Summary: How we talk and interface our will with the will of others says something about our Father in heaven. Our words, promises, and intents reflect on people’s view of God. God desires an accurate reflection of Himself in and through us.
Word Breakers & Will Benders
Matthew 5:33-37 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.' 34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Intro: In this chapter we’ve been talking about matters of the heart. As Jesus taught, He would state the common accepted religious guideline of the day, but then He would get to the heart of the matter and give the true picture. A few weeks ago we looked at what He had to say about murder, showing that unresolved anger and having contempt for others were really at the heart of the issue. Jesus spoke about adultery or marital unfaithfulness and divorce and showed the heart of the matter to be selfishness and failing to value every other human created in God’s image.
-In today’s passage Jesus again takes a commonly accepted belief about promises and shows that the way His people think about the truth and honesty of their words needs to change. In biblical times people swore by a variety of things other than God to show that their word was true. That way, if they were to break their promise based on one of these other things, then at least they would not be dishonoring God’s name, and of course their word would be less binding. Eventually, rabbis were called on to decide which oaths were binding, and some sort of complicated system developed. If a person swore toward Jerusalem, he was bound to his word, but not if he swore by Jerusalem. A person was bound to his word if he swore by gold on the altar, but not if he swore by the altar itself. Kind of crazy, huh? Sounds like kids making promises with their fingers crossed.
-Jesus got to the heart of the matter and called for integrity and truthfulness. But just as important as being truthful was the issue of manipulation. Why did people swear in the first place? To bypass someone’s understanding of the situation, getting them to do what you want, bending their will to yours. Everything that a person can swear by in heaven and earth belongs to God, and God calls for simple honesty. Swearing by other things was often driven by someone’s evil intent to get their way. It doesn’t only happen in politics. That leads us to the heart of what I want to share today.
Prop: How we talk and interface our will with the will of others says something about our Father in heaven.
Interrogative: How do our words, promises, and intents reflect on people’s view of God?
TS: Let’s look at a few thoughts Jesus gave us about keeping our word and speaking simple truth.
I. Empty Promises Diminish Faith
-It’s not likely that many of you have ever sworn by heaven, or by the earth. And I’d be really surprised if anyone here has ever sworn by Jerusalem or by your own head. So is that it? Do we get to take a pass and declare that Jesus’ words here are irrelevant to us today? Not so fast.
-Why? Because it’s a heart thing! It’s not about whether we have ever made those particular oaths. Those were just examples Jesus was giving that fit his time. What about the same kinds of things in our day?
-What is an oath? Basically an oath is a way of reinforcing your words – giving them more weight than what they might have on their own. We might say something and follow it with “I swear.” Why do we say things like “I swear to God,” or “I promise with all my heart.” It may be a confession of our dishonesty. We might say things like because we know that our simple word is not likely to be trusted. So we try to induce people to believe us by dragging God into it. We want people to think “Wow, he’s really serious this time! Maybe I should listen to him!” It’s a trust problem. Even if you are a trustworthy person, people have a hard time trusting people, because they have been burned and lied to before.
-We may do this so often we don’t even see what the problem is. But here’s the problem. The only reason oaths seem necessary is because we live in a world where words are often used to deceive and coax and manipulate and threaten. Words are used to help the speaker appear to be trustworthy, truthful, credible, knowledgeable, authoritative, and legitimate, whether he is or not. In such a world, we often do not know if a person is “serious” or not; “for real” or not. People can be deceitful. We all present a certain face to the world, but may be someone quite different than the person we project. And so we take our place in a world that often lacks authenticity at best and is manipulative and deceitful at worst, and words are the frontline tools we use. But instead of dealing honestly with the root problem (the devaluing of words due to the deceit and duplicity of the human heart), we keep piling on more words, trying to sound more and more “honest,” and “authentic” and “genuine” and “sincere.”