************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 8, 2018
Lord's Day 37
"Does Jesus Prohibit Oath-Taking?"
Difficult Passages #6
Do you know how Anabaptists -- like the Mennonites -- understand the Bible reading in front of us? They understand it to forbid all oath-taking. They go to court and they refuse to swear an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Their assumption, their argument -- based upon the words of Jesus -- is that Christians always tell the truth so there is no need to ever swear an oath.
Are the Anabaptists correct? Does Jesus prohibit oath-taking? That's the question we want to answer as we continue our study this evening of difficult Bible passages.
Our Bible reading is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is telling us how to live as Kingdom citizens. He is telling us how to live as His followers. Jesus is telling us that everything a Christian does and says is most important. It is most important because we are representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is most important because we are being watched by and have an impact upon others. It is especially most important because all of life is lived in the presence of God and under His watchful eye.
In looking at what Jesus says I want to raise three points: what the law of Moses says, what the Pharisees say about the law, and what Jesus says about the law.
I The Law of Moses
A The law of Moses speaks a number of times about the promises of our mouth:
(Lev 19:12) "'Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD."What is the purpose of these statements?
(Deut 6:13) Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.
The main intent of these verses, and others like them, is to restrain broken promises. One of the greatest problems Moses had to deal with was the tendency of people not to keep their promises, their oaths, to one another and to God.
We all recognize, I am sure, that we have the exact same problem today. Is there anyone anymore who fully believes the promises of most politicians? Many of us recognize that politicians promise us the moon in order to get elected. But once elected they usually find reasons to break their promises. And, who believes the promises of the advertisements that daily bombard us? And who pays attention to the emails from the wife of the cousin of the former president of Nigeria promising a large sum of money if we help? And what about the phone calls promising us a cruise or a free vacation? And, think of all the couples who promise to love each other until death do them part, only to divorce. Promises, promises, promises. They are so easily broken in today's world.
The law of Moses attempts to control and check broken promises, broken oaths. Did you know, to break an oath is to misuse the name of God? And, to break an oath is to break trust; when we cannot trust each other then community becomes almost impossible.
B Another purpose of the law of Moses was to restrict oath-taking to serious and important matters. There was the tendency on the part of the people to take an oath about any trivial kind of matter. For no reason at all the people would take an oath in the name of God. The object of Moses' law was, therefore, to put an end to this silly, glib oath-taking. Oath-making is a serious matter; it should only be done in unusual situations and for serious matters. After all, when all of life is lived under the eye of God all our oaths and promises must be faithful and true.
Some people today are like the Israelites. They make an oath about any trivial kind of matter. Consider the following expressions I sometimes hear: "Cross my heart or hope to die." "May lightning strike me if I am not telling the truth." "I swear I am telling the truth." "May I drop dead if what I say is not true." There are other expressions of the same kind. Do you realize this is a form of oath-making? The truth is not served by such sayings. If all of life is under God, then all of our promises must always be faithful and true. Those who recognize this don't need to make oaths to one another.
II The Teachings of the Pharisees
A What did the Pharisees say? Jesus sums up their teaching in verse 33:
(Mt 5:33) Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.'These exact words are not to be found anywhere in the Old Testament. This reminds us that Jesus is not speaking about the law of Moses; rather, He is speaking about the Pharisees' interpretation of that law.
B The Pharisees are more concerned with the letter of the law than with the spirit. As long as they could persuade themselves -- and others -- that they were keeping the letter of the law they were perfectly happy. For example, as long as they were not guilty of physical adultery they thought everything was well with their soul even though their hearts were full of lust. As long as they did not murder anyone they were happy even though their hearts were full of hatred and anger. Now here it is once more. They fooled themselves into thinking that as long as they kept certain kinds of oaths they were righteous, even though their lips were full of lies and their mouths were used to twist the truth.
The trouble with the Pharisees and the scribes was that they were legalists. And, in their legalism they reduced the law's meaning. They reduced the law's entire meaning to perjury. To say a lie in a Court of Law was to them a very serious and solemn matter; it was a terrible sin and they denounced it. Any other time, however, you could break your promises and you were not guilty before the law as long as you did not commit perjury.
