Vows and Promises
We can’t really trust what people say. When asked why she was getting a fudge bar after she had been told they were for Saturday’s party, This girl swears she was putting it back in the freezer because it had fallen on the floor. I believe her, don’t you?
Just like this little angel DIDN’T have her hand in the cookie jar. When asked what she was doing up there she said, “You can’t prove anything.”
This young man is very convincing that he’s not the one who ate the chocolate pie before dinner. And this little girl has absolutely no idea who wrote all over the wall—but she’s just as upset about it as you are. Hard to trust what people say because it’s so easy to lie.
But if we see photographic evidence—that used to mean something—at least before Photoshop took over the world. There was a time when a blurry photo of Bigfoot caused the whole country to wonder if the missing link had been found. But today no one would give this photo a second look.
Or this two legged camel Or this shark horse. So, we don’t believe words and we don’t believe photographs anymore.
Most people still trust videos that they see on TV news, but should we?
This is a software program that uses YouTube quality video and a consumer camera to allow a person to manipulate and re-render a person saying anything they want them to say. Can you imagine how dangerous this could be? How it could be used to destroy someone’s character or a career or a country? Imagine if someone took some footage of you and made you say horrible things about your boss or your friend or your spouse. Pretty scary stuff—most people would believe what they saw in the video before they’d believe you denying it.
If We Don’t Believe in Something we will believe anything. It’s a serious problem—not believing anything—it’s destructive to living a good life, destructive to sanity and meaning—destructive to our faith. This Post-Modern world we live in doesn’t trust anything, not really—as a society we don’t really believe in anything. Not God, not country, not anything. We’re suspicious and skeptical of everything. And here’s the problem with that: if a person doesn’t believe in something, then they’re likely to believe anything. So the world we’re handing over to our children is a world that doesn’t believe in traditionally important things—like faith in the God of Scripture, but instead there’s all kinds of interest in new age spiritualism, wiccan super-naturalism, and humanistic atheism dressed up as the philosophy of materialistic reductionism pretending to be science. If a person doesn’t believe in something, they’re likely to believe anything.
Prayer: Father in heaven, as we open Your Word today, help us to learn how to trust You. Help us to receive Your truth, hear Your promises, and believe them. Then help us to be truthful and honest with each other so we can be the kind of people You’ve called us to be in this world. This world where You’re establishing Your kingdom through us as it is in heaven. AMEN
The text is Matthew 5 starting with verse 33: “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the LORD.’ But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one. (Mt 5:33–37)
We’re continuing in our series we started before Easter called “The Teaching of Jesus” focusing on what’s known as “The Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus blesses His disciples and then starts describing what a blessed life of following Him is gonna look like. It’s gonna look like shining light into a dark world, living a counter-cultural life, contrary to the world and all its traps—we’re the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We gonna help people see what life is supposed to look like—light—and also preserve and flavor it like salt. And we’re not gonna be able to do either of those things by blending in acting like all the unbelievers.
In this section, Jesus is talking about the promises we make. Vows. Some people have misunderstood what Jesus says here to mean “don’t make vows.” Like at all. But that’s not actually what He’s saying. We know Jesus isn’t telling us to never make vows of any kind under any circumstances because He spoke under oath Himself. In Matthew 26, during His trial, the high priest said to Jesus, “I charge you under oath. By the living God, are you the Christ?” and Jesus answered him. He’d been silent up to that point, but under oath He said, “Yes. It is as you say.” Also in Galatians 1 and 1 Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul makes oaths in God’s name: He says, “By the living God I tell you this.” Not to mention that God made vows all through the Scriptures—making vows and promises is not the problem. The problem is when we don’t keep them—when we play games with them and think breaking some promises is okay. The religious teachers of the day had this complicated system of prioritizing official oaths—that’s what Jesus was referring to—it was basically a way to endorse lying under normal circumstances. A way to lie in business or legal dealings with the Romans—the only time it wasn’t okay to bend the truth was if they swore an oath to God. But they’d even bend this by swearing to heaven, or earth, or Jerusalem. It was like when people say things like “I swear on the grave of my Aunt Mabel—cross my heart and hope to die.” They were crossing their fingers behind their back.
