Exposing the Heart – Matthew 12:33-37

Pastor Scott L. Harris
September 12, 1993

Exposing the Heart
Matthew 12:33-37


A man goes out and plants a dozen fruit trees in his yard. After a few years most of the trees he planted start producing fruit – apples, pears, cherries, and peaches. After a few more years this owner is very happy with most of his trees which produce enough good fruit for his family and friends. But there are two trees that have caused him great distress. One tree had never produced anything except leaves. The other produces loads of pears, but they taste so bad no one has been found that could eat more than one bite. He has done everything possible to help the trees get better. He has pruned them, fertilized them, watered them, kept the pests off them; he has even tried products like fruit set and foliar fertilizers, but all to no avail. The one tree produces nothing, the other only inedible fruit. What should he do with them?

Now a man who remembers the reason he planted those trees would simply recognize they were bad trees and tear them out and plant new ones. However, if the man acted like much of our society does in its treatment of its bad fruit he would continue efforts to rehabilitate them. He would feel sorry for them and excuse their lack of productivity. Perhaps they had rough time as a seedling or were traumatized by a deer, etc.? He might rename them and call the apple a “flowering apple” so it had some purpose. However, the fact that it is in the back of the orchard where no one sees it is inconsequential. The bad pears he now donates to a charity and gets a tax write-off.

All silliness aside, I am amazed at how criminals are treated by our society. Throughout the United States, jails and penitentiaries are now often “detention centers” and “correctional facilities.” In addition, every excuse imaginable, and some unimaginable, are used to justify the evil deeds of criminals.

Even within the church there is great hesitation to call sin what it is. Even within the evangelical church the ideas and philosophy of modern secular psychology has replaced the precepts of the Scriptures. Sins such as abuse of alcohol or drugs, sexual immorality, habitual lying, stealing, etc. are all now labeled as being various diseases. No, those things are not diseases, but they are the manifestation of a disease, and that disease is sin. It is always fatal, but it does have one cure – redemption and regeneration by the Lord Jesus Christ!

Though many claim that Jesus is always “loving” in the modern sense of never saying anything that would hurt a person’s self-esteem, (read “pride”), that is not the Jesus of the Scriptures. Jesus is not some namby-pamby person who will do anything for you so that you will like Him, and let me add that God the Father is not some doting grandfather type who will excuse all the errors of His grandchildren. Jesus is the creator of all things (Colossians 1). He is the judge of the universe (Revelation 20), and is deserving of your praise and worship regardless of how you emotionally feel about Him (Philippians 2). The Jesus of the Bible is a strong character who is not afraid of facing His enemies and rebuking them and even of condemning them when necessary. We will see that again as we study Matthew 12:33-37 this morning as Jesus exposes the hearts of the Pharisees.

Recall that tension has been building between Jesus and the hypocritical religious leaders of that time ever since His public ministry began. Jesus has refused to follow the legalistic traditions of the Pharisees or to teach the Scriptures according to the theology of the Scribes, and in doing so He has exposed the error of both groups. In turn, they have come to hate Him. After the incident when Jesus healed the man with the withered hand on a Sabbath Day (Matthew 12:9-15), the Pharisees and other groups began to plot how they might murder Him.  (See: The Lord of the Sabbath).

The particular occasion for Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:33-37 was the healing of a man who was both blind and dumb due to a demon (Matthew 12:22-24). Jesus cast out the demon and the man regained his sight and ability to speak. The crowds began to wonder if Jesus was indeed the Son of David – the long awaited Messiah. The Pharisees, and according to Mark also the Scribes, began to say to the people, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebub the ruler of demons.” Jesus knew their thoughts and confronted them on what they were saying. Their accusation was illogical, inconsistent with their own practice, insurrectionary against God Himself, and inane. It was a stupid thing to say.

They had become so blind by their hatred for Jesus that they overlooked every sign and ignored every effort of the Holy Spirit that demonstrated that Jesus was the Messiah. Instead they now attributed the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. They committed the one and only sin that cannot be forgiven. They spoke against the Holy Spirit. They blasphemed Him.  (See: The Unforgivable Sin).

Why can’t that sin be forgiven? Simply because nothing else can be done to bring a person to the repentance necessary in order to ask for and receive forgiveness. And while this particular sin cannot be repeated in the same manner today as it was done then, there is still a grave danger for anyone that continues to ignore the prodding of the Holy Spirit. Continued grieving the Spirit leads to resisting the Spirit, if that continues, the Spirit is quenched, and that in turn results in a seared conscience; a heart hardened in sin and left alone by the Holy Spirit.

