Matthew R. Perry

Calling Cards, iPods, and the Worth of our Words, Part I

In Culture, Politics, Preaching, Sermons on July 17, 2008 at 1:20 pm

(This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 13, 2008 at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY. To listen to the sermon in its entirety, click here.)

Truth is a rare commodity in our culture. We find ourselves searching high and low in our culture for truth. Not only do we not find it, we have grown cynical as to whether anyone can really tell us the truth at all. If the great Roman orator Cicero was right that “Nothing is sweeter than the light of truth,” then we are living in dark and bitter times. Daniel Webster noted once, “There is nothing so powerful as truth—and often nothing so strange.” Would we know what to do if we had a politician who told the truth? Would we know what to do with a car salesman who told us not only the good but also the bad of a car we are considering purchasing?

Even among our preachers, we hear of preachers and evangelists embellishing stories and statistics in order to (in theory) make their point more valid. Some have taken such liberties with the truth that some even joke about it while preaching that they are really telling them the truth with this.

This morning, we look at Matthew 5:33-37 and see that our words matter and our words count. What does our speech tell us about our hearts?

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath 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 take an oath 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.”

At first, this simply looks like Jesus is speaking of the making and taking of oaths, but he really goes deeper. Many in the Old and New Testament have made oaths to others. Hebrews 6:16 says, “For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation” (Hebrews 6:16, ESV). All through the Sermon on the Mount, in fact, Jesus made an oath when he said, “Truly I say to you… .” In other words, he is giving an oath to help seal the truthfulness of an issue. To Jesus, words mattered to establish truth.

Yet some use words to manipulate. Does saying something, then swearing on a stack of Bibles or swearing on your Momma’s graves or, even more serious, swearing to God to help people believe what you are saying?

1. Our words are the calling card of our character.

I have on me a business card. This business card contains my picture, my name and title, the name of the church, my phone numbers, e-mail, and a short Bible verse. This is my business card that I give whenever I call of folks for a visit. That card, though it contains some great information, is only as good as the man behind it. So too is any oath and really any propositional statement you make is only as good as the character.

Look with me at verse 33 once again: “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’” Up until this point, Jesus brings up two of the Ten Commandments (anger and murder), but here Jesus goes a little further into the particular traditions set up by the rabbis. What Jesus sets up here is a combination of verses found in the Old Testament. For instance, Leviticus 19:12 says: “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” Numbers 30:2 says, “If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” Deut. 23:21 says, “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin.”

These are the verses Jesus has in mind. He puts before them the commands not to swear falsely, or to perjure oneself. But even with religiously minded people, they would find loopholes. Jesus gave the teaching correctly, but there is one clause that we must see: “You shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.” In other words, they taught, “If make a vow or taken an oath swearing by God’s name, then it is permissible and you have to honor it. But if you swear by any other name or by anything else, it could be broken.”

Jesus comes along and says in verse 34-35, “But I say to you, Do not take an oath 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.” Again, Jesus here is not forbidding the taking of oaths. He is forbidding taking oaths in such a careless manner that they are rendered meaningless. Jesus takes umbrage in other areas in which we use words carelessly.

In October, we shall spend four weeks looking at the Lord’s Prayer and our prayer before the Lord. In Matthew 6:7-8, Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. [8] Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” The New American Standard version puts it nicely, “Do not use meaningless repetition.” Our words have to have weight!

Same principle here. Some made vows to heaven thinking that conveyed a seriousness, but still gave them an out to be at odds with the truth. But Heaven is God’s throne. Earth is God’s footstool. Jerusalem is his city. But it went even further. In Matthew 23:16-22, Jesus said:

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ [17] You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? [18] And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ [19] You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? [20] So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. [21] And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. [22] And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

What’s the point? It is all part of God’s created order. Every lie brings shame upon the name of God ultimately. Just because we say certain things about stacks of Bibles and momma’s graves does not mean that God gives us a free pass to play fast and loose with our words.

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  1. […] Treasure The Word Displaying the treasure of God’s Word in our Culture and the Church « Calling Cards, iPods, and the Worth of our Words, Part I […]

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