Tonight we continue our reading of Matthew 5 with verses 33-37. These verses have to do with swearing. Firstly, we need to establish that the term “swearing” has two meanings:
1. Taking an oath
It is my belief that Jesus’s words in these verses apply to both instances. The theme of these verses is that it is forbidden to swear by something (heaven, earth, Jerusalem, yourself) because either these things are holy or you have no control over them. For example, if I were to say “I swear on my mother’s grave” or “I swear on the lives of my children,” the implication is that if I somehow do not make good on my oath, then something bad might happen to my mother or my children. Therefore the understanding is that I would make sure to keep my oath to prevent anything from happening to them.
But Jesus is speaking against beliefs and superstitions like this one because we really do not have power over the ultimate well-being of the lives of others, even our loved ones. To suppose that the actions regarding an oath made could come to bear on children in a way that is unconnected to the way we normally interact with them would be to assume that we have some godly powers. It is foolish to think that we are convincing ourselves or others of the depth of our conviction regarding a promise when we swear by it. Jesus gives us the answer that we are to simply let our “yes” and “no” stand for themselves.
If we “swear to God,” we are making light of His power and His name. This is different than taking God’s name in vain because we think we are promising something to God, making our oath more meaningful because we are making it to God or including God. But what we are really doing is revealing a duplicity within ourselves. Why should my word be any different if I make it to my friend or to God? If I make the same oath to my friend but I don’t swear it to God, does that make it less likely that I will keep my oath? No. Jesus is saying that your word is your word. What we say, what we agree to and what we commit to are very important because they determine our integrity and they sum up the degree of our trustworthiness.
Regarding cursing, let’s look and see how Jesus’s teachings in these verses apply. Jesus says that whatever is beyond our “yes” and “no” is from the devil. This means that we are to speak purposefully and clearly, realizing that our word is our bond and that we will be accountable for all of our words one day. But what is it that makes us curse? And what makes cursing sinful? Why is it an attractive temptation?
We curse because we are disappointed in outcomes. We find a dent in our car. We rip our pants. We smack our head against the cupboard accidentally. These curses come about due to our anger at unexpected negativity or pain. In hindsight, they can be humorous. But at the time, we are angry. So we curse. It feels good as well, like we are taking back some power, voicing our resistance to what just happened.
But what does this cursing really amount to? When you boil it down, it is a protest of reality. If I mutter a word because my team lost or I spilled something, I am expressing frustration at the reality of my life. When I have subjected my life to the Lord, I am more willing to accept the ups and downs of life as part of His plan. Whether God’s plan for my life includes the deaths of loved ones or if I just smash my finger with a hammer, it does not grant me license to utter perverse things by way of relieving the pressure. Rather, I should just accept His will and take the hammer blow for what it is: a sign that I am not paying enough attention to what I am doing!
Also, cursing is sinful due to the meanings of the words used. Whether it is meant to be funny or to express displeasure or happiness, cursing in everyday speech is sinful. Even if it seems harmless, consider that the meanings of these words are perverted, obscene, and irreverent. The things they refer to are unholy and better left unsaid in common everyday speech.
Tonight I encourage you to keep your speech clean, the speech that comes out of your mouth as well as the neverending dialog you have with yourself in your head. Swearing and cursing are dirty sinful habits, difficult to break, but once broken, a clean and pure state of mind remains, a mind that is better arranged to serve God.
“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”
“But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.”