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. – Matthew 5:33-37
This part of the sermon is not about bad language. Nor is it a reference to serious, formal promises, such as those seen in wedding vows or a courtroom. Rather, Jesus is speaking of the use of God’s name as a token to seal a promise. He’s also speaking of the practice of adding some qualifier to our words to declare honesty—such as “cross my heart,” or “I swear on my mother”.
Numbers 30:2 describes it like this, “If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” Under that understanding, someone might say, “I swear to the Lord that I will pay you back this money.” Among Israelites, this have been considered contractually binding. It was also seen as dangerous: breaking an oath to the Lord was understood to bring severe consequences.
Aspects of this continue into modern culture. Jesus is not speaking of formal, official promises such as contracts, marriage vows, or a courtroom oath. This does, however, apply to moments where a person tries to emphasize their honesty using an oath. In English, a person might say, “I cross my heart,” or “may God strike me dead if I’m lying,” or simply, “I swear I’ll pay you back.” The implication is that the oath “guarantees” the person is telling the truth and has good intentions.
Jesus now says flatly that His disciples should not take an oath, at all. They should not swear by anything. The main reason is that a person known for integrity doesn’t need to enhance their promises. The upright truth behind a Christian’s “yes” and “no” should be strong enough to stand on its own. Another concern is that swearing by something that belongs to God comes too close to swearing by God Himself. Therefore Jesus says not to swear by heaven, because it is God’s throne.
Christ’s command for believers is simple: let the words “yes” and “no” be binding in all cases. Anything more comes from evil. A believer ought to be honest in what they say and do—they should not need the pressure of an artificial oath to follow through on their commitments. And, the believer should live a life of integrity such that others trust them without seeking such oaths. Modern culture echoes that with phrases such as “that man’s word is his bond.” This is the ideal: if you say you will do it, you will, period. No oaths required.
Pretty interesting section here for sure. Something that is paramount to our role as Christians. Something that I’ve been taught since I was a kid. We are only as good as our word. Our words define us. Our words give insight into our character, into who we are and into what we value in our hearts.
Let our words, our actions and our reactions reflect Jesus.