33 “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.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:33-37, NIV)
Have you ever made a promise? Pinky-swore you would keep a secret? Swore you were telling the truth? Vowed you would never do something again? God expects us to keep our word. He expects us to speak honestly and with love to others. When God passed down the law to Moses, He was clear that promises, vows, oaths, and contracts were not to be made or entered into lightly.
In the days of Jesus, many people could not read the law as it was given to Moses. They relied upon the scholars and religious leaders of the day to tell them the law and explain it to them. Unfortunately, the scholars and religious leaders twisted the words given to Moses. They made exceptions, changed meanings, and misconstrued the laws to those they were charged with instructing. Specifically, in this instance, they were telling people that oaths may not need to be kept, depending on the wording used and what they swore by.
Much of Jesus’ teachings, including the Sermon on the Mount, were correcting these mis-teachings. In this passage, Jesus is reiterating the importance of keeping your word. There is no magic set of words that makes it permissible to falsely give your word, or promise something you have no intention of delivering. God created everything. EVERYTHING! Therefore, anything we swear by is swearing by God.
It’s interesting that this teaching immediately follows Jesus talking about marriage, divorce, and adultery. Marriage is one of the most public vows a person can make. It is a vow made before God and witnesses. It is a vow that should be carefully considered before making, as it is not one that, in God’s view, can be undone. However, Jesus is not trying to discourage people from making vows, oaths, promises, and contracts. Instead, He is teaching their importance, and how we should view them. Given careful consideration, it is acceptable and encouraged to make such commitments. Further, as Christians, we should hold our word. If we give our word, we must hold to it.
The problems Jesus was addressing were not limited to His day. Consider today. Isn’t there religious experts telling us that our understanding of the Bible needs to be updated? That we need to apply societal norms to the teachings found in the Bible? Some even insist that if the teachings in the Bible, God’s Word, go against the world, we need to reinterpret the Bible. God’s Word does not change! It is not subject to the views of the secular world! God’s Word is consistent and eternal! God upholds His word. We should uphold ours.
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