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2006-07-02_Yes Yes_Matthew 5.33-37

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Yes Yes

Matthew 5:33-37   |   Shaun LePage   |   July 2, 2006

I. Introduction

A.   Credibility gap is a political slogan, originally used in the New York Herald Tribune in March 1965, to describe then-president Lyndon Johnson’s handling of the Vietnam War. The term was later applied to the discrepancy between evidence of Richard Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate break-in and his repeated claims of innocence. (Wikipedia.com)

B.    J. Dwight Pentecost writes that our times are characterized by a credibility gap. “Every man’s word is suspect,” he writes, “and we have adopted the attitude that although we hear what is said, we know what is said is not what is meant. This has become so widespread that government has had to move into the advertising realm and establish certain guidelines about truth in advertising. Facts we had accepted as truth are now found to be false. So we have come to mistrust almost everything that is said.” (Design for Living, p.107)

C.   In Matthew 5, Jesus makes it clear that His disciples should not have a credibility gap. We should be completely credible. Believable. We should be people of integrity. Listen to verses 33-37.

II.   Body

A.   Matthew 5:33-37 (NASB95): 33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 “But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 “Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.”

B.    “Again, you have heard…”

1.     Verse 33: “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’

2.     This verse is not a direct quote from the Old Testament, but a summary of several passages. Let me read two key verses:

a)    Leviticus 19:12: “‘You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.’”

b)    Numbers 30:2: “If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”

3.     Oaths or vows are found all over the Old Testament. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and many others made oaths by calling on God to be their witness. It’s important to note that God did not outlaw vows or oaths in the Old Testament. What was illegal was breaking an oath. “Swearing falsely” was making an oath with no intention of keeping it.

C.   “But I say…

1.     “Make no oath at all…”

a)    This is a very strong statement. Many—such as the Quakers—have taken it to mean that Christians should never take oaths or vows of any kind—even legal oaths such as in a court of law when a witness must say, “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” But what exactly does this mean? What about the “oath of office” a person takes before they become a mayor or representative or senator or the President of the United States? What about wedding vows? What about church covenants, which are very common in our day? What about a contract to buy a house? A notary public puts a stamp on a document to legally swear that it was signed in his presence. When I use my debit card or a credit card, I must sign it—which is a way of saying “I swear that I will meet the obligations of this transaction.” Are we who have taken wedding vows or signed a contract or used a credit card in violation of Jesus’ command?

b)    When we study a passage of Scripture, we must look at it in context. Remember that Jesus had told His disciples that their “righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees.” He is giving us examples of how the scribes and Pharisees misinterpreted Scripture in order to achieve a shallow level of righteousness. This is what Jesus is addressing, so we must understand it first in order to understand how our righteousness is to surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees. So, it’s important to understand—in context—what the scribes and Pharisees were doing. How were they misunderstanding and misusing the OT commands concerning vows and oaths?

c)    Turn to Matthew 23:16-22.

(i)   The Life Application Bible Commentary tells us that this passage—along with ancient Jewish documents—reveals that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had developed an elaborate system to explain “how binding an oath was depending on how the oath had been made. Such a system was a contradiction in terms (an oath by definition is binding), and it made light of God’s Law. The leaders said that if they swore by heaven or by the earth or by Jerusalem, they could get out of their oath without penalty because they did not make the vow in God’s name.” (LABC, Matthew, p.100).

(ii)  John MacArthur describes it this way: “The system of oaths between one person and another was like a giant game of King’s X. People would swear by heaven, by the earth, by the Temple, by the hairs of their heads, and by any other thing they thought would impress those they wanted to take advantage of. That kind of routine oath-making was usually lie-making; and it was considered by those who practiced it to be perfectly acceptable as long as it was not in the name of the Lord. The command ‘You shall not swear falsely by My name’ (Lev. 19:12) was conveniently interpreted to mean that swearing falsely by any other name was allowed.” (TMNTC, Vol. 1, Matthew 1-7, p.323)

(iii)    So Jesus was specifically addressing this system of oath-taking by the scribes and Pharisees. That was the historical context in which Jesus gave this command.

d)    We must also look at this command in light of the greater context of the NT and the Bible.

(i)   Jesus spoke under oath. Matthew 26:63-64.

