Matthew 5:33-37 : How to Live with Integrity


Driving my car took on a new dimension this week after hearing about the adventures of one couple pulled over by the motorway police. The police officer asks the man to step out of the car and show him his licence. "Did you realize you were doing 85 miles an hour back there?" The man says, "Officer, that would be impossible. I’m the most law-abiding driver you’ve ever seen. I never exceed the speed limit, no matter my circumstances."

The policeman leans through the open window of the car and asks the wife, "Is that true?" "No Officer, it’s not, he drives like a maniac, he speeds wherever he goes, his driving scares me to death." The policeman writes out a ticket. Then he says, "And I also noticed you didn’t have your seat belt on sir.”  “Officer,” the man replies, “with all due respect, I value life too highly. Buckle up, that’s my motto."  

The policeman looks in through the window again and asks the wife, "Is that true?" "Are you kidding? I’ve never seen him even wear the thing, you’d probably find cobwebs on his seat belt." The policeman begins to write out another ticket.

The man leans in through the window and screams, "Woman, what are you trying to do to me? Keep your big fat nose out of my business!" The officer bends down a third time and asks, "Ma’am, does he always talk to you like that?" “No” she replies, "only when he’s drunk." 

Yes, telling the truth may get you into trouble.  But as shall see this morning, not telling the truth will get you into even bigger trouble.  Could you function if you always had to tell the truth? 

Someone who had to come to terms with this question was Fletcher Reede, the slick lawyer played by
Jim Carrey in the movie “Liar, Liar.” Fletcher doesn’t have much of a problem in bending the truth a little (or a lot), whenever there’s a need for it. With a fib here and a fib there, everything goes Fletcher’s way until his always neglected son, Max, makes a wish upon blowing his fifth birthday candles, that for just one day his father wouldn’t be able to tell even the smallest lie. The wish comes true, and now whenever Fletcher opens his mouth, the only thing that comes out is the truth. Problem is, Fletcher doesn’t think he can function without the capacity to lie. In the scene we’re going to watch right now, Fletcher goes to Max’s school to discuss this situation with his son.

(Clip from Liar, Liar of when Fletcher shows up at school.)

So what do you think? Could you function if you always had to tell the truth?
Jim Carrey’s character couldn’t. And he didn’t realize it was a problem until his son told him how bad it made him feel. The truth is, truthfulness affects relationships. When we disguise the truth we are able to get the upper hand – able to obtain an unfair advantage –  able to abuse people – able to disappoint people – all for the sake of our own self interests.

Credibility gaps between what we say and do are not a new phenomenon.  They have existed since the Fall and have continually been one of the major hall marks of human society.  Satan, the prince of this world, is a liar himself. Indeed Jesus calls him “the father of lies” (John 8:44).  It should not be surprising that the system he heads is therefore characterized by lying.  

A recent New York Times article revealed that 91% of people regularly don’t tell the truth. 20% admit they can’t get through the day without conscious premeditated white lies…” (Matthew Rogers). 

What a contrast with the way
Jesus Christ spoke. No compromise with the truth. As we have already seen in this series “Challenging Lifestyles” based on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has shown us how uncontrolled anger, how unbridled sexual fantasy and easy divorce so easily destroy relationships. Now Jesus turns his attention to what is probably the most destructive force on earth - the tongue.

ts take a look at our passage in Matthew 5:33-37. Here it is in the contemporary Message translation.

“And don't say anything you don't mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I'll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don't make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.” (Matthew 5:33-37 : The Message)

In these five verses Jesus, first of all, reminds us of the original principle of Mosaic teaching - honesty was always part of God’s plan. Second He challenges the perversion of that teaching : dishonest oaths and promises. Third, Jesus re-emphasizes that integrity is a hall mark of Christ Followers.

1. The Principle of God’s Word : Honesty (
Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.” (5:33)

The traditional teaching
Jesus quotes here is based on the Mosaic law (Exodus 20:7, Leviticus 19:12, Numbers 30:2, and Deuteronomy 23:21).  He brings together two words. The first “false vows” means to perjure oneself, to swear falsely, to make false vows. The second “fulfill your views” literally means to enclose, as with a fence, or to bind together. The truth of an oath or vow is enclosed, bound, and therefore strengthened by that which is invoked on its behalf.  

Even a superficial reading of these commandments indicates plainly their intention.  Quite simply, they prohibit false swearing or perjury. They forbid making a promise and then breaking it. A clear description of an oath is given in the book of Hebrews: “People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.” (
6:16). “Stop in the name of the law”.

The name of something or someone gives greater credibility to what is said.  Any oath calling on God invites Him to witness the truthfulness of what is said or to avenge if it is a lie. “As God is my witness…” and “Gor blimee” or “God blind me”  are adult versions of this. “Cross your heart and hope to die” is one I remember from childhood.

