Oaths before God. This passage from Matthew 5 regarding the taking of oaths is a little more obscure in our society and perhaps a little harder to understand. Is the Lord Jesus telling us that all oaths are wrong? No!
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not
swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
Matthew 5:33-37, NKJV
Oaths before God. What is an oath? According to the dictionary, an oath is a solemn appeal to a deity, or to some revered person or thing, to witness one's determination to speak the truth, to keep a promise, etc. Jesus is referring, in this passage, to oaths or promises made before God Himself.
Are oaths still made today? Yes, oaths are still made today. For example, if you are called to a court to be a witness, you are asked to swear an oath that you will tell the truth. In a marriage ceremony, vows made between the bride and groom are often actually oaths they make to each other before God. Why, then, is Jesus speaking against oaths?
In Jesus' day, the religious leaders often required people to make oaths, causing them to sin. Did the people owe their allegiance to these religious leaders? No! Their only allegiance should have been to God. Jesus was addressing this practice of the Pharisees.
Other Bible passages also address the making of oaths. Swearing oaths before God is not wrong, as a matter of fact, we should only make oaths in the name of God. In doing so, however, we must remember that God holds us accountable for the oaths we make. Because of this, Jesus was warning that it would be better to not make an oath at all, than to make an oath before God and then to not keep it.
We must realize that in all of our speech, we must be very careful, for once words come out of our mouth, there is no taking them back! James spent almost an entire chapter warning us to be careful about the words that come out of our mouth. Though it is a rather long passage, I hope you will take the time to read it and consider it carefully.
1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. 2
For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word,
he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4
Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce
winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot
desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.
See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?
James 3:1-11, NKJV
God is perfect, righteous, and holy. Let us be very careful to be obedient to Him, especially regarding any oaths we have made in His name.