Lesson 4 – Nothing, But the Truth

Nothing, But the Truth

Scripture:  Matthew 5:33-37.


The following definitions may help us to understand the way Jesus’ terminology in our text was used during the adminstration of the Law of Moses.  We will want to keep focused on Jesus’ intent for this sermon to the original Jewish audience (Matt. 5:17-20).  He sought to show them how the principles of the “law of life” of the new covenant, when applied to themselves, would fulfill the requirements of the Law.

God’s intent for giving the old covenant was to develop a “schoolmaster” type of guidance for the “children of promise” until the Messianic age (Gal. 3:23-25; 4:1-5; Heb. 8:6-9; Rom. 9:8).  At the time God brought the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage they were not spiritually mature enough to follow the laws of life; therefore, He put them under the Levitical Priesthood and the Law of Moses.

Vow:  This word has been translated from the Greek word “euche.”  In James 5:15 it has been translated “prayer.”  The Apostle Paul took a vow (Acts 18:18).  Four men took a vow while Paul was in Jerusalem (Acts 21:23).  It is suggested that their vows may have related to the Nazirite vow because Paul cut off his hair and the four men had their heads shaved (Numbers 6:1-21).  The people promised (vowed) to do a certain thing if the Lord would do something for them first (Gen. 28:20; Numbers 6:2; 21:2).

Oath:  Matthew used the Greek word “horkas” in our text.  It gives the idea of building a fence – an enclosure.  Consequently, when a person takes an oath they restrain themselves to abide by the oath.

An oath is a promise made before the Lord that cannot be broken without the wrath of the Lord.   An oath is based on something or someone greater than the one who makes the statement.  Gen. 24:8; Lev. 5:4; Joshua 9:15, 19, 20.  Herod’s promise by an oath cost John the Baptist his head, Matt. 14:6-10.  Peter broke his own heart when he lied on an oath that he did not know Jesus, Matt. 26:72.

Swear:  Swear has been translated from “omnumi.”  “Above all, brethren, do not swear… so that you may not fall under judgment.”  James 5:12.  It is used of “affirming or denying by an oath,” according to Vines’ Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words.

We can understand the usage of the foregoing words in the following scripture:

When God made His promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for Him to swear by, He swore by Himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.’  And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.  Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.  Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath.  God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.  Heb. 6:13-18


Aren’t we glad that God did for us what Jesus told us not to do?  God can make a promise and put it in the form of an oath (fence Himself in to fulfill the promise) and swear by Himself.  He is God Almighty; He can do what He promises (Rom. 4:20, 21).  In this way He does not lie.  What God says He will do, He can do.  People cannot always do what we say we will do.  If we put a promise in the form of an oath, or vow, and swear to it by our own power, we will often be found to have stated a lie.  We may have a strong desire to fulfill our promise but not have the power.  Desire is not enough.

God’s desire for all people in all generations after Abraham was that they might have the same assurance Abraham had – that what He promised He would and could do.  This included all ethnic people (Rom. 9:24).  All people were ethnics from the Jews’ view.  The Greek word “ethnos” is translated Gentile.

God bound Himself by two things, one, an oath, that is, His promise was specifically stated, and, two, He swore by His power and integrity to do what He promised.  God is holy; therefore, His promises for those who have faith in His oaths are well thought out (I Pet. 1:14-16).  Because He is holy, God is faithful to perform His oaths (Rom. 3:3).  Because God is both righteous and Almighty, He can do what He has promised, or vowed.  Since mankind cannot make one hair black or white in a natural manner, we should not swear we will do even one small thing.

This does not mean we should not make promises.  We cannot do what God did.  We could end our lesson at this point if Jesus had not added, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”  Matt. 5:37.  The fact is people often answer both yes and no to the same situation.  They do not realize their multiple standard of truth.  Their lives are a lie.  The Corinthians accused Paul of this very thing (II Cor. 1:15-17).  Paul had the wisdom not to swear that he would visit them according to his original plan.

Let us review an encounter Jesus had with some Jews who actually believed in Him.  Please read John 8:31-47.  When Jesus declared, “If you hold to my teaching you are really My disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  The believers took exception to His statement about being free and declared, “Abraham is our father.”  Jesus promptly replied, “If you were Abraham’s children, then you would do the things Abraham did.”  Jesus’ intent was not to put them down, but to make them understand they were living a lie.  In order to make His point “completely realistic,” which is the definition of truth, He stated, “you belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.”  This is another thing God can do that we cannot.  We do not know peoples’ motives and we should not state the kind of imperatives Jesus made (John 2:25; I Cor. 4:3-5).

What is the message in this narrative for us?  Is it possible to live a lie and not be aware of it?  Jesus’ encounter was not with the Pharisees.  These people were believers (John 8:31).  They thought God was their Father; however, Jesus said the Devil was their father based on the fact that he and they had the same character weaknesses.  Satan is a liar and he knows it.  They lived a lie and did not know it.  They would prove Jesus to be right later when they did not stand up with Him.  One’s encounter with truth and “nothing but the truth,” reveals the condition of our character and not necessarily our own view of our selves.  Jesus set forth a choice of one of two fathers.  People of the lie have the devil, the evil one, as their father.  We don’t have the ability or business to determine who is and who is not a child of God.  This is not our business and it is not why Jesus came into this world (John 12:47).  He came to save the world from Satan’s lie about why and how God created mankind.  We do need to check the fruits of one’s claim before we join up with them (Matt. 7:15-20; II Cor. 6:14).

All who listen to Jesus and do the will of His Father are people “of truth.”  John 18:36, 37.  Pilate had strong doubts there is an absolute truth.  Many people are believers in Jesus as the Jews were believers in God; however, like those people they do not do His will.  They hope to be recipients of God’s grace He has offered through the sacrifice of Jesus.  One truth about whether a person is “of truth” will be understood by her or his behavior.

“For the law was given by Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  John 1:16.  Truth is what Jesus was trying to get the Jews to understand.  He taught truth and lived truth.  The truth that Jesus taught is the truth with which we can examine ourselves to determine for ourselves if we are children of God or children of the evil one(I John 4:4-6).  We will want to make this determination before we leave this world because the truth Jesus taught will be the same truth on Judgment Day (John 12:47, 48).

How can we know we are of truth?  Let us note some things to help us understand how it is possible to be a “person of the lie” and still think God is our Father as the believing Jews did in John 8:31.  We are not speaking of the Jews who rejected Jesus because they were afraid to stand up with Him, although some of them might be included.  We are not speaking of the Jews who were following Jesus for a free meal or healing (John 6:26, 27).  Certainly, we are not speaking of the Pharisees and Lawyers who rejected Jesus because of their own agenda to control the people (Luke 18:9).  We are speaking about people who turned away from Jesus when His teaching was about character (John 6:53-60).  The young rich man and many others thought they knew God but did not recognize Him in Jesus Christ (Luke 18:18-29).  While Pilate was trying to free Jesus the Jewish public shouted, “Take Him away! Take Him away! Crucify Him!” John 19:15.

Peter was speaking to this same audience in Jerusalem when he said, “Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.”  Acts 3:17.   They had believed a lie and it was manifested in their deeds.  Lying to ourselves about who we are is a disintegration of our character – our strength to move in the way we know we should.  Many of the Jews accepted the truth about themselves and repented.  They turned to God, their Father (Acts 3:19).  They learned truth and it freed them from the devil, the father of lies.

“Let God be true and every man a liar” is the motto of every Christian (Rom. 3:4).  As Christians we must regularly check our behavior to make sure it is consistent with who we claim to be – Christ-like.  We will usually find flaws in our behavior that we will want work on.  This flaw will be found in our character or personality.   If we walk by faith in God’s truth and the blood of Jesus, He will count us righteous while we work on the flaws (I John 1:7).  If Christians find flaws and will not accept truth as the basis for our character, we are not walking in the light with God; it will do no good to ask God to forgive our sins.


The examples in the introduction of this lesson involving vows and oaths mostly came from the Old Testament.  An oath appears to be more serious than a vow in that it involves binding one’s soul.  For the Jews to swear by an oath in the name of Jehovah God was very serious.  A vow was to be kept.  A person who does not keep his or her oaths and vows would be considered, to say the least, dishonest.  One of the Ten Commandments states “Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”  This simply means they should not lie.  Lying is very serious because the New Testament warns that “all liars will have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.”  Rev. 21:8.

Lying is a weakness of character and it gets its influence from the “evil one” as we see in our lesson text Matthew 5:37.  James speaks to this same subject.  He warned that anything other than “yes” or “no” will condemn us (Jas. 5:12).  He also said, “Let your yes be yes,” that is, if the answer is yes, then nothing more needs to be said to convince anyone the answer is positive.  The same thing applies to “no.”  Christians need not try to strengthen what we say by swearing by our own strength since, in most cases, we do not possess the power to determine the outcome.  Neither do we have power over God’s strength; therefore, we cannot swear by Him that a promise will be fulfilled on our behalf.  We can humble ourselves to His will and He will give help according to His will (Jas. 4:13-17).  One who has humility has come to understand one’s true self – the good and the bad, the ugly and the beauty of our own selves.

Although we give a positive yes or a negative no, there is a possibility that we can be wrong.  There really is no use to say more than yes or no.  The Apostle Paul was accused of applying both yes and no to the promise he had made to visit the Corinthian church (II Cor. 1:17).  He took this charge very seriously because he understood they were defaming his character.  He also understood the way people perceive a Christian’s character has much to do with this person’s power to preach and teach God’s word (II Cor. 1:18-22).

All Christians must possess integrity.  The word “integrity” comes from integration.  A person who uses “yes” and “no” in the same application has a disintegrated character.  Disintegration in all applications subtract from power; be it an engine, government, church, a person’s body or the person.  A church is a congregation of people; therefore, it has power when the members have an integrated personality and character.  They can plan and move in the evangelism of the world.  The Apostle Paul made this point twice for the Corinthian church (II Cor. 10:5, 6, 15, 16).  A disintegrated church body will be unable to practice discipline or evangelism.  Both are necessary for the proper functioning of a church as the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22, 23).

We remember in the case of murder and adultery, Jesus did not tell His audience not to kill or commit adultery.  In each case He went to the real problem of anger and lust in their hearts.  Anger and lust were the real character weaknesses.  Killing and adultery were only the resulting behavior.

We sometimes have a habit of making a lot of conversation in a given situation when a yes or no would have served the purpose.  If we carefully examine that added conversation it generally turns out to shade the real truth, especially if a straight yes or no would put us in a “bad position.”  The added conversation is from the evil one, and it will very likely bring us under judgment by those who know us, as well as on Judgment Day.

Jesus is not saying all we ever say is yes and no, but He is saying don’t try to make our statements more powerful or put ourselves in a better position than what the real truth does for us.  Some people always try to put themselves in a favorable position at all times and in every situation.  It is called self-esteem.  Seeking to maintain self-esteem “at all cost” can lead to evil behavior.  It is a wonderful trait to have self love.  We don’t want to confuse self-esteem with self love.  We need to love ourselves as God loves us.  This implies we care, respect, and take responsibility for our inner and outer man.

There is a difference in knowing and maintaining the importance of our selves and always feeling good about our selves.     Obviously, it is not possible to be right all the time.  Those who try to feel good about themselves all the time may call it “keeping up their self-esteem.”  Actually, they are selfish prudes who become dangerous to anyone who might expose any one of their weaknesses.    They live a lie.  They are sinners as we all are; however, they are evil sinners.  They have a shadow of themselves they, with all their power, try to keep hidden from other people.

Some people have lied so much and for so long, they really don’t know the truth about themselves.  They have a word picture of themselves but it is a lie.  It is possible for anyone to have this problem, even a Christian.  Jesus said the way to solve it is to make it a practice to leave off the extra conversation.  We should quit trying to place ourselves in a favorable light.  Just tell it like it is.  After a while, we will be able to be truthful with ourselves and others.

Rationalization is also a form of lying.  Adam and Eve used this form of lying in their first meeting with God after they became covenant breakers.  They sought to shield the damage they had done to their self-image.  God instilled within each person an innate need for achievement, social acceptance and glory.  Adam and Eve became over achievers, that is, they tried to achieve outside the covenant God had given them.  When they did not attain God’s social acceptance in their achievement of obtaining the knowledge of good and evil they also failed to maintain the glory of their selves.  Their countenance fell; however, they tried to repair the damage by rationalization.  They started to play the “blame game.”  It is all one big lie.

We should understand Jesus was interested in helping us develop strong character.  Lying is an enemy of strong character because it suggests disintegration of the motives behind our actions.  All disintegration is a form of weak character.

We cannot have the attitude to hunger and thirst after righteousness and be liars at the same time.  If we do not hunger and thirst after righteousness, we will not be satisfied.  Liars are dissatisfied with their lives as they really are but instead of trying to change their lives by developing strong character, they try to do it with words.

Being made aware of this potential problem within our own character should be enough for us to examine our own conversation and behavior.  This will lead us out of the state of being a liar.  When we are in doubt, just say yes or no and let our own image fall where it may.  This will be the truth.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What was Jesus strategy for fulfilling the requirements of the Law of Moses in our text?
  2. Explain how it is right for God to make promises in the form of an oath and swear by Himself that He will fulfill the oath but we should not practice such things.
  3. How did Jesus emphasis the futility of our swearing to reinforce a promise?
  4. Explain how Jesus used the “yes” and “no” factor to open up the subject of truth.
  5. What can we learn about God, mankind and the devil from the narrative in John 8:31-47?
  6. Why do we as Christians need to examine ourselves by the word of God?
  7. Why would one want to lie?
  8. Why is it beneficial for us to just say yes or no?
  9. Why do we sometimes have a habit of making a lot of conversation when asked a direct question?   For example please answer these questions with a simple yes or no:  Did you study all of the assignment for our Bible study tonight?  Are you making a diligent effort to develop the attitudes we are learning in the Sermon on the Mount?  Do you ever break the speed limit while driving your vehicle?  Do you lie sometimes?  Did you stop beating your spouse (a joke question)?
  10. How can a Christian know we are “of truth” as Jesus used the term in John 18:37?
  11. Is it possible for a Christian to lie, even to himself and believe the lie to the point we still call God our Father?
  12. How could we solve the problem of lying to ourselves by following the plan of Jesus of saying simply yes or no?
  13. Explain rationalization in the context of lying.
  14. Why is it unnecessary for a Christian to try to hide a weakness from God, himself or herself and other people?
  15. What is Jesus’ rule for healing Christians from self deception?
  16. How can one’s effort to maintain “self-esteem” become destructive to themselves and in extreme cases, to others?

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