The whole idea is to contrast the transformational power of the gospel, with the emptiness of our own striving and morality. The character we exhibit is supernatural, it is not simply a list of 100 rules. The whole message of the SOTM is highlighting the difference. And we’re covering some amazing ground… character, sexuality… and now He is approaching speech and the foundation of truth and integrity.
Matthew 5:33-37 “Again you have heard that it was said to those 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 take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath 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.
With this text in mind, we're looking for four ideas around words and integrity:
One: See the importance of words
From creation, to the 10 commandments coming through words, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as God comes speaking to them, we see that God uses words. He used words to call Moses at the burning bush… and in the life of Christ, He could have chosen any human endeavor. But He came as one who uses words to bring change and healing – God’s investment in us came through words.
Further, our deepest relationships are bound to us through words, I DO take this woman to be my wife… I accept the offer to purchase this home. Even the transmission of the gospel, comes through hearing words. For God has chosen the foolishness of preaching to be one of the main vehicles that He uses to speak to us. Life changing things happen through language, expressed through words.
And the order and progression Jesus uses to highlight this is really interesting.
First is heaven, the idea of finished perfection and the realm of the theoretical. This is the plan on the chalkboard that (for us) hasn't happened yet. It's what many of us use as the basis for truth and the foundation for keeping promises.
Or maybe earth, in the real, in the things we touch and see, creation, but also the place of reality where the rubber meets the road in sense of practicality. The modern world loves to swear by the earth, by created things, by things we can see and verify and use the scientific method on.
Perhaps we bind our oaths to Jerusalem and systems of political and religious power, and their reflecting organizations… like the government and the local church. These aren't bad, but apart from God they are limited and incomplete at best - and self-serving and myopically corrupt at worst.
Do we follow the ancients, doing what is right in our own eyes with no thought or trust to morality beyond our own personal reason?
Jesus says, "no" to all of these - and points us back to God in every case. He is the basis for truth and promises... for integrity and right relationships. Everything gives way to God as our foundation here.
But see the importance of words – we NEED to speak and be spoken to – someone in solitary confinement with no contact – will literally go mad. Words are important.
TWO: See the danger of words – consider the example of the couple getting a divorce. If the basis is Heaven – I had a marriage in mind and this isn’t it... and the promise is in danger. If our foundation is Earth, then our words day to day in practical living are cutting more and more - this isn't working in the real world! If we look to 'Jerusalem', our government and courts say that we can dissolve this relationship, with no fault, so there you go. Or if the highest truth is based on ourselves – it's all too easy to see that you’re not meeting my needs, and if that is the highest truth here, the relationship is at risk.
We say as children that sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Only one problem here, that saying isn't true. Words can wound and and words can tear a family apart.
Proverbs 12:18 says, "There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."
The way we use language can be dangerous and devestating... but God can also use our words for good.
THREE: See the healing of words – Look to two principles here: truth and love.
Ephesians 4:15 says, "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ..."
Two principles: truth and love. Speak the truth in love… for truth without love is coldness, self-righteous and it’s rigid… and love without truth is cowardice, self-indulgent, and weak. We musn't say, "I love them too much to tell them the truth" for sometimes the truth can save us.
And this cuts both ways… often someone comes to us with a criticism… but they come aggressively, in the wrong way, they exaggerate, they mix the true part in with a lot of false parts to make it seem worse… and how do we respond? Badly.
Yet if there is something there that is true, and we know they have a point, can we say something else instead? “There’s really something to what you’ve said, will you give me time to think about it and consider your words to me?” Could those words bring healing? Could they help us grow?
And we know this: words can build up. You can encourage someone with what you say and how you say it – so look for those opportunities! Words are important, dangerous, healing, and the last thing is this:
FOUR: See that words come from the heart.
Luke 6:45 says, "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks."
We need to focus on what we can do… be accurate, be fair, live with integrity… don’t exaggerate to make yourself look better, or to make others look bad. The problem is that the Sermon on the Mount is telling us that God doesn’t just want us to say, "we’re sorry." He actually wants us to mean it. You have to MEAN it. And to mean it, always goes deeper than just saying the words. We can’t get there on our own, Benjamin Franklin. We have to go to God and let Him be the King of the Hill – we turn away from our ideas about how things ought to be and our own works and our own organizations and even from our own opinions and we ask God to speak through us.
If you want new words, ask God for a new heart. And out of that heart good things can flow, things that are true and loving, and beautiful.
And don’t forget that God speaks to us from His heart as well. The Holy Spirit tells us the truth and it cuts… but it’s not reckless, it’s more like surgery.
The truth is that good exists and that the perfect intent and the perfect actions are available but we fall short. Here on earth, we say and do horrible things to each other… we see them on the news every week. In Jerusalem, so to speak, our organizations are incomplete at best, self-serving and corrupt at worst. And when we really focus and concentrate and put all of our resources in play, we find that we’re helpless. We can’t actually change one hair on our head. We think we can… but it’s actually still a white hair, just with ink on it now. Those things are true.
But God doesn’t just speak the truth, He also speaks with love and His plans and strategy are higher than our plans and in Heaven He foresaw the redeemed to come. His heart towards you is amazing and filled with good things. On earth, He walked around as a man, breathing our air and speaking words we could understand and write down for later. And if you want to vote for someone, vote for Jesus… because He is the King of the New Jerusalem and He is able to see the truth and all of it… and He is powerful enough to do something about it.
Even when we are lost and fallen, He gives us back to ourselves… literally making us His children, adopting us into His family and giving us true identity. And with that identity comes power.
In seeing God’s word to us, we can accept it as true and loving. More than that, the promises we find can become weapons for war and weapons for real change… as God’s truth and His love begin to flow through us and our words become beautiful. So Surgeons, let your yes be yes to the fullness of His calling and let your no be no and filled with righteousness that no evil can stand against.