Summary: Life is built on promises. Every word a Christian speaks represents God, whether we take an oath in his name or simply make a promise.

Getting Life Right: PROMISES—Matthew 5:33-37

“You promised.” There’s something about that! There is something about a child being able to trust a parent’s promises, a husband or wife trusting every commitment made, or being able to count on people at work to do what promise to do.


Marriages and stable families are built on commitments kept.

Business goes well when promises—implied or written—are fulfilled. Bills and debts are paid, services provided as promised, warranties honored.

We depend on promises in our retirement, where financial stability is based on the promises and commit ents of people and institutions.

Government is based on trust, and promises to use power rightly.

***As the story goes, there was a tombstone in a Welsh cemetery that said, “Here lies Jim Brown: a politician and an honest man.” An old man was reading the epitaph, and he sadly remarked, “It’s too bad they have to bury two men in same plot.” Why is that funny?**


When God reached out to his people in the OT, he made and kept promises.

God promised Noah that he would never again destroy all life on earth world by a flood, and he confirmed his promise by the sign of the rainbow.

God promised Abraham that he would make him into a great nation, and bless all nations through him. Genesis 22:16-18 says, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that…I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore….and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed”

God spoke through Moses, and promised the Israelites in Deuteronomy 28:9, “The LORD will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the LORD your God and walk in obedience to him.”

God promised David that his descendants would reign forever as kings over God’s people.

In Isaiah 45:22-24, God promised that he himself would reign in righteousness: “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are deliverance and strength.’”

God promised, and when he promised, he swore by own name—his own character—to keep his promises. God’s solemn promises gave his people identity and stability, and assured their future.


When God’s people in the OT made solemn promises, they made them before God.

In Leviticus 19:12 God said, “Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.” In Numbers 30:2, he said, “When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.”

On numerous occasions in the OT, people swore an oath before God, as a promise that must be kept. Even when those oaths were foolish, they felt bound by them. Jesus refers to solemn oaths in verse 33: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’”


Yet Jesus went on to say something quite surprising: (Matthew 5:33-34) “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all…”

Some Christians have taken this literally: they won’t take an oath, even in court. Should we refuse to be sworn in by the court, sign tax returns or mortgage under penalty of perjury, or take vows before God at a wedding?

Even Jesus may have been under oath at his trial. Matthew 26:63 tells us, “The high priest said to Jesus, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’"


There was nothing wrong with taking oaths. The OT allowed it, and Jesus affirmed the OT, saying that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.

The law, however, is not enough to make people righteous. Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The Pharisees were experts at using oaths to make promises sound good, not technically using the name of God, so that they could break their promises without breaking any rules. Jesus said, (Matthew 5:34-36), “I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.” In Matthew 23, Jesus gave more examples: The Pharisees would swear by the temple, the gold in the temple, or the gift on the altar of the temple.

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