Context First – Matthew 5:33-37

During the Men’s small group today we came across the topic of promises, and someone said that we should never make promises because we have no way of making sure they take place. Lying is bad, but did Jesus actually tell us to never make promises?

As always, context first! …

This is said during Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and is said following the statement that he has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17-20 gives us the reasons for why he is reinstating all these former laws. This is definitely still relevant to us.

Every statement he says from here on starts with stating a past law.

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’

Followed by the reinstated command.

But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 

This segment is actually really convincing. Jesus tells us not to make any oaths (the equivalent of a promise, or close enough) at all, in every way and every fashion. He says that we have no power over how things turn out so there’s no point.

This is followed by the Application.

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

As a result, we conclude from this passage that  instead of making promises or swearing on anything, we should keep our answers to ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to avoid sin. It sounds reasonable until we overlap oaths with things such as signing forms, terms of agreements online, or simply promising to do something. What about the oath you made after becoming a citizen of Canada?

Is there even a difference between an agreement and a promise? If I tell someone I’ll wash the dishes and don’t do it, isn’t that breaking my oath as well? Do I have to live under a rock now and make sure I don’t agree to do anything ever again?

Heck no. Promises are a gift from God, the promised land is one of the sweetest hopes a man can hold onto. Let’s take a shot at interpreting this passage.

Jesus used figures of speech. While we can’t just assume everything that doesn’t make sense is a figure of speech, it’s a fact that they were used (Matthew 17:20). How would I go about applying it to this case?

Jesus made a total of 6 statements with the same train of thought. Let’s look at two of those, Matthew 5:27-30 and Matthew 5:38-42.

  1. Past Law
    1. You shall not commit adultery (V5:27)
    2. An eye for an eye (V5:38)
  2. Reinstate Law
    1. Looking at a woman with lust is already adultery in his heart (V5:28)
    2. Do not resist the one who is evil (V5:39-40)
  3. Application
    1. Get rid of things that cause you to sin (V5:29-30)
    2. Turn the other cheek and retaliate in love (V5:41-42)

When was the last time a Christian cut off his right hand in a response to sin? Is that literal? Does Jesus really encourage us as Christians to not resist evil? Do we take Matthew 5:39 as a commandment? Why does Jesus even bother telling us this?

It’s all in the Application. We get nothing out of his sermon if we don’t understand how Jesus wants us to change.

We don’t cut off our hands because we know he’s talking about a different kind of member. The application is to abandon the parts of us that lead us into temptation, whether it is our way of thinking or something physical. We resist evil because we realize in this context that Jesus is asking us to retaliate with love, and how important it is to retaliate with love to evil people.

So what’s the Application of Matthew 5:33-37? 

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

Jesus doesn’t want us to make certain oaths because he understands that a lot of the times we promise things, there are a lot of strings attached. Lying is bad and a lot of the times we lie accidentally because we are afraid of giving the real answer.

But he’s not just telling us to stick with ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. You can still easily lie with simple words as such.

Don’t make half-hearted promises.

Thinking back to the last time I agreed to do something I had no intention of doing, I gave a ‘Yes’ that meant something totally different than a yes. Only saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ doesn’t help much if your heart is still in the wrong place. The ‘No’ would have been a much better answer, and a ‘No’ with an explanation would’ve been gold.

Don’t agree without thinking. This is included in loving your neighbors, and is for the sake of others, not you. Even if your heart is in the right place, there are things you have no control over, or as Jesus said, we cannot make one hair white or black.

Let us see the bible as the literal word of God, and understand that there is so much more to the word of God than it’s literal meaning.

Michael “50 Shades of Yes” Ru


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