Three boys were deliberately late for school one morning, hoping to avoid a test. They told the teacher they had a flat tire that caused them to be late and miss the scheduled test. She gave them a one-question quiz and had them sit in different parts of the room. The question? “Which tire?” They failed.
Matthew 5:33-37 is about integrity, which involves moral character. It means doing the right thing and living by a moral and ethical code based on God’s standards. It is about being honest.
That was the issue with the oaths people were using at the time of Jesus. They were taking an oath on something in order to convince someone else they were telling the truth. People do the same thing today, especially in the South, by saying things like “I swear to (whatever),” or “I’ll be honest with you,” or “Cross my heart and hope to die.” People even say, “So help me, God,” or “With God as my witness.” Why do people use such oaths? To convince someone they are honest. However, if we are honest, taking an oath changes nothing. If we are dishonest, using an oath means nothing.
The Jews reasoned that if they swore by God’s name they were obligated to keep their oath, but if they did not use God’s name, their oath was not binding. Human nature is prone to lies and, because of that, we also have a tendency to distrust others. Over time, civilizations developed rituals that attempted to ensure people were telling the truth. An oath was one way to demonstrate someone was telling the truth. The oath itself was no better than the honesty of the person who was making it.
Jesus encouraged us not to use oaths, but to let our yes be yes and our no be no. To do more is evil. Christ followers should be the kind of people who speak the truth because they are honest. Our words should have such integrity that we do not need any type of oath or formal assurance that we are telling the truth. We should always be truthful.
How we tell the truth is important. We are called to live in the light. Ephesians 5:9 reminds us that “the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth.” Cicero, the Roman orator, said, “Nothing is sweeter than the light of truth.” Chaucer, the English poet, said, “Truth is the highest thing that man may keep.”
What is Jesus telling us in these verses? There is no need to take an oath; simply be a person of integrity who tells the truth because it is the right thing to do. Don’t play games with words, but speak the truth in love.