Swear: Yes, Yes and No, No
A Message by Pastor Eric Chang.
Today we turn to God’s wonderful words as we continue to look into His words in Mt. 5:33-37:
Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.” But I say to you, “Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
Again I must point out the lack of adequacy in the translation in v37. It should read: “Let what you say be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’.” The original has a double ‘yes’, a double ‘no’. There is a double affirmative and a double negative in the original. The English translators have taken the liberty to wipe out the second ‘yes’ and the second ‘no’. The Chinese have used the second ‘yes’ and the second ‘no’ in the Chinese translation by saying, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no” which is actually copying Jam. 5:12 and is not strictly a translation of this passage. Also, v37 ends with “anything more than this comes from the Evil One” in the original. Now from time to time I have to mention these things because in expounding the Word of God, it is important for us to understand absolutely accurately what is being said.
Is the Lord Jesus Just Prohibiting Taking an Oath?
When we look at this passage, what is there that we can learn? On the surface of it, there does not seem to be much of very great importance that the Lord is saying. But anyone who knows the Lord’s teaching would immediately beware of that kind of conclusion. On the surface of it, all it says, all that the Lord Jesus seems to be saying is: “In the OT, it said that you may swear under the requirements of the OT. But I say I abolish this. Nobody may swear. Just let your words be ‘yes, yes’ or ‘no, no’. And that means whatever you say, if it is yes, say ‘yes’ and if no, say ‘no’. Just let your speech be truthful and don’t take any swearing. Don’t take an oath.” That does not seem to be exceedingly important and it does not seem to me that we need to spend a lot of time, if that is all the Lord Jesus wants to say. We can say, “Okay, that’s simple! I don’t swear anymore from now on. In any case, I don’t swear anyway, so it’s not saying anything important to me because I am not in the habit of swearing.” That is, swearing here does not mean cursing people, of course, I hope you understand. But swearing means taking an oath. So, ‘swearing’ in English is a little bit ambivalent, a bit vague, because it can mean swearing at somebody, that is, saying bad things at somebody, or swearing in a court of law, that is, taking an oath. Here it means the latter, the taking of oath and has nothing to do with saying bad things to people. Of course it is obvious that nobody will be required to say bad things of other people, as a disciple of Jesus.
So, I would make the suggestion that, before you come to the service, read the passage that we are going to study in the Lord’s teaching since we are studying it systematically, and thus, you know very well what we are going to study next, and see what it says to you. Now, I will not be surprised that for the majority of people, having read this passage, they will shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, there is nothing much to look at here.” So, let us conclude. We can sing the closing hymn now and we can all go home. You say, “That seems to waste my journey. I’ve come a long way, only just to listen to that. I could have read that for myself.” But anyone who is aware of the teaching - the wonderful teaching - of the Lord Jesus will soon be aware that there is so much more to it than that. As we saw even in last week’s message, how much there is, if only we have eyes to see. Now, I have so many notes here on this passage that again, I am going to have some problems, but I shall limit myself to what is really vital in order to be able to stop in time.
If the Lord Jesus in this passage is simply saying, “I prohibit divorce - and following from what we saw last week - I prohibit also swearing, that is, taking an oath”, that we can let by, except that for the perceptive reader, a lot of troubles arise. If that is the conclusion, we are going to be facing a lot of troubles. When you read the Bible, I hope that you read it with your heart and with your mind and not sleeping, like so many people who when they do their morning devotions, they read the passage, they yawn a few times and that is their commentary on the passage. When we look at this passage, let us consider: Is the Lord Jesus saying that we may not swear at all? Is that all He wants to say? That is not difficult. What are the problems connected with a statement like this?
Let me show you why this kind of statement cannot be understood like that, or quite as simply as that, because it is going to raise an awful lot of problems. The first problem is this: the Lord Jesus (if it is meant to be understood superficially) is saying, “Don’t swear! Don’t take an oath.” Many Quakers, and other Christians, take this literally to mean that they must never take an oath, which means, for example, that they will refuse to take an oath in a court of law. It means too that, for example, if they are being naturalized, and have to take an oath to the Queen, that they will refuse to take any oath, and so either not be naturalized or find some other way around it. And so, they feel that their conscience is bothered on the matter of oath, especially if they are in a court of law. But is this what the Lord Jesus is saying, or are we being superficial, like so often Christians are?
3 Reasons Why a Literal Prohibition of Taking an Oath is Incorrect
Jesus Never Just Prohibits Outward Actions
Why is this understanding not correct? First, if then the Lord Jesus is simply prohibiting an outward action, He is doing something contrary to His normal practice in His teaching. If you are acquainted at all with the Lord’s teaching, you will see that He never wastes time just to limit outward actions. Why? Because you can stop doing a thing without your heart being any purer. You see, by saying that people may not swear, it is governing a mere purely external action, and Jesus in all His teaching does not waste time with that. Why? Because He knows that you can stop a person in his external actions, but it does not change the heart - the heart is exactly the same. So, if He is saying this, He is simply multiplying one more law to the law of the OT, one more “Thou shalt not” which is, “Thou shall not swear. Thou shall not take an oath.” That is very uncharacteristic of the Lord’s teaching. As we saw, if you are familiar with the Lord’s teaching, He is concerned what is in your heart. He is not very interested in purely external actions or saying, “You may not do this. You may not smoke or you may not drink or you may not go to the cinema. You may not do this and that and the other thing.” Christians are good in multiplying this kind of thing but the Lord does not waste His time with that, because He knows that when your heart is changed, your outward action will conform to the attitude, the new attitude of your heart. You will not want to do the things that displease Him. You do not have to say to a person who is regenerate, “Don’t do this and that.” He will not do it. He has no interest in doing that. What is good he will do. What is not good, he will shun. So, first of all, if the Lord Jesus is saying, “Thou shalt not take an oath”, He seems to be simply putting a new, one more commandment to the OT commandments. And that is not the normal thing that He ever does.
