Jun 13, 2020 (Saturday) - Yes or No? - A Reflection on Matthew 5:33-37

'Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 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 one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Have you realized how difficult it is to find an honest person these days? I know that it used to exist in my father’s generation, and I am sure that you can attest to that. Integrity, then, was something of value, and it was reflected as much in the culture as it was in the people. Look at old movies for an example. You could recognize the hero by his moral fiber, not by his muscles. So, what happened? What happened is that truth became a matter of expediency: meaning, if it was more convenient to lie, we would lie. And we would even swear we were speaking the truth while lying.

You disagree? Ok. Yesterday, we looked at the subject of divorce. Researchers estimate that 41 percent of all first marriages end in divorce. The statistics for second and third marriages are even worse, so if you are hoping to be second-time lucky, be careful. Now most of these marriages are Christian marriages, which take place in a church. And there, in the name of God and the presence of witnesses, we promise “to have and to hold (each other), from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part”. What value was that promise? Or the others that we make?

That Jesus speaks about it after he speaks about murder, adultery, hand chopping, and eye-gouging, suggests how seriously he takes this, especially vows we make in his name. James repeats this instruction not to make them. 'Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple 'Yes' or 'No.' Otherwise you will be condemned' (James 5:12). That’s harsh, no? Considering we all swear on just about everything we can think of. When I was growing up I used to hear my friends swearing on their mother’s lives. And, I should add, while blatantly lying.

So, what can do to change this? We have to first recognize that there are moral truths that are absolute and unchanging. If God says something is wrong, it is wrong. As long as we don’t hold firmly to these moral absolutes, and cease trying to justify our actions, we will keep doing what is wrong. And that includes swearing falsely. Secondly, we have to stop swearing in anybody’s name, especially God’s. This doesn’t mean we can’t — the Old Testament is full of instances when God has told us to swear by his name — but only when these promises will honor God, not dishonor him.

Thirdly, we need to teach our children what ‘yes’ and ‘no’ mean. How many times have we told our children, 'yes', we would do something that they asked us to do and ended up not doing it. And how many times have they asked us for something, and we have said, 'no', you can’t have that and let them wear us down until we turned it into a 'yes'. Know what I am saying? They need to grow up knowing that 'yes' means 'yes' and 'no' means 'no', and in the process they will understand and reflect the character of God.

So, let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’.