“I would hate to be you on the day of judgment.”
Those words made my face burn hot as tears formed in my eyes. I was not personally offended by his words, my salvation is secure — I do not fear judgment. In that regard, his words fell flat, powerless in the face of the gospel. The heat emanating from my face in that moment was boiling up from my heart, anger mingled with sadness for another reason.
I was being slapped across the face with a glove. A glove that belonged to a system I had been stuck in for over a decade. These sharp words were delivered with a bible verse (Matt 12:36) ripped from it’s original context in an attempt to fill me with fear and condemnation. This same misuse of scripture had kept me from hearing about Christ’s mission to unload impossible burdens from weary backs, cause the lame to dance with joy, to set captives free. That sick system used this particular verse to keep me from believing “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us (psalm 103).” “I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more (Heb 8:12).” “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1).”
This familiar sting was delivered to me from a man with a keyboard somewhere behind the internet. A man so blind and convinced of his own self-righteous law keeping that he was ready to condemn to hell, a woman over the use of a word he found offensive. A word that the apostle Paul himself used that is printed in every single one of our bibles. But I digress… that’s an argument for another time.
The tears formed in my eyes from grief with knowledge that somewhere in this world was another human held captive by a system aimed at blinding him to the gospel. My heart was burdened that someone was able to convince this guy to believe that chains are better that the gospel. Tears sprang from my heart because looking at this man’s words — I saw myself. I recall using this same verse to do the very thing he was attempting with me– forcing compliance by fear. I am guilty of telling others that God was going to judge them for “every careless word” and that they had better be ready to “give account” for that. I convinced them of God’s anger towards them. I caused them to doubt His steadfast, abundant love.
My attempts to share the gospel with this man only caused more hostility, as it did with me, once upon a time. I remembered that it wasn’t until God wrecked me of my deranged self-saving complex that I was able to read the verses in context and see a completely different meaning behind what Jesus was saying here in Matthew.
I failed that particular evening, to convince that man to see what Christ was actually saying there and it keeps pressing on me to set the record straight. So for those who are like me, who’ve been threatened or have threatened others with the same bad interpretation, I’d like to grab the verse back from out of the air, place it back into context, and in doing so hopefully give us peace and healing from those glove marks.
Jesus heals a blind, demon possessed man and the crowd marvels asking, “Can this be the son of David?” The Pharisees on the other hand, confess something else, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons that this man casts out demons.” Two statements are made by two different groups of people:
Jesus, knowing their thoughts blows down the Pharisee’s accusations with logic — Why would Satan cast out his own and thus divide and destroy his kingdom?! That is absurd! And another thing! You are further judged by your statements because your own profess to cast out demons. Are they too of Satan?
I love to watch Jesus use basic rationale and sarcasm to deconstruct the accusations of the religious elite. I can’t help but giggle under my breath…
Jesus explained that by the Spirit of God he performed such miracles, thus the Kingdom of God was upon them. The first group was correct in their albeit, unsure confession — the Son of David was with them, the Messiah had indeed come. It reminds me of a later chapter where Jesus asked the disciples what the crowds were saying about him and upon hearing the answer responded, “What about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus, upon hearing Peter’s confession, affirmed him. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven” (Matt 15:16).
The words of the crowd, “Son of David” is the revelation in contrast to the anathematizing, “only by Beelzebub”, words of the pharisees. Jesus, still addressing the fallacy of the white-washed elitists says, “He that is not with me is against me and whoever does not gather with me, scatters.” Jesus abruptly alerts the pharisees to the severity of their situation because the kingdom of God was at hand and they were committing, with their very words, blasphemy against the Spirit. He says here very plainly that those who blaspheme against the Spirit, thus rejecting Him, will face judgment and will not be forgiven (cf. Mark 3:28-30). He continues by calling them a brood of vipers, announcing that they are incapable of speaking good because they from their hearts are evil, evidenced by the blasphemous words they just uttered against the Spirit of God. Note that Jesus brought the hammer of the Law (Lev 24:16) down on the pharisees in these verses, not the crowd.
It is in the midst of this heavy context that Jesus delivers these words, “I tell you that on the day of Judgment, people will give an account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Your words, which spring out of the abundance of your heart, ie: your confession determines where you stand on the day of judgment. This passage is not talking about words as in language in general, sinful or otherwise. Jesus does not address complaining here, stubbing your toe and uttering a curse word, or cursing directly at another person. Jesus actually goes so far as to say that to slander him in his humanity is forgivable at the judgment (v32) which explains his prayer on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).”
With a context in which words carry our heart’s confession, exploitations of this passage that are used to shame, guilt, or frighten you of language in general are dispelled. Here, Jesus is clearly using the Law to level some teachers of the Law who used their words to not only deny Christ in arrogance, but to blaspheme against the Spirit of God, calling Him Satan.
By your words “Christ, Son of the living God” you will be justified and by your words “Beelzebul” you will be condemned.
AKA: “What about you, who do you say that I am?”
“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: that if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with your heart you believe and are justified, and with your mouth you confess and are saved (Romans 10:8-10).