“Again, you have heard that it has been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” – Matthew 5:33-37In teaching his disciples, Jesus emphasized the importance of words in the life of a Christian. If a Christian is living a pure life, free from lying and deceit, then he has no need to swear on anything when he makes a statement. “I swear to you on my mother’s grave!” “I swear on my life!” “As God is my witness!” “I swear on a stack of Holy Bibles!” No matter what the statement that we are making, there is no need for us to follow it up with “and I swear…”.
The obsession with swearing on this or swearing on that reveals a deeper problem. If we always have to validate our statements with “and I swear…” then this indicates that in the other things we say, we are somewhat less than honest. In effect, by overemphasizing our truthfulness in one moment, we indicate that in other moments, we fail to tell the whole truth. This should not be the case. In Luke 6:45, Christ said, “for of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaketh.” As Christians, we should be marked by a right heart that results in a right use of the tongue.
To those around us, believers and non-believers, the indication of our lives is that we are honest and true in all our dealings, not merely the ones where we tag on the phrase “and I swear…”. Being convicted by the Holy Spirit and striving to keep a clean conscience before God and men, we must not ever lie. And we do not need to emphasize that we are telling the truth in any particular moment, for we must always tell the truth. It should be our testimony as Christians.
It is interesting that following his teaching on worldly wisdom versus godly wisdom, James says, “above all things” in reference to this principle of being honest in the place of swearing. The business world does not work like the church. In worldly wisdom, agreements must be sworn to, signed, and witnessed in order to be true. This is because there is a different motivation behind the deals that occur in business and the commitments that we should have to on another in the church. In business, it is all about what can I get, but in the church, the Christian should be thinking, “what can I give to help the body.”
Seeking self-interests in the church is an affront to the ethic of Christianity. Rather, when each member is seeking the health and well-being of every other member, I can trust you when you say something to me. I don’t need you to swear to me. Rather, in pure Christianity, I trust that you are striving to do right before God and before others (including me). The church should be different than the world. In a church, we can trust that what the next person says is meant from a heart fully surrendered to God. Godly wisdom is different from worldly wisdom, and the church must be different than the world.
Reflect: Read James 1:26. How does this verse relate to the ethic of not needing to swear to establish honesty.