Sermon: To Tell the Truth is Better Than Making a Vow or Swearing and Oath Matthew 5:33–37

Truth Taught- Christians must be people who are honest and tell the truth


We’ve been looking together, over the past few weeks, at Jesus’ comments in the Sermon on the Mount concerning God’s law. We’ve discovered that His followers are to be characterized by righteousness according to God’s law that exceeds even the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).

Matthew 5:20 (ESV) 

20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 

In Chapter 5, Jesus has given us six examples of how it is that the righteousness of His followers can and must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees…

He began with Murder and taught us that being angry with someone is murder from the heart.  He then taught us about Adultery and then spoke about lust being just as bad.  He taught us about the high view of marriage.  It’s important to also note that in each area the religious leaders had twisted what God had originally intended by His Law and they created loopholes so that they could be seen by others as righteous when in reality they were not.

They took the perfect Law of God and so reinterpreted it and twisted it’s meaning and even perverted its application that what originally was meant to be a great help in godliness had become nothing but a new way to sin and get away with it in the sight of man.  Think about the evil involved to knowingly twist God’s Word to remove all boundaries and use it as a means to sin.

To arrive at an accurate interpretation of what Jesus is teaching us it is imperative that we do a biblical theology tracing the importance of God’s name.  Remember the vows and oaths being referred to are the ones that invoke God’s name as the guarantee that they are fulfilled.  Even today you may have heard someone swear to G____ or say something like this, God if you just get me out of this mess I’ll serve you for the rest of my life.  History tells us that Martin Luther during a lightning storm made a promise like that to God.  

Whenever an oath is made or a vow taken in God’s name then it becomes vital that it is fulfilled.  This goes right at the heart of the sacred name of God.

In our passage today, Jesus isn’t referring to one specific verse but many with the same thrust of making an oath using God’s name.

Third Commandment…

Exodus 20:7 (ESV) 

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. 

One commentator gives us a very literal rendering of the Third Commandment…You shall not lift up the name of the Lord your God for nothingness.[1]

A vain use of God’s name is of course when it’s used as a curse word but also when it is used in a way to remove the reverence God deserves.  Certain Scribes were so careful with God’s name that they would not write Yahweh with a freshly dipped pen for fear the ink might run while making the Hebrew letters.

God tells Moses to tell us to not take His name in vain.

The reason He tells Moses this on Mount Sinai is because He told him about the greatness of His name at the burning bush.

Exodus 3:13–15 (ESV) 

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. 

With this great responsibility many ancient religious leaders refused to use God’s name at all for fear of misusing it.  God wants us to use His name and use it in the correct manner with reverence and awe.  He wants us to teach the next generation to use it correctly and all God is that is represented by His name. 

This is the background of why Jesus teaches us what He does.


Matthew 5:33–37 (ESV) 

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 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 take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. 

1.  The False Teaching That Some Oaths Can Go Unfulfilled  

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’

A “vow” is a solemn promise or pledge before God or before men; and an “oath” is the solemn, verbal appeal used toward God to bear witness that the vow will be kept or that the truth will be spoken.

Leviticus 19:11–12 (ESV) 

11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. 

Numbers 30:2 (ESV)

If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. 

In both passages, Leviticus and swearing an oath, Numbers, making a vow both have as their common denominator the name of God.  God’s name is the assurance that the vow will be kept.  To not keep it is profaning God’s name.  For the one who does this, God will hold accountable.  

The way things were originally set up was that a person making an oath and swearing by God’s name was like signing a binding legal document, he was bound by law to fulfill his oath.  So, the name of God would be the insurance that the vow would be kept as he said.  The dynamic is that the man’s word wasn’t deemed trustworthy so he would invoke the name of God to add credibility to his promise.

Let’s see together what sinful man can do when he gets his hands on God’s perfect Law…

They began making oaths and taking vows not technically in God’s name but in the name of heaven, the temple, the gold in the temple, and even the earth.  They might have said something like this…as heaven is my witness I will repay you all that I’ve borrowed.  That promise to repay sounds good and to some just as good as if God’s name were attached to it.  So, they made these vows not technically in God’s name so that there would be no judgment (or so they thought) when they were not kept.  To even go further, they took oaths and made vows like this knowing when they made them they were not intending to carry them out.

Let’s look again at Levitucus 19…

Leviticus 19:11–12 (ESV) 

11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. 

Technically, they were not swearing falsely by God’s name but they were swearing falsely by things associated with God and therefore having much the same effect as if they did swear falsely by God’s name. 

In Matthew 23 Jesus tells us that the Pharisee’s tricks are not going to work…

They made vows that were secondary vows. They would make vows, calling upon the things of God; but not calling upon God directly – that is secondary from God – thinking that this made their vow less binding, and freed them from the obligation of keeping it if it became inconvenient to do so. They ended up with a distinction between “sacred” vows and “secular” vows, and believed that the “secular” ones – the secondary ones – were not as binding as the “sacred” ones that called upon God directly.

Jesus spoke of such vows in Matthew 23:16-22. He showed them that God was involved in these secondary or secular vows, even if they didn’t evoke His name directly. He spoke to the scribes and Pharisees and said, 

Matthew 23:16–22 (ESV) 

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it. 

Beloved, there are no sacred oaths and secular oaths.  Our promises and the words we say must be truthful to the best of our knowledge.  Because God hears and will hold us accountable for all our words we must seek to go the extra mile to be honest, truthful and holy in all our dealings with others.  As God’s people we must go the extra mile in truthfulness not looking for loopholes.  We must do what we say we are going to do and do it as we said especially as Christians who are representing God to others.  When we tell someone something we must do it.  

