************ Sermon on Matthew 5:33-37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 20, 2001
"Talk is Cheap?!"
Topic: HypocrisyThe President's letter, obviously, was a pack of lies. It was meant to sound nice but did not mean a thing.
Perhaps you have heard about the man who was traveling on a dinner flight. When he opened his prepackaged meal, right on top of the salad he saw an enormous roach. When he got home, he wrote an indignant letter to the president of that airline. A few days later, a special delivery letter came from the president. He was all apologies. "This was very unusual, but don't worry. I want to assure you that that particular airplane has been fumigated. In fact, all the seats and upholstery have been stripped out. We have taken disciplinary action against the stewardess who served you that meal, and she may even be fired. It is highly probable that this particular aircraft will be taken out of service. I can assure you that it will never happen again. And I trust that you will continue to fly with us."
Well the man was terrifically impressed by such a letter until he noticed something. Quite by accident, the letter he had written had stuck to the back of the president's letter. When he looked at his own letter he saw a note at the bottom that said, "Reply with the regular roach letter."
Within the church we have to make sure we never develop such a credibility gap. We, of all people, should mean what we say and say what we mean. If truth cannot be expected from us, then it can be expected from no one.
Everything that a Christian does and says is most important. It is most important because we are representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is most important because we are being watched by and have an impact upon others. It is especially most important because all of life is lived in the presence of God and under His watchful eye.
Jesus speaks to us this evening about our words. He tells us our talk should not be cheap. He tells us that words should not come too easily out of our mouths or too quickly from our lips.
In looking at what Jesus says about our words I want to raise three points: what the law of Moses says, what the Pharisees say about that law, and what Jesus says about that law.
I The Law of Moses
A The law of Moses speaks a number of times about the words of our mouth:
(Ex 20:7) "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."What is the purpose of these statements?
(Ex 20:16) "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
(Lev 19:12) "'Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD."
(Deut 6:13) Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.
B The main intent of these verses, and others like them, is to restrain lying and broken promises. One of the greatest problems Moses had to deal with was the tendency of people to lie to one another and to deliberately say things that were not true. Life was becoming chaotic because people could not believe one another's words or statements. One of the chief purposes of the law was to check and control this.
We all recognize, I am sure, that we have the exact same problem today. Is there anyone anymore who fully believes the promises of most politicians? Many of us recognize that politicians promise us the moon in order to get elected. But once elected they usually find reasons to break their promises.
Experts agree we lie – and are lied to – much more than we think. One recent survey showed 91% of Americans lie routinely.
Topic: SinThe law of Moses attempts to control and check such lies. When we cannot depend on each other's words then we cannot trust each other. And when we cannot trust each other then community becomes almost impossible.
A two-year study of nearly 9,000 people, more than two-thirds of whom were in high school or college, found significant numbers of the students engaged in or willing to engage in lying, cheating and stealing.
"Clearly the youth of today didn't invent cheating, stealing and lying, but they're perfecting it," said Ralph Wexler of the Institute of Ethics, a non-profit organization based in California. The institute conducted the survey. Among the findings:
* More than a third of the students claimed they would lie on an application or resume if necessary to get a job; 16 percent of the high-school group and 18 percent of the college crowd admitted, in fact, that had done so. And 21 percent of the collegians approved of falsifying a report if needed to keep a job. Of the older group of students, more than a third also said they have lied to bosses and a third of customers during the past year.
* 61 percent of those in high school and 32 percent of those in college acknowledged they had cheated on an exam during the previous year.
* 33 percent of the high-school group and 14 percent of college students said they shop-lifted within the past year. Many (33 percent, high school; 11 percent, college) also said they had stolen from parents or relatives.
C Another purpose of the law of Moses was to restrict oath-taking to serious and important matters. There was the tendency on the part of the people to take an oath about any trivial kind of matter. For no reason at all the people would take an oath in the name of God. The object of Moses' law was, therefore, to put an end to this silly, glib oath-taking. Oath-making is a serious matter; it should only be done in unusual situations and for serious matters. After all, when all of life is lived under the eye of God all our words – and not just those under oath – must be faithful and true.
Some people today are like the Israelites. They make an oath about any trivial kind of matter. Consider the following expressions I sometimes hear out in the world: "Cross my heart or hope to die." "May lightning strike me if I am not telling the truth." "I swear I am telling the truth." "May I drop dead if what I say is not true." There are other expressions of the same kind. Did you realize this is a form of oath-making? The truth is not served by such sayings. If all of life is under God, then all of our words must always be faithful and true. Those who recognize this don't need to make oaths to one another.
II The Teachings of the Pharisees
A What did the Pharisees say? Jesus sums up their teaching in verse 33:
(Mt 5:33) 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.'These exact words are not to be found anywhere in the Old Testament. This reminds us that Jesus is not speaking against the law of Moses; rather, He is speaking against the Pharisees' interpretation of that law.
B The Pharisees, as we have seen before, are more concerned with the letter of the law than with the spirit. As long as they could persuade themselves – and others – that they were keeping the letter of the law they were perfectly happy. For example, as long as they were not guilty of physical adultery they thought everything was well with their soul even though their hearts were full of lust. As long as they did not murder anyone they were happy even though their hearts were full of hatred and anger. Now here it is once more. They fooled themselves into thinking that as long as they kept certain kinds of oaths they were righteous, even though their lips were full of lies and their mouths were used to twist the truth.
