The movie, “Liar, Liar,” is a timeless classic. It was released more than 20 years ago when Jim Carrey was at the height of stardom. If you’ve not seen the movie you really should. Jim plays a slick, high powered attorney named Fletcher Reede. Fletcher is a successful attorney mainly because he is such a good liar. He will lie about anything and everything in order to accomplish his goal of winning cases and becoming a partner at the firm. That’s a problem, but the problem is bigger than what Fletcher is willing to do in his practice. Fletcher becomes so use to lying that he will lie to anyone about anything.
His marriage had fallen apart and his ex-wife, Audrey, knew that if Fletcher’s lips were moving he was lying. Fletcher loves his young son, Max, but he’s so wrapped up in his own life and being successful that he lets Max down time and time again. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Fletcher promised to be at Max’s 5th birthday party and didn’t show up. The house was full of people who had come to celebrate with little Max, but all of them were overshadowed by the one person who wasn’t there…his dad. When it was time to blow out the candles, Max’s mom told him he could make any wish he wanted. Max wished that his dad couldn’t lie for a whole day. Max’s wish came true and the rest of the movie is hilarious.
When Fletcher realizes that he can’t lie he becomes unnerved. He doesn’t know how to function without lying. He was talking to his ex-wife about the problem when he found out it was Max who had made the wish, when he blew out the candles, for his dad not to be able to lie. Fletcher made a beeline for Max’s school to get him to take back his wish. Max asked, “Why? So you can lie?” His dad said, “Yes, but not to you.” Fletcher tries to explain it to Max this way, “No one can survive in the adult world if they have to tell the truth. I could lose my case, my promotion, even my job! I have to lie…everyone lies!” (Fletcher Reede in “Liar, Liar”)
“Everyone lies.” Everyone. There is not one person who is here this morning who has never told a lie. We are taught from a young age to tell the truth, but it doesn’t take us long to figure out that sometimes the truth can get us into trouble so we lie. Dr. Romeo Vitelli in an article titled, “When Does Lying Begin?,” in Psychology Today magazine states that the skills needed for lying are already in place for children as young as two. He goes on to write,
In 1877, Charles Darwin suggested that children as young as thirty months are capable of lying after seeing his young son trying to deceive him. More recently, a team of British psychologists used a natural observation method to spot 37 examples of lying behaviour in a 30-month-old child. Child researchers at the University of Waterloo reported that 65 percent of two-year-olds and 94 percent of four-year-olds lied at least once. (Vitelli, Romeo, When Does Lying Begin?, Psychology Today, November 11, 2013).
We figure things out early in life don’t we? It doesn’t get any better the older we get. The older we get it seems like there is no area of our lives that are sacred, all are tainted by lies. Politicians make promises during election season that they know they’ll never be able to keep. Teenagers lie to their parents about where they are going on a Friday night and who they will be with. We lie to the government when we fill out our tax returns. People include things in their resumes that they know aren’t true simply to try and impress those who have the power to hire them. Businesses and corporations lie when to tell the truth is going to impact their bottom line. Husbands and wives lie to each other about how they spend their money, online activity, and relationships that are not healthy for the marriage. The list goes on and on and one. It seems like there is absolutely nothing that we won’t lie about.
Back in 1991, James Patterson and Peter Kim wrote a bestseller called, “The Day America Told The Truth.” They surveyed 2,000 Americans from 50 different locations across our nation with the promise of absolute anonymity. The book covers all kinds of topics, but I find what they learned about telling the truth, or maybe it would be better to say, the decline of telling the truth, to be most interesting. After tabulating the data from the surveys they concluded, “Lying has become an integral part of American culture, a trait of the American character. We lie and don’t even think about it. We lie for no reason.” Patterson and Kim estimate that 91% of us lie regularly. Is it any wonder that in 2016 the Oxford Dictionary declared, “post-truth” as it’s international word of the year?
I hope you recognized that in all of the information I’ve shared with you I’ve not shared a preacher’s take on our society or a poll by some right-wing organization that’s constantly talking about what a moral cesspool America has become. What I’ve shared with you are the assessments of secular sociologists, psychologists, and authors who have their fingers on the pulse of what has been going on in our nation for a long time. This leads us to our study for this morning. If you would turn in your Bibles to James 5:12 and we’ll read it together.