C One final point about the Pharisees. They drew a distinction between oaths. You could swear by heaven, by the earth, by Jerusalem, or by your head. All these oaths, according to them, are not equal. Some are much more serious than others. They said, for instance, that swearing by the temple did not mean a thing, but swearing by the gold of the temple was very serious; in that case you were bound by your oath. If you took an oath by the altar you need not keep it; but if you took an oath by the gift on the altar then it was absolutely binding. Such distinctions make a mockery of oaths and oath-taking.
One commentator explains they lived in a world where words were scaled. The more important the words or the promises, the stronger the oath. So the most important oaths were sworn by heaven. Less important oaths were sworn by earth or something on earth.
III The Teachings of Jesus
A Let us turn now to the teachings of Jesus. What does He say about oaths?
(Mt 5:34-37) But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; (35) or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. (36) And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. (37) Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
The "Society of Friends," commonly known as the Quakers, say these words of Jesus mean one should never take an oath, not even in a Court of Law. Hardline Anabaptists today say the same thing.
If the Quakers and the Anabaptists are correct, then various saints and even God Himself are guilty of violating the Lord's words in front of us this evening. For instance, Genesis reminds us that God made an oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen 26:3; ). Abraham swore an oath not to accept anything from the King of Sodom (Gen 14:22; cf Gen 21:31). Jacob swore an oath to his father-in-law, Laban (Gen 31:53). Joseph swore an oath to Jacob and Joseph made his sons swear an oath to him to be buried in Canaan (Gen 50:5,25). Jesus swore an oath before the high priest that He was the Christ, the Son of God (Mt 26:63). Paul took oaths during his ministry (Acts 18:18). And the book of Revelation records an oath by one of the angels of God (Rev 10:5-6).
B What Jesus is saying is that oath-taking must be restricted. It must be used in unusual circumstances and on solemn occasions. Jesus forbids all oaths in ordinary conversation. There is no need for an oath among believers. "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.'"
Jesus' point is that if all of life is lived under God, then all our promises are binding and to them all of us must always be faithful and true. God's children, you see, know they are always in the presence of God. They confess they live in fellowship with Him. Therefore, when they deal with each other an oath is not necessary. It's understood their simple "yes" and "no" are spoken with God as their witness. They realize that before God their "yes" and "no" has the value of an oath.
For that reason the church never asks its members to swear an oath. We say "I do" when we publicly profess our faith, have our children baptized, are installed as office-bearers, or exchange wedding vows. Our "yes" is "yes" and our "no" is "no."
C If all our words are said in the presence of God, if all of life comes under Him, why then are oaths sometimes required? Jesus answers this when He says, "anything beyond this comes from the evil one." We live in a corrupt world, a world of sin. Swearing by the Name of God is sometimes necessary because of the fact of sin. Fallen people cannot be trusted or believed so sometimes we have to ask them to swear in God's name that they are telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
I want to ask you to turn to Lord's Day 37 of the Catechism. I will ask the question, if you can respond with the answer:
Q&A 101Sometimes, as the Catechism notes, oaths are demanded or needed. As Christians, however, we should live among one another in such a way that an oath is never needed.
But may we swear an oath in God's name if we do it reverently?
Yes, when the government demands it, or when necessity requires it, in order to maintain and promote truth and trustworthiness for God's glory and our neighbor's good.
Such oaths are approved in God's Word and were rightly used by Old and New Testament believers.
May we swear by saints or other creatures?
No. A legitimate oath means calling upon God as the one who knows my heart to witness to my truthfulness and to punish me if I swear falsely. No creature is worthy of such honor.
D Let me ask you, when you make promises is your "yes" "yes" and your "no" "no"? Parents, you made a promise at baptism. Do you truly do all that you can to raise your children in God's ways? Husbands and wives, you made a promise at your wedding. Are you faithful and loving till death? Office bearers, you made a promise when you were installed. Are you a shepherd of God's sheep? All of us made a promise at Profession of faith. Do we truly love the Lord above all and do we support and uphold the officers of the church?
I am calling all of you to be like God and Christ. With God and Christ your "yes" is to be "yes" and your "no" is to be "no." With God and Christ your promises are to be always kept and never broken.
We must keep all our promises as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. Because all of life is lived in the presence of God and under His watchful eye.
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