John McArthur put is, “An oath was therefore generally taken to be the absolute truth, which made “puts an end to all argument” because it invited judgment on the one who violated his word. (Neh.10:29).”  That is why in the wedding service a couple acknowledge God as a witness. They promise to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, ending with the words, "according to God's Holy Law and this is my solemn vow."  Doing so recognizes and affirms a commitment to honor the special sanctity that God places on marriage. 

So the Old Testament principle is unambiguous. There is a place for swearing an oath to add emphasis to an important promise. But it is not a substitute, nor an excuse, for not telling the truth at all times. The Principle of God’s word : Honesty.


2. The Problem with Oaths : Deceit

Four students arrive late for their examination one day. They enter the classroom and solemnly tell their teacher they were detained due to a flat tyre. The sympathetic teacher smiles and tells them it is too bad they are late because they have missed the exam. But she is willing to let them make it up. She gives them each an exam paper and a pencil and sends them to the four corners of the room. She assures them they will pass if they can answer just one question. They turn the paper over to read the question. It has just two words…. “Which tyre?”

The Old Testament teaches that oaths may only be made in God’s name. Deuteronomy says, “You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him, and swear by His name” (Deut.
6:13; 10:20). The Pharisees got to work on these awkward prohibitions and tried to restrict them.


They developed elaborate rules for the taking of vows that allowed an escape clause, that provided small print to the shrewd and enterprising.  But vows with a missing ingredient - integrity. People could now declare anything and promise anything with an oath, while having no qualms about lying or breaking their word because it was not in God’s name but something close like heaven or the temple.  Long gone are the days when a hand shake would seal a contract, when a gentleman’s word was his bond.

Even in a court of law, placing one’s hand on the Bible and declaring “I swear by Almighty God to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God,” is no longer a guarantee that the truth will be heard.  A signature on a marriage certificate, on a cheque, a contract or HP agreement is no longer a guarantee.

Nicky Gumbel records the results of a Sun newspaper ‘truth searching survey’ to find out more about the minds, hearts and integrity of its readers. The newspaper was ecstatic to discover that only 22% of readers would kill a partner for cash, and a mere 38% of male Sun readers would let their wives earn money as a prostitute. “Congratulations’ blazed the caring Sun. “We have always known it, but now we have the evidence. You Sun readers are decent, honest, caring and trustworthy. You are loyal workers, faithful lovers, caring members of the community.”  

We live in a society characterized by one word “Fudge”. Do you know where the word comes from? The word 'fudge' comes from a certain sea captain Fudge, commander of the Black Eagle. He became notorious for telling all kinds of lies, tall tales and exaggerations about his improbable adventures at sea. His ship was apparently used for transporting Quakers, forcibly transferred from Newgate prison in August, 1665. A few months later when 19 of the prisoners and 8 of the crew died of the plague, the crew mutinied and Fudge was arrested for debt. By the mid-1800’s the expression “no fudging” was being used in America by children to dissuade friends from cheating at marbles.  We use it today to describe someone misrepresenting or being economical with the truth. I was going to say we named our cat after him but that would be a….fudge.

Bill Hybel’s puts it like this: “Lets face it, at one time or another everyone is tempted to fudge a little. None of us is totally honest all the time. We occasionally exaggerate. We tend to break our commitments from time to time. We can trace this kind of misbehaviour all the way back to the opening scenes of the Bible, when Adam fudged by blaming Eve for the way they had violated God’s command… Ever since the earliest days in human history, the world has feasted on fudge. Sadly, we still do.”  The Principle of God’s Word : Honesty. The Problem with Oaths : Deceit.

3. The Pattern for Christ Followers : Integrity (5:34-37)
But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, “Yes, yes” or “No, no”; and anything beyond these is of evil. (5:34–37)


“Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ says Jesus. When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.” Jesus point here is very, very profound. God does not acknowledge separate categories of sacred and secular.  All truth is God’s truth, just as all creation is God’s creation. So every lie therefore is a lie against God, and every false promise in some way dishonors His name.  “Life cannot be divided into neat water tight compartments. We cannot use one kind of language in the Church and another kind in the office. There cannot be one kind of ethics in the Church and another kind in the business world.” (John MacArthur)


That is why John Maxwell’s new book is so challenging in the business world “There is no such thing as ‘Business’ Ethics”. God is everywhere and in every activity of life. He hears not only the words which are spoken in his name … he enters every conversation.  All promises as sacred because all promises are made in the presence of God.  Truth has no degrees or shades.  A half truth is a whole lie, and a white lie is really black.

Why is integrity so important?  Because it affects our relationship with God

God is a holy God and calls us to be holy. God desires from us all “truth in the innermost being” (Ps. 51:6). Among the things He especially hates is “a lying tongue” (Prov. 6:16–17). Indeed the destiny of liars is the lake of fire (Rev. 21:8). So if we care about our eternal destiny, let our words be, “Yes” or “No”. Because it impacts our relationship with God.

