Jesus continues now in the Sermon on the Mount by dealing with the subject of lying versus truth. He is teaching the disciples and all those that desire to follow Him about the righteousness that exceeded the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. He wanted to encourage His disciples not to be satisfied with simply an external righteousness, but to seek the inward righteousness of a changed heart. Jesus takes five of the most important issues that we deal with every single day and He explains the Old Testament passages that relate to these issues and their true intent.
Beginning in verse 33 Jesus said, “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.' But I say to you, 'Do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.'” But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” So what is the true intent of this command to not swear falsely? This command is found in Leviticus 19:12, where God declares, “You shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” Notice that the specific command is to not swear by His name.
Let me first explain what the Pharisees taught, because that is essential to understand if you are to fully grasp what Jesus sought to communicate. The Pharisees taught that there were binding oaths and there were non-binding oaths. They believed that if you took an oath and used God's name in the oath, that was a binding oath. If you took an oath without using God's name, then that was not binding. In other word you could take an oath and promise with your fingers crossed behind your back and basically lie. However, their Law didn’t allow this interpretation because in Numbers 30:2, it says, “If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” God's intent with this particular law was to require us to be men and women of our word and to speak the truth. Whenever we make a promise, we must keep our word. To swear falsely was to promise and not keep your word. This is the background for this subject of swearing falsely.
What was Jesus seeking to address in the hearts of His disciples? He was after the issue of dishonesty. Jesus wanted the disciples to be different from the religious men of their day. He did not want them swearing by heaven, or earth, or by Jerusalem. He didn’t want them to have to take any oath. He wanted them to be men of their word. Think about this for a minute. Why would someone ever say, “Well, I swear by Jerusalem, I swear by the Temple, or the throne of God?” These men were just playing a word game with no intention of fulfilling their promises. Jesus tells them, don’t swear at all, if you are going to make oath taking into a game so you can lie.
Some look at Christ’s command, “Do not swear at all” and conclude Jesus believed you should never take an oath. However, this is a misunderstanding of what He taught. If you look at the context from the beginning of Scripture to the end, you cannot come to that conclusion. But, you will hear Christian say, “Well if you go to court and they ask you to raise your right hand to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, you can't do that as a believer. I do not believe that is what the Scripture is teaching here. Jesus is teaching that you should not swear at all, if you are going to swear falsely. That is the context. The commandment that Jesus quoted specifically said, “You shall not swear falsely.” Yes, Jesus taught, “Do not swear at all,” but in the context, His point was to not swear in a false and deceptive way using word games and swearing by heaven or Jerusalem. He wanted them to be men of their word. Be careful not to take Christ’s statement out of its context.
You may be thinking, Are you sure Jesus is OK with taking an oath? Yes! The best proof that God is OK with truthful oath taking is the simple fact that God took an oath several times in Scripture. Therefore, oath taking itself cannot be a bad thing. Jesus is simply encouraging that when we say yes to someone, we should mean yes and keep our word. If we say no to someone, we should mean it and live accordingly.
Let's review the passages where God takes an oath. It says in Hebrews 6:16-17, “For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute.” So, the Scripture declares why people take oaths; to end all dispute and to confirm their words. The apostle goes on to say, “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath.” Therefore, God swore an oath to Abraham and to his descendants.
In Hebrews 7:21, God took another oath. Here the apostle is drawing the contrast between human priests and Jesus, our Great High Priest. It says, “For they,” referring to the human priests, “have become priests without an oath, but He,” referring to Jesus, “with an oath by Him,” referring to the Father, “who said to Him: the Lord has sworn and will not relent you are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Clearly then God has taken two oaths. So, oath taking is not contradictory to Scripture.
