I. Don’t Make Broken Promises…v 33-37
Ever made a promise you couldn’t keep? Chances are we all have at some point, we are all human after all, and despite our best efforts and intentions at times, we can think of when we have let others down.
Jesus here builds on another command from the Law that had been not so much blown out of proportion, but had been certainly twisted to mean all sorts of things it most certainly didn’t.
The original instruction was not to break an oath you make before God ( Ex 20:7, Lev 19:12, Numbers 30:2, Deut 23:21-24), but Jesus tells His followers that it’s better that you don’t even make oaths at all! Not that we shouldn’t take oaths full stop, that itself would be missing the very thing that Jesus is trying to point out. God Himself makes promises, and commands His people to take oaths in His name. Paul calls God as his witness on many occasions in his epistles, and clearly we in our relationships in whatever form they may take, require certain promises to be made in order for the relationship to not only be valid, but meaningful and purposeful. But His point is that we would not make promises based on our fleshly desires and to avoid being dishonest in order to gain earthly goods or power. To be people of our word by not saying meaningless things, by speaking only truth.
So what kind of promises are wrong to make? How can we avoid this danger of not making promises we can’t keep or speaking untruth?
The teachers of the law had made mockery of promises by defining when you could keep a promise and when you could renege.( Matthew 23:16-22). They had denigrated honesty and truthfulness to inconveniences that could be done away with if you felt so inclined. They had placed value on things they valued and devalued what God valued.Oaths made under those sort of pretenses weaken truth and promote deception.
Promises made on faulty premises are broken before they are even spoken!
In a court of law, lawyers must be so careful in their questioning because even though a person might be ‘under oath’, word play can be the difference between truth being evident or deception hiding guilt.
“Were you ever alone with the victim?”, could ‘honestly’ be answered as, “No”, because in the person’s mind they can say, “ The victim was with me, so I wasn’t alone.”
There are a couple of different ways of making false promises.
One is by making frivolous ones that you either have no intention of keeping or just say for the sake of saying, either out of obligation or repetition of honorable things that come to mean nothing to you, ie, “ I looooove that car!” “ I looooove those shoes….”, “ I looooove this meal….’, “I loooove that movie….”…..when you are constantly saying things like this, “ I love you” can sometimes seem so limp, “ You love me like you love that cake?”.
Another option is that we make foolish oaths that are evasive and non-committal…like, “Yes,dear”…..
Another more dangerous way of make foolish promises is ‘swear’ by something that is not even your’s to swear by. Especially if you are going to use God’s name and not even consider His holiness or power by just using Him like a stamp of approval on your actions, plans or words. There is no greater irreverence than to take the name of God and use it to your own ends. Don’t force God to affirm your ideas or ideals. Don’t invoke His name where it doesn’t belong. You do not own Him, in fact, you do not truly own anything. All things are under His Sovereignty.
You can’t swear by Heaven – that where He is! You have no claim to His throne!
You can’t swear by the Earth -that’s His footstool!
You can’t swear by Jerusalem – He is King there also!
You can’t swear by yourself, because you have no control over your own life and death. You can’t even make hair grow, let alone turn a different color. Who are you to think you can use God’s Sovereignty to your advantage?
Every oath you take, you take against something that is not under your control. In some way, God is behind everything. From a universal to a personal perspective, there is no escaping the point Jesus is making. You cannot make a promise based on authority you do not have.
It’s not the promise that’s the issue, it’s the heart behind the promise and what holds the promise.
Your only option is to simply let the confession of your mouth be truth, and held by truth if we are mistaken. Don’t trust in external things to hold your promises. It is your heart that you must promise with, and if that is God’s, you will be seeking to honor Him, not discredit Him by deception.
Don’t add anything to your yes or no. Anything else is simply pride. You can’t claim anything in the eyes of God, Who sees the heart. If you allow pride to enter your promises, you’ve already deceived yourself. Deception and pride come only from one place. The father of lies and the most prideful of all, the evil one.
Satan right from the beginning of time has made promises he can’t keep with authority he doesn’t have.
He was kicked out of Heaven for promising to ascend to God’s throne, which was never his to claim. He got Adam and Eve kicked out of Eden for promising them they would ascend to be like God also. Satan is liar, and all lies and pride descend from him.
This revolutionizes our lives because with this kind of integrity in mind, we live honestly and forthrightly. We are trustworthy people, with no pretense, whose words are known to be true and edifying.
