Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Matthew 5:33-37; Acts 6; Psalm 12; Genesis 27-28
The passage in Matthew falls within the list we started two days ago where Jesus contrasts how Old Testament commands had been misinterpreted with how they should be applied. The overall contrast is between those who externally obey the laws while internally failing to follow their deeper meaning. This leads to hypocrisy, and highlights the importance of intentions and motivations in ethics.
In the fourth contrast, Jesus addresses the swearing of oaths and keeping one’s word. In the Old Testament, people could swear on the Lord’s name to show their commitment to be faithful to what they had promised (e.g. Numbers 30:2). In Jesus’ time, some were distorting this to claim that if someone wasn’t serious about keeping their promises, they could swear by something other than the Lord. Jesus tells his disciples not to swear at all, but to be true to their word. They should be truthful and honest so that their words are believed without an oath. Jesus is not outlawing oath taking, as he himself testified under oath (Matthew 26:63-64) and Paul swore on God’s name (Galatians 1:20). Jesus cuts to the core of the issue, pointing out that his disciples should be of such integrity that people know they are dependable and trustworthy.
In contrast to this, Genesis 27 exemplifies the negative impact of lying and deception. Some have questioned why God would honour the firstborn blessing that Jacob deceptively obtained from his father. However, prior to this story, Jacob had purchased the birthright openly and honestly from Esau (Genesis 25; Hebrews 12:16). Rebekah and Jacob were obviously deceptive about the blessing, but no one involved was completely innocent. Everyone knew it was God’s plan to have Jacob inherit the blessing, not Esau (Genesis 25:23). Isaac tried to go against God on this, and Esua kept his father in the dark about having already sold his birthright and sworn it away (Genesis 25:33). Even after Jacob’s deception is revealed, Esau does not disclose the truth to Isaac (Genesis 27:36).
In spite of God announcing his plan, the others tried to control the situation to their own ends. God’s plan was accomplished, while the deception led to hurt and pain. Esau held a grudge against Jacob that ruined their relationship. Jacob had to leave his family, never getting to see his mother again. This must have pained her as he was her favourite son.
Deception undermines the trust that relationships are built upon. We can trust God because his words are true (Psalm 12). His character is one of honesty and fidelity, and such traits should likewise characterise those who follow God.