In these blogs we are covering the teachings of Christ. Having covered the top ten (seen on page 133 of the download ‘What on earth have we done with the teachings of Jesus’). We are now looking at the teaching of ‘Do not swear’.
On looking at this title, we automatically think of the use of swear words. Swear words or profanity used to be totally frowned upon in society. There was a certain standard of speech that was accepted by the majority. Swearing has now become an accepted part of normal conversation for the majority and it seems as though it’s the minority that do not accept it. Whilst we are urged against speaking profanity in Ephesians 4:29, Do not let unwholesome [foul, profane, worthless, vulgar] words ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good for building up others, according to the need and the occasion, so that it will be a blessing to those who hear [you speak].
But the swearing here is the type that comes by oaths. ‘Do not swear’ an oath.
The oath serves as confirmation
There are 66 mentions of the swearing of an oath in the Bible. Throughout history, a man’s word was thought to be final. The oath serves as confirmation [of what has been said] and is an end of the dispute, it says in Hebrews 6:13. If a person swore an oath, as is still done in the courtrooms of today, then that was given as binding and truth told. Then truth was absolute, now it seems it is relative. I have personally sat in a courtroom, seen someone swear the oath and then speak nothing but lies. Yet there is a judgement to come from which there is no escape.
God Himself made oaths or promises For when God made the promise to Abraham, He swore [an oath] by Himself, Hebrews 6:13. God is the absolute in regards to keeping promises, which is why we can remind Him of His promises as we pray.
In the future you will see Me
Jesus had been arrested and was brought before Caiaphas the high priest. He had remained silent before His accusers up to now. Then Caiaphas said, “I call on You to swear a binding oath by the living God, that you tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have [in fact] said it, but more than that I tell you [regardless of what you do with Me now], in the future you will see [Me revealed as] the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Caiaphas called on Jesus to swear a binding oath by God to confess who He was and he got his answer.
In Matthew 5, Jesus is redressing many of the common assumptions regarding the law. He deals with the topics of murder, adultery, divorce, revenge and love. But He also deals with oath taking.
Do not make an oath at all
You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not make false vows, but you shall fulfil your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not make an 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 are not able to make a single hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’ [a firm yes or no]; anything more than that comes from the evil one. Do not swear. Now it seems common to swear on a mother’s life, or a child’s life to ratify the promise.
James repeats this later But above all, my fellow believers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be [a truthful] yes, and your no be [a truthful] no, so that you may not fall under judgment.
Why the change of view?
So why the change of view? Because by taking an oath or even a promise to someone we bind ourselves to that promise. And who knows whether we will be able to fulfill it or not. How many of us have made a rash vow to God? ‘If you do this, then I’ll do that’. This follows the previous blog on ‘do not tempt God’. God is a covenant making God. Not a covenant breaking God. And we will be held accountable to the words that we speak, especially the promises we make and break. To prevent us from coming under this judgement we are cautioned against making any oaths, promises, pledges or vows that we will not be able to keep.
Henry says – We have an explanation of the third commandment, God will not hold him guiltless whoever breaks this commandment, ‘Thou shalt not use, or take up, the name of God (as we do by an oath) in vain, or unto vanity, or a lie’.
Men cursed themselves
Who may stand in the Holy place? He who has not sworn deceitfully. Ps. 24:4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to what is false, Nor has sworn [oaths] deceitfully. Perjury or lying demonstrates an impiety toward God and an injustice toward man. It renders a man highly obnoxious to divine wrath. Oaths were said as such, ‘God do so to me, and more also and with us, So help me God.’ This is wishing never to have any help from God, if one swears falsely. Thus, have men cursed themselves, not doubting that God would curse them, if they lied against the truth and solemnly called God to witness to it.
In Numbers 30:2 it says, If a man makes a vow to the Lord or swears an oath to bind himself with a pledge, he shall not break (violate, profane) his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. This may mean of those promises or vows made to God. Or those promises made to our brethren, to which God was a Witness, He being appealed to in confirming our sincerity. These must be performed to the Lord, with an eye to Him. For by ratifying the promises with an oath, we have made ourselves debtors. If we break a promise so ratified, we have not lied only to men, but to God.
