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There's no need to swear an oath of truthfulness if you speak with integrity at all times.
"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 NKJV
"So Help Me God"
Do words mean anything? Can we believe what people say? The TV news media hypes everything to keep us watching and improve their ratings. Politicians spin their speech into rosy, cozy scenarios. Experts contradict each other with a multiplicity of words. Salespeople juggle their prices to bait the customer. Manufacturers produce their products at the lowest possible cost; marketers dress up that product in a deceitfully beautiful package and advertisers convince us we must have it. Is it any wonder we no longer believe what we hear and even question what we see. Trust?--what is that? Where can truth be found? They seem long dead. Casualties of time and experience!
The commandments take us back to ancient times when people sealed their agreements with an oath. An oath was a pledge of honor and commitment. When someone swore by the name of God, they were asking God to witness their agreement. God became a partner in the transaction and, for the duration of the oath, God's name was binding. But, human nature being what it is, there were some who looked for schemes to weasel out of their promises.
Just like we did as children when we crossed our fingers while telling a half-truth, so ancient people mangled the language and came up with ways to deceive others and absolve themselves from obligations. Those with any amount of genius could find wiggle room, or so they thought. For example, if a man swore by heaven, the earth or some other entity, God was not a partner in the deal and the promise did not need to be kept. It was a deceptive practice because those who tookadvantage of the system came out on top; those who remained true to their word appeared foolish. Why would you want to be honest if it didn't get you anywhere!
Fast forward to Jesus who had something to say about this disregard for truth and honor. You guys who think you are so smart--you are really quite stupid. What kind of society have you created? Nobody can trust what anybody says! Jesus knew he was not going to change the world on this issue, but he did raise the bar for his disciples. When you say "yes" with your lips, be sure you mean "yes" in your mind and heart and intentions. Truth is not something imposed from without; it comes from within where God's law is written on your heart and inscribed on your will.
The old commandment in a nutshell is: Mean what you say when you take an oath and follow through because God is your witness. Jesus turned that around. Don't make any oaths. Rather, live your whole life as though God is your witness. Not just a temporary or occasional experience, but every day. 24/7. Because God truly is your constant companion in all aspects of daily life.
Fast forward now to our time and place. "I swear that I will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So help me God." If you ever spoke those words, you know the situation required complete truthfulness. There would be no room for half-truths or twisted tales, no evasiveness or white lies, and you were not to omit important information. Then when the testimony was completed, you could give a sigh of relief and hopefully get back to some degree of normal life.
But Jesus said no to that way of looking at oaths. He wants to renew our minds and retrain our thinking. "So help me God" is a ceaseless prayer, a daily experience. It is as fresh as the morning dew, as welcome as the gentle breeze at noon, and as calming as night when everyone has gone to sleep. God is present all the time, not just once in a while or whenever we choose. Our life is always bound up with God.
This passage is about interactions and how we do business with other people. It's about promises and commitments, about bargaining and making deals. It's also about truth and trust. When all of life is lived in God's presence, we have no hidden compartments. We cannot be truthful in relation to God and be dishonest in our dealings with each other. Every word is spoken before God. God by his very nature is a partner to all our transactions. When we raise our consciousness to God's daily presence we will naturally become more truthful, more whole, more reliable, more dependable.
Integrity means to make whole or complete, by bringing the pieces together as one. When we are truthful, the outward word and the inward word are the same. Then we do not need an oath; no one has to remind us to tell the truth.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: What would you like to add to the following list?The top ten lies told in America: 10) Your table will be ready in a minute. 9) One size fits all. 8) This will hurt me more than it hurts you. 7) I'm sorry I'm late; I got stuck in traffic. 6) The check is in the mail. 5) This offer is limited to the first 50 callers. 4) It's not the money; it's the principle of the thing. 3) I need just five minutes of your time. 2) I'll start my diet tomorrow. 1) I'm from the IRS and I'm here to help you. [R.J.Morgan, Nelson's Annual Preacher's Sourcebook: 2004 Edition,page 132. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers}
Write down some reasons why people tell lies? Are any of the reasons legitimate enough to excuse the lie? In what circumstances does it pay, or not pay, to be honest? What are some things that help you to be more truthful? How do you teach children to tell the truth?
"So help me God." Discuss the meaning and implications of these words as an oath, a prayer, and as a constant daily experience. Do you prefer an occasional or permanent relationship with God? How would you respond to the question, "Can God be trusted?"
Do you see yourself as living in God's presence on an every-day basis? All your words, thoughts, actions and motives known to God?Do you picture God as a negative force--judge and jury? Or as a positive force--a loving God calling you to be the best you can be? How can we increase our awareness of God's daily presence?
Life is littered with broken promises, many of them made to loved ones. And we let everything under the sun distract us from these commitments. Do you make it a habit to write family time on the calendar? Do you ever have a date with your parent, spouse or child? What can we do to preserve the integrity of our good intentions? "Don't just think it; write it down."--How is that advice helpful?
Psalm 141:3 reads: Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips. In Ephesians 4:15, the apostle Paul uses the phrase "speaking the truth in love" in the context of using our spiritual gifts to build up the church. How do these two verses help us understand and expand Jesus' teaching on simple, sincere speech? Is there any aspect of your speech which needs a "guard at the door"? Regarding truth and love, is one more important than the other?
Business transactions are not a hidden compartment of our lives. You know, the person you are dealing with knows, and God knows. How does your relationship with God affect the way you make or spend money, and the way you "wheel and deal"? Do you ever think about the pocket the money came out of before it went into your pocket? Prev Next