January 2, 2022 Bearing Fruit

Bearing Fruit
January 2, 2022

Scripture: Matthew 12:33-37.

In verse 33, our Lord says, “Make the tree…” The trees in this passage represent people. It is as if he were saying to the Pharisees, “Make yourself good or bad.” However, our Lord doesn’t mean make in the sense of create. Both the apostle Paul and the prophet Jeremiah make it clear that no one has the power to change their own heart because our hearts are corrupt.

When Jesus uses the word make, he simply means reveal. This is made clear by the very next verse:

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 

Even the last part of verse 33 confirms this: “…the tree is known by its fruit.”

What does our Lord mean by “fruit”? We are supposed to bring forth fruit. So, we should know what he means by fruit.
The New Testament uses the word fruit in three ways. It can refer to character qualities. And so:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  

So, we see that to possess joy or love is to show that we have fruit in our lives wrought by the Spirit.

The Bible also uses the word fruit to refer to what we do:

   so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;  

Good deeds, especially as motivated by the Spirit, are called fruit. Thus, helping the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing children, even doing some work for someone who cannot either do it well or cannot afford to have it done…that is bearing fruit.

In this category (of fruit bearing being good deeds) is also included the making of disciples:
Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.  

In this passage we see that bringing others to the Lord is bearing fruit.

The third way that the word fruit is used in the New Testament is to represent what we say:

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 

Here in Matthew 12, our Lord is using the word, fruit, in the third sense. He is encouraging us to use our words wisely. That is, as a manifestation of what is within our hearts. In verse 34 he says, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Greg Koukl, a Christian apologist and author has a great little article entitled, “Never Read a Bible Verse.”  In it he strongly emphasizes paying attention to the context of every verse and to never read a verse in isolation. Context helps to determine the meaning of what the biblical author or speaker is saying.

Verse 35 is right between verses 34 and 36, of course. And, in both those verses, Jesus is referring to the words that we speak. So in verse 35, when he uses the words “good” and “evil,” he means good and evil words.

The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 

A good person (made good by the Spirit of the Living God, for no one is good in their natural state) will speak good words and an evil person will speak evil words.

Then we come to our Lord’s words in verses 36 and 37:

 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  

I have mentioned this many times, but I do not think that we can be reminded of this too much: In the gospel of Matthew, when Jesus gives a teaching that is either of moderate or long length (six verses or more), 80% of the time he talks about the judgment to come. Clearly, Judgment Day was on his mind! It was on his mind because he cares for his people. He desires us to pass through the Judgment in a good way and not to be taken by surprise if we should discover that we have failed ourselves and failed the Lord. Because the Judgment was on the mind of our Lord, it should be on our mind also.

Here, he again brings up the judgment as he has done so often in his earthly ministry. He says that every careless word will be brought into consideration! I find this verse frightening! Do you? Unless you guard your tongue extremely well, I think you ought to be concerned about our Lord’s warning!

Verse 36 goes beyond verse 35. Verse 35 refers to evil words on the negative side. We would expect those to be judged, yes? But, in verse 36, our Lord says that even careless words will be taken into consideration!

Oh! How we need to guard our mouths!

To which judgment does our Lord refer? There are at least two Judgment Days and, if we understand the Lord’s judgment of his own people is a separate judgment than when he judges the nations when he returns to the earth, there are three Judgment Days to come.

When Jesus returns to the earth, he will judge the church as well as the saints in previous eras. That is one judgment called ‘the Judgment Seat of Christ.” Immediately thereafter, he will judge the nations. That is another judgment.

In Revelation, chapter twenty, the apostle John reveals that, after the Millennium, there will be a final judgment. It is called the Great White Throne.

To which of these three judgments does our Lord refer? If the Lord had a particular judgment in mind, it is difficult to tell from this short passage.  Rather than speculate on a particular judgment,  it is best to see the matter of being judged by our words as applicable to all judgments. After all, Jesus says that what we speak reveals what is in our hearts. And, certainly, our hearts are being judged in every judgment! Therefore, the admonition to choose our words carefully applies to the lost as well as to the disciple.

