In a context in which Jesus chastises the scribes and Pharisees for rejecting Him and His message, He tells them that “by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37). Throughout His time on earth, Jesus challenged those who exhibited spiritual pride and hypocrisy, and the Pharisees consistently demonstrated both. In this context the Pharisees had condemned the innocent (Matthew 12:7) by accusing Jesus’ disciples of breaking the Sabbath, implicating Jesus as breaking the Sabbath as well. Ultimately, they attributed Jesus’ signs and miracles to Satan (Matthew 12:24). They had hardened their hearts against Him and spoke falsely against Him and His disciples. They deserved His criticism when He said, “By your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).
Jesus illustrates that principle by stating that a tree is known for its fruit. What the tree produces reveals what the tree is really made of (Matthew 12:30). A tree produces fruit according to the kind of tree it is. In the same way, Jesus explains, the mouth speaks from the heart. He calls the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” because they were like serpents who poisoned others. They spoke deceptively and tried to appear good, but what they said and taught was falsehood. Their hearts were not filled with good; thus, what came out of their mouths was not good, either (Matthew 12:34). When He said, “By your words you will be condemned,” Jesus was explaining that their words showed what was in their hearts. They had rejected God’s kingdom and shown they were unloving and that they hated justice. Their words reflected evil attitudes.
Jesus then lays down the principle that a good man treasures good. When that man brings forth something from what he values, it is good. On the other hand, the evil man values what is evil, and when he brings forth from what he has invested in, it will be only evil (Matthew 12:35). Jesus makes it clear that these things will be brought to light and will be judged. All will be held accountable for all of what they have said (Matthew 12:36).
What we say comes from our hearts. We are accountable for what we say, and we are accountable for what is in our hearts. Jesus said that “by your words you are justified and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37). He was not suggesting that by saying the right words people can be made righteous. Rather, He was explaining to the Pharisees that their words reflected what was in their hearts. Their words would either show that they were righteous, having righteousness in their hearts, or their words would show their unrighteousness. The Pharisees’ words were evidence that they had rejected Jesus. Jesus tells them that they can’t hide what is in their hearts. It shines through for everyone to see.
Matthew 12:37 is a good reminder for all of us to listen carefully and to be accountable for what we say, as our words reflect our hearts. Jesus exhorted people to let Him change their hearts and make them righteous. We are similarly called to be born again by believing in Him. As we grow in our knowledge of Him, the way we think, feel, and talk will change. The Pharisees refused to learn that, and they needed to hear that “by your words you will be condemned.”