In Matthew 12:33, Jesus continues His condemnation of the Pharisees for their unfounded accusation against Him.

Good Trees & Bad Trees

“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.” This is an axiomatic truth that Jesus uses to call attention again to the illogic of the Pharisees accusation against Him. The statement is in reference to who Jesus is. The verb “make” here is in the sense of “consider to be” in the same way we might say that “so and so is not the genius that some people make him.” The tree and its fruit must be considered either good or bad together. In effect Jesus is saying, “Either consider me and what I do as good, or consider me and what I do as bad. What I am will be known by what I do.” Who Jesus is must be determined by what He says and does regardless of personal feelings. Jesus’ words and works point undeniably to His goodness and Divine power.

Jesus is backing up His condemnation of them as blaspheming the Holy Spirit. They have seen Jesus do many good things, things which were obviously the work of God in opposition to evil and sin. Disease, sickness, and death are all the results of sin, and Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead. Jesus also intruded into Satan’s territory, overpowered him and cast out the demons that were plaguing men. These are all evidences of good fruit, yet they accused Him of being a bad tree, but a tree is known by its fruit, not the other way around.

Jesus now gets even more personal with the Pharisees and says that their evil words have come from the treasure of their evil hearts.

Good Treasure & Evil Treasure

Matthew 12:34, 35 “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil.”

Some people may be shocked that the Lord Jesus Christ would call someone names, but Jesus is doing so to describe their character. John the Baptist called these false religious leaders this same name in Matthew 3:7 and we will find that Jesus will use it again of them in Matthew 23:33. Vipers are a common name to a type of very dangerous snake that lives in the Mediterranean region. They were both deadly and deceptive. Their small size and coloration would allow them to blend into the area they were laying so that you would not see them until it was too late. Acts 28:3, 6 records the Apostle Paul being bitten by one of these snakes as he was gathering wood. The natives expected him to immediately “swell up or suddenly fall down dead.” When Paul did not, they immediately and properly attributed this miracle to the God Paul worshiped.

Jesus called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers.” They were deceptive and their teaching was deadly to the spiritual health of those who listened to them. And like a brood, they tended to travel in groups from place to place spreading their poison. Jesus said of them later in Matthew 23:15, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you travel the sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell than yourselves.”

Where did their hypocritical self-righteousness and soul damning teaching come from? Out of the treasure of their hearts. Jesus said that the mouth spoke what filled the heart. The words “fill” here means “treasury,” we get our word, “thesaurus,” a treasury of words, from it. A person’s heart is the treasure of all his thoughts, emotions, and will. His attitudes, desires, ambitions, loyalties, beliefs, and opinions all reside there and from it the mouth draws its words and expressions.

It is self-evident then that a heart full of good treasure brings forth good things in what a person says and does. Likewise, a heart full of evil treasure will bring forth evil actions and words. It is the same as in James 3:11, Does a fountain send forth at the same place sweet [water] and bitter? In computer talk – GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out. The quality of what is in a person’s heart determines what comes out of the mouth.

Now I should explain again that in the Bible the figurative use of “heart” is not used in the same way we use it in American English. When we say “heart” we usually refer to the seat of emotions. We use it to express how we feel. However, in the Bible we find that the stomach was used to refer to feelings, while the heart was used to talk about the seat of the mind and will. In the Scriptures a person with an evil heart it is not someone with negative emotions, but someone who has evil thoughts, which in turn will produce evil attitudes and negative emotions.

Jesus is very pointed in telling the Pharisees that their evil accusation against Him comes from their evil hearts. Their thoughts are controlled by their pride and not by God. They think in terms of themselves and what they may or may not gain, rather than in terms of what is good for the Kingdom of God. An evil mindset produces an evil tongue.

The same is true today. What a person says is a reflection of what is in their minds. It reveals what they are thinking and feeling. Jesus gave both the Pharisees and all men a warning in the principle He sets out in Matthew 12:36 and 37.

Careless Words & Judgement

“And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.” Now is Jesus in anyway saying that you are saved by what you do? No. Salvation – justification – is not produced by either words or deeds, but the words and deeds are clear manifestations of salvation. They are the objective, observable evidence of a person’s spiritual condition whether it be good or bad.

We are not saved by good works, but we are saved for “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). In the same way, true salvation also produces good words. Romans 10:10, “With the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” In Romans 15:18, Paul’s praise to the Lord was that the gospel resulted in “the obedience of the Gentiles in word and deed.”

