Judged by our Words 

 

It is a common theme that the wicked snare themselves, falling into their own pit, judged by their own words, rather than God specifically snaring them (e.g. Ps. 7:15; 9:15; 57:6; Prov. 26:27; 28:10; Ecc. 10:8).  From their own mouth and words men will be judged (Mt. 12:37; Lk. 19:22 cp. 2 Sam. 1:16; 1 Kings 20:40). It could even be that the Lord cites the condemnatory words of the rejected uttered during their lifetimes and leaves these as their condemnation. Woe, therefore, to he or she who has said unrepentantly that they don’t want to be in the Kingdom if brother x or sister y are going to be there. “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life; but he that openeth wide his lips [in this life] shall have destruction” at judgment day (Prov. 13:3). The link between the final verdict and the words we use today is that clear. When the Jews spoke out the judgment they thought should come on those who killed the Master’s Son, the Lord cited their words back to them as description of their own forthcoming condemnation (Mt. 21:41,43). This is just as David was invited to speak words of judgment on a sinner, and was told: “thou art the man”.

Whatever we have spoken in darkness will be revealed for all to hear and know (Lk. 12:2,3)- our words will as it were be cited back to us before others in that day. We will be judged by our words. The Lord says this in the context of warning us not to have the leaven of hypocrisy in the matter of our words- there’s no point in saying one thing to one person and something different to someone else, because our words will be gone through at the judgment and will be open for everyone to hear. We should live, He implies, as if we are now before the judgment; speaking things we wouldn’t be ashamed for anyone to hear. Note in passing how he says that hypocrisy in our words is like leaven, that corrupts and spreads within an individual and a community. Once somebody starts being hypocritical with their words, someone else does. And we’ve all seen plenty of this, in office departments, classrooms, men working together, women running childcare groups together, in families…and even in ecclesias. Someone has to break the cycle of saying one thing to one, and something different to someone else.

The idea of dishonest words being like yeast, a source of corruption (Lk. 12:1-3), takes us to Mt. 12:32-37: “Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him…Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh… every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified [then], and by thy words thou shalt be condemned”. The fruit of the tree equals the words (as in Prov. 12:14; 13:2); a corrupt man will speak corrupt words. And these will be the basis of his condemnation. By contrast “the fruit of our lips” should be praise (Heb. 13:15). “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth” (Eph. 4:29) refers to the Lord’s words- the corrupt fruit is corrupt words. But the idea is that we bear the fruit now- our words now are our fruit. The Lord puts it all another way in Lk. 6:44 when He says that men don’t “gather” good fruit from a corrupt tree. The language of gathering is very much that of judgment to come; and yet the fruit is produced and gathered now, in the words / fruit that comes out of our mouth. This is why right now we can judge a false teacher, by his corrupt words [this is one of the contexts of the Lord’s words about corrupt trees and fruit- we see the fruit now]. The corrupt man will speak villainy (Is. 32:6). But corrupt words don’t just mean expletives- the false teacher would be too smart to use them. He comes in sheep’s clothing.

Lk. 6:41-44 gives us an example of “corrupt” words; words which create a corrupting spiritual influence in a man or in a community. One may say to his brother that he must cast out the splinter from his eye, although he has a plank in his own. And the Lord goes on to say that a good tree doesn’t bring forth corrupt fruit. The corrupt fruit, as in the above passages, means ‘corrupt words’. And in Lk. 6:45 the Lord concludes by saying that “for of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh”. The corrupt fruit are the corrupt words of Lk. 6:42- saying, ‘My brother, I’m very sorry, but I just have to correct you, you are so obviously wrong and stupid to walk round with a splinter in your eye, I can correct your spiritual vision, because I see perfectly. At the moment your spiritual perception [‘eye’] is just hopeless. Your understanding of this passage and that verse are totally wrong, your standards of dress and behaviour are an affront to our holy God. Without me, and listening to what I tell you, you’ll never stumble your way to the Kingdom’. The Lord understood ‘the eye’ as ones’ spiritual vision (Mt. 6:22,23). These kind of words, in essence, are the real leaven; they corrupt / pull apart over time communities as well as individual faith. These criticisms work away within a brother or sister, deaffirming them as believers, deaffirming them for who they are, raising doubt and not hope, humiliating them that they haven’t made the grade …until they are corrupted. We will be judged by our words.

