Matthew 5:33-37 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, ‘Do not swear 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. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (NIV) [he tries to ensnare us and profane God’s name]
Freedom: From having to go to an extreme to prove that what we say is indeed true.
Defined: Swear-- “Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.” (Heb. 6:16). “The original meaning of the oath lay in the guaranteeing of one’s word” (New Int’l Dict. of New Testament Theol. 3:738). Swearing produces an oath. “Swearing” as used in Matt. 5 by Jesus is not profanity or filthy language, as swearing generally means.
Paul called God as his witness at Rom. 1:9 (to his prayers for the Romans); 2 Cor. 1:23 (to his motives for not returning to Corinth); 2 Cor. 11:11 (to his love for the Corinthians) Phil. 1:8 (to how he longed for the Philippians); 1 Thess. 2:5 (to being free from flattery and greed). This is another Greek word with the root of the English word “martyr,” but does not involve using an oath. It involves the testimony of someone or something else, not our affirming what we say with an oath by appealing to something greater.
God “testified to [His salvation] by signs, wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Heb. 2:4). He testified to His Son (1 John 5:9). For one person to testify to the integrity of another doesn’t violate this command (Col. 4:13, re: Epaphras; 3 John 1:12 re: Demetrius), Neither does calling God to witness to our truthfulness.
Swearing differs from a vow. A vow is a promise to do some specific thing. Swearing affirms something as being true.
God swore with an oath (Acts 2:30 ; 7:17 ; Heb. 3:11 , 18: 4:3; 6:13 ; 7:21), so the act itself is not wrong. God condescends to man’s unbelief in doing so, since in God there is no darkness at all. What is wrong is the tendency to pervert oaths—twisting them to give the appearance of honesty, in order to deceive.
Jesus commands us to “be perfect” (Matt. 5:48). However, lying is sometimes characteristic of the unsaved (Numbers 23:19). Even the saved must be warned against it (Eph. 4:25 ; Col. 3:9). Jesus is “the Truth,” (John 14:6), and those who serve Him should be truthful. Christians should say yes or no—that’s all. We should not have to guarantee our words.
In the Old Covenant (Testament), the Law of Moses specified “Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.” (Lev. 19:12). Jews were even told to swear in God’s name (as opposed to swearing by a false god--Deuteronomy 6:13).
Jesus commands us in the New Covenant (Testament) not to swear at all. Not only are we not to swear using God’s name, but we aren’t to swear even by His creation or by that which is otherwise linked to Him.
Jesus’ half-brother James echoed the command:
Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No” be no, or you will be condemned. (James 5:12)
James obviously gave this command high priority. Liars do not inherit the Kingdom of God (Rev. 21:8). We must not say both “Yes” and “No” at the same time (2 Cor. 1:17), which Paul called “worldly.” If we don’t know what to say, ask for time to consider the matter. What a Christian simply says should be the “gold standard” for truth. We may err in what we say through ignorance or misinformation, but never knowingly lie. In this way our light will shine brightly. Particularly religious people were manipulating and duping people by using false oaths. This casuistry was described and condemned by Jesus in Matt. 23:16-22.
Woe to you, blind guides! You say, “If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.” You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?
Should a Christian swear at all, such as when giving evidence for a trial? Quakers and Waldensians don’t (New Inter’l Dict. Of the Christian Church, p. 720). In the USA we can either swear to or “affirm” the truth of our statements. The very fact that we put people “under oath” before God testifies to our sinfulness. There shouldn’t be two standards of veracity—what we say normally and what we say in court. Affirming that we’ll be truthful is not making an oath by something. It is the writer’s judgment that to affirm that we are going to tell the truth is not essentially different from what the apostle Paul said when he affirmed that he was telling the truth (Rom. 1:9; 1 Tim. 2:7).
Can your word be trusted? Do we owe creditors (Prov. 3:27 -28)? Have we promised to pay and not paid? Have we promised to do something and haven’t done it? Have we told one person one thing and another the opposite? Have we paid our vows?
It’s a good idea to ask children and wife if we have promised them anything and have not done it (Bill Gothard). If we’ve not kept our word, we must repent and keep it, even at significant cost.
If we cannot remember if we have promised or vowed something to God, God can help us remember. Ask God for some time to help you remember.
It’s wise to soften our words and promises by a qualifier such as “By God’s grace, I’ll….” “God helping me, I’ll….” “God willing, I’ll….” This isn’t casuistry, since we’re not trying to deceive anyone. We’re acknowledging that circumstances may not allow something and that only with God’s help can we accomplish what we’d like to do.
Even a pastor has lied to me. A Christian leader should have a good reputation among the unsaved (1 Tim. 3:7). To have such a reputation, he or she will need to speak the truth.