What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
This is a strong statement from our Savior! The fundamental question is: "How Christ-like is our speech?" This is just one area out of the whole of our behavior. We will be judged for every word, even the idle ones that we may just toss off in a time of weakness or when joking around with friends. That is a pretty strict judgment.
Jesus speaks here in black-and-white terms. The tree (meaning the person) is either good—producing good fruit—or he is bad and produces bad fruit. Which are we—the good or the bad tree?
In verse 34, He says, "Out of the abundance of the heart we speak"—and we could add, "and act." Jesus says in Matthew 15:17-18 that it is not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out of him. What comes out of a person will be either good things like service, love, kindness, and other fruits of the spirit, or bad things, the works of the flesh, which He names there.
So, what will it be with us? What is the abundance of our heart?
The picture here is that the heart is a kind of vessel—a bowl—and things are poured into the heart. At a certain point, the vessel will overflow, and an abundance will come out of it. What comes out of our heart—this bowl or vessel—will expose the characteristics of the heart.
When we pour information into our minds, we process it. For a while, it stays in the bowl, as it were, and becomes mixed with what has been put there before. Our minds work on it for a while, and over time, it begins to gel into certain ideas. Once our minds are full, ideas break out in words, plans, and behaviors. Evil thoughts within, evil speech and/or works without. Or, we can put it the other way around—godly, kind, Christ-like thoughts within, godly, kind, Christ-like speech and/or works without.
What breaks out of our hearts? We have to answer that ourselves. Do we have profane minds that spew out profane speech? Or, is it "on [our] tongue is the law of kindness" (Proverbs 31:26) because behind our tongues are pure and kind hearts?
This is vitally important because "by those words" we will either be justified or condemned. Our thoughts are just precursors to our speech and action.
So, where do we stand in relation to this line that Jesus Christ our Savior, our High Priest and Judge, has drawn? Are we a good tree or a bad one?
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Is God in All Our Thoughts?
We all make mistakes—and probably a majority of them are verbal. The challenge before us is to learn to control our words and use them effectively in dealing with others. For followers of Christ, "effective use of words" is using them as Christ and the Father do. If we do anything less, we stumble and run the risk of offending.
So great is this challenge that, if we can master our tongue, we have in essence come to master our entire bodies. We could conclude from this that our bodies function as they are instructed. We instruct our bodies and minds through words, whether spoken or thought. In other words, the mind speaks, and the body follows. We lead ourselves, as well as others, with our words.
Are You Sharp-Tongued? (Part One)
How James addresses this to his audience tells us he considers it an extremely serious matter. His use of "above all" suggests that we should be especially careful on this point. It is as if he is saying, "Make sure you catch this point because it may be the most important one." Swearing oaths is not a trivial matter!
In the Old Testament, taking oaths by God's name was more prevalent—even commanded (see Deuteronomy 6:13)—but God holds those He has called out of this present, evil world to a higher standard. The ancient Israelites were carnal human beings whose behaviors had to be constrained by statute. Knowing they would swear oaths, God directed them to take them honestly and only in His name, thus regulating and elevating the practice.
Christians, though, are to follow God's law, not just in the letter, but also in the spirit, a more in-depth and encompassing charge. The standard that has been set for us is that our word should always be true. Paul writes, "Therefore, putting away lying, 'Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,' for we are members of one another" (Ephesians 4:25; see Zechariah 8:16).
Our Savior puts it even more strongly in the form of an admonition: "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 12:36). Because God is with us, every word that we speak is spoken in God's presence and thus should be true, making oaths unnecessary.
As God's people, we are to represent Him in honesty and obedience and reflect Him in our conduct in every way. Because of this, we do not need God's name in an oath to back up our word. Therefore, a Christian should simply say "yes" or "no" according to what he honestly believes to be true, even in legal matters. As Jesus says, anything we try to add to the unvarnished truth is Satan's handiwork (see John 8:44). In short, a Christian's word should be his bond.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
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