We have a specific example of a man being punished in judgment for his words, and it may well be the basis for the Lord’s teaching here: “When the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks.   For he saith, By the strength of my hand I have done this…” (Is. 10:11,12). And there follows a long quotation of his words. These words were the ‘fruit of his heart’- out of the abundance of his heart his mouth had spoken. And these words were almost cited back to him at the time of his condemnation. We know, however, that it is quite possible for human actions and words to not reflect the heart. Consider how Sennacherib invaded Judah but in his heart “he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so” (Is. 10:7). This is why the Lord clearly condemns the thought as being as bad as the action, even if the action isn’t actually committed. Ps. 55:21 laments how words can not reflect the true state of a man’s heart: “The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords”. So why, then, is there so much emphasis on spoken words as the basis for judgment to come? Surely it is that although thoughts will also be judged, and the hypocrites revealed for who they are, it doesn’t follow that a good man sometimes uses ‘corrupt speech’. It’s impossible. A good man cannot bring forth bad words. But a bad man can sometimes bring forth words which seem good on the surface, but which are in fact counterfeit. But it can’t happen another way- a good man’s words aren’t just his surface level sin. And I for one flinch at this; because when I have to own up to having said inappropriate words, my flesh wants me to think that in my heart, I didn’t mean them. And yet, ruthlessly, I must press the point: bad words reflect a bad heart. We can’t justify them. We must repent of them, and by the influence of knowing God, through and in His Son and His word, we must change the state of mind that leads to them. And we should be, on one hand, simply worried: that bad words came out of a bad heart. And a good man cannot bring forth such corrupt fruit. There is with some especially the problem of temper, saying things well beyond what they really mean in hot blood. But here again, the words of hot blood do reflect something of the real man or woman. The tongue is a fire that can lead to condemnation, whatever and however we justify its’ words as a relatively harmless outcome of our personality type. This may be true, but the words that result aren’t harmless. We will be judged by our words.

Speaking of the sudden destruction of the wicked at the future judgment, David reflected: “So they shall make their own tongues to fall upon themselves” (Ps. 64:8). Unsound speech will be condemned, or perhaps [will lead to our] condemnation (Tit. 2:8). The implication seems to be that our words will be quoted back to us during the judgment process. Brother, sister, think about this. It doesn’t need me to tell you what words you should or shouldn’t be saying. This thought alone will elicit from you acute self-awareness and self-knowledge in this matter. If you meditate upon it- that our words will be cited to us at judgment day. By our words we really will be justified or condemned. The false prophets were judged according to their words: “Every man’s word shall be his burden” at the day of Babylonian judgment (Jer. 23:36). Gal. 6:5 alludes here in saying that at the judgment, every man shall bear his own burden- i.e., that of his own words.  We truly ‘make the answer now’. The Saviour came more to save than  condemn (Jn. 12:47); it is men who condemn themselves as inappropriate to receive eternal life. It is their words, not His, which will be the basis of their rejection. We must so speak as those who will be judged, knowing that he who showed no mercy in his words will receive none (James 2:12,13); our words of mercy or condemnation, and perhaps the way we say them, will be the basis upon which we will be accepted or rejected. “A fool’s mouth is [will be] his destruction, and his mouth calleth for strokes [i.e. condemnation at the judgment, Lk. 12:47,48]” (Prov. 18:6). By our words we may be shouting out for condemnation. “In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride [with which he will be beaten at the day of judgment]; but the lips of the wise shall preserve them” from such a fate (Prov. 14:3). Our words are as fire, and are to be connected with the fire of condemnation (James 3:5,6), which our words have already kindled (Lk. 12:49).  Likewise wrongly gained wealth is the fire that will burn those who have it at the last day (James 5:3). James is picking up a figure from Is. 33:11, again concerning the final judgment: “Your [own] breath [i.e. words], as fire, shall devour you”. Their breath, their words, were as fire which would in the end be the basis of their condemnation. Nadab and Abihu kindled strange fire, and it was with that fire that God burnt them up, in symbol of His destruction of all the wicked at judgment day (Lev. 10:2).

Quite simply, by our words today we are deciding our eternal future. We will be judged by our words. The rejected will have cried out for their own condemnation through their words. Consider:

We can bite and devour one another in gossip and slander (Gal. 5:15).

As the Jews did in their day of condemnation in the Babylonian invasion (Jer. 19:9); and as the rejected may literally do in the future, according to this type.

The Jews gnashed their teeth against Stephen (Acts 7:54)

As they will at the judgment (Mt. 8:12; 13:42,50; 22:13; 24:51)

We have dwelt on the negatives- the need to avoid bad speech. But we must match this with a speech salted with salt, a figure for the peace that there should be between us. As salt was added to the sacrifices to make them acceptably burn, so good speech is vital for our final acceptance. And not only must we speak words of comfort, love and grace; but words of power and meaning. The Lord said that we will give account for every idle / useless word we speak (Mt. 12:36,37). The same word is used in Mt. 20:6 about the idle, unworking labourers doing nothing. The Lord may be warning that if our lives are just empty words, we must give account for these words. We can so easily be as the son who says he will go work in the vineyard but doesn’t go (Mt. 21:31). For we live in a world of words that lack power, bereft of meaning. Promises mean nothing, there is no substance and underpinning to words. Yet we are to speak “as oracles of God”, reflecting the Father’s speech in our own.