Salvation includes regeneration of the heart in which the individual is transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. What was once dead in trespasses and sin is made alive unto God. The treasury of the heart is changed, and thus salvation will result in good words, words that confirm the reality of what has taken place in the heart.

By the same token evil words, bad words, careless words mark what is really in the heart of that individual, and so it is by them that they will be judged. They are the confirming evidence of an evil heart. God is a holy God and that is why judgment must come. God is also a just God and He will judge fairly and accurately by the very words that people say. He will not need witness to verify the truth, the words of the individual himself will verify along with record of the person’s deeds the truth of what his heart is like. Revelation 20:11-15 records the Great White Throne Judgment in which all who have not received the redemption from sin that is offered in the Lord Jesus Christ will stand before Him and be judged “from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.” Revelation 20:15 adds, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

For the true Christian there will be an accounting as well. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” Of course these judgments will not be in condemnation, for Paul had already written in Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” The condemnation is gone, but there will still be an accounting for what we have said and done whether it be “wood, hay, and stubble” which will be burned up, or “gold, jewels, and precious stones” which will reap rewards in heaven (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

What are these “careless words” Jesus speaks of? The basic meaning of the word is “useless, barren, unproductive, that which does no useful work and is therefore ineffective in producing any good result.” These would include flippant speech, irresponsible speaking, inappropriate talk, as well as words of hypocrisy. The Scriptures are full of warning about our speech and include as evil words those that express Scriptures are full of warning about our speech and include as evil words those that expresslust, “For the lips of a strange woman drop [as] an honeycomb, and her mouth [is] smoother than oil: But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two edged sword” (Proverbs 5:3,4),

deceit, “Their tongue [is as] an arrow shot out; it speaks
deceit: [one] speaks peaceably to his neighbor with his mouth, but in heart he lies in wait” (Jeremiah 9:8 AV),

cursing and oppression, “His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue [is] mischief and vanity” (Psalms 10:7 AV),

lying, “A worthless person, a wicked man, walks with a perverse mouth” (Proverbs 6:12). “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight” (Proverbs 12:22 AV),

destruction, “By the blessing of the upright the city is
exalted: but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked”
(Proverbs 11:11 AV),

vanity, “For when they speak great swelling [words] of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, [through much] wantonness, those that are just escaping from them who live in error” (2 Peter 2:18),

flattery, “A lying tongue hates those who are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth works ruin” (Proverbs 26:28)

foolishness, “The tongue of the wise uses knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools pours out foolishness” (Proverbs 15:2 AV),

verbosity, “A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?” (Ecclesiastes 10:14 AV),

falsehood, “Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:11 AV),

pride, “There they cry, but none gives answer, because of the pride of evil men” (Job 35:12 AV),

vulgarity, “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth” (Colossians 3:8 AV),

hatred, “They surrounded me also with words of hatred; and fought against me without a cause” (Psalms 109:3),

and gossip, “Where no wood is, [there] the fire goes out: so where [there is] no talebearer, the strife ceases” (Proverbs 26:20 AV),

Careless speech is anything that does not fit the injunction in Ephesians 4:29 to “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

How careful are you about what you say? This should be a sobering passage for all of us, but especially for non-believers who will face a judgment of condemnation and their very words. Their words, both those evil by deliberate design and those evil just by carelessness, will testify against them. But believers should also be serious about this as well. Are we careful about what we say? And are we careful for the right reason? You see, some of you may be bothered by Jesus’ words here, but it is for the wrong reason. But on the other hand, some of you may not think this applies to you at all. The problem is one of Legalism and License.

Legalism & License

In the past couple of months I have talked about legalism several times, but I have not mentioned its opposite which is license. Today I want to use this passage to show you the nature of the way the Lord wants you to live and why both legalism and license are wrong.

Legalism is what entrapped the Pharisees into a system of false religion. The essence of legalism comes from the thought that God will approve of me if I do certain things and do not do certain other things. Usually the particular things that are either done or not done start with a basis in Scripture, but since Scripture, especially the New Testament, is more a compilation of principles and precepts rather than a series of specific rules and regulations, man quickly fills in the specifics and comes up with his own list of what is and is not acceptable before God. Man’s law replaces God’s precepts.

Legalism says, “I am good, I have gained God’s approval because I have done thus and so and not done thus and so.” It views spirituality from the outside and judges itself and others based on what it thinks is or is not godly. Legalism results in attitudes which are self-righteous and condemning. And before any one here gets proud about not being a legalist – take warning. This is an extremely simple error to slip into and I dare say that every person in this room has fallen into this at some point and may still have some views that are legalistic.

