Trust can be hard to come by. And in this broken world, people find it so hard to trust, we require oaths.
But Jesus says here that we are to be people of such integrity that God or others shouldn’t require such oaths from us.
“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.”
Back in those days, swearing an oath in the name of God made it binding. But if you swore by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or by your own head, it was less binding.
But Jesus said, “No, swearing by all these things are just as binding, because heaven, earth, and Jerusalem all belong to God and are reflections of his glory. So if you swear by them, you swear by him. And even if you swear by your own head, that belongs to God too. You can’t even control when your hair turns white.”
In short, unlike what the Pharisees and teachers of the law taught, all oaths are binding.
But Jesus says, don’t swear at all. The only reason you’d need to swear an oath at all is because you think people might not believe you.
Why would they think that?
First, they might not know you. In that kind of situation, you may need to swear, such as in a court of law.
But second, they know you, and they know you’re not trustworthy, or they have doubts about you. In those cases, you may feel a need to swear.
There is nothing to be done about the first situation. As I said, we live in a world broken by sin. Lack of trust is the norm. Because of this, we may be required to swear oaths. I don’t think Jesus is casting aside all oaths in this passage. Jesus himself spoke under oath when on trial (Matthew 26:63-64).
But, the second situation is something you can control, at least to an extent, by proving yourself honest to the people around you. That when people hear you say you’ll do something, that’s all they need to hear.
Can people trust you? From the little things (being on time for a party with friends) to the large (faithfulness at work or in ministry)?
Jesus calls us to be light. And to be a person that can be completely trusted is shining that light brightly in a world where few can.