Matthew 5:33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
In my lifetime I have seen the breakdown of honesty in speech in our culture. It’s another result of the departure from a Judeo-Christian ethic. There are many who believe that lying is perfectly acceptable if the end is good. The Pharisees had tried to divert peoples’ attention away from the vow itself and onto the formula used in making it, swearing by heaven, by earth, by Jerusalem, or by their heads. They developed elaborate rules for the taking of vows, nit-picking about what an oath was, listing which formulae were permissible – only those formulae which included the divine name made the vow binding. Jesus’ point in these verses is that we as believers are to be people of our word, simply letting our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ be ‘no’. Then vows become unnecessary.
Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Exodus 20:16, in the Ten Commandments says “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Every good human relationship is built on communication, and communication rests on trust. When I open my mouth to speak to someone, I make an instant promise that what comes out will be true. Lying, slander, perjury, flattery and gossip destroy other people in order to achieve our own ends. The result is a breakdown in trust. As believers, let’s use our tongue to build others up, to speak well of others and to give praise and thanksgiving to God. Lies destroy trust and destroys relationships; honest speech promotes trust and builds relationships.
Augustine had a recipe for honest speech:
the right truth (not every truth is mine to tell),
to the right person (some people might distort the truth if it is told),
at the right time (there is a time to keep quiet),
in the right way (the truth told in a wrong way can hurt others),
for the right reason (we have to examine our intentions)
Let’s promote trust by being honest in our speech. Let’s be people of our word.