“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
(Matthew 5:33-37 ESV)
Over the past few days we’ve been reading Jesus’ clarification of various laws and practices that God had set forth in the Old Testament. Over time these laws had been diluted and perverted by the Jews to the extent that they no longer resembled God’s original intent.
Today Jesus comes to the topic of honesty. We should be reminded that Jesus is speaking to His disciples here – those who are a part of God’s family through faith [John 1:12].
Every human being is a liar. Our society is largely built on a network of lies to the extent that the truth has become hard to find. We lie because we think we must to get what we want.
This is interesting because collectively we dissuade lying. Perjury, for example, is a criminal offense. We also rake our political leaders over the coals when we find out they lied. Yet as individuals we all lie and think nothing of it.
Since men are born liars who are difficult to believe, we understandably distrust each other. So God made a provision in the Old Testament. He allowed oaths so that someone could “prove” he/she was telling the truth by being willing to incur God’s consequences if he/she was lying.
The problem was this oath taking, like everything else God created for our own benefit, had become distorted and was used selfishly.
The Jews came to believe that only an oath made to God required total honesty and any oath not made to God did not require total honesty. They created their own loophole to justify their sinful behavior. They started to swear not by God but by lesser things including heaven, earth, Jerusalem, and even themselves (by your head). Notice how each of these things is spiritually smaller than its predecessor. The standard continued to be lowered so they could feel better about themselves.
But Jesus applies a very simple principle that we’d be well served if we followed today. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Our words should be clear and honest. There are no half-truths, or “little white lies”, or “lies of love”. There is only truth and falsehood.
When Jesus says do not take an oath at all He is not saying that oaths are now sin because we know He did not come to abolish any Old Testament laws [Matthew 5:17]. The oath provision from the Old Testament lives on – Paul took an oath at least a few times [Romans 1:9, 2 Corinthians 1:23, Galatians 1:20]. What Jesus is saying is that our lives should lived with such honesty that an oath is unnecessary.
While the world around us constantly lies and deceives, we who are God’s children should not. We are held not to the world’s standard but to God’s. God’s standard is 100% truthfulness. I wonder how much better the world would be if throughout history and today we all adhered to this standard.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.