Sermon on the Mount - Oaths

(Matthew 5:33-37)

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Biblical Teachings, Sermon on the Mount, Sermon on the Mount (Bible Study)

  • The next command talks about oaths.
  • Jesus says, “It has been said, ‘Don't break your oaths,’ but I say, ‘Don't make any oaths.’”
  • At the heart of this command lies the issue of speech. The trustworthiness of what we say is as important as the trustworthiness of our temperament and our morals.
  • An oath represents a debt to God and to man. Jesus is affirming the sanctity of that.
  • But what he demands is unrestricted truthfulness of every single word. There is to be no distinction between words that have to be true and those that don’t.
  • The Christian is answerable for every word, not just the ones that are uttered under oath.
  • If no one ever lied, there would, of course, never be a need for an oath. But if truthfulness is only assured under an oath, then lying is given a legitimacy.
  • Jesus is saying that we can’t split hairs about which words are binding. He is fighting for the integrity of all speech.
  • He continues, “Do not swear 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.…”
  • It helps to understand that people didn’t ever want to use the name of God frivolously. So they came up with all sorts of things they could say without ever using the name of God.
  • Yet who could swear by heaven and not immediately think of God? The connection is made stronger with the metaphor that heaven is God’s throne. It belongs to the realm of the divine and is not under our jurisdiction or influence.
  • Much the same thing can be said about swearing by the earth, identified as God’s footstool. Contrary to much wishful thinking, there are many things on the earth outside of our domain.
  • The earth is simply not under our command. Likewise, Jerusalem is God’s city. Swearing by Jerusalem was a little bit different because the word “by” is different.
  • Actually what it means is towards Jerusalem. So if someone swore by Jerusalem and happened to be facing in the wrong direction, it didn’t count. That’s a great example of splitting hairs.
  • “And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”
  • The person who swears by his or her own head is being particularly arrogant.
  • We simply can’t list ourselves as a warranty as if we have final control over our own lives. God is sovereign.
  • Now there are times when we do need to take an oath. The world may require oaths from its citizens.
  • Take that oath with utmost simplicity, and a little queasiness. The disciple must be absolutely and transparently honest.
  • “Yes means yes,” “no means no.” Everything else is commentary. At issue is the truthfulness of every word.
  • Speech beyond clear “yes or no” is somewhat devilish in that it seeks to impress with learning, cleverness, or qualifications.

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