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“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
Matthew 5:37 (ESV)
There are at least three earthly professions which will likely expire when Jesus reigns upon the New Earth. Physicians will no longer need to care for the sick because disease will be wiped away. Pastors will no longer need to preach because all will be free from sinful temptation, eagerly draw near to the Lord and know Him as He is. Lawyers will no longer need to draft lengthy documents to protect people from one another’s broken promises. All human conflict and misunderstandings will cease in the full glory of the King of Kings.
But as you know, such a day has not yet arrived. The sick need care, the world needs the Gospel and promise-breaking abounds. Even though we don’t yet live under the fully accomplished Kingdom of Heaven, disciples of Jesus are invited to live into His reign in such a way that our lives are distinctly different.
Throughout the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ Jesus calls His followers to be like a ‘city on a hill’ by having loving hearts, pure thoughts and truthful words.
If you were to rank those three categories, which would come first?
For the Apostle James, he saw ‘truthful words’ as of upmost importance. “Above all,” he wrote, “do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes,’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no” (James 5:12a). Verbal integrity matters a great deal!
However, to better understand the point, we need to explore how oaths were being used in Judaism.
In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had discovered sinfully creative ways to weaken their promises in an attempt to preserve, in their minds, verbal integrity. For example, they encouraged their disciples to swear an oath upon the gold of the temple, instead of under the authority of Almighty God (see Numbers 30:2). Therefore, if such promise needed to be voided for personal gain, it wasn’t such a big deal. It’s not like they were breaking a specific command from Scriptures! However, Jesus was quick to point out that words ought to match intentions. “Yes” ought to mean yes. Anything less than that is sin.
We live in a culture which also easily welcomes the weakening of verbal integrity. Here are two common examples.
First, it has become culturally acceptable to build ‘white lies’ into our everyday language. “How are you doing?” “Oh, I’m fine.” Such is the common greeting even if we are far from “fine.” Around holidays, it’s normal to tell children that fictional characters have brought them presents or candy. Even the title ‘white lie’ is an attempt to cozy up to deceitful speech.
Second, it has become acceptable to live such busy lives that overcommitting is normal. Therefore, when someone says, “I’ll get back to you on Monday” or “Let’s do lunch sometime,” it’s easy to expect that such promises will not be kept. When they are, people are usually surprised!
Even though promise-breaking is normative and the handshake doesn’t really hold any weight, Jesus raises the bar for His disciples. He desires for our words to reflect His faithful character.
How are you growing in verbal integrity?
Lord, help us to tame our tongue and be faithful according to each word that we speak. Through Jesus, Amen!