Proverbs 19:16

Whoever keeps the commandment keeps his life; he who despises his ways will die (Proverbs 19:16). 

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:5).

In going through the Ten Commandments, as we are this summer, with each commandment we are implicitly confronted with a question: what is the relationship between obedience and our peace with God?  If we are saved by grace, and not by our obedience, then what is the purpose of the law?  Why would we bother going through the Ten Commandments anyway?

The proverb above is helpful in this regard, as is today’s reading from Romans 4 for those of you who are going through the One Year Bible.  Whoever keeps, or guards, the commandments guards his life.  The image is one of watchful care on the part of the one who would tend well to his life.  The association between the commandments and life is close indeed.  The proverb does not say that the commandment is his life, but it comes awfully close.  In the words of Psalm 119, “give me life in your ways” (119:37).

The law of God is life-giving because God created the heavens and the earth, and us.  From the beginning he established the world with an order that served life, and abundant life at that.  Each day God creates He orders—separating and gathering, ordering the world so that it is good, and in the end “very good.”  In other words, the boundaries are good.  For instance, the boundary between the land and the sea is good, and if that boundary is transgressed, destruction follows, as anyone who has experienced (or even seen a video of) a tsunami can testify.  Just as the boundary between the land and the sea sustains life, so does the boundary around a marriage.  “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is a guardrail, so that we can have life abundantly, in this case that a man may rejoice in the wife of his youth.  Just as a tsunami brings destruction and death, so likewise does adultery.  And the same is true of breaking any of God’s commandments.  The wages of sin really is death (Romans 3:23).

So what then is our relation to the law?  Perhaps it can be said this way—we are not saved by obedience, but we are saved for obedience.  Our peace with God is not through our obedience (which of us is obedient enough to merit peace with God?).  Rather, our obedience is the fruit of our peace with God.  Why would peace with God lead to our obedience?  Because when we believe that God has justified the ungodly in Christ, we learn to trust Him.  Love begets love.  Dying love begets dying love.  Believing that Christ laid down His life for me begets the desire to lay down my life for Him.  Yes, this desire can wax and wane.  Our growth in Christ is often uneven, and often far too sluggish.  But a Christian who believes that God has loved him with an everlasting love in Christ will desire to follow Christ.  He will want to love the Lord with all his heart.  He will want to keep the commandments.  He believes that God’s commandments really are for our good.  Paul’s logic becomes inescapable: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).  And while his obedience is sometimes halting and imperfect, he is never satisfied for it to be so.  Those satisfied to continue in sin, in hopes that grace may abound (Romans 6:1), simply show their lack of faith in the goodness of God.  In other words, they lack faith in God Himself.   

Why is our faith counted as righteousness?  Is it perhaps because that in the end faith all that God wants from us—to trust Him?  To love Him with all our heart, and therefore to love His image in others as well?  To trust that His love for us in Christ is an everlasting love, and that it is available to us apart from our deserving?  In the end, it’s not quite right to say we are saved for obedience, as if what God wants from us is simply compliance with His law.  Rather, God wants us.  We are saved for fellowship with and in Christ.  Which means we increasingly share His own heart, as we grow in Christ learning to love what He loves and hate what He hates.  We learn to delight in His ways (Psalm 1).

Those saved by Christ will obey.  Not because they believe that their obedience can win them salvation, but because they have come to believe that God’s ways are good because God is good.  Obedience is the fruit of faith.  

 

 

Proverbs 17:27-28

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.  Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent (Proverbs 17:27-28).

The Scriptures are full of warnings about our speech.  James spoke of the power of the tongue, writing that “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).  The proverbs speak of impending judgment coming upon the evil tongue: “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off” (Prov 10:31).  Jesus taught that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34; Luke 6:45), and that whatever we say in secret will ultimately be made public (Luke 12:3).  Trifling with the tongue is a serious matter indeed.

And therefore we don’t.  The proverb quoted above is full of practical wisdom: Keep your mouth shut.  Of course, this does not mean never to speak, for there are times when the Scriptures call us to speak, times when silence is sinful and destructive.  But there are also times to remain silent.  In fact, the proverb suggests that the time to be silent is probably most of the time. 

The call to remain silent is, of course, no small matter, precisely for the reason Jesus gave us—out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  Or, in the words of the proverb, “whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”  Our spirits—our tempers—are connected to our lips.   In other words, our lips willingly betray the content of our hearts.  Have you ever noticed how eager a hot-tempered person is to speak?  The cool in spirit, on the other hand, is content to be silent. 

