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Sermon Message


"Heart to Mouth"

Matthew 12:34-37
Theme: The condition of our heart is revealed by our words.

(Delivered Sunday, July 16, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

Several years ago, it was my privilege to help teach a class on preaching in a foreign country. Frankly, it was hard to tell how well I taught my preaching students—I couldn't speak their language. But I tried to pass on some basic convictions about preaching; and one of the most basic was from Proverbs 4:23. It is, I believe, a biblical command that every preacher of God's word should constantly strive to observe: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs the issues of life.”

This is, I believe, a very basic command for preachers; because what comes out of a preacher's mouth is inevitably drawn from the well of his heart. No preacher can really preach but from what has first been put in him. To try to do otherwise is to be a hypocrite. So, when I taught my students, this basic command from the Scriptures is the first thing I taught them.

But I also believe it is a very central principle for each one of us as followers of Christ. We should expend the greatest possible diligence in protecting and guarding the condition of our own hearts before God; because everything that springs forth from our mouths comes from what is in our hearts.

Jesus Himself taught this. He was confronted by the Pharisees once because His disciples didn't follow the tradition of the Jewish elders by ceremonially washing their hands before they ate. (Perhaps your momma made you wash your hands before you ate too; but this was different! This was a ceremonial washing—a Judaistic tradition that taught that it actually defiled a man before God to eat with unwashed hands.) Jesus responded by turning to the crowd that had gathered and saying, “Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles the man” (Matthew 15:10b-11).

Later, He explained to His disciples what He meant by “what comes out of the mouth”;

“Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man” (vv. 17-20).

A man can eat with unwashed hands, and it will not make him either holier or more defiled before God. It makes no difference to his spiritual standing before God whatsoever. But when a man opens his mouth and sinful things come out, this reveals him to be a sinner from the heart. When he harbors evil thoughts in his mind, they will eventually expose themselves in what he says. If he nurses a murderous hatred in his heart toward another man, for example, it'll reveal itself in the fact that he calls that man a name, or slanders him or gossips about him. If he entertains adulterous or sexually sinful thoughts in his mind, they'll come out of his mouth in the form of dirty stories or jokes, or in suggestive or flirty comments. If he has theft in his heart, he'll speak about other people's possessions in ways that demonstrate covetousness, or a spirit of materialism. If a man has no real love for the truth in his heart, he'll speak lies, or will cover up the truth about himself, or will falsely accuse another if it will get him what he wants. If a man has a hatred for God as He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures to be, then he will make irreverent jokes about God or speak against His holy character, or he will profess God to be something that He is not.

The heart of a man or woman is a well; and the mouth is the bucket that draws from that well. It's not enough to simply 'clean up' the mouth. The mouth cannot draw up anything but what is already in the heart. That's why we must, with all diligence, guard the heart! From out of our hearts flows all the issues of life; and those issues of life are expressed by what is heard in our mouths.

* * * * * * * * * *

This is demonstrated by the context of this morning's passage. The Pharisees had just thrown a dreadful and blasphemous accusation at Jesus. He had mercifully cast a demon out of a blind and mute man—with the result that the man was healed and could now see and speak. Those who saw it were astonished; and asked, “Could this be the Son of David?” But the Pharisees said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons” (Matthew 12:22-24). In other words, they saw the power of the Holy Spirit demonstrated through the one who was being presented to them as the Son of God; and yet, their hearts were so hardened against Him that they attributed His power to cast out demons to the devil himself. It's important to note that this wasn't the only time they said this about Him (Matthew 9:34). In fact, it was their habit to interpret His miracles in this way. They were persistently attributing His miracles to the power of the devil.1

This wasn't because they merely misunderstood Him. It was because they hated Him and were resistant to the testimony of the Holy Spirit concerning Him. When they made this blasphemous accusation against Him, they were revealing the profoundly hardened condition of their hearts. None of them would have dared to argue that the Lord did an evil thing in making a blind and mute man speak and see. But in spite of His good miracles, they so hated Him that they attributed His good miracles to an evil source. And after showing to them that it was impossible that He could have done these things in the power of the devil, He told them to make up their minds: “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit” (v. 33).

