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16. Yes or No Is Enough (Matthew 5:33-37)

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Matthew 5:33-37, the passage we are considering, is about oaths and vows. It may seem a little anticlimactic after all the discussion in 5:21-32 about murder, adultery, eye-plucking and hand-lopping. But the issue Jesus is addressing here goes to the very core of a person’s character – to the heart of what it means to live as a child of God.

We live in a culture in which the truth is often the first casualty of interactions between men. We have an incredibly elaborate system of lawyers and contracts and notaries and binding signatures to ensure that we do what we say we will do, at least when it’s perceived to be important enough. And none of it makes people any more truthful. In fact, most people don’t even believe truth is an objective reality!

A recent study by Barna Research182 found that only 22% of adults in America believe there is even such a thing as absolute moral truth. But the real kicker was what the study found related to those who profess to be “born again” Christians. They defined “born again” Christians as “people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus as their savior.” Among that specific group, only 32% of adults and only 9% of teenagers said they believe moral truth is unchanging or absolute.

We wonder why people have such a hard time telling the truth to each other. Well, apparently, the majority of them can’t even identify what the truth is in the first place!

The words we are considering were spoken by the One who declared Himself to be the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6) – The One whose Word IS TRUTH (Psalm 119:160). And He presents us with a standard of truthfulness that is infinitely higher than the standards of men.

“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord. But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; and anything beyond these is of evil” (Matthew 5:33-37).183

James seems to echo the words of our Lord in his epistle, and he puts special emphasis on this command, introducing it with the words, “above all.”

But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment (James 5:12).

As with Jesus’ previous commands in the Sermon on the Mount dealing with murder, adultery, and divorce, the Law of Moses had already spoken to this issue, but the scribes and Pharisees had perverted the teaching of the Law and had chronically missed the spirit of the Law. Throughout this sermon, Jesus is zeroing in on the spirit of the Law in keeping with its purpose as the reflection of God’s holy character.

Our Lord’s approach to teaching does not often hand us His essential point without any mental effort on our part. Jesus uses forceful words – words that pierce into us and turn our traditions and assumptions on their heads, and He makes us think about things as we would never think about them apart from the influence of His Word. As the writer of Hebrews says, God’s Word is,

… able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Some Christians have taken Matthew 5:33-37 to teach that we must not, under any circumstances, utter an oath or vow. So they refuse to take an oath in a court of law, in a marriage ceremony, or in any other situation. Is that our Lord’s point here – to create a new prohibition that didn’t exist under the Law of Moses and thereby to overcome men’s tendency to be untruthful?

Part of me would love for it to be that simple, but I do not think it is.

Oaths and vows show up remarkably often in both testaments, and the Law addresses them a great many times. It is strikingly consistent that, aside from this passage and James 5:12, the rest of the Scriptures does not prohibit oaths. Indeed, the Law specifically commanded God’s people to swear their oaths in His name.

Deuteronomy 6:13-14 (the “Hear, O Israel” passage):

“You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him, and swear by His name. You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you” (emphasis mine).

Deuteronomy 10:20:

“You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.”

Notice the verbs used in these two verses: You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall worship Him, serve Him, cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.

These commands have in view the first and second commandments of the Ten Commandments.

Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me” (Exodus 20:1-5).

God’s people were to worship and serve Him alone, and were to swear by His name alone, because He is the One True God.

God’s people were never to create or bow down to any image in the form of any created thing, because God alone is sovereign over all. To worship or serve anyone or anything except YAHWEH, the One True God, is to put that person or thing in God’s place. And to swear by any created thing is to make it an idol. Leviticus 19:12 says, “And you shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.”

This prohibition against swearing falsely by the name of God is critically tied to the third commandment of the Ten Commandments.

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain (Exodus 20:7).

To take His name in vain means to invoke His name emptily, lightly, or profanely – to use it without humbly acknowledging the holy character of the One whose name you are invoking. To invoke the name of God in an oath or vow when your statement is false or when you do not intend to honor your words is a direct violation of the third commandment. And to invoke the name of God over a trivial or inconsequential matter is also a violation of the third commandment, because taking the name of the Lord in vain includes taking it lightly – treating it as common or trivial.

So, in the Old Testament, oaths were to be sworn in God’s name only; they were to be used for affirming important matters, not trivial matters, and they were to be true.

Oaths were used to resolve disputes, to seal agreements or covenants, or simply to affirm the truthfulness of important declarations.

Hebrews 6:16 speaks of the first purpose of oaths, saying that with men, “an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute.

