“A Tree Is Known by Its Fruit”

“A Tree Is Known by Its Fruit” April 25, 2024

Photo by Austin Curtis on Unsplash

In Matthew 12, Jesus says that “a tree is known by its fruit.” He applies this to what comes out of our mouths. What kind of fruit do we produce?

Scripture:       

1 Samuel, chapters 30-31; 1 Chronicles, chapter 10; Matthew, chapter 12

Matthew 12:33-37 (CEB):

“Either consider the tree good and its fruit good, or consider the tree rotten and its fruit rotten. A tree is known by its fruit.

Children of snakes! How can you speak good things while you are evil? What fills the heart comes out of the mouth. Good people bring out good things from their good treasure. But evil people bring out evil things from their evil treasure. I tell you that people will have to answer on Judgment Day for every useless word they speak. By your words you will be either judged innocent or condemned as guilty.”

Observations:

A Tree Is Known by Its Fruit

Jesus begins this passage with an illustration that he used on several occasions – a tree and its fruit. Good trees bring forth good fruit; rotten trees bring forth rotten fruit. In his epistle, James expands on this concept: “Both fresh water and salt water don’t come the same spring, do they? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree produce olives? Can a grapevine produce figs? Of course not, and fresh water doesn’t flow from a saltwater spring either” (James 3:11-12, CEB).

The point is simple: good things don’t come from a bad heart. Evil people bring out evil things from their evil treasure. When bad things keep coming out of someone’s mouth, the logical conclusion is that the person is bad. A tree is known by its fruit.

Children of Snakes

A couple of days ago, I reflected on Matthew 10, where Jesus calls his disciples to be “wise as snakes and harmless as doves.” In that reflection, I noted that while snakes are generally not held up as role models in Scripture, followers of Jesus need to be prudent about the world’s ways and its structures. In this passage, however, snakes has its usual negative connotation. Children of snakes! How can you speak good things while you are evil?

By saying this, Jesus is simply confirming his point about a tree and its fruit. How can you speak good things while you are evil? You can’t. What fills the heart comes out of the mouth. In Luke, Jesus puts it this way: “A good person produces good from the good treasury of the inner self, while an evil person produces evil from the evil treasury of the inner self. The inner self overflows with words that are spoken” (Luke 6:45, CEB, emphasis added).

Jesus closes this thought by emphasizing that what we say matters: By your words you will be either judged innocent or condemned as guilty. The old saying tells us that “actions speak louder than words,” but that doesn’t mean that words are meaningless. Instead, it means that eventually our actions and our words will be in agreement. We can “talk a good game” for a while, but our actions demonstrate whether those words are “just talk.” A tree is known by its fruit – and that fruit consists of both words and actions.

Application – A Tree Is Known by Its Fruit

“The inner self overflows with words that are spoken.” If people consistently say hateful things, that reflects what is in their heart. On the other hand, people who say loving and encouraging things demonstrate what is in their heart. A tree is known by its fruit.

If we’re going to be “wise as snakes and harmless as doves,” we need to acknowledge that words matter. Contrary to the old playground retort, words can hurt us. (Sticks and stones can also hurt us, but hopefully we’re not throwing sticks and stones at each other.) Because words can harm us, we need to be careful about the words we use. But we also need to be careful because by your words you will either be judged innocent or condemned as guilty.

The words that we use tell others who we really are inside. The inner self overflows with words that are spoken. God’s word brings life; hateful words ultimately lead to spiritual death, because a tree is known by its fruit.

Prayer:

Father, forgive us for the times when we have been careless in what we say, or how we say it. As Paul challenges us in Ephesians 4:15, help us to speak the truth with love. You have transformed us; we are new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). May our words and actions overflow with the love that you have placed in our inner selves, so others will see Jesus in us.  Amen.

 

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