That's when we come to this morning's passage. That's when He reveals what sort of “tree” they were proving themselves to be. And that's when we come to His own affirmation of our vital need to guard our own hearts. Our Lord—in what is among the harshest of His sayings in the New Testament—told the Pharisees:

“Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:34-37).

* * * * * * * * * *

Here, our Lord teaches us that the condition of our heart is revealed by our words. Let's begin by considering . . .


The Pharisees were making an evaluation. They were seeing the good things that our Lord did; and they were saying something about it. But He challenged them by saying, “Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” They could not have declared an accurate or true evaluation of Him. They could, in no way, speak good things about our good Lord. The problem for them was that good things cannot be spoken by people who are fundamentally evil at heart.

And look at how He evaluates them. He calls them “brood of vipers”; or as it is in the King James Version, “O generation of vipers . . .” The word translated “brood” or “generation” basically means “offspring”; and this speaks both of their evil character and their evil source. They are “offspring of vipers”—vipers who, as it were, come from vipers! It's the very name that John the Baptist had once called them; saying, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7).

Now; it might shock you, at first, to hear this—as if our Lord were needlessly throwing out a cruel insult. But in reality, it was a carefully selected name chosen to reveal their true character. The word that Jesus uses isn't the ordinarily word for “snake” or “serpent”.2 Rather, this is the word that refers specifically to a particularly deadly and poisonous snake3. It was the word used to describe the kind of snake that attached itself to the apostle Paul's arm in Acts 28:3—leading those who saw it to expect his immediate death!

The regular word for snake would suggest the ideas of “cunning” and “subtleness”; as when Jesus told His disciples, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). But this particular word would suggest the idea of extreme danger and deadliness. Later on in this Gospel, Jesus would use both words to describe the Pharisees: “Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:33). Here, when Jesus calls them “vipers”, He is highlighting their deadly and dangerous character. In terms of their actions, Matthew 12:14 tells us that they were already meeting together to plot out how to kill the Lord. And later, Jesus would point out that their teaching itself was dangerous—that they were “blind leaders of the blind” (Matthew 15:14); and that their doctrine is “leaven” that the disciples were to “take heed and beware of” (16:6).

And I think that this is intended to underscore the danger of what was coming out of their mouths at that time. Jesus was performing miracles before the people in the power of the Holy Spirit; and many of the people were beginning to believe on Him. But the Pharisees—who were jealous of Him and had already committed themselvs to killing Him—dared to attribute His miracles to the devil in an effort to dissuade people from believing on Him. And yet, they themselves had the outward appearance of being holy and pious—like poisonous snakes that look beautiful to the eye, but are deceivingly deadly.

What darkness and wickedness of heart these words revealed to be in them! You would not have been able to tell by looking at the Pharisees; but you could tell by hearing what they said. Paul spoke in Romans 3 of the deep and hidden sinfulness in the hearts of men—that “their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit; the poison of asps4 is under their lips . . .” (Romans 3:13).

And notice that Jesus not only refers to the Pharisees as “vipers”, but as the “brood of vipers”. They were vipers who came from a family of vipers! Jesus would later say to them;

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt” (Matthew 23:29-32).

God had sent prophets to their fathers in the centuries past. These prophets came to tell them of the Messiah that God would later send them. And yet, here they were—the sons of those who killed the prophets—now about to kill the One of whom those prophets prophesied! They truly were a “brood of vipers”.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; all of this was meant to show that these Pharisees said what they said about Jesus because they were evil at heart. What came out of their mouths was simply drawn up from the well sin that was in them. Thus Jesus says, “How can you, being evil, speak good things?” They could not speak anything else but evil. It was impossible for them to do otherwise; “For out of the abundance [or “overflow”] of the heart the mouth speaks.”

