Matthew 12:33–37 (ESV)
: A Tree Is Known By Its Fruit
This passage continues Jesus’ speech against the Pharisees begun in the last passage
. Jesus uses a metaphor of fruit-bearing trees: a good tree will bear good fruit, and a bad tree will bear bad fruit. So of course the Pharisees aren’t saying good things—how could they, when they’re evil (verse 34 (ESV)
)? Just like good trees bear good fruit, people speak out of the abundance of their heart, so good people bring good out of their “good treasure,” and evil people bring evil out of their “evil treasure” (verse 35 (ESV)
Jesus also tells us that on the day of judgement people will be judged for “every careless word they speak,” to be either justified or condemned (verses 36–37 (ESV)
In one sense, this passage seems kind of… obvious
to us. Of course
if a person is good they’re going to say good things, and if a person is bad they’re going to say bad things. When Jesus says that “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (verse 34 (ESV)
), it kind of seems obvious to us, doesn’t it?
And yet, in another, deeper sense, it just doesn’t compute with us. Aren’t we all tempted to say the right thing, even if we don’t mean it? (And then somehow feel more pious for having said it?) And don’t we all feel that our little offhand comments are insignificant—the very thing Jesus is speaking of in verses 36–37 when he tells us that we’ll be judged for every careless word?
Jesus’ point—as it often was when talking to the Pharisees, although I often feel it applies just as well to Christians in North America—is that you should be more concerned with your soul than with outward appearances. Don’t try and force yourself to say the right things, get right with God (whether that means coming to Him in the first place or drawing closer to Him for those who are already His) and get yourself to the point where good things naturally flow out of your lips, because that’s where your heart is. (Maybe I shouldn’t say “get yourself
to the point,” when it’s really a work of the Holy Spirit, but I won’t get legalistic about it; we all know what I mean. The Christian works at becoming a better Christian, even as the Holy Spirit enables it. God doesn’t just zap you with righteousness; you have to read the Word, and obey Him, and really work at being more like Him.)
Jesus started off this passage by saying:
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. (verse 33 (ESV))
This is as good a summary as any; if you want to say the right things, then you’d better “make the tree good”—you’d better get right with God. (Maybe I should mention that this is an ongoing thing, and not just a one-time deal.) Then the good will just naturally come out of you, and even your careless words will be good ones.