In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) , Jesus essentially is talking about preservation; first of life (if we hate someone, we are guilty of murder), then of relationships (in his discussion about adultery and marriage) and in this reading he discusses the preservation of our integrity (the importance of oath-taking). The Jewish culture placed a lot of emphasis on taking oaths as a way of entering into a covenant, or a relationship with another. The Old Testament was filled with instructions about vows and oaths. The word for oath means to promise or to state an important truth. In the absence of other legal resources, the taking of an oath was an implied contract---a commitment to the other party. It implies that you speak with your truth and that what you say has implications for how you live out this agreement. If the actions following the oath misrepresented the agreement, that person was found at fault. This oath implied that the person taking the oath would intentionally live out this agreement.
We have oaths in our culture; presidents take an oath upon taking office, witnesses take oaths before testifying in court, couples take oaths with their marriage vows. All of this oath-taking implies a commitment to truth-telling and the intention for behavior to follow the words that are spoken. We may not be in court or at the marriage altar, but we are speaking vows and oaths on a daily basis and Jesus is challenging us on our integrity.
The Institute of Behavior Motivation has found that 97 out of 100 people tell lies, and on average tell about 1,000 lies a year. Several years ago the Roper Organization surveyed the public about its perceptions of who's telling the truth. In this study people said that the clergy told the truth only 49% of the time, doctors 48%, their best friend 26%, the local newspaper 8%, and what's even sadder, the President of the United States 8%, and leaders of Congress 3%.This propensity to lie, cheat, deceive, shade the truth, has affected how we see ourselves and how we see each other.
If I am in a relationship with God, how does the way I live my life reflect the words or oaths that come out of my mouth? Does my behavior reflect what I verbally commit to in my life? If we make an oath to be committed to our family, how does my behavior reflect that intention? If we make the oath to be committed to the ministry of the church, how does my behavior reflect those words? I remember that a while back, a friend asked that I pray for her with a specific need. I readily agreed to do so, only discovering down the road that I did nothing to flesh out that request. If I agree to pray for someone, then I better back up those words with my actions. My integrity depends upon it, because integrity implies that I live out my values; that my thoughts, words and deeds are all congruent. It impacts my relationship with God, because I’m not living out my commitment to Him. It harms my relationships with others because my words and intentions are not trustworthy.
What kinds of oaths have I taken?
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