The oaths exchanged between Abraham and Abimelech at Beersheba in Genesis 21 served both to end a dispute and to establish a covenant. They were used to resolve a dispute over ownership of certain wells, and to seal a covenant to perpetuate the agreement about the wells (see Genesis 21:22-34). In that covenant, Abimelech said to Abraham,

“God is with you in all that you do; now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me, or with my offspring, or with my posterity; but according to the kindness that I have shown to you, you shall show to me, and to the land in which you have sojourned. And Abraham said, ‘I swear it’” (Genesis 21:22b-24, emphasis mine).

Later, Isaac and Abimelech reaffirmed the same essential covenant by exchanging oaths once again (see Genesis 26:26-33).

There are many, many other examples of oaths in the Old Testament.

A vow is a specific kind of oath in which the person making the vow solemnly swears to pay something to God in return for God’s favor or blessing in a certain matter. In the Law of Moses, there is a very strong connection between vows and votive offerings. A votive offering was a special form of the peace offerings (Leviticus 7:16). It is an offering made in fulfillment of a vow.

In 1 Samuel 1, Hannah, the mother of Samuel, vowed that if God would grant her a son, seeing that she was barren, she would devote her son to God as a Nazirite. God did give her a son, and she fulfilled her vow, bringing Samuel to the temple and giving him over to Eli, the high priest.

There are numerous other examples of vows in the Old Testament, some frivolous, some foolish, such as Jephthah’s rash vow, and some admirable.

In Matthew 5:33, Jesus said,

You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.”

This statement in itself was not a distortion of the Law. It was derived from the Law as surely as were the first two “you have heard” statements in His sermon, “You shall not commit murder” and “You shall not commit adultery.”

Deuteronomy 23:21-23:

21 “When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the L ord your God will surely require it of you.

22 “However, if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in you.

23 “You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the L ord your God, what you have promised.”

Ecclesiastes 5:4-5:

4 When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it, for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow!

5 It is better that you should not vow, than that you should vow and not pay!

God didn’t take this lightly. He still doesn’t.

I find nothing in Matthew 5:33 that fails to match up with clear statements contained in the Law. The error of the Pharisees that Jesus is addressing here was not in misstating the Law; it is in mishandling the Law. They missed the point of the Law. We will come back to that shortly.

“But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black” (Matthew 5:34-36).

What is the significance of swearing “by” someone or something?

In the Old Testament, when you swore by someone, you were invoking that person as: (1) a corroborating witness to attest to your words; and (2) a judge against you if your words were found to be untrue. You were invoking the name of one whose witness is reliable and trustworthy, to testify to the trustworthiness of your words. At the same time, you were acknowledging your accountability to that person, agreeing that you expected to be judged by Him if you were found to be speaking falsely. This is why, as Hebrews 6:16 says, “men swear by one greater than themselves” – i.e., one to whom they are accountable.

Indeed, as we have seen, the Law said that God’s people were to swear by Him alone – not by any other God and not by any created thing.

Genesis 31:43-55 records the covenant between Jacob and Laban. After serving Laban for over 14 years, Jacob departed Aram with his wives, concubines, children and flocks. Laban pursued Jacob and caught up with him at the place that would be named Mizpah (watchtower). After some serious verbal sparring, Jacob and Laban made a covenant with each other to respect one another’s people and possessions. They erected a heap of stones, and said that it would be a “witness” between them. But in verses 50 and 53, they explicitly declare that it is God who is both their witness and their judge. The heap of stones is ultimately just a physical memorial to their covenant, but God is the One whose name they invoke as witness and to whom they are accountable for honoring their words.

The Jews of Jesus’ day had put an interesting twist on all of this. They had trouble telling the truth consistently, just like you and I do, so in order to guard themselves against being found guilty of swearing falsely by the name of God, it seems that they had firmly established the habit of swearing by everything EXCEPT God. They wanted to add some kind of force to their promises to make their words more credible, but they didn’t want to incur the judgment of God by swearing something in His name when they didn’t fully intend to make it good or when it was not entirely true. They wanted to have their moldy cake and eat it, too. So they created what was in effect a lesser class of oaths – oaths that were bound to various parts of God’s creation rather than to God Himself. James Montgomery Boice refers to this practice as “evasive swearing.”184

As Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:34-36 point out, instead of swearing by God, they swore by “the heaven,” or by “the earth,” or by Jerusalem, or even by their own heads. Apparently, it got pretty silly. Oaths became like contests to see who could bind the most impressive object to his statements to give them the greatest force.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 23 show how absurd this all had become:

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’

17 “You fools and blind men; which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold?