In addition, Paul the apostle believed that oath taking was acceptable as long as you were going to tell the truth and keep your word. He wrote in 2 Corinthians quoting directly from Christ’s words here in Matthew after being accused of not keeping his word to come visit the Corinthian church. Paul said, “Therefore, when I was planning this, did I do it lightly? Or the things I plan, do I plan according to the flesh, that with me there should be Yes, Yes, and No, No? But as God is faithful, our word to you was not Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us – by me, Silvanus, and Timothy – was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth” (2 Cor. 1:17-23). Here Paul explains why he did come to them as quickly as they wanted, and asserts to the Corinthian church that he was a man of his word, and that his Yes meant Yes and his No meant No. But, then Paul calls upon God as a witness to the truth of his words. This is an oath. Therefore, if oath taking itself was wrong, God would have never taken an oath and neither would Paul. Jesus is simply teaching, tell the truth. Don't play word games to get around the truth. Don't take an oath to get around the truth. What Jesus is after is truth in your heart. He wants believers to speak the truth because that is the righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. These religious leaders only had an external righteousness, but Jesus wanted righteousness in the heart.
How important is speaking the Truth?
Consider for a moment how essential it is for all of us to speak the truth. What would it be like if you could not trust anything that other people said to you? Our society would cease to function. What would it be like if you could not trust your boss to pay you the wage he promised when you were hired? What if he changed your wages whenever he felt like it, or just didn’t pay you at all? Would you be able to pay your bills or have any confidence that you could ever pay them? What would it be like for your boss if you didn’t show up for work as you promised on the day you were hired? What if you just showed up for work when you felt like it? Could anyone run a business like that? What if no one ever kept their promise to return a borrowed item? What if you could not trust the list of ingredients on a food container? Or, what if you could not trust the most important thing, someone’s promise to love you or be faithful to you? Without people telling the truth our society would cease to function because no one would have any trust that you would keep your word. This is why Jesus commanded in Matthew 5:37, “Let your Yes be Yes, and your No, No.” When you say yes to someone you must speak the truth and keep your commitment. Your yes should always mean yes. Your no should always mean no. In other words, you must be a man or woman of your word. That is what the Lord is after.
What is a lie?
Before we go any further let me define a lie. There are many definitions today for what a lie is. Have you ever met a person that when you catch them in a lie they say, “Well I don't consider that a lie. It's a white lie because it doesn't hurt anybody.” Oh, yes they do! They hurt you and everyone around you because lying destroys your trust in a person’s word.
So what is the true definition of a lie? If you delete certain facts from a story that make you look bad, that is a lie. If you add facts, because you are given to exaggeration, that is a lie. When you play word games or twist someone's words to make them say something that they didn't say, that is a lie. Remember, word games were what the Pharisees were doing. You are also lying when you change the subject when you get caught lying. When you blame-shift and start charging another and refuse to acknowledge your own faults, that is lying. When people lie in these and other ways, it greatly hinders your relationship with that person. Could you ever have an enduring relationship and trust someone that you know continually lies to you? No way, it's not going to happen. No relationship will endure, whether it's a marriage, a friendship, or a business relationship if someone lies to you. This is such an important issue. It is important for your relationship with the Lord, for your relationship with people, and for all of society. All society is based upon the issue of truth. If you believe this is true, then how can you become a man or a woman of truth? The Word of God has an answer for you.
How can you become a man or woman of truth?
Before I explain to you the principles that are found in God’s Word to help you to become a man or woman of truth, I want to say to you that I know some of you reading this have great difficulty telling the truth. You struggle with lying daily. I have counseled several who have confessed to me, “I am a serial liar. I lie daily. I always have. I have tried to stop lying after I became a Christian, but I am still battling this issue.” I tell people who confess this to me, “Look, you have acknowledged this problem and that reveals a change to even admit it. That is honesty. That is a great start. You are halfway to a solution.” Why do I say this? The person that will not acknowledge it and lies to themselves is not going to change. The honesty to first admit your problem is where you start. If you only continue to rationalize and excuse your lying there is no possibility of change.
In Titus 2:14, it declares of Jesus that He “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people.” You must realize that Jesus came to redeem us from every lawless deed, and lying is just one of those lawless deeds. He can change you and purify your life in any area. I say this because I want you to have hope today, that if you ask Him to begin the work, He will! I usually encourage people to consider all the other issues in their lives where God has already changed them. Focus your attention on those issues. If He has already changed your speech, so that you don’t use swear words in every other sentence, then He can also change the truth of your speech. Probably most of us talked like sailors before we became Christians. I know my language was filthy. But, He has changed me. So, focus on the changes He has already accomplished and you will have faith to believe He can help you stop lying.
