At this stage in our study of the Sermon on the Mount, we are analyzing six illustrations of Jesus’ main principle asserted in Matthew 5:17-20. Remember his principle and posture toward the law: “I have not come to overturn the Law of God, but to fulfill it.” However, he had come to correct and overturn the rabbinic baggage that has been added to the law. So far we’ve looked at three examples:
• First, a reference to the 6th Commandment concerning the sanctity of humans created in image of God where Jesus said and stressed positive aspects. Not only are we not to murder violently, but we are also not to hate or insult.
• The second and third examples were both derived from the 7th Commandment concerning the sanctity of sexuality where Jesus said and stressed positive aspect. Lust and divorce were instances that violated the inner recesses of the 7th commandment; not only lurid sexual affairs.
Now we move on to consider a fourth example that concerns the gospel of our language. “Again (v. 33) you’ve heard it said” demonstrates that this is another item in the series that generally follows the second table of the Ten Commandments. This teaching could also be thought of as gospel “stewardship” of language for two reasons.
• Positively to demonstrate how Christ says we are responsible to take care and precaution about our words. I wonder if conversation care might not be a larger contribution to human flourishing than creation care. Jesus teaches that every word is a pledge or oath. Words and speech are valuable commodities. We often take them for granted, but they are powerful and have great potential.
• Negatively, this emphasis would teach that stewardship is much more than “a money season” concern. It is not just finances but the whole of life that falls under the rubric of stewardship. Verbal communication is a precious gift of God. He even calls Jesus “the Word.” God believes the verbal is also ethical. Part of walking in the Spirit is to manage the good gifts God gives us. This commandment (and its ethical center) is the best guide and part of the gospel.
Throughout all of this it should become clear that the Beatitude-Christian or person described in the Beatitudes will not use speech to participate in any way that is not God-honoring. Rather Christians realize that each word we say is backed up by their character. Thus our speech should reflect truthfulness.
This text speaks of the sacredness of our word. It says that every “yes” and every “no” we utter is spoken absolutely and before God. We are elsewhere told that every word of ours is deemed so important that the Last Judgment will concern itself with them and will surprise us with a precise enumeration of every careless word we have uttered. Later in Matthew 12:34-36, Jesus will teach: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”