In Matthew 7:16, Jesus says that to recognize false prophets, “you will know them by their fruits.” In Matthew 7:20 He says something similar: “By their fruits you will know them.” Many teachers and Bible scholars say that Jesus is referring to a person’s good works as the indication of whether or not they are a false prophet, or more generically, whether or not they are even a Christian.
Good Fruit Does Not Equal Good Works
Two things can be said against the idea that good fruit refers to good works in Matthew 7:16-20.
First, in the immediately following passage (Matthew 7:21-23), Jesus talks about a group of people who have all the good works, but they do not know Jesus. They are so “good” in the good works department, they prophesy in His name, cast out demons, and perform many miracles.” Surely, if good are “fruit” then these people qualify. But they do not qualify. Jesus says they practice lawlessness.
So what does Jesus mean when He talks about knowing someone by their fruit? A few chapters later He tells us. In Matthew 12, Jesus once again brings up the topic of good fruit from good trees, and this time, He specifically states that the good fruit is the good words that proceeds out of person’s mouth, while bad fruit is the bad words that come out of their mouths. So by Jesus’ own words, the “fruit” He has in mind is not the good works that a person does or doesn’t perform, but rather, the words that come out of their mouths. Jesus emphasizes this again a little white later in Matthew 15:18 when He says that those things which come out of the mouth proceed from the heart (cf. Luke 6:45). This fits right in line with what James, the brother of Jesus, writes in James 3 about the tongue.
Christian “rules” for Proper Speaking
So what does it mean to have good fruit come out of our mouths? Strangely, we Christians have seemed to reduce this teaching of Jesus down to a few guidelines:
- Christians cannot use curse words or vulgar language.
- Christians should try to include verses or references to God and Jesus in their discussions whenever possible.
- Christians should always stick up for the truth, no matter the cost—even if what we say sounds hurtful and hateful. These three rules come from questionable understandings of Ephesians 4:29, Psalm 118, and Ephesians 4:15.
In many Christian circles, as long as we “Stand for truth no matter what!”, season our speech with Bible quotes, and don’t say “the S-word” or worse yet, “the F-word”, we are good to go.
Yet we turn around and gossip at church about the pastor’s wife. We get online and say the meanest things imaginable to people we do not know on Twitter and Facebook. We curse entire groups of people to hell because we don’t like their religion (e.g., Muslims), their lifestyle (e.g., Gays), or their politics (e.g., Liberals). We speak harshly to our wife, rudely to our children, and arrogantly to our “unsaved” neighbor. With our words, we undercut our boss at work, denounce our President as the anti-Christ, and tell police officers that they are racist pigs.
I sometimes think Christianity would be far better off if we just all shut our mouths.
How to truly have “Good Fruit”
In an age when insults are so normal we think “roasts” are cool, and cyber-bullying occurs so often we barely take notice when suicides are the result, followers of Jesus need to be a rock of love in the swiftly-moving current of curses, providing voices of hope, healing, restoration, and acceptance that have almost never been found in the church.
Good fruit proceeds out of a mouth which overflows from a heart filled with love for others.
So the next time you tap out that perfect insult on Twitter, or come up with the witty rebuttal by email, or simply want to lash out in unchecked anger at the false teacher (in your opinion) on Facebook, take a deep breath, move your finger away from the “Send” button, and remember those famous words from Thumper in the movie Bambi: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”
This post is part of the April 2015 Synchroblog. Here is a list of the other contributors. Go check them out!
- Mark Votava – The Fruit of Non Violent Communication
- Carol Kuniholm – Fruit That Will Last
- Clara Ogwuazor Mbamalu – The Importance of Success By Bearing Fruit
- Glenn Hager – Juicy Fruit
- Done With Religion – Can We Produce The Fruit of the Spirit?
- Pastor FedEx – How Do We Bear Fruit?
- K.W. Leslie – New Fruit!
- Leah Sophia – Stewardship Trilogy
- Paul Metler – Bearing Fruit