“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:33-37). 

Jesus now addresses the veracity of our speech as Kingdom-livers. Again contradicting the religious teaching of His day He says that the common practice of swearing, or the confirmation of someone’s word by the taking of an oath, was not in line with the character of those that we a part of His new Kingdom. Jesus says not to swear (or, as we would say today, “promise”) in order to try to authenticate our words but simply let our verbal commitments to so be trustworthy they can stand on their own without further confirmation. 

First, let’s understand that Jesus is not speaking against the taking of all vows (i.e. in a court of law, on a legal form, or at a wedding ceremony). There is scripture that indicates that God Himself “swore” to emphasize His decrees (Genesis 22:16) even though His absolute honesty is an inherent part of His character (see James 5:12). We believe that Paul might have been “sworn in” before he was allowed to speak to Roman authorities. The issue here, again, is not external, but internal and spiritual. The question Jesus is raising is why, if you are absolutely trustworthy in your speech, would we have to, in normal daily life, confirm what you are saying to be true? Is this not, in and of itself, something of an indictment of one’s lack of credibility? 

“My word is my vow” is a principle that had been lost in Jesus time much as it has been in contemporary culture. In those days, people were often required to swear in order to validate their word. Apparently it had become so commonplace for people to say one thing and do another that vows of sincerity were added to verbal agreements. I believe that when Jesus delivered His Sermon on the Mount, He was saying that His followers should have such integrity that an added validation of sincerity is unnecessary. In other words, if we say it then we mean it and if we claim we’ll take care of something then we will do it. A person of integrity speaks with such honesty that “yes” means just that. 

Modern Christians have trivialized the critical concept of honesty to a rudimentary restatement of one of the 10 commandments “Do not lie” (Exodus 20:16). And we want to believe that pertains only to “big lies”. I believe, however, that not telling a blatant untruth is but a piece of what it means to be trustworthy in our words. Let me give an example. A person commits to doing something (even something as small as agreeing to be some place at a certain time) and then fails to do it. When the agreed upon time rolls around, they fail to show (the exception being they were providentially hindered). The promise-breaker apologizes for failing to keep his or her commitment, but the damage is done. One might call such an oversight or just “a white lie” but integrity has been breached. People of integrity should not give false statements; believers should live out what they say. This expands upon the concept bearing false witness found in the Decalogue. 

Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10).  You see, Christ saw our unwillingness to keep even the smallest commitments as a lack of trustworthiness and honesty. He knew that people would never esteem our character when we display dishonesty through our words and that includes even the “smallest” of statements. Why would they care to listen to us extol the virtue and beauty of our sin-forgiving Savior when we don’t bother to do what we promise to do? One cynic, after being witnessed to by a habitual commitment breaker, said, “Is Jesus late for every appointment, too?” 

Jesus clearly indicates that His Kingship demands that His followers demonstrate integrity when we speak. Our hope is built upon the veracity of who He is and what He has said. We trust His words, don’t we? Yes!  In fact, we stake our eternal destiny upon them. So let’s make sure that our “yes” truly means yes and our “no” really means no!  Living in His Kingdom requires it. In Ephesians 4:25 we find this admonition: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body”. And Paul emphasizes this by saying, “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8). 

In other words, our utterances should be so reliable that others will trust in us so that they can see the trustworthy nature of the One that we trust with all that we are.