Why would this be?  Let me offer several suggestions.  The cool in spirit is one who trusts God, that “vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30).  He knows that what is done is secret will be made public, and therefore is free from the impulse to defend himself.  The cool in spirit is humble, realizing he partakes of the same fallen nature as the one against whom he might lash out, walking in the frame of the Publican who prayed “Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:9-14).  He realizes that there is much he doesn’t know, particularly why certain people do what they do.  He realizes in the end that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and therefore does not seek to will himself into self-control, but rather seeks God, whose Spirit gives the power to walk in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22). 

And what of those with hot tempers?  Perhaps restraining our tongues can be a means of restraining our tempers.  That is not to say that we can simply, in our own strength, decide to walk in self-control.  Our flesh will not so willingly be tamed.  Again, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, as is the generosity of heart that seeks to see the best in people, realizing there is much we don’t know.  But a commitment to restraining our tongues is a way of drawing near to God, who has promised that when we do so, He will draw near to us (James 4:8).  In other words, restraining our tongues is also a prayer—that God will work in me the fruit of His spirit, bringing forth in me love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  It may well be a costly prayer, and hard won with much wrestling and perhaps tears.  But He will surely do it. 

1 Kings 12

I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread (Psalm 37:25). 

Wisdom is not always attached to age, for there are old men who remain foolish, and young men who are wise.  Whether one is young or old, the fear of the Lord remains the beginning of wisdom. 

Yet, for one who fears the Lord, great wisdom can be gained through years.  For instance, David in the psalm above testifies to the goodness of God toward the righteous, which he not only has expected from the word of God, but has observed in his experience with God’s people.  And that comes from years. 

In the 1 Kings 12 passage at hand, Rehoboam makes a mistake that is characteristic of our age, and apparently also of his.  Seeking counsel concerning how he should govern as a new king, he spurned the counsel of his elders, who instructed him to deal kindly with his people, and instead followed the counsel of his younger peers, who told him to rule with strict and stern discipline.  We know how it turned out.  He lost the kingdom.

Rehoboam’s loss will not surprise the wise.  One of the follies of youth is a confusion concerning where true strength lies, seeing the locus of true authority in the strength of the arm rather than in the kindness that is the fruit of love.  The elders understood this.  For my part, I am not convinced that the young men with whom Rehoboam consulted were altogether ill-intentioned.  They may well have thought that strength lies primarily in the resolution of the will, and that Rehoboam would be most effective as he brought strict discipline upon the people.    

I remember it well.  As a young father, having read several childrearing books (one in particular), I became convinced that raising children well was a matter of consistent discipline, and of establishing my authority as their father.  But it didn’t produce fruit of joy in the Lord.  I came to see that the fruit of the Spirit in the home—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, and self control (Gal 5:22)—was the foundation upon which raising children rests, and the atmosphere in which discipline and child training must take place.  I also learned that, at least for the flesh, walking in love and gentleness is far more difficult than administering strict discipline.  And far more effective.   Because true authority, and true strength, lies in love. 

Most of us, in one way or another, have arenas where we exercise authority.  Take heed to Rehoboam.  Otherwise you may well lose the kingdom. 

 

 

Psalm 137

 By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion (Psalm 137:1). 

How is Psalm 137 the word of the Lord?  After all, the psalm ends with a “blessing” that is odd, at the very least: “Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” (137:9).  How can a Christian, who likewise hears Jesus’ words to turn the other check and to love his enemies, see Psalm 137 as God’s word for him?

Let’s begin with a little context.  Psalm 137 is a psalm of the exile, the people of God having been taken away to Babylon, having been torn from home, Jerusalem now having been destroyed, including the temple which served as the place where they met with God.  Now in Babylon, they find themselves subjected to the mocking of those who uprooted their lives. “Sing us one of the songs from the old country!” their tormentors scoff. 

Psalm 137 is not a charge to kill the infants of one’s enemies.  I don’t even believe that is it a charge to hate or wish ill upon one’s enemies.  Yes, the Lord will deal with Babylon.  He does not turn a blind eye to the persecution of His people.  In what may well have been the basis for the psalmist’ words, Isaiah prophesies concerning Babylon that “their infants will be dashed in pieces before their eyes” (Isa 13:18).  But again, Jesus said to love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.  So how then do we understand the psalmist’s hard words?

