When you say you will do something, whether it is teaching 2nd grade Sunday School or meeting a friend for lunch at noon, can they count on you to follow through?
We live in a world that takes commitments lightly.
But God honors those who keep:
It’s a high bar, but so pleasing to the Lord when we keep it.
I was raised by a father who punished me most severely when I lied.
“Dee Dee — I have to believe your word.”
He told me I didn’t have appointments, I had commitments.
As Christians, we hurt our witness when we break our word,
and we quench His Spirit.
This week we are looking at Matthew 5:33-37,
and the subject of keeping our word and making promises.
The Pharisees were always trying to maneuver the law to their benefit, diligent in things that people could see, but ignoring weightier matters. Jesus said:
Woe to you,scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law: justice,mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.…(Matthew 23:23-24)
They did “gnat-straining” with oaths, saying that you only had to keep your word if you used God’s name in the oath. Or, even more ridiculous, you didn’t have keep your oath if you swore by the Temple, but you did if you swore by the gold in the Temple! (Matthew 23:16)
John Stott quotes Calvin:
The Pharisees has “obscured” the law; Jesus restored it to its integrity.
Do not swear at all…simply let your “Yes” be “Yes” and your “No, “No,” anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
We’ll consider what it means to keep our Word,
whether it is ever right to break a promise,
and if we can swear on a Bible if called to court.
Can I tell you again how much I love this group?
I love your hearts, your hunger for righteousness,
and how you care for one another.
I am thankful for those of you who are staying with us in what is truly a very convicting series.
- What stands out to you from the above and why?
- Can you think of a promise or a vow you have made? What is it?
Monday: You Have Heard That It Was Said, But I Say To You
Jesus is coming to clarify what the Pharisees have obscured. He is not doing away with the moral law of Moses, but getting to the heart. It is true we shouldn’t murder, but we also shouldn’t hate, for hate is the seed that can grow into murder. It is true we shouldn’t commit adultery, but we also shouldn’t lust, for lust is the seed that can grow into adultery. The reason Moses permitted divorce was because of the hardness of men’s hearts. And the reason Moses permitted oaths, was because all men are liars. But our word should be enough. We shouldn’t have to seal it with a vow.
3. Read Matthew 5:33-37
A. What was said to the people long ago, according to verse 33?
B. Is it true we should keep any vows or oaths we made before God? (See Eccles. 5:4-7)
C. But what does Jesus tell us is at the heart of this command? (Verses 34-37)
A. M. Hunter says “Oaths arise because men are so often liars.”
4. What vows have you made before God?
5. Where have you given your word to help with a ministry?
Tuesday: Our Hearts Are Deceitful
It is so easy to justify ourselves. When I was younger and had many speaking invitations, I knew it was important to keep my word when a bigger venue invited me and I already had committed to a smaller venue. I remember Joseph Stowell praising me for turning down Founder’s Week because of a smaller commitment. But when Women of Faith called and wanted to book me for a whole year, I persuaded myself that if the four places I had already booked were willing to change their date, I could say “Yes” to Women of Faith. They all did, though I know it was a hassle for them. And then, months later, Women of Faith changed their mind about me, feeling I was not “Seeker Sensitive.” I remember both the disappointment, but also the shame. I thought, “Just as Jacob the deceiver was deceived, God has allowed me to feel the pain of someone breaking their word.” I so often think of this verse:
God honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts. (Psalm 15:4)
5. Share a time when you broke your word and felt shame or kept it and felt the pleasure of God.
6. Read Matthew 23:16-17 and explain how the Pharisees tried to manipulate the law about oaths, lessening it and making it easier.
7. Read Matthew 23:23-24 and explain how the Pharisses tried to manipulate the law about tithing.
8. How would you summarize the heart of Jesus’ teaching about keeping oaths and our word?
Wednesday: Can We Ever Break An Oath?
You may remember the story in Judges of Jeptha, who promised after a victory to sacrifice whatever came out of his barn first. His daughter ran out to congratulate him, to his grief.
Some commentators say he sacrificed her, others that she had to remain a virgin. David Jeremiah said that if Jephthah had known about Leviticus 5:4-5, he could have confessed his foolish vow and sacrificed an animal for atonement.
9. What does Leviticus 5:4-5 say?
There may indeed be times when we are permitted to break our word, as with Jepthah. When I was a brand new Christian I started teaching Sunday School to 2nd graders when I realized I really was not equipped yet — so I asked to be let off my commitment — they could put me in the nursery until I understood Scripture better. My heart was right with that one and the godly Sunday School superintendent knew it.
So many Christians hop from church to church, not seeing their commitment to the local family. Is it ever right to leave a church? Yes. There may be serious doctrinal issues. You may be traveling so far you can’t be active. You may be called by God to plant a new church. Your family truly may not be being fed, and though you have spoken the truth in love to leadership, there is no change.
But often people leave because someone has offended them and they can’t give grace, or they see a church that has music they like better. These are not easy things to discern, but oh, how we need to examine our hearts, to make sure we are hearing from the Lord, and not just trying to please ourselves.
I remember a well known Christian speaker using the Jepthah passage to justify a divorce that did not have scriptural grounds. She said that because her marriage vow was made when she was young and foolish, she could break it. She left him and taught others to do the same if they felt their marriage vow was a foolish one. That flies in the face of Jesus teaching on divorce.
Jesus says it always comes down to the heart, and our hearts are deceitful. We so want to please ourselves.
10. What are some ways we can guard against our hearts deceitfulness in situations where we are confused? (Take time with this.)
Thursday: Should We Refrain from Swearing on a Bible in Court?
11. What reason did Jesus give for not swearing by anything in Matthew 5:34-36?
The Anabaptists refused to swear by the Bible, in a desire to obey the above. John Stott said he appreciates their heart, but also gives examples where Jesus submitted to the practices of the court.
12. When the high priest asked Jesus to swear under oath if he was the Christ, did he respond? See Matthew 26:64.
John Stott said: Jesus emphasized in his teaching that honest men do not need to resort to oaths; it was not that they should refuse to take an oath if required by some external authority to do so.
13. How will you respond if you face this situation and why?
Friday: The Gospel Ever Crucified Between Two Thieves
It was Tertullion who said that the gospel is ever crucified between two thieves: antinominism, or against the law, and legalism, which missed the heart and goes for the letter. We are to do what is most pleasing to God, to seek Him with all our heart, and not to do what pleases ourselves. For those of you who wish to go deeper, here is a message by John Stott.
14. Share your notes or comments.
15. What is your take-a-way and why?