“ The heart of the person who trusts The Lord will express itself in words that are true and edifying.” – Boice
- Paying It Backwards…v38-42
You may have heard of the concept of ‘paying it forward’. Or of suspended meals or coffees paid in advance for someone who would come after you to enjoy.
That is a very generous concept, one we should embrace to show charity to others. The concept Jesus outlines here though goes a lot further.
More than doing to others what you would have done to you, that can be easy before you know the response of the other person, but when you have been harshly treated, it’s not so easy to react with that ‘golden rule’ mindset. We just figure they are operating on that principle where they want to be treated the way they treated us, so we respond in kind. Jesus says NO! Don’t pay back evil for evil. Don’t just pay back what you get… Pay it backwards. Give someone who is mistreating you the opportunity to see your genuine love for God.
The famous law He builds on here is from Ex 21, Lev 24 and Deut 19. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Without going into the arguments for and against capital punishment, we can put aside our own ideal of self-justification and preservation, seeing that the standard God commanded was bring an end to violence, not to encourage it. One life in payment for one other life was supposed to end possibility of all out warfare and blood feuds that extend through generations. Of course this had been twisted, both by bloodthirsty mankind, but also by teachers of the law to be prescriptive rather than restrictive. Open to interpretation, in became something you could use in personal vendettas, and fostered cruel justice, bitterness, and hatred.
Without going into v43-48, what can we learn from Jesus’ words here?
Firstly, repaying evil for evil can say much more about us than it does about the person we seek personal retribution against. Who are we to take on evil, anyway? When we judge and execute others for evil they have done against us, we are placing ourselves above them, and above the consequences of our own just-as-evil actions. We say we are better than they, but only by our own authority on the issue. If this is the case, where we all just commit to this cycle – where does it end? Generations time? We pass on our feuding. Be careful in what you instill in the next generation about those who have mistreated you. Call them out for what they are, but commit them to the judge as well.
How would Jesus have us respond instead to personal attack?
He outlines the strategy of non-resistance, which is a progression from not only not retaliating in violence for violence, but leads to giving yourself completely in self-sacrificial acts of love.
1- Turning the other cheek: this is a commonly recognized phrase that even non-believers are familiar with. But what does it even mean? It’s the first step in self-sacrifice, of being willing to choose vulnerability over strength, dishonor over personal satisfaction. Giving up your pride and personal reputation in order to show greater love.It’s not a rejection of justice, it is pointing to a greater justice than we are capable of dispensing to those that have wronged us. It is not subjecting yourself to acts of oppression and violence, it’s placing yourself ultimately in the hands of the only Just One, Who will never forsake you….
2 – Giving your cloak as well as your tunic: this generosity is only possible because you have first grasped the fact that nothing is really your’s to begin with. You give freely, not because it doesn’t cost you something, but because it does cost you, it should cost you to give. ‘If you have enough to spare, you have enough to share.’
3- Going the extra mile: this is the distance you must go to show you are willing to go with people, not because they demand, but because you love them with a love that transcends their demands and even abuse.
All of these things show us that your identity, meaning and purpose in this life as a follower of Jesus is not wrapped up in what men do to you, ask of you or beg of you.
“Kingdom citizens expect little from this world, and place their trust wholly in God.” – Osborne.
What do you have that is truly your own? What do you have that has not first been given to you by the grace of God?
Jesus is teaching us deference to others, that we would seek to give rather than take.
Has anything been held back from us? Romans 8:32
Has God not fulfilled all His promises? Has He not been faithful even when we have not, even when we have been His enemies?
It is fitting as we would consider The Lord’s Table that we consider the faithfulness of God in keeping His promises, and being faithful in His covenant. Because when we pause to think of His faithfulness, and what He has done, we soon realize that in Him, we have not only the greatest example of faithfulness and promise-keeping, but also the greatest example of not returning evil for evil.
Genesis 15 shows us the covenant between God and Abraham and his seed. Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness ( v.6), but he still had questions. How could he know for certain that God would fulfill?Especially knowing within himself that he was prone to human failings?
God did something amazing. He walked through the death for both sides of the covenant.
His Word is sure, because His Word is more than mere sentences, or contracts written up, it’s flesh and blood. It’s Jesus, His Son, The Word made flesh. His Word fulfills all promises, for both side of the covenant, that all who would hear and see, and would believe, can have life.