“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:33-37 ESV)
As I was reading Bonhoeffer’s comments on this my mind went back to my experience on a jury. Isn’t it odd that every witness is sworn in and publicly commits to telling the truth? However, in the jury instructions, we were told that our role as a jury was to determine the truthfulness of the witnesses. In fact, much of the testimony was contradictory. That cannot be if everyone on the witness stand was telling the truth. So, the obvious assumption by the court is that regardless of their oath at least some of the witnesses are going to lie.
There is no truth toward Jesus without truth toward other people. Lying destroys community. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, (Ephesians 4:15 ESV)
To be a disciple of Jesus I must recognize that I am a sinner and can only be in relationship with Jesus because of His love, sacrifice, and forgiveness. His love is unconditional in that I have not and cannot do anything to earn it. Most of the time my attitudes and actions create more debt and increase the impossibility of earning love. Still Jesus loves me and demonstrated this in being willing to go to the cross to pay for my sins, my debt. Having accepted this incredible gift I can live forgiven, but the cross should remind me of my debt that has been paid. This is the truth. The cross is Jesus speaking truth in love.
How does this work within community? Not very well in my limited experience. We struggle to tell each other the truth because we have difficulty dealing with the truth of our relationship with Jesus. I want to believe that if I fully recognized my sinfulness and Jesus’ forgiveness, that this would enable me to speak the truth to someone else about their sin toward me in a spirit of love, sacrifice, and forgiveness. Love says that I care more about you and our relationship than I care about my rights or my hurt. Only this kind of love can motivate sacrifice and sacrifice is the essence of grace. I not only release you from repayment, but do something to make you better and to create the opportunity for an even stronger relationship. When I both speak the truth about how you hurt me and communicate my forgiveness through words and action I break down the barrier that was created by your sin toward me. Without the truth and forgiveness the barrier remains and we move further apart.