The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had developed a curious hierarchy of oaths, which were categorized in such a way that some oaths were considered more binding than others. This is illustrated by what Jesus had to say to the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:16-22 (read passage). These oaths were designed to let people ’off the hook" if something came along making it inconvenient to fulfill their commitment.
In our day, we do much the same, as we play "word games" to avoid responsibility. The fact is, that it is a commonly accepted thing in our day for people not to fulfill their commitments and not to follow through on what they promise.
This tendency to play "word games" in the effort to avoid responsibility was exemplified by former president Clinton’s response to a question during the investigation into the Monica Lewinsky scandal. When asked by a Grand Jury in August of 1998 whether he lied about statements he had made about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Clinton replied: "It depends upon what the meaning of the word ’is’ means. If it means ’is,’ and ’never has been,’ that’s one thing. If it means, ’there is none,’ that was a com¬pletely true statement."
A busload of politicians were driving down a country road when, all of a sudden, the bus ran off the road & crashed into a tree in an old farmer’s field. The old farmer, after seeing what happened, went over to investigate. He then proceeded to dig a hole & bury the politicians. A few days later, the local sheriff came out, saw the crashed bus & asked the old farmer where all the politicians had gone. The old farmer said he had buried them. The sheriff asked the old farmer, "The coroner wasn’t here. Are you sure they were all dead?" The old farmer replied, "Well, some of them said they weren’t, but you know how them politicians lie."
We have to laugh at such stories to keep from crying. The fact is that integrity is a rare commodity in our day, even as it was in Jesus’ day. Which is all the more reason for us to hear what our Savior had to say here about words of integrity.
The point Jesus is making is not that we shouldn’t make commitments. The point is that in making commitments, we should say what we mean and mean what we say. That we should not play "word games."
A simple definition of integrity is that your walk matches your talk. You back up your words with action. Ted Engstrom gives a succinct definition of integrity:
"Simply put, integrity is doing what you said you would do. It means you keep your promises. When you promised to be faithful to your mate, integrity says you’ll stay with that person no matter what — for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness, and in health. If you promised the Lord that you would give Him the glory, integrity means you keep on doing that whether you’re reduced to nothing or exalted to the highest pinnacle on earth. If you promised a friend that you would return a call, integrity means you return it. If you promised your child that you would spend Saturday together, integrity means you keep that appointment. A promise is a holy thing, whether made to a chairman of the board -- or to a child."
Let’s note two areas where we need to learn to practice integrity.
1. In our relationship with one another - v. 37
Why is it important that our words to others be words of integrity?
A. Because of the potential influence our words can have on others.
"Let no one despise or think less of you because of your youth, but be an example (pattern) for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity." - 1 Timothy 4:12 (Amplified)
"If a man is going to train up a child in the way he should go, he must walk that way himself."- Abraham Lincoln
Each of us has people around us that are influenced, for good or ill by our words and deeds. If we would influence them for the Lord, we must make sure our words are words of integrity.
B. Because of the powerful investment our words can make in others.
When we fulfill a promise to others that says they are a person of worth and value. It conveys that they are someone we really care about and are devoted to. Words of integrity are, therefore, a powerful investment in the lives of others because they communicate genuine love and care and let the person know they are of value.
In his book, "How to Win Friends And Influence People," Dale Carnegie shares the story of Enrico Caruso, the famed opera singer. As a child his mother encouraged his talent for singing when one of his teachers said that his singing sounded like the shutters in the wind. She worked hard to encourage him not with just her words, but also with her actions as she worked hard to pay for his lessons. She even went barefoot in order to be able to pay for his music lessons. He went on to become one of the world’s greatest opera singers as an adult. There is no question that his mother had a hand in his success.
2. In our relationship with God - v. 33
"You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God, what you have promised." - Deuteronomy 23:23 (NASB)
"When one of you men makes a promise to the LORD, you must keep your word." - Numbers 30:2 (CEV)
Why should we keep our commitments to God?
A. Because God is all knowing.
God knows the truth of our situation. He knows if we are making excuses our not. He knows if we really intended to obey His call or if we were just saying "yes" to impress others. We might be able to hide the truth from others, but not from God.
Four high school boys were late to their morning classes one day. They entered the classroom and solemnly told their teacher they were detained due to a flat tire. The sympathetic teacher smiled and told them it was too bad they were late because they had missed a test that morning. But she was willing to let them make it up. She gave them each a piece of paper and a pencil and sent them to four corners of the room. Then she told them they would pass if they could answer just one question: Which tire was flat???
There’s no sense trying to play word games with God. We’ll lose every time. Which brings us to a second reason we should keep our commit¬ments to God. We should do so ...
B. Because God is always loving.
This is something we all affirm. However, our actions betray our lack of understanding. We tend to let this truth excuse us from fulfilling our commitments to God, when instead, it should motivate us to fulfill them.
Our relationship with God is based on God calling and our responding with commitment. When we were saved, it was due to the call of God. He initiated our salvation. Once He called, then we responded with com¬mitment to Christ and were saved. Now that we have been saved, God continues to relate to us in this way. He calls, we commit, and by this process, we are changed and blessed.
The whole reason God calls us to new and deeper commitments to Him is because He loves us and wants the best for us. This is what John tells us:
"For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome." - 1 John 5:3 (NKJV)
"I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for." - Jeremiah 29:11 (The Message)
Oswald Chambers once said that "the root of all sin is the suspicion that God is not good."
This is why God calls us to new and deeper commitments in our relation¬ship with Him. Each time, we obey the call of God - each time we commit and follow through - we discover in a new and more profound way just how loving and kind and good our God is!
Why should you and I seek to use words of integrity? Why should we keep our commitments to others and to God?
A. For the sake of the lost about us.
B. For the sake of our loved ones around us.
C. For the sake of Lord above us.
D. For the sake of the lives planned for us.
"For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." - Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)
In his book Lyrics, Oscar Hammerstein II shares the following observation: "A year or so ago, on the cover of the New York Herald Tribune Sunday magazine, I saw a picture of the Statue of Liberty . . . taken from a helicopter and it showed the top of the statue’s head. I was amazed at the detail there. The sculptor had done a painstaking job with the lady’s hair, and yet he must have been pretty sure that the only eyes that would ever see this detail would be the uncritical eyes of sea gulls. He could not have dreamt that any man would ever fly over this head. He was artist enough, however, to finish off this part of the statue with as much care as he had devoted to her face and her arms, and the torch and everything that people can see as they sail up the bay.