************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 101-102 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 14, 2011
Q & A 101-102
Genesis 22:15-18; Matthew 5:33-37
"The Swearing of Oaths"
"You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name" (Ex 20:7). This, of course, is the third commandment.
As I said last time, we tend to underestimate the importance of the third commandment because we think it has no real bearing on our life as born-again Christians. We might admit to breaking the first and second commandments but none of us want to think we ever break the third commandment. But, as I pointed out last week, we break the third commandment in more ways than we can possibly imagine.
Today, we look at the third commandment again. Do you realize this is the only commandment dealt with in two separate Lord's Days? This tells us the importance placed on this commandment by the writers of the Catechism.
Now, most here would probably say that the swearing of oaths is not a burning issue in our day. Furthermore, most would probably say that the questions and answers we are dealing with this evening are irrelevant to our day and age and have no bearing on our daily lives.
I did a google on oaths and was surprised at how many times it appeared. Remember the mistake made when President Obama took his oath of office? In looking it over this past week I was kind of surprised to learn that Obama's oath ended with "So help me God." At the start of each new U.S. Congress, the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate must recite an oath. When someone joins the U.S. military, they are required to swear an Oath of Enlistment or an Oath of Office. When I applied for immigration to America, I was required to swear an oath that everything I said was true. And, when I became an American citizen, I was required to make an Oath of Allegiance.
I Those With Whom We Disagree
A When it comes to oath-swearing, we disagree with the Anabaptists, Jews, and Roman Catholics.
The Anabaptists have always said that we should not swear any oaths at all. They remind us of Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount:
(Mt 5:35-37) But I tell you, Do not swear at all ... (37) Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.For further support, they also quote what is written by James:
(James 5:12) Above all, my brothers, do not swear--not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned.
Most people assume, wrongly, that this is the only Christian position on oath-swearing. For instance, I had to see a lawyer about the title to my house. She knew I was a minister and said, "Of course, you won't swear an oath. Can you, instead, affirm you are telling the truth." This lawyer did not realize there are Christians who disagree with the Anabaptist position on oath-swearing.
The Anabaptists misunderstand oaths because they misunderstand Jesus. Jesus is not speaking against legitimate oaths. Rather, Jesus is speaking against wrong or illegitimate oaths. And, Jesus is speaking against the continual use of oaths.
Legitimate oaths are not rejected by the Lord. For, a legitimate oath is a religious act because it calls upon the name of Almighty God.
B We also have to disagree with the Jews when it comes to oath-swearing. According to the tradition of the Pharisees, no good Jew ever swore an oath by God or by any of the names of God. The Greek and Hebrew languages know many names for God: God, Jehovah, Lord, Godhead, Most High, Highest, Holy One, Mighty One, God of gods, Lord of lords, Father, Judge, Redeemer, Savior, Deliverer, Shield, Strength, Almighty, Righteous One, Lord of Hosts, King of kings – and there are lots more. None of these names were ever used by the Jews. However, a legitimate oath is always sworn in the name of God.
Instead, the Jews swore by heaven, by earth, by Jerusalem, by the hairs on their head. Now, all these oaths, according to the Pharisees, are not equal. Some are much more serious than others. The Pharisees 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. How foolish.
The Jews also had a tendency to make an oath about any trivial kind of matter, for no reason at all. But 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 words – and not just those under oath – must be faithful and true.
Some people today are like the Jews of Jesus' day. 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. Did you realize this is a form of oath-making? The truth is not served by saying such things. If all of life is under God, then all of our words must always be faithful and true. Those who recognize this don't need to make oaths to one another.
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 to take an oath during an argument and you must not do so. In fact, oaths should never be necessary among believers. "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.'"
C We also disagree with the Roman Catholics when it comes to oath-swearing. Among Catholics, it is permissible to swear an oath by saints or other creatures. Two favorites are Peter and John. This past week I heard someone swear by St Anthony.
A legitimate oath calls upon God and not upon any saint, creature, or thing. A legitimate oath calls upon God for only God "knows my heart." Only God knows if I am truthful to my word and promise. Saint Peter doesn't know. Saint John doesn't know. Neither does heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or the hairs on my head. Only God knows if I am truthful. Only God is worthy of having oaths sworn in His name. And, only God is able "to punish me if I swear falsely."
