What is the Meaning of Matthew 5.33-37

“Keep Your Word” A Call to Militant Truthfulness in a Post-Truth World

Matthew 5:33-37

INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Matthew 5.33-37

Matthew 5. Frank Abig-nail had a penchant for lying and thievery. When he was 15, his dad gave him a gasoline card and a truck. Frank would buy gas and other items with the card and then return the items in exchange for cash. He cheated his father out of $3400.

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In 1964, when Frank was 16, Frank, not knowing what was going on, was hauled into the court where his parents were before the judge. The judge informed him that his parents were getting a divorce and the judged asked him which parent he wanted to live with. Instead of answering the question, he ran from the court and never saw his dad again.

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Then Frank turned to writing personal cheques on his own overdrawn account. Knowing the bank demanded payment, he opened up different bank accounts with different banks and false identities and writing himself bad cheques. He began to print out nearly perfect copies of payroll checks. Upon depositing them, he got banks to advance him cash. He even figured out how to print his own account number on blank deposit slips and then to add them to a stack of real blank slips in the bank, so that when those slips were given to bank customers and those customers filled out their deposits on those slips, that money would enter into his account.

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At an airport, he noticed where airlines and car rental businesses would drop off their daily money collection. They would drop them off into a dropbox. So he purchased a security guard the skies and put out a sign over the box “Out of Service, Place deposits with security guard on duty”… And sat next to the box!

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At the age of 16, walking down a 42nd St. in Manhattan, out of a hotel stepped a flight crew and he gets an idea. He makes a phone call to the executive office of Pan Am, and asks for the purchasing department. He tells them he’s a pilot and that the dry cleaners had lost his flight suit. He’s told to go down the street where their distributor is and pick up a new one.

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He goes down to the LaGuardia Airport and tried to figure out how to get on a plane. He realized that without an ID card, his suit was worthless. By calling around, he figured out who made those airline pilot badges: 3M. Posing as a purchasing officer for another airline who’s impressed with Pan-Am’s format, he goes to 3M and convinces the sales rep to give him a sample of a Pan-Am id card. But the sample had written on it, “This is a sample.”

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“Won’t do, I need a real one and what’s all this on the floor?” “Why, we sell the whole system, camera, laminator, everything.” “Do we have to buy all this?” “Yes.” “Well, since we have to buy it all, why don’t you just demonstrate to me how it works and use me as an example?” “Sure, have a seat right here!” But the example ID didn’t have the company logo. Discouraged, he walked back to his hotel…pass a hobby shop, in which was sold PanAm model planes! He used that logo and decal to forge his airplane ID and thereby flew more than 1,000,000 for free and boarded more than 260 aircraft, going to 26 countries. He’d also cashed bad personal cheques at the front desks of the hotels that had agreements with the airlines.

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After nearly getting arrested disembarking a flight in New Orleans, he moved to Georgia and upon being asked his occupation on a rental agreement at an upscale apartment, he wrote “doctor.” After befriending a real doctor, he agreed to work as a supervisor of resident interns until they could find a permanent supervisor. Abagnale was able to fake the work, because supervisors don’t do real medical work, just supervise. An infant almost died from oxygen deprivation because he did not know what the nurse meant by a “blue baby.”

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Knowing he could put lives at risk, Frank would go on to forge a Harvard University law transcript, study for 8 weeks and pass the Louisiana bar exam. At that time, you can take it as many times as you wish and he said it was “really a matter of eliminating what you got wrong,” and so he got a job at the Louisiana State Attorney General’s office at the age of 19.

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He eventually set up shop in Montrichard in France, where he was arrested after a French stewardess recognized him from a “Wanted” poster. After his conviction in France, he was sentenced for 6 months in a tiny, filthy, lightless cell that he was never allowed to leave. The cell lacked toilet facilities, a mattress, or a blanket, and food and water were strictly limited. He went in at 198 lbs and came out 109 lbs.

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There’s much more to that story, but if you’re talking with Frank in your living room, what would it take to get that man to guarantee that he was being honest? What would have to be done to that man if you were to know for sure he was being truthful? Perhaps there is something in vv.33-37 of Matthew 5.

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Matthew 5:33–37 33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 “But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 “Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.

