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. 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
At the time of this writing, a new member of the House of Representatives lied, saying that his mother had died in the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center. In point of fact, his mother was out of the country at the time. The world laughs at him because of his blatant and repeated lies about schooling, sports ability, and more.
Not being true undermines everything. It removes credibility, destroys trust, and sullies one’s character. Lying also wrecks one’s ability to speak about God, have sincere, open relationships with honest people, and conduct even the smallest transactions with people who know your reputation.
Jesus knew all that.
That knowledge must have been at the heart of Jesus’ reasoning for spending time telling the crowd the importance of being people of truth. Certainly, it would spoil their witness as Jesus’ disciples if the things they affirmed were false.
In this case, truth-telling pertains to one’s promises. During the time of Christ, there was a formula for making an oath. Any oath that did not invoke God’s name was not considered to be binding; these oaths were often broken. Jesus addresses this at great length in Matthew 23:16-22 when he chastises the religious leaders for their elaborate oath formulas.
Jesus simplifies oaths by saying “don’t do it.” Let it be enough to say yes or no. If you are a person of integrity you will simply carry out what you said you’d do.
The Psalmist wrote about this as well when he said, “O Lord, who may abide in your tent?….Those who walk blamelessly and do what is right….who stand by their oath even if it hurts them.” Psalm 15:1,4b.
If we consider promises or oaths to be binding, we will be governed by these principles:
- We will think about the well-being of the person to whom we make the promise. In other words, we will think primarily about them and the importance of the oath to them.
- We will not enter into a promise if we think we might have to break it. We may certainly say, “I might show up to help you, but I don’t know at this moment.”
- We will be willing to be inconvenienced or even hurt in the keeping of the oath. We will not be like a little child who is willing to take a better offer.
- We will reflect on how our integrity in this matter is a reflection on God.
The Bible says a great deal about oath keeping, and we would do well to give it greater importance. “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.”
Prayer: You, O God, are the God of promises and faithfulness. You always do what you say you will do, and you created us to do the same. Please help us to be more conscious of our intentions when we make promises to others. May we keep our promises, as the Psalmist says, even if it hurts us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.