2.  The Best Way: Do Not Swear At All

 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 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 take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. 

Our Lord’s point is that all the loopholes the Pharisees tried to use fail because the entire universe belongs to God.  He is completely sovereign over everything and to swear at all involves God in some way.  The secular and sacred are not distinguishable when making an oath because God reigns over all.  

So, the formula used while making a vow doesn’t matter the person is still held accountable to do what he promised.

Isaiah 66:1–2 (ESV) 

66 Thus says the Lord: 

       “Heaven is my throne, 

and the earth is my footstool; 

       what is the house that you would build for me, 

and what is the place of my rest? 

   All these things my hand has made, 

and so all these things came to be, 

declares the Lord. 

       But this is the one to whom I will look: 

he who is humble and contrite in spirit 

and trembles at my word. 

Our Lord’s point is just tell the truth and mean what you say and you don’t have to take an oath to give more credence to your word because you are a truth teller and that is what Jesus wants all His followers to be.

There are a number of things wrong with how the Pharisees tried to get around being held accountable for fulfilling what they promised.  Can you imagine a religious system where the leaders would lie on purpose and then make up some saying or even have some system in place where they could excuse themselves from their promises?  I know in the world of politics this is standard operating procedure but God’s people must be different because we represent Him in all we do and say.

The real issue was not in making a vow or an oath in God’s name but making it knowing you’re not going to keep your promise or doing it rashly, taking the Lord’s name in vain.  

Now on the flip side we see that they were sinning by making a vow not in God’s name…

Deuteronomy 10:20 (ESV) 

20 You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. 

The issue is not whether these vows made in God’s name were sinful, they were not if done correctly with reverence for His name and fulfilling the promises made were a good representation of our God who always keeps His promises.  

Jesus’ point is this:  You know if you tell the truth you don’t need to go to all this oaths and vow stuff.  Just tell the truth…

3.  Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say  

37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. 

We all know people who say things and we know what they say is not going to happen.  Their promises are empty.  We know people who will not say yes or no because of fear of man.  They beat around the bush, make up reasons they can’t do something or invent lies to justify their decision.  We all know people who will lie as easily as anything.  This must not be us as God’s people.  If you tell someone you’ll do something you had better do it because God’s reputation is at stake.  Oh that person never does what he says and he’s a Christian

Jesus got right to the heart of the matter, didn’t He? He said “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No'” . . . In other words, He calls us as His followers to say what we mean and mean what we say. He calls us to become people of our word – people who keep the promises we make and who stand faithfully by our own word. We are to be like the person described in Psalm 15: 

Psalm 15:1–2 (ESV)

   O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? 

Who shall dwell on your holy hill? 

   He who walks blamelessly and does what is right 

and speaks truth in his heart; 

We are to develop a reputation for being the kind of people whose “yes” truly means yes; and whose “no” truly means no.

Jesus closes by telling us, anything more than this comes from evil. 

We may find ourselves strengthening our everyday statements with oaths because we have a reputation for failing to keep our word – which demonstrates a habit pattern of sin. Or we may find ourselves strengthening our statements that evoke the name of God sinfully – which is nothing less than lying, and in which case we’re modeling ourselves after the evil one who is a liar from the beginning! In either case, we must repent!


There are some people who are habitual liars.   I remember many years ago someone speaking to me and telling me that so and so is such a liar that you know when he’s lying because his mouth is moving.  That always makes me think about Jesus’ definition of the devil…

John 8:44 (ESV) 

44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 

Lying is sinful for many reasons.  God commands us not to bear false witness, the Ninth Commandment, which includes all types of lying.  You can bear false witness in many ways.  It includes being deceitful and not saying what you really mean.  It’s a sin because God commands us not to lie.  It’s a sin because it more closely mimics Satan than God.  We are to be conformed to Christ not the devil.  Jesus tells the truth and Satan tells lies.   

So, the first way to stop lying is to realize it is sinful and there will be judgment from God for all liars.

Another motivation for us as Christians to stop lieing is the fact that we represent God.  As Christians we are seen by the world as those who claim certain things concerning God and when we lie God’s character takes a hit.  So, we must be people of the truth.

Still yet, another motivation to stop lying and tell the truth is found in Ephesians 4.

Ephesians 4:24–25 (ESV) 

24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. 

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 

Notice with me that Paul gives us 

The negative- Put away falsehood

The positive- But speak the truth

The Reason- we are members one of another

Members of the Body of Christ, the Church are to be in close relationship with each other.  This only happens, as we are loving and truthful to one another.  Liars are not in close relationships with anyone because when they lie they are proving that the thing lied about is more important to them than the people they are lying to.  

Jesus wants His people to tell the truth from the heart and be trustworthy and honest with each other and grow close to one another in love and truth as the Church.

Beloved, say what you mean and mean what you say.  Love and be direct.  Be honest and truthful and watch how you grow closer to God as we represent Him well and with each other in love and holiness.

*Resources Used:

Matthew by D A Carson in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary

A Theology of Matthew by Charles Quarles

A Gospel of Matthew by France

Matthew by Craig Bloomberg

Matthew by Doriani

Matthew by Charles Price

Matthew by Leon Morris

Blue Letter Bible

Charles Hodge, Ephesians

[1] Phillip Ryken, Exodus, 539

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