Yes. No. Maybe. Depends. There are a variety of ways that we can answer a question. At times an absolute, Yes or No is correct. At other times, a level of vagueness might be appropriate. While our answer can reveal more than a simple yes or no, the context is equally important. For example, the context a question like, “Are you interested?” is important.
If I’m asking if you are interested in going out to eat, you may want to know what kind of food. If a salesman asks me this as I am walking through a car lot, my yes or no can indicate what kind of help I need. Vague answers communicate that I am weighing the options. When a friend wants to see a movie or go skydiving and I don’t, my vagueness can give me an out. However, I answering with a similar vagueness to a marriage proposal wouldn’t be good!
Jesus warns against vague answers as they generally come from an impure motive. Jesus said, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:37) Jesus has just argued how some, because of their dishonesty, need to back up words with a vow. Oaths don’t make a liar’s words more believable.
Call me cynical, but the salesman that repeatedly tells me how honest they are reminds me of Queen Gertrude’s comment in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Those who try too hard to convince us that they are telling the truth can lose their credibility. Let your Yes be Yes and your No be No. We are to speak truthfully and to do what we promise.
Jesus illustrated this in a parable about a father who asks his sons to ‘go and work today in the vineyard.’ The first one said no, but later changed his mind and went. The second one said yes, but then didn’t go at all. Jesus asks the religious leaders, “Which of the two did his father’s will?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you didn’t believe him. Tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; but you, when you saw it, didn’t even change your minds then and believe him.” (Matthew 21:31-32)
They knew the right answer. The son who refused at first but then obeyed his father was the true son. The point of the parable was to reveal how easy it is to know the truth and yet to still fail to live it. Jesus said that the tax collectors and prostitutes would be entering the kingdom of God ahead of the religious leaders because though they had been disobedient, in the end they turned to God in faith. Even when these religious leaders saw how lives were changed at John’s preaching about the way of righteousness, and even as they saw what happened when these sinful people repented and believed, they still did not believe John.
Jesus warns us to look out for those who teach that to enter a relationship with God, you must first get your act together. Rather, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) It matters not if we are a tax collector, a prostitute, a God hater or an arrogant hypocrite, all are invited to come.
Consider one more verse, “As surely as God is faithful, my word to you does not waver between ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ He is the one whom Silas, Timothy, and I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate ‘Yes,’ he always does what he says. For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’ And through Christ, our ‘Amen’ (which means ‘Yes’) ascends to God for his glory.” (2 Corinthians 1:18-20)
For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” I hope that you can say Amen to this. When we say Yes to Him, we are promised “the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b) This is a free gift not one that is earned by our righteousness but was purchased for us by Christ’s righteousness. All are invited to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalms 34:8a)
Eldon Peterson is pastor of the Cache Valley Bible Fellowship. His column appears on the Faith page. He can be reached at email@example.com.