The Credibles (Matthew 5:33-37)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Matthew 5:33–5:37
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
November 25th, 2018
I. What Heroes Do
What do heroes do? What exactly does someone have to do to be labeled a “hero”?
If you know me, then you know I love superheroes. In general terms, the superheroes that spring from our imaginations, just like the real heroes in our everyday world, go above and beyond to make a difference in people's lives, especially when those people need it most. This is true whether you're talking about local firefighters or the Fantastic Four.
This morning, God wants to remind you and me that He has a team of heroes. You've probably heard of the superhero family called “The Incredibles” (my family and I just watched their sequel movie the other night). Well, God's superhero family is the church, also known as “The Credibles”.
Let me explain that name by using our main passage this morning, Matthew 5:33-37. Turn over to that passage if you haven't done so already.
II. The Passage: "Do Not Take an Oath" (5:33-37)
As we've seen in previous lesson, beginning in 5:21, Jesus has been explaining for us the exceeding righteousness he mentioned in 5:20. Or to put it another way, Jesus has been explaining the commands of God that he himself is fulfilling (5:17). And one of the ways he fulfills these commands is by bringing out their fullness... for us his followers.
In the previous passages, we heard Jesus do this very thing with topics like murder, adultery, and divorce. So what exactly did Jesus do to bring out the fullness of God's commands? He moved us past the outward actions and focused on the heart. What kind of heart eventually expresses itself in things like murder, adultery, and divorce? An anger-poisoned, lust-corrupted, self-exalting heart.
As Jesus is making clear in teachings like these, our problem is not simply what we do wrong on the outside; it's who we are on the inside. And Jesus continues this same idea in his next topic. Look with me at verses 33-37. Jesus declares...
“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.’  But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,  or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
Now, if you're anything like me, then these verses have you scratching your head. Anger and lust I get, but oaths? What exactly is Jesus saying here?
Well, as you can see from your notes insert, I've broken this passage down into three parts, in order to help us understand what Jesus is telling us here about something we do with our mouths (i.e., swearing or oath-taking), but at the same time, also something about our hearts. So first of all, when we look at the first and last verses of this passage, we discover that Jesus is...
1. Clarifying this Kind of Swearing (vs. 33, 37)
Some might read this passage and think, we'll I guess I could never be a witness in a court case, since... they make you raise your right hand, place your other hand on the Bible, and... swear. Yep, swear... that is, take an oath that what you are about to say is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It's called being “under oath”, right?
So is that what Jesus is prohibiting here?
Or what about making wedding vows? Or what about promising your children your going to buy them a pony? Or what about being sworn into a political office?
Are these the kinds of things Jesus has in mind here?
Well, wait a minute. Remember Jesus' opening phrase, “you have heard that it was said to those of old”. So Jesus is pointing us back to something in the OT, or... a way that something in the OT was understood in Jesus' own time. So what might he have in mind here? Listen to a couple verses from the Torah, the first five books of the OT...
You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:12)
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. (Numbers 30:2)
Okay. So this is what Jesus has in mind when he says “do not take an oath”? Well, I think Jesus would say that if you make a vow or a pledge, you should fulfill it. Similarly, if you make a sworn statement and invoke the name of God, then you should absolutely tell the truth.
So wait. That isn't what Jesus is talking about? If it isn't, what is He talking about? Well, look at the last verse of our passage, verse 37: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
It's seem clear from that verse that what Jesus has in mind are situations in which a 'yes' or 'no' answer would suffice. And if that's the case, then it seems that certain Jews in Jesus' day would turn certain responses, certain statements into sworn statements. Why would they do something like that? Well, I'm guessing they did so because they thought it added credibility; maybe by making the swearer sound more pious; holier; more spiritual. In fact, there seems to have been a whole system of swearing. For example, in verses 34-36, we hear Jesus...
2. Cataloging this Kind of Swearing (vs. 34-36)
If you go back and look at those verses, you'll see that there seems to have been different levels of oath-making. At the top of the list (v. 34), if someone really wanted to stress their seriousness, they could swear by “heaven”. Maybe for less serious oaths, someone might (v. 35) swear by “the earth”. And maybe for an even less serious oath, someone could (v. 35) swear by Jerusalem. And at bottom of the list, it seems, I guess for more mundane matters, someone might even (v. 36) swear by their own “head”.
Later in this same gospel, Jesus challenges the “scribes and the Pharisees” (23:15) by addressing their man-made traditions about oath-making. In Matthew 23:16-22, Jesus adds to our list of First Century oath-making formulas. It seems people were swearing not only by “the temple”, but by “the gold of the temple” as well. Some were also swearing by the temple's sacred altar, as well as by offerings laid upon the altar.
That passage from Matthew 23 also seems to indicate that the religious leaders made judgments about how binding certain oaths were. They could have been done that to create loopholes, so as to get out from under a particular oath.
So again, it appears there were formulas used to make declarations, to make affirmations, to answer questions, in the form of a sworn statement. “Eli, will you sell me three sheep for the fair market price?”... “Simeon, I swear by the gold of the temple that I shall indeed sell you three sheep for the fair market price!”
Now, that sounds somewhat harmless to me. But Jesus says, “No! Do not take an oath at all. Do not swear in this way.” To understand why Jesus issues this restriction, we need to keep these verses in mind as we look at the last verse of this passage, verse 37. In that verse we discover that Jesus is...
3. Correcting this Kind of Swearing (v. 37)
The correction that Jesus gives is simple...
