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Again you have heard that it has been said by the ancients, â€œYou shall not swear falsely, but you shall fulfill your oaths to the Lord.â€ But I say to you, â€œDonâ€™t swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is Godâ€™s throne, nor by the earth, for it is his footstool, neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king, neither shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your word be clearly yes or no. Everything more than that is from the evil one.â€ â€” Matthew 5:33-37
I have to confess that sometimes my word doesn’t live up to these texts. Sometimes my word is so complicated that nobody can understand it. Sometimes I think I can do more than I really can accomplish and so my word comes through late. Sometimes I simply forget. All of these things fall short of the mark.
In Old Testament times the answer to people’s unreliable speaking was the oath. God used oaths in communicating with people. Hebrews 6:16 tells us that all argument is ended by an oath. But Jesus is telling us that oaths are not the ideal thing.
Now note that Jesus is not telling us it’s OK to violate oaths. Rather, he’s telling us that our everyday word, the way we speak all the time, should be just as true and inviolable as an oath was. He’s telling us to let our speech be straightforward and then to live up to what we say. This would truly be a way of â€œtaming the tongueâ€ (James 3:8)!
I think most of us have to admit we aren’t there yet. I know I’m not. So how do we head this way?
First, we can be careful what we say. Is it accurate? Is it well-thought out? Can we live up to the promises we make or even imply? Too often we pop off with opinions that are poorly thought out and then feel that we have to stick with them in order to be consistent. A little thought beforehand would be good. But God has provided us with the path of repentance to use when we fall short.
Second, we can quit giving ourselves so many excuses for our failures. We all know the excuses. We each have our favorites. Enough said!
Third, we can make truthfulness a key priority in all that we say and do. Letting our speech be â€œyes, yes and no, noâ€ or as I translated it â€œclearly yes or noâ€ means that we don’t get to be rulebook lawyers. We don’t get to twist the wording to make ourselves look better. Instead, we pursue truth and integrity in what we say and what we do.
It’s one of the commands of Jesus. Perhaps we should give it some priority!