Speaking the Truth

5m | Mar 24, 2024

Jesus said, “…you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 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 even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matt 5: 33 – 37).

Would you say that you are a truthful person? An honest person? Most of us would agree that lies can be destructive and can break trust. But what about so-called, “white” lies – withholding truth because you don’t want to hurt somebody?

In today’s passage, Jesus is encouraging honesty. To lie for our own gain or to hurt another is clearly wrong. A person of integrity will be truthful. But this must be balanced with genuine love for those around us as Paul teaches in Eph 4: 15: “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ”. We speak the truth in love so that we may all grow together in our faith, recognising that we are strongly connected to each other as Christ’s body.

Or, to put it another way, we don’t lob truths or opinions at each other from a distance, we share honestly with kindness and gentleness and in close proximity. In fact, if a truth might hurt another we need to ask, first, if God’s wisdom counsels us to stay quiet; or to find a different way of reaching the same goal. 

Jesus is also teaching that “swearing” (e.g. “I swear I am telling the truth, on my mother’s grave”, or “on the life of my children”), is not necessary if people know that you are a truthful person. A simple statement or answer to a question, like yes or no. is enough.

In Jesus’ day, people would swear oaths in a similar way to us to emphasize that what they are saying is true. So, they might use the name of God.

But, some leaders, lacking integrity, might swear an oath in the name of something less than God, like ‘Heaven’ or the city of Jerusalem, or something created by God, if they planned on not quite speaking the truth. Or the whole truth.

It sounded good (“I swear it’s true on the name of our beautiful city Jerusalem”, or “this is as true as the hairs on my head”), but they may be lying.

Assuming that everybody reading this (or listening to it) is keen to be a truth-teller, if some struggle to trust information shared by us, will it really make any difference if we try to validate it by making reference to somebody’s grave. Or our children.

The Bible teaches us to speak the truth, clearly and simply, but always from a place of love and genuine commitment to one another. A family with those values at its core will never need to question the truthfulness of words shared by another.

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