A Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 03 July 2011
33. Again, y’all heard that it was declared to the men of
“You shall not make a tainted vow,” but “you shall deliver to the Lord your vows.”
34. And I myself am saying to you not to swear as a whole,
neither by heaven (since it is the throne of God),
35. nor by the earth (since it is the footrest under His feet),
nor by Jerusalem (since it is “the city of the great King”),
36. nor should you swear by your head (since you are not able to make a single hair white or black)
37. But let your word “Yes” mean “Yes;” and “No,” “No.”
The excess of these is from the Evil One.
In Jesus’ commentary on the law regarding telling the truth, we saw in verses 33-36 that He
Now, as Jesus draws His remarks on this subject to a close, He says,
ἔστω δὲ ὁ λόγος ὑμῶν ναὶ ναί, οὒ οὔ· τὸ δὲ περισσὸν τούτων ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ ἐστιν. 5:37
37. But let your word “Yes” mean “Yes;” [and] “No,” “No.” The excess of these is from the evil one.
When I asked my family about an example of someone whose “Yes” meant “Yes,” the name Joshua S. came up. Joshua was a fellow-student at the seminary I attended, and I respect him for his integrity. But sometimes he would show his integrity in unexpected ways. When we first met him at the beginning of his first semester, Paula asked him if he would come over to our cabin for dinner. He immediately looked at her and said, “Yes.” Then we didn’t see him for a little while, and we began to wonder if he was coming to share dinner with us after all. But right at dinner time, he showed up on our doorstep. Halfway through that first year, I began making plans to do a ministry trip into the middle-Eastern country of Yemen. I started asking around to find a travelling companion, and one day, I decided to ask Joshua if he would go with me. I figured it was a long shot, but I might as well ask. He looked at me immediately and said, “Yes.” For months, I wondered if I could count on him or not, because it would take a lot of money and time to do this trip, and I wasn’t sure if he was able to afford either. I was a little afraid to ask, so I don’t remember bringing it up with him again. A few months later, at the end of the school year, I asked Joshua again if he was really going with me, and I got that same straight-faced, “Yes,” and, sure enough he did go with me. Here’s a photo of the two of us in Yemen.
God calls all of us to be people whose “Yes” means “Yes,” and I want to give you four reasons: 1) The scriptures give us examples of people who said “Yes” to affirm the truth, and who would not deny it later. 2) James teaches us that integrity will keep us from falling under God’s judgment, 3) Jesus said that anything beyond our Yes is evil, and 4) Faithful witnesses to the truth are an essential part of God’s plan to bless the whole world.
o Matthew 9:27-29 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out, "Have mercy on us, Son of David!" When He entered the house, the blind men came up to Him, and Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" They said to Him, "Yes, Lord." Then He touched their eyes, saying, "It shall be done to you according to your faith." (NASB)
o Matthew 15:26-28 || Mark 7:28 And He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at once. (NASB)
o John 11:26-27 “…everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” (NASB)
o John 21:15-16 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” (NASB)
o Revelation 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (NASB)
o That’s about 25% of the times that the word “Yes” is used in the Bible. Do you see how it is used in context as a formal statement of truth?
o By the way, the word order of the original Greek has the four words “yes, yes, no, no” all together with no other word inbetween, so without interpreting word order into English, it would translate “let-it-be but the word of-y’all yes yes no no” (ἔστω δὲ ὁ λόγος ὑμῶν ναὶ ναί) Matthew Henry has an intriguing application of this by saying, not only should your yes mean yes, but it is appropriate to affirm something by repeating a word just like Jesus did: “…if need be, to evidence our assurance of a thing, we may double it, and say, ‘Yes, yes, indeed it is so.’ ‘Verily, verily,’ was our Saviour's ‘Yes, yes.’ So if we deny a thing, let it suffice to say, ‘No;’ or if it be requisite, to repeat the denial, and say, ‘No, no;’ and if our fidelity be known, that will suffice to gain us credit...” I think that’s a valid way to apply this principle based on Jesus’ example.
Letting our “Yes” be “Yes” is a way of affirming the truth. When we hear the truth, it is appropriate to say, “Yes!” or “Amen!” and affirm it! Now, once we have affirmed the truth, we must stick to it and not be wishy-washy.
