Summary: Some say truth is realitive...but, Jesus didn’t think so. Just what is truth suppose to mean for a Christ-follower?

“What Is Your Word Worth?”

Matthew 5:33-37

Daniel Webster once wrote, “There is nothing so powerful as truth – and often, nothing so strange.” Perhaps he had an understanding into the insight that Jesus had about both the need for truth and the difficulty in attaining it. So far in this message known to most as “The Sermon On The Mount”, Jesus has given instruction on Heaven’s perspective on anger, sexual relations and marriage. Here, He opens us to His stand on truth.

Jesus again opens with the statement, “You have heard that the ancients were told…” This is His reminder that He is going to take a subject which they have become entrenched in their thinking and their behavior about and open the truth to them about it – the truth from God’s perspective.

In this instance, Jesus is bringing the practice of oath taking before them for consideration. And, along with teaching them the truth in that regard, He is also opening up the subject of God’s involvement in truth as a whole.

The rabbis of the Jews had long insisted that an obligation for every Jew to tell the truth existed. They taught things like, “The world stands fast on three things; on justice, on truth, and on peace.” And, “Four person are shut our from the presence of God – the scoffer, the hypocrite, the liar and the retailer of slander.” One of the earliest lessons Hebrew children learned about the truth was, “One who has given his word and who changes it is as bad as an idolater.” Last time, I mentioned the school of Rabbi Shammai for the strictness of his teaching against remarriage. When it came to the speaking of truth, he was just as strict. Adherents to Rabbi Shammai’s teaching were so wedded to the truth that they banned speaking even simple courtesies such as complimenting a bride on her loveliness when she was actually plain. They would avoid making any comment at all, but, if pressed, they would speak the truth plainly.

The rabbis taught that, if the truth had been guaranteed by an oath, then the requirements were even more stringent. Oaths were taken in the name of God. This practice was commanded by God and even participated in Him {(Deuteronomy 10:20; Jeremiah 12:16-17); (Genesis 9:9-11; Luke 1:68, 73; Psalm 16:9). The clearest statement in Scripture can be found in Hebrews 6:17-19. This passage describes the sureness with which we can trust God’s Word and God’s promises, just as Abraham was personally shown by God in Genesis 15.

The commandment that says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold guiltless the one who takes His name in vain,” is not simply a command about speaking God’s name. It is a commandment about the use of God’s name. More specifically, it is about swearing that something is true or taking an oath to do something, doing so in the name (as being represented by and in the presence of) of God, and doing so falsely or not keeping the oath or promise.

In Numbers 30:2, the instruction is this, “When a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he must not break his word.” And, in Deuteronomy 23:21-22, there is this warning, “When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you must not be negligent in paying it; the Lord your God will definitely demand it of you, and it would be sin in you.” At the time that Jesus was speaking to His Jewish audience, there were two unacceptable practices in place.

The first was what may be called frivolous swearing. This was the practice of taking an oath when no oath was necessary. It actually had become so common that many affirmative statements would begin with, “By my head,” or, “By my life,” or, “May I never see the Comfort of Israel if…” It was the habit then, as it is very much today, for people to use sacred language in the most trite and meaningless ways. Today, people say, “I swear on a stack of bibles…”Or, how often have you heard this one, “As God is my witness…”? Thoughtless and irreverent use of things sacred for any purpose, especially any of the names of God, is foolish and dangerous. Remember the warning that comes with the commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold guiltless the one who takes His name in vain.” Who in their right mind would desire being held guilty before God?

There was a second practice of taking oaths that would be called evasive swearing. The Jews divided oaths into two categories: those that were binding and those that were not. Seem silly? It was not silly to them at all. Any oath that contained the name of God was absolutely binding – a person breaking this kind of oath could be brought before the Sanhedrin for judging and punishment. Any oath that avoided or “evaded” the name of God was not binding – it was completely up to the discretion of the person taking the oath whether or not they kept it. Evasion had become an art form.

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