(ii) God Himself used oaths. Acts 2:30 refers to Psalm 132 and 2 Samuel 7 and reminds us that God swore to David with an oath to seat one of his descendants on the throne—a Messianic prophecy in the form of an oath. This reminds us of the many covenants God made (e.g., Adam, Abraham, Noah, etc.) and each time God made a covenant, He was taking an oath—making a promise—to do something or not do something.

(iii)    The Apostle Paul used oaths. Look at Romans 9:1-2. This is a perfect example of a first-century oath. He called on Christ and the Holy Spirit (God) as His witnesses. There are at least three other examples where Paul vows or promises in this way.

e)    So, the immediate and larger contexts reveal that Jesus was not forbidding all oaths in every circumstance. Jesus was using hyperbolic or exaggerated language to address dishonesty—a kind of dishonesty that used the Law of God as a smokescreen. This becomes more evident as we look at the rest of what Jesus had to say in the final verse of this passage: 5:37.

D.   “Let your statement be…”

1.     Matthew 5:37:  “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.”

2.     “Statement

a)    “Statement” is the Greek word “word” (logoV: “word; declaration; weighty saying”). This is where the idea of “my word” comes from. I give you my word that I will do this or that.

b)    Isn’t a “statement”—giving you “my word”—much like an oath? Couldn’t we substitute “statement” in all those examples I gave earlier? I gave my “statement” (my word) on my wedding day that I would love, honor and cherish Beth until death. I give my “statement” (my word) when I sign a contract to buy a house. I give my “statement” (my word) when I sign a credit card receipt that I will pay that bill.

c)    So much of the discussion around these verses is caught up in what Jesus meant by “take no oath at all.” When in reality a “statement” is not much different than an oath. And the real issue Jesus was getting at was integrity—honesty. When the scribes and Pharisees swore by heaven or earth or Jerusalem or one’s own head, fully intending either to not fulfill that vow or knowing that if they couldn’t fulfill their vows they could get out of them, they were intentionally deceitful. Instead, Jesus tells us to be straightforward and honest.

3.     “‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’

a)    This is simple, straightforward language for mean what you say. Follow through with your promises. If you say “Yes” you follow through and do it. If you say “no” you control yourself and don’t do it.

b)    The Jewish leaders were fundamentally dishonest and Jesus—The Truth in the flesh—was letting His followers know that the surpassing righteousness God requires includes complete honesty and integrity.

4.      “Anything beyond these is of evil.” Jesus said.

a)    In John 8, Jesus came down hard on the Jewish leaders. He said, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 “But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.”

b)    Lying, dishonesty is evil. It comes from the father of lies. Do you remember when Ananias and Sapphira—in Acts 5—claimed they were giving all the proceeds of the sale of some property to the church, but in reality they were holding some of it back? Listen to what Peter said to them: “But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?” It was just a little deceiving. They were giving some of it at least? No big deal, right? God killed them for that lie. Why? Because lying and dishonesty is evil.

III. Closing. Let me give you two giant principles to take away from this:

A.  God is truth so we should love truth.

1.     This passage communicates a passion from the heart of Jesus for truth. Why is Jesus so passionate about truth? Because God is truth.

a)    The Bible tells us repeatedly that one of God’s attributes—one of the basic descriptions of who God is—is truth. Everything He says is true and Titus 1:2 tells us God “cannot lie”. When Jesus—God Himself—came to this planet in the flesh, the Bible tells us He was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He Himself claimed in John 14:6 that He was “…the way, the truth and the life.” Why is lying and dishonesty evil? Because God is truth. Why is truth good? Because God is truth. He loves truth. He calls truth good and falsehood evil.

b)    The obvious response—on our part—must be to love the truth. If God is truth and loves the truth, we must love the truth as well. We must love the truth contained in the Scriptures as well as truthfulness. A kingdom-minded disciple of Jesus Christ will love truth and truthfulness and integrity and honesty because God loves truth and truthfulness and integrity and honesty.

B.  Put off falsehood and put on truth.

1.     Jesus overall message here is “don’t lie—speak the truth.”

2.     Ephesians 4:25: “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.”

a)    When is a liar no longer a liar? When he stops lying? No—that’s only half the battle. A liar is no longer a liar when he “speaks truth.” Notice that Paul gives us this command in the context of the church. Why are we to “speak truth”? Because “we are members of one another.”

b)    A healthy church requires that her members speak truth to each other. And that is only hard when tough things need to be said. If you’ve been encouraging to me, that’s not hard. We love to tell people when they’ve been encouraging or a good example or they’ve done a good job. That’s speaking the truth and each of us needs to hear that truth—don’t forget to tell people those things.

c)    But this gets hard when we need to tell someone something they may not want to hear—when we need to admonish or correct or confess our sins and seek forgiveness. But over and over the NT tells us to do these things.