Now, let me give you some biblical principles that will help you become a man or woman of truth.
1. Lying is a heart problem. If you want to stop lying you must deal with your heart. In Proverbs 12:20 it declares, “Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil.” Lying is an issue of the heart. So, that is where you begin. Jesus is after my heart. He knows this is where all change begins. This is what was not being changed in the Pharisees. This is why He told His disciples that He wanted a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. In other words, they needed a heart change. Therefore, if deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, you need to surrender your heart. You need to pour out your heart to Him in this area. In Psalm 62:8, “Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” Until you have poured out your heart before Him on this issue, you really don’t want change. In fact, in any area where you struggle, until you take this step of giving your heart, and pouring out your heart to Him in prayer, you really don't want change in that area of your life. So, begin by giving God your heart.
2. As you do pour out your heart to Him, ask Him for a hatred for lying. If you are going to pray about your problem with lying, be specific. Ask Him for the same hatred that He has for lying. Think about this for a moment. Does God hate lying? Yes! Notice in Proverbs 6:16-19, “These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart,” notice this, “a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among the brethren.” In these seven things that God lists as things that He hates, two of them specifically refer to lying. A false witness and one who has a lying tongue. If you want to change you have to hate lying. Why must you hate lying? Hating is the opposite of loving. Instead of loving unrighteousness you need to hate it. David said, “You who love the Lord, hate evil” (Ps. 97:10). Hatred for sin is what motivates real repentance. Until there is a hatred you will not turn from areas where you stumble, it is not going to happen. You must hate lying. If you want that hatred, then ask for it. You have not because you ask not (James 4:2). So ask for it.
3. Pray for a love for the truth. This is the other side of the coin. It's not enough to just hate what is evil; you must also love what is good. This love for truth is what motivates you to continue the process. In Psalm 119:163 it states, “I hate and abhor lying, but I love your law.” Notice that David connects these two issues. Therefore, to hate lying is only one part of the work God wants to do within your heart. He also wants to give you a love for the truth which is always found as you open up His Word. His Word is essential for change. God’s Word is where the conviction about lying came from in the first place. But, it is also where you heart will be charged continually to love the truth.
4. You need to plant the Word in your heart. When a person comes to me wanting help with the issue of lying, one of the first steps I ask them to perform is to look up all of the verses in the Bible that deal with lying. Why is that important? When the Word is planted in your heart it becomes a powerful aid in bringing the conviction that brings real repentance and change. So, after you have opened your heart, asked for a hatred for lying, and a love for the truth, the Word becomes a powerful inward motivator to continue this change inside of you.
Here is how you can make this biblical search. Go to the concordance in the back of your Bible, or a topical index and look up every single verse of Scripture that deals with lying, or deceit, or dishonesty, and write them out. If you have a Bible computer program this task is much easier. If you want to download a great free Bible study program, go to e-sword.net. Now that you have this list of Scripture, begin reading over these verses and allow the conviction of the Spirit to penetrate your heart. For the person who is a serial liar, you need to read this list of Scriptures every single day. The most important reason why this action is so important is found in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Paul said, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The word doctrine means teaching. The word reproof is translated many times as conviction. Paul is explaining that if you want to be a man or a woman of God, the Word of God is essential to accomplishing this result. The Word will teach you, bring conviction in your heart, which results in the correction of your behavior, and every time you yield to this process you are becoming disciplined in your personal life to righteousness. This is how planting the Word in your heart will change you. This is the difference between behavior modification through self-effort and biblical change to your heart and life. There are many Christians that just have behavior modification, who simply do the right things around people to please people. But, that is being a Pharisee. I need conviction that changes my heart that changes my life, which disciplines me to righteousness. That is the righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
5. Ask God to set a guard over your mouth so you will catch yourself before you speak. In Psalm 141:3 David said, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Let me explain how this works. Probably most of you have experienced this; you are about to say something you should not say about a person or topic of conversation and you stop short of actually saying it. It may be a lie, or an unkind word toward someone, or it might be gossip. But, just before the words come out of your mouth, there is that little check that you have in your mind. You think to yourself, “I should not say that or I am not going to exaggerate.” And you stop yourself. That is what David was talking about when he prayed for God’s help to guard his lips. This is how God helps to guard your lips. There is conviction about what you are about to say. You know in your heart this is wrong. Therefore, ask God for His conviction to guard your heart and lips so you won’t speak what you should not. When you ask God to keep watch over your mouth, you also will be sensitized to keep watch.
