The Greatest Sermon Ever 6.
On Your Word
Matthew 5:33-37 New International Version (NIV)
33 "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.' 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; 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 swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
I find tonight one of those interesting topics that Jesus deals with, as it is one that we all break, and yet all universally hate when it happens to us. We are addressing keeping your word, telling the truth.
Something that is drilled into us as children, something that politicians never seem to learn and something we all do that always causes issues for us.
So let us understand what Jesus is addressing in this passage tonight;
1. A History of Lying
What is the historical context of what Jesus is talking about here? Well Jesus is addressing a problem that came up in the Jewish culture; whose law (the Torah) forbid lying, however, as people do, they still kept on doing it.
You see in Leviticus 19:12 it says;
12 "'Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.
This is basically not swearing as we understand it; as in using foul language, this was taking an oath, promising something to be true, and using God's name to justify it.
An example would be, that you have a neighbour, and he doesn't like you, so he accuses you of stealing his crops and eaten it, so he takes you to the council (kind of like the 1century court room), and because it is literally his word against yours, he would swear by God, or God's name. Now you haven't taken the crops but there is no evidence that you have not.
Now, what is happening here? Well, this neighbour, is using the holy name of God, the representation of truth, to justify his lie. To make it seem more real. Almost, I promise you this is true, so help me God!
In all this we drag God's holy name into our evil! God would not tolerate this! So God commanded through the Law that you could not do this or you would suffer great judgement! In fact you would suffer blasphemy charges if you ever tried this.
So people got around this, by not swearing on God's name, but on this that bore his authority; such as heaven, or earth, by Jerusalem or even by my head.
In this they subverted the judgment of swearing by the name of God, however, were still committing the same sin. Which is they were subverting the truth and declaring that it was the truth and making an oath, a promise that it was.
So what is Jesus talking about here? Well he is talking about lying! Bending the truth, and we have to see what is the issue at stake with lying.
And this lead me to my next point;
2. The problem with lying
You see it is when we misrepresent the truth or bend it, and then swear that it is the truth we fundamentally break trust. This breaks down relationships, families, societies and generally leads to chaos.
It is something that I am fascinated to see in people and even in my own life, we hate it when people lie to us, we find it repulsive, and yet, we are so liberal with the truth ourselves.
So, let's ask why do we lie? I mean, if we understand that we hate it happening to us, why do we do it to others?
Well, I can only think of true reasons to lie, one is to paint a better picture of yourself (which is pride) or to protect yourself from something (embarrassment, or punishment, or offending others etc) which is fear.
In both of these scenarios, we are moving ourselves away from the reality of that situation and that is always a very bad thing!
I'll give you an example; you and your significant other, whoever than may be, are talking about what you plan to do tomorrow; and in the conversation; you pick up that they are annoyed at something; now because you are a highly perceptive person, you pick up on the non-verbal cues and while you are having this conversation you are running through every possible scenario that could possibly be wrong, while you are playing through your heads, the million and one things that you could have said and done to annoy the other, they say, "you have forgotten haven't you?"
Now, in that moment you are presented with a choice, admit that you have forgotten, in fact you have no idea what they are talking about, this will confront you with the reality of the situation and you will have to deal with your forgetfulness and move on… but you don't admit (we never do). You lie.
And instantly, without anything else done or added to that situation you are hurled into reality that you have fabricated, that alienates the real you from that person, that distorts reality, and ultimately breaks us in the process.
Lying always destroys us; if you think about it; if we are lying to seem better (so that people like us), we have instantly made a barrier between us and others so that people can never see the real us, without the lie being exposed and therefore us being exposed. So we live eternally with the reality that the other person only likes the person I have created; they don't like the real you.
How does that make you feel? Not great! We deep down are desperate to be loved for who we are, and yet, because we are liars are permanently making that impossible.
If we are lying to protect ourselves from the consequences of our decision, well that destroys us as well, because as Mark Twain writes, "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything." When we lie to avoid consequences we inevitably create more trouble for ourselves, which brings us more punishment in the long run.
You just have to look at our Politian's to get a practical example of that.
You see the problem with lying, like all sins, is that it works in the short term, it makes immediate release from the problem of our situation, but like all sins ends in greater pain and bitterness.
Lying particular is problematic because, with lying it is a hydra it may solve the initial problem, but it always creates more problems, and so it grows in complexity, and so with each complexity you have to tell another lie and then that causes more complexities; and then you don't know what you are lying about or telling the truth about.
And this causes harm, chaos, destruction to you and the world around you! It always does and always will! If you have lied it will come back to bite you and bring chaos! Just a warning!
Now, I haven't help anything tonight expect to make you afraid and guilty, so what is the hope, how do we move forward? How can we ever hope to heal ourselves and stop lying?
Well, this leads me to my third point;
3. Healing our lying
Well the answer is given partly in verse 36 and 37 and then from the emphasis of the entire bible.
So verse 36 and 37 say;
. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.[a]
And the application of this; the answer we need to heal our tendency of lying; is firstly to recognise that we do not control our lives, you cannot turn you hair white or black. In other words stop trying to over manage your life, this always leads to evil. The second answer is simply let your yes' be yeses and your noes be no.
In other words, be confident in yourself and reality enough to tell the truth to have your yeses be yes and your noes to be no! Now, I could leave this as the application tonight saying go out there and simply tell the truth and live out the truth, and you know what it would be good advice, but the problem is that none of you would have the inner strength and confidence to do this.
You would only tell the truth when it suited you, and essentially I would leave you as persecutors and hypocrites, because on our own we simply do not have the personal inner strength and conviction to rise about this temptation to bend the truth to suit us.
You see, the selfish desire to protect ourselves or to hide ourselves to look better is always greater that the desire to tell the truth to live in the reality that God has placed us.
So, what is the strength, what is the power to overcome? Well turn with me to 1 John 4:9-18
9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. - English Standard Version (ESV)
What is John saying here? How does this give us strength to face the truth and be truthful no matter what? How does this overcome the pride to falsely present ourselves, or the fear to hide ourselves and protect ourselves?
Well, John emphasises, and so does the whole of the New Testament, that we don't have to hide anymore, because God loves us! We come to Him as we are, and accept that in that state we are more loved that we can ever imagine! That gives us the courage to face the fear!
What more can we fear if we know we are perfectly loved! If Christ has accepted us, what does the opinions of others really mean! If God, the one who made you and who you were made for, loves and accepts you, does the fear of others really matter more?
But the other side of the gospel also matters; you see the gospel doesn't just say you are loved as you are stay as you are. It identifies that as you are cost God dearly; He had to offer His only Son in your place to make amends for who you are and what you have done! And this heals our pride, the desire to be seen as better than we are. We know because the gospel shows us, we are not as good as we think we are, in fact we profoundly worse. But this means I don't have to pretend, I don't have to lie to come across as someone I am not! Christ died for me! It here I can live both confidently and humbly!
So you want the power to live authentically? See, experience and know the love of God for you in the gospel of Jesus Christ! This gives us a new perspective to actually love boldly in the reality of life; to live truthfully and love the truth!
Know the truth, church, and the truth WILL set you free!