Politicians take an oath on the Bible, in fact, Obama will do so in just a few days. Yet many must have their fingers crossed while speaking the words, for they do many things contrary to their oath. Witnesses take the stand “under oath” and lie. Business’s publicly display mission statements or codes of conduct which appear to be false both by their intent and their completion. They feign a certain code of conduct but practice something entirely different. So what’s a person to believe when someone takes an oath?
In many parts of the South, a man’s word was and often still is as binding as a written contract. The arrangement is sealed with a simple handshake. But those days of fulfilling the obligation are becoming less and less dependable. In other words, regardless of how sincere the man’s words may be, get it in writing!
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he talks about oaths (Matthew 5:33-37). On the surface it would appear that oaths are a bad thing. But that can’t be the intent since Jesus testifies under oath (Matt. 26:63-64) and Paul uses an oath many times to confirm the words he is speaking (Rom. 1:9, 2 Cor 1:23, 1 Thess 2:5, 10.) It even seems to contradict Deut 6:13. So there seems to be a different emphasis in what Christ is teaching. Indeed there is.
Christ is teaching that we should abandon flippant or casuistic statements that seem to add credibility to our words when indeed the words we speak are false. We should simply say what we mean and mean what we say. Anything beyond that stems from “the evil one”, the father of lies.
The religious leaders at the time of Christ were fond of using different oaths – “by heaven, by the earth, or by Jerusalem” – thinking that they were not as binding as by God. These types of oaths gave the appearance of sincerity with out the power of being sincere. Many times we can see this type of thing being played out in churches were there is a dynamic personality involved. The charisma of the person may be the primary influence for growth, but their actions and intents are often deflected by appealing to the “leading of God”. They can drop nuggets of ideas sprinkled with spiritual words knowing that it is their mission that is intended to be fulfilled, not necessarily that of God. Now that does not mean there is not room for dynamic personalities or good plans when building a ministry. It simply means, it is what it is and should be acknowledged as such.
There have been times in my life when I made a vow to God. The intent of my heart and words was to fulfill that vow, yet I have often found myself seeking ways to circumvent my intent. Making the vow was a way for me to add seriousness to my resolve. However, I have often found that keeping or maintaining the vow was an exercise in futility. My desire was fueled by emotion and not by genuine resolve. That may be why Jesus says what he says regarding oaths. They may appear to add a seasoning of genuine intent, but if one is sincere then a simple “yes” or “no” would do.
So, what constitutes true speech? Words that issue from a pure heart energized by true desire. If it becomes necessary for me to flavor my speech with casual “vows” or innuendos of God’s leading then perhaps my words are not genuine.