First, we can appreciate that raw and unvarnished pain is laid bare in the psalms.  The psalms reflect life, and even our life with God: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?” (13:1), “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol” (88:3), “But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed” (89:38).  Have you ever taken such words upon your lips?  The Bible is not simply good principles for living, nor does it assume that life in God is free from deep struggle and pain.  Yes, the Scriptures call us to rejoice in the Lord (Phil 4:4), but that joy is a joy that must be fought for, and cannot be fought for if we deny the real pain that permeates this sinful and shattered world.  In other words, real joy is never superficial.  The psalms give us the freedom to come to God as we are.  For in the end, there is no other way to come.  There is a reason that the psalms provide great help to those who struggle mightily with doubt and despair. 

Secondly, I wonder if Psalm 137 somehow lays bare our own apathy.  For we too are exiles.  Created to walk with God and one another in unbroken fellowship in the cool of the day (Gen 3:8), having everything provided that we could need or desire (Gen 2), we believed the word of the serpent and decided that God really wasn’t good, and therefore fellowship with Him wasn’t worth it.  And so we were driven from the garden and exiled from God, now to live in a world where people mock and destroy and really do dash infants against rocks.  Yet, I wonder if one of the reasons we find this psalm confusing is that we aren’t overly bothered by the world in which we live.  Rather, we have become too friendly with the world, and don’t long for God, and the Home for which we were created.  If we never feel the kind of loss (and accompanying anger) felt by the writer of Psalm 137, perhaps it is because we are far too content in exile. 

The LORD God said to the serpent… I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring.  He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel (Gen 3:15).

 

Psalm 95

The Lord loves the worship of his people.  But he doesn’t need it.  We do. 

Psalm 95 gives a strong exhortation to obedience: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”  He goes back into the history of Israel to remind the people that their ancestors in the wilderness never entered the promised land because of their disobedience.  They tested the Lord, and died in the wilderness.  Of these people, the Lord said “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.”

Why did they disobey?  Let me suggest, based on Psalm 95, that their disobedience was rooted in their failure to worship.  Listen to the psalm—“Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!  Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving!”  Why?  “For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all Gods.  He made the earth, the mountains and the seas!  He is our God, our shepherd!  Let us worship Him!  (my paraphrase). 

Here is the foundation of obedience—remembering and delighting in God.  If we can remember that He made the heavens and the earth, and all who dwell therein, that He is the shepherd of His people, who cares for them—feeding them on green pastures, walking with them through the valley of the shadow of death, rescuing them from that which would cause them harm—then we will trust him.  And therefore obey.  And what is worship but remembering who the Lord is for us, and delighting in Him for that very reason. 

The reason that the people of Israel disobeyed in the wilderness was that they forgot who the Lord was, for them.  After all, could not the one who delivered them with signs and wonders from Egyptian slavery be counted upon to provide for them in the wilderness?  He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Oh, come, let us sing to the LORD. 

 

Ecclesiastes 3:7

A time to keep silence, and a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7). 

Standing before the high priest, false accusations being hurled at him from several directions, Mark records that Jesus “remained silent, and made no answer” (Mark 14:61).  Why?  Let me suggest two possible reasons.

Perhaps Jesus knew that speaking would make no difference.  One thing we know of Jesus is that he knew people.  In commenting on Jesus’ response to his popularity, particularly due to the signs he performed, John writes “Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25).  False charges are only trumped up by those who care nothing for the truth, only the blood of the one they accuse.  In other words, Jesus knew that if the will of a man was set, any defense of himself would fall upon deaf ears.  It was not a time to speak. 

Perhaps Jesus kept silence for another reason.  Returning to his prayer in Gethsamane, recorded just a few verses earlier, we read “And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.  And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.  Remove this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will’” (Mark 14:35-36).  Jesus is clear that his Father is able to remove this cup, but also is prepared for his Father not to do so.  He prays through the night, apparently rising with the knowledge that he will need to go through this dreaded hour: “It is enough; the hour has come.  The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Mark 14:41).  That being the case, perhaps Jesus’ silence is simply his submission to what he understands to be the will of his Father.  If so, there is no need to defend himself. 

Perhaps Jesus was silent due to a combination of these two reasons, or perhaps for another reason entirely (e.g. to full the Scriptures, such as Isaiah 53:7).  Of course we don’t know.  What we do know, however, is that Jesus was well aware that there are certain times to speak, and certain times to be silent. 

There are, of course, also times to speak.  How then can we know the time to speak and the time to remain silent?  Jesus prayed.  He remembered that God was his Father and was in control of all things, and in that knowledge surrendered himself to his Father’s will.  Apart from knowing God’s sovereign love and control, could Jesus have discerned well? 

 

 

 

Reading Old Testament Law

“Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.” And all the people shall say, “Amen” (Deuteronomy 27:18).

