Tell the Truth
“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 . . . . Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
~ Matthew 5:34 (34-37)
I have redacted the quote (here is the full text) for purposes of memorization. The concept of our “Remember the Bible” series is that we will be able to quote the Bible, when there is an idea or concept for which we want to show authority, especially centering on clear passages that people tend to ignore.
I’m not saying that you need to correct someone every time they swear an oath; clearly, this is something we want to be careful about, both as to timing and as to the person we correct. But, say, someone asks you to take an oath, demanding that you swear to something. It is a lot more convincing to be able to state the quote above, from memory, and also to be able to give at least the chapter, and if possible the chapter and verse.
Why do we want to swear an oath in the first place? We want to intensify and highlight our understanding of the solemnity of our statement. At the most benign, we simply want to let the other person know that we understand the importance of telling the truth in a specific circumstance. We certainly don’t mean any harm.
Yet, here we have Jesus Christ himself telling us that swearing an oath “comes from evil.” And He specifically tells us, this prohibition is not limited to swearing to God. It includes swearing to the earth or the hair on our head. Anything more than “yes” or “no” is contrary to his express commandment. Why do Christians not take this more seriously? They are looking to their subjective intention rather than learning from the Bible. They don't mean any harm and don’t see any harm.
But looking to our internal sense of right and wrong is a poor guide, a relativistic guide that will always fail. If we look to ourselves for our sense of right and wrong, we invariably end up serving ourselves. We justify our conduct; our minds play tricks on us. We decide that what is in our self-interest is “good” and what is not, is “bad.” We need a 100% absolute statement of what is right and wrong, and we need for it to come from God.
God determines right and wrong, not human beings, no matter how good their intentions. Especially where Christ gives us a clear and unqualified commandment, how can we possibly justify ignoring it?
We do love explanations though, even if they are not Biblical, so here is something that comes from my mind, not from the Bible. If we find ourselves wanting to swear oaths, we need to change our attitude about telling the truth. We need to stop telling “little white lies.” Too often, the “lie” part of a “little white lie” is accurate and the “little white” part is false, a rationalization for a lie motivated by our sinful pride.
Why do we really swear an oath? When we swear an oath, we are, in essence, saying “In this instance, I am not lying like I sometimes do.” We want to swear an oath because we have a guilty conscience. To swear to one statement is to admit that another statement is false.
So, we might infer a second principle underlying Christ’s words here: Always tell the truth! (Yes, there must be exceptions when this rule violates another tenet of Life in the Spirit—for example, kindness. But we should examine such exceptions carefully.)
Lord, let my conduct always be guided by your truth. Amen.
~ Mason Barge
Editor, Daily Prayer