18 “And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering up on it, he is obligated.’

19 “You blind men, which is more important, the offering or the altar that sanctifies the offering?

20 “Therefore, he who swears, swears both by the altar and by everything on it.

21 “And he who swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it.

22 “And he who swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.”

Do you see where the scribes and Pharisees had taken this, and how Jesus stands their foolish logic on its head? They were coming up with all sorts of mental acrobatics to insulate themselves from accountability to God, and Jesus told them you cannot get away from your accountability to God by invoking things, because God is sovereign over all things!

You think that in swearing by the temple you avoid accountability to God to speak words of truth? It is the shekinah glory of God that makes the temple what it is – the dwelling place of God! You think that in swearing by heaven you insulate yourself from being seen by God in your lies? Heaven is the very throne of God!

Read Psalm 139 if you think you can get away from being seen by God.

When Abraham sent his servant to choose a bride for Isaac, he got it right. He said to his servant in Genesis 24:3:

“I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live” (emphasis mine).

You don’t swear by the heavens or the earth! You swear by the God of heaven and the God of earth.

It is noteworthy that the One who is able to legitimately call created things to witness with Him is God Himself.

“When you become the father of children and children’s children and have remained long in the land, and act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord your God so as to provoke Him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you shall surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but shall be utterly destroyed” (Deuteronomy 4:25-26).

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You shall not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).

God alone can call creation to witness with Him because He alone is sovereign over that creation! Men have no place to do so, because men control NOTHING! Jesus told us that we can’t even swear by our own heads because we can’t make a single hair on our heads white or black!

In Isaiah 66:1-2, God declared:

“Heaven is My throne, and the earth is my footstool.
Where then is a house you could build for Me?
And where is a place that I may rest?
For My hand made all these things,
Thus all these things came into being,” declares the Lord.
“But to this one I will look,
To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word” (emphasis mine).

Jesus is pointing to this same reality in Matthew 5:34-36.

Look for a minute at the examples Jesus gives here of witnesses that don’t pass muster. There is one witness who is glaringly missing. Which witness is it? The only one that matters – God!

That brings me to how oaths are used in the New Testament, particularly by Paul.

In 2 Corinthians 1:15–2:11, Paul is explaining to the Corinthians that he had genuinely intended to come to them twice, first on his way from Ephesus to Macedonia, and again on the return trip (1 Corinthians 16:5ff). His plans had changed, and according to 1:23–2:2, he changed his plans very deliberately because he did not want to add to their sorrow over a matter that had required their discipline of a wayward saint.

This is a fascinating passage in light of Matthew 5:33-37, because in it, Paul acknowledges that our “yes” must be “yes” and our “no” must be “no,” and yet, he employs an oath to affirm the genuineness of his motivation for changing his plans. From 2 Corinthians 1:

17 Therefore, I was not vacillating when I intended to do this, was I? Or that which I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yes, yes and no, no at the same time?

18 But as God is faithful, our word to you is not yes and no.

23 But I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth (emphasis mine).

Verse 23 very much follows the pattern of the Old Testament oaths.

Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying (Galatians 1:20, emphasis mine).

For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:8, emphasis mine).

Paul repeatedly invokes God as his witness to emphasize the solemnity and the truthfulness of the things he is declaring, and he does so under the superintending of the Holy Spirit.

Was Paul violating the teaching of Jesus?

I don’t believe Jesus’ point in Matthew 5 is that oaths are evil or that an oath can never be legitimate. I believe His point is that the swearing of oaths as practiced by the scribes and Pharisees was evil, in its entirety – because they deliberately swore their oaths by everything EXCEPT God in a foolish effort to sidestep their accountability TO God!

Our Lord emphatically points out in Matthew 5 that God alone is sovereign over all things – heaven, earth, Jerusalem, even the hairs on your head. And you – you are sovereign over nothing, not even your own hair. No matter what you choose to swear by, it is God to whom you and I and every other created thing are accountable, and you’re accountable to Him whether you swear an oath or don’t swear an oath. You’re accountable to Him every time you open your mouth.

It would be better to swear no oath at all than to think you can contrive a way to avoid accountability before God to be a truthful person.

Look back at Jesus’ approach earlier in this Sermon – Is there something inherently bad about the human eye or the human hand? No. Can they be used to the glory of God? Yes. Was Jesus’ point in the passage on adultery to create a new practice among His followers of plucking out their right eyes and cutting off their right hands, considering that they were ALL guilty in their hearts of the sin He was addressing? Would that have cured what is wrong with the hearts of men? No! But if removing an eye would eradicate the adultery from our hearts, then it would be worth all the pain!

