"33 Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You
shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34
But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne
of God, 35 or by 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 one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’;
anything more than this comes from evil."
We are now to the fourth section of six in which Jesus is fleshing out the
nature of true righteousness. What we are finding is that true righteousness
is that which reflects the very righteousness of God. God is not righteous
by doing certain actions, fulfilling certain duties or following certain laws.
God is not righteous because He does enough to satisfy certain conditions of
a contract. Righteousness is who God is. The law that God gave to the Hebrew
people was to reflect or point to this righteousness that is God’s real
character. The laws of how to treat each other and how to relate to God flowed
from the very nature and heart of God.
So, Jesus tells His listeners earlier in this sermon, he has come not to abolish
the law, but to fulfill it. In Jesus, the completion of the law becomes flesh.
It is no longer just a written code to point to righteousness, it is given
heart. It is lived out from Jesus’ very being and so now reflects perfectly
back to God His own righteousness in human form.
In these examples that Jesus gives of the righteousness that exceeds that
of the scribes and Pharisees, we see reflected the righteousness of God. God
is fully right, or righteous towards us. God is not divided towards us, either
in His words or His thoughts. God loves us, and His words to us and thoughts
of us always spring out of that love. God remains faithful to Himself and therefore
to us, even in the face of our unfaithfulness. Jesus is asking His listeners
to consider the nature of true righteousness in each of these six sections
we are now considering. He is showing them that righteousness is far more deep,
real, and solid than they may have come to believe. Righteousness towards others
involves our words and even our thoughts. That is because true righteousness
flows out of a righteous being. Only Jesus can fulfill the law and have a righteousness
that exceeds whatever the scribes and Pharisees have been able to do.
When we listen to Jesus’ words here, we might be tempted to feel discouraged.
If my calling my brother or sister a fool is no better than actually killing
them, then what hope is there for me? If my thought life makes me as guilty
before the law as do my actions, then I will never be able to make myself more
righteous than the scribes and Pharisees.
However, I don’t think that Jesus’ intention is to weigh us down
or condemn us. He is giving us good news about the nature of righteousness.
How wonderful to know that God’s intention for us is that we become righteous
people, not just those that do righteous things sometimes. We are to reflect
His very nature and character, to be made new all the way down to the deepest
parts of our being! Thank God Jesus came to fulfill the law and provide for
us in Himself true righteousness. This is why those who are hungering and thirsting
for righteousness are blessed and will one day be satisfied--not because they
will make themselves righteous, but because Christ shares with us his true
righteousness as we receive and participate in it by faith in him.
So far Jesus has spoken to His listeners of true righteousness in terms of
murder and adultery. He has led them to realize that real righteousness that
comes from God begins back in our thoughts and our words. True righteousness
leads to relationships that are founded in deep trust, so that vulnerability
and intimacy are possible, because there is no fear of hypocrisy or betrayal.
In the section we are now looking at, Jesus continues to reveal the heart of
Jesus begins, as He has with the previous sections, by reminding His listeners
of what they already know. "You have heard that it was said to the men
of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what
you have sworn." The issue at hand here is one of integrity. The Israelites
were commanded to be faithful to doing what they had sworn to do. People were
to be able to count on the oath you made.
But over time what had developed is a system of oaths that would enable people
to look trustworthy, but not to be held accountable to do what they had "promised" to
do. Depending on what you swore by, you were more or less obligated to do what
you said you would. People would swear by some lesser things, because they
reasoned that if they broke their word, then "at least they were not bringing
God’s name into disrepute."(The Bible Backround Commentary, IVP,
p. 59) It became a task of the rabbis to sort out and decide which of these
various oaths were completely binding.
Jesus, refers indirectly to Isaiah 66:1 ("Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven
is my throne and the earth is my footstool’") to remind his listeners
that all of creation belongs to God. The idea that there may be some parts
of the world that God has nothing to do with and so we can swear by them without
God being involved is ridiculous. He goes on and warns against swearing by
one’s head, because "you cannot make one hair white or black." This
statement points out our powerlessness. We have no capacity by sheer willpower,
to change the color of our hair. What business do we have swearing by our heads,
The original law, "You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to
the Lord what you have sworn," was meant to reflect the faithfulness of
God. Righteousness, right relationship, involves being one who is true to their
promises. Jesus here is saying that integrity goes deeper than that. Integrity
does not require a promise or an oath at all. The oath or promise imply that
there are times when our words cannot be counted on, so we have to add these
things to convince another that this time we will be bound by what we say we
Today we do not have an elaborate system of objects by which to swear. We
will sometimes try to sound more convincing with the words, "I promise" or "I
swear" but that is often as far as it goes. As children we may have tried
at times to make a commitment less binding by crossing our fingers behind our
backs. But we still struggle with the idea of making our yes or no suffice.
I think some of what is behind this is that we wish to appear as generous,
open, and flexible as we can while at the same time keeping a tight hold on
what we actually end up doing for others.
Sometimes we say "maybe" instead of "yes" or "no" because
we think it makes us look more open than we truly are. Unfortunately this often
forces the other person to remain suspended in a position of indecision and
ambiguity which stifles trust and even prevents cooperation and fellowship.
A maybe does not invite trust, confidence or partnership. When we leave our
own options open through our own indecision on the chance that perhaps our
maybe will change into a yes, we can actually restrict the options open to
others in response. Avoiding yes or no is often not considerate or generous
or even non-manipulative, but the opposite. Sometimes we blurt out a response
to sound good or generous or flexible, without thinking through whether we
really intend to follow through or not. I remember many years ago realizing
that I often told people I would pray for them, then I would forget to later
on. I knew that I was appearing far more pious and interested in others than
in fact I was.
To have your yes be yes and your no be no, means that there is no slippage
between what you say and what you do. You do not appear to be anything else
than who you truly are. We affirm our abilities, potentials, and moral priorities
with our yes’s and admit our practical and moral limitations with our
no’s. Our word is an extension of our inward being. People are able to
see more clearly into who we are when our words and our actions always correspond
as we trust in Christ to share with us the by the Spirit His very righteousness.
Our word and actions then become little signs, pointers to the integrity which
is God’s. The reason that letting your yes be yes and your no be no is
part of the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees is
because God Himself has no slippage between He words to us and His actions.
We can completely count on God’s word to be backed up by his action.
He does not need to "swear" in order to convince us that in this
instance He is serious. We can always count on Him, we do not need to work
our lives around only having vague hopes that He might come through, afraid
to find out that He won’t. In Jesus God’s word is not yes and no,
or even maybe.
Jesus reveals to us the true heart of God and we can trust that God will always
be faithful to Himself and therefore to us. He will, as Paul says at the beginning
of Philippians, bring to completion the good work that He began in us. God
does not vacilliate in His love for us or in His word to us. Paul, in his second
letter to the Corinthian church says this: For the Son of God, Jesus Christ,
whom we preached among you, ... was not Yes and No; but in him it is always
Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him." Jesus is God’s
word, God’s Yes to us! How wonderful to know that He is faithful and
can be trusted always to be true to Himself.
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