Matthew 12:34-37

HEARTS AND WORDS

Matt. 12:34-37

“You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil speak good things? For it is from the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks. The good man brings out good things from his good treasure house; and the evil man brings out evil things out of his evil treasure house. I tell you that every idle word which men shall speak, of that word shall they render accounts in the day of judgment; for by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

It is little wonder that Jesus chose to speak here about the awful responsibility of words. The Scribes and Pharisees had just spoken the most terrible words. They had looked on the Son of God and called him the ally of the devil. Such words were dreadful words indeed. So Jesus laid down two laws.

(i) The state of a man’s heart can be seen through the words he speaks. Long ago Menander the Greek dramatist said: “A man’s character can be known from his words.” That which is in the heart can come to the surface only through the lips; a man can produce through his lips only what he has in his heart. There is nothing so revealing as words. We do not need to talk to a man long before we discover whether he has a mind that is wholesome or a mind that is dirty; we do not need to listen to him long before we discover whether he has a mind that is kind or a mind that is cruel; we do not need to listen for long to a man who is preaching or teaching or lecturing to find out whether his mind is clear or whether it is muddled. We are continually revealing what we are by what we say.

(ii) Jesus laid it down that a man would specially render account for his idle words. The word that it used for idle is aergos (GSN0692); ergon (GSN2041)is the Greek for a deed; and the prefix “a”–means “without”; aergos (GSN0692) described that which was not meant to produce anything. It is used, for instance of a barren tree, of fallow land, of the Sabbath day when no work could be done, of an idle man. Jesus was saying something which is profoundly true. There are in fact two great truths here.

(a) It is the words which a man speaks without thinking, the words which he utters when the conventional restraints are removed, which really show what he is like. As Plummer puts it, “The carefully spoken words may be a calculated hypocrisy.” When a man is consciously on his guard, he will be careful what he says and how he says it; but when he is off his guard, his words reveal his character. It is quite possible for a man’s public utterances to be fine and noble, and for his private conversation to be coarse and salacious. In public he carefully chooses what he says; in private he takes the sentinels away, and any word leaves the gateway of his lips. It is so with anger; a man will say in anger what he really thinks and what he has often wanted to say, but which the cool control of prudence has kept him from saying.
Many a man is a model of charm and courtesy in public, when he knows he is being watched and is deliberately careful about his words; while in his own house he is a dreadful example of irritability, sarcasm, temper, criticism, querulous complaint because there is no one to hear and to see. It is a humbling thing–and a warning thing–to remember that the words which show what we are are the words we speak when our guard is down.

(b) It is often these words which cause the greatest damage. A man may say in anger things he would never have said if he was in control of himself He may say afterwards that he never meant what he said; but that does not free him from the responsibility of having said it; and the fact that he has said it often leaves a wound that nothing will cure, and erects a barrier that nothing will take away. A man may say in his relaxed moment a coarse and questionable thing that he would never have said in public–and that very thing may lodge in someone’s memory and stay there unforgotten. Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher, said, “Choose rather to fling a chance stone than to speak a chance word.” Once the hurting word or the soiling word is spoken nothing will bring it back; and it pursues a course of damage wherever it goes.

Let a man examine himself. Let him examine his words that he may discover the state of his heart. And let him remember that God does not judge him by the words he speaks with care and deliberation, but by the words he speaks when the conventional restraints are gone and the real feelings of his heart come bubbling to the surface.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW (Chapters 11-28)

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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