Promises, Promises

Text: Matthew 23:16-22


I.         In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to a old and seemingly popular statement - Matthew 5:33

            A.        This and the other five quotes are introduced by the phrase “You have heard it was said to those of old”

                        1.         This is not the usual way that Jesus quotes from the Old Testament.

                                    a.         He usually will say “It is written,” such as during his temptation by Satan - Matthew 4:10 is one example

                                    b.         Or, “have you not read” - Matthew 12:5 is one example

                                    c.         Or, he refers to the author - Mark 12:36, Note not just David, but David being told by the Holy Spirit.

                                    d.         These are firm, verifiable sources

                        2.         By “you have heard it said” refers to verbal traditions handed down from generation to generation.

                                    a.         The problem with verbal ideas is that they are easily garbled.

                                    b.         Any one playing the old “telephone” game understands this.

                                    c.         It still happens today. There are statements that people just know are in the Bible because they heard them so often, but you can look high and low trying to find them.

                                                (1)       “Cleanliness is next to godliness”

                                                (2)       “We will speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent”

                                                (3)       “Charity begins at home”

                        3.         Some are actual Bible quotes, but it is apparent from Jesus’ comments that those using the quotes had taken them out of context.

                        4.         Others are mixture of quotes and traditions.

                        5.         And some just can’t be found, though they might vaguely resemble statements in the Old Testament.

            B.        This quote appears to be a blend of tradition and verse

                        1.         It appears to be roughly based on Leviticus 19:12 and Numbers 30:2

                        2.         The statement correctly affirms that oaths made to God are binding - Ecclesiastes 5:4-5

                        3.         But it is subtly different from the Old Testament. It leaves the impression that there are some oaths, not made to God, which need not be kept.

II.        Oaths, Promises, Vows, and Swearing

            A.        These are all synonyms for a statement binding a person to a task.

                        1.         Often something else is offered in pledge that the person will to the task

                        2.         “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

                        3.         “Under penalties of perjury, I declare that I have examined this return and accompanying schedules and statements, and to the best of my knowledge and belief, they are true, correct, and complete.”

                        4.         “I fully understand that it is a Federal crime punishable by fine or imprisonment, or both, to knowingly make any false statement concerning any of the above facts ...”

            B.        Oaths are bound by various things: rights to a possession, a person’s reputation, or a person’s religion, or a person’s life.

                        1.         For example, when buying a car with a loan, you give the bank a promise to make timely payments or the bank can take possession of the car and sue you for what you still owe them.

                        2.         The oaths in court are based upon one’s belief that God will punish the liar.

            C.        Unfortunately, our language uses oaths and swearing to refer to using God’s name in vain.

                        1.         You can see how this came about from oaths made upon religious beliefs

                        2.         However, this is not the type of oaths or swearing under discussion.

                        3.         Such things as taking God’s name in vain, profanity, cursing, foul language and the like are covered in other passages.

III.       Oaths are always binding

            A.        Numbers 30 - Oaths are binding

                        1.         Provisions are made for a dependant’s oath. They had to be affirmed directly or by lack of contradiction.

                        2.         In other words, one person could not bind another person fulfill a promise when that other person was responsible for family’s debt.

                        3.         Notice especially Numbers 30:2, the rule doesn’t apply only to oaths made to God.

            B.        Even when the oaths were detrimental to the swearer, it was to be kept - Psalm 15:4

            C.        Oaths made to God were particularly important to keep - Ecclesiastes 5:4-6

                        1.         Not only because one should take God seriously

                        2.         But also because the fulfillment of oaths reflects God’s reputation

                        3.         And there this the problem that some have an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude.

            D.        The Old Law did not require oaths to bind agreements. Israelites were expected to deal honestly with each other

                        1.         Leviticus 19:11 - No false deals and no lies

                        2.         Proverbs 12:22 - God hates liars and loves honesty

                        3.         Zechariah 8:16-17 - Speak truth and do not give false oaths

            E.        It appears that by Jesus’ time, the Jews believed only certain kinds of oaths were binding - Matthew 23:16-22

                        1.         Swearing by the temple, the altar, or God’s throne not binding

                        2.         Swearing by temple’s treasury, a sacrifice on the altar, by God would be binding

                        3.         According to the Mishna, a Jewish commentary on the Law, “Oaths may only be taken about what can be defined according to size, weight, or number.” In other words, it must be something tangible

                        4.         “If a claim concerns these, no oath is imposed: bondsmen, written documents, immovable property, and the property of the Temple.” In other words, it must be something redeemable.

                        5.         In addition, the Mishna states that oaths made with the phrase “I adjure you,” “I command you,” or “I bind you” were binding, but a claim made with phrases such as “by heaven and earth” were not binding. In other words, it mattered how the oath was bound to the person.

                        6.         Hence, an oath sworn against the temple was not binding since it was not movable property, but the gold in the treasury was binding since in theory, a person could collect on the debt.

                        7.         Is it any wonder that few Gentiles trusted the word of a Jew?

            F.        In Matthew 5:34-36, Jesus gives a list of things not to swear by: heaven, God’s throne, the earth, Jerusalem, or the hair on your head.

                        1.         All of these are examples of oaths that a Jew would consider non-binding.

                        2.         Jesus is forbidding his followers from making non-binding oaths, or hypocritical oaths if you would.

IV.      Are all oaths wrong?

            A.        God swore an oath to Abraham by Himself - Hebrews 6:13-17

                        1.         It is not that God’s word wasn’t trustworthy

                        2.         God put His reputation on the line to prove His faithfulness.

            B.        Jesus was under oath at his trial - Matthew 26:62-64

            C.        Paul took a vow while in Antioch - Acts 18:18

            D.        These oaths were acceptable because these people meant to keep their promises.

                        1.         Making an oath with no intention of carrying it out is lying.

            E.        What about swearing by God’s name?

                        1.         Romans 1:9 - “For God is my witness ...” (also Philippians 1:8)

                        2.         II Corinthians 1:23 - “I call God as a witness against my soul ...”

                        3.         Galatians 1:20 - “... before God, I do not lie.”

            F.        Obviously not all oaths are forbidden

V.        Oaths are unnecessary

            A.        Jesus pressed his case further by stating that oaths are not needed by a Christian - Matthew 5:37

            B.        The need for oaths in our world comes about because of Satan.

                        1.         He is the father of lies and liars - John 8:44

                        2.         It is because worldly people lie that they insist on something more than a simple “yes” or “no.”

            C.        Lying was forbidden under the Old Law and it is forbidden to Christians

                        1.         Colossians 3:9 - Do not lie since you have left the world and its practices

                        2.         Ephesians 4:25 - Speak truth. Notice Paul uses the Old Law to prove his point; from Zechariah 8:16-17 which we read earlier.

            D.        If no one ever told a lie, there would be no need for oaths - James 5:12

            E.        The world might require oaths, but an oath will not change the Christian’s behavior. He will carry out his promises regardless whether a “cross my heart and hope to die” was given or not.

            F.        Are you a person of your word?


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