Monday, August 22, 2016

22 August 2016
“If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” Numbers 30:2 (NRSV)
“If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not postpone fulfilling it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you would incur guilt. But if you refrain from vowing, you will not incur guilt. Whatever your lips utter you must diligently perform, just as you have freely vowed to the Lord your God with your own mouth.” Deuteronomy 23:21-23 (NRSV)
 “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37 (NRSV)

            Good morning, and thanks again for joining me. Today we will consider oaths, integrity, and the importance of keeping our word. The main passage to keep in mind here is Deuteronomy 32:23: “Whatever your lips utter you must diligently perform…” In other words, say what you mean, and do what you say.
            Swearing an oath in Old Testament times was serious business; the principle goes back to the third commandment not to take the Lord’s name in vain. Making a vow in the name of the Lord meant putting yourself under in His power, under His authority. Much like today, when we swear to ‘tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’. Breaking an oath was more than a sign of disrespect. Refusing to honor a commitment was, in a sense, refusing to acknowledge God’s authority. It would be like saying ‘no I’m not, what are you gonna do about it?’ Like using God’s name is good enough to get you what you want, but not enough to obligate you to hold up your end. It is the same principle used in today’s legal contracts, except instead of having the force of the law behind it an oath had the force of God. Breaking an oath was a betrayal, a breach of trust-serious business.
            The religious leaders of Jesus’ time got around this by ‘layering’ their oaths. What this means, basically, is if you swore by heaven, or by the gold of the temple, it was more or less ok to break the oath. So, if, for example, you were a businessman who swore to deliver goods for an agreed upon price, and for whatever reason you realized that price would not give an adequate return, you could get out of the contract by saying ‘well, I only swore by heaven, and that doesn’t count’ and, theoretically at least, you would not be accountable to God. Or Jewish law.
            Now, the Old Testament passages above tell a slightly different story, particularly, as I said, Deuteronomy. This is a matter of personal integrity, lived out before a holy God, who keeps His word and therefore expects His children, as His representatives, to keep theirs. This is also the position Jesus takes. Let your personal integrity, which you have some control over, be such that yes or no is all you need. Say what you mean and do what you say.
            Jesus also hints at another side to the issue, when he says not to swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Sometimes things happen we cannot foresee or control. We are given today, the present moment and that is all. Tomorrow is not guaranteed; for that matter this afternoon is not guaranteed either. Integrity, once established, however, is a different story. Personal integrity is never dependent upon outside circumstances or events beyond our control. It is an inner quality nurtured little by little, line by line, precept by precept, by-here it comes-saying what you mean and doing what you say. Consistently. By the way, for those of you with spouses, or kids, or both, this is one of the single most important characteristics you can develop. You are being watched-you are setting an example whether you intend to or not. The only question is what kind of example are you setting?
            And that, friends, brings us around to our application, our one thing to do for the day. Let us take Jesus’ command to heart and simply let our yes be yes and our no be no. Particularly, when we say ‘yes I will do that’, do it. As soon as possible. Let people know you say what you mean and you will do what you say. Be the example, set the standard. This sounds ridiculously simple, until you start practicing it. When I was first discharged from the Army, one of my two immediate goals was simply this-to be counted on to do what I said I would do, to be where I said I would be when I said I would be there. That worked for a while, then it didn’t. Recovering that sort of integrity was not easy. Better not to lose it in the first place. Don’t forget-people are watching. God is watching.
            By the way, in case I haven’t mentioned it, I welcome your comments. That type of interaction was one of the original intents of blogging in the first place. If you don’t agree, that’s ok. That’s how we grow. More and more I’m realizing many things, including things of the faith, really aren’t either/or. The only condition I ask is to be respectful.
May the Lord bless you and keep you all this day. JRG

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