I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: Christian's Are to Keep Their Word
Most of us have probably heard of Dr. Seuss. He was a creative children's author who wrote many stories that many of us grew up with. One of his stories is called Horton Hatches an Egg. I looked up the plot on Wickipedia and here is what they tell us:
"The book centers on a genial elephant named Horton, who is convinced by Mayzie, a lazy, irresponsible bird, to sit on her egg while she takes a short "break", which turns into her permanent relocation to Palm Beach.
As Horton sits in the nest on top of a tree, he is exposed to the elements, laughed at by his jungle friends, captured by hunters, forced to endure a terrible sea voyage, and finally placed in a traveling circus. However, despite his hardships and Mayzie's clear intent not to return, Horton refuses to leave the nest because he insists on keeping his word, often repeating, "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful, one hundred per cent!"
The traveling circus ends up visiting near Mayzie's new Palm Beach residence. She visits the circus just as the egg is due to hatch (after 51 weeks in Palm Beach) and demands that Horton should return it, without offering him a reward. However, when the egg hatches, the creature that emerges is an "elephant-bird", a cross between Horton and Mayzie, and Horton and the baby are returned happily to the jungle, while Mayzie is punished for her laziness by ending up with absolutely nothing."
Like Horton the elephant, everyone who names the name of Jesus Christ should be able to say:
"I meant what I said and I said what I meant! A Christian is faithful, one hundred percent!."
Sadly, we are living in a society today that doesn't take being a person of integrity and of your word very seriously.
A recent study by Barna Research found that only 22% of adults in America believe there is even such a thing as absolute moral truth. But the real kicker was what the study found related to those who profess to be “born again” Christians. They defined “born again” Christians as “people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and that commitment is still important in their life today. Further, they also indicated that they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus as their Savior.” Among that specific group, only 32% of adults and only 9% of teenagers said they believe moral truth is unchanging or absolute.
Is it any wonder then that the days of a transaction being sealed by a hand shake and a promise are long over. How can you speak and act upon the truth when you can't even identify it? That is why we have to have lawyers, notaries and 500 page contracts in order to make sure someone keeps their end of any bargain that they have made. People today don't take truth or integrity seriously.
In this study we come to Matthew 5:33-37 in which Jesus is speaking, in His famous Sermon on the Mount, about not making oaths. However, this should not be taken as a universal condemnation of oaths in all circumstances. We see in Hebrews that God Himself confirmed a promise with an oath (Hebrews 6:13-18). Also Jesus even spoke under oath at His trial before His crucifixion (Matthew 26:63,64). Further, the Law itself prescribed oaths in certain circumstances (Numbers 5:19-21; 30:2,3).
In speaking about Matthew 5:33-37 the website Bible.org tells us this:
"Oaths and vows show up remarkably often in both testaments, and the Law addresses them a great many times. It is strikingly consistent that, aside from Jesus words in this passage and James 5:12, the rest of the Scriptures does not prohibit oaths. Indeed, the Law specifically commanded God’s people to swear their oaths in His name."
An example of this is found in Deuteronomy 6:13-14 where it says:
“You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him, and swear by His name. You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you”
Today, we still use oaths in instances such as courtrooms when we put our right hand on the Bible and say:
" I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God."
We also make vows, which are types of oaths, in marriage ceremonies today. For example, if you are a man you might say things like:
"I do solemnly agree before God and these witnesses to take this woman to be my lawfully wedded wife; to love and respect her, honor and cherish her, in sickness and in health, in prosperity and adversity; and leaving all others, to keep myself only unto her, so long as we both shall live."
Some Christians refuse to take such vows because of Jesus' words here in Matthew. However, Scripturally, there is nothing wrong with a believer doing these things in those settings.
So what did Jesus mean in this passage?
What the Lord is speaking of here is the flippant, profane and careless use of oaths in everyday speech. Sadly, in the time of Jesus, oaths were often used for deceptive purposes. They were used to make the person being victimized believe that the truth was being told when in fact it wasn't.
The Jews would often swear by earth, Jerusalem or their own heads. They felt that as long as they weren't invoking God and swearing to Him in their oaths they could avoid divine judgment for not telling the truth or keeping their word.
However, the truth is that God is a God of His Word. And He expects His people to be people who keep their word as well.
Let us explore this part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and see how these truths apply to us today.