In verse 37, our Lord said:

for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  

Here, our Lord does not mean justified in the sense of being declared righteous by God. That is the way the apostle Paul uses the word. The only way a person can be declared right by God is through faith, that is, simple trust in what God has spoken. No person will be declared righteous by God by their own deeds nor their own words. 

The Lord Jesus uses the word justified in the sense of being vindicated, that is, our words will show whether our hearts were good or bad when we uttered the words!

To those who have not yet fled to Christ for salvation I say this: Do not put it off! Do not tarry. All the vile words that you have spoken in your life will be brought up at the Judgment. All the unkind and spiteful names that you have called people will be brought up as a testimony against you on that day! That is what our Lord is saying! This is why you must plead for God to for him to forgive your sins through, and only through (there is no other way!) the sacrifice of Christ. If you trust in Christ and his work on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, then you will have no fear of all those wounding words being held to your account!

The disciple of the Lord Jesus must take the words of our Lord here to heart. Back in Matthew chapter five, our Lord taught that those who are his disciples will be judged by their words (5:22-26). The judgment of his own people will not be for determining eternal destiny. Rather, it will be for determining rewards or discipline, and our place (or lack thereof) in the kingdom.

The evil things that we spoke before coming to Christ will not be brought up. They are behind us and nailed to the cross (Col. 2:13-14). According to Matthew 5 and here in chapter 12, we will be judged by the words that we have spoken after coming to faith.

For the disciple of Christ, any condemnation that they receive has nothing to do with eternal life. Judicially, that is legally, our sins are forgiven and there is no condemnation:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  

The only condemnation that the child of God will receive are words of rebuke and possible discipline in the next age.

There are two things that we must do in order to avoid the condemnation that the Lord warns us about.  First, if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  

We need to confess our evil words and our careless words both to the Lord and to the person to whom we said them. Once we do this we are forgiven within the family (already having been forgiven judicially). If we confess then those words will not be brought up at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

The second thing that we must do is to control our tongue. That is, we must practice speaking wholesome and uplifting words, not gossip, not slander, not complaining. These are all sins! (I Cor. 10:9-10; Phil 2:14; I Peter 4:9)

How can we do this? One way is to check ourselves before we speak. We all tend to say things in the heat of emotion without proper reflection. We need to be more gracious in our speech. But, the best way is to fill our hearts with the word of God. What we are filled with will be what flows out from us.

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,
    19    speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 

If we speak Psalms to one another, we will find those in the Bible. We must have familiarity with them in order to speak them.

“And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your slaves may speak Your word with all confidence, 

Those who are praying here in Acts 4 are not the apostles, but the whole assembly (4:23-24). In other words, all the believers were asking to speak the word of God with confidence. Well, brothers and sisters, do I need to even say that we cannot speak the word of God to others unless we know the word of God! We cannot speak the word of God if the word of God is not in us!

If we are filled with the word then it will flow out! We will speak good things because the word of God is good!

To prepare ourselves for that great day, we must confess our unkind words and our careless words to those to whom we directed them. When we do this we ought to be specific, not general. Avoid saying something like, “I’m sorry for the unkind things I ever said to you.” That doesn’t take much, does it? There is little humility in that. Anyone can say that and feel as if they “checked off a box!” It is far more meaningful to say, “Last week, I said that you were stupid. You are not stupid and those were evil words. Would you please forgive me?”

What if you know you said hurtful words to someone, but you can’t remember what they were? There is a simple fix for that! You just ask the person. “I know that I have said unkind things to you, but I cannot remember what I said. Please tell me what I said to you that hurt your feelings.” If you ask a man this question, he may be able to come up with one thing that you said to him. If you ask a woman, she will have a half dozen. God made us differently and that is a good thing!

Then we must meditate on God’s word day and night. King David wrote that this is what the blessed man does (Psalm 1:2). As our minds are filled with God’s words they will overflow to our lips. Are there any words better than God’s words? No! Some of us have wasted our years. Let us make 2022 the year that we take God’s word into us in a greater way than we have before. Because, as we do, our very hearts will be transformed. We will be prepared for the day for which Jesus instructed us to prepare.

Get ready! Make 2022 the year that you become ready!