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*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!

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This powerful phrase represents the message of hope we find in the Gospel. You can put an infinite number of thoughts ahead of this phrase and then say, “But God,” and you get to the heart of His good news. So let’s do an exercise. I’m going to make some statements, comments that might be common thoughts to many of us, and let some Scriptures that use this encouraging phrase respond (all emphasis mine).

My sin is so great and I’m burdened with the guilt of my poor choices, mistakes, and unholy bent. How can God love and forgive me? – “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

I have so little to offer my Lord. Really, I’m a “nobody” and don’t see how He can use me. – “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27).

There is so much I don’t understand about Him, His ways, His will, or His Word. How can I know God and how I can best be His servant?  – “…but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).

I’m not sure how I can serve Christ’s church, how I fit in, and if I’m really needed?  Am I important to the body of Christ? – “…while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it” (1 Corinthians 12:24).

I feel endangered and unprotected in a cruel world. Sometimes I feel that everyone is against me and I have no real shelter from their attacks. – “…Yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, But God did not allow him to hurt me” (Genesis 31:7).

I feel defeated and powerless. Where do I get the wisdom and strength to live for Jesus and be the kind of Christ-follower that advances His kingdom and gives Him glory? – “…for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:9).

I’m so discouraged, maybe even depressed. I can’t get out of this rut and I feel distant from Jesus. Where should I turn for hope and help? – “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus…” (2 Corinthians 7:6).

I feel as if I try so hard, but even with all of my effort I feel like a spiritual failure, as if my all resources and “works” don’t add up to much in the sight of God – “For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything” (Hebrews 3:4).

Looking at my circumstances, I feel as if I’m being punished by God. I know most of this is if of my own doing, but how is God involved? – “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

Who can I trust? What can I trust in? It seems like there is no one or no thing that I can really count on in this life – “We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son: (1 John 5:9).

Is there hope? There have been so many defeats, broken promises, and my past is littered with a myriad of things that haunt me today? Can I trust that my future is bright and, if so, in whose promises do I need to trust? – “For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise” (Galatians 3:18). Or, But it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him’. But God has revealed them to us…” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

“But God…”  I don’t know what your thought or question might be today but I encourage you to make the statement and then search the Scriptures to find His answer. For in Christ we have received the promises of God and God can not lie (Titus 1:2: Hebrews 6:18). His promises are real and by believing in Christ you can find the great meaning and hope found in this simple phrase that changes everything – “But God!”

So how does this happen? By faith in Jesus through the grace given by God. Let’s add a couple more passages:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ by His grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4 ).

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5).

All of this reminds me of a cliché that we often hear, an anecdote that actually has rich significance. I think it sums this up well. And that phrase? “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

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