This morning we are back in the Sermon on the Mount. Many consider this Sermon to be a great ethical code for any age. It is anything but! It is a head-on collision with this Pharisees and their hypocritical teachings. They are about externals and accomplishments. Jesus says you actions mean nothing if they don’t come from the right heart. Jesus is after your heart: and we are going to see it again this morning as we talk about integrity. Six times in chapter 5 Jesus says words to the effect, “you have heard it said… but I say to you”. In other words, “the Pharisees have set up this system of false religion, but here is the truth…”
They had hopelessly relaxed the requirements of God in the OT: as long as you don’t murder…, as long as you don’t commit adultery…, as long as you give a certificate of divorce… Jesus confronts the anger and lust in our hearts, he restores the heart of covenant in marriage.
The “you have heard” given by the Pharisees was an inaccurate summary of the several OT principles. The OT has much to say about oaths:
- Exodus 20:7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
- Leviticus 19:12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.
- Numbers 30:2 When a man makes a vow to the LORD… he must not break his word but must do everything he said.
- Deuteronomy 23:21 If you make a vow to the LORD your God, do not be slow to pay it
From the passages above (and others) we learn that oaths were not uncommon or wrong in the OT. Abraham (Genesis 24:2-3), Isaac (Genesis 26:28-29), Jacob (Genesis 31:44), Jonathan (I Samuel 20:16), David (II Samuel 19:23), Ruth, and Samuel makes vows/oaths. But they were to be taken (a) in the name of God and (b) for very serious occasions. At that time, the Pharisees were doing it all the time in a willy-nilly fashion: teaching that oaths were only binding if you used a particular formula. They had created a system by which you could seem like you were giving their word, but in fact they could break it without breaking the law. It was legalised lying!
According to one Rabbi, swearing ‘towards Jerusalem’ was not binding, but swearing ‘by Jerusalem’ was. It had become the adult version of keeping your fingers crossed behind your back. Oaths were meant to testify to honesty and integrity, but they were being used to do the complete opposite – for deception.
Jesus points out how ridiculous their reasoning was. Read Matt 5:34-36 and
Matthew 23:16-22 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
Jesus is pulling his hair out! Oaths were meant to invoke (a) God’s name to show the (b) seriousness and solemnity in particular time. But Jesus unmasks their hypocrisy by pointing out that even if they are not in the name of God, there is nothing in life that is not God’s – (slowly) as if you can compartmentalise life! God hears every word you speak and is involved in all of your life. It doesn’t matter how good your hair products are – your grey hair is still going to come out of your head grey! Jesus: stop trying to cover your sinful heart with legalised lying – God sees everything!
The Old Testament taught two things: all oaths were to be in God’s name and only at special times, for very serious occasions.
Jesus doesn’t say don’t take oaths in God’s name for very serious occasion. He says, “let your yes be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be no.” In other words, in all of life we should be people of truth, honesty and integrity. We should ever need to invoke an oath to prove the seriousness of our commitment to a statement we have made.
Jesus then adds this critical statement: “anything beyond this comes from the evil (one)”. It can be taken to mean: it comes from Satan who is the father of all lies; but I think it more likely means that it comes out of the evil and deceit in our hearts. There are three levels at which we see this deceitfulness and self-protection:
Society was meant to function on honesty, truthfulness and integrity. Consider how little if at all we would need police, courts, speeding cameras, burglar bars, FICA, and ID documents.
With good reason, we are very aware of the lack of honesty and integrity in government at the moment: “how many aeroplanes are you renting?” Two. Did I say two, I meant ten! What with the Gupta email leaks another scandal is just around the corner. But we know that the public sector is not the only place where there is corruption. The public sector does most of it’s business with the private sector and so for a corrupt government to function you must have corrupt business too (for course not all business is corrupt, just like not all government is corrupt).
- Consider the fact that lawyers are the butt of so many jokes: What is a conscience? What a lawyer puts away from Monday to Friday.
- Used car salesmen suffer from a similar lack of credibility. They do not have a reputation for being scrupulously honest.
- The press has a reputation for stretching the truth, or telling a story so that it suits a certain agenda. Especially when you look at the headlines (have you ever been disappointed by a headline?).
- I know of big multi-national firm that offered a prospective employee a job and when he said, “I have a month’s notice to work with my present firm” they said, “either Monday or not at all”. It sounds insignificant, but when that new employee gets fired for dishonest business practice you have to ask where he learnt the principle.
- And then there are pastors who are routinely exposed for defrauding their churches or some other kind of misconduct!
