Mar 13 - When My Word Is Not My Bond

When My Word Is Not My Bond

March 13, 2016

Matthew 5:33-37

 

 

WHEN MY WORD IS NOT MY BOND

March 13th, 2016

Matthew 5:33-37

 

Back in 1985, the Pittsburgh Press reported that a man, arrested for trying to drown his wife, insisted to the police that he was trying to save her by lobbing rocks at her as she struggled in the river.  “I was trying to drive her back to shore,” he told them. 

 

As you can imagine, that was a terrible attempt at an alibi.  The police knew right away that he was lying through his teeth. 

 

How do we lie?  We lie outright and blatantly.  We shade the truth.  We tell little white lies.  We exaggerate or minimize the truth.  We omit certain aspects – hiding the whole truth.  We give hints that are meant to deceive or hide the truth.  Even remaining quiet to perpetuate an untruth is a form of lie.

 

Why do we lie?  We lie to protect others.  We lie to protect ourselves.  We lie to gain control over a situation.  We lie to make ourselves look better.  We lie to avoid an uncomfortable situation.  We lie when we gossip, when we complain, when we are negative and critical, because our own negativity shades the truth.  We lie because we tell others what we think they want to hear.  We lie to manipulate others.  We lie to avoid situations.

 

The reality is that we all lie.  Studies have found that children begin to lie at about age 3, usually to conceal misdeeds.[1]  In 1996, researcher Dr. Bella DePaulo found that people lied in about 30% one-on-one interactions and in 1 out of every 5 interactions lasting over 10 minutes.[2]  Lying is a universal human condition, although research has also shown that a large number of people lie relatively little, while about 8% lie all the time.[3]

 

Because lying is so common, it shouldn’t surprise us that from time to time we sometimes want to swear an oath to emphasize that we’re telling the truth, especially when someone is prone to doubt us. 

 

We pinky swear, we cross our hearts and hope to die, we swear on our mother’s grave, we swear by all that is good and right, or we swear on the Bible, or maybe even a stack of Bibles.  

 

In a court of law we are told to swear an oath, promising to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.[4]  Politicians make an oath when they are sworn into office.  Military swear an oath of allegiance. 

 

The purpose of swearing an oath is to make a solemn promise before God, in the knowledge that if the oath is broken, this will incur divine punishment.  At one point, this was considered to be a huge deterrent to lying.  [However, in a secular society, where people no longer believe in divine retribution for their actions or words, swearing an oath really no longer makes any sense.] 

 

In the OT, we are told that various individuals swore by God’s name (1 Kings 2:23).  A common phrase was, “May God to do me such, and more,” by which a person wished horrible things, possibly death,[5] upon himself should he go against his word (Ruth 1:17; 1 Sam 14:44; 2 Sam 3:35; 19:14; 2 Kings 6:31).[6] 

 

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees still swore oaths, although they found silly ways of denying that some oaths were binding.  For example, they said that if someone swears by the temple in Jerusalem it isn’t valid, they have to swear by the gilded portions of the temple (Matt 23:16).  Or if someone swears by the altar, he doesn’t have to fulfill his oath, but only a person who swears by the offering on the altar is obligated to keep his word (Matt 23:18).  An oath made by heaven wasn’t binding, but one made by the throne of God in heaven was (implied in Matt 23:22).  You get the idea.   In Jesus’ eyes, all of this was deceptive, because ultimately any oath, regardless of the wording, is made before God (Matt 23:21-22).

 

Which brings us to our passage this morning, found in Matt 5:33-37.

 

You have heard it said to those who lived a long time ago: “Do not swear a false oath,” and “Keep what you have sworn to the Lord.”  But I say to you: “Never swear any oaths, neither by heaven, because it is the throne of God, nor by the earth, for it is his footstool, nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king.  Don’t swear an oath by your head, because you cannot turn one hair on it white or black.  Let what you say be simply, “yes” or “no”, anything more comes from evil (intentions).

 

In this passage, Jesus makes reference to two points about swearing as found in the OT.