In the Old Testament, there are two basic types of law: apodictic and casuistic.  To say it more simply, there are general principles and specific cases.  Apodictic laws are general laws, such as those given in the Ten Commandments—keep the Sabbath holy, do not steal, honor your father and mother, and the like.  Casuistic laws are case laws, which deal with specifics.  The prohibition of misleading the blind cited above is an example.  

Both kinds of laws need to be interpreted.  For instance, the apodictic command “keep the Sabbath holy” generated all kinds of interpretive questions in Jesus’ time.  Is it OK to heal on the Sabbath?  What about the disciples eating the grain as they were passing through a field in the Sabbath?  What constitutes “work”?  To use another example, does the command to honor your father and mother lay an obligation upon children to provide for their parents in old age?  Jesus thought so, but apparently the Pharisees did not (Matthew 15).  Both knew the commandment, but differed on how it was specifically to be applied.  For these kinds of laws, we reason from the general to the specific. 

Casuistic commands need to be interpreted as well, but they go in the opposite direction.  Whereas the apodictic laws require reasoning from the general to the specific, casuistic laws require reasoning from the specific to the general.  For instance, if it is forbidden to mislead the blind, is it OK to deceive the deaf?  To put it that way makes plain the obvious.  Although deceiving the deaf is not explicitly forbidden, it is implicitly forbidden in the protection given the blind (although see Leviticus 19:14).  From the specific prohibition to misleading the blind we reason to the general prohibition of taking advantage of the vulnerable, whether they be the deaf, the lame, or the mentally ill.  (To take it a step further, the law for the blind is another way of calling for the people of God to actively bless the vulnerable, to “defend the fatherless and plead for the widow”—Isaiah 1:17).  Again, the law required the Israelite to install a parapet on his roof (Deut 22:8).  Yet the Old Testament says nothing about banisters or cribs.  The point of the parapet is to think ahead and order one’s home in such a way that people don’t experience unnecessary harm.  The parapet leads to the crib (or the like). 

The fact that both kinds of laws need to be interpreted does not mean that a law can mean what I want it to mean.  Interpretations are not up for grabs.  Yet, in cases where understanding exactly what a particular law means, perhaps the following will help: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12).

 

 

 

Deuteronomy 23-24

Deuteronomy 23—24

Laws of Love

And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:21).  

Love is very difficult to legislate, mostly because love flows from the heart.  Yet the Bible does legislate love.  Not only does it tell us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Lev 19:18), but it gives practical laws that lend definition to that commandment.  Consider the examples below. 

You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them.  You shall take them back to your brother (Deut 22:1).  This command isn’t so foreign—I suspect that I am not the only one occasionally to drive past a cow grazing outside the fence.  It is easy to see the cow as my neighbor’s problem, not mine.  The command here tells me that the cow is my problem because it is my neighbor’s problem. 

When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it (Deut 22:8).  Building codes are not just the stuff of modern county laws.  They are meant to protect our families and our neighbors by anticipating things that could reasonably go wrong.  The law of the parapet (much like the code requirements of banisters and deck railings) is a charge to look out for our families and our neighbors, and to seek their well-being to the best of our ability.  The principal behind the law is apparent, and applicable even to those who do not walk upon their roofs. 

If you go into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in your bag (Deut 23:24).  Here obligation is placed upon both the owner and the visitor of the vineyard.  The law implies that the owner is not to hoard the fruit of his vineyard, but must let his neighbor eat of it.  The neighbor, for his part, is simply to eat what he can eat, but not to hoard the fruit of another man’s labor by taking some home. 

When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not go into his house to collect his pledge.  You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you.  And if he is a poor man, you shall not sleep in his pledge.  You shall restore to him the pledge as the sun sets, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you.  And it shall be righteousness for you before the LORD your God (Deut 24:10-13).  It would be easy to think that, because my neighbor made a pledge, I am justified in going into his home and taking what is mine.  Or that it is my right to keep that pledge, even if he needs it.  The thinking would be wrong.  The Lord is serious about honoring the dignity of another, and about looking out for our neighbor’s need.    

These laws give practical definition to the command to love our neighbor.  I doubt they are given because the law of love is vague, but rather because, given our selfish bent and our corresponding desire to protect what we consider our own, it helps us to cut through rationalization and see what love looks like.  Although love can (and perhaps usually should) include feelings, love is not principally a feeling, but a determination to do my neighbor good.  The laws above, among others, simply give practical examples of that that looks like. 

As ever, we are our brother’s keeper.   

Matthew 8:16-17

Matthew 8:16-17

 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases” (Matthew 8:16-17). 

