Our lives are impacted everyday with varying degrees of dishonesty. But I guarantee you one thing: the most dishonest person you know is the person you see when you look in a mirror. Yesterday, I preached on "A Life of Honesty" as I continue to make my way through the Sermon on the Mount (you can listen to it HERE).
My main point was that Jesus Does Not Care About Promises; He Cares About Honesty! What we have in Matthew 5:33-37 is another portion where Jesus tries to correct the corruption of the Law the religious leaders had made of it. They had taken the OT teaching on vows and oaths and made a mockery of them. To them, it was not just about what you said, but it was the exact order or phrases you used when you made promises. If you vowed to do something but in the vow said that you would do it "by heaven or by Jerusalem" then the vow would not be binding. But if you had said you would do it "toward heaven or toward Jerusalem" then it was binding.
And Jesus comes and says, "Listen, your entire system that you have set up is ridiculous. Vows and oaths were not instituted for you to make a mockery of them and find little nuances to trick people without having to make good on your promises.
Jesus' solution to them is to make no oaths at all. Just let your yes be yes and your no be no. Just be honest. It does not matter what we swear or promise by, any failure to keep our word is sinful. Period! We should be so true to our words that there is no need to make a promise or swear or vow by anything. We should be so true to our words that when we say something, people believe us and trust us and we do it.
Think about it. If someone asks us, "do you promise?", isn't that just a subtle indictment upon our lives that our yes has not always been yes or our no has not always been no? They may have been burned by people in the past who have said things and not fulfilled them. Or maybe they have been burned by us. Let me end with a quote that really impacted me and moved me to have a conversation with my children. I want my yes to be yes to them!
“Suppose it is a Thursday evening. A father tells his children, ‘If you help me clean up the yard today, I will take you out for ice cream on Saturday.’ A wary child may reply, ‘Do you promise?’ The request for a promise is a testimony against us. It shows that a child has learned she cannot entirely trust her father’s word. In the past, she cleaned up the yard, but never received the ice cream. When the child pointed this out, her father said, ‘I forgot,’ or ‘Something came up,’ or ‘You should have reminded me.’ So the child learned to seek a guarantee. When she asks, ‘Do you promise?’ she means, ‘Do you mean it? Can I count on you?’ The very request for a promise testifies that we are not reliable. When a child asks, ‘Do you promise?’ he testifies that our ‘Yes’ has not always been ‘Yes.’ Ideally, a parents word should be so reliable that it never occurs to a child to request a guarantee . . . The very existence of customs such as oaths and promises reveals that human life is tainted by deception. Jesus says that the family of God should be an exception to this. In the kingdom, we should be so truthful that we need neither promises nor vows.”