Bible Reference: Matthew 5:33-37
Life is filled with many promises both made and received. As receivers, we desire people around us to keep their promises and to be truthful with us.
I really appreciate the person whose word is their bond. As citizens, for instance, we want our government leaders and politicians to be trustworthy and to keep their promises. As customers, we want the products we purchase to work just as promised. As married couples, we want our spouse to be faithful to their promise and truthful, even in the little things of life. If a volunteer said yes to performing a duty for us in our church, we like to know they will be reliable and do the job.
Unfortunately, though, we live in a world where many times that does not happen. Promises are easily made and easily broken on a regular basis. Truthfulness gets set aside, and people get hurt. Jesus addresses this subject in today’s text from His Sermon on the Mount.
Just by way of review, it’s important for us to remember that the Sermon on the Mount is addressed to kingdom-of-heaven citizens. It is given to those who have received the righteousness of God into their lives, received new birth, and then, filled with the Holy Spirit, live a new life as members of His kingdom with a sincere desire to show grateful love to God and to do life His way.
Jesus has been teaching about the deeper righteousness of the kingdom-of-heaven citizen, and what it looks like in life situations. He talks of such subjects as murder, adultery, divorce and relates them to matters of the heart. Six times in chapter 5, Jesus says, “You have heard it said . . .” about a particular commandment. Then He would say, “but I say to you . . .” and He would challenge the religious establishment’s shallow interpretation of the commands of God.
Today we see Jesus doing this again. He addresses the subject of giving your word – making oaths and vows. He states, “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
A couple things jump out at us in this teaching of Jesus. First of all, Jesus seems to be challenging the shady practices of religious authorities like the scribes and Pharisees. They had devised a system around making oaths, which actually ended up promoting lying and gave people permission to not keep their promises.
Jesus tells them they were playing word games here, because the religious experts were tinkering with the formula. Making an oath in the Old Testament was important to God, but they were changing the formula of these oaths. They were changing some of the wording in order to not use the name of the Lord in it, saying they did not want to profane the name of the Lord. Instead they would make promises and swear by heaven, or earth, or Jerusalem, or by their very life – their head. Then they would reason that, since these oaths weren’t made in the name of God, they weren’t necessarily binding or important to keep.
It reminds me of keeping our fingers crossed behind our back when we make a promise to someone. They were being totally dishonest, and Jesus points this out. He says these kinds of word games are ridiculous and harmful, and far from our heavenly Father’s will.
The next point Jesus makes is the bottom line. He says, Here is how the-kingdom-of-God people – my followers — are to operate. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Anything more than this comes from evil.
God wants His people to be honest with their words and promises. They should never, ever have to preface anything with an oath or a statement such as, This is really true. I cross my heart and hope to die, or I swear on a stack of Bibles. He wants us to simply work at being trustworthy in this crooked world of ours. That will make you distinct. Your faithfulness will stand out. Be true to your word and conduct yourself with integrity. Say what you mean; mean what you say. That’s what Jesus is telling us.
Kingdom-of-God people are rock solid in keeping promises. Even when circumstances change, they still keep their word. The psalmist says “Blessed is the man who keeps his word, even when it hurts” (Psalm 15:4).
I think Jesus is also saying that being a person of your word means being careful with your words when you make promises. Sometimes we can be a little fast and loose with the promises we make to people. It can be all too easy to make those promises when you’re emotionally involved. You just want to make things right, or you’re trying to please somebody. You don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, or you might see it as a mere formality just to get the transaction closed and the deal done. Perhaps you are afraid, or are protecting yourself, or trying to impress someone. Jesus seems to be saying that it seems wise and faithful to stop and ask yourself, Will I and can I keep these promises? And if I can’t, am I willing to say no. We sometimes need to learn to discipline ourselves and say, No. I can’t promise that, or to at least say I can’t promise that, but we’ll see.
Jesus is being very clear though. His people – those who follow Him – are called to be promise keepers in every area of our lives. Just think of all the areas of our lives where we make promises. Some of them are major promises, such as promising our lives to a spouse. Vows were made before God at an altar. You give your word to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, till death do you part. You promise yourself for the long run.
Some of us have promised God at the baptism of our children to do everything in our power to make sure this child comes to know and grow in Jesus Christ. We raise them in the faith, take them to His church and make sure that they learn about Jesus.
Many of you have joined a church congregation. You made a promise to the community of faith to be a regular worshiper, to proclaim the good news of Christ in word and deed, to serve others following the example of Jesus, and to support your local ministry.