The problem that was here being demonstrated, then, leads us to consider . . .


It is that the mouth cannot help but speak from what is in the heart. The lips reveal externally what the man is made of internally; “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Look at how Jesus explained this principle. He said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things . . .” Deep in a man is a “treasure-store”—an inner “depository”, if you will. It is filled with the things that he thinks about; the things that he treasures and values; the things that he fundamentally believes, and hopes for, and loves. And if he is a man who is right with God and is in His favor—if he is a man who has confessed his sins and has sought the mercy of God through Jesus Christ—if he is a man indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit and is taught of God's word, then he is a good man who has a good treasure within.

It's wise to ask yourself; “When I get rattled and shaken deep within, what is it that comes spilling out? When I'm in a time of trial and testing and pressure deep in my inner being, what comes out of me? To be sure, I'm not perfect—I'm still growing. But do I tend to 'count it all joy' when I fall into various trials; knowing that the testing of my faith produces God's good work in my life (James 1:2-4)? Or when I feel the strain of temptation, do I find myself calling out to God to help me to turn from temptation and sin; knowing that God is faithful, who will not allow me to be tempted beyond what I am able, but will with the temptation make a way of escape that I might be able to bear it? (1 Corinthians 10:13)? When someone does something evil to me—when someone curses me or persecutes me or wrongfully uses me—do I love my enemies, and bless them, and do good to them, and pray for them (Matthew 5:44)?

“How about those times when I blow it? How about those times when I fail? How about those times when something comes out of my mouth that is sinful and wicked? That's bound to happen; because I still struggle with the sin that's in me. But what happens then? Do I confess it to my Father? Do I accept my fault and admit my sin? Do I go back to those whom I have injured, or to those who saw my failure, and ask their forgiveness as well? Do I seek to make things right? What I do AFTER I blow it reveals what's in my heart too. Does what I do at those times reveal that what comes out of my mouth is being drawn from a fundamentally good treasure?

“When I think of my salvation, do I praise God for it? Do I thank Him for His daily blessings? Do I pray about my needs? Do I quote His word? Do I encourage and edify others? Do I thank them for the ways God has used them in my life? Do I seek to tell others about Him? Do I use my mouth for the high purposes of God's glory?”

Jesus says “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things . . . ” Ask yourself: Does your mouth bring forth good things; and thus prove that they are drawn from the good treasure of your heart? When you get rattled and shaken within, what comes pouring out? You can tell a tree by its fruit; because good fruit only comes from a good tree. If someone where to walk along behind you and listen to your words, what kind of tree would you prove to be? What kind of heart does your mouth reveal to be within you? What kind of treasure is deep within?

* * * * * * * * * *

It's a very good thing to test yourself in this; because Jesus also warns, that the opposite is also true “. . . [A]nd an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.”

I read a story once about one of the early Methodist preachers during the English revival of the 1700's. His name was William Grimshaw; and while he was a good pastor, he had some rather unusual ways of find out the spiritual condition of the people in his church.

One day, he was visiting a family from the church; and he wanted to know how the spiritual condition of the old, blind grandmother of the family. She boasted that she was a good Christian; but he had reasons to suspected that she was just pretending in order to please him. So, after the grandmother thought he left, he sneaked into the room and began to poke her gently with a cane. Thinking that it was one of the children in the family, she snapped in anger, and let fly a whole lot of profanity. The pastor found out the truth of what was in her heart. He knew the truth from what came out of her mouth. (I don't remember whether or not he revealed himself to her; but I would have loved to have been there if he had!)

Now; you may not agree with old Pastor Grimshaw's methods; but be honest before God: What is it that comes pouring out of you when God tests you and allows you to get “poked”? When someone wrongs you and hurts you, do you curse them and snap at them for it? Do you complain against God for the troubles and difficulties in your life? When disappointments occur, do you express bitterness toward Him because of it? It doesn't have to be words either! Do you give off the facial expressions, or the roll of the eyes, that communicates bitterness within? Do you make use of 'non-verbal communication' on the freeway when someone cuts you off? Is God letting you know, at such times, that there's something wrong in your heart?

