Staff & Sling

Joseph E. Hébert, Ph.D.

98119 N 3745 Rd
Okemah, OK  74859
918 623 3078

Perform Thine Oaths Unto the Lord

For two weeks I have been fasting. I have been fasting unto the Lord, asking His guidance in making a decision. By this past Wednesday, I had pretty much concluded that I knew what my decision would be, and so I thought to go ahead and end my fast. Then the Lord reminded me that I had told Him I would fast until Friday. So I continued the fast until Friday, not because I thought my decision would change, but because that's what I had told the Lord I would do.

As it turned out, by Friday I ended up making the opposite decision, but that's another story for another day.

Anyway, the event reminded me of a tale an old friend told me many years ago. Back in Lake Charles, LA, I had a friend named Jim Mack. He worked in the Clerk of Court's office, and He told me once of a man who, when called to the stand to give testimony in court, refused to take the oath. The man cited Matthew 5: 33 - 37 as his reason for refusing.

Jesus told us, in Matthew 5: 33 - 37, not to swear oaths at all. But the man who refused to take the oath before testifying in court simply misunderstand Jesus' words.

Let's lay this issue to rest first and foremost. It isn't difficult to do. We can know immediately that Jesus did not command us to abstain from taking a formal or somber oath. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 1: 23; or 2: 17; or 11: 31. Paul swore oaths in each of these cases. Even Jesus Himself, when put to an oath, answered (Matthew 26: 63, 64). Certainly we can not believe that either Jesus or Paul sinned in so doing.

The point to note is that in each of these cases, they spoke their oaths sincerely, with deliberation. They did not take oaths lightly or frivolously. Now consider verse 37. The first word is "But," a conjunction. So all of verse 37 is contrasted against that which came before. And therein Jesus says to let our "communication," literally translated our "words," be either yes yes, or no no, and no more. In other words, Jesus was talking about our daily and informal conversations, not about formal, deliberate and sincere oaths.

In verse 33, when Jesus talks about it having been said by them of old time, He's referring to the Law of Moses. In Leviticus 19: 12 we read "And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, ...." In other words, don't foreswear (or perjure) yourself. And in Deuteronomy 23: 23 we read that we are to perform all of our oaths as though we had sworn them unto the Lord Himself. Don't let yourself be deceived. This verse does not say that you only have to worry about those oaths that you actually swear to the Lord. It says you have to perform all of your oaths, no matter who they're to, as though they were made to God.

But there's one other verse in the Law of Moses that is particularly germane. Leviticus 5: 4 tells us that even if we didn't realize we made an oath, we're still responsible. Even an oath made carelessly, flippantly, without thinking, is still an oath for which we will be held to account. And this is germane because in Jesus' day such oaths were made freely, often as nothing more than hyperbole. And His admonition to let your conversations be yes yes, or no no, and nothing more belies that it was just this kind of thoughtless, wanton speech that Jesus was preaching against.

This is precisely why today we call it swearing when people casually (that is to say without deliberation as opposed to without passion) call on God to damn something or someone, usually as nothing more than hyperbole or exclamation. Of course we also call it cursing, because in such cases people really are calling on God, albeit frivolously, to curse someone or something. And, just as in the case of Jesus' contemporaries, people today also use oaths as hyperbole or exclamation. How often have you heard someone say, "I swear to God!," or "My hand to God!," just to emphasize their point.

So God said that if we swear an oath, even thoughtlessly, we will still be held to account for it. And Jesus said just don't swear (or curse for that matter) at all, not in casual conversation anyway. But when you find it expedient to take or swear an oath, and you do so with deliberation and sincerity, fulfill your oath as though you had sworn the oath to God Himself. In this case you have neither sinned, nor done anything that Jesus preached against.

Why is this so important? Why does it matter? Because, as scripture tells us, "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, ..." (James 3: 2). The word "perfect" here means "complete," not "sinless." In other words, if you offend not in word, then you are that new creature in Christ Jesus that God would make of you (II Corinthians 5: 17; Ephesians 2: 10). This is why Jesus told us that it isn't what goes into our mouths that defiles us, but words that proceed out of our mouths defile us (Matthew 15: 11, 17 - 20)

Matthew 5:
33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 
34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: 
35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. 
36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. 
37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

II Corinthians 1: 23 Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth.

II Corinthians 2: 17 For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.

II Corinthians 11: 31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.

Matthew 26:
63 But Jesus held his peace, And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. 
64 Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

Leviticus 19: 12 And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.

Deuteronomy 23: 23 That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the LORD thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth.

Leviticus 5: 4 Or if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these.

James 3: 2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

II Corinthians 5: 17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Ephesians 2: 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Matthew 15:
11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.
17 Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? 
18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. 
19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: 
20 These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.