I. All Oaths are Ultimately Before God
If we have been reading earlier in the Sermon on the Mount we see that Jesus uses the formula, "You have heard it said, but I say" over and over. Sadly, the rabbis had taken Liberty with the various aspects of the Old Testament law and were not teaching what the Law actually meant when written. Jesus takes the time to correct the rabbinic interpretation and in doing so shows the impossibility of anyone getting into the Kingdom of Heaven apart from the grace of God.
In the case of oaths, our Lord says:
"Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not make false vows but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord. But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is His footstool of His feet. or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be 'Yes, yes' or No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil."
I like what J.I. Packer had to say about this passage of Scripture. He tells us:
"What were the oaths anyway? They were forms of words designed to impress. They weren't indications that the person swearing the oath had any power over the things that the oath mentioned. It was just using swear words to impress and so produce acceptance of things in relation to the oath, when in fact this was relationally phony because the persons taking the oath to impress didn't intend to keep the promises or commitments that they were apparently confirming by taking some oath. They were just fooling folks. And Jesus said, in essence, "Don't let this foolery ever touch you."
This fits really well into the context of the Sermon on the Mount because it's going after the Pharisees for their hypocrisies. Jesus is against hypocrisy in all its forms, and He's for straightforwardness, transparency, honesty and responsibility in all its forms."
What those who speak oaths don't realize is that all those things that they are invoking in their oaths were a part of God's creation, so He was drawn into it and it produced guilt before Him. All oaths are ultimately made before the Lord of the universe. And anyone who makes an oath and doesn't follow through will be held accountable by Him.
II. Let Your Yes Be Yes and Your No Be No
The bottom line is that a person who keeps his or her word should not have to punctuate their sentences with oaths. Yet today we hear people do it all of the time. They will promise someone that they will be somewhere or do something and say: "I swear to God that I will do it." Or they will tell you something that they aren't sure you will believe and say: "I swear it's true." They do this because they think that it gives their words credibility.
But if you develop a reputation of integrity then people will come to believe you. That is what the Lord is getting at when He tells us to:
"Let your Yes be yes and your No, no"; anything beyond these is of evil."
A person of integrity doesn't need to punctuate their sentences with frivolous oaths. Rather, all of our speech should be spoken as if we were already under an oath to tell the truth. We should always say what we mean and mean what we say. And, at the same time, we must realize that God hears what we tell others.
This reminds me of what Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes. He wrote:
"When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?" (5:4-6).
Both Solomon and Jesus remind us that a vow before God really means something. And if we realize this then we should also know that every time we give our word about something to anyone it is before the Lord as well. And it would be far better if we never vowed, rather than failing to keep our promise. Further, if we put all of this together, then we should know that not keeping our word is seen as sin by God and He calls us fools if we don't carry it out.
As we summarize this section of our Lord's Sermon it reminds me of one of Aesop's Fables entitled: "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." The tale concerns a shepherd boy who repeatedly tricks nearby villagers into thinking a wolf is attacking his town's flock. When a wolf actually does appear and the boy again calls for help, the villagers believe that it is another false alarm and the sheep are eaten by the wolf.
The moral of the story is that:
"Liars are rewarded in that even if they tell the truth, no one believes them."
And, while making up stories about fictitious wolves and making and not keeping vows are not exactly the same, they are both lies and all lies are an abomination against a holy God. Also, they both cause us to lose our credibility before other people.
Of course, when anyone loses their credibility with others, it is a tragedy for them. However, when a Christian loses their credibility, it not only is a reflection on them, in the public eye it also reflects on the God whom we serve. People see us and rather than observing our actions and glorifying our Father who is in Heaven, they view us as hypocrites who really don't believe what we say about our God. "How could He be as great as we say He is if we act like we do" ,they think.
It would indeed be a tragedy if we came to the end of our lives and found out that many people were lead away from accepting the grace of the Lord rather than were lead toward that grace. And that it was all because we had a bad reputation due to not being a person of our word and not doing what we said we would do.
Our God never lies. He never tells anyone that He will do something and then fails to do what He vows. We can count on Him to come through no matter what it takes or how long it may seem to take to accomplish it.
So let us all, as the Lord's children, let our 'Yes be yes, and our No be no! And, in so doing, bring Him the honor that He truly deserves.
© 2021 Jeff Shirley