But this deceit is not just out there (business and government), it is in our lives too. We are lawyers: misrepresenting the truth of what we have done and what others have done. We are used car salesmen: making thing look a bit better than the actually are. We are the press: stretching the truth on Facebook or in our reporting of events in our lives. We are politicians and business men: cutting corners, making compromises, sweetening deals. If we are honest, this lack of integrity is not just out there, it is in here too!
The third and most revealing level is the heart level. Remember I said that Jesus is aiming at our hearts! To get to the heart you have to ask the question: Why? Why are we not always truthful, do we not always act with integrity? Why do we lie? What are the reasons that people lie or bend the truth?
- we fear losing someone’s approval;
- we are protecting our reputation;
- we have made the approval and acclaim into an idol;
- we want to make ourselves look better than we actually are;
- we are scared that, if people knew who we really were, they would reject us;
Jesus offers you the true freedom of being loved and accepted for who you are. Jesus came to die on the cross for sinners – not the righteous. All those who claim Christ must first claim and own their own absolute brokenness, failure and need.
The cross is a dramatic picture of exposure, nakedness and shame: Jesus is mockingly saluted, beaten, bowed down to, spat on, sarcastically called “King of the Jews”, crowned with a wreath of half-inch long thorns, stripped naked, scourged within an inch of his life, and even mocked while hanging on the cross (Mark 15:18-19, 20, 29-32). On the cross Jesus takes upon himself all the shame of your naked sin.
When you turn to him in faith you exchange your sin and all of its shame (Rev 3:18) for the complete and unconditional acceptance. This of our first father and mother. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were ashamed and so they hid from God and hid their nakedness. In the gospel, you can stop running from God and run to him because he covers the shame and nakedness of your sin.
Here is the Gospel in a nutshell: I have been completely exposed – nothing is hidden, I am laid bare; but at the same time, I have been covered – the sacrificial death of Christ on my behalf covers the shame of my sin and I am wholly acceptable.
You have not heard me say this morning: “stop lying and be honest because that is what it means to be a good Christians or because God will punish you; work really hard at that and God will be happy with you”.
I am saying that the fear that gives life to my shame has already come true: I am fully, completely, exhaustively and perfectly known by my Substitute. The battle is over; the bomb has been detonated; the truth has been uncovered; there is no need to hide. If the worst thing that could ever happen to you is that you were exposed – the gospel has already exposed you; if the best thing that could ever happen to you is that you could be unconditionally accepted for who you are – it has already happened to when Jesus forgave your sin, reconciled you to God and made you holy in his sight! My identity is rooted in the cross – at the same time I am a hopeless sinner and a forgiven saint! I am not a slave to the opinions of others – I have been set free.
God’s opinion is the only one that matters, the only voice that speaks with authority and depth to my heart has said: “you are mine, I accept you, you are forgiven”. I therefore do not need to worship at the altar of the affirmation and approval and validation of others. The gospel empowers us (a) to act with integrity, honesty and truthfulness; (b) to own my sin and failures when they happen without fear of rejection, (c) to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’, (d) to be who I am.
Who labours under the weight of seeking the approval of others (which is basically all of us)? I want to pry for people that God would release a supernatural realisation of His love and acceptance of them; a freedom to live for God and not for other people.
Please use / augment / discard these questions so that your group has a fruitful discussion
- What is swearing really? We usually mean “4 letter words” but biblically what is it? What does it really man to take the lord’s name in vain?
Hint: swearing is oath in the Lords name. Taking the Lord’s name is vain is taking an oath flippantly. It is far more than actors saying “Jesus Christ” in a movie.
- Should Christian take an oath in court or when making marriage vows?
- What was wrong with the way Jews were taking oaths at that time (cf. Matt 23:16-22)?
- In what way have you experienced the cost of maintaining integrity and honesty?
- What situations are you facing (work, home, friends, etc.) where your honesty and integrity is being challenged?
- What does Jesus mean when he says, “anything more than this comes from the evil (one)”
- How do we see this manifest in our lives?
- If Jesus is aiming at our hearts, what is the root in our heart of dishonesty, lying, and deceit (Grant mentioned one in particular, but there are others…)
- How does the desire for the approval of others (or protecting our reputation or persona) affect our ability to be honest, and truthful?
- Read Matt 26:69-75. What is the warning in this passage?
Hint: if your heart is controlled by the opinion of others, when the chips are down, it is almost impossible to avoid that control. I.e. deal with the
- Read Mark 15:18-20, 29-32. How was Jesus shamed as he approached and while he was on the cross? What is the link between shame, nakedness and sin (cf. Adam and Eve, Rev 3:18)?
- How does the death of Christ and the forgiveness of sin empower us to live honestly and be truthful?