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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Jesus Reveals the Heart Behind the Mouth
Text:LD 43 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 9th Commandment (Lying)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 19:1,6                                                                                        

Hy 1

Reading – Matthew 7:1-20; Matthew 12:22-37

Ps 141:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 43

Ps 139:1,2,13

Ps 34:1,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ, there’s probably nothing easier than talking. Once you know how, it’s quite simple. All you have to do is open your mouth, and it’s almost like the words come rushing out on their own. You hardly have to think about it.

Of course, some people are more talkative than others. Some even get paid to talk, like politicians and talk-show hosts and preachers. But in the right circumstances, everyone will talk: talking on the phone, around the dinner table, and on the church carpark. It’s an easy thing to do, and essential. Good communication gets things done and keeps relationships alive.

So what do we say to one another? What’s the character of our conversations? This is important, because our words have power. A well-chosen word can do much good. Even a handful of simple words can express a world of meaning.

It’s the easiest thing, yet we’re using a tool that has great, two-sided potential. For our words can also do a lot of harm. A cutting remark, a quick retort, or an unfair judgment can cause deep hurt for our brother or sister in the faith, for our spouse, for our child.

God knows this. That’s why He gave the ninth commandment: “You shall not bear false witness.” It’s a commandment about our speaking, and about what comes before our speaking, the attitudes and opinions behind our words. Like Christ said in Matthew 12, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (v 34). Let’s then look at the direction God gives us in this commandment and how Jesus fills this out in the Sermon on the Mount. I preach God’s Word to you under this theme,

Jesus reveals the heart behind the mouth, teaching us to:

  1. speak with caution
  2. speak with humility
  3. speak with wisdom


1) speaking with caution: Scripture has no shortage of wisdom on the question of how we are to speak. Later this week you could easily spend an hour combing the book of Proverbs alone for everything it says about our words. And one lesson that comes across loud and clear is the need to speak with caution. Think of Proverbs 10:19, “In the multitude of words, sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his tongue is wise.”

Restrain your tongue! That’s not easy to do—the tongue is slippery. But there is a way. It becomes more possible to hold our tongues when we watch our eyes. Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ calls the eye “the lamp of the body” (Matt 6:22-23). This means the way that we use and focus our eyes gives shape to the rest of our conduct—including to the words that we speak.

So how do we look at other people? With what kind of eyes do we look at our brothers and sisters in the church, or our fellow students, or the strangers we meet at the shopping centre? Jesus says that our view of them is going to come out. It will come out in the way you treat them, in the way you talk to them—or in the way you talk about them!

Being cautious in speaking means then, that we first need to be cautious in judging. That’s the force of Matthew 7:1, where Christ says, “Judge not.” Don’t look in a spirit of judgment. Now, these simple words have long been misused and abused. Christ’s command not to judge has been used to promote all sorts of politically correct ideas about tolerance. “Who are we to say anything critical about anyone else, like who they sleep with or what they believe? Didn’t Jesus tell us not to judge?”

But there’s enough in Scripture to show that Christians should in fact be willing and ready to judge. A few examples: “He who is spiritual judges all things,” Paul said to the Corinthians (1 Cor 2:15). Or the apostle John said, “Test the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). For our own protection, for the good of our family and our church, we need to do this, to evaluate and discern the words, beliefs, and behaviours of the people around us.

When Jesus says, “Judge not,” what He does forbid is making an unfair judgment about another person. It’s making a harsh judgment because you’ve looked at them with loveless eyes. You judge them out of your lack of patience or out of your unwillingness to forgive. Christ tells us not to judge because He knows we can quickly make evil assumptions about someone, and then condemn them with our words.

The Catechism speaks here of “false testimony” (Q&A 112). That’s about the testimony given in a court of law, but it’s also the testimony given by our hearts. That is, do we sit in judgment on others? Convict without a fair hearing? Do we believe the worst about someone else, even if it’s only a rumour?

It is even harder not to be judgmental if we’ve known each other for a long time. We’re part of an interconnected church community. We’ve gone to school together, had business dealings with each other, worshiped together. And so we can remember the mistakes that others have made, and we know each other’s weaknesses and blind spots.

So do these judgments determine how we treat one another? Maybe we give up on a brother because he’s always been prickly or because we don’t like his overly-liberal views. Or maybe we ignore our next-door neighbours because they’ve never shown an interest in the gospel, and we don’t reckon they ever will. But Jesus says, “Judge not.”

And He goes on, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matt 7:2). If you listen to that verse carefully, you can hear an echo of the second greatest commandment of the law: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Think about how you would like to be treated, and then think about how they would like to be treated.

