Abraham Lincoln has a reputation of being honest, “honest Abe.” He certainly had some pithy things to say about honesty. Here are a several favorites: “How many legs does a dog have if you count the tail? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” “No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar.” Mark Twain had a similar saying: “If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.” Perhaps Lincoln’s most familiar is, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” And Lincoln understood the severe consequences of not being trustworthy in what you say and do. “If once you forfeit the confidence of your fellow-citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem.”
Our study in the Sermon on the Mount takes us to consider what we say, especially, what we promise or vow. Jesus addresses the issue of oaths, but it speaks beyond formal oaths; it touches on the integrity of what we say to one another. Read Matthew 5:17-20 and then 33-37. Ask the Lord to speak to you about the integrity of your speech.
1. The fourth illustration of a saint’s righteousness concerns oaths. Can you think of times when we make oaths formally and informally? What is the purpose of an oath?
2. Here are some examples of oaths or vows from the Scriptures: Genesis 22:9-19 (Heb. 6:13-18); 24:1-9; 25:27-34; 28:10-22; Judges 11:29-40; Matthew 14:1-12; Acts 18:18. What did you learn?
3. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with making a vow or an oath (as you saw above, some vows are tragically foolish!), but the Lord does set some principles to regulate them. Consider Exodus 20:7, 16; Leviticus 19:11-12; Deuteronomy 23:21-23; and Ecclesiastes 5:4-7. What think ye?
4. According to what Jesus said in our text today (Matt. 5:33-37), what do you think the contemporary practice was concerning oaths and vows?
5. What do you think it meant to swear by heaven or earth or Jerusalem or even by your own head?
6. How do you think our society understands promises, vows or oaths?
7. How do people today swear informally (not before an officer of the court or the church!), and why do people swear or make oaths?
8. What is Jesus’ standard for those who belong to Him and His Kingdom? (His step-brother got it! James 5:12)
9. Ponder Numbers 23:19. What is true about God that Jesus wants to see in us? (See also, Titus 1:1-3; Psalm 15:4 and II Corinthians 1:12-24).
10. Why do you think Jesus says that anything more than a simple yes or no comes from evil?
11. Where do you fall short in being a person who keeps his or her word? What would Jesus have you do differently in light of His Word about our word?
God be with you, and I hope to see you on Sunday!