Ryan Burgett, May 1, 2012
“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 NKJV
Oaths are rarely spoken of nowadays, yet Jesus spoke of them in His most famous sermon. Since He considered them important enough to speak about, I do to. Historically, there have been people that have given their lives for the sake of following Jesus’ teachings on oath. But what is so radical about what Jesus said? Let’s talk about it.
The problem Jesus was addressing was dishonesty. Followers of Jesus are to speak the truth and have such a clear witness to the world that they can be taken at their word. The problem comes when we live in such a way that we feel we need to add more to what we are saying. We rarely if ever hear people say, “I swear by the temple!” But it is common to hear folks qualify their words by saying “I promise” or “To be perfectly honest” or “I swear” or “I pledge.” Those are all oaths which Jesus taught against.
As followers of Jesus, we need to simply speak the truth. That means not giving people superficial, wordy responses to try and mask what we really think. And on the more obvious side, it means to not blatantly lie. But when it comes down to it, all dishonesty is lying. Jesus never spoke a word He did not mean, so we can trust His words today.
We are to live the same.
But is that what people have died for? Have people really been killed because they refused to lie? It is a bit more complicated than that, but the answer is yes. In the early 1500s, a group of people known as Anabaptists (because they opposed infant baptism) took a stand against oaths of allegiance to the church and government, and for that they paid dearly. But these people knew that they were following what Jesus said.
You see, they were disciples of Jesus and were called to allegiance to Him. They knew that that allegiance trumped any pledges made to human institutions (whether religious or social). Just like Peter and the apostles, they knew that “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
So with that in mind, we realize that any pledge of allegiance made to human institutions is superficial at best, or dishonest at worst. But there is no room for superficiality or dishonesty in these words of Jesus. Our “yes” is to be “yes” and our “no” is to be “no.”
So the challenge we are left with is this: Will we follow Jesus’ teaching with the same fervency of those brave martyrs? By the power of the Holy Spirit I will, and I pray you will to.