What kind of things do you talk about when you are relaxed and with your friends? The Bible is very honest about sin. It warns us;

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them” (Ephesians 5:3-4).

Be honest. Do you use your words to criticize and judge others? Do you belittle others with put-downs and humorous remarks? Do you gossip and slander others? Do you make jokes about sacred things? Do you use the name of the blessed Savior as an expletive? Are the only times your children hear of God the times when you use His name in vain? What is the pattern of your words? What kind of heart do they reveal?

* * * * * * * * * *

I suggest that we be brutally honest with ourselves about this. I suggest that we not let up on ourselves. We must know—and admit—the full truth about ourselves. If the pattern of your or my speech is evil, then it reveals an evil heart. The mouth pulls up nothing from the well except what's truly there; and we must go back and examine whether or not our words reveal that we truly are what we think we are. “Examine yourselves as to whether or not you are in the faith,” Paul writes; “Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

And there is great motivation in our passage this morning to do so! This leads us to consider . . .

3. THE PROMISE GIVEN (vv. 36-37).

It is the warning from our Lord—a very serious and sober warning. It is the promise from the lips of Jesus—who is Himself the Judge of all the earth—that all people will give an account to God for every idle word. Jesus says, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.”

The word translated “idle”5 means “unprofitable”. Some translations (the New American Standard Bible and the New International Version for example) have translated it “every careless word”. And the word translated “word” in this case is not “logos” (which would suggest a reasoned statement), but “rhema” (which would suggest more of a casual utterance). This, then, would be a careless or thoughtless utterance for which someone might say, “Oh; I didn't mean what I said. I was just kidding anyway. Don't take things so seriously.”

Jesus warns us that He takes such “careless” or “idle” words very seriously. And there's a good reason why. Such words tend to indicate what's in our hearts more truthfully than a carefully thought-out and prepared set of words ever could.

Suppose I was asked to present a matter before a person of authority or a committee of some importance. Even if I didn't respect that person or that committee, I would still work to prepare my case thoughtfully; and would carefully craft my words so as to present the best possible face, and make the most positive impact I could. But suppose, on the way there, a friend asked me what I thought of that person or committee. I might be more inclined—in a careless mood—to be a bit flippant about it. I might say some things that are sarcastic or belittling or disrespectful. And if those words were to be overheard, and I were then made to give an account of them before that person or committee, I might try to defend myself by saying, “But I was just talking casually! I didn't really mean what I said!” But no matter what defense I made, the fact would be that those “careless” words revealed what I really thought in my heart.

Jesus is letting us that even the “idle” or “careless” words we speak are heard by Him. James 5:9 says, “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” He is declaring, well in advance, that people will be required to give an account of every word they speak on the great day of judgment—even the “idle” words.

Our words prove what is in our hearts. This is why Jesus then says, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned”. He who will judge our words will also prove to be the One who knows the true condition of our hearts. And it will be our words that will—on that great and all-important day—stand as the evidence of the true nature of our hearts.

* * * * * * * * * *

How important, then, that we follow the council of Proverbs 4:23, and keep our hearts with all diligence! This leads us to a final consideration . . .


We must—now, while we can—guard the condition of our heart; because out of that heart flows the issues of life.

Let me suggest some ways that we can do this. And as a matter of first importance, let's be very sure we have trusted Jesus as our Savior and have been washed of our sins. The point of this passage is not merely that we seek to 'reform' a dirty mouth. That should happen; but that's not what needs to happen first. If the well itself is dirty, it doesn't do any good to clean the bucket that draws out the water; and if the heart itself is still evil, it doesn't do any good to try to merely clean up the mouth.

The promise of God's word is that, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). If we come to Christ—confessing that we are sinners who need to be saved, and placing our trust in the cleansing power of His blood—then He is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Let's be sure that we have first trusted in Him; and then, our heart—the wellspring of our words—will be clean.

