KEEPING YOUR WORD by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
As you know very well, we are again in our series on the Sermon on the Mount and our message is titled – KEEPING YOUR WORD.
Matthew 5 33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your “Yes’ be “Yes,’ and your “No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
Overall Background: In the passage we just read Jesus is raising the bar on how we make and keep promises. Just like today, people back then made a lot of promises, which they never intended to keep. They had become experts on breaking promises. The Rabbis came up with a whole system that would allow people to get out of their oaths. Jesus told them to stop all this nonsense and let your “Yes’ be “Yes,’ and your “No,’ ‘No.’
People haven’t changed much since then. They still make excuses, look for loopholes, hunt for an escape clause, find some technicality, and do whatever they can to get out of a promise. Gone are the days when a man’s word and a handshake was all that you needed. Unfortunately, Christians are no better. When we break a promise, we even have some verse to go with it!
Question: What kind of a person are you? Do you keep your word to your spouse, children, neighbors, and church family? Are you a promise keeper or a promise breaker? Do you keep your word to God? What promises have you made to God that you still haven’t kept? I believe more promises are broken to God than to anybody else. Or do you hide behind the line – “I’m not going to promise anything?” Are you saved?
This morning we will try to understand the importance of keeping our word, not just to our family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, church family, but also to God. 4 things we will try to understand here:
I. HUMAN TENDENCY IS TO BREAK OUR WORD.
34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.
Background: Some people have misunderstood Jesus’ statement, like the Anabaptists and Quakers. They thought that He was commanding us never to take an oath or make a vow. Not true. To understand what’s happening here, you have to go to the Mishnah, which is the Jewish oral tradition and especially to the Shevu’ot = the section on oaths. According to them, in the Jewish religion, God’s name was very sacred. It could not be used in making an oath. Only the high priest could take God’s divine name and only on the Day of Atonement, all other uses of divine name were blasphemous. If you took an oath with God’s name, it really didn’t count. Now, you could use substitutes known as kinnuyim with alphabets out of God’s name – Aleph-dalet for Adonai and Yod-He for Yahweh. All that would do was create some more technicalities to break a promise. But the people didn’t stop there. They also came up with a lot of innocuous substitutes for God – heaven, earth, Jerusalem, my head, just to name a few. According to these rabbinic interpretations, taking such oaths was not legally binding. So you could swear by all that and then break your vow legally. Jesus exposed their wicked schemes. He reminded them that all these technicalities are wrong because everything belongs to God – heaven, earth, Jerusalem, and my head or your head. In fact, He called all that from the evil one.
Isn’t it interesting that human beings haven’t changed much? We make promises because we like the immediate benefits but when its time to return our end of the bargain, we want to break the contract. Everyday all over the world, promises are made to be broken.
- A Father promises to play ball with his son if he would only let him watch his game right now. Once the game is over, he is too tired to play ball.
- One spouse promises the other to do something only if they would do something first for them. Once they get what they want, they conveniently find excuses to get out of keeping their end of the bargain.
- Young man makes a promise to a young girl that if he would just come a little closer, he will love her forever. Once he gets what he wants, he says “Bye.”
- Church members make about a million excuses when it comes to doing their ministry.
I can go on and on. Why do we do that? Because we are sinful, selfish, self-centered human beings. We do that even to God! Hosea 6 4 “O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, And like the early dew it goes away. 7 “But like men they transgressed the covenant; There they dealt treacherously with Me.
Application: Are you an honest and forthright person or are you a deceitful and manipulative person? Do people trust you? Are you a person who is known for keeping a promise? Are you always looking for some technicality to get out from keeping your word? Have your broken your promise to God?
II. DIVINE TENDENCY IS TO KEEP HIS WORD.
Background: The reason Jesus even brought up this matter is because being God Himself, breaking promises goes against everything in His nature. God is a covenant keeping God. Deuteronomy 7:9 “Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments;
- In Genesis 9:11 He made a vow to Noah and his sons saying, “Thus I establish My covenant with you…never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” He kept His Word.
- In Genesis 22 God made a vow to Abraham saying, 16 “By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you…have not withheld your son, your only son – 17 blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants…” The book of Hebrews comments on it in Hebrews 6:13 “For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself.”
- Judges 2:1 Then the Angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said: “I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you.
- In Ezekiel 33:11 God made a vow saying, “As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” Throughout history God has kept His Word.
- Listen to Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9:4 “…O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments.”
I can go on and on but here’s the point: No matter who has broken their promise to you, you can rest assure that God will always keep His word to you. He will never fail you. He is faithful. Listen to Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
Application: Do you trust God? Do you take Him at His Word? Are you living your life on God’s promises? Have you trusted Him with your eternity?
III. GOD EXPECTS US TO KEEP OUR WORD.
37 But let your “Yes’ be “Yes,’ and your “No,’ ‘No.’
Background: Jesus expects us to be promise keepers.
- To our spouses – As a pastor for 17 years, I’ve done a lot of weddings. All of them begin with this statement – “Dearly Beloved: We are gathered together before the presence of God and these assembled witnesses to join together this man and this woman in the holy estate of matrimony.” Then we have the exchange of vows – “I promise to take you so and so to be my husband/wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, I promise to love and cherish you.” Then they exchange rings as the sign and seal of their promises. Then I end it with – “By the authority vested in me as a minister of the gospel, in the presence of God and these assembled witnesses, it is my privilege to pronounce you husband and wife. What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”
What if we take out the name of God from the wedding ceremony? It doesn’t matter. God is a witness every time a man and a woman come together. It is His institution. He will hold you accountable for it.
- To our children – When you bring a child into this world, you are entering into a covenant with God to further His plan into this world. Human beings have done a great job in enjoying the pleasure of the moment but they have long forgotten the responsibility that comes with it. Our responsibility is to lead the child in God’s way.
- To our church family – As part of the family of God, I am obligated to keep my word to them. If I say, “I will be there,” then I should be there. If I say, “I will serve,” then I should serve. It is a shame when fellow church members cannot be counted upon! By the way, some people try the tactic – “I’m just not going to promise anything” – and this way I don’t have to break any promise. I am more impressed with the man/woman who serves faithfully than with one who claims to know the Bible or theology.
- To our neighbors – As a Christian, I am obligated to keep my promises to my neighbors, which includes people next door, people at work, and people in the community, and our nation. When people find out that you are a Christian, they should be doing all they can to hire you. They should know that you are a trustworthy person.
- To God – As I mentioned earlier, “more promises are broken to God than to anybody else.” Promises are made on sick beds, deathbeds, during financial struggle and relationship struggles. Sadly, once things get better, people forget God. Psalm 66 13 “I will go into Your house with burnt offerings; I will pay You my vows, 14 Which my lips have uttered And my mouth has spoken when I was in trouble.”
Application: Are you a promise keeper to your spouse, children, church family, neighbor, and to God?
IV. THE HOLY SPIRIT ENABLES US TO KEEP OUR WORD.
Let’s recap – human tendency is to break promises, divine tendency is to keep promises, but God expects us to keep promises. What should we do? God understands our weakness. Hence, Jesus sent us His Holy Spirit. He is the encourager. His job is to do through us what we could never do by ourselves. His task is to make us faithful when we surrender to Him. Listen to Galatians 5 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. This especially helps when the other person does not keep their end of the bargain.
Do you have the Holy Spirit? Are you saved?