Let’s pick up our study of the Sermon on the Mount in verse 33 of Matthew 5:
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37)
Now Jesus is not talking about profanity as we know it today and I think it goes without saying that our Lord would oppose foul language. The father of our country sure did oppose cursing:
“The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it.”
George Washington also preferred Christians for military service and opposed gays openly serving in the military, but that’s for another time.
What Jesus is teaching us here is that our character should be of such a standard that when we speak all who hear and know us should consider it truth. Why is it we at times preface our statements with “this is the God’s honest truth…” or some similar statement? It’s because we need what Warren Wiersbe describes as a “crutch.” Here is Wiersbe’s teaching on our passage:
“This is not the sin of ‘cursing,’ but the sin of using oaths to affirm that what is said is true. The Pharisees used all kinds of tricks to sidestep the truth, and oaths were among them. They would avoid using the holy name of God, but they would come close by using the city of Jerusalem, heaven, earth, or some part of the body.”
I bet you didn’t know that until now, right? Neither did I! It is amazing what we can learn when we actually study the Bible. So once again our Lord is calling out the religious leaders of the day and telling them to stop practicing evil.
If one cannot believe another person without an oath being placed upon their statement, what does that say about a person’s character? Jesus’ brother James repeats his brother’s teaching on making oaths:
“But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No,’ lest you fall into judgment.” (James 5:12)
Of what judgment is James speaking. He and Jesus are both harkening back to Moses’ teaching on giving oaths and the sacredness of it:
“If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” (Numbers 30:2)
WHOA! Can you imagine having to live up to that standard today? Can you think of any reason you don’t have to?
These Pharisees had long left devotion to God as the reason they served in the ministry. We have plenty of Pharisees leading the flock astray here in America today. What should we do with these modern-day Pharisees? First, stop supporting them financially. Second, write them a letter explaining why. Third, and most importantly (something I am now starting), pray for them, and be sure in your letter you let them know you are praying for them.
The church in America is a hollow shell of what it once was; it is a white-washed tomb. So where the Pharisees as Jesus so aptly described them. They have become fossils. George Santayana, the American philosopher, once said this about oaths:
“Oaths are the fossils of piety.”
What does that mean? Well the term fossil literally means “to have been dug up.” We’ve all seen fossils; something that was once living is now preserved in rock and sediment. There are actually living fossils.
As for piety, the Random House Dictionary defines piety as “reverence for God or devout fulfillment of religious obligations.
Santayana was saying that those who make oaths are people who were once honorable but long since have left that character trait in the past.
As Christians we must be very careful of our speech; we are being watched. Can there be anything more damaging to a Christian’s witness than to make a vow and not keep it? Not according to Solomon:
“It is a snare for a man to devote rashly something as holy, and afterward to reconsider his vows.” (Proverbs 20:25)
Snares were used for hunting to trap and then to kill. Do not allow your Christian witness to be harmed by your quick tongue.
Let your word be your word.
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Copyright © 2011 David Jeffers
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