Second, having trusted Christ, let's make a regular practice of allowing God to search our hearts. If it's true that it's out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks, then we must ask God regularly to search our hearts and rid of us all that remains of our old life.

Before I was a Christian, I had a very filthy mouth. I told lots of dirty stories; and used lots of profane words. It was how I tried to get by. And after I became a Christian, it took almost a year-and-a-half for me to stop swearing. Every time I swore or uttered filth, it broke my heart that I would still so dishonor my Savior; and I would then confess my sin. He always forgave me. And so, progressively, God was removing from my heart the residue of the old life of sin; and so, my mouth was becoming more and more available for His service.

That's what each one of us must do. The Bible says that there is not a word on my tongue but that the Lord knows it altogether (Psalm 139:4). He even knows my thoughts afar off (v. 2). I can admit the truth to Him. And I can turn to Him and say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (vv. 23-24).

Third, let's confess our weakness in the area of our words, and our need for God's grace and strength to help us. The apostle James warned us that there is the potential for great harm in our words—that “the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and is set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). He warns that “every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (v. 8).

It's as if we are walking around with a very dangerous, untamed, dangerous animal in our mouths. As someone said, if you want to tame an animal, you must bring the animal to man; but if you want to tame the man, you must bring the man to God. Man is the proper tamer of animals; and God is the proper tamer of men's tongues. Let's be sure, then, that we daily yield ourselves to God that He might tame our tongue.

Fourth, let's make sure that what we put into our hearts is what we would want to have coming out of our mouths. Paul said, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearer” (Ephesians 4:29). And if we would have good things come out, then we must be sure that we're putting good things in. He says elsewhere, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8). Psalm 119:11 says, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” The more of the truth of God's holy word we put in, the more we will be pushing the evil out.

And finally, let's dedicate our tongues to God's good purposes. The danger of the tongue may tempt us at times to cut it out; and the potential for sin from our lips may tempt us to super-glue them shut. But God has given us our lips and our tongues for His glory and use. The mouth that is dedicated to God, and that draws its speech from a heart that has been cleansed by Him, is a powerful force for good in this world.

The prophet Isaiah was a man who also had a dirty mouth. But God cleansed him. In a vision, an angel touched his lips with a coal taken from the altar—an altar where atonement had been made for his sin. And Isaiah was told, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away and your sin purged” (Isaiah 6:7). And then, when the Lord said, “Who shall I send, and who will go for Us?”, Isaiah was able to step forward and say, “Here am I! Send me!” (v. 8).

God took Isaiah's sin away and cleansed his lips; and then, He put those lips to service as His mouthpiece to the nation of Israel. Likewise, give yourself to Jesus Christ. Present your whole body as a living sacrifice to Him. Dedicated all that you are—including your lips—to His service. And then—with a heart cleansed by His blood—never use your lips for common things again.

* * * * * * * * * *

With our wonderful Savior's help, may we prove to this world that He has placed a good treasure in our hearts by the fact that we bring forth that which is good from our lips.

1See Mark 3:30—where it says that Jesus spoke these words to the Pharisees "because they said, 'He has an unclean spirit'". The verb translated “they said” is in the imperfect tense; which suggests an ongoing, habitual practice. It can be translated as it is in the New American Standard version: ". . . because they were saying, 'He has an unclean spirit'."

2Ophis; a serpent in a general sense (such as is used of literal serpents in Matthew 7:10; 10:16; or of the devil in Revelation 12:9, 14, 15; 20:2).

3Echsidna; a viper.

4The word used in Romans 3:13 is aspis; which, like eschidna, designates a particularly dangerous and poisonous snake.

5This adjective is the combination of the Greek verb for a “work” or a “deed” (ergon), with the alpha privative. Thus argos means “inactive” or “barren” (1 Timothy 5:13; Titus 1 :12; 2 Peter 1:8).

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