"When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the Lord your God will surely require it of you. However, if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in you. You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God, what you have promised." (Deuteronomy 23:21-23)I remember my grandmother telling the story of a time when she was called to testify in court. As she took the stand, the bailiff approached and asked her to place her hand on the Bible and asked, "Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" She simply responded, "I affirm." The bailiff, who had obviously never heard such a response, looked puzzled and wondered if such a response was to be allowed. The judge, however, who knew my grandmother to be a Christian, informed the bailiff that swearing was against her Christian faith and that it was sufficient for her to simply affirm to tell the truth without being required to swear or invoke and oath. My grandmother fully believed what Jesus had said,
"Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.' But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil." (Matthew 5:33-37)We have all hear stories of those who, during times of great distress and danger, made vows and promises to God, to serve Him if only He would save them and preserve them from their distress, and whom, only later, after being delivered from their danger, forgot all about their vows and failed to fulfilled their promises to God. James, echoing Jesus' words, warns us of the consequences of false vows saying, "But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment." (James 5:12) When we fail in our vows and promises to God we fall under the judgment of God.
In today's culture, we do not have the same reverence and understanding of vowing as the ancients once did, but God takes the words we speak very seriously, and God expects us to fulfill all the vows and and promises that escape our lips. Jesus warns us that we shall stand in judgment for every word we speak. "But I say unto you, that every idle word which men shall say, they shall render an account of it in judgment-day: for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37 Darby) God hears every word we speak and takes note of all our vows and promises. He remembers our words and the judgments we impose upon ourselves should we ever fail to keep our words. This is why Jesus counsels us to "make no oaths at all."
When we are tempted to go beyond a simple "Yes" or "No", it is not God who is tempting us, but such motivation "is of evil." Such swearing often proceeds from a proud and presumptuous heart. The same kind of heart that James was referring to when he said,
"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.' But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil." (James 4:13-17)When it comes to tomorrow, we are not the masters of our own fate and we are powerless to determine and direct the course of future events. Worse yet, history has shown us that we, as humans, are very bad at keeping covenant and fulfilling our promises. When we swear and take oaths, it is often the result of seeing ourselves too highly then we ought, and it is this pride and presumption that leads us into judgment over our unfulfilled vows and promises. Jesus' counsel is for us to remember that we are but men and, in all humility, to let our conversation be simply "Yes" and "No" and to leave the promising up God.
Powered by ScribeFire.