Jesus is telling them to knock it off. When they swear by heaven, they’re swearing by God because that’s where God’s throne is. When they swear by Earth, they’re swearing by God because it’s His. When they swear by Jerusalem, they’re swearing by God because that’s the city of His temple and kingdom. Everything is swearing by God. Jesus is pointing out how hypocritical they’re being by playing this game of false oaths. He said He wants His people to be the kind of people who say what they mean. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. You don’t need to swear on Aunt Mabel—just tell the truth. Anything else just sounds like shark horses, two legged camels and like you got caught with your hand in the cookie jar. When you have to back your word up with a silly vow, you sound like a liar.
Live in the truth. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Say what you mean, mean what you say. It takes all the negative power away from any situation when you do. The real meaning of what Jesus is saying here is that everything we say is a solemn vow, a sacred oath. When we say something and then back it up with “I swear to God”—that’s not helpful, because it implies that everything else you say is suspicious. Just let your yes be yes and your no be no.
We Are Skeptical. We all want people to believe us. We want to be trusted— but then we bend and twist the truth, withhold information, say true things in ways that we know they won’t be believed and say false things if we think we can get away with it. We’re a mess. One of the names Jesus gives the devil is the “father of lies”—the devil wants us to use our words carelessly, break promises, and make ourselves look good by distorting the truth and misleading people. That’s what he’s been up to since the beginning. The whole point of what Jesus is talking about here is that He wants His people to not have anything to do with all that deception. He wants His people to live in the truth.
Sometimes we get into an argument and try to defend ourselves by saying something like, “well, all I said was…” “All I said was the dress doesn’t make you look fat but it ain’t doing you any favors either—you asked me what I thought!” “All I said was that her sister looked really good in that bikini—I don’t understand why you got so mad.” And then “All I did was ask an honest question—is it that time of the month, because you’re acting kinda grouchy?” And she’s like, “All I said was you’re a tactless, clueless imbecile who’s mommy should have taught him how to behave around a woman.” These are not examples of what I mean by living in the truth. Jesus said to speak the truth in love—truth without love is just being a jerk.
But nobody believes anything anymore. We hear someone swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth—which basically means now we know we can’t believe anything they say. Even if they have one hand on a Bible and the other over their heart.
Vows mean nothing.
Couples vow to love each other forever on their wedding day—everyone thinks, “yeah, good luck with that.”
Promises mean nothing.
No one believes salesmen. Politicians. Leading experts. Top scientists. Preachers. Statistics. 86.7% of statistics are made up on the spot. No one believes advertising. We don’t even trust four out of five dentists anymore. The whole world has become Wikipedia. Suspicious. Snopes says it’s all false. It’s a tough place to live. There’s liars and cheaters everywhere. It’s a terrible cycle because liars and cheaters don’t trust anyone—they assume everyone is lying to them and trying to cheat them. People who have been lied to and cheated don’t trust anyone anymore because of bad experiences. It’s miserable for all of us. This is why Jesus is telling His people to do something about it. To be salt and light.
To live in the truth. To let your yes be yes and your no be no. To change the world as much as it depends on you by speaking the truth in love. Love means we don’t act like a liar—liars don’t believe anyone. Liars lie and liars are suspicious. So if we’re gonna love people, then we’re gonna tell the truth and we’re gonna believe what people say. It also means we’re not gonna bully people who have been hurt by people lying to them and cheating them—when people don’t believe us, we don’t need to get all offended and get our feelings hurt. Just love them, give them time to see that your words are true—also, make sure your words are true.
Because we can’t live a life that’s worth anything if we can’t believe the promises that have been made to us. This is especially true when it comes to believing God’s promises to us but it’s also true of the things we promise each other.
I always say it’s better to just believe what people say. Even when you think they’re probably lying to you. Believe them anyway. I’m not saying to be gullible and bet the farm on it—just take them at their word—the truth has a way of coming out eventually. There’s usually nothing good that comes from escalating the conflict and calling someone a liar. Pressing the nose produces blood and stirring up anger causes quarreling. (Proverbs 30:33)
No Mind Games. If someone’s acting like something’s bothering them but when you ask they say nothing’s wrong—take them at their word. Maybe they don’t want to talk about it yet. Let it go. Be kind. You don’t have to make it about you. Also, if they are playing head games with you, like they want you to keep asking in some passive aggressive attempt to control you—when you take them at their word that nothing’s wrong, you might actually show them that it’s better to say what they mean. Maybe next time when you ask, they’ll tell you instead of playing games.
