Friday, May 22, 2009

Oaths and Promises

But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment. (James 5:12 NAS)

Oath During a daily devotion recently, I came across a scriptural passage concerning an oath made by a group of Jews which amused me. The passage was about some forty Jews who conspired with the chief priests and elders, and bound themselves under an oath to kill Paul, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed him (Acts 23:12-16). If these Jews had kept their oath, they would probably be dead long before Paul was beheaded years later after that oath was made.

All of us know what it means to the Jews about keeping oaths. Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew said:

"Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, `YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.' But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, `Yes, yes' or `No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil." (Matthew 5:33-37 NAS)

Oaths or vows, whether good or bad, bear serious consequences. If we make an oath, we are required to fulfill the oath or be held accountable for what we have promised. In our context, this may mean the fulfillment of our marriage vows, our contractual agreement with our employers and business partners, or even our pledge as citizens to serve the country. All these are of course for the greater good, but if we should fail in keeping with what we have vowed or agreed to do, we will certainly be held accountable. Likewise, if we promised God something, we should also seriously consider how we should fulfill our promise. We know God is gracious, but we should never abuse His love for us.

This message concerning the need to keep our oaths is no doubt difficult to accept, and probably the reason why James advised us not to swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but to let our yes be yes and our no be no, so that we may not fall under judgment (James 5:12). This advice is not new; for Jesus Himself had taught these same principle concerning oath, that we should let our statement be 'yes, yes' or 'no, no', for anything beyond these is evil (Matthew 5:33-37).

In the parable of two brothers, Jesus gave the example of a man who had two sons. The second son promised to work in the vineyard, but did not go. The first son on the other hand said he would not go, but afterward regretted and went. Which of these two sons, therefore, fulfilled the will of his father? The first son, of course, and Jesus said to the self-proclaimed righteous people that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before them (Matthew 21:28-31), for they were the ones who had truly repented.

The Lord's teaching concerning oath is not about making sure we do not get caught in the entanglement of fulfilling agreements and commitment in all areas of our lives. It is about fulfilling what we must fulfill, such as our vows to our spouse, our agreements in contracts, our roles as citizens and more, depending on the different circumstances and requirements, but beyond that, we should not tie ourselves down to oaths, or be bound to unnecessary arrangements. We must, above all, never make an oath to do evil.

Dear Lord, teach us not to make unnecessary vows that bind us to fulfill what may not be a part of Your plan for our lives. Help us Lord to discern what is good and what is bad when we are required to make an oath or keep a promise. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for You alone O Lord deserves all glory and power, now and forever. Amen.

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