What is more, as we have seen, the fact that you do not swear does not mean that you will not tell lies. A liar will not be stopped from telling lies just because he will not tell his lie under oath. A statement is not less false if the lie is delivered under oath. Do you see what I mean? A liar’s lie will be just as much a lie if it was given under oath or not under an oath - it makes no difference to him. And what is more, a person who is disobedient to the Lord will not take any notice of Jesus’ teaching anyway. He will still go on swearing, making the oath, taking the oath, whatever Jesus said. So, from every angle, this statement does not stand up to examination if taken literally.
Jesus Will Not Abolish a Statement of the Law
Secondly, and even more seriously, the Lord Jesus is abolishing a statement of the law, when in fact, just a few sentences before, in v17 of this chapter, He says, “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it.” And having said that statement, He goes on and abolishes the law - a whole article of the law - because the OT law permits swearing, taking the oath. Yet, Jesus abolishes it! And then He said He did not abolish the law. We have a direct contradiction, if that is how we are to take it - in a superficial way.
God Himself Swore, and So Does Paul
Thirdly, and even more seriously as we proceed, we find in the OT that God Himself swore, that is, He took the oath. We have many references in which God swore under the terms of the Covenant. He made promises under oath. He swore by Himself. The writer to the Hebrews says in Heb. 6:13, “Having no one greater to swear by, He swore by Himself.” Oh, so God is also taking the oath. And then we find that the holy men of God in the OT often made statements under oath. Abraham, Jacob, Job and Elisha - all these men (and we have all the references for these) - took oaths or made oaths. And then Jesus says they may not take oaths. So what did they do? Did they commit sin? But you say, “That was in the OT.”
When we come to the NT, we find the same thing. We find Paul quite frequently making statements of oath, calling God to witness. Well, did he not study the teaching of Jesus? Does he not know Jesus said not to swear? And Paul himself goes on to swear? For example in 2 Cor. 1:23, he says, “I call God to witness that I speak the truth, I do not lie.” “Hey!” you say. “You are taking an oath, Paul! What are you doing? Have you not read the teaching of Jesus?” Oh, Paul knew the teaching of Jesus very well. We do not have to teach him. So, how come then Paul is speaking under oath? He uses the oath formula in 2 Cor. 11:31, Gal. 1:20, Rom. 9:1 and so forth.
So we have then a three-fold indication that this way of understanding the teaching of Jesus is wrong. So I leave you to ponder this for a few moments.
God’s Servant May Swear Because He Has the Power to Act in God’s Name
Then, if this is what the Lord Jesus is doing, what is the message of any importance that Jesus wants to say to us here? What is significant about this passage? Well, first let us see how we may understand this passage. First of all, we must notice that it says here in vv34-35: “But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.” V36 says, “And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black” - you cannot change your hair from black to white - which means of course you have no control upon your life whatsoever. In the advance of your age, whether from youth to old age, everything is in God’s control, not in your control. You have therefore no right to swear because you do not have the power to fulfil what you promise. You depend upon God to do it. You cannot do it, and therefore you have no right to swear by what is not yours. The issues of life are in God’s hands.
But once you see that, you see also immediately that God, given that principle, may swear! For when He swears by Jerusalem, He swears by what is His own. If He swears by the earth, He swears by His own footstool. If He swears by heaven, He also swears by what is His. And if He swears by the head, He can make, not only one hair as it says here, but every hair to become black or white. Ah, then granted that principle, God may swear - there is no problem there. But granted also the same principle, it follows that God’s servants may also swear because it is a well-known principle in the Bible that God’s servant is like God’s agent Himself. And God’s servant acts on God’s authority; he has the power to act in God’s name. It is a bad thing to get into trouble with a genuine servant of God because he exercises enormous amount of power. As the Lord Jesus says, “What you bind is bound and what you loose, is loosed. I give you the power to bind or to loose.” That is awesome power entrusted to a servant of God. And there are few servants of God today who seem to even know that they have any power, assuming that they have power. The power of a servant of God is very awesome. But today we have few servants of God around and so there is little sight of the divine power acting through them.
This is why Paul as an ambassador for Christ knows that he has authority to act in God’ name. In the well-known Jewish principle: the agent is as the man himself. He is a plenipotentiary, a diplomatic term which means that he is an agent of his government, of whoever sends him - fully entitled to act in his name. His decisions are binding - what you bound has been bound, what you loose has been loosed. You are acting under authority and under control from heaven. That means then, that Paul when he is swearing, is doing what he is entitled to do - he is acting in the name of Him who has every power to swear.
I am dealing with some technical points because I am giving exposition. In this church, I am not giving you my ideas but following strict exposition. I hope that when you listen to the Word of God, you are not just listening to me, but listening to the Lord, and discerning in your mind whether what I say is the Word of God or not. So do not swallow it because I said it. Just come with discerning minds and examine for yourself whether it be the Word of God or not.
Here we have then a principle of power: the principle of spiritual authority. What does it all mean then? How can we understand it? God, in the Lord Jesus, says you may not swear, and now having understood the principles and worked it through, we find that after all, you may swear. So, where do we stand?
I find the teaching of the Lord Jesus is very challenging to the mind. To those who are lazy of mind, or dull of mind, the teaching of Jesus is too tiring to work at; for me it is vigorous and stimulating. Many people, you know, when they read the Bible they get nowhere, firstly because they have no spiritual insight, but secondly, because they are so mentally lazy. To get into the teaching of Jesus, you have to work very hard. And it is not surprising then, that through the churches, that through the history of the church, the church has commanded and drawn into the ranks of the church the most brilliant minds of every age. We look through the history of the church and we find that every thinking man has been fascinated and drawn in by the marvellous teaching of Jesus because it challenges his mind and stretches it to the limit. For those who are lazy, whose minds are not used to working hard, they find the teaching of Jesus too tedious to follow. They would rather just read a commentary and let somebody else do all the work. By the time I finish with this exposition, I want to tell you, do not think that you know everything there is to know on this passage. We will only have dealt with certain important points.
