April 24 – Jesus on Genuine Truthfulness

But let your statement be, “Yes, yes” or “No, no”; anything beyond these is of evil.—Matt. 5:37

Keeping your word is the mark of a genuine worshiper and demonstrates that you, as a child of God, hate lies. Everything in God’s kingdom is sacred and all truth is His truth, so truth has no degrees or shades. Thus even what seems to be the most minor false statement dishonors God’s name.

The Lord has never had any standard other than absolute truthfulness. He wants every one of us to possess “truth in the innermost being” (Ps. 51:6). And it follows that “lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 12:22; cf. 6:16–17; Ps. 58:3–4).

Because God has the ultimate criterion of complete truthfulness, even our most routine conversations should be truthful and dependable in every detail. Our everyday talk ought to be plain and straightforward, uncluttered by qualifiers, exaggerations, or hedges on the truth. Our word must be as good as our bond or as any vow or oath we ever make. James’s admonishment agrees with Jesus’ teaching, “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment” (James 5:12).

Truth and honesty will never be your default setting until you pursue it deliberately—spending your words carefully and keeping your word completely. In what particular areas of your life is it hardest for you to keep your promises?[1]

God’s absolute, unchanging standard is truth and sincerity in everything. Not only should oaths be totally truthful and dependable, but even the most routine conversations should be truthful in every detail. Let your statement be, “Yes, yes” or “No, no”; anything beyond these is of evil. Statement is from logos, the basic meaning of which is simply “word.” Every normal word in the course of daily speech should be a truthful word, unadorned and unqualified in regard to its truthfulness. A person’s words, message, or speech (as logos is used in Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 2:1; 4:19; and Titus 2:8) should be as good as his bond and as good as his oath or vow. “But above all, my brethren,” James counsels, “do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment” (James 5:12).

God is a holy God, His kingdom is a holy kingdom, and the people of His kingdom are to be a holy people. His righteousness is to be their righteousness, and anything less than His righteousness, including anything less than absolute truth, is unacceptable to Him, because it is of evil. So our Lord shatters the fragile glass of their hypocritical oaths, which they used to cover lies.[2]

5:37 For the Christian, an oath is unnecessary. His Yes should mean Yes, and his No should mean No. To use stronger language is to admit that Satan—the evil one—rules our lives. There are no circumstances under which it is proper for a Christian to lie.

This passage also forbids any shading of the truth or deception. It does not, however, forbid taking an oath in a court of law. Jesus Himself testified under oath before the High Priest (Matt. 26:63ff). Paul also used an oath to call God as his witness that what he was writing was true (2 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 1:20).[3]

37 The Greek might more plausibly be translated “But let your word be, ‘Yes, Yes; No, No.’ ” The doubling has raised questions. According to some rabbinic opinion, a doubled “yes” or “no” constitutes an oath; Broadus suggests this is an appropriate way to strengthen an assertion. This sounds like casuistry every bit as tortuous as that which Jesus condemns. The doubling is probably no more than preacher’s rhetoric, the point made clear by the NIV (cf. Jas 5:12). Tou ponērou could be rendered either “of evil” or “of the evil one” (“the father of lies,” Jn 8:44). The same ambiguity recurs at 5:39; 6:13; 13:38.

Many groups (e.g., Anabaptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses) have understood these verses absolutely literally and have therefore refused even to take court oaths. Their zeal to conform to Scripture is commendable, but they have probably not interpreted the text very well.

  1. The contextual purpose of this passage is to stress the true direction in which the OT points—namely, the importance of truthfulness. Where oaths are not being used evasively and truthfulness is not being threatened, it is not immediately obvious they require such unqualified abolition.
  2. In the Scriptures God himself “swears” (e.g., Ge 9:9–11; Lk 1:72–75; cf. Ps 16:10 and Ac 2:27–31), not because he sometimes lies, but in order to help people believe (Heb 6:17). The earliest Christians still took oaths, if we may judge from Paul’s example (Ro 1:9; 2 Co 1:23; 1 Th 2:5, 10; cf. Php 1:8), for much the same reason. Jesus himself testified under oath (26:63–64).
  3. Again we need to remember the antithetical nature of Jesus’ preaching (see comments at vv. 27–30; 6:5–8).

It must be frankly admitted that here Jesus formally contravenes OT law. What it permits or commands (Dt 6:13), he forbids. But if his interpretation of the direction in which the law points is authoritative, then his teaching fulfills it.[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 123). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 326). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1222). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 187–188). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


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