6. Choose to put off the old you, and to put on the new you by the Spirit. This whole process I have been explaining is what the Bible calls putting off the old man and putting on the new man in Christ. This entire work of God is done by the Holy Spirit of God. Notice what Paul said in Colossians 3:9-10, “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” So here Paul is saying, “Don't lie.” The reason why you choose not to lie is because you have put off the old man, or your old sinful nature. You have rejected your sin nature to have control over you. You have said within your heart, “I'm not living the way I used to live anymore.” You have said to God, I want to live according to Your Word and obey Your commandments. I want You to create a new man or a new woman inside of me.” This is what Paul meant when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” You are a new creation! There is a new person being created inside of you; and you have a choice. Are you going to yield to the old man or this new man? This is why the word become in this verse is in the perfect tense which refers to a past completed action with present and continuous results. Every time you yield to the conviction of the Spirit of God because of the knowledge He has given you through His Word, you are changed more and more into His image (Col 3:9-10). This is how you will stop lying or any other ungodly behavior.
The second part of God’s renewing work is found in Titus 3:5. There Paul explained that, “According to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit.” This whole renewing process must be empowered by the enabling work of the Word working within you and by the Holy Spirit. The Word of God gives you the knowledge of what is right, but you also need the power to obey what is right. You need God’s power at work inside of you to help you. Paul said that he had the knowledge and will to do what was right, but he questioned where was the power to perform what was good (Rom. 7:18). He explained in Romans eight that the power of the Spirit of God was his only deliverance from his sinful nature. He said that the “Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). So, do you see your need for the power of the Holy Spirit to enable you to change your sinful behaviors, and to apply the truths that you know in a practical way? Please, I encourage you to cry out to the power of the Spirit to help you put these truths into practice.
7. Acknowledge and confess your lying. This counsel is especially important for those who are habitual liars, but this also applies to those who occasionally lie. One of the most important ways to stop lying is to go back to people you have lied to and acknowledge and confess every one of your lies. When I tell people to do this they say to me, “I can't do that! Why can’t I just ask the Lord to forgive me? I don't need to tell people that I lied to them. That would be so humbling for me to do that.” That is exactly the point. If you truly want to change, you must humble yourself. The next time you consider lying you won’t do it because you know God requires you to go and confess it. This will be a powerful motivator to stop lying.
Let me show you this concept in both the Old and New Testaments. Confessing specific issues of sin was deemed essential in Leviticus 5:5. God says, “And it shall be when he is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing.” Why does God say, “In that thing?” God wants us to be specific because it is essential. In the New Testament, James tells us the same truth. James said, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). Now you can’t say this any more clearly than that. You must confess your trespasses to one another. Not just to God, but to one another. When you lie or sin against anyone, you need to go to them and get it right, which requires confessing your sin.
Let me give you a word of caution with this principle of confession. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. God doesn’t want you confessing to everyone in the church prayer meeting what happened between you and a person you sinned against. This confession is a private matter. When you sin against another person that fault should only be discussed with that person alone. Jesus made this clear in Matthew 18:15. He said that your discussion should be between “you and him alone.” God doesn’t want you praying out at church, “Oh God, please forgive me for hating and speaking evil concerning my friend John.” You should not do this! You need to only confess that gossip to John. When people get mixed up concerning this issue of who and where to confess, they get themselves in big trouble. Remember this fact; confess only to the individual that you have sinned against, not to all your friends, because it is none of their business.