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To get a man like Frank Abignale to make his “yes” always be a “yes,” would take something not specifically written here, a radical reprogramming of his mind. But out there in the world, it’s impossible to guarantee honesty, but with the power of Christ, liars can be changed into truth tellers.

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Culture of Lies

But as we know, we live in a culture that thrives on lies! The dollar store that sells things for $2, and the Hershey’s syrup that claims to have calcium, but the supplement facts on the back says “Calcium: 0%.”

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And a a gummy vitamin company called “one a day”, you guessed it, the serving size is 2 gummies!

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Religion promising health and wealth or even heaven if you give enough money, athletes being called out for doping and denying it and proven guilty, even a speech on self-deception by a psychiatrist… that was, ironically, so filled with fake passion. And we know it’s so bad when politicians lie and we would even publicly condemn them, but when you tell a little lie to your coworkers, spouse or your kids, it’s not that bad, right?

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Though it may not be apparent on the surface of our passage, the primary point of the passage is truthfulness and being men and women of our word. “Keep Your Word.” Today’s message is a call to militant truthfulness in our post-truth world.

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  1. What they were told: Do not make false vows, fulfill your vows to the Lord (Matthew 5:33)

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    First, Jesus gives instruction on the taking of vows, or oaths.

Matthew 5:33 33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’

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What an Oath is

In the Bible, an oath or a vow, or swearing is a statement or a promise with words relating to God or something serious as a sign that you’re telling the truth.

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For example, kids take oaths. Maybe you’ve even said, “Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” That’s an oath. Why would little Johnny say that? Because he just told little Suzie that there’s an elephant outside!

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Little Johnny is trying to tell you how serious that he is telling the truth. Little did Johnny know that he was saying that if there wasn’t an elephant outside, that he was promising to hope to die and to get a needle in his eye!

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TRANS: Unlike what you could do with Frank Abignale in your living room, the Old Testament had its way of regulating truthfulness in certain circumstances.

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Biblical Teaching on Oath-taking

Taking oaths was actually encouraged…

Deuteronomy 10:20 20 “You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.” You shall swear by His name!

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Take your oaths in the name of the LORD.

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But you are required to keep your vow. You must tell the truth or keep your promise. Keep your promises!

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And what Jesus is doing in verse 33 is actually combining teaching from at least 2 passages, Lev. 19:12 and Num. 30:2. You may have these verses in the margin of your Bible or if you don’t you could write these two verses right next to verse 33 so that you’ll always have them there. Lev. 19:12 and Num. 30:2. These are 2 verses that make up the teaching in verse 33.

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Leviticus 19:12 12 ‘You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the Lord. [if you invoke God’s name {Yahweh} to guarantee that you are telling the truth, you can’t break that promise. That would profane or make common the infinitely holy and righteous character of God.]

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Numbers 30:2 2 “If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. [Under OT Law, if you promise before the LORD, do not violate your word! Keep your word! ]

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If you wanted, though it’s not directly reflected in Matthew 5:33, you could also make a note of …

Deuteronomy 23:21–23 21 “When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the Lord your God will surely require it of you. [Keep your word and don’t wait to do it!] 22 “However, if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in you. [it’s not a sin not to vow] 23 “You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God, what you have promised. [Keep your promise to the LORD!]

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Purpose of Oaths

And of course the purpose of taking an oath or promising something by calling on something else is to show that you are being serious about your honesty.

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TRANS: But like any teaching in Scripture, the fallen ingenious mind of man can twist the Scripture and weasel out of having to keep an oath. By New Testament times, swearing oaths had developed into a system that determined when you could lie and not be guilty. “How can we make oaths in our everyday speech so that we can lie?”

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Deceitful Oath-taking

In a book of traditional oral Jewish teachings called the Mishnah, they even outlined when an oath was binding and when it wasn’t.[1] We have an example of this kind of thing in Matthew 23 … Turn to Matthew 23:16. Here, Jesus gives us a window into how religious Jews abused the practice of searing an oath…when they were binding and when they weren’t… Matthew 23:16

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Matthew 23:16–22 16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, [and now Jesus quotes the blind guides, the religious Jews] ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ [Jesus was saying, that’s their practice. According to the Jews, if you say, “I swear by the temple that I will not eat meat until such and such … .” That’s not binding. But whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated to do what he says. Jesus comments on their hypocrisy…] 17 “You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? [In other words, the gold wouldn’t be sacred if it wasn’t part of the temple. So, why say … only if you swear by the gold of the temple is your oath binding?]

