Saturday, February 03, 2024

2024.02.03 Hopewell @Home ▫ Matthew 5:33–37

Read Matthew 5:33–37

Questions from the Scripture text: What have they heard was done (Matthew 5:33)? To whom were these things said? What were those of old told not to do (cf. Exodus 20:7, Exodus 20:16; Leviticus 19:12)? What were they told to do (cf. Deuteronomy 23:23)? By combining these things with a wrong emphasis, to which oaths had they limited these commands (end of Matthew 5:33)? But now against swearing by which other four things does Jesus warn (Matthew 5:34-36)? What reasons does He give? What is there that is unrelated to God? So, by what may someone make a “less sincere” oath (Matthew 5:34a)? What must be sincerely said (Matthew 5:37a)? From where does all insincere speech come (verse 37b)? 

When must we be careful to be truthful and faithful to our word? Matthew 5:33–37 prepares us for the morning sermon on the Lord’s Day. In these five verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that we must always be careful to be truthful and faithful to our word.

More bad hermeneutics. In the previous section (Matthew 5:31–32), the Lord Jesus had overturned the rabbis’ teaching on divorce, in which they had misused Deuteronomy 24:1–4 to justify it. Now, we see Him overturning the rabbis’ teaching on the ninth commandment (cf. Exodus 20:16). They had combined it with Leviticus 19:12 and Deuteronomy 23:23 to show (so they thought) that it was only when an oath was made in the Name of YHWH that it had this strongest binding effect. 

Elsewhere (Matthew 23:16–22), we see that they had a graded scale of how binding various oaths were, according to by what the speaker swore. So also, now, we see four different things by which men had become accustomed to swearing: heaven, earth, Jerusalem, and their own head.

The problem is in the heart. As we have seen throughout Jesus’s exposition of the law, the problem is in the heart. How could someone think that an oath upon heaven is less obligatory, when it is God Himself that makes heaven to be heaven (Matthew 5:34)? And if, taking their cue from Isaiah 66:1, they swear by earth because it is “only” YHWH’s footstool, should they not tremble at Whose footstool it is (Matthew 5:35a)? 

The Lord Jesus takes these things personally. He is YHWH, after all. In both His divine nature and His human nature, He is the great King. Jerusalem was much honored by its relation to David, its relation to God, its relation to Christ. Indeed, it is Christ in Whom there is life; our life is not in our hands. So, it is folly to swear on one’s life, when one cannot determine what color hair would come out of his head (Matthew 5:36). In all such oaths, there is a grievous disregard for God and for Christ. Indeed, what could we swear by that would not disregard Him? He is the ultimate reality; everything else has its reality in Him. And, He is witness to everything that comes out of our mouths, which mouths themselves were created for His praise!

A principle for our common conversation. We know from many Scriptures that it is lawful to take vows and oaths and to keep them. The Lord Jesus even testifies to His own glory under oath (cf. Matthew 26:63–64). And God Himself swears oaths (cf. Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 6:13–18). This, of course, is not because there is any doubt about God’s Word. He speaks in this way to help us on account of our own weak and wicked doubt. 

So when He gives us to take oaths, it is not because it is somehow more permissible to lie without them. Rather, it is for our own sake, because we are prone not to take our own words seriously that on particularly important occasions, He gives us to strengthen a commitment with and oath or a vow. But these should be reserved for such occasions, and even then it must not indicate that our words are any more true than at other times. 

The mouths of those who are known to lie are full of assurances like “I swear,” or “I promise,” or “honestly,” or “this is the gospel truth.” But Christians should be rigorously, conscientiously truthful in all of their everyday talk. Even something as ordinary as a “yes” or “no” should stand on its own. Any lightly or insincerely spoken word on the believer’s part does not come from his new nature in Christ; it comes from the evil one. The devil is a liar and the father of it (cf. John 8:44). 

When do you find yourself tempted to stretch the truth or make promises that you are not that committed to keeping? Whom are you disregarding when you are not careful with your speech and sincere in your promises? In which conversations should you be strictly honest?

Sample prayer:  Lord, we thank You for the gift of speech. You created by Your Word, uphold all things by Your Word, give faith by Your Word, sanctify by Your Word, and save our souls by Your implanted Word. Moreover, You have spoken to us, and You have given to us to speak to others and even to You. Forgive us for when we are dishonest; we know that the devil is a liar and the father of it. So, forgive us and cleanse us to be sincere and honest in all that we say, we ask through Christ, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP15 “Within Your Tent, Who Will Reside?” or TPH400 “Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me”

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