The problem is, we’re not often on their side of the fence. We rarely pause to reflect on another person’s condition. Yet we’ve never heard the whole history of a person. How did they grow up? What struggles have there been along the way? What’s the daily burden on their heart? No one realizes the full strength of another person’s temptations, or feels the true weight of their responsibilities. If we thought a little more of what others have been through, we probably wouldn’t be so quick to gossip about them or criticize them.

Instead, may God give us sanctified eyes! As we look around, we see that each and every one of God’s children has something to offer. In each one, God has been doing a miraculous work. For this brother, for this sister, Jesus Christ was willing to lay down his life. That’s how precious they are to him, and his will is that He loses none whom the Father has given! So who are we to judge them unworthy? How can we cut up one of Christ’s holy ones with our words?

As for the nonbelievers on our street or in our workplace, we remember that they were made in God’s image. They still have a value and worth in the sight of God who created them. And even if they don’t believe right now, it may yet turn out that they belong to God’s elect. So we shouldn’t give up on them or judge them too wicked to receive our kindness.

For again, if we’re cautious in judging, we’ll also be cautious in speaking. Jesus underlines this unbreakable connection in Matthew 12. In that chapter it is clear that the Pharisees had made up their mind about Jesus. They said He was working in tandem with the devil himself. This was their judgment, and this judgment came spewing out, in all its ugliness!

Shocking, but not really surprising. For these evil words corresponded exactly to their evil character. Like Jesus says, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad” (Matt 12:33). It’s the same lesson as in chapter 7. He is saying that if you want to know the true state of a person’s heart, just listen to the words from their mouth. A good tree bears good fruit, and a good heart will produce good words.

So Jesus gets real with the Pharisees: “Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (12:34). What the Pharisees really were like was plain to see—it was plain to hear.

In the same way it becomes obvious what we are. Our character, our loyalties, our affections, our securities—these things become obvious through what we talk about. Our steady flow of words might reveal us to be interested only in ourselves, or alternately, our words might reveal us to be concerned for the needs of others, when we ask about how they’re doing and we seek to encourage them.

What do your words reveal? Perhaps my daily conversations reveal that I care only for worldly and superficial things, or alternately, my words might reveal that I often dwell on the things of God, his Word and his church, and that I love to talk about God’s grace and power.

More importantly, what do we say about Christ? Maybe the way we talk about Jesus reveals that we’re strangers to Him, that He’s more like a general manager up in the sky, and less like a Saviour and friend. Or indeed, our words might show a warmth of love for Jesus, a longing to walk with him every day.

By now it is clear just how much our words say. They’re like a pressure-release valve for what’s inside us. They’re like a transcript of our soul. And then Jesus turns the Pharisees’ judgmental words into another lesson on our speaking. “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” (Matt 12:36-37).

What stands out in that passage is the phrase “idle words.” These are the words we speak without much thought, what comes out when some of our social restraints are removed. In some situations, we’ll be careful in what we say—in the church fellowship hall, at club, in the boardroom at work. Then we can be quite charming and courteous and diplomatic. But get around the corner, hang up the phone, and we’re irritable, sarcastic, and angry. These idle words can cause the greatest damage.

Think of the trouble some politicians get in when they think the microphones are turned off. They express their views freely, opinions that don’t match government policy or their own public image. Careless words can do them in!

No one is recording our conversations, but we are under scrutiny. By our words, Christ says, we’ll be “acquitted and condemned.” Think about our idle words: the words we say within the privacy of our homes; or the words we divulge in the confidence of a friend; or what we say through the keys of our device or computer. Do all these words we choose actually agree with our image—our image as Christians, as God’s children and servants of the Lord? God listens to everything we say because his law isn’t just about the outward things. He listens to all our words, because He’s looking at what moves within our hearts.


2) speaking with humility: If our words are largely formed by how we look at others, they’re also formed by how we look at ourselves. Maybe you’ve had a conversation with someone who could only talk about the great things he had done, or how her family was so perfect. It was all about how they were better than everyone else.

But Christ teaches us to speak with humility. We find it in his words, “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” (Matt 7:3). Christ is still talking about judging, and to illustrate He gives a humorous example.

We can picture it. Imagine two men slowly carrying new kitchen cabinets into a house, up a flight of stairs. Suddenly one of them drops his end, and the cabinet hits the ground hard and shatters into pieces. Once the dust settles, they both check each other for injuries. The one guy is very concerned, because his co-worker has some sawdust in his eye. “Better get yourself to the hospital!” he says, “Why don’t I drive you?” All very well: he is focused on his neighbor—so focused that he doesn’t notice the long piece of paneling protruding from his own eye socket.