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18 “And [the Jews then also said…], ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ 19 “You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? [The animal offering wouldn’t be sacred to God if it wasn’t killed on the altar. So why is it that whoever swears by the altar isn’t obligated? Jesus continues … ] 20 “Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. 21 “And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. 22 “And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.

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In other words, what sacred thing you swear by doesn’t matter. It’s all connected. Keep your oaths!

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And back to Matthew 5, it’s all connected …. to God!

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  1. What Jesus teaches (Matthew 5:34)
    1. Do not make oaths

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Matthew 5:33–37 33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows … to the Lord.’ [‘But’ say the hypocrites, ‘I know I have to fulfill my vows to the LORD, but if I make a vow calling on something other than the LORD, than I’m not obligated’… was their idea…you shall fulfill your vows, yes but just to the LORD…] 34 “But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 “Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. [some of us know you can’t really change your hair colour!] 37 “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.

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Jesus again gives us a window into how the biblical practice of oaths had degenerated. All of these things are connected to God in some way. So in reality, you are swearing by God if you swear by anything.

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What they were doing was saying, “I swear by heaven that I won’t eat meat, as if my father had just died,… if I fail to do such and such.” And by swearing by heaven they thought they weren’t obligated to keep their oath. But Jesus says, when they swear by heaven, they actually are swearing by God because heaven is God’s throne! See, everything that you could possibly swear by is somehow connected to God.

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Well, what if I swear by the earth? Then I’m not obligated to keep my oath. Jesus says verse 35, if you swear by earth, your swearing by the footstool of God’s feet. It’s tied back to God, you must keep your vow.

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Well if I swear by Jerusalem, I don’t have to keep my vow. Jesus says swearing by Jerusalem is swearing by the city of the great King, God. It’s His city, you’re really swearing by God. Keep your promise!

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What if I swear by my head? No, Jesus says you are not even in control of your own hair colour. God controls that, too. Keep your word!

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“Stick a needle in my eye?” And God made that, too!

So, basically, these synagogue-going adults were doing what children do. “I swear by heaven I’ll pay you back.” And the whole time, they have their fingers crossed! Religious finger-crossing was what was going on! They were liars. That’s the big point! I didn’t swear by God, I swore by heaven, so I don’t have to do what I said I would.

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What is this? This is lying! It’s the lying then that Jesus is confronting. Be militant for the truth!

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APP: And so I hasten to clarify. If you are ever asked to be put under oath, this verse isn’t addressing that scenario.

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ILL/APP: A common oath in Canada’s courtroom is “Do you swear that the evidence you shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” And you can be asked to swear on a Bible. Go ahead, that is not what Jesus is denouncing here. Quakers and other Christians unfortunately have formed a conscience over taking oaths in court over this verse. However, Jesus’ intention was not that we don’t take oaths in court or allow ourselves to go under oath in a legal setting.

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The OT Encourages Oath-taking

We already cited Deuteronomy 10:20 that said you are to swear by the Lord! Take your oaths in His name.

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Paul took oaths

Also, Paul took oaths when he called God to be his witness.

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Romans 1:9 9 For God…is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you,

2 Corinthians 1:23 23 But I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I did not come again to Corinth.

Philippians 1:8 8 For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 2:5 5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—

And God Himself took an oath…Hebrews 6:13–14 13 For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14 [referring to His own promise to Abraham] saying, “In blessing, I will bless you and in multiplying I will multiply you.

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And Jesus Himself spoke under oath (Matthew 26:63–64)

Matthew 26:63–64 63 …And the high priest said to Him [putting Him under oath], “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Our Awesome Saviour!

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MAIN POINT EXP: So, we can be put under oath in court; binding contracts are also a good idea in many cases, whether in a business or whatever it is. What Jesus is condemning is to bind ourselves by “swearing to God” in our day to day speech, not in a legal setting. And Jesus is condemning the practice to see how you can get out of telling the truth.

