The Name

What does a politician’s word mean? What does your word mean? In Matthew 5:33–37, Jesus tells you what your word should mean, and he goes beyond that as he points you to the character of the Father in heaven.

Don’t take God’s name lightly. Do not swear falsely. Jesus paraphrases and summarizes passages that regulate oath-taking (Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 23:21). He opposed the practice, common in his day, of outward conformity, while considering all oaths in another name non-binding, Matthew 23:16–22. Our Lord is affirming the principle behind the Third Commandment, which requires keeping God’s name holy. Oaths and vows are taken (increasingly?) lightly in our culture as oaths of office, sworn testimony, and marriage vows are disregarded. Profanity is prohibited. This treats God’s name, or his prerogatives, in a light and inappropriate way. “O, my God,” is used, not to begin a prayer, but as an exclamation of surprise. “God Almighty” or “Jesus Christ,” are not used to invoke God’s name, but to add emotion to what they are saying. The misuse of God’s name is so common that we sometimes tend to fail to hear and fail to be shocked by the profane use of the name of our Creator and Savior in entertainment. God takes blasphemy seriously, Leviticus 24. When we instinctively cringe at the judgment, we are really putting ourselves on the throne and judging God, rather than allowing God to display his justice.

Instead, take oaths appropriately. Is Jesus prohibiting any taking of oaths? Some have so argued. But they have misinterpreted Matthew 5:33–37, ignoring the instruction to Old Testament saints — Deuteronomy 23:21–23; and examples: Jesus — Matthew 26:63,64; Paul — Romans 9:1; and the Father himself — Hebrews 6:17. The position that a Christian can never take an oath not only fails to take this passage in the context of the rest of Scripture, but often seems to grow out of a mindset that sees the Christian as unrelated to the world and escaping from it. Jesus’ teaching safeguards the sanctity of the oath. Oaths and vows are important—at marriage, professing faith in Christ, and taking office. They are to be kept because of God’s name which is involved. Jesus proclaimed all oaths binding. The sanctity of the oath is a crucial part of the foundation of justice.

“When Jesus appeared on earth to announce the coming of the kingdom promised in the Old Testament… he automatically clashed with the Pharisaic and nomistic view of religion, which prevailed in his day. Still, though he rejected the human ordinances of past teachers of the law(Matt. 5:21ff.; 15:9), and though he has a different view of murder (5:21–22), adultery (5:27–28), oaths (5:33–37), fasting (6:16–18). divorce (19:9). and the Sabbath (Mark 2:27–28), he does uphold the whole law….”

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, p. 450

Let your “yes” be “yes,” and your “no,” “no.” Speak the truth. Guard the sanctity of truth. As God’s covenant people be known for your honesty. For ordinary purposes, let your “yes” be “yes,” and your “no,” no.” See James 5:12. When you speak as a Christian, your “yes” should mean exactly that, not a “maybe.” Your “no” should be reliable—without the need for a supplemental oath. There is a place for “maybe” in your conversation. You can make plans, expressing the qualification that carrying them out depends on the Lord’s will, James 4:13–15. You can say “maybe” if that is what you mean. But don’t say “yes,” when what you mean is “maybe” or “no.” Become more aware of the meaning of what you are saying, especially in a euphemistic society.

“Our Lord came to bear witness to the truth, and his kingdom is one in which the sanctity of truth is paramount. The mark of truth is chastity of speech. If we are truthful and if our tongues are mellowed by the love of truth, we shall not need to embellish and reinforce our affirmations, denials, and promises by expressions which are the coinage of profanity and ultimately of untruthfulness.”

John Murray, Principles of Conduct, pp. 173–74

Rejoice in the truth of your Lord, because behind your truthfulness lies God’s truthfulness. Jesus not only spoke the truth, he is the truth (as well as the way and the life), John 14:6. Lying is the antithesis of who he is. It’s source is demonic, John 8:44. As God’s covenant people, reflect the truthfulness of your Savior! Your salvation rests on God’s oath-bound promise, Hebrews 6:16–20. That promise cost the life of his Son—for your salvation. Because of that, use your tongue, not to swear, but to praise God. Sing in worship. As you do, you are building up and encouraging one another.

It is because you reflect the character of your faithful, covenant-keeping God, that your oath-bound word means something—and that your “yes” and “no” mean exactly what they say.