What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen happen in church? Now, I know that this is an odd question and that your response will largely be influenced by the church tradition that you grew up with. I also know that for many of us the strangest thing that we’ve seen in the church doesn’t really make headlines, because it was an argument over the color of the carpet or something like that. But some of us have seen some really shocking things.
For me the strangest thing I’ve seen happen within the church gathering is a toss-up between my visit to a charismatic church with my friends and the church revivals that I witnessed as a child. In both cases I saw things and heard things that were extremely odd and not even close to Biblical. I’ve seen a church auditorium of 400 people go from what I would consider normal and orderly worship to out of control and unbiblical expressions of “spiritual gifts.” I’ve also seen “evangelists” say and do things that may or may not have been true, but they certainly produced results.
As I’ve gotten to know many of you, I’ve heard some strange stories about your experiences. I’ve heard things that were just plain weird and things that make me sad about the state of the church in our country. But there is a story in the book of Acts about what took place in the early church that easily tops anything I’ve ever seen.
In Acts 5, we read the story of Ananias and Saphira, a couple who owned a piece of property and sold it giving some of the proceeds to the church. But apparently, they weren’t honest about their intentions. The couple decided that they would keep some of the money and give the rest to the church, which was fine; but instead of being honest about it they lied to the Apostles about what they were actually doing.
When the husband came and gave the money, Peter said to him, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land…why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down dead and then a few verses later his wife died as well.
Can you imagine walking into church and seeing a husband and his wife being carried out dead; all because they lied. Do you take lying that seriously? Do you put a premium on speaking the truth and nothing but the truth?
The first lie occurred in the Garden in Genesis 3 and from that point forward lying is a sin at the very heart of our fallen human nature. Jesus called Satan the “Father of lies” in John 8:44 and Psalm 116:11 tells us that, “All men are liars.” Our God is a covenant keeper who never lies, but we are covenant breakers who lie naturally and treat it like it is no big deal.
But Jesus wants His followers to be men and women who speak the truth.
Matt 5:33 “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.
In this passage Jesus is talking about oaths and vows but the real matter at hand is that He wants us to be people who tell the truth. So this morning I want us to look at three thing related to this passage: The Instruction of Moses, The Ongoing Corruption, and The Simple Truth.
I. The Instruction of Moses (V. 33)
V. 33 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.
Here in this verse, Jesus is not quoting from one OT passage, but rather He is combining a handful of passages that are each aimed at teaching the same thing.
Exo 20:7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
Lev 19:11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.
Num 30: 2 If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
Deut 23:21 “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. 22 But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. 23 You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth.
The intention of these verses is to instruct the people of God to be people who speak the truth. God wants His people to be people of integrity, to be people that others can trust. He wants us to be truth-tellers who say what we mean and mean what we say. In other words, God wants us to be like Him and He never lies (Titus 1:2).
But Moses’ instruction is necessary because by our fallen nature we are not like God, when it comes to speaking the truth we are far more influenced by the one who has been lying from the beginning.
The crowning work of God in creation was the marriage of Adam and Eve. God was pleased with all that He had made and He declared that it was good. But He was so pleased in the creation of Adam and Eve the He declared it was very good. There was a measurable increase in goodness.
Then Satan entered the story as a serpent and his aim was not to corrupt creation from the bottom up but from the top down. Satan focused all of his malice upon the intimacy of the man and woman. But how would he bring down God’s crowning creative achievement? How is Satan going to bring down the pinnacle of God’s creation? By Lying.
In Gen 3:1 - Satan said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
The simple answer is “No, that is not what God said”; but Satan isn’t interested in facts. He asks this question as a way to cause Eve to doubt what God had said. Eve had never had any reason to question if God had told her the truth about the fruit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She had never considered the possibility that God was not telling her the truth, nor that He was limiting her experience of life in any way. But now she is, because of Satan’s lie. Satan is a liar and he wants to destroy all trust in God and God’s Word.
So he asks, “Excuse me dear lady, but did I hear God actually say that there was something in this garden that you aren’t allowed to eat? How could God withhold something from you?” She had never thought that way before. Eve had always had everything she needed and everything she wanted. She had never had any reason to doubt God’s Word nor God’s generosity.
Back up at Gen 1:29 we see just how generous God was with Adam and Eve.
V. 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.
She had a whole world of fruit to choose from but Satan’s question causes her heart to fix on the one thing that God told her not to eat. And God even gave her an explanation as to why. He told them that they were not allowed to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because, “In the day that you eat of it you will surely die.” You see God was not only being generous but also protective.
4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
“Dear lady, this fruit won’t cause you to die, in fact the real reason God doesn’t want you to eat it is that this fruit has the power to make you just like Him.”
Satan tempted Eve by calling God’s Word into question and by lying about what God had said. God’s Word has fashioned the universe. God’s Word is purer and more powerful than anything we know. God’s Word is the foundation of all reality, but the serpent challenges Eve’s view of reality by calling God a liar. Satan lied to her and turned her heart away from God.
Satan wanted her to believe that God’s Word was a lie. He wants all of humanity to believe that God’s Word is a lie. He wants to turn the world upside-down…with a lie. From the Garden on throughout all of Biblical history we see that God always speaks the truth and that Satan is the father of lies. One of the key distinctions between the people of God and the unbelieving world is whether or not we believe the truth and speak the truth.
So, this is not just some arbitrary decision that telling the truth is good and lying is bad; being honest, being a person of integrity, and speaking the truth are tied to the very character of God. This flows out of who He is. By contrast, to be dishonest, to twist the truth and to knowingly tell lies is an echo of Satan’s influence in our hearts.
But what does all of this Biblical backstory have to do with what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 5? Let’s look at that again.
