Jesus continues His exposition of selected portions of the Mosaic Law, and His correction of how it had been taught to His listeners. In these verses He explains the importance of truthfulness and integrity regarding disciples keeping their word in all situations, and corrects their misguided attempts to call in God as a sort of co-signer on their promises.
Big Idea: Truth is the only language of the kingdom of heaven—anything less is the language of hell.
33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 “But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 “Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; and anything beyond these is of evil.
I. Don’t lie, do what you promise to do. 33
They had been taught since childhood, “Do not lie, deceive, or fail to do what you promise you’ll do. In the culture of the ancient near east, words carried a greater power than they do in today’s culture. Words made things happen—they were seen to have an intrinsic ability to accomplish what they said, simply for having been spoken. Words are just as important today, really. Like Jesus’ listeners, we simply do not treat all of our words as being important!
II. Don’t “back up” your word to make it more believable. 34-36
Although there have been some Christians who believe it God’s will to refuse to take any oath at all—under any circumstances, the evidence of Scripture argues that there are at least some conditions under which a believer can swear an oath. In the Bible, oaths were sworn by Abraham, Jacob, and Paul, for instance. Jesus Himself responded to being placed under oath when on trial before the High Priest, who demanded, “…I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself…” (Matt 26:63-64) An example of legitimate vowing today might be when a person is called on by the court to swear that their testimony will be truthful, or when two people vow to have one another in marriage. What Jesus was addressing was the tendency of His listeners to use God, or specifically, words that alluded to God (heaven, earth, Jerusalem) as a sort of back-up to their word. They might also swear to do something using their own lives as collateral on a promise they’d made. Such practices were simply illogical and mistaken. They were illogical in that none of the things being sworn by were actually in the person’s control anyway. Heaven, earth, Jerusalem, even a person’s own head—no one has ultimate authority over these things by God, anyway. To swear by such things was also theologically mistaken, in that they presumed that God could be summoned to back up a promise or a vow, as if He weren’t the primary reason that any promise could be kept—for God providentially provides the conditions by which the promises and agreement that people make, be they believers or not, can be kept. Bottom line: Don’t call God in to co-sign on your word, which leads to Jesus’ application:
III. Speak the truth, and stand by your word—anything more is the language of our Enemy, Satan. 37
The first words recorded in the Bible of Satan were words that cast doubt on the clarity of God’s Word, and His intentions behind giving people His Word (Gen 3). His primary means of continued rebellion against God is through the deception and lies that he routinely casts into human history, leading people themselves to remain in rebellion against God. In fact, if he lost his ability to communicate, Satan would be robbed of most of his power! When we are any degree less-than-truthful and trustworthy, we are speaking the language of hell, and not of our true home, heaven.
How can we go about becoming people who are absolutely truthful in all our speech, every time, and all the time? Here are a few suggestions…
First, Spend deliberate time in the Word of Truth, facing its Author and submitting to His commandments and teachings. Jesus said that God’s Word “is truth”, period, so we can trust it! (John 17:17)
Then, speak less, listen more. Practice speech in which you stop at “Yes” or “No,” and do not go on campaigns to convince people of the sincerity of your speech. In time, they will note your sincerity, and treat you differently than every other speaker in their lives.
Finally, In view of the impossibility of actually changing ourselves, we must ask the Spirit of God within us to alert us when our speech is more “of the Evil One” than of the Lord Jesus. And when He speaks to us—we must ask God to give us the will to OBEY Him!
Let’s expect the Lord to work on these areas in our lives, this week!
An audio recording of this sermon is available on our “Grace Sermons” page, above.