What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Swearing is to use profane or obscene language.
Swearing may have had its origins in Old Testament times when people sincerely called on God's name to back up an oath or a vow. In these times, the people of modern Israel have discarded God as well as the practice of making sincere promises, vows, and oaths before Him; but they have retained His holy name to throw around as a common exclamation!
Swear Not at All!
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?
How James addresses this to his audience tells us he considers it an extremely serious matter. His use of "above all" suggests that we should be especially careful on this point. It is as if he is saying, "Make sure you catch this point because it may be the most important one." Swearing oaths is not a trivial matter!
In the Old Testament, taking oaths by God's name was more prevalent—even commanded (see Deuteronomy 6:13)—but God holds those He has called out of this present, evil world to a higher standard. The ancient Israelites were carnal human beings whose behaviors had to be constrained by statute. Knowing they would swear oaths, God directed them to take them honestly and only in His name, thus regulating and elevating the practice.
Christians, though, are to follow God's law, not just in the letter, but also in the spirit, a more in-depth and encompassing charge. The standard that has been set for us is that our word should always be true. Paul writes, "Therefore, putting away lying, 'Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,' for we are members of one another" (Ephesians 4:25; see Zechariah 8:16).
Our Savior puts it even more strongly in the form of an admonition: "But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:36). Because God is with us, every word that we speak is spoken in God's presence and thus should be true, making oaths unnecessary.
As God's people, we are to represent Him in honesty and obedience and reflect Him in our conduct in every way. Because of this, we do not need God's name in an oath to back up our word. Therefore, a Christian should simply say "yes" or "no" according to what he honestly believes to be true, even in legal matters. As Jesus says, anything we try to add to the unvarnished truth is Satan's handiwork (see John 8:44). In short, a Christian's word should be his bond.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
1 Peter 1:15
When a person swears by a thing greater than himself, it lends weight to what he says. He means that his word is as certain as the existence and power of the one by whom he is swearing. When one takes an oath by God or on the Bible, such as in a court of law, men recognize that God Himself makes the oath binding.
God swore by His holiness. "As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct." We find here that we are to be holy because He is holy. Holiness, like righteousness, is both imputed by God and achieved by us. Just as the vessels of the Tabernacle and Temple were holy, so are we when we are consecrated, set apart, for God's use upon conversion (I Corinthians 3:16; Colossians 1:22). Holiness, however, is more than an imputed state of being. It is a process that we must pursue throughout our Christian lives (Hebrews 12:14). That is why God admonishes us to become holy, to be holy in our conduct (Romans 12:1; II Corinthians 7:1; Ephesians 4:24; II Peter 3:11; I John 3:3).
The laws written in Leviticus 19, from which Peter quoted, are injunctions against defiling the mind, character, personality, and attitudes of a person through sins like idolatry and breaking the Sabbath. God also speaks of taking care of the poor, of not reaping the corners of the fields, and of being just in judgment. He warns against respecting persons and always siding with the disadvantaged (who may be wrong in his cause). He also mentions not eating anything with blood, practicing divination, or soothsaying and so forth. These and other defilements make one unholy, impure, and defiled.
He wants us to be holy because He is with us and in us. He does not want to be contaminated by the impurities of His people. God wants to have close contact with His people. "I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God and they shall be My people" (II Corinthians 6:16). If we want to have a fellowship with Him, we must start to become holy as He is. "'Come out from among them and be separate,' says the Lord. 'Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you'" (II Corinthians 6:17).
Israelites, God's people, are advised to be separate so they can avoid every possibility of defilement: "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (II Corinthians 7:1). Flesh and spirit indicates "physical and spiritual" or "body and mind"—one's total personality—outwardly and inwardly in all relations with God and fellow man. Our sanctification, part of which we do, sets us apart to walk the way of holiness.
Holiness is what makes God what He is. It is not an attribute of God like love, joy, or omnipotence. Holiness is the ground, basis, and foundation of God. It is His uniqueness and totality, His deity, and divinity itself. It is the perfect purity of God.
His holiness is symbolized in the construction of the Tabernacle: "The veil shall be a divider for you between the holy place and the Most Holy" (Exodus 26:33). A curtain separated the two chambers, and only the high priest could pass through the veil—and then only once a year. The phrase Most Holy is literally "holiness of holinesses." It represents the height, the top, the very pinnacle of morality. God was isolated from Israel, not because He was unapproachable, but because He wanted us to see the difference between us and Him. He really is approachable; no one in the universe is more approachable than God. But He is transcendently superior.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
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