It’s an extreme example Jesus uses. But we all know how to do this, avoiding the plank in our own eye. We know exactly what our neighbour’s problems are, what character improvements someone else needs to make. Sitting in church, we think about how well all this applies to the brother sitting in the next row: “I sure hope he was listening! That sermon on judging was definitely meant for him.” But Jesus says, “When you’re judging, start with yourself! Hold up the mirror of God’s Word to your own life!

Of course, if we’re proud, we won’t be able to see this. If we’re convinced of our wisdom, we’ll never realize our faults. Maybe you’ve heard of an “armchair athlete,” someone who imagines that he knows how to play this or that game far better than all those high-priced players. He sits and criticizes them endlessly, rebukes them for every little mistake. You can also have armchair politicians, armchair office bearers, and armchair Christians.

Instead of thinking we have all the answers, we should ask ourselves in humility, “What do I have to contribute? Instead of just talking about how everything is terrible, what can I do to make this better? How can I build this up? How can I bring about change in a positive way?”

We should be kept busy enough with our walk with Christ without constantly correcting everyone else. We need to focus on our own shortcomings first. Scripture says we should be busy with regular self-examination, taking a hard look at our own sins and accursedness—even detesting ourselves for our transgressions.

And once again, this attitude will shape our speaking. If we’re rightly humble, and we’re aware of our weaknesses, then we won’t mind asking others for advice. If we’re humble, we will admit our mistakes and ask for forgiveness.

Then when we do have a word of rebuke to share with someone else, we’ll do so in a loving way. We’ll correct them with kindness, because we understand how far from perfection we are ourselves. We’ll offer words of forgiveness and restoration, because we know how much we need these same things.


3) speaking with wisdom: Whenever we open our mouth, the possibilities really are endless. There are so many things you could say. Every situation of life demands a different response, whether you’re eating at the kitchen table, sitting at the conference room table, meeting at the consistory table, even building a table. Wherever we are, we need to speak with wisdom.

Now, when we say “wisdom,” let’s not equate that with knowledge. We shouldn’t picture a silver-haired university professor, surrounded by her books. She might be called wise, but wisdom in the Bible is far more practical. This is the wisdom that comes from fearing the LORD! So it’s a wisdom that every one of us can have and use. What wise words will we say to each other as Christians? What wise answer will we give to our neighbour? The Catechism is clear about what we must do: “I must love the truth, [and] speak and confess it honestly” (Q&A 112). But the question is how we are to do this?

Christ first gives some direction, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” (Matt 7:6). These words weren’t surprising for Jesus’s audience. For the “holy things” were the things that the priests were busy with every day at the temple, the things dedicated to the Lord on his altar. You would never give toss a finished sacrifice to the mangy dogs who roamed the streets of Jerusalem.

In the same way, it was unthinkable to give pearls to swine! Pigs weren’t even kept in most parts of Israel because they were unclean. And of course you wouldn’t feed them pearls—that was expensive jewelry, meant to be worn and treasured.

The lesson here is that when we speak, we can’t talk to everyone about all things. There will always be some people who mock the truth of Scripture. There will always be those who refuse the message of the gospel, on whom words of grace have no effect.

But there’s a general truth here about all our communication. We must always set our words before other people with wisdom. As we speak, we should think carefully about this other person and his circumstances. What kind of message would be best received at this moment? What words, and what manner of speaking these words, would do them the most good? As Proverbs teaches in 15:23, “A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is!”

And where do such timely words come from, if not from the Scriptures? Remember Jesus’s words from Matthew 12:34, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” If you have Holy Scripture stored up in your heart, this will most certainly flavour your words. If you are in God’s Word daily, this will give a holy accent to your tone.

This doesn’t mean we always have to quote chapter-and-verse to each other. We shouldn’t give simplistic solutions to every problem, throwing texts around like band-aids. But when we live in Scripture, and when Scripture lives in us, this will become more than evident in the words that we say.

The Scriptures give something to say to your brother in his time of anxiety, something to say to your sister as she searches for God’s will. Scripture gives something to say as advice about parenting, or about temptation. Knowing the Scriptures enables us to “love the truth, [and] speak and confess it honestly” (Q&A 112). Love God’s truth, and then speak it.

We’re sometimes scared of sounding over-pious, or we’d hate to speak something false, so we keep silent. But think of how much we can do with our words. We can comfort a grieving friend with God’s steadfast promises. We can admonish a brother who is living in the wrong way. If there is someone stricken by his guilt, we can lift them up with a message of Christ’s love. Reach out to the fellow saint whom you don’t know so well, the one who leaves quickly after church each Sunday. Find a way to say a helpful word.

For in our words, God has given us a powerful tool. May God help us to speak words that are filled with love and grace, words of wisdom and understanding. May the heart behind the mouth be good, and may the words be good!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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