12 Above all, my brothers, do not swear– not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned. (James 5:12 NIVO)
Every word of God’s Word is set in a context. We are not to take one verse, lift it out of its context, and then seek to make it say what we either think it says or what we want it to say. And so it is with James 5:12. We’ve just finished spending two weeks on James 5:1-11 where James was encouraging his readers who were undergoing tremendous difficulties having been scattered through persecution and suffering at the hands of powerfully rich people who were more than willing to take advantage of them. Beginning next week, when we turn to the last section of James, we will find James addressing other difficulties being faced by those early followers of Jesus. James’ counsel throughout his word to those who were going through difficulties of every kind has been to be people of faith, to remember that God is “full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11), God is Sovereign, He knows where we are, what we are going through, and He will lead us through every difficulty we face in life.
Being people of faith, people with absolute trust in the Lord, with absolute reliance on Jesus, is such a contrast to how most people respond when they find themselves in a pinch, under stress, and facing hardships in life. This is not only true of unbelievers, but it is also true of many people who say they are followers of Jesus as well.
When we find ourselves in relationships that are troubled we can easily shade the truth, say what the other person wants to hear, or flat out lie to avoid added tension and strife. When we want something and need others to work with us to get what we want we can easily make promises that we know we’ll never keep. We’ll even go so far as to swear that we’re telling the truth. We’ll say things like, “God is my witness! I swear on my mother’s grave I mean it this time!” or “cross my heart and hope to die!” All of these are nothing more than tricks of the trade in the art of deception to try and convince others that this time, maybe not last time, but this time we are telling the truth. When we are going through painful experiences in life we can easily turn to bargaining with God in hopes that God will get us out of the jam, but we rarely keep the promises we make under pressure. James calls us to a life of radical truth in every area of our lives. We are not to shade the truth, swear to emphasize our truthfulness, or bargain with God. Instead, our word is to be our word. We are to say what we mean and mean what we say.
I’ve told you before that James was Jesus’ younger, half-brother, who never believed in Jesus while He was alive. It was only after Jesus’ resurrection, after Jesus appeared to His brother James, that James became a follower of Jesus. Even though James wasn’t a believer in Jesus while He was alive, James was most certainly listening to Jesus. You might wonder how I know that? I’m so glad you asked. Turn with me to the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5. Let’s read together from verses 33-37.
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:33-37 NIVO)
If you place what Jesus said in these verses next to what James wrote in James 5:12, there won’t be any doubt in your mind where James came up with his command not to swear, or to make oaths. When James says not to “swear” he isn’t referring to using foul language, you’d need to visit other parts of the Bible to learn not to do that, but what he has in mind is taking oaths or making vows.
What’s really interesting about this is that in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, the people were encouraged to make vows or oaths. In Deuteronomy 10:20 and Numbers 30:2, Moses told the people,
20 Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. (Deuteronomy 10:20 NIVO)
2 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. (Numbers 30:2 NIVO)
As we read the Old Testament we find people making oaths about different situations in life. In 1 Samuel 20, David made an oath to Jonathan, the son of King Saul who wanted to kill David. In 1 Samuel 24, Saul knew David would become king one day so he asked David to swear an oath that he wouldn’t wipe out his family or his own name once he became king. David gave Saul his word by swearing an oath. In Joshua 6, Joshua swore an oath before God after wiping out the city of Jericho. In Acts 18:18 we read that Paul cut off his hair because of a vow he had made. In Romans 1:9, Paul called on God as his witness to emphasize how often he thought about the believers in Rome. In Revelation 10 we even read about an angel who swore an oath and then said, “There will be no more delay!” So you see, oaths were encouraged by God in the Old Testament. Those who made oaths were intent on fulfilling them “even if it hurt.” I got that last line from David, who when listing the qualities of the person who can dwell in God’s sanctuary wrote, in Psalm 15:1-4.
1 A psalm of David. LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? 2 He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart 3 and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, 4 who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, 5 who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken. (Psalm 15:1-5 NIVO)
You can tell from reading Psalm 15 that God desires truthfulness, not deception, righteousness, being rightly-related, not duplicity, integrity, not corruption. All that is described in Psalm 15 can be summarized quite easily: God desires truth in, and from, His people.
