“What Jesus Demands From The World” – Daily Devotional (7/16/10): Demand #39 “Do Not Take An Oath – Let What You Say Be Simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’”

Matthew 5:33-37

“And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

“Over against the creative and corrupt ways people find to evade telling the truth, Jesus says, “But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all. . . . Let what you say be simply ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matt. 5:34, 37, literal translation). In other words, Jesus now goes beyond the Old Testament standard of keeping our oaths to not using any. His reason seems to be that with the arrival of the kingdom of God in his ministry (Luke 11:20; 17:21) and the presence of the King himself (Matt. 21:15-16) and the sending of the Spirit of truth (John 15:26) and the inauguration of the new covenant (Luke 22:20), the standards of truthfulness should rise and the measure of compromise with evil in this world should decrease.

He argues, “Do not take an oath at all . . . anything more than [yes, yes, and no, no] comes from evil.” Evil in the human heart has created lying and deceit. Jesus said it originated with the “father of lies” (John 8:44) and gains strength from the ongoing evil of the human heart. Therefore, truth is in jeopardy all the time. But life in community cannot survive without truth. There must be some measure of trust in marriages and businesses and schools and governments and in the vast realm of contractual agreements, not to mention the precious fabric of personal friendships. Therefore, the evil of lying and falsehood and deceit that pervades the human heart and society has been restrained by devices called oaths. The evil that ruined trust is essentially selfishness and ill-will. We distort the truth to get what we want, even if it hurts others. Which implies that, for truth to hold sway, love must hold sway. If we were not selfish or unloving to others, we would not break our word or tell lies or act hypocritically. Truth would hold sway. But love does not hold sway in the world, and so oaths have arisen to compensate for what love should do. Oaths are born out of the necessities created by lovelessness. Since we do not love, and so secure the reliability of our word, we take oaths to assure people we mean what we say. We put ourselves under the threat of deity for breaking our word. Which means we make our own self-regard the measure of our truthfulness. We do not want to be struck down by God. This self-regard we share with all people (even if they don’t believe in God). Therefore, this kind of oath carries weight in guaranteeing our truthfulness.

Jesus says in effect, “I am calling you to a different level of truthfulness. I am calling you to witness to the inbreaking of my kingdom and the kind of integrity I have brought into the world. Yes, you still live in a fallen world. There is lying and deceit. Oaths may be necessary among those who do not know my saving power. They may still help fallen society hang together. They are a kind of dam against the river of human falsehood.”

It seems, then, that Jesus’ argument aims at absolute integrity and truthfulness but does not intend to stipulate absolutely the wording that expresses this truthfulness.  Our new inclination should be, my oath is not necessary. I should be slow to use an oath. An oath will very likely (if not necessarily) communicate something about the weakness of my trustworthiness that may dishonor Jesus. One of the glories of Jesus is that he frees me from the need to lie and from the need to prove that I don’t lie. The followers of Jesus are not just honest, they are moving toward a condition in which protections against being thought dishonest will not be necessary. Therefore, they will find countercultural ways of declaring the lordship of Christ over their minds and mouths. In the end Jesus aims to be known as the way, the truth, and the life. He demands that we live and speak in a way that will make that glory known (pg. 296-300).”


Pastor Josh

Published in: on July 16, 2010 at 8:00 AM  Leave a Comment  

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