Hebrews 12:4 says, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin!

Holiness at all costs! The outworking of the character of God in us trumps all other considerations.

Is it the presence of formal oaths that makes us untruthful? No! No more than it is the presence of my right eye that makes me adulterous.

There is a strong parallel here with the sacrifices. God instituted the sacrificial system and the tabernacle worship. Exodus makes it exceedingly clear that these things explicitly came from the mind of God and not from the minds of men. The earthly way of access that He designed was a picture of the heavenly reality of entering into the very Presence of God – it was a gracious gift to His people that set them apart from every other nation on the face of the earth. But when Israel corrupted the sacrifices, and treated them as a means to manipulate God, as a way to assert their merit before God – to buy His favor while they ignored the heart of His Law (justice, mercy, righteousness) – then, those very same sacrifices became an abomination to God!

The heart of the matter in our passage has nothing to do with the formality of an oath or vow. The heart of the matter is the heart. In concluding His statement about oaths in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

Let your statement be, “Yes, yes” or “No, no”; and anything beyond these is of evil {or, of the evil one} (Matthew 5:37).

If we reserve truthfulness only for declarations that take the form of oaths or vows, and we neglect truthfulness the rest of the time, that is Phariseeism, and it is evil – and it makes oaths an instrument of evil.

Oaths must not become devices for lowering the standard of truthfulness that applies to us at all times as children of God.

Throughout Matthew 23, Jesus starts each of His accusations with, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites… .” A hypocrite is someone who makes the appearance of being what he is not.

How did they demonstrate hypocrisy in their use of oaths? They used oaths to add credibility to their statements, but their statements came from untruthful hearts. Notice I didn’t say, “Their statements were untrue” (even though that was often the case). I said, “Their statements came from untruthful hearts.” You may think that’s a subtle distinction, but it goes directly to the “heart” of what Jesus is saying.

The Pharisees had systematically reduced righteousness to a set of external behaviors. And those behaviors were nothing but filthy rags in the sight of God. Their oaths were no more reliable than the statement of a child who has his fingers crossed behind his back, because in their hearts, they were more interested in being believed than they were in being truthful. More to the point, they were more interested in being believed than they were in being GODLY! This is about character!

Everything that Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount comes back to the reality that God sees straight into our hearts. He sees the malice and murder in our hearts when we cling to anger toward a brother or sister. He sees the adultery in our hearts when we gaze longingly at another woman. He is the only lie detector with 100% accuracy! The righteousness that comes from God cares infinitely more about what God sees than about what man sees!

Our “Yes” must be yes and our “No” must be no. No oath can make that so. Being believed is nothing. Being a truthful person in the eyes of our heavenly Father is everything.

God says to His people in every age, “You be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Jesus makes the same appeal in the Sermon on the Mount, saying, “You are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Will we perfectly achieve His holiness this side of heaven – surely NOT. John tells us that it won’t be until we see Him as He truly is that we will be like Him (1 John 3:2). But God’s holy character, revealed in the person of Jesus Christ is to be our rule of life – right here, right now!

We are children of God. Rules are not our rule of life. HE IS OUR RULE OF LIFE!! Oh, what blessedness there would be in this life if we would fully lay hold of that!

When I was 16 years old and still an unbeliever, my Christian friends who would soon become my brothers and sisters for eternity, kept saying to me, “Christianity isn’t a religion; it’s a relationship!” I think I am just beginning to grasp the profound significance of that statement. Relationship with God has always been the foundation of true righteousness.

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet on your fathers did the Lord set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more. For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe” (Deuteronomy 10:12-17).

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45a).

“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Relationship has always been the foundation of righteousness. The Father/son relationship in Scripture is not some cute analogy – it is the very substance of what it means to be the redeemed of the Lord!

It would be easy for us to wag our finger at the Pharisees of old, seeing how ridiculous their reasoning was, then pat ourselves on the back for not being as foolish as they. But that would be a crime, because we are as foolish as they are.

Psalm 15:1 poses the question, “O LORD, who may abide in Thy tent? Who may dwell on Thy holy hill?

Verse 2 answers, “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. Verse 4 continues the answer, saying, “He swears to his own hurt, and does not change.” “He speaks truth in his heart.” “He swears to his own hurt, and does not change” (emphasis mine).

I don’t know about you, but my heart needs some exercise in light of that standard, and I encourage you to consider whether your heart does, too.

