January 20 I Thursday
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the oaths 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....” —Matthew 5:33-35
Taking an oath is swearing by something bigger than ourselves to convince our listeners we are telling the truth. But Jesus says, “Do not swear at all.”
Some people have used this as a prohibition on taking oaths in a courtroom or taking an oath of allegiance or putting their hand on the Bible when they make a statement. It is doubtful this was Jesus’s intention, because swearing an oath is not wrong. After Abraham had been willing to offer his son as a sacrifice, Hebrews 6:17 tells us, “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath.” Genesis 22:16 says, “I swear by Myself, declares the LORD....”
God swore by Himself because there was nothing greater for Him to swear by. But the Jews did not swear by God because they did not pronounce or write the name of God, so they swore by lesser things. In Matthew 23, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for swearing by the gold on the Temple, which implied the gold is greater than the Temple that makes the gold sacred, or swearing by the gift on the altar, implying the gift is greater than the altar that makes the gift sacred. In other words, what kind of collateral is this? What value does this give to our word?
It is not that swearing an oath is invalid. It may be necessary in a court of law or taking an official position, but in Jesus’s day it was common practice and people would question whether or not they were hearing the truth if said without an oath. The point Jesus is making is that if we are true, taking an oath should not be necessary. He said, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes,’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).
Today, we hear people say, “Cross my heart and hope to die” or “I swear to God”, or “I swear on the Bible”, which suggests, “You have to believe me. I’m telling the truth.” The alternative Jesus puts forth is not to swear at all. We need to be believed because we speak the truth… period. Feeling a need to swear an oath in order to be believed is a symptom of dishonesty. It speaks of character, which derives from our innermost being. If we are true and truth reigns in our hearts, then we need not persuade anyone we are telling the truth.
Prayer: Dear Lord, help my character and my words be truthful all the time. I want to be believed by others simply for what I say. Thank You, Lord.