‘Don’t Swear’ Is a General Rule, But Not an Absolute Rule
Now then, if the Lord Jesus had once said, “You shall not swear” and then having stated the principle on which you may not swear, it turns out that God may swear and His true servants may swear. That is interesting! What is the situation then? How do we understand this principle? We may understand it, rather generally, in this way: that not swearing is a general rule, but not an absolute rule. You say, what does that mean? Well, it means something like this: not going through the red lights is a general rule, but it is not an absolute rule. It is not an absolute rule because you may go through the red lights in emergencies or when it is necessary to do so. For example, the ambulance will go straight through the red light because it is an emergency. The police may go through the red light because it is an emergency. Suppose your car is stopped at a red light and you are waiting for the red light to change. An ambulance comes screaming up behind you and you are blocking his way, what should you do? Should you sit there and continue to block his way because there are two more minutes of red light to wait for? Of course not! The law does not mean that you should be so foolish; it does mean that you may go through the red light and let the ambulance pass. You say, “Hey! I may not go through the red light.” Sure you may not - under general principle, but not as an absolute principle. No policeman will take you to court or challenge you or fine you because you went through the red light to let the ambulance pass. So this is what is meant by a general principle and an absolute principle.
We may not swear, that is, we may not take liberties by going through the red light every time, whenever it suits us. But when it is necessary for the sake of the welfare of certain persons or for the community as a whole, you may go through it with no fear of being challenged by the law. So, too, the disciple does not everyday swear, but if it is necessary to do so, he may swear. In other words, is the rule not to go through the light a general and standing rule? Sure it stands, but it is not absolute - there are circumstances in which it may be broken. And so in the same way, the Lord’s teaching is saying, as a general rule, don’t swear, but you may swear when it is necessary.
Okay, we have got through all the technical points so far. Now we want to get something deeper. It is necessary in expounding the Word of God to get the facts clear. I do not weave fanciful messages; I am interested in the facts. What often disturbs me about preachers is they announce their text and then they preach a message that has absolutely nothing to do with the text, or has the most tenuous connection with the text. You wonder why he bothered to read the text? He might as well just got on with his message? I do not use the Word of God as a pretext for my own ideas. I just want to tell you what is in there that you may know how to live and to conduct yourself and that you may know precisely what the Lord Jesus is saying.
So if you are in the situation in which you are obliged to make an oath, you need not fear that you have broken any part of the Lord’s teaching. If it were necessary for me to tell you something on oaths, I would do so without hesitation. I would say, “I call God to be my witness that what I say to you is the absolute truth.” You say, “You have just taken an oath.” I say, “Right! And I have broken no part of the Lord’s teaching.” So, in understanding the Lord’s teaching, you must have the spirit of discernment.
Search for the Vertical Line of the Cross in God’s Word
We have covered the technical points. Let us get to the spiritual principles, which, after all, is the heart of the matter. What spiritual principle have we got here? We have some very vital spiritual principles. I want to say to those of you who lead Bible studies to lead the Bible study in such a way that you understand the principle of the cross in studying your Bible. You say, “What is the principle of the cross?” The principle of the cross is this: there is a horizontal line and there is a vertical line. Don’t only see the horizontal line, as too many Bible study leaders and preachers do. They never seem to get beyond the horizontal line. So it says, “Don’t swear!” So, okay! I don’t swear to you. You don’t swear to me. That’s the horizontal line. We’ll all speak the truth - that’s the horizontal line. Where is the vertical line? Is there no vertical line?” There is always a vertical line! For example, take last week’s message as an example for you. We saw that on the horizontal line about divorce. All right, that is the horizontal line. Most preachers will stop there and finish. But that is not the end of the passage. There is still a vertical line. You must look for the vertical line. And say, “What has that to teach me in my relationship between God and myself? If you fail to do that, you have missed the whole point of the Lord’s teaching and the whole point of the Bible. It is not just there to give us ethical teaching, which is important and good, but it is not there just to tell us how to be ethical and moral. It is there to teach us spiritual principles of our relationship to God.
So if you are a Bible study leader or even if you are studying your Bible yourself, always look for the vertical line of the cross. Ask, “What has this to teach me here?” So many Bible studies fall flat and dead because they get stuck on the horizontal line. They never got beyond that. When you read the commentaries, they do the same thing; they got stuck at the horizontal line. Look for the vertical line because the Bible is the Word of God and everywhere, the sign, the mark of the cross is to be found. So I want not only to teach you the Word of God, but I also want to tell you also the principles by which you can understand the Word of God. However, you or I sometimes find that through lack of knowledge in the Word of God, you cannot find the vertical line. Don’t get discouraged! Keep working at it! In God’s grace, you will get there.
What are we going to see then in this passage? Let me then, to get at the vertical line - the spiritual principle - work in the opposite direction, starting from v37. There it says, following the original: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the Evil One.” Again the English translation is deficient, though they put the right translation somewhere in the margin, I believe. It says, “the Evil One”, not just ‘evil’. The reason for this is that in the original, the word ‘evil’ there can be taken as either neuter or masculine. This sometimes happens in the original, and so the translator has to decide between one and the other. So, he may decide for the neuter, as he has done here, instead of the masculine, which would then say, the Evil One, that is, the Devil. How can we make the right decision? We must not just go by the grammar, as the translators do, but make the decision on how this word is used elsewhere in the NT and in the teaching of Jesus. When we do that, we will find that whenever it has ‘evil’, the Lord Jesus means the Evil One, the Devil. That is again a technical point, but I need to emphasize it.
Let Every Statement Be As If Under Oath!
A second technical point to understand this verse is this: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes, Yes’ - double yes and double no. Here again we need to have some knowledge to understand it. What is the significance of it? If we go into the Rabbinic background (which after all is very important because the Jews who were listening to Jesus would listen with their Jewish knowledge, their Jewish background in mind, which we do not have or may not have unless we have studied it), we find that the double ‘yes’ and the double ‘no’ amazingly is itself a form of the oath.
