In this section of Scripture we’re in, Jesus explains the difference between what people of his day assumed the Old Testament law meant and what it really means. He’s making clear the underlying spirit of the law, as opposed to the literal interpretation that focuses on the letter of the law. This points to a “third way” pattern of living out the Kingdom of God that manifests the true meaning of God’s law.
This section of Scripture is set within a larger section where Jesus repeats the phrase, “You have heard it said, but I say to you …” With this, Jesus is explaining the difference between what people of his day assumed the Old Testament law meant and what it actually means. He is making clear the underlying spirit of the law, as opposed to the literal interpretation that focuses on the letter of the law. This points to a “third way” alternative pattern of living out the Kingdom of God that manifests the true meaning of God’s law.
This third way is rooted in the Greatest Commandment found in Matthew 22:36-40 which reads: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” The Law is ultimately about relationships with God and others.
When we apply the Greatest Commandment to the focus scripture from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is specifically pointing out how common ways of relating are hindering people from loving God and neighbor. Oaths were used to gain another person’s trust, but when they could not fulfill their promise they would find a loophole in their oath to get out of their commitment. With this confrontation of oaths, Jesus is exposing a transactional way of relating to each other, a quid pro quo interaction.
Jesus is challenging people to move into a covenantal relationship with others, which Paul Eddy defines as “committed, community-based, kinship creating, agape-love relationship.” In a simplified way, we might call it “love formalized.” This kind of relating should determine how we make commitments to others, or as in this passage, how we make oaths.
Francis of Assisi states, “A life of integrity looks like this: it is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” Our walking in integrity preaches the good news of the gospel of God’s love. There are three ways that we can move in this direction.
First, we must recognize that we are all image bearers. Everyone we interact with is made in the image of God, and when we acknowledge this reality then we are more apt to treat them in a way that aligns with it.
Second, we must admit that we are all broken. While we may aim to walk in integrity, we know that we fall short of this mark. We, therefore, must rely upon the grace of God to empower us to move in this direction. We can ask for forgiveness and offer grace to others as we fail together.
Third, we must remember that we are all beloved. Martin Luther King Jr described the beloved community in this way:
But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is not eros, a sort of esthetic or romantic love; not philia, a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends; but it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of men. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.
The way that we use our words can be used to live out the reality of the beloved community. Being a people of truth tellers demonstrates a third way that moves out of being transactional in our relationships and into covenantal living and loving so that we manifest integrity with those around us.
Hide Extended Summary