When God didn't take no for an answer
by Patrick Lafferty
Let what you say be simply "Yes" or "No"; anything more than this comes from evil.
Twenty-five years ago my mother succumbed to cancer. A diagnosis was followed by a mastectomy, which was followed by chemotherapy and all its side effects. Five years of remission—then a resurgence. A final fight, then she slipped away.
Cancer, as we all know, is the uncontrolled replication of destructive cells that consume vital organs if left unchecked. But as it was for my mother and everyone who contracts the disease, cancer begins with a single cell run amok.
We might find Jesus’s injunctions about oath-taking not only arcane but downright persnickety. We’re not really an oath-taking kind of people any more, save the occasional participations in jury duty or obtaining a passport. And even when we do have to raise our right hand, it’s unlikely we give a second thought to the words that assert our integrity.
But as we heard Sunday, far from being overly fastidious about our word choice, Jesus is warning about what is as subtle and dangerous as cancer: establishing a pattern of insincerity.
Oaths themselves are not the issue. The Old Testament is replete with them. They find their way into the words and works of God, Himself—perhaps most vividly in His covenant with Abraham when He parades a flaming torch between sacrificial animals cloven in two. His unspoken oath was to honor His covenant lest He become like these sacrifices. Paul, too, employs the vocabulary of oaths to demonstrate his own veracity (Rom 1:9, 2 Cor 1:23, Phil 1:8).
Why is Jesus so serious about oaths? He was decrying a shift in the kinds of oaths the people of His day were making. By invoking Jerusalem, or the earth, or one’s own head, the oaths implied earnestness. But at the same time those oaths avoided accountability, since each of those hallowed entities represented an authority less than God. Their invocations were the equivalent of crossing your fingers behind your back.
Jesus was saying the duplicity could not stand. Anything less than straightforward language is an affront to God and corrosive to the soul. There’s no limit to how such insincerity can metastasize into a stage 4 lie.
So what’s Jesus’s driving at?
Whatever you say, say it in faith. I do not mean a name-it, claim-it mentality that makes your faith-filled words determinative of hoped-for outcomes. I believe Jesus means that what we say must always be a conscious reflection of what we believe about God. Unless we are honest before the Lord in speech, our insincerity will eat us alive from the inside.
Think of God’s regard for the truth as a father’s regard for his son. Affirm or offend the son and you affirm or offend the father. Likewise, if God is truth (Is 65:16, Jn 3:33), then your regard for the truth parallels your regard for God. There can be no simultaneous love for God and disdain of the truth.
Second, remember that God is never misled by your equivocations. All things are naked and exposed to Him (Heb 4:13). False words are futile to conceal what cannot be ultimately concealed.
Both those aspects of our faith in God motivate us to speak with sincerity. But there is one greater still—that there was a time when God didn’t take our no for an answer.
We once were convinced that we were best suited to find our own good life. Estranged from His heart and His purposes, our hearts spewed, “I will not trust you, nor follow you, nor love you.”
Yet at the cross while we were still sinners—still flouting and offending Him—God did not take our defiance as decisive for our destiny. To our “No, we won’t,” God said, “Yes, (and yet) I will.” In Christ, by the Spirit, God the Father spoke about the depth of our sin and of His even deeper love.
There’s nothing you can obtain by insincerity that’s greater than what you already have in His love. There’s nothing you can lose in telling the plain truth that’s greater than what you’ve gained in His love.
What tempts you to dissemble? How might you apply the gospel to your heart so that you can give up this futile, cancerous ruse?