of Satan. In Jesus’ response to the Pharisees, Jesus had made many profound theological points about the kingdom of God, binding the strong man (Satan), and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Within that response, however, Jesus had largely argued along the assumption that it would be impossible to mix good with evil. So, Satan would not destroy his evil kingdom by permitting Jesus to do good by casting out demons (Matt. 12:25–26). Furthermore, anyone who stands against the good kingdom of God by opposing the work of the Holy Spirit through Jesus will ultimately scatter (Matt. 12:30). Overall, Jesus argues that no one good can do ultimate evil, and no one evil can do ultimate good. Here in Matthew 12:33–37, Jesus will take this idea one step further as it relates to the words we speak: you are what you say.
1. What does Jesus mean when he says that a good tree will have good fruit, and that a rotten tree will have rotten fruit (v. 33)? Why do our words and our actions conform to what lies within our hearts? How does this relate to Jesus’ own work of casting out demons? How does this relate to the Pharisees’ condemnation of Jesus? What is the difference between perfection and sincerity?
2. What does Jesus mean when he calls the Pharisees the “brood of vipers” (v. 34a)? In what sense do the Pharisees “speak good” when Jesus says that they themselves are evil (v. 34b)? What does Jesus mean when he says that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (v. 34c)? How do our words reveal whether we are good or evil in our hearts? Why is Jesus so concerned to confront the sin of hypocrisy?
3. What does Jesus mean when he says that we must give account for every “careless” word we speak (v. 36)? In what sense can words justify us (v. 37a)? In what sense can words condemn us (v. 37b)? Why are our words so tightly connected to the condition of our hearts? How does this concept help us to explain the notion of “blasphemy” against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31)? What does Paul say about being saved by what we confess with our mouths (Rom. 10:9–10)?
4. As you think about your own life, how often do you separate yourself from the words that you speak (e.g., “I didn’t mean it!”)? If you analyze the words you speak, what are your words saying about who you are in your heart? Where do you need to repent for your words? Where do you need to repent for what your words reveal about your heart? How does God’s Word change our hearts, and, therefore, the words that we speak?