The trouble with the Pharisees and the scribes was that they were legalists. And, in their legalism they reduced the law's meaning. They reduced the law's entire meaning to perjury. To say a lie in a Court of Law was to them a very serious and solemn matter; it was a terrible sin and they denounced it. Any other time, however, you could twist words, lie about the facts, and distort the truth and you were not guilty before the law as long as you did not commit perjury.
I'm afraid that legalism is still with us. I'm afraid it is too easy for us to also reduce the law's meaning. Consider this story I heard when I received the call to be the pastor of a Christian Reformed Church in Canada:
Topic: LegalismPeople can be very legalistic in defining holiness and worldliness. Some say that you are worldly if you smoke, drink alcohol, and dance. Others say you are worldly if you eat out, mow the lawn, paint the house, or go shopping on Sunday. We know – or ought to know – that worldliness and holiness is more a matter of one's heart then a single deed or word.
Down the road from the Christian Reformed Church is a Baptist church. In the name of Christian fellowship the youth of both churches decided to have a Sunday outing together. As they left on the outing many of the Christian Reformed youth were smoking. But on the way home the Baptist youth insisted that the group stop at a McDonalds for something to eat.
Parents in both churches became upset. The Baptists were upset their youth were exposed to tobacco. The Christian Reformers were upset their youth went to McDonald's on Sunday.
C One final point about the Pharisees. They drew a distinction between oaths. You could swear by heaven, by the earth, by Jerusalem, or by your head. All these oaths, according to them, are not equal. Some are much more serious than others. They said, for instance, that swearing by the temple did not mean a thing, but swearing by the gold of the temple was very serious; in that case you were bound by your oath. If you took an oath by the altar you need not keep it; but if you took an oath by the gift on the altar then it was absolutely binding. Such distinctions make a mockery of oaths and oath-taking.
III The Teachings of Jesus
A Let us turn now to the teachings of Jesus. What does He say about the words of one's mouth? Listen again to the words of our text:
(Mt 5:34-37) But I tell you, Do not swear 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) Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
The "Society of Friends," commonly known as the Quakers, say these words of Jesus mean one should never take an oath, not even in a Court of Law. Like the Pharisees, what they do is reduce the law's demands because Jesus is speaking about more than oath-taking. Furthermore, Jesus does not forbid oath-taking in our passage. Consider that Old Testament saints like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Jonathan all made oaths. And in the New Testament the apostles frequently took oaths (Rom 9:1; 2 Cor 1:23; cf Heb 6:16). Even Jesus took an oath when He was tried by the Sanhedrin. So Jesus does not condemn oath-making.
B What Jesus is saying is that oath-taking must be restricted. It must be used in unusual circumstances and on solemn occasions. Jesus forbids all oaths in ordinary conversation. There is no need to take an oath during an argument and you must not do so. In fact, oaths should never be necessary among believers. "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.'"
Jesus' point is that if all of life is lived under God, then all our words are binding and to them all of us must be faithful and true. God's children, you see, know that they are always in the presence of God. They confess that they live in fellowship with Him. Therefore, when they deal with each other an oath is not necessary. It's understood that their simple "yes" and "no" are spoken with God as their witness. They realize that before God their "yes" and "no" has the value of an oath.
For that reason the church never asks its members to swear an oath. We say "I do" when we publicly profess our faith, have our children baptized, are installed as office-bearers, or exchange wedding vows. Our "yes" is "yes" and our "no" is "no."
C If all our words are said in the presence of God, if all of life comes under Him, why then are oaths sometimes required? Jesus answers this when He says, "anything beyond this comes from the evil one." We live in a corrupt world, a world of sin. Swearing by the Name of God is sometimes necessary because of the fact of sin. Fallen people cannot be trusted or believed so sometimes we have to ask them to swear in God's name that they are telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
As Christians, however, we should live among one another in such a way that an oath is never needed.
D Let me ask you, is your "yes" "yes" and your "no" "no"? Parents, you made a promise at baptism. Do you truly do all that you can to raise your children in God's ways? Husbands and wives, you made a promise at your wedding. Are you faithful and loving till death? Office bearers, you made a promise when you were installed? Are you a shepherd of God's sheep? All of us made a promise at Profession of faith. Do we truly love the Lord above all and do we support and uphold the church?
I am calling all of you to be like God and Christ. With God and Christ your "yes" is to be "yes" and your "no" is to be "no." With God and Christ your promises are to be always kept and never broken. We are to never tell a lie and always speak the truth.
A pastor ended one Sunday service by instructing his people, "I would like all of you to read Mark 17 before next Sunday."
The following Sunday, true to his word, he asked the congregation, "How many of you actually read Mark 17 this past week?" Almost everyone in the pews raised their hands.
The pastor then stunned his people by announcing, "Ladies and gentlemen, there is no 17th chapter in Mark."
We must not lie. We must mean what we say and say what we mean. Our "yes" must be "yes" and our "no" must be "no." Our talk should not be cheap. Words should not come too easily out of our mouths or too quickly from our lips. We must never forget that all of life is lived in the presence of God and under His watchful eye.
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