 

First, those who lived a long time ago were told in the Law of Moses, particularly in Leviticus 19, that they were not to swear a false oath:

 

Do not lie.  Do not deceive one another.  Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God.  I am YHWH.                                    Leviticus 19:11-12

 

Second, the Law of Moses also points out that if someone makes an oath, they are obligated to fulfill it.  We see this both in Numbers and Deuteronomy

 

Keep what you have sworn:

 

When a man makes a vow to YHWH or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.            Numbers 30:1-2

 

With regard to vowing to God to do something or keep from doing something:

 

Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to YHWH your God with our own mouth.                                      Deuteronomy 23:23

 

In essence, Jesus speaks out against swearing an oath because it implies a double standard when it comes to speaking the truth.  In other words, it’s just as important to speak the truth during normal conversation as it is when taking a vow.[7] 

 

The whole point that Jesus is making is that regardless of the context of a conversation, his followers should be scrupulous in their honesty.  What that means is that Jesus’ followers should become more aware of the lies that they speak … and correct themselves when they find themselves speaking them. 

 

If we are prone to lie, then, those who notice it, will no longer trust us.  However, the more we tell the truth, the more we will gain the trust of others.  The more we tell the truth, the more we can stop pretending to be someone we are not, and become free to be ourselves and be accepted by others for who we really are.

 

Being honest, speaking the truth, in some way has to do with being a person of integrity.  If honesty is important to us, if we want others to tell us the truth, then we ourselves need to be the kind of person we want others to be. 

 

Integrity is more than just being honest.  It consists of a life of consistency and sincerity, with no deception or pretense. Integrity's overriding quality is wholeness. In fact, the word integrity is derived from the same root word as integer, meaning whole. In other words, no discrepancy exists between one's public life and one's private life.

 

The dictionary defines integrity as "the state of being whole, unimpaired, sound."  Doors can provide us with an analogy. 

 

Some doors are hollow-core. They have a cardboard core and a wood veneer on the front and back.  The door is not solid, in fact, if you wanted to, you could easily punch a hole in it.   

 

With other doors, you would break your hand if you tried to punch trough them because they have a solid core.  The veneer covers solid wood and both layers are connected into a sound, integral, solid door. 

 

People who possess integrity have something solid inside as well. Their insides and outsides are intimately connected. What you see is what you get.

 

Where my private and public persona overlap, that is where my integrity lies.  The larger the overlap, the greater my integrity; the smaller the overlap, the greater my lack of integrity.

 

Integrity is not the same as my reputation.  The opinion that others may have of me may be completely wrong, especially if they only see my public persona when that persona is very different from my private one.  

 

Integrity is also not the same as success.  Just because we are successful, or just because we have accomplished something in one area of our lives, does not mean that we are people of integrity.

 

No, integrity really consists of the sum total of our being and our actions – if what we profess and how we conduct ourselves match up.  If what we say we believe lines up with how we behave.  If our character corresponds to our confession. 

 

So integrity is not so much something we have, as it depends on who we are.  So we are people of integrity or we are not. 

 

If we lack integrity, we may be able to hide that from others for a certain period of time.  In fact, we may even be able to fool people for years into thinking that we are someone we’re not.  However, over time we will likely be exposed for who we really are.  Why?

 

For one, we can’t fool those closest to us.  They see the real “us” because they have to live with us.  And they may not always be willing to keep quiet about it, or put up with us, or enable us to continue to fool others. 

 

For another, our real self may just slip out at times.  So usually time will tell whether or not someone is a person of integrity – much like an unsound structure will be exposed over time.

 

I’ve listed 10 character traits that mark out a person of integrity.  A PERSON OF INTEGRITY IS:

 

1. Authentic.  What you see is what you get. Outer and inner are connected, parts of one whole.  A person of integrity is both authentic and genuine.

 

2. Reliable.  A person of integrity keeps promises and commitments.  If they say they will be there, they are. If they promise to do something, they do it.

 

3. Truthful. You can trust what they tell you.  (definition of irony:  I am a man of honour, a truthful person, a gentleman of absolute morality – Silvio Berlusconi)[8]

 

4. Consistent. Someone who has integrity isn't your new best friend one week and then next week doesn't seem to know you.

 

5. Responsible. A person with integrity accepts responsibility for his or her own mistakes or failures and does what's in his or her power to put things right.  No victim mentality that always blames another person.  No sense of entitlement. 

