“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.”
– Matthew 5:33-37 (Jesus speaking; our 9th segment of the Sermon on the Mount)
This is now the fourth consecutive time Jesus has used the formulation “You have heard…but I say to you…” He gives six of these altogether. The purpose of the formula is to demonstrate how His teaching differs from the teaching of Moses, yet is based on it. Another way of saying this is that Jesus’ teaching and Moses’ teaching obviously come from the same source, but are applied in different ways: Moses’ teaching for regulating the society of ancient Israel, Jesus’s teaching for redeeming and regulating the individual human heart.
In the first use of this formula, Jesus used Moses’ civil commandment not to kill to disallow anti-social thinking. In the second, Jesus used Moses’ commandment against adultery to outlaw lustful thinking. In the third, Jesus used Moses’ account of creation to show that God never intended divorce. In this fourth, Jesus shows that a commandment about oaths become superfluous when a human never lies.
Jesus’ instruction about oaths makes clearer the fact that Moses’ laws were necessary to regulate human activity because the human heart had become so corrupted by sin. Since Jesus’ intent is to be the physician who heals our diseased hearts, civil commands to regulate outward behavior lose their utility.
I don’t think Jesus requires us to refuse to take oaths, say when testifying in a court proceeding. It’s just that He expects us to always tell the truth and not just when someone asks us to put our hand on the Bible. If you always think only the truth, it will never be a problem to say the truth.
(Remember that prayer is more about listening than talking. Use the words below to start yourself, but then allow time to reflect more on the Scripture above before you say the “Amen.” During that time of quiet reflection, let God shape your thoughts and wait for a sense of peace to come. That’s your signal to say “Amen” and go forth to the day.)
Lord Jesus, let me always be thinking the truth so that only the truth ever comes out of my mouth…(this is where you remain quiet to let Him work in your thoughts)… Amen.
(All scriptures, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the NASB.)