Summary: Today we want to explore some interesting words about truth-telling that Jesus gives us.
A few weeks ago, President Clinton spent Saturday and Sunday huddling with his lawyers preparing for his grand jury testimony. As I thought about that, it seemed a bit odd. If your goal in going before a grand jury is to tell the truth, to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, why does it take hours and hours to prepare for that? Now, I'm not going to spend my time criticizing the President today. Plenty of other people are doing that. I'm sure most politicians who were being called before a grand jury, of which they were a target, would spend time with their lawyers preparing for their testimony. Most of us in this room would probably want to spend time rehearsing our testimony if we were in that situation. The sad fact is that when it comes to our current legal system, there has been an erosion of honesty. Defense attorneys and prosecutors are often interested in other things besides the plain and simple truth. They often seem interested in creating or shaping a truth that can be used to their benefit.
But, it would be foolish to think that lawyers are the only people who like to play games with the truth. A recent survey found that most Americans think it is wrong to lie under oath, but see failure to tell the truth as only a minor problem in many situations, and as not a problem at all in some situa-tions. In other words, sometimes it's OK to lie, but other times it's not, especially if you promise you are not lying. This reminds me of grade school ethics. Remember, if you have your fingers crossed when you speak, you don't have to keep any promises you make. Did you do that? I remember my brother saying something like, "But, Dan, you said you would give me your baseball card of Harmon Killebrew, if I washed the dishes for you." "So what, I had my fingers crossed, I'm going to give you Frank Quilici instead." Pretty much like, as long as you are not under oath, it's OK to lie. Of course, folks who think that way will probably lie under oath too, if they think that is to their benefit. Some of us have discovered through experience that handshakes, verbal pledges, or even written promises are no guarantee that someone will keep his or her word.
This erosion of honesty which plagues our society stands in sharp contrast to the instructions we as Christians are given in the New Testament. There we are simply told, "Tell the truth. Tell the truth, period." Or to use the Biblical phrase, "Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No' be 'No.'" Today we want to explore some interesting words about truth-telling that Jesus gives us in Matthew 5:33-37. Now, this is a passage we looked at a few years ago, but because of the integrity crisis we face today, I think it is worth exploring again. As we do so, I believe the Lord will use His Word to help strengthen our commitment to speaking nothing but the truth. Let us pray this would happen.
As we look at Jesus' instruction for us, we see that He says: Speak nothing but the truth. Matthew 5:33 "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.'" There is no particular verse in the Old Testament which gives this command, but it is an accurate summary of what the Old Testament law says. When you make an oath, you keep your word. 5:34-36 "But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black." Now, why is Jesus so opposed to making vows? Oaths are designed to en-courage people to tell the truth, but Jesus knows that the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day, have twisted things so that oaths had become an occasion for clever lies and deception. Jesus spells out how perverse things have gotten in Matthew 23:16-22 "Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.' You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it." Do you catch what is going on? The Pharisees were teaching that some oaths were more binding than others, and that some oaths were not binding at all. In other words, if you took a particular oath, it was OK to lie, but if you made another oath, you had to speak the truth. Does that sound familiar? Jesus says that that is ridiculous. In Matthew 23 He reminds us that no matter what we swear by, we are swearing by some-thing God has made, and thus we are in-directly swearing by God Himself. There is no such thing as a non-solemn vow. Every vow a person makes is binding. So, nothing but the truth should ever come out of our mouths. Thus, Jesus says that there is really no reason for oaths and vows at all. The system of using oaths had been corrupted beyond repair, and He just tosses it out.