The Importance of Truth
Integrity in Our Speech
“But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or No, no;’ anything beyond these is of evil.”
All of us say and promise things that we fail to fulfill. We make promises or statements but later retract them because they proved false. Christ is condemning in this verse not just the misstatements we make but the times when we deliberately deceive others with our words for our agenda and gain. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Christ does not dismiss the commands and laws given in the Old Testament. Instead, he elevates them by raising the standard to not only included our conduct but also to include our attitudes. Attitudes of indifference towards righteousness precede actions. Thus, Christ moves beyond what we do to how we think. We are not only to address those actions in our lives that violate God’s standard of holiness, but we are also to examine our attitudes.
In the Old Testament Laws, oaths were used to provide greater credibility in situations where truth was necessary, such as when a person is called upon to be a witness in a legal setting. Oaths were given when one wanted to convey the importance one placed on a person’s promises. Christ here is not condemning such pledges. Instead, he condemns those who seek to manipulate the truth to promote their agenda. However, the Rabbinic Tradition provided when one could break the oath without consequence. In other words, they offered a condition when someone could be less than truthful. They were making provisions for varying degrees of truthfulness and providing opportunities for someone to be deliberately less than honest.
In response, Christ examines our verbal statements and our attitude and motivation for what we say. In so doing, Christ raises the bar to a higher standard than even the Old Testament law. While the law dealt with the external actions when a person was not truthful, Christ moves to the inward attitude in which we distort the truth for our advantage to fit the narrative we want to covey. Sometimes we distort the truth to manipulate the circumstances to our advantage. We say things we have no intention of fulfilling, or we make promises we do not intend to keep. Sometimes, we distort the truth to fit the narrative we want to promote. For example, a politician might quote data that supports his/her agenda but conceals data that would contradict it. This has become so common that we no longer demand truthfulness from them and continue supporting them because they promote our agenda. However, character is more important than political gains.
Christ calls us to be people of the truth, people who uphold truth in all things. This starts with our attitude. When Christ states that we are to let our “Yes be yes, and our no, no, " he points us to the importance of integrity and truthfulness so that no formal declaration of an oath is needed. Truth is not what we manipulate but what we affirm. We are to uphold the truth and proclaim the truth, which stands in contrast to those who manipulate the truth to their advantage. We should maintain this standard in areas of life, from our business to our politics. In an age of distortion, we should be people of truth.