When Kim and I first started dating in high school, we had been friends for quite a while before it started getting romantic—once we became boyfriend and girlfriend, she started treating me like she had treated her previous boyfriends. You know, little head games, not saying exactly what she meant and being — I don’t know, I don’t want to say something that’ll cause us to get in an argument later, I might be on thin ice here — if you want examples, you can ask her to give you some. I don’t remember what happened but I said something like, “Hey, I don’t want to play mind games. If you have something to say, just say it.” It’s funny when she tells the story because she’s like, “Oh. What an interesting concept. Just say what you’re thinking and don’t be weird about it. What a novel idea.”
When you live in the truth it takes all the negative power away. It clears the air. Nobody has to guess what you’re thinking, nobody has to keep running what was said over and over in their mind trying to make sense out of it later.
KEEP YOUR VOWS. Live in the truth. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Keep the vows that you’ve made. To be ordained as a pastor I vowed to uphold God’s Word, to preach it faithfully whether I felt like it or not, to proclaim it no matter what our culture says about it. As a husband I vowed for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health. As a father I vowed to bring my kids up in the Christian faith and to love them no matter what. I intend to do those things, so help me God.
This morning we were received as a congregation in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod—we vowed to dwell in unity, to proclaim the Gospel, and to walk together with all the other followers of Jesus who call the LCMS their home—and by the grace of God, that’s what we’re gonna do.
As a member of this congregation, you’ve vowed to take personal ownership of this ministry, to support NewChurch by serving, giving and praying. To show up faithfully whenever you’re able—that’s a big one—show up faithfully—It’s probably the most important thing you can do to support your church. When that person who sits down the row from you each week finally gets up the courage to invite their neighbor, or family member or friend, when they finally invite someone to church—you need to make sure you’re here to make that person feel welcome. There’s nothing worse than inviting someone to church and then that’s the week when no one shows up. The week half the people decide to sleep in—worship at St Mattress. We gotta be able to count on each other to be here each week. It’s more fun when we’re all here. It’s more impactful. We’re an official church now, no more kidding around. I don’t know how to say this any stronger—it’s depressing and discouraging when you don’t show up for church. It’s like voting for our church to die. Let’s not be like that, okay?
Jesus wants us to be people who keep the vows we make. To live in the truth and let our yes be yes and our no be no. If we, the people of God, can’t show each other that we mean what we say, then when we proclaim His promises—they’re gonna sound pretty hollow. We need to show this world, all the people who need hope, that God’s promises are true. That’s why it’s so important for us to follow through on the things we say—because it’s a testimony to the promises that God has given to us.
When Jesus says yes, He means yes. “All the promises of God find their Yes in him.” (2 Corinthians 1:20) Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-29
Rest and peace and salvation. “And my God will fully supply your every need according to his glorious riches in the Messiah Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
Your every need—lay down your skepticism, Jesus isn’t playing head games, it might sound too good to be true, you may think you’ve heard it all before—but if you believe in the promises that are offered in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, then God vows to save you and give you a new life. A life going somewhere good—with purpose and meaning.
This isn’t like all these liars and cheaters this world is full of who just come to steal from you, hurt you, and destroy you. Jesus said that He came so you can have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
These are just some of the promises of God that are available to us because of Jesus. He will never go back on His Word. This is something you can believe in.
But we’ve broken our promises—to God and to everyone else—so when we hear all this we're reminded of those things we’ve failed at and feel like a fraud. For the ways we’ve let down our family, our friends, our work, our school, our country, our church—for the ways we’ve failed to be faithful to God and everything He told us. The good news is God says that’s a good place to start. Blessed are those who are poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven—remember? The gateway to understand the teachings of Jesus? That’s always where we start—we bring nothing to this deal. Jesus brings it all. So “If we make it our habit to confess our sins, in his faithful righteousness he forgives us for all those sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 That’s His promise. That’s His vow to us. He means what He says, and He says what He means. Listen to me sinners—Because of Jesus your sins are forgiven, you can count on it. Now—how about we live like we believe it. How about we live in the truth—let our yes be yes and our no be no? AMEN