If I say, ‘yes’, there is no oath; if I say, ‘yes, yes’, there is an oath. The Jews recognized the double ‘yes’ and the double ‘no’ as an oath - as a statement of oath. In other words, when the Lord Jesus says, “Verily, verily” - two times - it is a statement made as good as under oath. It means the statement is absolutely true and absolutely significant. Anyone acquainted with the background of these facts will not find anything unusual or strange about this. You say, “Strange! The Lord Jesus just said, ‘You shall not speak under oath.’ And now He says, ‘You will speak everything as under oath.’” Does that puzzle you again?
Do you see how the Lord’s teaching challenges our mind and our spirit and makes us work. I praise God for that. I hope that every Christian is not lazy in his mind, that he loves God not only with all his heart but also all his mind. Some Christians love God with their hearts, but they do not seem to know how to love God with their mind - the mind is vacant - blank. Love God with your mind, that is, make it work! Penetrate into the deep things of God, and ask the Lord to teach you. When you have understood then what we have just said, that when the Lord Jesus said you shall not swear - He was not making an absolute statement but a general statement - then you will begin not to be surprised that the next statement, so characteristic of the wonderful teaching of Jesus, is this: Don’t swear at all, but let every statement of yours be an oath, that is to say, every statement as true as an oath. That is perfect! That is just marvellous. Now we can see that what seemed to be so superficial a statement carries great profundity.
There is also this statement that I find in Josephus. Many of you may not know Josephus. He was a historian who lived in the time of our Lord Jesus, from whom we know a lot about the NT and OT background. He was a very important writer, this Josephus. Josephus tells us that there were people in the days of the Lord Jesus that he calls Essenes, rather incorrectly, but he calls them Essenes. In fact as I investigate what he means by the Essenes, I begin to see that what he means by them is more and more the Christians. And he says that these people, their word is firmer than an oath. Now exactly that! Everything they say is firm as in an oath. The Lord Jesus says exactly that: “Whatever you say, let it be as true as any oath. In fact, firmer than an oath, if that is possible, to use Josephus’ term.”
Truth Comes from God, Lies and Anything Beyond the Truth from the Devil
Having understood all this, let us now come to v37 and look at it. Here the Lord Jesus says that anything more than truth - ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’, that is, the truth - is from the Devil. Anything that is more than the truth is from the Devil. When a Christian speaks, he speaks only the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That is what Jesus requires of us. Every statement must be, as it were, under oath. Now you see, the point of it is this: that what is more than that comes from the Devil. Think about it. If falsehood comes from the Devil, from whom then does the truth come? From God, of course! The whole Bible teaches us that. You do not have to be a Bible expert to know that. Now here we have established a very important principle - truth and only truth comes from God. Whatever exceeds or goes beyond the truth in any direction is from the Devil. The Devil, the Lord Jesus says in John 8 - is a liar and a father of lies. The Devil is a murderer. That is interesting. He connects lying and murder together in John 8. You know why? Because lying is as good as murder.
You see, the Devil lied to Adam and Eve and so he murdered them: He said, “In the day that you shall eat of it, you shall die”; they died. Spiritually they were finished from that very day. To lie to a person is to murder that person. You have to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Otherwise, you will find that you are on the Devil’s side. There is some more beauty in the teaching of Jesus. He said: “anything that goes beyond the truth”, that is, He did not simply say, “contrary to the truth”. Think about it. What is the meaning of that statement? The meaning of the statement is this: a lie does not have to be only lie, it can contain truth, but it has gone beyond the truth. You see how perfectly the Lord Jesus words His words? Not one sentence, not one syllable, not one letter is wasted in the teaching of Jesus. The statement is perfect. He does not say, “If you tell lies, it is of the Devil, but if you tell a half-truth, that’s okay.” No, no! What the Lord Jesus says is: “Anything you say might be true, but beyond that is of the Devil, so rendering the entire statement false.”
You know, the most effective kind of lie is the lie that is partially true. A total lie is never convincing. A partial lie is very convincing because it contains such a big element of truth. Do you know where the heresies today gain their force? It is in their partial truth that they gain their force. They can quote you some verses from the Bible, and those verses are in the Bible, but that is not the whole truth. “Therefore, when you speak,” the Lord Jesus says, “you have to be absolutely true, or you are on the Devil’s side.” That is a principle that we need to look at in a moment again.
Truth Remains the Truth, Even Though It Is Not Plausible
I am building up to the principle and I want you to know all the minor steps as we come toward the main principle. So first, the truth comes from God. Nowhere can you find the truth except in God - that is a principle that stands forever. In this world, under the sun, you will never find the truth except that truth that God gives to us. You will not find it in philosophy because they are human imaginations. Why should somebody else’s notions and ideas and speculations be any better than mine or yours just because they can be put together more convincingly?
The fact that it is more plausible does not make it more true. Truth is not necessarily plausible in itself, but it stays the truth all the same. If I tell you that there was a fish that swam to my feet and I picked it up, and you say that that does not sound plausible, but it is the absolute truth and I can speak it under oath that it was true. It is not plausible, it is true. The things of God are not plausible, but they are true all the same because God does it. “Things like that,” you say, “do not happen.” But it happened because God did it. You say that it is not likely that God entered into flesh and came into the world. That is not plausible, but it is true. You say, “It cannot be that here was God manifest in the flesh and He went to the cross and died for my sins. That is not plausible. Things like that don’t just happen.” But when God does it, it does happen. So even if it is not plausible to your mind, it still remains true. Human speculations sound plausible, but that does not make them true.
The Truth Is Always Binding - It Must Be Obeyed!
A disciple must have his eyes on the truth. The word ‘truth’ in the Bible, in the NT alone, not counting the OT, in the NT alone occurs 109 times. If you add to that its cognates, like ‘truthful’ and the adverb and the adjective and the like, you have another 75 times, bringing it to a total of more than 200 times in the short space of the NT. When we preach the Gospel, we are concerned with the truth. We are not concerned that you shall be a member of this church, that you shall be a follower of mine or anybody else, that you shall be a follower of Luther or of Calvin or anybody else. We are concerned with one thing and one thing only - to be a Christian. It is the truth. If it is not true, then forget it. Forget it! Don’t fight for a thing just because you happen to like it! Don’t stand for a thing because you happen to find, “I think it is a nice idea!” Forget it! If the Gospel is not true, then pack your bags and go home. And do not come again. Let us be as clear cut as that. We are dealing with truth, and nothing but the truth.
