Let Your Yes be Yes
How many of you have read or seen C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? Do you remember how the wicked witch had brought winter everywhere? There’s no greenery – no flowers – no life. Just cold and ice and snow.
But then Aslan overcomes the queen’s dark power – and spring starts to spread. The snow starts to melt. Grass starts to grow. Flowers start to blossom. Spring starts to spread throughout the land.
That’s a perfect picture of what Jesus does in our lives. Satan and our sin have brought winter to every part of our lives. Winter covers our marriages, our emotions, our relationships, our talk, every part of our lives is winter.
But because of Jesus’ death and resurrection – when we turn to trust Him – spring comes – to our marriages, our emotions, our friendships, and -- what we are going to talk about today – our talk – especially our truth-telling.
To see this, let’s turn to Matthew 5:33-37. If you need a Bible, go ahead and raise your hand and we will bring one to you. Matthew 5 is on page 810 in the Bibles we are passing out.
We are working our way through the Sermon on the Mount. And we are right in the middle of this section in Matthew 5 where Jesus contrasts his teaching with what others were teaching.
So look at how he does that in Matthew 5:33-37 --
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.
Now again we have to start by asking What is Jesus correcting? It’s clear that he’s correcting something – because in v.33 he says – “again you have heard that it was said” but then in v.34 he says “but I say to you.” So what is He correcting?
You could think He is correcting the Old Testament – because in v.33 he refers to the Old Testament. But what I want to show you is that once again He’s not correcting the Old Testament. He’s correcting the Pharisees’ distortion of the Old Testament.
To see this – let’s look at what Jesus quotes from the Old Testament. He doesn’t quote any one verse in the Old Testament. But He puts a couple verses together – two in particular.
First he says – “You shall not swear falsely.” That’s from Leviticus 19:12 --
You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.
When the Bible talks about swearing it’s not talking about using coarse or obscene language. That’s a topic for another time. What the Bible is talking about is invoking God’s name to persuade others that you are speaking the truth.
Let’s say you are telling an amazing story and someone does not believe you. You could say – I swear to God – which means – I know that God hears everything I say and He calls me to speak the truth and He punishes lying – and knowing all that about God – I am telling you – this is the truth.
So what Leviticus 19:12 is saying is – don’t swear by God’s name falsely. Because that profanes the name of the Lord. If you are going to swear by God’s name – be sure you are telling the truth.
Then second Jesus says that we should perform to the Lord what we have sworn. That’s from Deuteronomy 23:21 --
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.
This is not just talking about telling the truth. This is talking about a time when you would make a vow before the Lord to do something – like in Acts 18 where Paul had made a vow before God to not cut his hair. We aren’t sure exactly what this involved for Paul. But the point is – if you make a vow before God – be sure to keep it.
So that’s the Old Testament background – if you swear by God to the truth of what you are saying – make sure it’s the truth – and if you make a vow before God to do something – make sure you do it. But the Pharisees took this Old Testament teaching – and completely distorted it.
To see that – turn to Matthew 23:16-19. God had said that if you swear by Him then make sure you tell the truth. But they then tried to figure out what you could swear by and not tell the truth.
And you can see that here in Matthew 23 --
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?
Can you see what the Pharisees are doing? The Old Testament said – if you swear by God then make sure you tell the truth. But they spent a lot of time talking about whether you could swear by lesser things and not tell the truth. In fact, there’s a Jewish book from around this time which devotes a whole chapter to explaining what things to swear by if you are going to lie – and what things to swear by if you are going to tell the truth.
So that’s what Jesus is correcting in Matt 5:33-37. So there’s nothing wrong with what the Old Testament said. If you swore by God – don’t swear falsely. And if you make a vow to God – keep it. But what was wrong was how the Pharisees talked about whether you could swear by lesser things and not tell the truth.
So what is Jesus calling us to do? There’s something Jesus is calling us to do – and something he’s calling us not to do.
What is Jesus calling us to do? That’s clear from v.37 --
37 Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil.
Jesus is calling us to tell the truth. Always – always – always -- tell the truth.
And what is Jesus calling us not to do? That’s a little more difficult. In v.34 Jesus does say “do not take an oath at all.” And in v.37 he does say “anything more than this yes or no comes from evil.”
This is why some Christian groups – like the Anabaptists – will not swear in a courtroom to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” I love their passionate commitment to God’s Word – but I don’t think that’s what Jesus intended – for a couple reasons.
