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“Be Careful What You Say”
When a couple gets married, they typically exchange vows before they are officially wed. Sometimes the vows come from a book of worship and sometimes are they written by the couple. They can rhyme or be in the form of a poem. They can be serious, or they can be humorous. Either way, vows are meant to express the love and devotion that two people have for each other, and what they promise to give to one another in the years to come. They pave the way for how the couple wants their relationship to look in future, no matter what happens.
Like wedding vows, the ancient Jewish culture also took vows, or oaths. It was a pledge and transaction between a person and God, in which that person dedicated themselves, their services, or something valuable to God. There were two basic types of vows, those in which a promise was made with the expectation that you would receive divine favor (i.e. Jacob – Gen. 28 and Hannah – 1 Sam. 11), and voluntary, self-imposed vows in which a promise was made to achieve better character or reach certain goals (the Nazirite vow – Num. 6). Many times, these vows related to certain offerings and sacrifices at the temple. These vows were not commanded by God, but if they were made, they were binding in almost all cases, especially when God’s name was invoked (Num. 30:2, Deut. 23:21-23, cf. Lev. 19:12).
In Jesus' day the Pharisees, who were very concerned at keeping the rules the regulations that governed daily life, were following Jewish traditions more than God’s law. They made a great show of their devotion to God, but often found clever loopholes in the system and majored on minors, missing the truth purpose and intent of the law. According to them, some vows were binding while others were not (see Matt. 15:1-20, c.f. Matt. 23). A person could swear by a lesser thing than God, and so get out of an oath. Therefore, Jesus tells his disciples in Matt. 5:33-37 that they should refrain from making any vows, because they could become an occasion to deceive and to bring false testimony against God. Jesus wanted truthfulness first and foremost.
It is not wrong to promise something, but if you do, be faithful to it. Tell the truth in all circumstances so that you honor God, yourself, and others.
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