As we press on into the riches of God’s Word as I build up towards the basic principle that we must understand, we must understand another thing that the Lord Jesus is saying. We saw that truth comes from God, but secondly the truth itself is as binding as any oath. Do not think that a thing need not be performed because it was not done under oath. No, the Lord Jesus says that the truth is always binding, under oath or not under oath, because the truth is as binding as any oath. Do you get the principle? You see, if the thing is true, you are obliged to do it and to accept it and to follow it and to believe it. In the Bible, the truth is to be obeyed, not just to be believed. And so we see in Rom. 2:8 and Gal. 5:7, that you obey the truth. Becoming a Christian is a matter of obeying the truth. It is not whether my feelings happen to be nice or not nice. It makes no difference whether I feel good today or do not feel good today; it has nothing to do with it. It has to do with the truth and the truth alone.
You see, there are many Christians who live by their emotions and they really frustrate me. I hope you are not going to be one of them. We have enough in the church already. Today they feel good and tomorrow they feel bad. After going to church, they feel real good; and by Monday morning, they feel really bad. They are the Christians who go up and down like a barometer - you do not know what to do with them. I get a phone call and the person says, “I’m feeling bad again today.” I think, “Oh, dear me, not again.” And so they go up and down. You know what is the trouble with these Christians? They have not understood that we live by the truth, not by our feelings. The truth is not any less true because I do not happen to feel very good today and it happens that I have a backache. That does not make the truth any less true. And what I feel makes not the slightest difference. My life is governed solely by the truth, not by my feelings.
There are many young Christians who do not seem to understand this. They come to the Lord Jesus and they suddenly expect to have a real good feeling, as though they had taken LSD or something. They say, “I don’t seem to feel very good after having come to the Lord.” I say, “Well, what did you expect to ‘feel’, my friend?” What did you expect to feel? I have not given you any injection of LSD (i.e., assuming it goes by injection - I do not even know how you administer it. Anyway, do you swallow tablets? I don’t know.) Anyway, it has nothing to do with your feelings. You have entered into covenant with God!
I also like to say to people, “Have you been married?” They say, “I have been married.” I continue to ask, “How did you feel after being married?” They say, “I feel exhausted. The whole day of shaking hands and smiling.” Like myself, after the marriage ceremony, I felt all my facial muscles frozen, I could not bring them down here. They got cramped in there. After smiling so long, my hand was sore after shaking so many hands. If you say, “How do you feel after getting married?” All I can say is, “I feel exceedingly tired.”
How do you feel? You love the person before you got married. You love God before you came to Him; otherwise you would not commit your life to Him. It has nothing to do with feelings; it is a matter to do with facts. That is what we have to do - truth. Thus, please pray that God will redeem you from being one of those ‘feeling’ Christians - feeling good or not feeling good today. They have to go to a meeting to feel good. In order to do that, you have to have a vigorous swing time. Everybody stand up, shout, clap your hands, jump up and down - that is the main notion. You say, “What is the idea of this exercise? I don’t really understand.” It is to work up the people. It is a matter of feeling, you see.
God does not work like that; He does not like that. And when I preach the Word of God, I work on nobody’s feelings. I am not interested in that at all. I want every person to be established in the truth, not in the feelings - because you felt so good, you were excited. I could bring up some soloist here who can make the tears run down your face. As he or she sings, you feel your heart wobbling there and you feel so excited and moved. That is great but I do not like that very much because tomorrow you might feel right down in the dumps. Like having had a great swig of alcohol, you were lifted up, but then you had a hangover the next day. We do not want any of that. It is so easy to work on people’s emotions. You do not have to be a great psychologist. But we do not want that, because the faith has to be established in the truth. Solid rock! This kind of Christian you can throw anything at them - you bring on the storm, you bring on the heat, nothing moves them. Why? Because they are rooted in the truth!
Another thing I want to say concerning the matter of truth is in our personal relationships. This we will come to in a moment.
Truthfulness Must Govern Our Relationships - With God and People
We have to press on very quickly and I want to deal with some very important points. By now I think you have seen the very basic spiritual principle that is coming up. It is a spiritual principle that is absolutely fundamental to the Christian life. Which is what? It is truthfulness - truth in all our thinking. That sounds easy but I want to expound this a little bit that you understand something that is vital to your Christian life. Just now I hinted already. Those Christians that go up and down are the Christians who collapse before very long. They are the people that comes to church and sings loud praises to God, and 3 months later you do not see them anymore. Why? Because the five minutes of heat has worn off. Everything is gone; they are back to square one. These are the kind of Christians who have not understood the principle of truth in the Christian life, and I want to expound this a little bit more.
If you want to grow in the Christian life, if you want to experience spiritual power and God’s blessings, you must grasp this vital principle. It is the principle of all your relationships in the vertical line towards God. You must be perfect in one thing in the Christian life - you must be perfect in the truth. You say, “What do you mean by that?” What I mean by that is this: in everything you do in relationship to God, first and foremost, be absolutely truthful! There are some people when they pray, they seem to be trying to impress God, as though they are trying to impress other people. That is an example of being untruthful. When you pray to God, remember this: He looks in your heart; He is not looking at the expression on your face. So if you put on a great nice smile on your face for God to look at, it is not going to impress Him. He looks right into your heart. The secret of the Christian life is truthfulness to God. Always be absolutely truthful!
