Thursday, October 07, 2010

I Swear You're Going to Like This: Jesus on Oaths

This week marks the first time in preaching through the Gospel of Matthew that I will "skip" some verses. Because I have a desire to be faithful to all of God's revealed counsel (Acts 20:27), I have decided to blog on those passages/sections that I do not preach on Sunday morning.

The passage I will not preach comes from Matthew 5:33-37

ESV Matthew 5:33 "Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.' 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 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 take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil.

We must remember that the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus charter message on what it means to live in the Kingdom of God (aka the Kingdom of the heavens). That is, Jesus wants us to live a life that is only possible if we have entered into a relationship with the King (Jesus Christ) and live moment by moment in a relationship with Him. Jesus' disicples can and must live a life that reflects the character of God above.

What Jesus is addressing specifically in the first century is that religious folks had decided that the only promises or oaths that mattered were those made in the name of the Lord (or something else seemingly holy: God's creation, the Temple, etc., see Matthew 23:16-22). Jesus however believes, as Donald Hagner's Word Commentary aptly explains, "The absolute reliability of ones' word renders an oath superfluous." In other words, you don't have to make some impressive display of truthfulness if you are a consistently truthful person. You don't have to swear on your mother's grave to repay someone, if you are the kind of person who's word is consistently honored. A person in the Kingdom of God should simply make yes statements and no statements and their character should be all that is necessary for confirmation.

Now, it is important to note that Jesus is not creating a new kind of law, that allows legalistic people to look more holier than thou by saying, "I will not swear anything," as if it's wrong to use the words "I swear" or "I promise" or "I vow." Vows are not wrong; it is only wrong when these vows are actually laden with deceit and trickery because we are not generally honest in all areas of life.

Now, we must all be honest (note the irony) and admit we have all been dishonest. We have used deceit and guile to get our own way. We have taken advantage of others. But there was someone, One person, who never lied. He was Truth incarnate. His name was Jesus Christ. He promised that he had come to save sinners (and He did). He promised that he would help the sick (and He did). He promised to die on a cross for your sins and mine and to rise again 3 days later, victorious over sin and death (and He did). Not to mention, He died for people guilty of the sins of dishonesty and deceit. Today, if you are guilty of dishonesty, turn to the one who can forgive you of that sin because He poured out His blood for you. Come to Jesus, ask for His grace. Then, look into His eyes, read the Bible and see the beauty of this truthful Person, and realize that by believing in Him you too can become a person of your word. Come to Christ for eternal salvation; come to Christ for freedom from deceit and dishonesty. Glory to God, He never turns away those who come with humble and contrite hearts.

Steps toward becoming a more honest person:

1. Read through one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Note every time Jesus promises something or speaks the truth.
2. Begin a personal journal and write candidly about yourself (where you've messed, where you've succeeded, where your are weak/strong). If you can't be honest to yourself and your journal, it will be difficult to be transparent before others.
3. If you have been lying to someone for a long time or there is a lie you made in the past that you never confessed, be honest today. The longer you keep a lie unexposed the uglier the sin becomes and the less likely you'll be honest in the future.

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