Making Promises (Matthew 5:33-37)

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Moses had told Israel, “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be  slow to pay it,  for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the Lord your God with your own mouth.”  This law meant that you could not make a vow and then in regret keep putting it off without consequence. Nor could you simply ‘forget’. God always does what He says He will do, and He does it in good time. His people must therefore act likewise. 

The outcome of this should have been that God’s people mean what they say and say what they mean. If one lacked the capability to fulfill a promise, one would simply not promise it. Of course, that severely limited one’s influence. It is easy to see how the temptation was to promise more than you could deliver, and to back up grandiose commitments with a vow – a vow that was nothing short of a pseudo-lie – having only a possibility of proving true. As with all lies, such talk springs forth from the father of lies. 

Teaching on the sermon mount, Jesus calls it for what it is; “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.” 

In our day and age, lies, exaggerations and misspeak are rampant. From the highest office to the lowest, truth is deemed to be subjective. What that means in practice is that the line of demarcation between truth and falsehood is so blurred one can only find it by careful research. Our culture expects the seeker of truth to ensure someone is telling the truth by doing what the legal system calls “due diligence” – meaning you need to double-check what you were told as fact by accessing more objective sources of information of your own accord. Where in the past the onus was on all to tell the truth, today all the onus for truth is on the one who wants truth.

That our society as a whole accepts this is a great shame. Such a lackadaisical approach to honesty does not even honour people, let alone God. But so it is. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “…in the last days people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”

In this environment the true disciple of God stands out like a beacon on a foggy night. What we say, we mean, and we mean what we say. We do not take the place of God and promise things outside our control, nor do we invoke authority we do not have to justify our words. Yes means yes, and no means no. By acting this way we shame the evil one, honor our Father in heaven, and draw attention to the rule of the righteous judge of all, God Most High.

The strength of truth lies in the unity of its parts.

Charles Spurgeon


Lord, we thank You that Your Words are true. You do what you say you will do, when you say you’ll do it. Lord, let us honor you today by doing likewise. Amen.

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