One is that Jesus himself testified under oath, in Matthew 26. Another is that Paul – a couple times in his letters – calls God to witness that he is telling the truth. Let me show you one example – Philippians 1:8 –
For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And there’s a half-dozen other times Paul does this.
So Jesus’ point is not that it’s wrong to swear in a courtroom – that’s what Jesus does. And His point is not that it’s wrong to call God as witness to help someone else see that you are telling the truth -- that’s what Paul does.
So what should we not do? We should not use oaths as a way to look like we are telling the truth when we are not.
So what this all comes down to is – tell the truth. Jesus call us to always – always – always -- tell the truth.
But this is not easy. Think of situations in which we are tempted to lie.
Or let’s say you are feeling financial pressure and are tempted to fudge some of the numbers on your tax return. But fudging numbers is lying.
Or let’s say you are telling the guys in your DNA group about your recent hunting expedition, where you shot a four-point buck. But suddenly as you are telling the story it becomes an eight-point buck. That’s lying.
Or let’s say the application for Johnny to get into the drama group says he has to be 12 years old – and he just turned 11. But you check the box that says he’s 12 – that’s lying.
Or let’s say you’re applying for a job you really want and need. And as you write up your resume your degree in accounting suddenly becomes a double major in accounting and marketing. That major in marketing is a lie.
Are you getting the picture? We can think we never lie. We can think it’s easy to tell the truth. But in fact we all have situations in which we are tempted to lie.
So how can we overcome lying? To overcome lying we need to understand where lying comes from. Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:34 –
You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
Lying comes from evil in our hearts.
So when we lie – what’s the evil in our hearts? Well – think about what motivates lying. The reason we lie is to gain some pleasure and avoid some pain – right?
So in the illustrations I just gave – we lie because we --
- Want to avoid the pain of paying more taxes.
- Want the pleasure of having the guys be impressed at my 8-point buck.
- Want the pleasure of having Johnny in the drama group.
- Want the pleasure of getting the new job.
So what’s wrong with wanting to gain some pleasure and avoid some pain? The problem is in how we are going about that. How should we seek to gain pleasure and avoid pain?
God tells us in Psalm 84:11 --
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
Walking uprightly includes telling the truth. So God is saying trust me – that as you tell the truth – I will bring you the greatest good and keep you from the worst pain.
But how is that possible? If I tell the truth I’ll pay more taxes – not impress the guys as much – not get Johnny into drama – and not get the job. So how will telling the truth get me the greatest good?
It’s because your greatest good is not money or impressing people or the drama group or the job. Your greatest good is God -- knowing God in the person of Jesus Christ. To taste His glory, feel His presence, experience His love is infinitely more satisfying than anything else.
And when you trust God in Christ as your treasure –
- Then you’d rather tell the truth and pay more taxes – because you’ll have more of God.
- You’d rather talk about the four-point buck and be less impressive – because you’ll have more of God.
- You’d rather tell the truth and have Johnny not get into drama – because somehow you’ll have more of God.
- You’d rather tell the truth and not get the job – because God will use that to give you even more joy in Him.
So here’s the root issue. When I’m lying I’m not trusting God in Christ as my heart-satisfying Treasure. At that moment I’m trusting something else as my heart-satisfying Treasure. That’s the wickedness in my heart that causes my mouth to speak lies.
So – how can we overcome lying? It’s not as easy as just making a decision. We need a huge change of heart. But sin has power. Unbelief has power. But God has more power.
So here’s how to access God’s power to change your heart –
First, turn to God as you are – poor in spirit. Confess the evil in your heart. Ask Him to forgive you through Jesus. Admit that you have nothing good in you to recommend you to God. But plead for His mercy.
When you do that – because of Jesus – God will forgive you.
Then second – ask God to change your heart. He has the power to overcome your unbelief and fill you with faith. And when you ask Him to change your heart – and mean it – He will.
Then third – pray over Scriptures which will help you feel that God is your all-satisfying Treasure. Here’s an example – Exodus 15:11 –
Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
As you pray, and think deeply on God’s Word, and pray some more, and maybe have some believing friends join you – you will feel the Holy Spirit changing your heart. He will give you such a taste of God’s presence, God’s glory, God’s nearness – that you will want God more than anything.
And so you will gladly state the truth on your tax form – tell the truth about the four-point buck – tell the truth about Johnny’s age – and tell the truth on your resume – because as you do that God will give you more of Himself.