The forbidding of all unnecessary swearing
The commandment here forbids all unnecessary swearing. (Matt. 5:34 and Jas. 5:12). Not that all swearing is sinful. If rightly done, it is a part of worship, and in it we give unto God the glory due to His name. (Jer. 4:2 And if you swear [your oaths], ‘As the Lord lives,’ In truth, in justice, and in righteousness, Then the nations will bless themselves in Him, And in Him they will glory).
In swearing, we pawn the truth of something known, to confirm the truth of something unknown. We appeal to a greater knowledge, to a higher court, and incur the vengeance of a righteous Judge, if we swear deceitfully.
It is a gross profanation of God’s holy name
We must not swear at all except when we are duly called to it such as the necessity of the civil magistrate. We must not swear lightly and irreverently, in common conversation. It is a gross profanity of God’s holy name, and of one of the holy things which the children of Israel sanctify to the Lord. It is a sin that has no cloak, no excuse for it, and therefore a sign of a graceless heart, in which enmity to God reigns. ‘Thine enemies take thy name in vain’.
As Christians, who should be of such acknowledged faithfulness, that our sober words should be as sacred as our solemn oaths. We must avoid promise oaths as they bind us, and may in so many ways be broken, by the surprise as well as strength of a temptation. So they are not to be used liberally.
God is the Fountain of all beings
Christ forbids here the swearing upon of heaven or earth (Matt. 5:34) and shows that there is nothing we can swear by. God is the Fountain of all beings, and therefore that it is as dangerous to swear by them, as it is to swear by God Himself. Heaven is God’s throne, where He resides, this being the inseparable dignity of the upper world, you cannot swear by heaven, as you swear by God Himself.
Nor swear by the earth, for it is His footstool. He governs the movements of this lower world; as He rules in heaven, so He rules over the earth and is under His eye and care, and so is His, (Ps. 24:1 The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness of it, The world, and those who dwell in it). The earth is the Lord’s so that in swearing by it, you swear by its Owner.
Neither by Jerusalem for it is the city of the great King (Ps. 48:2 Fair and beautiful in elevation, the joy of all the earth, Is Mount Zion [the City of David] in the far north, The city of the great King). God is therefore interested in it, and in every oath taken by it.
He is the Life of your head, and the Lifter up of it
Neither shalt thou swear by your head or on your life (or someone else’s life) for it is more God’s than yours, for He made it. If you swear by it you swear by Him who is the Life of thy head, and the Lifter up of it. (Ps. 3:3 But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, My glory [and my honour], and the One who lifts my head).
Therefore in all our communications we must content ourselves with, Yes, yes, and no, no, Matt. 5:37. In ordinary conversation, if we affirm a thing, let us only say, Yes, it is so. If need be, to evidence our assurance of a thing, we may double it, and say, Yes, yes, indeed it is so. In denial of a thing, let it be sufficient to say, No or, No, no. If our faithfulness be known, that will suffice to gain us credit.
All men are liars
For whatever is more than these comes from the Devil, the evil one. It comes from the corruption of men’s nature and from passion and forcefulness, from a vanity in the mind, and a contempt of sacred things. It comes from that deceitfulness, which is in men, All men are liars. Men use oaths because they are distrustful of one another. Christians should avoid not only that which is in itself evil, but that which has the appearance of it. An oath is like a medicine which purges, which supposes there be a disease.
Adapted from the Matthew Henry Commentary
Let God be found true [as He will be], though every person be found a liar, just as it is written [in Scripture], “That You may be justified in Your words, And prevail when You are judged [by sinful men].” Rom 3:4
The Promise has been given If you pray after receiving the promise You reintroduce doubt and its devious ways Since God has given you a Word by faith You should turn instead to praise. You will dissipate your faith If you continue to pray on Doubt will quickly take over Until your faith appears to have gone. What you are showing When you do this Is that you don’t believe What God has already told you. Even in human relationships You will ask if no promise has been received But for you the promise has been given Give thanks don’t allow yourself to be deceived. By the late Andrew Feakin (passed away 16th March 2019)
Prayer: Father, forgive me for every vow or promise I have made and subsequently broken. Forgive me for every rash word I have spoken. May my heart be pure and my hands be clean. Thank You for the cross, which I come before time and time again. In the name of Christ I pray. Amen.