If you have a problem, come to Him and say, “Lord, I have this problem”. You know, it is amazing how few Christians understand this principle. When they have a problem, the first thing they do is to look for a friend, look for the pastor. Well, I have no objections that you should look for a friend, or look for the pastor. But learn this principle first. Learn to come honestly and truthfully to God, and say, “Lord, I have this problem here.” Why can you not talk honestly with God? Do you think He only wants to listen to flattery? Do you think He is like the other people you know? Come and tell Him what the fact is. You do not have to think, “When I talk to God, I only have to say the nice things: “Lord, you are wonderful! You are great! You provide me with bread everyday. I need a little bit more butter, but I thank you for the bread, and the jam. You are so good to me. You provide me with all these nice things. I could do with a bigger house, but for the time being, I am quite grateful for what I have.” And so we feel as if we have to say nice things to God. It is not right to come to God and say things that are not very nice. You do not come to God with your problems. Why not? Is He not our Savior? Learn to be honest with God and that will save half your problems. They will be wiped away in one go. People often surprise me. They say, “I’ve got this problem and that problem.” I say, “Have you ever thought of talking to God about it?” “What? Talk to God about it?” “Sure!” I say, “What’s wrong with that? He can answer your questions better than I can. Did you know that?” “Whoa! You mean He can?” How do they expect God to save them if the God they come to could not solve their problems? Why do you want to believe in this God for? Either He is the God of truth, He is the living God, He is everything He says He is, or do not waste your time with Him!
You see, truthfulness is black and white. It cuts a sharp line. It wastes no time dabbling about in the twilight area. Come to God clean cut and straight. That is the way He wants it. Come to God with your question and say, “Lord, I don’t understand this thing”. I find so wonderful the prophets when they speak to God. Nahum said, “Lord, I have a complaint to make against You, You know, if You don’t mind me saying so. I’ve got a problem here. What’s the idea of dealing with us like this, and You deal so good with these heathen fellows who crush Jerusalem under their feet. I am not so happy, Lord, with this.” Do you understand the spiritual principle? You say, “Hey, hey, hey! You don’t talk to God like that! How dare you talk to God like that?” Well, he is not disrespectful. We confuse honesty with disrespectfulness.
You know, Chinese people are particularly vulnerable to this thing and I think we must learn in the Christian life to correct it. If you say to a brother “That was not very good what you did, you know. The performance was not very high quality.” Whoa! They are offended. “Brotherly love - you should tell me nice things. And you say you don’t like the Bible study that I led. Huh! This is really insulting me!” You see, you tell them the truth and they say you are insulting them. Now I have had this experience again and again, I hope you do not mind me saying, but particularly with Hong Kong people. I think they are brought up in an environment where it is not nice to say too much of the truth. As Christians, we have to change in this. Some people when they say something to me [to the effect], “I wish something could be improved in this,” they add, “I hope you are not offended? Not offended, huh?” I say, “I’m not offended. I am very grateful that you tell me this.” They say, “Really? They are so surprised, as though if you tell me the truth, I must be offended. They are surprised that you are grateful.
I remember just the other day, somebody was saying that something could be improved in the church, and added, “I hope you are not offended? You are not going to be angry?” I say, “Why are you so apologetic? Don’t you know that I love the truth? Just tell me the truth. Let me have it straight. Come on. Don’t go round in circles.” But I realized in the background of many people, you cannot speak the truth to them. You have to sort of sugar-coat the statement, come around in a nice way, and stab them in the back, not in the front. That is the accepted practice. You stab them in the back is more respectable; to stab them in front is rude. It seems to me that you die either way.
Speak the Truth in Love - Have No Pretenses!
In the Christian life, then, let us learn to be truthful. That is the vital spiritual principle. It makes our relationship to one another so much easier that we do not have to maneuver, that we do not have to juggle, wondering what is on that person’s mind. I move my chess piece this way now. I move my chess piece in that way; now you move yours. Conversation with some people is so tiring. You wonder which chess game they are playing, which move they are making now, which combination is coming next. As the Lord’s people, let us just be honest. Look! I would like you to be honest with me. Just come to me and say, “This part I don’t understand it.” Come on, let us have it straight. That is the way we are going to get on with one another. Playing politics with one another is not what Christians should be doing.
If you are living with one another, you are staying with one another, [you should practice this]. Well, a church is a society. It is a community. So let us be honest with one another, speaking the truth in love. Sure, I do not mean to say that you speak the truth until you are going to hit them real hard - giving it to them all in the face. Speak it in love and let it be true.
I am praying that God is going to transform the church, especially the Chinese church. God is going to do great things. But He has to change us first. This church is going to be an awful lot different, wonderfully different, if we can learn first of all, that none of us has to play politics with each other. We do not have to be false with one another. We do not have to pretend to be nice, but just be straight and relaxed with one another. Have you ever realized how unrelaxing it is when both sides have to play politics? You have to sit in a certain way; it is so unrelaxing. Let us have it straight from the heart, one to another. Everybody relax and talk the truth as brothers and sisters.
But the same principle applies to God. When you come to God, talk honestly with Him. You will be surprised He is delighted. He is delighted with honesty. This is the way to grow in your relationship with God and also with one another. It is a secret, if you may call it that, a principle that every Christian must grasp. When you pray, do you feel that you have to talk in a false way? I was just saying to Brother William yesterday that I was listening to some Anglican bishop preaching. In fact it was an archbishop - a retired one. I said, “Why do they have to talk in this tone of voice? Why can they not talk in their natural tone of voice? Do they not know how? Do they speak to their wives by saying, “My dear, I am so pleased to see you today” [said in a highfalutin tone of voice] Is that the way they talk to their wives? It gives you goose pimples! Yet, when they preach the Gospel, they must read the Word of God to brothers and sisters in a certain fashion. What is this? You see, we have not learned to be honest with one another. This is all part of the hypocrisy and the pretense that goes on in the church. I am sorry I speak the truth. I cannot stand it! I said that when the archbishop had gone on like this for a while, it made me so sick that I am afraid I did the rude thing - I stood up and walked out - because the principle of the Christian life is to be true with one another. We must always have no pretense. It is pretense that destroys the church and destroys our relationship with God. So when you come to prayer, just relax. Do not feel that you have to be in a certain position, that you have to kneel in a particular way. Talk with Him in a relaxed way. All He wants is your truth. He is not looking at your physical posture. He wants you to speak from your heart to Him.