§ ILLUSTRATIONS of times when “Yes” meant “No”:
§ When our “Yes” means “Yes” and “No” means “No,” we will stand by our word because we meant what we said the first time. This is illustrated by the second place where this “Yes, yes, no, no” phrase is found in the Bible after the sermon on the Mount: 2 Cor. 1:17-21
§ In this passage, we see that the Apostle Paul is not a “Yes-man.” He is a man of his word: In First Corinthians, Paul had mentioned that he would come by for a visit soon, if the Lord willed, but then his itinerary changed and he wasn’t able to come by as soon as he had hoped, so he wrote the letter of 2nd Corinthians, and in the opening chapter he says,
§ “I was not vacillating when I intended to do this [visit], was I? Or what I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, so that with me there will be yes, yes and no, no at the same time? But as God is faithful, our word to you is not yes and no. For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us – by me and Silvanus and Timothy – was not yes and no, but is yes in Him. For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God” (NASB)
ñ Even though Paul’s itinerary had changed, His gospel preaching had not changed. He had integrity because he preached the same message everywhere without compromise.
ñ Letting our “Yes” be “Yes” (and not “No” later) is a way of maintaining integrity. Be sure of the truth and walking in the truth so that our “Yes” doesn't have to get changed later.
ñ Our integrity is a reflection of God’s character. Paul wrote that his own message would not be “Yes and no” because God Himself is faithful. May God help us all to mirror His own integrity!
When we affirm the truth and are not wishy-washy, we can be sure of our salvation. This assurance is found in the third place in the Bible where the phrase “Yes, yes, no, no” is found:
James 5:12 “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.” (NASB)
What does it mean to “fall under judgment”?
ñ The majority of Greek texts have no space between the word “under” and the word “judgment,” and when you run the two words together in Greek, you get the word, “hypocrite,” so one possible meaning is that James is warning us against falling into a life of hypocrisy.
ñ Most Bible scholars, however, believe that the space should be there between the two Greek words, and that James is warning us of the judgment at Jesus’ second coming. I think this is the more likely meaning since this is a theme throughout the book of James:
◦ James 3:1 “Let not many of you become teachers, my brothers, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”
◦ James 5:9 “Brothers, do not complain against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged. Look, the Judge is standing right at the door.”
ñ To say “Yes” to something not true or “No” to something true is a violation of the 9th Commandment, “Do not bear false witness,” and when Jesus comes to judge the world, He will hold you accountable to that commandment.
ñ Revelation 21:8 says that “liars” will be right there along with “idolaters and adulterers” when they are thrown into the “lake of fire.” This is one judgment you don’t want to fall into!
ñ “He who uses any oath, except what he is solemnly called by the magistrate to make, so far from being a Christian, he does not deserve the reputation, either of decency or common sense.” ~ Adam Clarke
ñ Letting your 'Yes” be “Yes” protects us from condemnation.
SUMMARY: Not only do parallel scriptures teach us why our Yes should mean Yes, Jesus provides us a third reason right in this Matthew 5 passage at the end of v.37. Our Yes should mean Yes: 1) in order to affirm the truth of God, 2) in order to preserve us in God’s final judgment, and 3) because Yes meaning No and No meaning Yes is an evil which comes from Satan, the very devil we should resist!
o In Greek, the word “the” stands before the word “evil,” so Jesus is speaking of a particular evil. Often that means “The Evil One – Satan” (cf. ASV & NIV translation of Lord’s prayer 4 paragraphs hence.)
o However, the phrase “the evil” doesn’t always have to mean “Satan.” For instance, in v.39, Jesus says, “Do not resist the evil,” and if we compare scripture with scripture, we know that 1 Peter 5:9 & James 4:7 tell us that we should resist the Devil, so Jesus must not be speaking of the Devil as the specific evil in v.39, but we’ll get to that later.
o Here in v. 37, I think it’s likely Jesus is referring to Satan because diluting integrity is exactly what the Evil One does. It is Satan’s historic strategy to mix a little bit of truth with a little bit of falsehood and serve it to us with all kinds of qualifications.
§ Back in the Garden of Eden, God had told Adam, “Eat, eat from any tree in the garden except this one, for when you eat from this one, you will surely die.” [my paraphrase] Then Satan approached Eve and said, “Did God say you couldn’t eat from any of the trees of the garden? … You will not die if you eat from this one!”
§ Jesus later calls Satan “the father of lies” (John 8:44).
