Christ moves from His warning about the unforgivable sin to a warning about speaking “careless” words. The Pharisees may think that their comments are innocuous rather than evidence of their own spiritual states (Matt. 12:24). Even the people who speculate correctly that Jesus could be the son of David (v. 23) do not go unheard by others. But today’s passage soberly reminds us that there are no neutral words, for what we say reveals the condition of our hearts.
Those who have thus far opposed our Lord do not suffer merely from an external problem. The fruit of their lips is bad, Jesus is saying, and therefore the tree is bad. Accusing Him of being possessed by Satan, even if it is a casual comment, reveals that the hearts of the Pharisees are evil. The tree is rotten and it bears only spoiled fruit (vv. 33–34). If these opponents are to bear good fruit, they need cleansing not only on the outside, but on the inside as well. In fact, the tree of evil that is growing within them must be uprooted and replaced with a holy tree. Augustine tells us “a person must first be changed in order for his works to be changed” (Sermons on New Testament Lessons, 72.1.1).
Argos, the Greek word translated as “careless” in Matthew 12:36, refers to words that we might consider insignificant. They are said without thinking and reveal the state of one’s heart according to many commentators. Anyone can hide his inward nature with a poetic turn of phrase or other carefully constructed statement, but when someone lets his guard down, the abundance of the heart overflows (v. 34b). Jesus is not telling us to be humorless, but He is highlighting our need to speak with care, especially if we think we can repeat gossip or make unfounded accusations with impunity. If such speech brings condemnation, how much more will our Father judge those who speak with malice aforethought? In his commentary on Matthew 12, John Calvin says, “If every idle word is to be called in question, how would God spare the open blasphemies and sacrilegious insolence of those who bark against his glory?”
Remember that God hears all that we say. Our words will either reveal that we love the Lord above all or show that we are self-centered hypocrites (v. 37).
Dr. John MacArthur teaches that “no infraction against God’s holiness is a trifling thing, and each person will ultimately give account of such indiscretion” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1,146). The Lord hears and remembers every word we speak; therefore, we should not think there is such a thing as a throwaway phrase. How thoughtful are you before you speak, and what do your jokes and whispered comments say about the state of your heart?
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