Jesus said, “Again you have heard that it was said to people in antiquity, ‘You are not to go back on your oath, but are to carry out any oaths you have taken in the Lord’s name.’ But I am telling you that you shouldn’t swear on oath at all, neither by heaven, since it is God’s throne.”
— Matthew 5:33-34 (USC)
Words are dangerous. What we say – the promises we make – are perilous at times. A large part of the problem is we only discover this by hindsight much of the time, or we do notice the error in our speaking at the time, but we don’t know how to rectify it. These are just two examples of the hazardous nature of communication. And, of course, we haven’t even catered for misunderstanding in the receipt of communication.
More than once I’ve been counselled about making too many promises. Sometimes, even as the words slip past the lips, there is the knowledge – “Oh, that could be a lie. Can I keep that promise?”
So, our promises – our oaths – get us into trouble.
What Jesus is getting at here is the nature of life when rubber hits the road. It’s a wisdom teaching that Jesus has given us here – it’s a principle we wish to adopt if we are to ascend to the heights of holiness in the moment in question.
We cannot hope to adhere to this teaching perfectly. That isn’t Jesus’ point. Wisdom literature gives us maxims that are worth their weight in gold, but none of us can apply them without error or all the time.
Perhaps this is one area where we need to be most forgiving of others and to ourselves. Why do we apply the measure of perfection when none of us can attain it?
It is best to let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no,’ no. But even the most disciplined and learned of person cannot always get there.
One thing we can do in training ourselves in this as a goal is to say less in general. That’s not to say we ought to stop being conversational people, but we can learn to be wiser regarding the really important things we say.
One way we can be motivated to say the right thing is to imagine, more often, this truth: that the Lord and his heavenly host wait upon our every word. Nothing we say is insignificant. This is not said to cause fear, but to raise the stakes of life. No moment is insignificant.
Life goes better when we guard our words for having appreciated we are in the company of the Lord.
QUESTIONS in REVIEW:
1. Do you think Jesus is meaning for us to apply this teaching literally (perfectly) or figuratively (as a wisdom maxim)?
2. How do you regularly disappoint yourself regarding your speech and communication?
3. Given perfection is unattainable, what might God’s grace be saying to you regarding what you say and what others say?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr. Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.