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Jesus is condemning the attitude of “How can I lie and still appear like I’m telling the truth? I know, I’ll swear by heaven so they think I’m going to follow through, but I really I’m not going to.” That’s what Jesus is condemning.

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APP: So don’t say in normal conversation, “I swear to God,” or “honest to God.” And don’t let your children say, “stick a needle in my eye.” Because even if you are telling the truth, you’re calling into question your integrity. Because what are we to think when you don’t say “honest to God?” Did you tell the truth that time? In fact, I try to avoid the word “honestly” to start a sentence. “Honestly, I don’t know.” Or “believe me, I know.” Your credibility is immediately suspect.

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So, Jesus is condemning deceitful swearing to get out of obligations. This is lying.

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ILL: Evasive, deceitful, dishonesty. The serpent lied to Eve in the garden about what would happen when she ate of the fruit, “you surely will not die!” When God already said that she would! And then Satan insinuates … he insinuates that God’s motives are bad. He doesn’t let you eat that fruit b/c He knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” He’s holding out on you! And then there’s blameshifting, “Do you eat from the tree?” Adam, “It was the woman that You gave me, she gave me from the tree and I ate.”

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Liars give birth to liars, so Adam has Cain and he kills Abel his brother! And in Genesis 4:9 the Lord asks Cain, where is your brother?” And he says, “I do not know.”

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We’ve all heard that one before, it’s the oldest one in the book! “I don’t know, I don’t remember.” There are genuine cases of this, but when we see it all the time in our children or others, it’s lying! Abraham would go on to lie twice about his wife Sarah to protect his own life, saying she was his sister.

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Sarah herself lied when the Lord promised that she would bear a son in her old age. She laughed but denied it saying, “I did not laugh.” Jacob lies to his blind father Isaac about who he is, claiming to be his older brother Esau so that Isaac would give Jacob the firstborn blessing.

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And in the New Testament Ananias and Sapharia sell a piece of property and keep back some of the price for themselves and donate the rest, claiming they were donating the whole thing.

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All of these are acting deceitfully because of their selfish desires to benefit themselves at the expense of others. So do we.

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What Lying is

What is a lie? A lie is a statement that is contrary to fact that is spoken with the intent to deceive.

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There are 28 or so different kinds of lies, but all lies can be categorized into two different types. Falsifying information, the intentional distortion of the truth. Or, concealment, withholding the facts.

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This is why we need to be militant to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Otherwise we will make false statements or hide the truth.

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ILL: Lying is really bad and it’s not just among politicians you don’t like. According to a 2002 study conducted by the University of Massachusetts, 60% of adults can’t even have a ten minute conversation with a stranger without lying at least once. [60%] But even that number makes it sound better than it really is; those people in the study who did lie actually told an average of 3 lies during their brief chat. And I know you’re sitting there right now insisting you would be part of the 40% that didn’t lie. That’s what the liars in the study thought, too. When they watched the recorded conversations back, they were shocked at how many fibs they had told.

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TRANS: The solution to truth telling isn’t oath-taking. Instead of swearing oaths in your day to day speech, let your word stand.

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  1. Let your word stand

Matthew 5:37 37 “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.

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Let your word stand! God’s word stands, so should yours.

2 Corinthians 1:20 20 For as many as are the promises of God, in the Son of God Christ Jesus, those promises are yes

God keeps Him promises! So let your statements stand. Just say the truth, don’t couch your statements in oath-like statements. Just say it “yes.”

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GET CONVICTED ABOUT YOUR DISHONESTY

What about lies like the following? I gave this list about 4 years ago. Have you grown since then, if you heard this list?

  • “It’ll be ready in 5 min.” … Sounds a lot better than 15, right?
  • “The meal was delicious!” And you really didn’t like it.
  • “Oh I see…” And you don’t have a clue.
  • “You look great in that dress.” And you tell your husband it was awful.
  • “You don’t look a day past 40.”
  • You say or even sign on the dotted line that you’ll pay back your debt, and then you don’t pay it back.
  • “I was held up in traffic.”
  • “There wasn’t enough time, I forgot.”
  • Kids how often have you said this …
    • “I don’t know.” … and you did. That’s a lie that’s sin against God!
    • “I did not hear you.” and you did hear.
    • “I didn’t do it.”
    • “yes, I finished my homework”
    • “my stomach hurts.”
    • The kids are in bed and they say, “I need to go potty.”
  • Parents…come on …have you said this…?
    • When it’s a 9 o’clock bedtime, do you say … “oh look at the time, it’s almost 9 o’clock.” And it’s really 8:15.
    • On a long road trip, “Don’t worry, we’re almost there.”
    • “Just take the medicine, it tastes great.” And you hate it.
    • “Maybe tomorrow” or “we’ll see” … when you have no intention of it ever happening and no intention of ever “seeing.”