 

People with integrity are slow to blame others for their problems or frustrations or because life isn’t exactly as they would want. They don’t whine.

 

6. Ethical.  A person of integrity does what is right.  People with integrity have strong moral principles and high personal standards.

 

You see if someone is consistently bad, if they’re a terrible person at home and in public, they may be consistent, but you wouldn’t consider them to be a person of character or integrity. 

 

A person of integrity stands for what is right. And that doesn’t must mean what is politically right at any given moment in history, but what is right despite what the current societal values may be.  This is why it is so important for those who are followers of Jesus to be acquainted with what Jesus taught and did. 

 

Choosing to be real, honest, and to live with moral and ethical convictions is so important because it influences those around us, especially our children.  The greater integrity we have, the greater chance they will have to become people of integrity themselves.  The less integrity we have, the greater the chance that they will become people of integrity.

 

7. Diligent.  People of integrity want to do good work, and do not just care about personal gain in terms of money, recognition or advancement.  They want to learn in order to do better, not just get good grades.

 

8. Transparent.  Transparency is the ability to be open with regard to the issues of life and what is happening.  Doesn’t mean that a person of integrity will overshare, but they won’t hide behind an unapproachable veil of secrecy either.  This is especially important with those who are close to us.

 

9. Real.  Knows that substance trumps style, reality trumps image.  So perception is not all that matters.  Packaging is not more important than product.  Life is not all about managing others impression of oneself. 

 

10. Realistic.  Accepts the human condition.  People with integrity know that in this life it's not possible to avoid disappointing or hurting others. Because of this they are quick to apologize and able to extend forgiveness to others.

 

So, to turn this on its head, how can we tell that a person is not a person of integrity?  And to answer that question we can easily look at the opposite characteristics of what I’ve just listed:  Hypocritical people are …

 

Unauthentic,

unreliable,

deceitful,

inconsistent,

irresponsible,

unethical,

lazy,

secretive,

they focused on image or perception, and

they have unrealistic expectations of others.

 

While these are all important in pointing out a person who lacks integrity, I want to focus on individuals who are highly damaging, that is, where the public and private persona are very different, where hypocrisy turns toxic or abusive. 

 

To go back to the analogy of the door, the veneer hides the core of cardboard, there is a lack of cohesiveness, a lack of consistency, a lack of congruity about them.  In other words, there is a real danger that they cannot be trusted.

 

Three preliminary comments.  First of all, when we are starting to get to know someone, it’s very difficult to tell whether or not that person has or lacks integrity to the point where he or she is toxic or abusive.  They may appear charming, positive, engaging, intelligent, and interesting.  If this is but a veneer hiding the true person underneath, then we have known a person for a longer period of time before we can see the cracks in the veneer.   

 

So when we are just getting to know people, it may be a lot more important to notice how they treat the people close to them, than how they treat us.  Over time, it will become more apparent whether or not our first impressions are valid.

 

Secondly, all of us carry within us the potential to be hypocritical.  For one, we are all fallible and may want to cover up just how fallible we are.  We all miss the mark.  All of us at times will act contrary to our stated beliefs. 

 

For another, we may be carrying with us stuff from the past that may have damaged us and made us into hurtful, toxic, abusive people.  We may have been the spoiled brat who never had to do anything or the black sheep who could never do anything wrong. 

 

Regardless, we have the tendency not only lie to others, but to ourselves.  We can be blithely blind to our own faults, our own dysfunction, our own hypocritical behaviour, our own hurtful ways. 

 

So I think it behooves each and every one of us to ask ourselves if any of the following is true of us, not only if this is true of another person. 

 

Hypocritical People Become Toxic (Abusive) When They:

 

1. Are Highly Deceitful

 

Most individuals will exaggerate their good qualities at least a little, in order to make the other person to like or accept them.  A hypocritical person will actually put on a completely deceptive front.

 

“Oh, you’re religious?  Well, I’ve been feeling a bit more spiritual lately.”

“Oh, you like art?  Well, I’ve always wanted to go to an art gallery.”

“Oh, you are close to your siblings?  My brother and I are best of friends, we’re really close.”

 

Hypocritical people will pretend to be someone they aren’t.  That is why it is so surprising that the most charming individuals can turn into the worst abusers.    

