Even though reared in a non-religious home, I was still taught it was wrong to “swear,” but to me, that meant “don’t use the terms ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’ as a way of expressing anger or negativity.” I didn’t understand why, but I obeyed. Looking back, I’m sure this came from America’s culturally Judeo/Christian ethic, reflecting one of the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20:7, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.“
I have Jewish friends who are so careful to protect God’s name that they won’t even spell it out! They write “G-d” instead to honor the preciousness of His holy name. Today, God’s name is used “in vain” (“as nothing”) so commonly that it’s hard to go anywhere without being affronted by people disrespecting the highest and holiest name on earth and heaven. Even if people don’t believe in God or Jesus, why would they slander and disregard what is precious to others? To me, it’s just another proof that God really does exist . . . and that people are prone to rebellion!
This type of “swearing” doesn’t refer to taking God’s name in vain but means promising to be truthful. It doesn’t happen often today, except in a court of law, when we are asked, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” Historically in American courts, people were supposed to swear on the Bible that they would tell the truth, although this tradition is not currently kept in many courts. In Britain, people of other faiths are allowed to base their oath of truthfulness on their own holy book, and atheists are allowed to affirm their oath to truthfulness without basing it on anything.
However good and right it is to protect God’s name, that not exactly what Jesus is teaching in Matthew 5:33-37 when he says, “Again, ye have heard that it hath 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 the 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.“
In truth, ( 🙂 ) I think the atheists have the “most Christian” stance on this issue, at least if I understand Jesus’ command: “Swear not at all.” Rather than basing our truthfulness on some source outside ourselves—or even on our own “head” (meaning according to our ability to remember correctly??)—Jesus tells us to simply let our “Yea” be “Yea” and our “Nay” be “Nay.”
Oh, to be such people of our word that when we say “Yes!” we can be counted on to mean that we agree and will perform that which we’ve affirmed. “Can you come to my party?” “Yes!” But then, a more interesting opportunity comes along, and so our friend skips off to pursue something they prefer. Really? We say, “No,” but when pressured, we give in. Really? Oh, I just changed my mind! Really???
In a world where relationships seem to be built on shifting sands and keeping our word is no longer prized, let’s follow Jesus’ example of being men and women who can be trusted to keep their word. As a young person, I was profoundly impacted by the list from Psalm 15 that speaks about those who will be blessed, and one of the causes for blessing is, “He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.”
God expects us to be faithful, even when it’s harder than we expected (and isn’t that almost always the case?). God is the ultimately faithful one, and for this reason we can trust him and hope in him: “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.24 The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him” (Lamentations 3:22-24).
Wouldn’t you love to have a friend who was always faithful and trustworthy? Wouldn’t you love to be a friend who is always faithful and trustworthy? Jesus would like us to be! In fact, he commands us to be. What a challenge!
Text for this meditation: Matthew 5:33-37 “Again, ye have heard that it hath 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 the 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.“