“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil (or the Evil One).”
But why? Why not add the religious element of an oath? Well, remember what Jesus said in verses 34 and 35:
But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,  or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
Jesus made a similar point in chapter 23, verses 20-22...
So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it.  And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it.  And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
You see, these oath-makers, who could be simply answering “yes” and “no”, were taking sacred realities (like the ones Jesus just listed) and using them for their own rhetorical flourish, for their own attempts to seem holy, for their own efforts to add credibility to whatever statement they were making, or even to create linguistic loopholes to deceive their listeners.
Jesus goes on in verse 36 to tell them: “And do not [we might say, “do not even”] take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.” Jesus confronts the pride of these oath-takers by reminding them that not even one hair on their head is under their control. In fact, he will go on to tell his disciples about God's control, about God's sovereignty as King: “even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:30) Like heaven, and earth, and Jerusalem, and the temple, even the hairs on our head point us back to the greatness of God.
III. Being an Everyday Hero
So all this brings us to an important question: if Jesus is talking here about something you do with your mouth (i.e.,oath-taking), is he also telling you something about your heart? Absolutely! Remember what Jesus has been doing in this chapter, beginning in verse 21. He's been guiding us in terms of the heart. And he's doing the very same thing here.
He's describing for us the righteousness of the kingdom; he's describing the man or woman who follows him, who, in the words of Matthew Henry, “should be of such acknowledged fidelity, as that their sober words should be as sacred as their solemn oaths.” (2x)
What exactly does that mean? Think about that word “fidelity”. Fidelity has to do with faithfulness, with trustworthiness, with loyalty, with constancy, with honesty, with dependability and responsibility. When a person is thought of in those terms, there is no need for oaths. There is no need for swearing. There is no need to add credibility with spiritual-sounding vows. Why? Because that person's everyday life has already established his or her credibility.
You see, Jesus is pointing you to the issue of your character; your integrity. Are you a person of your word, that is, will you actually do what you've said you'll do? Can you be relied on? Are you trustworthy? Do you have a reputation for being honest and dependable? Are you responsible? Would people in your life trust you with their secret, with their burden, with their vehicle, with their child, with their life?
The man or woman who strives to be that kind of person, who feels confident that most people do think of them in those terms, that person has no need to say anything but “yes” or “no”... “their sober words should be as sacred as their solemn oaths”. The people around should be able to say, “If he said yes, then he'll do it”, or “if she said no, then I believe her. It wasn't her fault.”
This is precisely why the church, God's family, should also be known as “the Credibles”. And why should we strive to be characterized by such things? Because if we belong to Christ, by grace, through faith, then we are a children of a faithful, loyal, trustworthy, honest, constant, dependable Father. Our God always keeps his word. Amen? Our God always tells us the truth. Amen? Our God is always a rock and refuge. Amen? He will never leave us or forsake us. Amen? I can trust him, you can trust him, with everything, even your very life. Amen?
As followers of Jesus, we have been called to reflect God, yes in all our words, but also in all our ways. Remember Matthew 5:48... “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
I love how Paul expressed this same principle in II Corinthians 12. In talking about an amazing vision he was given, a vision of the glory of God, Paul is working hard to not sound boastful. But in II Corinthians 12:6, he writes...
...though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.
Paul did not want his godliness to be based, in their eyes, on some supernatural experience he had. He wanted his godly reputation among them to be based on what they saw in him and heard from him; that is, he wanted it to be based on his everyday life among them.
Is that what you desire? Do you strive to reflect the faithfulness of God in all your relationships? Do you long for your reputation to reflect your Redeemer? If you do, then let me suggest two steps forward: first, acknowledge your failings when it comes to credibility. All of us can struggle with being trustworthy, because all of us struggle with trusting ourselves before God. I might like the idea of being devoted to the people in my life, but being devoted to myself can often take priority in my heart.
For some, that attitude can lead to a lot of broken promises, a lot of excuse-making, and the formation of a pretty flaky reputation. But for others of us, that attitude leads to a life of non-commitment. A person may not be considered trustworthy, not because they've betrayed a trust, but because they've never earned it. Some of us tend to pull back when it comes to responsibility and dependability. Thus in many relationships, relationships God has put in our lives, we have no real track record when it comes to trustworthiness.
Of course, there are exceptions to this, in terms of hard seasons and circumstances. But for most of us, we recognize the ways we are tempted to put love of self over our responsibilities to others. But remember, the Jesus who speaks to us here about faithfulness is the same Jesus who was faithful for us, to the point of death, even death on a cross. We are able to trust in Christ, not simply because he said he would save us, but because he actually did; because He actually went to the cross and suffered in our place.
That is good news: that Jesus died for the flaky, for the irresponsible, for betrayers, for the dishonest, for me-centered people like us. And he also died for those who take pride in the fact they are not any of those things, or so they believe.
But in light of new life in Christ, the second step forward is simple: by God's grace, through his Spirit, be faithful. Be a faithful friend, a faithful brother, sister, father, mother, son, daughter, neighbor, etc. Remember, real heroes in our everyday world go above and beyond to make a difference in people's lives, especially when those people need it most. God has called us to bring his light into the lives of those around us. And that starts with God's love to us becoming God's love through us, and that love expressing itself in faithfulness to others... even in the small stuff.
Let's pray and ask God to empower us for that kind of life, as we look first, not to our own reputations, but to our Redeemer, Jesus, and to his proven, unchanging faithfulness.