The importance of a man’s word
Growing up, my father stressed the importance of a man’s word. He was one who, if he made a promise, he kept it. There was a time when a man’s word was his bond. If he broke his promise, people would lose all faith and trust in what he said.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. once said:
“I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond; that character–not wealth or power or position–is of supreme worth.”
That’s a power statement; a person’s integrity outweighs their socioeconomic status. Back in Rockefeller’s day, a promise and a handshake was the traditional way of doing business. If a person went back on their promise, they would lose all trust and no one would do business with them.
Today, contracts and written agreements replaced the old way of doing business. This speaks to the lack of trustworthiness of people that the legal system has to get involved to enforce promises between parties. But what does the Bible say about oaths and vows?
Man’s Word: Oaths and Vows
In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus addresses oaths and vows to the crowd on the mountainside as part of his Sermon on the Mount. I know the topic of oaths and vows is not as entertaining as his talk on murder, adultery, and divorce. But it’s equally imperative to understand the lesson Jesus is trying to teach on this topic to understand the differences between true righteousness and false righteousness.
Whether it’s true righteousness or false righteousness, they both speak to the core of one’s character.
Jesus teaches this about oaths:
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
Jesus is saying we should not swear an oath at all.
- By heaven
- By earth
- By Jerusalem
- By your head
Instead “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’, and ‘your ‘No’ be ‘No’. James reiterates the same words spoken by Jesus Christ in his epistle in 5:12. Essentially, we should not lie or tell half-truths, otherwise, we are committing a sin.
Taking an oath back in the day of Jesus was very common and it was allowed by Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 23:21-23). Today, whether you are the President of the United States or a witness testifying in the court of law, you would be asked to take an oath to “swear by” something.
However, Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees who “swear by” God and did not fulfill their oath. He viewed them as having ‘false righteousness’. He teaches that it is was better to not swear an oath at all if you know you cannot or would not, keep the promise.
Man’s Word: Broken Promise
If you broke your promise, your words no longer have meaning. Being viewed as someone who makes promises, but never seem to keep them, tarnishes your character as being untrustworthy and a liar. How many of us want to be called a liar and be viewed as untrustworthy?
Many of us at one point or another have sworn to God. I know I’ve said in the past “I swear to God I’m telling the truth!” Or “I swear to God I will not tell anyone your secret.” But how many of us have invoked God’s name with empty promises with no intention of keeping them? Let’s be truthful, we all have. Did it hurt your reputation with your friends or loved ones?
Our word is our bond
As men, our word is our bond, and speaking truth is fundamental to being a man of God. If our promises are no longer trustworthy, we lose all credibility as godly men. I know in today’s culture truth is completely subjective. However, we should not bend our Biblical beliefs nor cherry-pick the Bible to make us feel better in our sin.
We need to reconnect with the teachings of Jesus that speaking truthful and keep promises is important. We should be conscious of not invoking the name of God when making promises, but rather have our ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and our ‘No’ be ‘No’, and saying ‘Maybe’ comes from the evil one. If we as men cannot be trusted, what do we have left as men? Keeping our promises and speaking the truth is the core of who we are as men of God.
Christian, Husband, Political junkie, Braves fan, Marvel Nerd, craft beer aficionado, and a sinner saved by grace. He has a passion for helping Christian men grow in their faith. He is the founder and editor of Joshua’s Outpost.