Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount - Promises Promises


Today we are continuing in our series on the Sermon on the Mount.  Here is today's text.
Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.' But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.  Matthew 5:33-37 NKJV
There are two subjects here.  The first is regarding oaths and the second is about honesty.  Again Jesus is giving us a contrast between the letter and the spirit of the law.  There was a law against perjury under Mosaic Law, but that law allowed for different kinds of oaths some of which were binding, some of which were not.  People looking for loopholes in oaths or contracts is nothing new.  If anything, dishonesty comes very natural to us. There is that old saying about never having to teach a child to lie.  It is part of our fallen nature.  Due to man's tendency towards dishonesty, men like to require oaths and contracts in order to bind men to their word.  The letter of the law allowed for a system where not all oaths were binding so that men felt they could get out of their word just by using a kind of oath that was essentially meaningless.  That was because if your oath was not done in the letter of the law, it was not a binding oath. 

That brings us to Jesus.  He takes the law regarding performing your oaths to the Lord and takes away any loophole.  How does He do this?  Well listen to the rest. "But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black."  Jesus says if you are going to make an oath, you should only make it to the Lord.  Jesus is saying do not take an oath before any other created thing as those oaths are meaningless.  Make that oath to God and God alone and stand in account to Him and Him alone for how well you keep it.  In other words, Jesus is telling us to only take an oath if you mean to keep it and only give that oath to Who can truly hold you responsible if you do not.

Some say that this means that Christians should never take any oath.  I do not believe this is saying that at all.  What Jesus is saying is that oaths need to be reserved for solemn occasions and if you do take an oath it needs to be by God alone.  I say that because even the Apostles took oaths at various times.   What Jesus is saying is to not take the Lord's name in vain.  Do not be flippant about when you take an oath.  For example, I have heard people gossip and when someone is skeptical the gossip will say something like "hand to God."  Certainly when spreading gossip, one should not be taking an oath to God.  But even in just every day conversations, we use the Lord's name and swear by it with no forethought as to just what we are doing.  We throw His name around like it is nothing and swear by it as though it meant nothing.  Using the name of God in vain has become commonplace, even among Christians and that should not be so. It is utterly disrespectful to be flippant about using the name of God. If you going to invoke the name of God, you really need to consider it and mean it.

Jesus also talks about honesty. He next says "But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.'"  In other words, Jesus is telling us to mean what we say.  Do not be evasive. Do not be deceitful with you answers.  How many times have you said "I will pray (or think) about it" when you knew full well the answer was "no."  How many times have you made a promise that you knew would never be fulfilled.  How many times have you said "maybe" when you knew the answer.  All of that is deceitful and should not be in the lives of a child of God.  Our word must count for something.  Do you understand how important it is for the word of the Christian to be rock solid?  Think about it.  We are given the responsibility of spreading the Gospel message to the world.  If our word can not be trusted, how can anyone trust our presentation of the Gospel?  People will not accept the Truth as truth from a mouth that is known to lie.  Our word is of the utmost importance and so we must be honest.  We should never have to say "I swear" or "I promise."  We should just have to say what we need to say and have it be accepted as truth.  Besides, why would you need to promise something if you always told the truth?  The very idea that you have to make promises shows that there is an issue with your credibility and that is why it is on the evil one.  Let your word be your bond with no other extra promises or swearing necessary. 

Jesus again gives the contrast between the letter and the spirit of the law and that debate rages until this day.  If you have ever read a legal contract or even a court ruling, they are generally written in some kind of language that makes them impossible to understand.  They are written in exact specific language to not allow for any loopholes.  Of course, there are people who are experts in finding loopholes and so our courts are filled with people interpreting the letter of a contract in ways to their own advantage to the point where a third party has to figure it out.  That is the letter of the law.  It is about trying to either write a contract or interpret a contract to suit your own needs so that you can still cheat without breaking the letter of the law.  The spirit of the law is so much different.  The spirit of the law says not even take an oath unless you mean to keep it and only in the most solemn of occasions.  Furthermore, you are to make that oath in a way that holds you to it.  Finally, if you do not take an oath you are still called to be honest in your answers.  In other words, the letter is from the perspective of seeing how far you can go without breaking the contract but the spirit teaches to go as far as you can to fulfill it.  That is what Jesus is teaching and that is the example we need to take for our lives.  Be honest with your answers and you will never need an oath.  If you do need an oath, make sure you consider just Who it is that you are making yourself accountable to and ask if what you are taking an oath about is worthy of the Name of God.  Some say that honesty is the best policy.  For the Christian, honesty is the only policy. 
The integrity of the upright will guide them, But the perversity of the unfaithful will destroy them.  Proverbs 11:3 NKJV

No comments:

Post a Comment