II. The Ongoing Corruption (Vv. 34-36)
V. 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.
So, the immediate context of this passage is about the taking of an oath or a vow, which amounts to a solemn promise. If you were to make a vow or take an oath, you would be making a sincere promise to carry out some task, or to follow up on some responsibility.
But the oath or vow is only as good as the integrity of the person making them. In other words, I can make promises all day but what really matters is whether or not I follow through, will I be a man of my word.
Now the Pharisees saw things a little differently. Once again, they were interested only in the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law. So long as they were careful in how they worded their vows, they thought there was no need to be so meticulous about carrying them out. So, they created a system of making vows and oaths in carefully worded ways that justified their lack of integrity.
They had trouble telling the truth consistently, just like you and I do, so in order to guard themselves against being found guilty of swearing falsely by the name of God, it seems that they had firmly established the habit of swearing by everything EXCEPT God.
The Pharisees argued that what the law of Moses was really prohibiting was not taking the name of the Lord in vain but taking the name of the Lord in vain. So, they would make promises but as long as they didn’t mention the name of the Lord they didn’t think it was necessary to keep those promises. They had created a system that allowed them to be righteous in the eyes of the law even though they were dishonest in actual practice and for this Jesus called them hypocrites and blind guides in Matthew 23:16-22:
V. 16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
The main point of what Jesus is saying in both of these passages is that it doesn’t matter what verbal formula you use, what matters is whether or not you are going to keep your word. If you make a vow you are bound to keep it. If you make a promise you should do everything in your power to keep it. If we learn to be people of our word, people of honesty and integrity; then there really is no need to make a vow at all. We simply become honest and trustworthy people, like our heavenly father.
So Jesus gets around the issue of Oaths and Vows and makes it very simple for us.
III. The Simple Truth (V. 37)
37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
Haddon Robinson’s comments on this passage are helpful.
“If anger was the real issue of murder, lust the real issue of adultery, selfishness the real issue of divorce, then deceit is the real issue of oaths.” He went on to add “Jesus wasn’t addressing whether or not we should take an oath. He was talking about whether or not we are truthful…. We don’t tell the truth because we have taken an oath; we tell the truth because we are truthful.”
Honest people don’t need to swear by anything, they are known for their honesty and their word is enough. That’s what Jesus wants us to understand. He wants us to honest and truthful the way He and the Father are honest and truthful. Jesus wants us to follow Him and to be men and women of integrity.
Think about it, if we said what we meant and meant what we said there would be no need to make lofty promises. If we kept our word, even down to the smallest thing, it might cause us to be slow in speaking which would be a good thing, but it would also eliminate the need for solemn vows because people could simple trust us. This is what Jesus wants from his people. He wants us to live simple and quiet lives of honesty and trustworthiness.
This is something that we are going to have to think about and work hard so that we can grow. We are going to have to work hard to avoid some of the more common ways that we fall into deception and falsehood. So let’s talk about some of the ways we commonly fail to tell the truth.
1. The half-truth: you tell the truth, but not all the truth. This happens when our children get into fight and when we try to get to the bottom of what happened we only get one side of the story.
This also happens when a friend tells you about a fight they had with their spouse and when you ask what happened to cause the fight, they only tell you the terrible things their spouse did, while conveniently leaving out the terrible things they’ve done.
Abraham did this when he claimed that Sarah was his sister. She was his half-sister, but he didn’t mention that she also happened to be his wife! He was being deceitful so that he could protect himself and it happens to us more than we care to admit.
2. The “white” lie: these are the “innocent” lies that “don’t hurt anyone.” You call in sick to work when you’re really well. Just because it is culturally expected doesn’t mean that it is right.
3. The lie to cover for someone else: this doesn’t happen as much today, but before we had cell phones we had something called a home-phone. There were times when someone would call to talk to a friend who happened to be sitting right beside you, but you lied and said, “No, they’re not here right now.”
We might see this at work where a secretary would lie about her boss or supervisor not being in the office, when actually they are avoiding someone or some deadline. Whatever the circumstance we are lying to cover for someone else.
4. Exaggeration: stretching the truth to make yourself look better or to evoke sympathy for your cause. Sometimes it’s an old fish story where we want people to think we are better than we actually are. But at other times this is a form of manipulation that we use to gain people’s sympathy. Either way it’s a lie.
5. The silent lie: have you ever had a person assume something flattering about you that is clearly false, but you don’t speak up to correct it.
6. The cover-up lie: You hide your own wrongdoing with the rationalization that it would hurt the other person too much to find out the real truth.
7. The evasive lie: do you ever change the subject or conveniently dodge the truth by not answering directly. 
All of these are common and seemingly simple ways of communication, but as Christians we need to learn to see them for what they are…lies. The intention is to hide the truth, to embellish the situation, to manipulate and deceive so that we can gain favor in someone else’s eyes.
James 3:2 We all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
The truth is that we will fail in our speech, but what should we do when we fail? What happens when we make a promise that we simply cannot keep? What happens when we fail to speak the truth? The first thing we must do is to confess our sin to God. Then we must confess our sin to the person we lied to and finally we must seek to make things right with genuine repentance.
The Bible is filled with warnings for how our tongues can cause destruction.
Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
Jesus wants us to be people whose tongues give life. He wants us to be a church whose speech is trustworthy.
I want to challenge you, all of us as a church, to take this matter seriously and to work to grow in the area of telling the truth. I have provided for you a copy of 20 Resolutions on Taming the Tongue written by Sinclair Ferguson. Let me urge you to take this and open your Bible to the book of James and read through these two things together examining the common ways you speak and seeking to grow in speaking the truth in all things.
 The Christian Salt & Light Company [Discovery House Publishing], p. 156-158