I could spend the rest of this message proposing examples of how we fall short of God’s standard of truthfulness, and I wouldn’t even be scratching the surface, but I do believe it is constructive for us to think about it. I’m going to mention just a couple of areas. I’ll use the word “you,” but please understand that I’m talking to myself as well.

I believe that one of the relationships in which we do the worst with this is the one that probably has the greatest impact of all – and that’s in our relationship with our children. It has a great impact because our children learn a lot about what God is like from watching us – and they DO watch us! When you say “Yes” to your child, can he count on what you’ve said, or does your child sense that you’re not accountable to him because you to treat your word to him casually? When you say “No” to your son or daughter, how many times do you have to say it before you show that you really mean it? Do you allow your “No” to be pecked to death by baby chicks until it gets turned into a “Yes?”

One of the most beautiful things in all of human experience is a child who accepts “No” from his mother or father the FIRST TIME, then scurries off to do whatever he was doing before because he knows the matter has been settled. THAT is a child who has a good head start on understanding the character of God!

If it is a fact that roughly 90% of professing Christian teenagers have trouble accepting the idea of absolute truth, isn’t it possible that a good part of that is because their parents don’t often seem to mean what they say?

I have to comment briefly on marriage. The marriage covenant is an exceedingly sacred matter. It’s one of the few formal covenants that we practice in our culture. God singles it out over and over in His Word as a covenant unlike any other. He is the One who declares it to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22-33). He is the One who declares it to be a sacred bonding of two into one flesh in His eyes (Genesis 2:18-25). He is the One who said, “What God has joined together, let no man tear asunder” (Matthew 19:6). If godliness compels us to honor our statements even when they seem trivial, what does godliness compel us to do when we have solemnly vowed before God and God’s people to remain faithful to our spouses until death?! Does His character compel us to do what we have sworn even if it is to our own hurt? YES!

Is that a tough standard? YES, but it is what God calls us to. And it’s not so tough if we lay hold of the promise that He has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), that the same power that raised Christ from the dead dwells within us in the Person of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:18-23), and that He is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all we ask or think according to that power that is at work within us (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Lastly, a word of caution: Is this passage telling us to be diligent to hold our brother’s feet to the fire if he changes anything he has said? Is it telling us to raise doubts about his character if he asks for our forbearance because he has a conflict with something he intended to do? If you take this passage as ammunition to hold against your brother or sister, you’ve sunk right back down to the level of the Pharisees, who habitually failed to notice the log in their own eye because they were so focused on the speck in someone else’s. The same goes for all the issues of Christian life that Jesus raised previously in His great sermon. As Bob Deffinbaugh pointed out in Lesson 22 of this series, Jesus’ accusations in this sermon leave every one of us guilty of all.

The standard of righteousness in this passage is God’s own righteousness (see Matthew 5:48). If you are reading this and you do not stand before God knowing that you are justified as a free gift by His grace through faith in His Son, then this passage can only serve to condemn you, because there is no way you can meet God’s standard of truthfulness by your own devices. And if that is you, I pray that you will simply humble yourself before our Holy God, agree with Him that you are lost in your sin, and take Him at His Word – believe in His Son as the One and only sacrifice who died on the cross to pay the eternal penalty of your sin, believe that He rose from the dead and sits even now at the right hand of the Father. Believe that in Him alone you have forgiveness and eternal life.

For us who are His children, our Father’s words show us how to live. May we desire to turn the light of His truth upon our own hearts first and foremost.

As you contemplate our Lord’s teaching regarding oaths and vows, I ask that you won’t focus exclusively on hashing out examples of how we fall short of God’s standard of truthfulness. I ask that you devote some time and thought to consideration of how we become truthful people – truthful from the heart. I’m not saying our behavior doesn’t count. As children, we all start by learning how we are required to behave, then we hopefully learn to internalize the principles we have been taught. So the behavior can feed the heart, and the heart certainly feeds the behavior. But let’s focus on the goal of godly lives from godly hearts. We will not speak truth in our hearts if we are not in love with the One who is Truth.

Brothers and sisters, let us be truthful people because we hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Let us be truthful people because God re-created us to be pure in heart.

Let us be truthful people because we desire to be salt and light in a world that desperately needs our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Let us be truthful people because we long to live out the lovely character of the One who gave us life at the cost of His own life’s blood.

Let us be truthful people because we are our Father’s children.

That’s reason enough.

181 Copyright 2003 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 23 in the Studies in the Gospel of Matthew series prepared by Tom Wright on July 27, 2003.

182 Online article at – “Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings,” published February 12, 2002.

183 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible. Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975 by Lockman Foundation.

184 James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2002), p. 131.

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