January 17 I Thursday
“But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all… All you need to say is simply ‘Yes,’ or ‘No…’” —Matthew 5:34, 37
Many historians agree that Winston Churchill’s oratory was a significant factor in uniting the Allies during World War II and bringing them to victory. John F. Kennedy said of Churchill’s leadership, “He marshalled the English language and sent it into battle.” The tongue is one of the most powerful weapons we have, which might explain why Jesus emphasizes the importance of honest speaking.
The fourth commandment Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount involves oath-taking. To take an oath is to swear by something bigger than us that what we are saying is true. It is not intrinsically wrong to take an oath, for God swears by Himself at one point to confirm His words (Genesis 22:16). The problem was that in Jesus’s day, the attitude behind oath-taking had produced a culture of dishonesty. It is like when kids say, “Cross my heart and hope to die.” What they mean is, “I really, truly mean it this time,” but what about all the other times? If swearing an oath is the only way to be convinced of a person’s truthfulness, this implies that without an oath, there is no reason to trust what people say. The alternative, says Jesus, is to simply be a person who speaks the truth – to let our “Yes” be “Yes” and our “No” be “No.”
The truthfulness of what we say derives from our character, which is either corrupt or true. For example, Jesus says of the devil, “When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Though the devil rarely outright lies in Scripture, he regularly asks questions designed to deceive and cast suspicion on the rightness and reasonableness of God’s Word. Lying is central to Satan’s character, and when we lie, we take after him and poison our hearts.
In contrast, the Lord Jesus is the Truth, and one of the evidences that He is indwelling and working in our hearts is that we will be true in every area of our life. We will speak truth, not because it serves our interests but because it is the natural outpouring of our hearts. We will be committed to the promises we make in our marriage, refuse to sign off on that report we know is made up, and we will come clean with those we have deceived. We will make the tough choice to be honest, even when it comes at personal expense. This makes honesty far more than another ethic in our lives; it is the criterion from which all our other ethics derive.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the Truth, and thank You that Your presence within me is making my character true. Produce in me an increasing desire and disposition to be honest.