Read Matthew 5
How many Bibles in a stack of Bibles does it take to make your statement true? Does the version or font size or binding of the Bible add to the veracity of your statement?
If people don’t believe you because you have given them good cause, will swearing on your grandmother’s grave put your promise in right accord with those whom you want to persuade?
I went to high school with a kid who would finish his sentences with, “I ain’t lyin’.”
What did Moses say to the leaders of the tribes of Israel?
When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.
That’s some straight-forward stuff right there. If you promise God that you will do something, then do it. There is no fanfare. There need be no ceremony. There need not be ice cream and cake at a reception to follow.
Just do what you said you would do.
If you have to add something to your promise or vow, that is not from the Lord.
Have you ever bargained with God? Most have. Lord if you will do this for me, I will never drink again. If you will just come through this one time, I will study more from now on. O Lord, my God, if you will just put this one in the middle of the fairway about 300 yards directly in front of me, I will work on my foul language that gets worse every time I go in the trees.
We who are made in the image of God, need not bargain with God. We need not add things to our word when we commit to God. We need to be known by our integrity.
When we say yes, then we mean yes without reservation or qualification. When we say no, then we mean no. Neither word requires further explanation in most cases.
We should be known as people of integrity. When people see us as people of God, they should see a man or woman who does what they say they will do.
We can be polite in our yes and gentle in our no, but we should not add anything to them that comes from the depravity of sin that thrives so much in this world.
All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Do you remember what we studied in James?
Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.
Let your yes be yes and your no be no. That’s some straightforward stuff.
But sometimes, people wrong us. Sometimes, we need a little payback. We need vengeance. We need to retaliate.
Jesus knew the human heart. He knew the depravity that was present in every living person. He had taught much about the sins that are in the heart are the same as those manifested in our behavior. God sees the heart.
God told his people that fear of doing wrong was an effective strategy to prevent certain offenses from being committed in the future.
This is some tough guidance. This is something that a depraved human heart would prioritize over other directives. This is permission to get even.
We must understand that the Law of Retaliation, Lex Talionis, was meant to reduce retaliation. Reduce it from what? Reduce it from the retaliation of the unchecked and depraved human heart.
If you cut off the arm of a family member, then I will cut off 5 arms or kill some of your clan. Unchecked, we don’t want to get even, we want to inflict greater pain. Such is the depravity of the human heart.
Jesus said, it’s time to grow out of that mentality. He didn’t say that you could not defend yourself or your family. He said if someone is in a position to degrade you or put you down or cause you to be humble when you want retribution, then give these people what they want, maybe even more than that if ask of you.
If your boss slaps you in the face, give him or her the other cheek. There is not much of this these days that is not sent to HR, but there are similar put-downs.
If someone is suing you for your customed ripped out jeans, give him the jacket that goes with them.
This isn’t about giving in to criminals, it’s about living by God’s law of love or by man’s law of what’s right in the world’s eyes. Guess what? You are not going to be taking those ripped out jeans to heaven anyway. That’s in the next chapter.
OBTW—God’s way is often not what our human heart desires. You really have to be seeking God and his kingdom and his righteousness to live this way.
You really have to trust in the Lord with all of your heart for this next part. Love your enemies!
C’mon Jesus! Isn’t that taking things too far? Think back to John’s gospel. We are to be known as disciples of our Lord by our love—by our love.
Everyone is known by their love. People love those who love them. Tit -f or-tat is so much our human nature. It’s so natural.
Jesus noted that even the hated tax collections and the pagans had this part figured out. How are God’s people different from the godless people if we use the same metrics—love those who love you?
Jesus said that we are to love those who don’t love us. We are to love our enemies.
You can’t do this. You cannot do this. The human heart cannot fathom this. Only in our belief in and searching for the one true God that we know in Christ Jesus can we do this.
The human heart needs to buttress it’s yes and no.
The human heart wants retaliation.
The human heart longs to hate our enemies.
The human heart seeks to satisfy the depravity that has found a home in all of us.
The human heart hates and lusts and covets and rebels even though God’s rules are set against these things, but rules are never enough to produce the right standing or right-minded or right decisions required by a holy God.
Only the blood of Jesus can bring us into right standing and only love can keep us there. The fear of punishment is powerful but pales in comparison to the bond of love that is between God and us.
I believe in God.
I believe that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all my growth.
I believe that I am made right with God by what Jesus did for me.
I believe that I can live up to my right-standing only by living a life of love.
I believe in love.
I can do what my human heart resists by believing in love. When I believe in love, I can resist the urge to retaliate.
When I believe in love, I can love other believers, my neighbors, and yes, even my enemies.
When I believe in love so much that I am known by it, then my victory in Jesus has come.
I believe in love.