“You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the LORD.’ But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.” – Matthew 5:33-37
Why is Jesus emphasizing the importance of making vows? It seems that the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders were breaking vows and using sacred language carelessly. He was clearing up why vows were important and why they shouldn’t be used lightly. Laws of the Old Testament caution against making vows or swearing oaths and even though the leaders weren’t using God’s name, they were still using words that came close.
- Numbers 30:1-2 – “Then Moses summoned the leaders of the tribes of Israel and told them, “This is what the LORD has commanded: A man who makes a vow to the LORD or makes a pledge under oath must never break it. He must do exactly what he said he would do.”
- Leviticus 19:12 – “Do not bring shame on the name of your God by using it to swear falsely. I am the LORD.”
- Exodus 20:7 – “You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.”
Jesus is reminding us here that it is important to tell the truth. The Bible condemns making vows or promises casually, giving your word when you know you will not keep it, or swearing falsely in God’s name (Life Application Study Bible). As Christians, our language and our talk should be pure and should not be full of lies and deceit. When we give our word to someone, we should keep it. If we aren’t going to commit to what we have promised, then we shouldn’t commit in the first place. Wiersbe quotes, “Jesus taught that our conversation should be so honest, and our character so true, that we would not need ‘crutches’ to get people to believe us. Words depend on character and oaths cannot compensate for a poor character.”
James also warns us about vows, “But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned (5:12).” A good Christian character is when people believe what you say when you say it. You should avoid telling lies, half-truths, and exaggerations. This will allow you to become a trustworthy person and others will believe you with a simple yes or no.
Are you a person known for your word? Or do you need careless words and promises to back up what you say? If you have the light of Jesus within you (Mt. 5:14), you should have a new heart (Ez. 36:26) and a transformed mind (Rom. 12:2). This will build a Godly character within you and the words you say will be honest and pure.
Proverbs 10:19, “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.”