*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Fifteen – The Reliability of  Our Words

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:33-37).

The principle of “my word is my vow” has largely lost its power in contemporary culture; the same was true during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Middle Eastern peoples of the time were often required to swear in order to validate their word. Unfortunately, saying one thing and doing another was so commonplace that vows of sincerity were added to verbal agreements. When Jesus delivered His Sermon on the Mount, He encouraged listeners to live as people of integrity. In short, believers should not say it unless we mean it; we should not claim to take care of something unless we plan to see it to completion. A person of integrity speaks with such honesty that “yes” means just that. An added validation of sincerity proves unnecessary.

Jesus taught that the common practice of swearing—confirming one’s word by the taking of an oath—does not align with the character He desires to see in His new kingdom’s dwellers. He said that we should not swear or promise anything in order to authenticate our words; instead, we should prove our verbal  commitments through action.

Understand that Jesus spoke not against the taking of all vows, such as those required in a court of law, on a legal document, or at a wedding ceremony; Paul, for instance, was likely “sworn in” before he was allowed to speak to Roman authorities. Instead, Jesus taught that adding “I swear on this or that” serves as an indictment on one’s credibility. The issue regards a person’s internal and spiritual state. Why, Jesus’ teachings prompt us to ask, would anyone need to insist his words are true if he can just as easily prove himself trustworthy?

Modern Christians trivialize the critical concept of honesty to a rudimentary restatement of one of the Ten Commandments: “Do not lie” (Exodus 20:16).  Worse, we tell ourselves that God concerns Himself only with the “big lies” we tell—as if a sliding scale provides an appropriate measure for truth. I believe, however, that God desires that His followers show integrity in every word and action.

Consider this example. Jack, a disciple of Jesus who faithfully shares his testimony with anyone who’ll listen, promised his boss that he’d complete a company project by start of business on Friday. On Wednesday, the boss checks in to make sure Jack’s on target to complete the task. “I swear,” Jack says, “I’ll have it done before I leave Thursday afternoon.” Friday’s lunchtime rolls around before Jack turns in his assignment. Though he apologizes for failing to keep his commitment, the damage is done. Jack’s boss no longer trusts his word. One might call Jack’s oversight a mistake but his integrity has been breached. He gave a false statement; he failed to live out what he claimed. His late action expands upon the Decalogue’s concept of bearing false witness.

Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10). Christ saw our unwillingness to keep small commitments as a lack of trustworthiness and honesty. He knew that people’s perception of our character would suffer as we choose to display dishonesty through our words. Why, for instance, would Jack’s boss care to listen to him extol the virtue and beauty of our sin-forgiving Savior when Jack doesn’t bother to do what he promised? The boss might wonder if the Jesus his employee claims to serve proves as untrustworthy as His follower.

The Lord rightly demands that His followers demonstrate integrity. Our hope is built upon the veracity of who Christ is and what He has said. We trust His words and stake our eternal destiny on them, but if we want others to do the same, we must project honesty and uprightness in all we do. Paul taught, “In  everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be  condemned” (Titus 2:7-8). We’ve got to help people understand that One exists who will always keep His word. We must serve as illustrations to this truth.

Let’s make sure that our “yes” truly means yes and that our “no” really means no! Living in Christ’s kingdom requires careful honesty. Ephesians 4:25 admonishes: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” Our utterances must prove completely reliable so that others will see the steadfast nature of the One we trust.

Apply It.

Read and contemplate Numbers 23:19 and Hebrews 6:18-20. Does God’s inability to lie give you hope and a sense of security? How should God’s absolute integrity alter the way you use your words? Pray that others might see the integrity and promise-keeping nature of God in you.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010.

The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!