II For the Government and out of Necessity
A It should be clear by now that we, as Christians, can swear in oath in God's name if we do it reverently and for the right reason.
According to Scripture, God Himself swears oaths. For instance, there is the oath of our Scripture reading. God made this oath when Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac:
(Gen 22:16-17) I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, (17) I will surely bless you ...Furthermore, God's covenant with Abraham and with all believers was and continues to be established with an oath.
Did you know God also swore an oath to Christ. We find this oath in Psalm 110:
(Ps 110:4) The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek."
We can page through Scripture and see the many forms that the oaths of God take:
-"I swear by myself" (Gen 22:16; Is 45:23; Amos 6:8; Heb 6:13)
-"As surely as I live" (Ezek 17:16)
-"I swear by my great name" (Jer 44:26)
-"The sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness" (Amos 4:2)
-"The Lord has sworn by his right hand and mighty arm" (Is 62:8)
Do you remember the time that the Lord Jesus swore an oath? Jesus was before the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was not convinced by Jesus' claim to be the Messiah. So the high priest said to Him,
(Mt 26:63-64) "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." (64) "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.Notice what Jesus did? Jesus swore by God that He was the Messiah, the Christ. This oath, however, failed to convince the Sanhedrin. They charged Jesus with blasphemy. Notice: the Sanhedrin demanded of Jesus something they themselves never dared to do; they demanded that Jesus swear an oath in the name of God.
B The swearing of oaths "are approved in God's Word and were rightly used by Old and New Testament believers." Remember the oath sworn by Abraham:
(Gen 14:22-23) But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath (23) that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal ...Isaac, Jacob, and David also made oaths (Gen 26:31; Gen 31:53; 1 Sam 24:22). In Joshua 24 and 2 Chronicles 15 we can read about oaths made by the people of Israel. The Apostle Paul swore at least four times that what he was writing to the churches was true (Rom 9:1; 2 Cor 1:23; Phil 1:8; Col 1:20). "I speak the truth in Christ," he said. And, "I call God as my witness."
C The Catechism says we may swear an oath in God's name "when the government demands it." Consider the instances I mentioned at the start of my sermon: the oath of office, the oath of allegiance, the oath upon entering the armed forces, and so on.
The Catechism also says we may swear an oath in God's name when "necessity requires it, in order to promote truth and trustworthiness for God's glory and our neighbor's good." What does this mean? We need to recognize that we live in a sinful world. The world's way is to lie and practice deceit. Sometimes, the oath becomes necessary because our world is so corrupt. In special cases we need to call on God as our witness because we humans cannot trust each other anymore.
D It needs to be pointed out that an oath must be kept regardless of the circumstances. Psalm 15 says that the man who worships God "keeps his oath even when it hurts" (Ps 15:4). In Numbers 30 the Lord commands,
(Num 30:2) 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.The example here is God. God swore by His holiness that He would be faithful to His covenant. God keeps His oath even though it meant the death of His one and only Son.
Our oaths and our words should be like God's: totally dependable and reliable and trustworthy and true.
Within the church we do not need the oath. You see, those in the church realize they always stand before the throne of God. They know God is always their Witness and Judge. For this reason the church never asks its members to swear an oath. So, what happens when we publicly profess our faith, have our children baptized, are installed as office-bearers, or exchange wedding vows. We say a simple "I do" instead of making an oath. Our "yes" is "yes" and our "no" is "no."
We also don't need the oath in our dealings with one another. We are all Christ-believers and, again, we all know we always stand before the throne of God.
Within the church the oath is not needed to testify that a statement is true or a promise is binding. Because in the church we expect to hear and speak the truth. Because in the church we expect people to keep their promises. Because in the church we can expect "yes" to be "yes" and not "maybe." Because in the church we can expect "no" to be "no" and not "perhaps."
Remember this: What we say and what we promise, as Christians, is always before God Who is our Witness and Judge. If, then, our words are false and our promises are not kept we blaspheme and misuse the name of God.
For this reason we rightly pray, "Hallowed be Your name." For that is our desire as people saved by the blood of the Lamb. We pray that God's name be always honored and praised and never blasphemed because of us.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page