Now the opposite of Legalism is License. License results from an overemphasis on the grace of God to the exclusion or near exclusion of His holiness. The basis of thinking is, “I am good, I have gained God’s approval because Jesus has forgiven me, and it does not really matter that much what I do.” It views spirituality as being inside and therefore indiscernible to anyone else. Generally a person with such a view would pride themselves on their ability to tolerate sinful behavior in others. These are those that are quick to partially quote Matthew 7:1, 2 with “judge not lest you be judged.” Such a person will stress their liberty in Christ to the point that they needlessly offend their Christian brothers (see Romans 14 or 1 Corinthians 8), and open themselves up to practicing clearly sinful behavior which brings open shame to the name of Jesus Christ.

What is the truth? Is spirituality outside or inside? Look again at what Jesus says here in Matthew 12:33 and 35, “. . . for the tree will be known by its fruit . . . The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil.” True spirituality is both inside and outside!

The Libertine needs to understand that a person’s behavior and words do reveal what is on the inside and that toleration of sin is an affront to God’s holiness. In addition, though Christians are not under the Law of Moses, they are under the Law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21). The Great Commission includes, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”

The Legalist needs to remember that “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” before Him. We are not good because of what we do or do not do; we are good because of what Jesus Christ has done for us and in us. We are good because the Holy Spirit has regenerated us and given us new hearts. Out of an evil heart come evil deeds. A person may be able to fake it for awhile and play Christianity talking the talk and walking the walk outwardly, but eventually the truth will come out. We do good, not to gain God’s approval, but out of our love for Him and desire to please Him.

What is it that marks true righteousness? What makes a good tree? Good fruit that comes out of the treasure of a heart that is good. True spirituality is both inside and outside. The person truly walking with Christ cares about pleasing Him instead of conforming to the opinions of other people.

Now let me illustrate true spirituality verses legalism and license this with a specific issue. It is an issue that can be somewhat emotional so I want you to listen carefully. I do not want anyone saying that I said something that I did not. The issue is drinking alcoholic beverages.

The libertine, the person who believes he has license to do most anything because Jesus will forgive says, “I can drink if I want. Scripture only tells me that I should not get drunk. I am spiritual because I can practice my freedom in Christ and enjoy the fruit of the vine which God has made.”

The legalist has an opposite conclusion. His thoughts are, “First, there are so many warnings in Scripture against drinking that it could not be okay to drink except for maybe medicinal purposes. Second, it is something the world does and I want to be separate from the world so I should never drink. And third, if I did drink, someone might think I approve of it and start drinking and I do not want to do that. Therefore, drinking is always wrong. I am spiritual because I do not drink.”

The libertine thinks only of himself and what he wants. The legalist is pretty much controlled by what other people might think. How should a person who is truly spiritual approach this question, or any other for that matter? Very simply, “What does Jesus want?” The concern is not for enjoying freedom nor is it what others may or may not think. The concern is what would be pleasing to God in the here and now and then doing that, not to earn His approval, but to demonstrate your love for Him.

From a heart full of good treasure will come a wealth of Scriptural precepts and principles that will be weighed against each other. The Biblical warnings will be weighed against the examples of wine being drunk by Jesus, the apostles, and most of the Old Testament prophets. Thought will be given to what Scripture means by “wine,” (and, in brief, I will say that no Biblical case can be made for the use of “hard liquors”). Consideration of the practice of freedom in Christ will be weighed against offending a brother in a way that will cause him to stumble (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8 & 10). The issue of being spiritual then is not a matter of drinking or not drinking, it is a matter of understanding God’s revealed word and then doing what would be best for His kingdom.

Now I don’t want anyone to go saying that Pastor approves of drinking because I did not say that. To be frank, whether you drink or not is not nearly the concern to me as your reasons for partaking or abstaining. As we have been going through the book of Matthew we have been seeing the warnings against Pharisaical legalism. This morning are the warnings to those who think they have license to do whatever they want. I would pray to God that the Holy Spirit would remove every vestige of both legalism and license from all of us, and that we would allow every thought to be taken captive by Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), and love the Lord God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. If that were true, all the peripherals would take care of themselves, because a good tree bears good fruit. That is true spirituality.

What kind of tree are you? Your words and deeds will broadcast that to the world and God will hold you accountable for all of them.

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