Journal Entry // May 6, 2023
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath 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 take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (ESV)Matthew 5:33–35
Jesus has previously interpreted three commandments in terms of what they mean through His fulfillment of the Law. On the surface, it seems somewhat of a letdown to move from anger to lust to divorce to oaths. As I read through this passage it always seems like it is a bit out of place. The previous three are these big overarching commandments that we all tend to dull down to concepts that meet our needs and allow us to be obedient in our own minds. Oaths on the other hand seem so minor and inconsequential at first read. It has always been a difficult passage for me to glean points of development from over the years. Yet, this passage has a lot to say about my life and character. How I use oaths is important and it would benefit me greatly to understand what Jesus is saying and apply it to my heart.
So what is he saying? Is he simply telling me to not make an oath; to not swear the truth of my statement against other things? I think the heart of this passage about not swearing an oath is that the people of God should not need to swear an oath at all. Their character should be of such a high quality and they should be so highly regarded in their community that there is simply never a need to swear an oath to confirm what they are saying. A follower of Jesus should be able to just say “yes” or “no” and everyone understands that this is the truth. When a believer says they will commit to something, then it will be done. There should never be a need for an oath to confirm the truth of a Christian’s statement.
I feel as though I fall so very short of this ideal. I feel as though I am often in need of declaring an oath because I have not followed through on my previous commitments or I have not given all of my effort to accomplish the task I have been assigned. My pride is so prevalent that it overrides my commitment. I am all in with the commitment until something better comes along. And in so doing, I have slowly eroded my character before the watching world. My character comes into question because I have been negligent in fulfilling my commitments.
This leads to a need to swear against something. To convince the person before me that I am serious “this time” around, I will need to invoke an oath against something else to prove my seriousness. I do this because even I know that I may not fulfill what I am committing to. It should not be this way. I should only need to confirm that I am committed to the task and that be enough.
What is my takeaway from this passage? It’s never too late to build or rebuild character and trustworthiness. It is actually a simple matter. First, I need repentance. I need to come before Jesus and acknowledge my weakness and failure in this matter. Second, I need reconciliation. I need to come before the people I have let down in my commitments and ask forgiveness for not following through. Third, I need faith. I need to follow through with every commitment moving forward. No matter the difficulty or the hardship, I need to follow through and fulfill the task set before me. Not because I want to have a good solid character that others will see and acknowledge, but only because I love Jesus.
This is the key takeaway. I must be humble and focused on following the example of Jesus in all areas of life. All of these points that Jesus is making in the sermon so far are about character building. And character building is just being a disciple of Jesus. It is about a life filled with humility acknowledging weakness, repentance for falling short, faith in the one that saves me, and confidence in Christ to strengthen and enable me to be faithful. If these four traits are happening in my life each and every day, then I will see the Spirit of God cultivating my heart and mind for the purposes of God. I will have no need for anything other than Jesus because I will truly understand that Jesus is all I ever truly have in this life.