 

Because hypocritical people have a fluid sense of self, it’s easy for them to put on a false face when they first meet someone – to become someone else.  However, if they are in a relationship for any time, then their real self that may be filled with resentment and anger will emerge.

 

2. Feel Entitled

 

Hypocritical people often have a sense of entitlement, that is, they feel that they deserve special consideration and special treatment.  This means that they will act inconsiderately or take advantage of others.

 

Driven by an unrealistic view about what they should get and what other people should do for them, the entitled feel chronically disappointed and offended.  So it seems only fair, from their perspectives, that they get compensation for their constant frustrations.  Special consideration seems like so little to ask!

 

Here's the logic: "It's so hard being me, I shouldn't have to wait in line, too!"

"With all I have to put up with, I deserve to take a few supplies from the office."

"With the kind of day I had, you expect me to mow the lawn?"

"All the taxes I pay, and they bother me about this little deduction!"

"The way I hit the golf ball, I should get the best seat in the restaurant!"

"I'm the man; you have to cook my dinner!"

 

Entitled people will regard their own feelings and desires as more important than the feelings and desires of others.  They will expect others to make them feel happy and fulfilled.

 

They will expect that they can dependent on others, to take care of everything for them in the home, to provide all the emotional support, to meet all of their needs, to be the perfect wife, husband, friend, partner, or child, because that’s what they deserve.  

 

3. Feel Superior

 

Some hypocrites need to feel better than others in order to feel good about themselves.  And so they point out ways in which they are smarter, more sensitive, or more talented than others.

 

They will make sure that they lower the self-esteem of others, in order to feel good about themselves.  They have to make others feel bad about themselves, by pointing out faults, denigrating, putting down, by saying things like, “he can’t do anything right”; “who would want you?”, “she’s such an airhead.” 

 

4. Are Verbally or Physically Abusive

 

This kind of abuse can take on a variety of forms.  Verbal abuse consist of saying things that are meant to be cruel or hurtful. It can also consist of degrading others, cursing at them, calling them names, or minimizing any of their accomplishments.  It is calling someone stupid or incompetent. 

 

Verbal abuse can be biting sarcasm.  More often than not, sarcasm is hostile and meant to devalue the other person. Sarcasm is meant to shake the other person’s confidence or to undermine their opinion.  Sarcastic people will use the inflection in their tone of voice to subtly put others down.  

 

Verbal abuse may also consist of threats. For example, "I'll tell your parents about your drug use if you don't do what I want." Or ,” I’ll slap you if you don’t stop.”  Healthy relationships do not involve threats.

 

Physical abuse can also consist of frightening another person into doing what the toxic individual wants.  This includes breaking objects, punching tables or walls, or throwing stuff in close proximity to the person who is to be intimidated. 

 

Beware of those who hurt animals. 

 

Physical abusers may end up hitting, pushing, shoving, and restraining a person. 

 

5. Blame others

 

Some hypocritical people will blame their negative feelings or bad luck on others.  And they may be vindictive, feeling justified in whatever retaliation they enact or compensation they take.

 

A blamer may say, "I hit someone in the past, but she made me do it." However, that’s a lie.  Nobody makes us do something.  Hypocrites will rarely admit the part they play if there’s a problem.  It is always the other person’s fault.  "I wish you didn't make me so angry."

 

6. Are Resentful

 

Feeling resentment is the result of feeling unfairly treated.  Resentful people feel like they are not getting the help, consideration, praise, reward, or affection they believe is due them.

 

The reality is that everyone has to put up with a certain amount of unfairness in life. None of us like it, but most of us will deal with it and move on; even as we try to improve our situations and our experiences.

 

Resentful people waste their emotional energy by dwelling on how unfair others are while remaining oblivious to the ways in which they themselves are unfair to toward others. 

 

Resentful people are so caught up in their "rights" and so locked into their own perspectives that they become completely insensitive to the rights and perspectives of others.

 

7. Are Petty

 

Some toxic hypocrites will make a mountain out of a molehill, they will focus on any small negative thing and make a big deal of it.  So food has to be prepared a certain way in the restaurant.  They get incredibly impatient in a grocery lineup.  They will criticize and diminish others for the smallest infractions, real or imagined.

