Jesus advises us not to swear at all, but to say simply, "Yes" or "No" (verse 37). If we are honest, we have no need to take an oath. He goes so far as to say that anything more than "Yes" or "No" has its source in the father of lies (John 8:44)!
There are several aspects to these verses. The overall statement Jesus makes is that we do not need to swear by anything to confirm that our statements are true. A Christian's word should be his bond, as the old saying goes. We should be so bound by the ninth commandment that nothing else is necessary.
The not-so-obvious meaning of these verses is that we should not lightly give an oath or make a vow to God to acquire something. We have many desires, and some might take it upon themselves to ask God for them, promising to perform a certain deed if He gives it to them. Jesus warns that once we get what we want, we may forget what we promised to perform. Numbers 30 shows that God does not take reneging on our promises lightly.
Should Christians make vows today? God tells us the best course to take in Matthew 5:34, "But I say to you, do not swear at all." James writes that it is best not to make them so we do not "fall into judgment" (James 5:12).
Though God advises us not to vow, we can still make vows if we so choose. In making one, however, we should consider the examples of Hanna and Jephthah. We should seriously contemplate what we are requesting and what we are promising, always asking ourselves, "Can I make good on what I've promised?"
We are a special people to God. He has called us, and has great love for us. He hears our prayers as we obey and love Him. We should give a great deal of thought to whether we need to make a vow when we have such instant and open access to the very throne of God. He does indeed hear our prayers, and He answers them according to what He sees is good for us. Why should we make vows when we know that He will give us or deny us what is best for us?
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Should We Make Vows Today?
Jesus says that His brothers and sisters should not even be using such seemingly mild exclamations as "Good heavens!" They are unnecessary, and more than that, Satan and his anti-God attitudes influence them.
Certainly, church members are not using four-letter words or blaspheming or profaning God's name. In part, the third commandment—prohibiting taking God's name in vain—deals with such matters. Rather, the words that some complain about are of another type: mild or watered-down versions of God's names or crude words for certain body parts or bodily functions. Though this sensitive theme may embarrass or offend, it needs to be covered.
For those who might be new to this subject, it is necessary to give warning about "substitute" swearwords such as "gosh," "golly," "jeez," "shoot," "shucks," "heck," "darn," and others. Such words are called euphemisms, literally "good speech." It does not take much thought to figure out what words these exclamations are substitutes for. We do not need them! The English language contains thousands of benign yet descriptive words and expressions that convey the same feeling or reaction.
Yet for those whose speech habits are deeply ingrained, it can be hard. Many of us have used bad language freely and frequently before conversion. Many of us are surrounded by foul language at work every day. A friend told me that, upon starting a job "in the world" after spending four years at Ambassador College, he was plagued by swearwords constantly coming to the tip of his tongue for the least little problem!
I do not wish to appear self-righteous in discussing this sensitive subject. I am not pointing a finger at others. Like many church members, I work in an office where I cannot even enjoy a cup of coffee with my coworkers because the air so frequently turns blue with bad language and filthy subject matter. Some of the women are as bad as the men—in some cases, worse! It can rub off on us and, like the proverbial frog in hot water, we can gradually come to accept gutter-language as the norm. We can become calloused to it, and we can allow it to creep into our everyday conversation.
Swear Not at All!
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 5:36: