33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 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 take an oath by your head,
for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
“You can’t handle the truth!” With these five words from the iconic courtroom scene in A Few Good Men, Colonel Nathan R. Jessep (played by Jack Nicholson) says so much about the human condition. Ever since the serpent accused God of being a liar…and Adam and Eve believed the lie and ate the fruit…and they refused to be simply truthful about what happened (Genesis 3), we’ve all struggled to handle the truth. We mishandle it by bending, twisting, and shading it. And we can’t handle the truth that, left to ourselves, we are all liars who would spend our days deceiving and being deceived.
In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus confronts our deep struggle with the truth. In His culture, He addressed the practice of taking oaths and swearing by various people, places, and objects. These practices are uncommon in our culture, but the underlying heart issue is the same. We manipulate the truth to our advantage, and our lies make us untrustworthy and undependable. Our “yes” isn’t always “yes”, and our “no” isn’t always “no”. And for the One who came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6), this is evil. We trade the truth of God for a lie.
Can we see it? Do we see that we’ve played fast and loose with the truth? Let’s take some time to reflect prayerfully on some questions.
How have we twisted the truth?
How have we resorted to half-truths?
When have we withheld important information in order to help ourselves?
When have we said we would do something, but we didn’t do it?
When have we said we wouldn’t do something, but we did it?
How have these lies affected the people in our lives?
How have these lies affected our relationship with the Lord?
Why have we chosen to lie?
When we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. It’s a humbling realization, but we must either acknowledge that we are liars or we make God a liar. When we see the darkness in our hearts, God’s Word invites us to step into the light, confess our sins, and receive His forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:5-10). As the Lord works in us, He begins to convince us of the folly of our ways and the wisdom of His. We can acknowledge that we have chosen self-preservation over honesty and self-justification over holiness. And we see the beauty of the gospel in a whole new light.
During His years on earth, Jesus Christ was perfectly faithful and true (see Revelation 3:14 and 19:11). He lived the life of integrity that we couldn’t live, and He died the death that we deserved to die. We accused Him of being a blasphemer and a liar. But rather than defend Himself and plead His case, He willingly went to the cross so that He could defend us and plead ours. Only because of His grace can we handle the truth about ourselves that we’re more sinful than we could have imagined and more loved than we could have dreamed. Have we been humbled and strengthened by His grace? Are we abiding in Him and seeking to build our life upon the foundation of His Word? Are we relying on His grace to make us simply truthful?
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,
a worker who has no need to be ashamed,
rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15