Today I have titled my sermon: “Cross my heart and hope to die”
You are probably very familiar with that saying. When kids play together, sometimes they will use this idiom to prove their honesty.
The Jews had similar oaths to swear when they were telling the truth: “I swear by heaven” or “I swear on my head”
The problem of course was their general lack of integrity. They had to swear all the time, because generally their word wasn’t reliable.
Think about this. If each time you confronted your child for discipline, he said: “I swear it dad” or “I swear it mom!”, would it not indicate a problem?
Either the child feels that he needs to say that because you usually don’t believe him, or because he is not used to always telling the truth. That would mean that somewhere his integrity is questioned.
It was the problem of the Jews. If they swore like they did, it is because there was an integrity problem.
Indeed when you study history, you see that it was so.
Back in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had developed elaborate rules governing when a man was bound by his word and when he was not. This way they could promise things without really promise anything.
They knew about scriptures like Deut. 23:21-23 : “…” Any promise made using God’s name was binding. God became a partner in the deal or the oath.
But if they could avoid using God’s name when making a promise, then they didn’t feel they had to keep their word.
There were entire sections in their books of law that ruled what was a promise that was attached to the name of God and what wasn’t.
The closer the thing they were calling upon in their oath was to God, and the more binding the oath was. So they knew which ones you had to keep, and which ones you didn’t, which one was a big deal and which one wasn’t.
Now that we understand these things, let us read Matthew 5:33-37 “…”
Do you think it is a passage we need to spend time on?
A few years back two guys interviewed thousands of people, and they published their findings in a book called The Day America Told the Truth.
Who here has never said a lie? Let him cast the first stone.
And yet we are so offended when we hear politicians lie or make false promises. I heard a good story that illustrates.
A busload of politicians was headed to a convention but because of highway construction, they had to take a detour down a rural road. The driver was having problems with this windy, country lane and lost control of the bus. It ran off the road and crashed into a tree in an old farmer’s field.
The old farmer was driving to town when he noticed that that there was a gaping hole in his fence. He went to investigate and saw what had happened. He went back to his truck, got a shovel, and buried all the politicians.
Since the politicians never arrived at their destination, a state trooper was dispatched to locate them. He backtracked their route, followed the country road, saw the wrecked bus in the field, and looked up the old farmer that owned the property. The trooper asked the farmer where the politicians had gone. The farmer informed the trooper that he’d buried all of them.
The trooper said, “Didn’t you call the coroner? After all, not all of them might have been dead.” The old farmer replied, “Well, some of them kept sayin’ they weren’t but you know how them politicians lie!”
So often we resemble the politicians and the Jews in our lack of ability to keep our word.
I. God’s message for today:
In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus calls us to be better, to be people of integrity.
Some groups have declared this passage to mean that Christians cannot take oaths in courts or anywhere else. I don’t think so.
The construction of the Greek points to the fact we can’t make an oath like that of the Pharisees.
If the text prevented any oath, then how could we get married? How could we witness in a law of court?
What Jesus is wanting here is truthfulness all the way around. He doesn’t want us to say something with our mouth, when our hearts plans on doing something else or on deceiving.
Jesus says that in all times, God is witness of our words. So he raises the bar of righteousness. I ought to do what I say in all times because God is always watching what I say.
Let our yes be yes and our no be no.
Let me give you other possible reasons why Jesus wanted it to be so:
Being a follower of Christ means a commitment to truth. We need to be people of our word
You want to be known as someone who keeps your promises no matter what
There are some common justifications that most of us give for breaking promises
So for my next point, I want to challenge you in this area.
II. The challenge:
A. Keep your promises… even when they seem insignificant
How many of you are familiar with these common “lies”?
When you start to justify a little dishonesty because it seems insignificant, be careful because you’re one step closer to doing what you never thought you would do
The little areas test our integrity. The one who is faithful in little things also is in the big ones. People will not trust us with the big things if we don’t show faithfulness in the small ones.
Any time a small promise isn’t kept, a proportional amount of damage is done. It may be small but small drops end up making the big rivers.
B. Keep your promises… even when you regret making them
The brilliant Christian scholar and writer C. S. Lewis took that truth seriously. His biography tells of the suffering he endured because he kept a promise he had made to a buddy during World War I. This friend was worried about the care of his wife and small daughter if he should be killed in battle, so Lewis assured him that if that were to happen he would look after them.
As the war dragged on, the man was killed. True to his word, Lewis took care of his friend’s family. Yet no matter how helpful he tried to be, the woman was ungrateful, rude, arrogant, and domineering. Through it all, Lewis kept forgiving her. He refused to let her actions become an excuse to renege on his promise.
Are we man of that character?
Do we keep our promises no matter our regrets? See Ps. 15:4 ? Maybe things have not turned out the way you had hoped, but you keep your commitment anyway
Maybe it is costing you more than you expected in your marriage? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jesus follows His section on divorce with the challenge to keep your promises--We seem to have a problem with that in our nation
Maybe it is costing you more than you expected with your relationship to Jesus?
In baptism, we made a promise to him that he would be first in our lives. But with time, perhaps it becomes difficult to honor that promise and we let it slip:
C. Keep your promises… even when you are the only one on earth who knows about it. Prov. 12:22
III. How do I get better at keeping my promises?
At one time or another, we’ve all struggled with the truth. Sometimes it’s just easier to fib. Admit that truthfulness can be a struggle, but recognize that Jesus says, “No matter what, tell the truth!” And remember people are looking for authenticity wherever they can find it. When they do, they admire it deep down. And most importantly God rewards it.
And when you want to, examine your motives before you do (Why am I making this promise? What do I really want?)
In order to do this, write them down, if you need to. Then check it out every so often.
Did you know that several of the Bible’s greatest “heroes of the faith” were liars? Abraham, Jacob, Peter (he lied to the servants and soldiers surrounding the fire outside the trial room)
However, the Holy Spirit can work miracles and change a liar into a person of integrity
He can make us in the image of Jesus, who when he faced the gut-wrenching choice of keeping a costly promise (God had been promising for thousands of years to send His Son to save the world through His death and resurrection) still did the right thing. In that moment of truth, when He realized there was no other way to save us, Jesus became the ultimate promise-keeper. Jesus kept His word to die in our place, to absorb all of our sin, to be cut off from the Father, so that we could live and be forgiven and be reconciled to the Father.
Today do you want to become like this?