Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Honesty in the Heart

Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.” But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No.” For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matthew 5:33-37)
This section has do with the Third Commandment, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7); and the Ninth, “You shall not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16).

It was commonly understood that vows made to God and oaths made in the name of the Lord could not be broken. But another understanding had also developed that one could swear by lesser things, such as by heaven, or earth, or Jerusalem, or the Temple, or the altar, and such oaths were not as binding. We see examples of this toward the end of Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus rebukes the Scribes and Pharisees for this very practice.
Woe to you, blind guides, who say, “Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.” Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?

And, “Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.” Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?

Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it. (Matthew 23:16-22)
In both places, Jesus makes the point that if you swear by whatever belongs to God, you are swearing by God Himself, so the oaths are just as binding, and whoever breaks them will be just as guilty. One cannot swear even by one’s own head without swearing by God, for we cannot naturally make one hair on our head turn black or white — that is a function of aging, and therefore in God’s hands.

Jesus does away completely with the system of false swearing and making oaths on supposedly lesser things. It was never really anything more than a tactic to leave room for a lie when the truth became too inconvenient. So here again was the attempt to keep the commandments outwardly, but not with the whole heart.

Jesus’ solution is simple: Let your yes be yes and your no be no. In other words, give an honest answer. Say what you mean and mean what you say. That will not only fulfill the commandment, but also God’s purpose in the commandment. It is the only honest way; anything more than that comes from the evil one, who is the “father of lies” (John 8:44).

The kingdom of heaven on earth requires honesty in the heart.

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.