Not Fulfilling a Promise to God Is Cheating Him
Our time is going so quickly and there are so many important principles here. But I want to say then that we must grasp hold of this vital principle. I want to show you in some other ways why speaking under oath is lying. When we speak towards God, everything we say, I would like you to understand, is oath. That is the reason why we need not swear to God at all. Everything you say is equivalent to oath. That is why I have said that in prayer, say nothing that you do not mean, because God will hold you to account for everything you say. The principle of this is so important that we must understand this. If any of you were asked in a certain meeting if you want to serve the Lord to raise your hand, did you raise your hand? Did you raise your hand? If you raised your hand, you have acted and you have presented your oath to God. Even if it was not an oath in declaration, it is equivalent to an oath. Everything you say to God, you must fulfil. Beware! Beware of taking from God, of robbing God of what is His. What you have said to Him, you must fulfil. Remember that. That is the other part of the principle of truth.
There are some people who say I will serve the Lord and they are nowhere to be found in the Lord’s service. I tell you, it is better that you never said it, than having said it, you do not fulfil it. Never say, “I will serve the Lord” and be not found in His work, especially if you were asked to raise your hand in relation to full-time service. Don’t you ever raise your hand if you do not mean to fulfil it, or if you mean to fulfil it but are not determined to fulfil it! There is a lot of difference between those. A good intention will still be made to be held as valid and standing firm. An intention is as good as an oath - to have said it, to have declared it, even if you only intended it. What else could you mean if you do not intend it? You know, so careless are some Christians in relation to God in the matter of truth that it frightens me. I pray that no one in this church is going be like that.
I spoke to a person who is supposed and recognized by many to be a very good Christian, and I was told that he had committed himself to full-time service in a meeting in which he raised his hand to go forward. When I asked him about it, do you know what he said to me? I said, “So, you committed yourself to full-time service.” He said, “Did I?” I said, “But, brother, in such and such a meeting you raised your hand.” He said, “Did I? I don’t remember.” He did not deny it, but he said he did not remember.
What is the spiritual lesson we can learn from that? So many Christians do things, and something as so serious as that, as going into full-time service, he raised his hand and afterwards he says he does not remember. Whether he is saying the truth or not, I do not know. But we had witnesses who saw him raise his hand. He did not and does not deny that he raised his hand, but he just said that, “I do not remember having done so.” Brothers and sisters, if you have ever made a promise to God and you are not going to fulfil it, I would not like to be in your place in the Judgement Day because you have lied to God. Do you know what is the punishment for perjury? For lying to God? It is death! It is a frightening thing to lie to the Lord and not to keep one’s vows or one’s statements or one’s commitments. I can give you all the references to those who want them, to tell you where it says in the Bible that perjury and lying to God is punishable by death. Brothers and sisters, never make a statement towards God - because He is the living God - that you do not intend to fulfil, or you intend to fulfil it, but you do not do it. Nothing will acquit you at the time of Judgement. In no way you will get away. Like that poor brother, if I may call him that, who raised his hand to full-time service and then said, “I don’t remember it”, do you think it will acquit him in the Day of Judgement? Or will the punishment be even more severe that having said he will serve the Lord, he does not even remember having said it.
Every Part of Our Christian Life Is to Be Governed by Truth
There are other ways of lying to God, brothers and sisters, of cheating God of what is His own. Too many! Thus, I pray that God may teach us each one to be truly honest in our relationship to Him. I want to share, as we close now, one of the other number of ways in which we can deny God what is His own. For example, in this way: there are those who say that everything that they have belong to God. They had given everything to God. What do they mean by that? That is not truthful. They are lying to the Lord again. They say, “My car is the Lord’s; my house is the Lord’s; everything I have given to the Lord.” Have you indeed? How is it the Lord’s? In which way is it the Lord’s? How will it differ if you have not given it to the Lord? In what way would the circumstances be different? By offering to the Lord in a promise, they have succeeded in deceiving themselves, not God.
Take another way. Do you know that every Christian owes at least one tenth of his income to the Lord? At least! That one tenth belongs to God, not to you. By not giving it to God, you have cheated Him of what is His own. That is a statement true under the OT, but not less true under the New, because the tenth was simply a means of saying that you accept God as Sovereign Lord. It is not an offering to God; it belongs to Him. You have offered nothing to Him when you have given one tenth. It is His own. It is only what goes above the tenth that is an offering to the Lord. That is a principle that I think every Christian should know. But by not giving to Him what is His own, you have deceived the Lord. You have stolen from God.
That is exactly what Zechariah said, and he combines stealing with false witness. In what ways have you deceived God? Take for example the fact that in 2 Cor. 5:15, it says that Christ died for all that all who live live for him. If you become a Christian, you accept the conditions of salvation. The conditions of salvation are not for you to change as you please. God set the conditions. If you do not fulfil the conditions, brothers and sisters, you have stolen from God. If you do not meet those conditions, do not hope for your salvation. God’s salvation is not unconditional. It is conditioned on obedience to the truth.
Avoid Perjury - Be Perfect in Truthfulness
Thus, now you see that as we examine and apply all these principles, the principle of truth goes into every part of the Christian life, whether it is in prayer or inter-personal relations, in our giving, in our offering, in our daily living. Every part of it is governed by truth and truth alone. Are you a Christian? I hope that nobody goes out of this church today without knowing what a true Christian is. The Lord Jesus in this passage is commenting on the third commandment of the Ten Commandments. Do you know what the third commandment is? “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” [Ex. 20:7] Do you know what that means? It is not only a question of swearing with the mouth; it is a question of swearing with the life.
Do you know what that means? If you are a Christian, you are taking the Lord’s name on your life. The commandment says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”, i.e., falsely or unworthily. There are many Christians who are guilty of the third commandment. They have broken the third commandment. They have taken the name of the Lord their God in vain upon their life. Everywhere you go as a Christian, you are known to belong to God. Or else stop using the name of ‘Christian’. And if you take the name of the God in your life, and in your lips, and you deny Him in your life, you are guilty of perjury.