How about on the job? When you sign on the dotted line with an employer, you promise to work hard, do your job as well as you possibly can, and be a team player – honest, loyal, trustworthy.
You promise your banker or your loan institution to pay back the money they loaned you so you could purchase the home you want for your family.
You’re on the stand in a courtroom perhaps. You promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God. You’ve promise to deliver the truth to the justice process.
Ordinary daily promises are important, too. You promise to meet someone at a certain time. Or you promise to have a work project completed at a certain date. You make a bid on a project or job for someone saying, I’ll do it for this much and get it done at this time. Perhaps you promised to do a favor for a fellow employee, friend, relative, or child. You can count on me! you said.
A favorite among Christians is our promise to pray for one another. It is important for us to keep that promise as well, for following through on it reflects on our trustworthiness in everyday matters. Not keeping these promises can actually develop into bad habits, which can lead to becoming calloused inside and eventually being dishonest in the bigger things of life as well. Then it becomes easier to not be a person of our word.
Jesus, in saying, Let your yes be yes and your no be no, is telling us to KEEP YOUR WORD in everything. Be careful as you make promises to keep them so you can be a person who is dependable, reliable, and trustworthy.
A story comes to mind about a missionary and explorer, David Livingstone. He wanted to find a route across Africa from the east to the west. So he used many of the local folks in Africa to come with him and help. These locals put their lives on the line as they hacked their way through the jungles.
When they finally reached the other coast, an English steamer was sitting in the harbor. The captain of this steamer called Livingstone a hero and offered him a free ride back home to England. “We need to take you back so you can you tell what you’ve done!” But Livingstone replied, “I promised these men who helped me that I would lead them back to their homes. They need me.” While the captain and others tried to reason with him – You’re an important man, now. They’ll understand. They can take care of themselves – Livingstone refused. “No. I gave them my word.” At the risk of his own life, he led those people back to their homes. He was a man of his word. This is what Jesus is talking about today.
Why is integrity so important to God? He wants your relationships to be healthy and to glorify Him, because He loves you. He wants your life to work well. Integrity makes for healthier relationships as well as a healthier society. It’s an action of love for neighbor.
But even more importantly, it makes you credible to those with whom you are sharing the promises of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Maybe you have heard the statement: What you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you say. When you think about it, we really shouldn’t be surprised that God would desire this from us as His citizens, for He is the greatest promise keeper of all! God promised Abraham to make his descendants a blessing to the nations, and that promise was fulfilled. Matthew chapter one gives the family tree and proves how God in Christ fulfilled His promise to Abraham as He sent Jesus to die for the sins and forgiveness of the world.
Therefore, if integrity and faithfulness to His promises are what God’s all about, as ambassadors of His Kingdom representing Him in this world, it brings Him glory when we are people of our word.
Jesus’ appeal to us this day is to be a person of integrity. Keep your word. Be a promise keeper.
Someone might ask how they can grow in that ability, because it’s sometimes tough to follow through or even to remember promises. First, it begins with making a commitment to the God who loves you that you want to be a person of integrity for His cause. You commit to being a person who says what you mean and means what you say.
It also involves claiming His promise to you. When you ask Jesus Christ into your life, you belong to Him, and you have the powerful, transforming Spirit of God residing in you to help you become a person of integrity. Jesus called the Spirit of God our Helper, our Counselor, one who can get us healthy and follow through on integrity.
Pray daily for His help along the way, for Him to convict you when you’re straying from the honesty plan God has for you and to give you courage to follow through on your promises, no matter how painful.
Find a Christian brother or sister to be accountable to, someone you know who is trustworthy, someone with whom you can be transparent, and seek their guidance and encouragement.
Finally, keep the faith. Keep believing that God loves you and wants the best for your life. When His word says telling the truth and keeping promises is the healthiest way to conduct yourself in relationships, put your faith in that word. Although it may be painful and costly at times, believe in the promise that God will not desert you. He will take care of you as you act in faith.
I want to finish this message on a note of grace. If you have stumbled in this area of life, let me share a very important message with you today. There is One who died upon a cross to pay for your sin. Forgiveness is offered to us as we trust Christ and ask for cleansing and help. “If we confess our sins (to God), he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). A new start in life is yours for the receiving.
Don’t give up! Don’t give up the battle! This is a promise God gives us to build our new life upon. Now, may our faithful God and Father bless you and help you to be a distinct person of integrity in a world that so desperately longs for people who can be trusted. To God be the glory. Amen.
Rev. Steve Kramer