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“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”
When you’re a kid, intensity is often measured by the number of words you use. For example, if I make you a promise, it’s fine to say, “I promise.” And if I’m serious about it, I may say, “I promise, cross my heart.” And if I really serious, I could say, “I promise, cross my heart, hope to die.” But if I’m really, really serious, I’ll say, “I promise, cross my heart, hope to die. Stick a needle in my eye.” Do you see what I mean by the number of words? It’s like my reliability is measured by what kind of verbiage that follows the promise. And everyone who’s seen A Christmas Story knows how the intensity of a challenge can escalate from “I dare you” to “I triple dog dare you.”
Well, I think we do the same sort of thing with personal honesty. I mean, if I want to convince you that I’m actually telling the truth, I might say, “I swear.” And you can count on exactly how serious I am about having done that by what I tack on after the swearing. For example, if I were to swear on my life or my mother’s grave, I’m more likely to be telling the truth than if I just swear. Just like, my veracity increases when I swear to something other than me, you know, like God.
But I think it’s important for us to remember what Jesus taught about this swearing business. You see, he said that we really shouldn’t swear at all, because all this “on” and “by” and “to” stuff doesn’t mean a hill of beans, if the other person doesn’t believe that we have integrity and tell the true regardless of our willingness to swear. As a matter of fact, a simple “yes” or “no” should be enough if we’re reflecting the kind of honesty Christ has called us to show.