It may be different for you, but faithfulness is a sliding scale for me in which every person moves around. I know who I can trust and who I can’t. I know who needs to promise me something in order to follow through and I know who can just tell me they’re going to do something and they’ll do it. And I know that my life is on the same sliding scale with everyone else because I’m the same way.
The sliding scale of faithfulness is cultural and because of this, Jesus’ words on the topic are incredibly startling. While we’ve all come to expect to not know what to expect from each other, Jesus tells us that Kingdom people are to be people who don’t make extravagant promises, but simply follow through with their commitments.
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.” But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply “Yes” or “No”; anything more than this comes from evil (Mt 5:33-37).
James will go on to reiterate Jesus’ teaching, saying, “But above all, my brothers, 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” (Jam 5:12).
Apparently, if you want to avoid the condemnation that comes with failed promises (Deut 23:21-23; Lev 19:12) and you don’t want to participate in evil, you must avoid oaths. But that’s not to say that you don’t have to commit to others at all. Quite the contrary actually. If anything, Jesus is proposing something more radical than making extravagant oaths here. “The conclusion of the matter is that it is never necessary for Christ’s people to swear an oath before they utter the truth,” says Leon Morris. “Their word should always be so reliable that nothing more than a statement is needed from them.”
Be a person of truth, integrity, and faithfulness. If you agree to something, do it. Be known as someone who will follow through on your “yes.” This is the desire of Jesus. He doesn’t want his people to have different degrees of commitment, but simply be committed. We are to be so faithful that saying yes to something is a guarantee.
For all of the people in our lives who don’t follow through on their word or commitment, there’s always that one who you can rely on. You know that if you call them, they’ll pick up. You know that if they say they’ll be there, they’ll be there. That is the kind of faithfulness that Jesus wants to see in us. If you have a friend like that, they are your example of the fruit of faithfulness and they are to be your role model.
And if you don’t have a person like that in your life, then turn to God who is faithful to us in all things. For “the word of the Lord proves true” (Ps 18:30); and “Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (Josh 21:45).
So if we are to be like God, then we too must follow through on our commitment to others.
This is an adapted excerpt from my book, A Taste of Jesus.
Morris, Leon. The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Matthew. Edited by D.A. Carson, Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992, p. 125-126.