From these two readings, we find that words are very important. Let’s begin with a closer look at the end of the Gospel reading.
“By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” – the words of our Lord, Matthew 12:37
What a great and frightening claim! Taken alone, this quote might make one wonder if saying the wrong thing can send one to hell forever. But the full reading sets this context, and Jesus explains that our words are the fruit of our inner heart and mind. We’re like trees – good trees produce good fruit and bad trees produce bad fruit. If we have faith in Christ, we are being transformed into good trees. It is that inner faith that God looks to as he brings us salvation: justification from sin, sanctification from our sinful nature into the perfection of Christ, and so on. So in the meantime, even as we still sin and even blaspheme Christ in our thoughts, words, and deeds, we can know forgiveness – because we have put our faith in Christ as the One who alone can save us from those sins. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, speaking defiantly against the good work God would do in the hearts of the faithful, is unforgivable because it is the act of anti-faith. The call of the Gospel again and again is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and we shall be saved. If we do not believe, salvation is not ours.
“Since we have the same spirit of faith… we speak.” – St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 4:13
Having faith in Christ, being a “good tree,” we bear the “good fruit” of words and speech. We do still sin and produce evil, speaking lies at times, but on the whole we are to be moving in the direction of producing more and more good fruit – speaking good words of faith. Here are three ways we can do this.
- Reinforce your faith with words in worship. When we gather together for the corporate worship of the Church, it’s like a training ground for how to serve our Lord. We read the Bible together, say prayers together, recite the Creed together. All of these are vitally important tools that shore up our faith, reinforcing the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
- Strengthen your faith by confessing your sins. This, even more than the previous point, is especially absent in far too many churches today. Taking the time to speak, literally to call yourself out on your own sins, before God, is very helpful. When you admit your sins, the darkness with you, it gives place for the light of Christ to shine into your heart more deeply. Plus, as you jostle your sins out of the way, it allows the Christian faith to be strengthen in its place!
- Share your faith by speaking of Christ to others. As you grow in confidence in Christ, and stronger in your integrity, it is just and right that you share that with others. In some ways this is less a duty and more a overflowing – the identity of “Christian” and living “the way” of Christ will naturally lend themselves to words of explanation to others. In some cases this should be very intentional: making a point of telling a particular person about a particular part of the Gospel. At other times it may be very simple – a few words introducing a stranger to the Christian perspective that the Holy Spirit has been developing in your heart over the years.
Just remember that you’re a tree, in this metaphor. You must remain “rooted and grounded in love,” that is, Christ. And to love Christ is to keep his commandments. And yet, to live according to the Law of Christ is only possible if we first hold the Faith of Christ. So it is all interconnected: we are planted firmly in Christ as our source of life, inner faith in Him is absolutely necessary, and the fruit we bear is in accordance to that which is inside ourselves.
“May God make you worthy of his call, and fulfill every good resolve and work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” – St. Paul, 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12