Summary: Lesson 16
Years ago children, in an effort to convince their friends that they were really serious about a matter, used to make an oath of sorts. The oath was something similar to, "Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye." When that "cross my heart" vow was taken, the only legal way to break it without any repercussions was to have had your fingers crossed at the time the commitment was made. The thinking was that you could commit to anything, and as long as you had your fingers crossed you could renege with impunity.
While all the oath taking and finger crossing seemed to be quite innocent back then as kids, that same mentality seems to have followed many into their adult years. Many in our society have kept right on using that finger-crossing technique in order to find ways to justify breaking almost any commitment, especially when keeping the commitment becomes too difficult, costly, or even just inconvenient. As a society we are reaping the consequences of generations of finger-crossing. Each year we spend billions of dollars to cover the cost of broken commitments in businesses, in marriages, and in many other facets of life.
The cost of broken commitments goes beyond the financial realm. There are also personal, emotional, and spiritual costs that need to be considered as well. Nearly all of us, at one time or the other, have experienced the pain of discovering that someone we trusted, a parent, a spouse, a child, a friend, an employer or a co- worker, apparently had their fingers crossed when they made a "cross my heart" promise. It’s because of this that these words of Jesus are so relevant to us today. In these verses, Jesus is calling His followers to a new and different way of living.
I. THE COMMENCEMENT
A. An Oath Defined
1. The entire concept of oath-taking originated in the Old Testament, but before considering its origin we would do well to understand what an oath is by definition.
2. "An oath is a solemn affirmation or declaration, made with an appeal to God for the truth of what is affirmed, and imprecating His vengeance, and renouncing His favor if what is affirmed is false." (Barnes’ Notes, The Gospels, page 57)
3. In other words, when a person takes an oath, he or she is making a solemn declaration or statement with an appeal to God to bear witness to the truth of what was affirmed, denied, or promised. The individual taking an oath is calling upon God to be witness, judge, and revenger if they are not speaking truthfully.
4. An oath was and is a very serious thing.
B. An Oath Demanded
2. The reason behind the commandment with regard to oath-taking was first and foremost to restrain man’s inclination towards lying. Because of sin, lying was prevalent among the people in Moses’ day just as it is in our day.
3. The taking of an oath in the name of the Lord was meant to bring to bear upon the minds of the people the seriousness of lying to their fellow man.
4. Another reason for the oath-taking command was to restrict the practice to serious matters only. The act of taking an oath had been trivialized and people were taking oaths in the name of God over the most insignificant matters.
II. THE CORRUPTION
As was the case with killing, adultery, and divorce, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had corrupted the matter of oath-taking. The Pharisees had developed a teaching that made a distinction between what they referred to as binding and non-binding oaths. That such was the case is obvious from Matthew 23:16-22.
A. Non-Binding Oaths
1. Non-binding oaths were oaths that were taken by the temple or the altar. Other oaths considered to be non-binding were oaths taken by heaven, the earth, Jerusalem, and even one’s own head.
2. The obligation of an oath depended upon the nature of the object by which the person swore.
B. Binding Oaths
1. The only oaths considered binding by the Pharisees were those taken in the name of the Lord. As long as they did not invoke the name of God, they were free to renege, so they thought.
2. In His sermon, Jesus refutes the false teaching of the Pharisees by proclaiming that all oaths are binding. Even though they may not mention the name of God, He is nonetheless Creator and Owner of all things.
3. Jesus reminded the Pharisees that to swear by "heaven" was in effect to swear by God because heaven is where God’s throne is.
4. To swear by the "earth" would be to swear by the place that is considered to be God’s footstool and to do so would be to swear by the One whose footstool it is.