Jesus taught disciples not to swear by earthly objects (Mat. 5:23-27). The Pharisees had become accustomed to swearing by the altar, the temple, and the earth. That had developed a tradition and system surrounding these vows and what was more powerful and appropriate. Jesus says that we should not try to add strength to our words. We should be people of integrity who simply use “yes” and “no”, with there being no need to add extra word for emphasis and force.
James says, “do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” (James 5:12).
Here are some general principles I want to observe about swearing and vows.
- Taking legal oaths and making a vow is acceptable and scriptural if done appropriately. Oaths are not evil. God made oaths (Heb. 6:13-14; Psalm 110:4). Jesus testified with an oath (Mat. 26:63). Paul made oaths (2 Cor. 1:23; Rom. 1:9; Gal. 1:20). So a respectful, sincere, legal oath is not condemned, but acceptable. Thus oaths in court and marriage vows are good and acceptable before God when done appropriately. Essentially they are a formal promise.
- Using extra words to add force to our words often becomes the type of swearing Jesus forbids. Jesus and James do forbid false, blasphemous, and frivolous oaths. Oaths that use extra words and emblems seeking to add power to the words. In fact, this is connected with foul language or swearing language. It is profane speech and often blasphemous. Consider how people use the Lord’s name in vain in a way to add force and power to their words. Christians should keep their tongues in check and not use such profane and vulgar talk. There is no need for such if we are a person of honesty and integrity.
- We should not use vows to force the Lord’s actions, and likewise, cause us hardship and guilt. Some today can use vows or swearing similar to the Pharisees by making a vow when they are in a desperate situation to God. Someone might say, “Lord if you will ________ , then I will __________”. While not always wrong or sinful, these types of vows certainly seem to be unwise and go against the spirit of these teachings. We are not to put the Lord to the test by trying to force His hand or bargain with God (Mat. 4:5-7). The Bible contains some examples of foolish vows (see Saul and Jephthah), which cost them dearly. When people make such a vow it sets themselves up for hardship. If the Lord is seen to grant their vow, then they are compelled to live out their end of the agreement. Many times this is not possible or even advisable over years. This creates guilt and internal conflict because of violating the vow. If the vow is not granted, then they can become angry and bitter at God. It seems the best course is to simply do what the Bible advises and pray fervent prayers trusting in God’s sovereign will and provision.
I hope these points have helped you consider vows. What thoughts or questions would you have for my consideration?