So we have to ask the question, “Why did Jesus and James say to put a stop to our oath taking? Why did they say to simply let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ be ‘no?’” That’s a great question and we can find an answer by taking a closer look at what Jesus said in Matthew 5. Notice, Jesus said don’t swear by “heaven,” “earth,” “Jerusalem,” or “by your head.” I don’t remember any of those things mentioned when we were reading about oaths in the Old Testament do you? Here’s the tricky part. The Hebrew teachers, rabbis, began to discern and decipher what they thought would be binding vows and which vows a person could make that wouldn’t be binding. There is an entire section in the Mishnah, a kind of commentary written by the rabbis called, Tractate Shevuot (Oaths), devoted to the discussion of binding and non-binding oaths. It shows us that taking an oath had become nothing more than a system of determining when a person could lie and when he couldn’t. Kent Hughes, in his commentary on James, writes about this by saying,
The results were disgraceful. There was an undying epidemic of frivolous swearing. Oaths were continually mingled with everyday speech: “By your life”–“By my beard”–“May I never see the comfort of Israel if…” There was a trivialization of everyday language and a devaluation of integrity. Evasive swearing became a fine art. The height of accomplishment was, while lying, to convince another you were telling the truth by bringing some person or eminent object into reference. For instance, one rabbi taught that if one swore by Jerusalem one was not bound; but if one swore toward Jerusalem it was binding–evidently because that in some way implied the divine Name. (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 246-47)
Jesus and James lived in a time when people were using oaths as a means to convince others of their sincerity and commitment, and yet they were lying, their word didn’t mean a thing. It’s like our modern-day practice of saying, “I swear on a stack of Bibles!” while crossing our fingers behind our backs.
In the beginning of our study I shared with you some of the findings concerning life in our post-truth society, but I’m beginning to think people have always lived in a post-truth world. The practice was so prevalent in Jesus and James’ day that they said, “Stop it! Just let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’”
In Matthew 23, the religious leaders of the day had gathered to listen to Jesus talk to the people in Jerusalem. He no doubt was thinking about what they had done to the practice of taking an oath when He said,
15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. 16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it. (Matthew 23:15-22 NIVO)
In a society where even the religious leaders were being deceptive and using oaths as an out instead of a confirmation of the character of God, there were still those who told the truth regardless of what it cost them. The Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote about a group of people called the Essenes in the first century. Those of you who have been to Israel with me might remember our visit to Qumran. That was the home of the Essenes and the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Josephus wrote,
They are eminent for fidelity, and are the ministers of peace; whatsoever they say also is firmer than an oath; but swearing is avoided by them, and they esteem it worse than perjury for they say that he who cannot be believed without [swearing by] God is already condemned. (Josephus, Wars Book 2)
One of the distinguishing marks of a follower of Jesus is honesty, telling the truth. Not shading the truth, telling white lies, using half-truths, or skirting the truth, but telling the truth, living truthfully, and acting in a truthful, honest way in all we do. Why is that? That’s a great question and once again I believe we can find an answer in God’s Word. Jesus described Himself with these words, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 NIVO)
One of the most telling scenes of Jesus’ life is when He was on trial for His life, a trial He would lose, and pay for with His life as He was nailed to the cross and executed. While Pilate was questioning Jesus, Jesus spoke about His kingdom which is not of this world. Let’s pick up the story at that point in John 18:37,
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” 38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. (John 18:37-38 NIVO)
Jesus let everyone know He is the Truth, He came to testify to the Truth, and last of all, He prayed that His followers would be sanctified by the Truth. Look at John 17, a scene from the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was praying right before He was arrested. You have to know this was the most intense prayer Jesus ever prayed as He knew He was facing the cross. Jesus prayed to the Father,
15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. (John 17:15-18 NIVO)
“Sanctify them, (set them apart), by the truth; your word is truth.” God’s Word is truth. How, while we are in the world, do we avoid getting sucked up into the world’s ways of living deceptively, deceitfully, and insincerely? We need God’s Word. God’s Word is truth. Jesus said He is the Truth. If we want to walk in Truth then we need to follow Jesus, the One who is both THE Truth, and the One who will lead us down the path of truth in the way we live our lives, in the way we relate to one another, in the way we conduct our business, and in all of life.
Those early followers of Jesus understood this and they taught others this same truth. Turn from your old way of life, your old way of doing things, receive Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life, and begin to walk in His steps. Everywhere they went they carried this message. The Apostle Paul wrote to the brothers and sisters in Ephesus and he urged them, “put off your old self” and “put on the new self.” Turn to Ephesians 4:22-25 and let’s read it together.
22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. (Ephesians 4:22-25 NIVO)
“…Put off falsehood and speak truthfully…” This is only possible through experiencing an intimate, life-giving relationship with Jesus. I know every single time we come together on Sunday we always end up in the same place. We always end up in the place of decision. What will you decide about what we’ve learned this morning? Will you continue down the path you’ve been walking? Writing your own rules for life, living however you see fit, shading the truth when it’s convenient, and bargaining with God when you need His help? Or, will you recognize your need for a different way of living and your inability to pull it off and cry out to Jesus to take over the throne room of your heart this morning? Will you confess that you are a sinner; not a teller of white lies, not someone who is not perfect, but not as bad as the next guy, but a sinner, undeserving of God’s mercy and grace? It’s when we are willing to be honest about the condition of our hearts that we will recognize our need for a Savior. Will you be honest with the Lord this morning and invite Him to come in and be your Savior?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
June 10, 2018