Matthew 5: 33-37, Integrity verses Oaths
General Idea: Do you keep your word as a leader? Oaths in the ancient world were extremely important. They were so important, they were almost acknowledged as currency. The Jews during Jesus time swore to all kinds of things, from serious matters to the trivial. They were a statement to the person's truthfulness and ability to meet a commitment anywhere, from the paying of debts to the promise of marriage. Most of the Jews would make elaborate oaths to testify to the truth of their words and their commitment by claiming the importance of the Temple, or their house and goods--anything except God and His standards. In so doing they elevated the importance of material things over spiritual things; they measured their word and integrity by others, not to the standards of God.
They had a good reason, so they thought, because, if they broke their word, God's name was not in vain. But, this became epidemic as the oaths became more and more elaborate, the integrity became worse and worse, and those oaths quickly became broken and worthless. So, the Pharisees and various Rabbis would judge what oaths were binding and what ones were not. As long as God's name was not in it, the oath could be broken, and people were free of responsibility to their word and commitment.
Jesus calls us to be true to our word as a testimony to our Faith in Him. We are not to be worldly with our words or integrity or drag His good name and defile it with feeble, easily retracted words.
1. You have heard it said: Jesus is summarizing the OT Law concerning oaths, and is bringing the people back to God's standards. He challenges their trivial disregard to it (Ex. 20:7; Lev. 19:12; Num. 30:2; Duet. 5:11; 6:3; 22:21-33).
a. The Law forbids irreverent oaths, especially the misuse of God's name! If the Lord's name was used in a transaction, the depth had to be paid also to the Lord.
b. Jesus cuts through the complex additions the Pharisees have made to the law, right to the heart of the matter, and simply states, we are to tell the truth- period!
i. There is nothing complex about that! If you seek to make it complex, you have no regard for truth, or to the God of truth!
ii. Jesus charges the Jewish leaders of mishandling truth, and God's Word that they claimed to defend; a very, very serious charge!
2. You shall not swear falsely: Oaths were originally designed to hold people to their word; however, the oaths over time became clever devices to cover truth and integrity with hidden agendas and deceit.
a. Jesus seems to abolish oaths, so that the focus is on truth, not manipulation or trying to find loopholes to get out of responsibility. Sounds like modern law, huh!?
i. Consistent integrity is essential for the person who claims Christ as Lord of their life!
ii. If you do not swear at all, obviously you will not abuse the law and pronounce false oaths.
iii. As a Christian, you have the Spirit of God living in you. Thus, when you make a statement, either false, or true, He is implicitly represented in it. So, you are using His name, as you are His representative. Thus, it is imperative that we behave with consistent truthfulness!
b. God's throne: Everything in the universe belongs to God. Since He is God, Creator, and Sustainer, He has that right and authority. Even the number of hairs on your head are under His sovereignty; thus, we are to look to Him in truth in our dealings with one another, and not pay attention to material gains, or dishonest gain, which gives us nothing-- since nothing is ours! Thus, taking an oath to His creation is moving truth into idolatry. We would be taking truth away from the focus on God, rearranging it to things!
3. Let your word be yes. In the Greek, it is double stated for emphases as "YES, YES, NO, NO." Jesus is addressing the legalism of misusing oaths. The Pharisees said only "certain" worded oaths were OK. The rest were not binding. Others saw oaths as an escape mechanism from honesty. The only reason you needed to be truthful is if you swore under an oath. If you did not take an oath, then it was OK to be dishonest! This tradition is still in place in the legal system, as in many US courts, you have to swear, by raising your right hand, and placing your hand on a Bible (most courts no longer use the Bible now), to tell the truth before you give testimony. And, if you ever seen a trial, you can easily see that this oath is not taken seriously!
a. Oaths were solemn declarations that invoked God as a witness to our promises and dealings (Gen. 24: 1-9; Ezra 10:5; Neh. 5:12; Heb. 6:13-17).
b. Jesus is not banning all oaths; rather it is for us to make very sure that whatever we do is, foremost, honest, especially since God is our witness.
i. God Himself swears oaths (Gen. 9:9-11; Luke 1:68; 73; Heb. 6:17).
ii. Jesus submits to an oath (Matt. 26:63).
iii. Paul and the early Christians took oaths (Rom. 1:9; Gal. 1:20; 2 Cor. 1:23).
iv. An angel of God swore an oath (Rev. 10:5-7).
c. Many Christians teach that taking an oath is wrong and forbidden in Scripture. But, this is taking an extreme position, and not what is actually taught in Scripture.
d. In Duet. 6:13, God calls the Jews to be true to their word by calling His name with their oaths. That way, their word had to be truthful and binding; no games, no possible reason for deceit. So, when they started to take oaths on the temple and such, they were breaking His law, and forsaking His name for reasons to deceive both God and man! Thus, a false oath is sternly forbidden!
i. Misusing His name was a violation of the Third Commandment.
ii. Gideon's example of taking an oath (Judges 8:19).
iii. The Jews' positive example (Neh. 5:12).
iv. When the Jews swore to other gods, they were committing spiritual adultery (Jer. 5:7; Zeph. 1:5).
