The Big 10: Swear to God

Welcome back to our journey through the 10 Commandments! We’ve already looked at the first two commandments. Now God continues with the 3rd commandment.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

How many of you have ever been taught that the commandment means “Don’t have a potty mouth” swearingand don’t swear and curse. But it’s not about profanity. It’s about making oaths and promises.

At some point, most of us have been lied to by someone. Sometimes the liar declares with total conviction that he’s telling the truth. Have you been in a situation like that? You don’t believe the story and they tell you, “SWEAR TO GOD!” In the military, Sailor’s stories often start with, “I s*** you not.” Military member’s stories are less believable than any other stories – maybe only 20%!

Just because someone says, “Swear to God!” doesn’t mean that their words are going to be true. They can say that and still tell you lies. I asked some people about jobs that have reputations for being filled with liars: lawyers, contractors, politicians… It’s impossible to go through an election season without hearing both sides declaring the other guy is a liar! “He’s a lying lying-pants.”

I genuinely believe that most politicians are not trying to deceive the public. I think that they hear and believe spin and then repeat bad info without ever hearing the truth. Then they sully their name with “lies.”

Dale Carnegie talks about the power of the name. Our names are the most important word in our language. If you have an unusual name or a name that’s spelled or pronounced oddly, how do you respond when people say it incorrectly? Or when people are writing your name and misspell it? Like having the last name Linzey with no “d” and no “s.” Or when telemarketers call for my wife…

When I was in Chaplain School we had a Nigerian national whose name was 6 syllables long . Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants would approach him, look at his name, and resort to simply calling him “Chaplain O.” They would never learn how to say his name. In his culture it was an insult.Name He took it as an insult every time someone refused to learn his name, so I took it upon myself to learn his name and the proper pronunciation. When I said it his eyes got wide and his jaw dropped open.

The name of God is more important. God is saying, “Don’t take my name lightly. Don’t think you can throw my name around in your lying and in your declarations. My name is not cheap. My name is not dirt – don’t treat it as such. My name is holy. My name is sacred.”

He’s saying, “Don’t use my name to add weight to your words.” That’s what oaths are all about. It saying that our words alone are not trustworthy, so we give them added weight. “I swear….” If that’s not enough we’ll swear on the Holy Bible. As though throwing God into the mix will increase the truthfulness. Have you ever heard, “Swear on a stack of Bibles!” As though each Bible increases the truthfulness of your statements. If we have to swear on a stack of Bibles to convince people, what does that say about all of the other words that come out of our mouths?

It tells me that we’re untrustworthy people. It tells me that people think we’re full of it – that people think we’re habitual liars unless we swear on a stack of Bibles. Don’t use God’s name. It really comes down to our character and our honor. Deuteronomy 25:13-16 says:

Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.

The scales were used to buy things. Some shop owners would put bogus weights on the scales to make the cost seem greater than it should be. But God is calling us to live a life that is so sparkly that resonates with honesty in every fiber that nobody EVER requires us to swear any kind of oath.

Even kids learn early on: “Do you pinky-swear?” Why the pinky? pinky-swearWhy not the thumb? Who knows. What about “Scout’s honor”? Is if my credibility as a Scout gives my words MORE weight than normal. Why do we swear? To give our words weight. Even the Apostle Peter, when being accused of being a follower of Jesus, swore that he wasn’t part of Jesus’s crowd (Matthew 26:72; Mark 14:71).

We are people who will swear false oaths to protect ourselves from trouble. Sometimes we do it to manipulate others (used car salesmen, anyone?). We make all sorts of oaths, but it all comes down to adding credibility to our words because we feel that what we’re saying isn’t trustworthy enough. It’s a problem when we feel we have to call God in to lend weight to what we’re saying.

Integrity matters. Character matters. Why? 1) God is a person of integrity and character, so we need to be. 2) Relationships thrive on honesty and integrity but shrivel up and die without it. In marriage, it means that your spouse believes your behavior when you’re by yourself is the exact same as it would be if he/she were right beside you. That’s integrity. Honesty and integrity breeds trust.

People will never have to wonder or question our words when we live lives of integrity and honesty. How do we live swear-free lives (not profanity, but integrity)? It comes down to a yes/no lifestyle. Jesus says in Matthew 5:33-37:

Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Jesus says don’t try to back up your words with something stronger. You’re saying that you’re not normally trustworthy, so you’re bringing in your big guns. Jesus says it’s not supposed to be that way. We’re supposed to live lives of honesty and integrity that does not throw around God’s name lightly. No oaths necessary. You should know that my character backs up my words.

I want to be known as a person of honesty and integrity. This world trains us to gloss over the truth. We are okay with “partial truths” and “white lies.” We train ourselves to be dishonest. We must start living a yes/no lifestyle. Forget about oath-making, just live honestly. “Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to it, to an agreed upon standard.”

Practice being honest in the little things. Practice being honest in the big things. No promises and oaths needed – we just live as people of our words in everything we say and do. When we become people of integrity, people will notice. They will take our words seriously. Don’t misuse the name of the Lord. Instead, live a life of honesty, regardless of the consequences. Let us be trustworthy people.

Questions for Reflection

  • Am I a person of integrity?
  • Can people trust my words or do I need to add weight to convince people?

Free Food Stamps for Everyone!

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of my favorite uses of Google is as a dictionary. I simply type: “define __________ ” and fill in the blank with whatever word I want defined. Today I typed: define integrity. This is what I got:

the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.

It’s about honesty. I would add that integrity means that quality of character that acts according to principles even when no one else is watching. Integrity is being consistent in our moral behavior. Just because I can get away with something does not mean that I should do it. Integrity says, “I know that I shouldn’t be doing this, so even though I could, I won’t.”

This week a lot of people had the opportunity to display integrity. Many failed. It seems that there was a system glitch that oversaw the EBT debit cards (food stamps) in Louisiana. For a brief time the cards had no limit—none. When people found out many flooded Wal-Mart and other supermarkets. Some people went to check out with multiple shopping carts filled to overflowing with groceries!

Free Food Stamps Glitch

Let’s be honest – the people who took advantage of the glitch did nothing legally wrong. They were using the cards that had been given them. The glitch was not their doing (in a funny sidenote, Wal-Mart is blaming Xerox and Xerox turned around and is blaming Wal-Mart!).

While there was nothing illegal going on there was most certainly an issue of honesty and integrity. Just because a glitch allows you to do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Every one of those people knew better. But when the restraints were removed there was no personal integrity to say, “Wow, what a funny glitch! I’m not gonna be a free-rider and take advantage of this.”

The Bible talks about integrity:

The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me. Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous—you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God! (Psalm 7:7-9)

Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways. (Proverbs 28:6)

This post is not at all about poverty or social justice. I’m not opposed to the “haves” making sure that the “have nots” receive help. But this story does illustrate a human problem – when we think we can get away with something we will often do things we KNOW to be wrong.

Our issues may not be with food stamps. But we have other hidden issues that we wrestle with when we think no one is watching, when we feel like we can do it without consequence or repercussion.

Instead, let’s strive to be people of integrity. Let us live up to a quality of character that acts according to God’s principles even when no one else is watching.

Integrity.

Live it.