This is what the Lord Jesus is talking about. It is either truth or perjury. Nobody must take the name of the Lord their God in their life or take the name of the Lord Jesus upon themselves, who are not prepared to obey the truth. I would say rather that you just honestly say, “In that case I am not a Christian because I don’t want to obey the truth, I don’t love the truth.” But what then is the requirement of being a Christian? Does that mean that you must be perfect? Yes. Only in one thing - perfect in truthfulness! That does not mean you are sinless, but it does mean that you are absolutely honest. Where do you stand today? Where is your position? Are you absolutely honest? If not, you are not a Christian. I want to make this clear black and white. Either your life is governed by the truth, or you are no Christian on the teaching of the Lord Jesus. And if you take the name of Christian in your life when you do not love the truth, you have committed perjury, because you have taken God’s name in vain.
I hope you can see now how important is the subject we are dealing with today. Perjury is the breaking of the covenant, that we saw last week, and that is why we find that following immediately on the passage we were expounding last week. You say, “In that case I’m afraid, I had better not be a Christian at all.” Why not? If you love the truth, which is the only requirement required of you, not that you will be perfect and sinless in your conduct, which we may not attain because of our shortcomings, but we may and must, brothers and sisters, love the truth absolutely.
The Secret of Every Man and Woman of God - Truthfulness
David was a man with many sins, yet he was a man of truth in the inward heart. When he sinned, he made no pretense and made no defense. He came before God and said, “I have sinned before You.” He made no excuses. You know there are Christians who always make excuses, and I am very disturbed by this kind of Christians. “I sin, yes, but you see, it was because of this and that.” David made no excuses - no alleviating circumstances were pleaded. He came before God and said, “I have sinned. Let me only fall into Your hands, O Lord. Deal with me as You see fit, O Lord. But I love You. Don’t throw me out of Your sight! Don’t take Your Holy Spirit from me, I beg of You. I know You delight in truth in the inward parts. And though I have failed and have nothing to offer to You in myself, I offer to You the truth of my heart.”
This is the secret of every man of God. If every person here in this room understands this secret, it will make you a man of God or a woman of God. It is as strict as that. That I can say is a statement of truth on which I can take an oath. If you are prepared to be absolutely true, you will become a man of God or a woman of God. Let no falsehood have any part in your life, in your thoughts, in your conduct. When you have sinned, come before God in absolute honesty - no excuses, no pretense. Say, “Lord, here I am. I have sinned. I have failed. Be merciful to me a sinner.” Do you know why in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, the tax collector was forgiven? Have you ever noticed? Because he was absolutely honest. He said, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner. I have no pretense to make. I am simply a sinner that I am. I come to You just as I am. I have no righteousness to plead before You, no excuses to make.” Can you understand the secret? You apply that secret in all your living and all your thinking, and believe me, you will see the wonders of God.
Conclusion: Be Absolutely Truthful to God
Let me in conclusion give you simply those points of why truthfulness is so important. Firstly, if you are truthful, God will keep you from sinning. We are weak and we will sin, but God is able to keep you from falling into serious sin, if you always love the truth. You see that in Gen. 20:5,6. Abimelech was kept from sinning because of the integrity of his heart. Many Christians fall into grievous sin because they never really loved the truth, and grievous sin is often irreversible.
Secondly, and going very quickly, many Christians pray and their prayers are not answered. You know why? Because there is no truth in their life! Their life is not governed by the truth. What is the use of being so-called Christians or a person who is said to believe in God, but who cannot pray to God and God does not hear him? Your prayers are not answered. You have no communication with God. The whole essence of the Christian life is to be able to commune with God, to know Him as the living God. But until your prayers are the prayers of truth, that is, they come from the depth of your heart and you mean every single word that you say and it is not polished language, simply presented to tickle someone’s ears, [they will not be answered]. When you have learned to pray in absolute honesty, you will find that your prayers are always answered. Always answered! That is a statement of truth. And this again if you want references or examples, they are in 2 Kings 20:3, 1 Chron. 29:17 and so forth.
Thirdly, receiving blessing and approval in all our service from God. God loves the people who are upright and He will bless them without limit. In their work, in their service, they will meet blessing everywhere they go. Not material blessing but spiritual blessing is what I am talking about, though material blessings also come by the way. If you walk in the integrity of your heart, amazing things will happen, not because you are good but because God loves the truth and we love the truth. Yes, even in a fish that will come to your feet. How you are humbled by the goodness of God! Not because we are good, but because He is good. And one thing He requires of us is to be absolutely truthful in all that we do with Him - truthful also about our sinfulness.
And fourthly, the person who is true stands out from the ungodly. You know why the church has no witness in the world today? Because there is no truth in the church, or not adequate truth. It is a person of truth in all his conduct and behavior that makes him stand out from the world. He becomes different from other people. When you walk with them, you talk to them, “They say you are different.” You stand out from everybody else, not because you are all the time talking about God and preaching to them, but because your life stands out. It carries the mark of God in your life. Only so can we be the light of the world. The church has no impact on the world. Why? For this very reason, brothers and sisters, because the truth is not in us as it ought to be.
And finally, it is through truthfulness - truth in the inward parts - that we come into knowing God’s revelation and the wonders of God’s wisdom. Many people say, “I read the Bible but I don’t understand it. I don’t understand the wonderful things of God.” Do you know why? You have not yet learned to be utterly truthful in your heart with God. There it is! And all these references you can have: Ps 51:6, Ps. 26:2-3 and so forth. Anybody interested in the references, they can have them afterwards.
I pray that God may speak to every heart. Our time is gone and I pray that every person may grasp the important spiritual principles that we have been dealing with, which can transform your life from a mediocre Christian into a radiant, powerful Christian, into a mighty man of God. Think on these principles. Meditate on them.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church