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."