Community Group Study Guide — Becoming People of Integrity
Jesus reveals our need for a different kind of righteousness than just outwardly doing the right thing. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law were great at doing the letter of the Law and even going beyond it in their outward holiness. However, the missed the point and the heart behind God’s commands. In this section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-48), Jesus is teaching us the true intent of the Law of God to show our need for God’s grace and to change our hearts. Jesus calls his “a righteousness that exceeds the scries and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20).
Matthew 5:33-37 focuses in on the practice of giving oaths to validate the seriousness of one’s word. The Hebrew Scriptures commanded taking oaths and vows in certain circumstances, but the Hebrews would not use God’s name in fear of violating the 3rd commandment which says “you shall not take the name of the Lord in vain”. God’s intent in the 3rd commandment is to call us to holiness and realize that as his people we reflect his “name” which is another way of saying his character and reputation. Certainly we should not use profanity or God’s literal name flippantly, but there is something much deeper happening here.
Instead of reflecting on what it means to “bear” God’s name, the Pharisees created an elaborate system of what you could or couldn’t swear by and in the process they justified their ability to lie and misuse their words. The logic is that as long as they did not swear by God’s name or a “holy object” then it was not a binding oath. We know this because of Jesus’ comments in Matthew 23:16-22 where he condemns them for their twisting of their words to wiggle out of their commitments. It appears that they would make a promise by the temple but that it “was nothing”, however if they swore by the gift on the altar then it was binding. Going back to Matthew 5:34-36 we read Jesus telling the crowd that this sort of division, where you saw certain things being “holy” and other things being unimportant, was wrong. If they swore by heaven it was still God’s throne and therefore it had the same weight as using God’s name. Likewise the earth was his footstool, Jerusalem his city and even your head belongs to God. Jesus wanted them to understand that their words carried weight and significance even if they thought they could wiggle out of a promise if they swore by something other than God’s name. Their worldview allowed them to compartmentalize God and Jesus desires for us to understand that God is Lord of all therefore we should simply speak “yes” or “no” (Matthew 5:37).
What do we make of all this? The practice of taking oaths had been twisted to allow for people to use spiritual language to make their claims more serious and at the same time give someone wiggle room to not fulfill what they promised. The core sin Jesus is addressing is how one uses their words to manipulate others and build up their image. Jews in the 1st century appear to have been swearing by certain holy objects to add seriousness to their promises so they’d be seen more positively and therefore get what they wanted, but at the same time they had no intention of following through. God did not oppose oath taking or vows, he opposed using spiritual langue to puff up your image and to get out of being a person of your word.
God’s desire is for us to be truthful. To say you will do something but not follow through is sin. This passage should cause us to consider if we are people of integrity and how we use or misuse our words in everyday speech. Paul tells us that lying comes from our old nature and that we are to put off falsehood in order to speak truth to our neighbor because we are members of one another (Ephesians 4:22, 25). Our twisting of words and using them to build a false image of ourselves prevents us from rightly bearing God’s name and from having the friendship and community many of us long for.
God desires that we are whole hearted people who are changed inside and therefore live differently as we follow him. This means that there is consistency in our heart, life and speech wherever we are.
Think about all your most important relationships. It goes without saying that each one of those relationships is marked by honest and trust. Likely you do not feel a need to elevate your image with boasting or vain speech. It is also likely that you are ready to mean what you say and do what you say. Jesus’ focus on oaths here is a way of showing us the value of integrity in all that we say or do and how that leads us to grow in our love for him and love for one another.
Jesus calls out how we can use our words and spiritually sounding language to manipulate others or control our image. Jesus invites his followers to pursue being people of integrity which leads to a growing love for God and love for others in friendship and community.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Matthew 5:33-37
Jesus refers back to a group of commands when he said “You have heard it said…” Read Exodus 20:7, Leviticus 19:11-12, Numbers 30:2 and Deuteronomy 23:21. What is Jesus trying to say about the practice of taking oaths in Matthew 5:33?
Based on the sermon, scripture and study guide, how did the people of Jesus’ day abuse this practice of thing oaths? What was their goal in making an oath and how would they get out of it?
Can you think of modern examples of someone using their words in a similar way?
Read Psalm 15 and Ephesians 4:22-25. How do these passages describe a person of integrity do and how does it impact our worship and community?
Jesus tells his followers in Matthew 5:37 to let what they say be simply “yes” or “no”. He is showing us that people of integrity do not need to try and elevate what they say or make an elaborate promise like the Pharisees did. What would it be like if you could fully trust everyone you meet to speak the truth all the time?