Nowadays, swearing and oath-making are not very common. Of course, I’m not talking about profanity, there’s plenty of that. Funny, the same word, swear, has such opposing uses: one as a debasement while the other is a promise that is binding because of the witness of someone “higher” in power, class, or position.
Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.
There are only a few places where the full intent of swearing is still recognized: a wedding where vows are made between two people; a swearing in to public office; and a swearing to tell the truth in a court of law. In all three of these cases, people are asked to “swear” over a Bible with the implication that they are “swearing by” God. Supposedly, they are saying the words that can be and should be witnessed by God who will/can affirm their truth. Hmmmm.
Sorry, but I don’t think people take these oaths very seriously anymore. Marriage oaths are broken every day. In fact, there are great numbers of people who consider divorce their first option if “things aren’t working out.” I know this attitude well, I had it myself when I married the first time. I had all kinds of provisos: If he does this or if he does that, or doesn’t do this or doesn’t do that, I’ll just get a divorce. Big deal, in other words. I’ll do what I want to do.
I certainly don’t feel so cavalier today. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if there aren’t some serious repercussions for swearing or making an oath with little intent to keep it. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discouraged his followers from making oaths, “. . . I tell you, do not bind yourselves by an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is the throne of God; Or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you are not able to make a single hair white or black.Let your Yes be simply Yes, and your No be simply No; anything more than that comes from the evil one.” [Matthew 5:34-37, Amplified]
Throughout this morning, a partner verse keeps coming to my mind about the sowing and reaping principle: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” [Galatians 6:7, NIV 2010] A vow or oath is a type of sowing, it’s a promise, and it’s the beginning of a process; when that promise is broken, the process is aborted and something else will happen instead. There has to be a reaping.
For this reason, I think, Jesus advises us to avoid these situations.
And, as an afterthought, perhaps the profane kind of swearing also bears some unpleasant fruit (or reaping) for the speaker. Wikipedia states that the original meaning of “profane” was “outside or in front of the church.” It is something that does not belong to the church. Interesting tidbit.
Before my Christ-centered days, I could swear up a blue streak and probably “out-swear” a truck driver if need be (not that truck drivers necessarily swear). I could also drink just about anyone under the table. I was proud of my ability to appear really “bad.” Inside, I don’t think I was much different than anyone else. I just covered up a great deal of my insecurities with behavior.
So, my take away for today is two-fold: I should be much more circumspect about the promises I make as well as more prudent in my words. I don’t profanely swear on a regular basis but I do find myself lapsing into some old bad habits. It’s unproductive, or worse, when directed at someone else, it’s “outside the Spirit.”