I once heard the story of a mother who’d been lied to by her 6-year-old son. To make the point that lying is bad news and destroys the joy in relationships, the mum said, “OK, for the next whole week you won’t know whether I’m telling the truth or lying.”
The next day, driving him to school she promised to pick him up after school and take him out for fish and chips afterwards – a major treat. Later that day when driving home he excitedly reminded her of the fries. With a deadpan expression, she said: “I lied.” He lost it. He yelled, cried, and said, “you’re not nice, you’re not fair!”
After two days he had had enough. He learned a major lesson about the value of trustworthy lips.
There is something deeply painful when others consider us untrustworthy and that’s because there is something deeply destructive about lies.
A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin. (Proverbs 26:28)
The 9th Commandment, “you shall not bare false witness”, is derived from the positive command to love your neighbour as yourself. Simply put, lying is an expression of hatred toward your neighbour. So is flattery.
Most people would object to this. They don’t see their lies as hateful (though they will admit they could be hurtful).
The same applies to oaths – that is – the promises, commitments and boasts that we make. Oaths are a subset of the 9th Commandment. Not only are we to speak the truth but we are to be a people who do what we say we are going to do.
The problem Jesus addresses in Matthew 5:33-37 is not that we should never give an oath, never make a promise. The problem is that we have a fine way of not keeping our promises – and an even finer way of excusing ourselves of any guilt when we break them.
Jesus commands truth. Plain speech which cannot be condemned, backed by reliable actions.
This means that the only truly reliable promises are the ones that Jesus has given in making His Covenant with us.
He is the faithful witness. The one who makes His oaths and vows and promises, and then keeps them. And He commands us to follow His example.
His oath to us includes a promise to forgive all our sins and to give us a new heart, one that loves truth. To be with us always and to one day welcome us into eternal dwellings.
His actions, in dying on the cross and being raised from the dead, are the witness that His promises are trustworthy.
God loves honest lips backed by honest action and so we are to be a people of honest lips. People who say what is true, and then do what we say.
Truth does no harm to its neighbour. It may be painful, it may be humbling, but it is not hurtful. What is hurtful are the lies. What is hurtful are the broken promises.
Take a look at the people around you. No relationship can last that is not built on trust. Are you a trustworthy friend, brother, mother, or husband? If not, what are you going to do about it?
One place we can start (if we have not already) is by believing the promises of God to forgive us our sins and then demonstrating that belief by making an honest confession to God and to those we have hurt. A confession that we have not always been honest and reliable, followed by a renewed commitment to being a true and trustworthy witness.