The verse above is full of hope, and yet at times misunderstood.  Matthew declares that Jesus’ healing the sick and casting out demons is done in fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4, which reads as follows: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isa 53:4-5). 

There is a teaching in the church that goes like this: as surely as Jesus has come to bear our sins, he has also come to heal our diseases.  Therefore, we can pray in faith that Jesus will heal our diseases when we come to him.  In other words, we have every right to expect, on the authority of Matthew 8:17 and Isaiah 53:4, that God will cure a cancer for the asking.  For if he didn’t come to deal with our sicknesses, neither did he come to deal with our sins.  Which is true—in part.

The true part is that Jesus did come to heal us from our sin and our diseases.  In fact, disease is the inevitable outworking of sin—not necessarily our own direct sin, but certainly the sin that pervades this fallen world and taints everything in it (see, e.g., John 9:1-3).  If Jesus deals with our sin, then it is certain that he deals with our diseases as well. 

The part that is not true, at least in the way that it understood among some, is that Matthew and Isaiah promise that the Lord will always heal in this world for the asking.  Again, if the Lord really did deal with our sin at the cross, then he really did deal with our diseases also.  But the assumption imported into that thinking is that these things happen in this world.  But neither Matthew nor Isaiah defines the horizon of our healing.   

Think of it in terms of sin.  We are forgiven and freed from sin here and now.  But at the same time, we still deal with sin.  This is why John can say both “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin,” and in the very next sentence can say “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:7-8).  The great word of hope is that “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).  In that day, sin will be forever and permanently vanquished.  But until that day, we still deal with it. 

So with disease.  There will be a day when the Lord completely heals all sickness and disease.  But until that day, we still deal with it.  Thanks be to God, the Lord does heal sicknesses today—cancers and viruses and the like.  But he does not always.  And it does no violence to either Matthew 8:17 or Isaiah 53:4 to acknowledge it.  In other words, Matthew calls Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4 because Jesus has come to irreversibly vanquish all sin and death.  Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law is a real healing, and also a sign of that which he will come do completely in that day.  Think of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  Lazarus was really raised, but the point of the raising wasn’t that we could expect all people to be raised in the here-and-now, but that in Christ there will be a resurrection in the last day.  Which is why Jesus raises Lazarus having stated “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:35). 

To say it another way, Isaiah 53:4 is a promise of what the Lord will do completely in that day, which is reflected in what the Lord does sometimes today.  The healing in Matthew 8 is not the end game—it is simply a pointer to the complete healing that will happen at the Resurrection to all who are in Christ. 

The problem with understanding Matthew 8:17 and Isaiah 53:4 as a promise for this worldly healing is that it suggests that somehow the Word of God is unfaithful when healing doesn’t happen.  It is natural that we would want these Scriptures to promise healing in this world.  But it becomes tremendously discouraging when we believe the Scripture promises something that it doesn’t.  Besides, Peter’s mother-in-law died eventually, as did Lazarus (again).  The promise for complete healing is only full of hope if it looks not to the horizon of this world, but that of another. 

Matthew 5:21-30

Matthew 5:21-30

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God (1 Thess 4:3-5).  

After Jesus tells his disciples that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20), he gives six different areas where the law has been misunderstood by the Pharisees.  So misunderstood, the law would forbid literal murder, but say nothing about bitterness and insult, ban adultery but remain silent on lust, and could be used in a way that could obscure sin—such as making oaths in such a way that makes it a bit more acceptable to be dishonest in their absence.   

What I find interesting is that only murder and adultery, or anger and lust, are given as sins that will surely lead one to hell.  Why that is, Jesus doesn’t say.  Perhaps the commands forbidding both are foundational in a way that is unusually destructive to the covenant community, or perhaps they are particularly corrosive to the soul, so that the one engaging in either inevitably falls away from the Lord.  In either case, these two are to be avoided with the greatest of effort and conviction. 

They are also perhaps the two greatest temptations of men.  Certainly they are among them.  In my experience, anger and lust are two sins that men turn into virtues.  I cannot count how many times I have heard lack of sexual control be extolled as a mark of manliness.  Or the unwillingness to take an insult silently and humbly, without retaliation.  In other words, we have glorified sins that we are too weak, or too unwilling, to mortify.  There are of course times and ways to be angry—be angry, but do not sin (Ps 6)—and times and ways to take a woman as a wife.  But these require a measure of vision and self-mastery that few are willing to exercise.  Instead, we turn cowardice into virtue, confirming the truth of Paul’s words that “though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Rom 1:32). 

Keep constant watch over anger and lust, and do whatever you need to do, however severe, to flee both.  And do not expect encouragement from the world.  It will encourage you to embrace both.