Because it also affects our relationship with one another

I’m reading Andy Stanley’s book, Visioneering” at the moment. In it he says this:

“Moral authority is the critical, nonnegotiable, can’t-be-without ingredient of sustained influence… Moral authority is the credibility you earn by walking your talk. It is the relationship other people see between what you say and what you do, between what you claim to be and what you are.” He goes on to say,

“Nothing compensates for a lack of moral authority: No amount of communication skills, wealth, accomplishment, education, talent or position can make up for a lack of moral authority.” He observes,

“We will not allow ourselves to be influenced by those who lack moral authority in our eyes. Inconsistency between what is said and what is done inflicts a mortal wound on a leader’s influence. For this reason, moral authority is a fragile thing. It takes a lifetime to earn. But it can be lost in a moment. And once it is lost, it is almost impossible to restore.”

How do we grow in integrity? Three ways:

1. Acknowledge the struggle to integrate words and actions

Reflect on this list and think about how easy it is to make statements that are simply not true. Then think about how you feel when someone says them to you.

  1.             I promise
  2.             I’ll pay you back tomorrow
  3.             It will only take a minute of your time
  4.             I’ll call you back
  5.             This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you
  6.             Its finished and sitting on my desk
  7.             The cheque is in the post
  8.             I’ll be praying for you
  9.             I mean this sincerely
  10.             Trust me

Ever had one of these said to you and you doubted it? How did you feel? Ever said it and not meant it? Acknowledge your struggle to integrate words and actions.

2. Admit wrong doing and swiftly ask forgiveness

Ask God to show you ways in which you have begun to tell lies and bend the truth to suit your own desires. Confess those occasions when you have hurt people, when you have disappointed people, when you have broken your word.

Corrie Ten Boom, in her autobiography "The Hiding Place" says "The blood of
Jesus never cleansed an excuse."  Confess it instead to God and also to those you have wronged. God is a promise-keeper kind of God. He never lies. We can have “rock-solid” confidence that God will always keep his promises to cleanse, to forgive and to help us speak the truth in love. 


3. Commit yourself to truth telling

Someone once said, “Reliability builds credibility”. Ann Hibbert says in Life at Work journal, “The test of character comes when being truthful endangers what you want”. King David put it like this, “Lord, who may live in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?”... “He whose walk is blameless… who keeps his oath even when it hurts.” (Psalm 15:1, 4)

John Maxwell offers ten rules of respect which he recommends we commit ourselves to live by and ask others to do the same. I invite you to commit yourself to integrity by living by them. To speak to others and about others in these ways:

1. If you have a problem with me, come to me (privately).

2. If I have a problem with you, I’ll come to you (privately).

3. If someone has a problem with me and comes to you, send them to me. (I’ll do the same for you.)

4. If someone consistently will not come to me, say, “Let’s go see him together. I am sure he will see us about this.” (I’ll do the same for you.)

5. Be careful how you interpret me – I would rather do that myself. On matters that are unclear, do not feel pressured to interpret my feelings or thoughts. It is easy to misrepresent intentions.

6. I will be careful how I interpret you.

7. If it’s confidential, don’t tell. If you or anyone else comes to me in confidence, I won’t tell, unless (a) the person is going to harm themselves, (b) the person is going to harm someone else, (c) it involves a child who has been physically or sexually abused. I expect the same from you.

8. I do not read unsigned letters or notes.

9. I do not manipulate; I will not be manipulated; do not let others manipulate you. Do not let others try and manipulate me through you.

10. When in doubt, just say it. If I can answer it without misrepresenting something or breaking a confidence, I will.

Think how our integrity and credibility would grow, how our relationships would be improved if we loved one another in this way. Bill Hybells says, “God’s concern is that we become habitual truth-tellers.” what ever the cost. What ever the cost, it will not be at the expense of our integrity nor the honour Jesus will bestow upon us when we meet him.

So lets do it. Lets make every word we speak a truthful word, unadorned and unqualified.  May our words be as good as our signature.  Lets mean what we say and say what we mean. What ever the cost.  What a revolutionary impact that will have on our integrity, on our reputations and above all on our witness.

Closing Prayer

“Lets have a moments silence and then I will offer a prayer. “Lord of love, are there people I have been hurting and disappointing because I have been consistently breaking my word? God of truth, are there areas of my life in which I have begun to tell lies and bend the truth to suit my own desires? Please show me if this has been happening. Make me humble to hear your voice and be willing to change.” (Bill Hybels) In Jesus name, Amen.

If God puts a person on your heart and convicts you of the need to ask for his or her forgiveness, do this as soon as possible. It might be a spouse, a child or parent, a friend or coworker. Whoever it is, go to that person with a broken heart and ask his or her forgiveness for the ways you have betrayed trust through breaking your commitments. Let them know that you want a restored relationship and that you will be seeking God’s strength to become a person who keeps their word in every situation.” (
Bill Hybels).


I am grateful to Andy Stanley, Matthew Rogers, John McArthur, Nicky Gumbel, Don Carson, Bill Hybels and John Stott for material used in this sermon. Also with grateful thanks to for their excellent resources and ideas.