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The Christian’s Truthfulness

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The Sermon on the Mount

The Christian’s Truthfulness
Matthew 5:33-37

We live in an age when the truth has taken a big hit. There is no doubt a truth shortage in our society. Think quickly back to the recent scandals that have made the headlines. I don’t think there had been a bigeer scandal of corruption and untruthfulness than the Enron scandal. There is the book A million Tiny Pieces in which the author had to retract much of what he said in the book. Of course Dan Rather from CBS evening news lost his career over the lack of “fact-checking” of a news article. College presidents have had to resign for padding their resumes to the point that some claimed to have degrees that they didn’t earn.

A few years back two guys interviewed thousands of people, and they published
their findings in a book called The Day America Told the Truth.

Of those surveyed, 91% said that they lie on a regular basis.
86% said they lie to their parents regularly,
75% said they lie to their friends,
69% said they lie to their spouses.
50% said they regularly called in to work sick when they weren’t

Some years ago UPI reported this prayer by the Chaplain of the Kansas Senate:

            Omniscient Father:

Help us to know who is telling the truth. One side tells us one thing and the other just the opposite.

            And if neither side is telling the truth, we would like to know that, too.

            And if each side is telling half the truth, give us the wisdom to put the right halves

            In Jesus’ name, Amen.

This is an appropriate prayer to those who have been watching the news on how our candidates have been twisting the truth to fit their campaigns.

A preacher once said, “So much of business, politics, government, the educational system, science, religion, and even family life is built on falsehoods and half-truths that a sudden revelation of the whole truth would cause society as we know it to disintegrate. It would be too devastating to handle.”

Daniel Webster wrote, “There is nothing as powerful as truth, and often nothing as strange.

This drought of the truth is what makes Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount so meaningful and refreshing. Our text tells us how to build fundamental truthfulness into our lives, or How to tell the truth in a truth-perverting world.

I.       Understand that the Old Testament Encourages the Truth (33)
Verse 33 is a good summarization of the Old Testament teaching on oaths. The oath is primarily self-cursing should one not be speaking the truth. It strengthens the human word and is meant to give an assurance that what is said is true. This may be done by swearing by what is held to be valuable and sacred. Usually to strengthen a statement the witness of God was called upon.
A common one in the Old Testament was “God do so to me and more.” 2 Samuel 3:35 (KJV) And when all the people came to cause David to eat meat while it was yet day, David sware, saying, So do God to me, and more also, if I taste bread, or ought else, till the sun be down. 1 Kings 2:23 (KJV) Then king Solomon sware by the LORD, saying, God do so to me, and more also, if Adonijah have not spoken this word against his own life.  From the rest of the Old Testament we can understand two things.

A.        Oaths were encouraged
Deuteronomy 10:20 (KJV), Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name. Not only were they encouraged to make vows and oaths, they were encouraged to do it in God’s name: Jeremiah 12:16-17 (KJV), And it shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, The LORD liveth; as they taught my people to swear by Baal; then shall they be built in the midst of my people. 17But if they will not obey, I will utterly pluck up and destroy that nation, saith the LORD.

B.         Oaths were discouraged if you did not fulfill them
Leviticus 19:12 (KJV) And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.
Numbers 30:2 (KJV) If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.
Deuteronomy 23:21 (KJV) When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.

II.    Avoid Trivializing the Truth (34-36)
How many of you are familiar with these common “lies”?
Honest, I only need 5 minutes of your time
Your table will be ready in just a few minutes
The check is in the mail
We service what we sell
If elected, I promise…
-- A busload of politicians were headed to a convention but because of highway construction, they had to take a detour down a rural road. The driver was having problems with this windy, country lane and lost control of the bus. It ran off the road and crashed into a tree in an old farmer’s field.
The old farmer was driving to town when he noticed that that there was a gaping hole in his fence. He went to investigate and saw what had happened. He went back to his truck, got a shovel, and buried all the politicians. Since the politicians never arrived at their destination, a state trooper was dispatched to locate them. He backtracked their route, followed the country road, saw the wrecked bus in the field, and looked up the old farmer that owned the property. The trooper asked the farmer where the
politicians had gone. The farmer informed the trooper that he’d buried all of them.
The trooper said, “Didn’t you call the coroner? After all, not all of them might have been dead.” The old farmer replied, “Well, some of them kept sayin’ they weren’t but you know how them politicians lie!”

The situation in Jesus time was that Bible teaching came under massive abuse. The rabbis had developed a sophisticated set of rules that governed how binding an oath really was by examining how closely it was related to God's name. For example, swearing by heaven and earth was not binding, nor was swearing by Jerusalem, though swearing toward Jerusalem was. There was an ongoing epidemic of frivolous swearing, and oaths we continually mingled in everyday speech: “By your life,” by my beard,” “May I never see the comfort of Israel if…” There was an inevitable trivialization of everyday language and integrity. It became common practice to convince another that you were telling the truth (while lying) by bringing some person or eminent object into reference. All this brought about a kind of spiritual schizophrenia: “I’m not telling the truth, but I’m not really lying.” It reminds me of when children would “I have my fingers crossed, so I don’t have to tell the truth.”

This is what Jesus is referring to in these verses by heaven, earth, and Jerusalem.  Jesus later in Matthew 23:16-22 addresses the same issue in more detail. He in essence says that it is wrong to swear by any of these including your head, because all belongs to God. All of this is sin.

III. Remove All Shadings of the Truth from Your Life

Jesus solution is very simple, “let your yes be yes, and your no be no.” People who are Christians don’t need to swear or take an oath. In fact they should refrain from such activity, because their word should be truth. But unfortunately that is not the case with many who call themselves Christians.

ILL: Doug Sherman and William Hendricks, compared the ethics of Christian and non-
Christian adults.
They found that almost as many Christians steal from work as non-Christians,
Almost as many Christians use company phones for personal long distance. As
And they found that Christians are just as likely to falsify our income taxes, and
commit plagiarism, and give bribes to obtain a building permit, and ignore
construction specs, and illegally copy computer programs, and steal time from
work, and exaggerate our products, and selectively obey the law.

It is so difficult to simply tell the truth, because we live in a world awash in hyperbole and exaggeration.

How truthful are we?
Do we tell little white lies for social benefit?
Are we dogmatic when we shouldn’t be?
Can you say, “I don’t know?”
Do you exaggerate?
Are you honest in business? With the IRS?
Are you honest about our sins and struggles?
Can people around us trust that what we say is reliable?
Or do we only tell the truth in a contract?
Do we attempt to deceive in any way?

We can make any number of excuses for why we deceive, but every one of them shows a lack of faith.
If I’m honest on my tax return, I won’t have enough money (not trusting God to provide.)
If I’m honest with this person they’ll think badly of me (not trusting God to bring reconciliation or to be faithful to be enough for us when relationships are broken)
If I’m honest about this sin, people will reject me (not really believing the gospel that we’re all worthy of rejection).

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