Let me add one more thing on this subject specifically for parents. I encourage parents to help their children with this issue of confession in their discipline. If your child struggles with lying specifically focus on confession. This is how to address this issue. When your child comes and he or she asks forgiveness for something they have done, say to them. “Okay, I forgive you, but what am I forgiving your for? What specifically did you do that was wrong?” Your child will usually respond with, “Well, I had a bad attitude.” You respond with, “Okay. But, what was wrong with your attitude?” If they respond, “Well, I was arrogant and disrespectful to you,” then respond with, what did you do or say that was disrespectful?” They may answer, “I should not have said that you were unfair and that I hated you.” Once they have specifically confessed their sin say, “Yes. I forgive you.” I explain this method of dialogue because your children usually want to generally request forgiveness without specifically acknowledging exactly what they did wrong. If you allow them to be general and not specific, you are missing a very important training tool. I believe all of us should be very specific with God about our sin, because we all like those blanket prayers for forgiveness. “Oh God, please forgive me for all my sins.” But, it is more effective for you to be specific about your sin before God. There is power in saying the words, “I have hated them, or I don’t want to forgive that person, or I have been so selfish.” When you hear yourself specifically acknowledge what you have done, you are less likely to excuse or rationalize your behavior next time.
8. Devote specific time in your prayer life to remove lying. This particular point is very important not only for lying but for any issue where you struggle. You have got to ask God to help you change. That is the only way you are going to overcome any sinful behavior in your life. Notice that David prayed in Psalm 119:29, “Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me your law graciously.” This passage makes it clear that David knew that only with God’s help would he be able to remove lying from his life. The Lord wants us to come to Him for the help of His Spirit to free us from the sinful habits that hold us. He wants us to cry out to Him in prayer. How much time do you focus on this issue of lying? Are you crying out to Him daily? If you want to change this is what you need to do. Let Him hear you today saying, “Lord, I want you to put a guard in front of my lips. I want you to check my heart before I speak those lies. I want to speak the truth and only the truth today. God, help me to have a heart of truth.”
9. Don’t associate with people who lie. If you struggle with lying, do not associate with anyone who also has a problem with lying. Why? They will influence you. People influence you all the time, and sometimes you don't even realize it. If you watch someone else lying and you know that they are stretching the truth, it's very easy for you to do the same thing. By you accepting their lies, you are compromising in your own heart, which will cause you to also compromise the truth. David again declared in Psalm 40:4, “Blessed is that man who makes the Lord his trust, and does not respect the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.” Don’t respect the proud or those who lie. When you make friends and associate with people who lie, you are respecting them. Rather, associate with those who speak the truth, and their influence will greatly benefit you.
10. Remember the greatest reason not to lie. If you want to be motivated to stop lying, let me give you the ultimate reason. What is it? Simply remember, that someone who is a habitual liar is not going to heaven. That's the bottom line. Revelation 21:8 declares, “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” These are some of the last words of warning you find in the Bible. This verse of Scripture puts lying in the same list as some of the most evil things that take place in our society today. That reveals to you that lying should be a major concern to you because God counts lying as a very serious sin. In fact, if you think about it, to commit many of these other sins you must lie to others and to yourself. Therefore, lying is at the heart of all sin. This is why lying is a big deal to God. Truth is fundamental to all change. Truth is essential to have a salvation experience. Without truth, there is no salvation. Truth is associated with, whom? Who is the truth? Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). The Holy Spirit is also called the Spirit of Truth. If the Holy Spirit lives inside of me, He is going to make me a man or a woman of truth. It's going to happen. In addition, who is associated with all lies? Who is called the father of lies? Satan is called a liar and the father of all lies. Your decision is who then do you want to be associated with?
Be assured, Jesus placed truth as fundamental and essential to the Christian life. That is why Jesus addressed this subject with his disciples. He wanted them to be changed in their hearts. He wanted them to be more than the hypocritical Pharisees. He wanted them to be true men of God. That is exactly what God wants to make you; a man or woman of God. But, that requires each of us to be men and women of truth. Let's go to Him in prayer.
Father, we do thank You that You are a God of truth, and You are looking to change every one of us today. I pray that You would put a watch and a guard over our lips, so that when we are about to speak a lie, or gossip, or exaggerate that You convict us and stop us. Lord, help us to see this change from the inside out. Bring that conviction and give us that hatred for lying, and a love for the truth. Help us to speak the truth in love to others. We believe You to do that .We believe Your Holy Spirit is moving upon our hearts at this very moment. Change us Lord. Lord, forgive us for our lies. Cause us to walk in the truth. Thank You! We believe you are working in our hearts right now.