Matthew 5:33-34a & 37 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made. But I tell you … All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
“Cross my heart and hope to die!” For many generations children have sung this phrase when trying to get others to believe something they were saying. I remember my neighborhood friends repeating the words when I was growing up. But to be honest this chant, no matter how earnest the tone, never really gave me confidence that the spoken word was true. That credence only came when the person making the promise had previously proven their trustworthiness. Then the phrase wasn’t needed.
Jesus spoke of the importance of a man or woman’s word. Referring back to God’s Law Jesus pointed out the command to keep your oaths and fulfill to the Lord any vow you had made. Numbers 30:1-2 says, “Moses said to the heads of the tribes of Israel: ‘This is what the LORD commands: 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 do everything he said.’”
As was usual for the deceitful human heart, the people reckoned that if they didn’t make all of their oaths using the LORD’s name then they would not be bound to keep them. So they came up with other useful phrases that gave each statement a different level of integrity. They would swear by heaven or by the earth or by the city of Jerusalem or by their head. Maybe they even said some version of, “Cross my heart, and hope to die!” But their lack of follow-through and integrity created mistrust and no amount of wording could make that right.
So Jesus told his disciples not to take oaths at all. All promises are made with God’s knowledge. He said, “If you swear by heaven, that is God’s throne. And if you swear by the earth, that is God’s footstool. The city of Jerusalem is the city of the Great King. And if you choose to swear by your own head what good is that? You can’t make even one hair turn white or black. So instead, Jesus taught, say what you mean and mean what you say. Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’! Anything beyond this does not come from God but from the evil one.
What a lesson this is for us today! We have become so good at wording things in such a way as to get us off the hook in case we don’t want to follow through. But God expects us to be men and women of integrity. And the more we keep our word the more we will develop a reputation of truthfulness.
When our ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ means ‘no’, there will be no more need to preface our statements with “Cross my heart and hope to die!” People will trust everything we say and God will be pleased.
Sandra Sheridan is a midwest wife and mother of five. She shares her letters to her children with our readers. Visit her at www.VersesFromMama.com.