(i)   Paul wrote in the first chapter of Colossians that a very significant part of his ministry was admonishment—which means to warn someone because of sinful behavior. Listen to Colossians 1:28: “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” Why do we need to speak the truth to one another in this way? “…so that we may present every man complete (mature) in Christ.” Maturity requires it. You and I will never be mature unless our brothers and sisters in Christ speak into our lives and help us along the way.  

(ii) Later—in Colossians 3:16—Paul tells the entire church to do the same thing—this isn’t just the work of the preacher in the pulpit: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another…”

(iii)    How exactly do we do this? Notice the helpful verse back in Ephesians 4 that comes right after Paul told us to “lay aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” Just a few verses later, he wrote, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (4:29) There’s a negative and a positive:

(a)  The negative: “Unwholesome” literally means “rotten.” Don’t get nasty or speak out of anger or to try and get even over something unrelated. Check your motives before you admonish someone.

(b) The positive: Speak the truth to each other for “edification”—this literally means “building up” the other person. In other words, speak in such a way that you help them grow—not in such a way that you tear them down and discourage them. If we do this right, we’ll “give grace” to someone and they’ll know (whether immediately or eventually) that God was using you to speak to them—to help them and build them up.

(iv)    Confession of sin is another way we are to speak the truth. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed…” The healing of relationships, of past hurts cannot take place apart from confession of sin.

(v) And I know this is a radical Christianity. This is what Jesus—our Lord and Master—has called us to. A radical, deep, drastic Christianity that nails our selfish desires to the cross—that executes our old self and makes way for the new person we are in Christ. So, pray and ask God to show you what is needed in a given situation and if admonishment is what is needed, “give grace” to your brothers and sisters in Christ by speaking the truth. If confession is needed, get it done that you may be healed.

3.     You want to be salt—preserve the society around you with a higher moral standard? Put on truth. Speak the truth. You want to be light in a dark, dishonest world? Speak the truth. This world is so full of lies and liars and dishonesty that a person who speaks the truth will stand out like a diamond on black velvet.

a)    If you say, “Yes, I will pay off that debt with so much per month by the first of the month” you get your check in the mail in the correct amount by the first of the month.

b)    If you say to your parents, “No, I won’t be out past midnight” you walk in at 11:57.

c)    If you say to your wife, “I take you to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse in want and plenty in sickness and in health to love and to cherish ‘til death do us part” …you hold and love and cherish no matter what happens.

d)    If you say to your husband, “I take you to be my wedded husband to have and to hold from this day forward for better for worse in want and plenty in sickness and in health to love and to cherish till death do us part” …you hold and love and cherish no matter what! And isn’t it interesting that this passage follows right after Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage? Is there any greater example in our day of vows not being fulfilled? If this one type of vow were honored completely among God’s people, it would transform our culture in a single generation.

e)    If you say to your employer, “I’ll work this many hours every week,” you get there and punch in on time. Then you do your work! “Time magazine reported that American workers steal $40 billion per year by doing such things as lying about their hours, making personal long-distance calls, and taking office supplies home. That sum is ten times the cost of street crime. In addition, companies lose up to $350 billion annually from employees taking dishonest sick days. Doug Sherman and William Hendricks wrote Keeping Your Ethical Edge Sharp. In this book they note, “A growing body of research suggests that religious beliefs and convictions make little difference in the behavior of people on the job.” For example, a little boy got caught stealing pencils from school and when his father found out he was enraged. He said, “Why’d you go and do something like that? If you need pencils just tell me . . . I can bring some home from work.” (Moody, July/Aug. 1996, p. 39) Want to be “salt and light”? Work hard. Be honest and reliable.

4.     God is truth so we should love the truth. Put off falsehood and put on truth in every detail of our lives.

5.     Dr. Madison Sarratt taught mathematics at Vanderbilt University for many years. Before giving a test, the professor would admonish his class with something like this: “Today I am giving two examinations—one in trigonometry and the other in honesty. I hope you will pass them both. If you must fail one, fail trigonometry. There are many good people in the world who can’t pass trig, but there are no good people in the world who cannot pass the examination of honesty.” (George Sweeting; Source unknown).

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