Have you ever had to take the witness stand in a court of law or seen someone take the witness stand? You are supposed to put your hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth? I thought this was okay and would do what I was told. I met a man who said that it was against his religious belief to swear by the Bible. He said that promising to tell the truth is enough. I was curious about this, so I asked him what he meant. He told me about this passage in Matthew. Let’s look at what Jesus says about keeping our promises.
Matthew 5:33-37 (NIV)
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ An oath is a promise, which is something you give your word to do.
34But I say to you, Do not swear [take an oath] at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
36And do not swear [take an oath] by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.
37Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ or your ‘No’ be ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one [Satan].”
James 5:12 also tells us the same thing, “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” Oaths, promises, and contracts should obligate us to keep our word, especially when it is tempting not to. Jesus was not condemning all forms of promises, contracts, or agreements. But was speaking of a spontaneous vow made when a person says, “I promise I will do (whatever).” Or, “If you do (whatever) I will do (whatever).” It does not mean Jesus’s teaching in this passage discourages careful, thought-out promises, such as wedding vows or a legal contract.
The Consequence of Rash Vows
Making rash vows can have devastating consequences, which is why Jesus said not to make vows or oaths. The story of Jephthah illustrates the foolishness of making vows without understanding the consequences. Before leading the Israelites into battle against the Ammonites, Jephthah—described as a mighty man of valor—made a rash vow that he would give to the Lord whoever first came out of doors to meet him if he returned home as the victor. When the Lord granted him victory, the one who came out to meet him was his daughter. Jephthah remembered his vow and offered her to the Lord (Judges 11:29–40). Jephthah was so sorrowful because he loved his daughter.
Joshua made another foolish oath when he swore not to attack the Gibeonites. After Joshua conquered Jericho, the men of Gibeon tricked Joshua into making a treaty with them, which is the same as an oath. Joshua did not seek the Lord’s guidance and wisdom concerning the treaty. When they found out they were tricked into making the agreement, this is what Joshua said in Joshua 9:20 (NIV) “This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that God’s wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them.” See Joshua 9:3-21 to read the entire account. The oaths or promises we make are serious to God, and He will cause us to suffer the consequence if we don’t keep our word, so be wise about what you promise to do.
Herod made a foolish vow because he was so full of himself. Matthew 14:6-7 states, “But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, 7so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask.” What she asked for made Herod very sad and afraid. You can read this account in Matthew 14:1-12.
When We Make Oaths?
When you make an oath, make sure you are being led by the Holy Spirit and not your flesh. Psalm 15:4 describes a righteous person as one “who keeps an oath even when it hurts and does not change their mind.” Oaths, vows, and promises are binding, even when spoken frivolously or privately, as part of everyday conversation. A promise is a promise, and there is no loophole in God’s eyes to allow a person to renege on an oath, which includes marriage vows. It is so sad that so many people, including myself, break our promise to love and cherish our spouse till death do us part, then get divorced. The consequences are many when we break our marriage vows. In my case, my first husband broke his vow to me.
When you promise something, you need to let your “yes” be “yes.” Be very careful when disciplining your children, that you don’t say how you are going to punish them for their poor behavior and then can’t do it, or don’t do it. This will break your children’s trust in you, which will destroy your authority to speak into their lives.
If a child asks a parent for a promise, the parent should hear it as an indictment, since it reveals that the child has learned they cannot quite trust their mother’s or father’s word. Their “yes” has not always meant “yes”. Ideally, a parent’s word should be so reliable that the child never thinks of guarantees. Indeed, every follower of Jesus Christ should aim to be so reliable that no one asks them for promises. To build trust, you need to keep the promises you make.
The following are Scripture passages explaining the expectations and consequences of making vows or oaths.
If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. –Deuteronomy 23:21
If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. –Numbers 30:2
You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. –Leviticus 19:12
“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” – Exodus 20:7
God’s Grace When We Swear Falsely
The story of Peter denying Jesus is the most incredible example of God’s grace and love for Peter and for us. What amazes me is that Jesus knew Peter was going to deny Him three times before the rooster crows. Jesus knows our every thought and action, and He will help us do what is right if we humbly ask (James 4:6).
Peter proudly declared in Mark 14:31, “’Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And all the others said the same.” It wasn’t long before Peter swears, he didn’t know Jesus, according to Mark 14:70-71, “But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” The rooster crows, just as Jesus said it would, and Peter realizes what he had done and weeps bitterly, then runs away. I am sure he feels shame, wouldn’t you? Then, Jesus comes to Peter after he had risen from the dead and restored Peter’s spirit by asking him three times if Peter loved him. Do you love Jesus? We will all make vows we don’t or can’t keep, but God is rich in mercy and will give us grace.
May God bless you richly.
Pt. 3: Seven Markers of a Trustworthy Person
Pt. 1: Forsaken? Betrayed? How to Trust Again.
A Wise Person Controls Defiling Thoughts