4. Truth is divinely commanded (Ex. 20:16; Lev. 19:11; Psalm 5:9; 12:1-4; 15:1-3; 52:2-5; Jer. 9:3-6; Eph. 4:25; Col. 3:9; Rev. 22:15)! We have no excuse to skirt around truth, play games, or manipulate justice with creative legal games! Nor, can we manipulate our agenda over and against God's truth and Word!
a. When we do engage in deceit and lies, we are following in the footsteps of Satan, not Christ (John 8:44)!
b. Vows are equivalent to oaths, and must be taken seriously (Duet. 21:23; Ecc. 5:4-6; Psalm 15).
c. God requires us to take our word and deeds seriously, as this is a reflection of our relationship to Him. In a vow, we must never claim to do anything that is contrary to what is in Scripture, in Christ's character, or cause someone else to violate God's Word!
May these words of our Lord remind us that our speech reflects upon the God we serve! Everything we do as a child of God must be in integrity, truthfulness, and honesty, as we are not only representing Him, He is living in us!
1. Are you a man or woman of your word? So, when you say "yes," or "no," people take it as fact? If you answered "yes," what causes them to see integrity in you? If you answered "no," what are the reasons?
2. When you say you will do something, is it fact, as good as done? If not, why? What causes you or someone else to say one thing, yet do another?
3. Why do you suppose oaths in the ancient world were so important? Do you think they are important today?
4. What do you think about the practice of truth in Jesus time, and how does it compare with our legal system today? (The Pharisees and various Rabbis would judge what oaths were binding and what were not. As long as God's name was not in it, the oaths could be broken. People did not have to be responsible to their word and commitment.)
5. Jesus calls us to be true to our word as a testimony to our faith in Him. What has been your response to this call at school, work, home, with friends, with family, and so on?
6. Why did Jesus have to bring the people back to God's standards, challenging their trivial disregard to God's standards and oaths?
7. Would He have to challenge you or your church with exercising truth? If so, what would that challenge be?
8. There is nothing complex about truth. If you seek to make it complex, you have no regard to truth or to the God of truth! So, why do we seek to make it complex, seeking loopholes to escape responsibility and righteousness?
9. Jesus charged the Jewish leaders of mishandling truth and God's Word that they claimed to defend. Do you think that some Christian groups do this today? If so, what would be their motivations and rationale to do so?
10. Why would consistent integrity be essential for the person who claims Christ as Lord of his/her life?
11. Why would a Christian refuse to be consistent with his/her integrity?
12. Why are finding loopholes so appealing to people in the law profession, (or any profession) to release their clients from responsibility? What is their justification? When would it be right to do so?
13. What do you think of this statement: "As a Christian you have the Spirit of God living in you. Thus, when you make a statement, either false or true, He is implicitly represented in it."
14. How could this knowledge help keep you centered upon integrity?
15. How would you define integrity? How do you practice integrity? What would or could block you from being one of, or acting with, integrity?
16. Everything in the universe belongs to God. Since He is God, Creator, and Sustainer, He has that right and authority. So, why would material things motivate you, or others, to deceive and manipulate situations to your favor over and against God's standards?
17. Do you think that Jesus is teaching the banning of oaths? Why, or why not?
18. Have you ever considered that God is a witness to your promises and dealings? If so, how could this fact make you more honest and forthright?
19. What can you do to commit yourself to the fact that truth is divinely commanded to us, (Ex. 20:16; Lev. 19:11; Psalm 5:9; 12:1-4; 15: 1-3; 52:2-5; Jer. 9:3-6; Eph. 4:25; Col. 3:9; Rev. 22:15) so you will be blameless, not participating in excuses, blame games, skirting around truth, or manipulating justice?
20. What can your church leadership do to make sure that their words and deeds are a reflection of their relationship to Christ? If they did this, how would it change your church? Why is it sad that we have to even ask such a question?
© 2002, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org