People swear by the strangest things. There is the pinky swear. Or “I swear on my mother’s grave” – regardless of whether she’s in it or not. “Scout’s honor,” can be heard occasionally even if the person was never a Boy or Girl Scout. Another old staple is, “I swear on a stack of Bibles.” Sometimes, we may simply hear someone say “I swear.” The point of all this swearing (we’re not talking about cussing or cursing – that’s a different thing altogether) is to add credibility to someone’s testimony or promise. Sometimes we even punctuate our promises and requests when talking to God.
Matthew records Jesus teaching, “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, NASB95) James, echoing Jesus’ words, writes, “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, NASB95)
These verses tend to stir a big question that obscures the everydayness of their intent. Is it right or Godly for a Christian to swear an oath (as in an oath of allegiance or swearing to the truthfulness of their testimony in court)? Let’s recognize that this is a matter of conscience and something that people of good faith can differ on. Jesus’ teaching and James directions are not just for those instances when the state or the courts call us to testify but for each and every day.
The question we should ask is “why.” Why is this idea of limiting our affirmations and refusals to “yes” and “no” desirable? The answer brings us to the intersection of faith.
Why do we swear at all? Because people tend to lie, fudge the truth, and make promises they don’t intend to keep or are not committed to. But God isn’t like that. James wrote, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:17, NASB95) And Paul also observed, “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.” (2 Corinthians 1:20, NASB95) The writer of Hebrews said that God swore to Abraham by himself since there was no one greater (Hebrews 6:13-18) Leaving us with a statement that is without an oath. “I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.”” (Hebrews 6:14, NASB95) God does not lie, neither does He break His promises. His yes means yes and His no means no.
Walking in faith means growing up in Him. Part of walking out our faith is growing in truthfulness and in keeping our word. If we have a loose association with the truth how will anyone believe our testimony about Jesus? If we fail to keep our promises how will others know they can trust God to keep His? Of course, unlike God, we are imperfect in this. The remedy, however, is not found in an oath but in letting God change that portion of our heart that leads to untruthfulness.
“Yes Faith” does impact our everyday relationships and interactions. It is more than just a decider of whether to swear to tell the truth in court or simply affirm. Yes Faith calls us to live it out. Be truthful and gracious in our statements, responses, and affirmations. Be committed to fulfilling the promises we make, even to the point of being careful about making promises. “Yes Faith” isn’t about getting things from God it’s about representing Him well to the folks that make up our world.