Honesty: Yes or No is Enough

This week we focus on honesty as a subset of integrity – one of our three School values. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:33-37) Jesus teaches about taking oaths. He teaches that we must not make promises we cannot keep and concludes the lesson by imploring his followers thus: “Let your yes be YES. Let your no be NO.” James echoes the words of our Lord in his epistle saying: But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment (James 5:12).

The issue Jesus is addressing here goes to the very core of a person’s character – to the heart of what it means to live as a child of God.

We live in a culture in which the truth is often the first casualty of interactions between people. We have an incredibly elaborate system of lawyers, contracts, laws, and binding signatures to ensure that we do what we say we will do, at least when it is perceived to be important enough. Sadly, none of it makes people any more truthful. In fact, most people don’t even believe truth is an objective reality!

Jesus presents us with a standard of truthfulness that is infinitely higher than the standards in our cultures. In the Old Testament, oaths were to be used for affirming important matters, not trivial matters, and they were to be true. They were used to resolve disputes, to seal agreements or covenants, or simply to affirm the truthfulness of important declarations. The same principles inform our present day court systems.

Jesus entreats us to be honest, to shun lies. At the core of this lesson in the Sermon on the Mount is the reality that God sees straight into our hearts. He sees the nastiness and deceit in our hearts when we swear whilst fully aware that we are not telling the whole truth. God is the only lie detector with 100% accuracy! The righteousness that comes from God cares infinitely more about what God sees than about what people see!

Our “Yes” must be yes and our “No” must be no. No oath can make that so. Being believed is nothing. Being a truthful person before God is everything.

The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy. (Proverbs 12:22)