“I swear! I swear on a stack of Bibles!”
As youngsters, this is how many of us would seek to establish credibility about anything we might say. We were taught that the Bible was a holy, sacred book, not to be handled or referred to frivolously. I still believe that, and obviously the judicial system does also. I’ve seen witnesses in courtrooms swear truthfulness by placing hands on Bibles.
This view of God and his word has deep roots among humankind. Way back in the Old Testament, the Israelites were cautioned in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:7) and subsequent laws (Leviticus 19:12) not to use God’s name or swear by his name “falsely.” Apparently to swear by his name was acceptable, as long as it was not done deceitfully.
When Jesus came on the scene, he changed the rules of the game. What he says on this issue applies to all of us today. He very simply says to us not to swear by anything in Matthew 5:34, and the verses that follow. This isn’t too difficult to accomplish in life; but, his words in Matthew 5:37 add a different dimension to this issue of believability in our daily talk.
“Let your communication be yea, yea; or nay, nay.” If we combine these two verses, we find that Jesus is urging us to end the practice of swearing to the truthfulness of a statement and, instead, to establish a reputation for honesty, integrity, reliability and trustworthiness in our relationships with one another. In essence, he’s telling us to let our word be our bond.
Jesus says that if we make a commitment, we should honor it; if we take on an obligation, fulfill it; if we make a promise, keep it. In short, be true to our word. The apostle Paul puts it another way in his letter to the Ephesian church, chapter 4, verse 25, where he exhorts us to “speak every man truth to his neighbor.”
We have a third authority to consult, James 5:12, where he re-enforces Jesus’s “swear by nothing” position, adding the probable result of failing to do so, “lest ye fall into condemnation.” This is not a reference to eternity, but rather to deceit and hypocrisy. His point is that to develop a pattern of such behavior may result in deviating from Jesus’s directions.
Clearly, none of us is perfect. From time to time, we all tend to fail in efforts to stay true to God and his word. A four-line prayer I read some years ago, author unknown, may help us all minimize such failures:
Lord, by your Spirit grant to me; a deep desire for honesty; that when I simply give my word; no one will doubt what they have heard. AMEN.
Rev. O.L. Johnson, a retired LAPD lieutenant, is an associate pastor in his home church. Greater New Zion Baptist, 501 W. 80th St. in Los Angeles.
Pastor’s Corner is a religious column that looks at the relevancy of scripture in life today. The column will appear monthly in The Wave and on its website, www.wavepublication.com.