Q. I have a question regarding Matthew 12:36 and the correct application of it. It says “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” I know you have said Jesus was addressing the Pharisees. But some preachers say this scripture is a warning for all Christians and unbelievers. If Jesus was only addressing the Pharisees, why did he say “everyone”?
A. If you begin reading at Matt. 12:24 you can see that the Lord was talking to the Pharisees here. But more importantly, a correct interpretation of Matt: 12:36 requires adding verse 37 to complete the thought because the two verses are connected.
Matt.12:37 says, “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
The Lord said some words we say can acquit us. The Greek word Matthew used for acquit means “to render righteous”. It’s translated “justify” in the King James translation.
If we believe that when the Lord went to the cross He died for our sins, and if we ask Him to forgive us for our sins, by these words we will be acquitted, justified, rendered righteous (Romans 3:21-24). Therefore we will not be held accountable for words that would otherwise condemn us. Paul said there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
We should remember that Paul also said we should not let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, but only what is helpful for building up others (Ephes. 4:29). Therefore, we guard our tongues, not for fear of condemnation, but because such talk is not pleasing to the Lord. We are to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave us (Ephes. 4:31). It’s a sign of our gratitude for His forgiveness.