Getting Life Right: PROMISES—Matthew 5:33-37
“You promised.” There’s something about that! There is something about a child being able to trust a parent’s promises, a husband or wife trusting every commitment made, or being able to count on people at work to do what promise to do.
LIFE IS BUILT ON PROMISES.
Marriages and stable families are built on commitments kept.
Business goes well when promises—implied or written—are fulfilled. Bills and debts are paid, services provided as promised, warranties honored.
We depend on promises in our retirement, where financial stability is based on the promises and commit ents of people and institutions.
Government is based on trust, and promises to use power rightly.
***As the story goes, there was a tombstone in a Welsh cemetery that said, “Here lies Jim Brown: a politician and an honest man.” An old man was reading the epitaph, and he sadly remarked, “It’s too bad they have to bury two men in same plot.” Why is that funny?**
LIFE IS BUILT ON PROMISES.
When God reached out to his people in the OT, he made and kept promises.
God promised Noah that he would never again destroy all life on earth world by a flood, and he confirmed his promise by the sign of the rainbow.
God promised Abraham that he would make him into a great nation, and bless all nations through him. Genesis 22:16-18 says, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that…I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore….and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed”
God spoke through Moses, and promised the Israelites in Deuteronomy 28:9, “The LORD will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the LORD your God and walk in obedience to him.”
God promised David that his descendants would reign forever as kings over God’s people.
In Isaiah 45:22-24, God promised that he himself would reign in righteousness: “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are deliverance and strength.’”
God promised, and when he promised, he swore by own name—his own character—to keep his promises. God’s solemn promises gave his people identity and stability, and assured their future.
LIFE IS BUILT ON PROMISES.
When God’s people in the OT made solemn promises, they made them before God.
In Leviticus 19:12 God said, “Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.” In Numbers 30:2, he said, “When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.”
On numerous occasions in the OT, people swore an oath before God, as a promise that must be kept. Even when those oaths were foolish, they felt bound by them. Jesus refers to solemn oaths in verse 33: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’”
LIFE IS BUILT ON PROMISES.
Yet Jesus went on to say something quite surprising: (Matthew 5:33-34) “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all…”
Some Christians have taken this literally: they won’t take an oath, even in court. Should we refuse to be sworn in by the court, sign tax returns or mortgage under penalty of perjury, or take vows before God at a wedding?
Even Jesus may have been under oath at his trial. Matthew 26:63 tells us, “The high priest said to Jesus, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’"
WHY DID JESUS TELL HIS DISCIPLES NOT TO TAKE OATHS IN GOD’S NAME?
There was nothing wrong with taking oaths. The OT allowed it, and Jesus affirmed the OT, saying that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.
The law, however, is not enough to make people righteous. Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The Pharisees were experts at using oaths to make promises sound good, not technically using the name of God, so that they could break their promises without breaking any rules. Jesus said, (Matthew 5:34-36), “I tell you, do not swear an oath 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.” In Matthew 23, Jesus gave more examples: The Pharisees would swear by the temple, the gold in the temple, or the gift on the altar of the temple.
Strange! Yet similar things happen today. People say, “I didn’t really mean it,” “I didn’t sign anything,” or “I just said that to get them off my back.” They say, “I’m serious,” “I swear on my mother’s grave,” or “So help me…”
The closer an oath gets to God, the more weighty it sounds. The President puts his hand on a Bible, and the witness says, “So help me God.” The wedding vows might be “before God and these witnesses.” The person telling a story might reinforce the truth by saying, “Honest to God.”
The game is to see how close one can come to a promise before God, and still leave wiggle room. Jesus refuses to play that game, because we can’t separate God from the rest of life.
Jesus make that clear: (Matthew 5:34-36) “Do not swear an oath 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.”
God is the Creator of everything, the Protector of your mother and her grave, and even in control of your life. You can’t pretend God doesn’t hear your promises.
In a world where truth is always negotiable, oaths are an attempt to brings seriousness to promises. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was imprisoned by Hitler, once said, “Oaths are a sign that we live in a world of lies.”
But the disciples of Jesus live in the kingdom of heaven, God kingdom on earth as well as in heaven. Jesus came to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. Luke 17:20-21 tells us, “Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
We live in a world of lies, but we are citizens of God’s kingdom. We are under the rule of King Jesus, Messiah-Christ.
The Sermon on the Mount is addressed, not to people in the kingdoms of this world, but to people like us, who are under the Jesus Christ.
Because we live in the kingdom of heaven, it should be evident to everyone that…
…we are committed to marriage, our families, and God’s church.
…we pay our debts, keep our word word in business, and follow through on
promises to employees or coworkers.
…we show up when we say we will, and give the effort we promise to give.
…we pray when we say we will pray, and call when we say we will call.
Christians should stand out at school or work, in families, or in every group, as faithful, dependable, and committed. No one should have dissect what we say to know what we mean.
Heaven will be like that, and the kingdom of heaven starts now for Christians.
So Jesus says in verse 37, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
When we speak, we speak words from God! Our words are always promises before God, and we always keep our promises. Our promises don’t change when we are in a different situation, or when we are with a different group of people. Our promises don’t depend on the cost to keep them, or how hard they become.
As Psalm 15 says, “LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart…who keeps an oath even when it hurts…”
In financial difficulty, or a rough spot in marriage, or when our commitment turns out to be more than we expected, we do everything possible to keep our promises. We might have to re-negotiate or clarify what we can and can’t do, but we keep our promises.
WHY DO WE KEEP OUR PROMISES?
We have a God who keeps promises, at great cost. Paul talks about his commitment to keeping promises in 2 Corinthians 1:20, saying, “No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.” Keeping our promises reflects the glory of God.
We live in God’s kingdom already, and we look forward to the fullness of kingdom life. 2 Peter 3:13 says, “In keeping with God’s promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” We want to get life right, on earth as it is in heaven!
When we keep our promises, we are already enjoying life in God’s kingdom, especially among God’s faithful people. For God’s people, promises build a community of righteousness, peace and joy.