Matthew 5:33-37 Devotional Commentary

Inherent attributes: Devotional Commentary for October 18-24

Matthew 5:33-37 (NASB)

This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us Wisdom and Insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.

And Jesus continued:
5:33-37
33"Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.'
34"But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,
35or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING.
36"Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.
37"But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil.

At this stage in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus suddenly shifts His focus to issues relating to personal attributes and individual characters. Here in this passage, He addresses the rules on entering and keeping one's oath. As He already did with other matters of the Law, i.e., murder, adultery, and divorce, He begins His teaching regarding oaths by recalling the stipulations of the Law concerning vows.

The Scriptures clearly and unequivocally speak that we should not make false vows. Oaths should always be truthful and should never be broken. They should be honored. Vows made to God must be fulfilled. Simply put, oaths must be made and kept in truth with integrity; and the ability, the willingness, and the commitment to follow through.

However, Jesus does not deal with oaths and vows as He did with murder, adultery, and divorce. In the case of the latter three, He impels us to deal with the root cause of the violative behavior or action. Murderous impulses would be curbed by dealing with hatred and anger rooted in the heart of the perpetrator. Adultery would be nipped in the bud by confronting lustful passions. Divorce would not be an option if we honor the sovereign Authority of the Lord Who instituted marriage. But when it comes to oaths and vows, Jesus says to refrain from entering any oath at all.

No oaths, no swearing at all in the Name of God or by His creation. No oaths by heaven or earth. Heaven is God's Throne and the earth the resting place for His Feet. No vows by Jerusalem either because it is the city of the great king. It is the city where God imprinted His Name. No oaths by ourselves because we cannot even change the color of our hair permanently.

Jesus' exhortation reaches deep into the character of who we are. He says we cannot leverage our oaths and vows by anything or anyone outside of ourselves. Actually, He says Oaths and vows are not necessary at all if we are honest, truthful, trustworthy, and reliable. In that case, we would say "yes" to mean yes, or "no" to say no. That is, when we speak in the affirmative, our "yes" would actually be truthful, honest, credible, trustworthy, and reliable. Likewise, when we offer a negative expression, our "no" would actually mean no if we are honest, truthful, credible, trustworthy, and reliable.

So no oaths, no vows, no leveraging of our questionable ways with the integrity and credibility of something or someone else outside of ourselves. As children of the One Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, let our statements and expressions always reflect the truth with a yes or a no. Let our words and actions come forth with integrity, a godly conviction, a pure heart, a sound mind, and a sanctified spirit; because the Spirit of Truth dwells in our hearts.

Notes/Applications

If the Law commands that vows should be fulfilled and false vows should not be made, then why would Jesus say oaths are not necessary? To be sure, Jesus did not outlaw oaths or vows. But His Words are direct and simple. If one's words are truthful, honest, trustworthy and reliable, one needs no leverage to prove one's credibility to the audience. So Jesus thoroughly examines the reason for oath-making and the failure in honoring one's words.

The Scriptures repeatedly reiterate that oaths are to be made with integrity and in truth. That is, oaths are made to bind the oath-giver in his or her obligation to honor the vow expressed in the oath. Oaths do not make the liar truthful if one does not operate with integrity and honesty. Hence, the Lord says do not falsely swear in my Name to profane my Name and deceive anyone.

Such divine declarations indicate that people use God's Name in oath-making to disguise their true intentions. In fact, a thorough examination of the practices of the people in Jesus' time reveals that they devised an intricate system of oath-making by using points of reference other than God's Name such as: heaven, the earth, Jerusalem, or even oneself in order to avoid using God's Name in their oaths. In other words, they devised an oath-making convention that would give them the "acceptable" way to disregard their obligation without "incriminating" themselves or "offending" God. But God searches the heart.

Such practices should not be mistaken for a reverential gesture toward God, for so they were intended. It is a spurious sophistry used to excuse oneself from any obligation to keep a vow. We call such maxims plausible deniability in our modern aphorism of political or diplomatic convenience. An acceptable lie pragmatically efficient for getting away with dishonesty. A noble lie!

So Jesus says we do not need oaths to appear truthful if we are liars inherently. We might be able to deceive mortals like ourselves but not God. In other words, if we do not mean what we say or do, leveraging our dishonesty with the glory of creation or the good report of others would not make any difference at all.

Articulate or not, we are still liars if we are untruthful. Convincing or not, we are deceivers if we do not operate with integrity and honesty. Therefore, with or without oath, swearing, or vow, let our "yes" mean yes and our "no" mean no.

As believers redeemed by the precious Blood of Jesus Christ, we are transformed into a new person in Christ so that we might be ultimately conformed to the image of the Son of God. We are united with Christ. But any deviation from the truth makes us complicit with evil. What then!? Shall we serve evil while with Christ? God forbid!

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Matthew 5:33-37
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