I’ve mentioned before the different problems of legalism. Here we see another problem. People who are legalistic tend to try to find loopholes. They may keep the letter of the law (as they see it), but try to find ways to avoid keeping its spirit.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law were masters of this, and we see an example here that Jesus brings up. The law said that you were to keep oaths that you made to God. But then these men made all kinds of rules of what that actually meant. If you said, “I swear by the temple,” you weren’t bound by your oath, but if you said, “I swear by the gold of the temple,” you were required to keep it. If you said, “I swear by God’s altar,” you weren’t bound by your oath, but if you said, “I swear by this gift on the altar,” you were.
And Jesus points out the utter fallacy of this way of thinking. It is the temple that makes the gold holy, not the reverse. It is not the gift that makes the altar holy; rather, it’s the altar that makes the gift holy. Lest the Pharisees try to squirm out from under that concept, he goes on to say that if you swear by the temple, you’re swearing by God who dwells there. And if you swear by heaven, you swear by God’s throne and by God himself.
What was Jesus’ point?
Just do what’s right. When God said, “Keep your oaths that you have made to me,” the point wasn’t that it it’s okay to break your oath if it isn’t made in God’s name. While that is certainly important, the real point was that your word is important. If you say you’re going to do something, do it.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law focused on “oaths to God” rather than “keeping your oath.” In so doing, they “strained the gnat,” in making rules on what “oaths to God” meant, and “swallowed the camel” by consistently breaking their other oaths. (Matthew 23:24).
How about you? Do you have a heart that truly wants to please God and do what’s right? Or do you have a heart that only does so grudgingly, and is always looking for loopholes?
You cannot please God by claiming to find loopholes, and slipping through them in your daily life. Do what’s right. Do what you know in your heart God has told you to do.