Mean What You Say

"Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it." - Matthew 23:16-22 (NKJV)

The Pharisees didn’t place a lot of emphasis on saying what they mean. Instead they had developed what one commentator called “evasive swearing”. They divided oaths into two categories. Those they had to keep and those they didn’t necessarily have to keep. The way they divided these oaths depended on whether or not God’s name was involved. If the name of God was used in the oath, then it had to be kept no matter what. However if you managed to give an oath without using God’s name, well then you didn’t necessarily have to keep that oath.

The result of evasive swearing was that if someone swore by God’s name then he would keep that oath without fail. But if they swore by anything else he felt perfectly okay with breaking the oath if he wanted to. As you can imagine this led to people’s word being basically meaningless unless they had sworn in God’s name that they would do something. The way they figured this was that if they had sworn by God’s name then they had made God a partner in their oath and so they were bound to keep it. If they didn’t keep it not only had they broken their word but they had also insulted God. On the other hand if they didn’t use God’s name they didn’t break their word when they changed their minds and God really didn’t care since His name hadn’t been invoked in the oath.

This is the attitude that Jesus is taking to task in this passage. He tells them that they are only pretending to be people of integrity. They want to give the appearance of being truthful and honest people without all the hassle of having to actually be truthful and honest people. One great truth they failed to recognize is that our lives cannot be divided into the secular and the sacred. There is just our life and there is no part of our life that God is not a part of. There is not one standard of truthfulness at church, one with our friends and another at work. There is just one standard and its God’s standard. God’s standard is honesty. (…)’

Source: Stacy J Ross (stacyjross)
Original title: Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

Read also: “Swearing Oaths“.

Read also “Living What We Believe” (by William Birch).

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