[July 17]--Truthfulness and Oaths

Matt. 5:33-37

Interpretations of this passage, and especially how to apply it, vary widely among Christians throughout church history. Some churches have taught that it’s unlawful for any Christians to take any oaths at all, so they don’t pledge allegiance to the flag, and they refuse to swear to tell the truth in court.

Others take a different approach, pointing out that the passage specifically forbids taking an oath in the name of created things, not God himself. This was the practice of the time, by the way: Religious Jews would be extra careful in how they would word their oaths, and would split hairs on which ones were binding and which were not. Jesus condemned this practice in Matt. 23:16-22. In other words, we shouldn’t swear oaths in the name of any created thing, only God himself.

Since the Old Testament saints regularly took oaths and God never condemned them for it, the second argument has some merit. However, I think we can easily miss the point here. The main point of this whole chapter is for us to go beyond external obedience to the heart of the matter. I don’t think the question is whether it’s allowed to swear to tell the truth in court (which I don't happen to think God condemns), but what type of people we are in daily life. If someone asks us to do something and we agree to do it, can they trust us? Christians shouldn’t be the type of people who need to swear on a stack of Bibles in order to get people to believe them.

Jesus’ standard is that when your mouth speaks “yes,” people can take it as “yes,” not “yes but with these conditions and asterisks and caveats.” They shouldn’t have to parse your meaning, like a certain President a few years ago who got into trouble over the definition of “is.” In our general conversations, there should be no shades of meaning, or lying by hiding the truth in the midst of a lot of verbiage. If we're followers of Jesus, then we're aligning ourselves with the One who's Truth incarnate. When he was under the worst pressure of his earthly life, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” That’s the Savior whom we serve, and that’s the type of people we ought to be.

Lord Jesus, your standard here is so high, and I fall so far short. Please make me like you. Please help me to always speak the truth in love, just like you did, and just like you still do.

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