 

They are easily insulted. The slightest setbacks are seen as personal attacks.  Everyday difficulties, such as getting a traffic ticket or not doing well on an exam, will be ranted over as if they were injustices. 

 

8. Are Hypersensitive and Explosive

 

One minute nice, the next, exploding over some triviality.  An explosive temper may be an attempt to controlling others by being unpredictable.   

 

 

9. Are Jealous and Controlling

 

At the outset, a jealous and controlling person will simply look uncomfortable when you talk or even look at someone else. 

 

But jealously can turn into obsession or a sense of possession.  A person may say that jealousy is a sign of love.  However, it really has to do with personal insecurity, possessiveness, and a lack of trust. 

 

A jealous person will frequently call or text, stops by unexpectedly, or monitor another person’s activities.   Jealous and controlling people will be angry if the other person is late coming back from an appointment.  They might take control of all of the money.  They may forbid their partner to go to church.  They may disapprove of the object of their jealousy working outside the home, going to school, or driving a car – anything that would create greater independence.

 

A jealous person may attempt to diminish and destroy the other person's support system.  Being close to family means being tied to the parents’ apron strings.  Friends will be considered trouble makers.  Jealous people will disapprove of the other person going out, visiting with, or even talking to parents, siblings, or other family members and friends.  They will seek to isolate in order to have sole possession and control over someone.

 

10. Rush Relationships

 

Toxic hypocrites do not want to respect the boundaries of others.  They don’t care about the other person’s feelings or comfort level.  They do not value others.  They often want to get involved sexually immediately.

 

In our secular society there is what I have heard call, “sexpectations,” that is, the expectation that even a first date will end in sex. 

 

Be aware when someone wants to pressure you into making a commitment after a very short time.  They may claim “love at first sight” or that they’ve never loved anyone as they love you. 

 

They will often rush marriage and use guilt to pressure the other person not to slow down their involvement or break it off.

 

By the way, I hear some individuals say that they only seem to attract angry and abusive partners.  That simply is a misconception.  The reality is that the gentler, more respectful individuals will respect barriers and boundaries that have been set up, and potentially settle for a non-romantic friendship.

 

However, the hypocritically toxic individual will completely disregards those barriers and boundaries, and keeps hitting on the person until his or her protective walls are broken down. 

 

On the one hand, we have to be aware of individuals whose true identity is far from their public persona.  On the other hand, I think we need to become more self-aware, if we display any of the signs of someone who is a toxic hypocrite, especially if we call ourselves followers of Christ.  Because ultimately the goal is not to remain in our dysfunctions, but to become better people.

 

If we want our “yes” to be “yes” and our “no” to be “no”, if we want to be people of integrity, if we want to avoid being hypocritically toxic, then we need to stop altering the facts to fit our views and start altering our views to fit the facts.

 

If we don’t alter our views to fit the facts, we likely alter the facts to fit our views.

Which is disquieting, if we realize that this keeps us from recognizing that we may be one of the facts that needs altering.


When all is said and done, we need to strive with our whole being to be a people of integrity.

 

WHAT MUST I START DOING

OR WHAT MUST I STOP DOING

IN ORDER TO BE A PERSON OF GREATER INTEGRITY?

 

 

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3483871/

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199704/the-truth-about-lying

[3] https://www.msu.edu/~levinet/Serota_etal2010.pdf; http://jls.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/04/03/0261927X14528804.abstract

[4] “Do you swear (or: solemnly affirm) that the evidence you shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”  Or: “Please repeat after me … I solemnly affirm that the evidence which I shall give in this case will be true; I will conceal nothing and no part of my evidence will be false.”  http://www.victimsinfo.ca/en/about-court/going-to-trial/courtroom-protocol/your-testimony

[5] “So” or “thus” may have indicated a gesture such as touching one’s throat, indicating one was deserving of death if the oath was not kept.

[6] Called self-imprecation

[7] In the US and Canada one can solemnly affirm rather than to swear an oath (only US president to do so was Franklin Pierce).

[8] Former prime minister of Italy under numerous investigation for corruption, tax fraud, embezzlement and bribery of both politicians and witnesses, and has been convicted of tax evasion.  He is known to have held sex orgies at his villa, to prefer minors, and has been investigated for child prostitution and was convicted once of paying an underage prostitute for sex.