§ Deception is a primary strategy for Satan, and most of the time when you fall into sin it is because you believed something that wasn’t true.
o We are called to resist the Devil, and one of the best ways to do this is to obey the 9th Commandment, as truth-tellers. Stick to the pure truth; don’t stoop to partial truths and partial lies.
o Anything more than saying “Yes” or “No” is opening the door to saying that some things are more true or less true rather than simply true or false. It is to make a false statement about the absolute nature of truth itself.
o “Really, actually, I swear it’s the truth, I wouldn’t believe it unless I had seen it myself, I’m not lying, No joke, Honestly, Honest to God, Honest to goodness, Scout’s Honor, Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye…”
o Do you see the endless means we use to create shades of truth rather than simple black and white truth? To affirm the lie that truth is not absolute but relative and changing?
o “What we have here in Matt. 5:33-37 (cf. James 5:12) is the condemnation of the flippant, profane, uncalled for, and often hypocritical oath, used in order to make an impression and to spice daily conversation. Over against that evil, Jesus commends simple truthfulness in thought, word, and deed.” ~William Hendriksen
o “...to back what we say with swearing and cursing, is but to render it more suspicious.” ~Matthew Henry
o “The practice of going beyond 'Yes' and 'No' in affirmations and denials – as if our word for it were not enough, and we expected others to question it – springs from that vicious root of untruthfulness which is only aggravated by the very effort to clear ourselves of the suspicion of it. And just as swearing to the truth of what we say begets the disposition it is designed to remove, so the love and reign of truth in the breasts of Christ’s disciples reveals itself so plainly even to those who themselves cannot be trusted, that their simple “Yes” and “No” come soon to be more relied on than the most solemn asseverations of others. Thus does the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, like a tree cast into the bitter waters of human corruption, heal and sweeten them.” ~Jameison, Fausset, and Brown You want to heal and sweeten this world? Simply tell the truth.
o What would it look like if your “Yes” meant “Yes”? If you were so well-known for telling the truth that you could relate the most unusual thing you had witnessed, and people would believe you implicitly?
o ILLUSTRATION: When I was considering moving here to pastor this church, I asked Chip and Mark to give me references. I knew I’d have to work with them closely for a long time, so I wanted to be sure I was throwing in my lot with the sort of people I would really want to work with. Chip and Mark had asked for references on me, but they gave me references on themselves. As I thought about what to ask those references, I decided that it all boiled down to how much I could trust what Chip and Mark told me at face value. I came up with a couple of other lesser questions, but that was my main question, “What percentage of the time can I trust everything he says to be true?” I was very pleased when both of Chip’s references and both of Mark’s references came back and said they could be trusted 100% of the time. I figured as long as I could trust them to tell me the truth, we could sort through anything else O.K.
SUMMARY: Jesus calls us to be people of integrity whose Yes means Yes, who will 1) consistently affirm His truth, 2) to preserve us from falling under judgment, 3) to resist the Evil One - and all the problems that come with removing truth from black and white categories. Finally I want to emphasize one more reason why our Yes should mean Yes:
What would it look like if you were known for telling the truth and were looked upon by the world as trustworthy? Whatever you said would be believed by others! Now, that’s the kind of witnesses God is looking for to pass along His good news: someone whose message the world will believe! These are the kind of people God chose in the past to carry His messages:
o John the Baptizer was a faithful witness: John 1:6-7 There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. (NASB)
s John was known for telling the truth like-it-is and not pulling punches, and he was greatly respected for it.
s Notice also WHY John testified: so that all might believe in Jesus the Lamb of God.
o Luke also was a faithful witness: Luke 1:1-4 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. Luke employed a careful process of interviewing eyewitnesses and writing down exactly what they said, so God chose him to write the history books of the New Testament!
o Paul was appointed to be a witness: Acts 26:14-18 …the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.' (NASB)
s As we saw earlier, Paul was not wishy-washy; Paul stood for the truth firmly, and God chose him to be a witness.
s Notice why God chose him to be a witness: to open people’s eyes so that they might repent and become God’s people. But this role is not just for super-apostles…
o All of God’s people are to be witnesses: Isaiah 43:10-13 “You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me. I, even I, am the LORD, And there is no savior besides Me. It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, And there was no strange god among you; So you are My witnesses," declares the LORD, "And I am God. Even from eternity I am He, And there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?” (NASB, cf. 44:8)
o Acts 1:8 Before ascending into heaven, Jesus told the Apostles, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (NASB)
Then the Apostle Paul passed the baton on to
Timothy as a pattern for it to be passed down to us: 2 Timothy 2:2 The things which you have heard
from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful
men who will be able to teach others also. (NASB)
Each of us who is a faithful witness must entrust God’s truth to other faithful followers of Christ so that they will teach it to others. That’s the way God accomplishes His goal of blessing all the peoples of the earth. So that is my fourth reason why it is so important for us to be truth-tellers who can be relied upon to tell the truth.
God is looking for trustworthy people, men and women of integrity,
who will affirm the truth and resist the lies of the devil,
people whom He can save in the final judgment
and who can be trustworthy witnesses through whom more people can be saved through faith in Jesus.
Are you that man? Are you that woman?
If we walk under the influence of the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17, John 15:26, John 16:13, 1 John 4:6) we can be people whose Yes means Yes and who will not fall under the judgment.