And then you excuse your sin by saying everyone’s doing it. Or, “I’m not hurting anyone.” It’s just how we do it in this part of the world; it’s socially acceptable. Or, if I wasn’t so tired, or I had to lie so that no one would get hurt. Now you’re lying to yourself!

  • If you lie to yourself, it gets real easy to lie to others, “He makes me so mad!” No, you are angry! “I wouldn’t have yelled at you if you hadn’t treated me so unfairly.” No, you wouldn’t have yelled if you weren’t prone to anger.
  • And we further society’s lies when homosexuals are “gay” drunkards are “alcoholics” and murdering the unborn is women’s rights.

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    Don’t be a part of the culture of lies! Be militant for the truth!

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    HOW TO STAY HONEST

To be militant for the truth, know God. He keeps His promises.

Hebrews 6:18 18 … it is impossible for God to lie.” And God has made many promises…

2 Corinthians 1:20 20 For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes.” … they are certain! And that’s never going to change because

Hebrews 13:8 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.

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And how can we even get careless with the truth when Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

  • To be militant for the truth, know that God already is and He himself is truth! And…know yourself…
  • Know yourself to be living everyday in the courtroom of God and that you must constantly tell the truth, the whole, and nothing but. You live in His presence.
  • Be open with God; practice an honest heart in private. Correct your own inaccurate thinking and speech. When lies enter your mind, reject them.
  • Be willing to be vulnerable and to be corrected.
  • And not just to say, but to diligently think the truth. When lies come into your heart, don’t let your lips repeat them. Instead, rebuke yourself!
  • Confess your sin to others, it helps keep you honest.
  • And be diligent about representing the other side accurately in any debate.

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    Helping Those We Disciple

    Whomever you disciple and train, either your children or someone else, you need to correct not only lies that they tell, but also the lies that they believe. What they believe will come out of their mouth.

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    “I can never” or “it always” or “I’m not good enough.” Or, “She’s always” … no! Rebuke that, don’t let that go unrebuked! Stop believing lies and stop allowing others to do that!

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    So not only correct lies they tell and correct lies they believe, but also correct carelessness with truth. This goes for yourself too, of course. When there is an ever so small round snowball of inaccuracy, if it’s allowed to go down the hill of carelessness, it could easily form into a giant snowball of the practice of lying.

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Revelation 22:15 15 “Outside [the eternal city] are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.”

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Children, go to your parents and confess any lying. Husband, wife, if you are hiding income from your spouse if you are hiding spending from your spouse… However you are lying, confess that to one another. And confess it to God. Employee, if you are lying about what you’re doing on the job, falsifying information, lying about the time you spend, repent toward God and toward those to whom you’re lying.

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CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Matthew 5.33-37

Frank Abignale got out of a US prison in his early 20s, after he agreed to help the FBI to work on fraud cases….which he still does today out of guilt for what he’d done, and he’s 68 years old. Decades later, his lies haunt him. He says he gets up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep because he says he still lives with his criminal activity that he committed during his teen years and has even turned down 3 presidential pardons from US presidents.

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Ironically, the book he wrote about his life is said to contain fabrications and exaggerations! Once a liar, always a liar! But it doesn’t have to be that way for citizens of Christ’s kingdom.

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To get a man like Frank Abignale to be truthful would take a radical reprogramming of his mind. Christ can do that for you, if you’d trust solely in Him to cleanse you of your sin, He’ll break the power of that cancelled sin and cause those chains to fall and your heart will be free.

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458 Christ liveth in me; a searching hymn that causes reflection. 3 stanza and the 2 line of that stanza, “praise the God of truth and grace.”

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Go to Matthew Main Page

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  1. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/tractate-shevuot-oaths-chapter-3

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