Summary: Fifth sermon in a series on the use and abuse of the tongue.
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.