top of page

Climbing The Mountain

Matt Brownell, Tim Adams, and Van Owens

  • Apple Podcasts
  • Spotify
  • RSS

Climbing the Mountain is a weekly podcast devoted to the Word of God and its application in the lives of believers today. Grounded in the Sermon of the Mount, we dive into connecting scriptures to explore themes and implications.

Episode 17 - Oaths - Part 2

January 27, 2023

Or listen here:

  • Apple Podcasts
  • Spotify
  • RSS

In this episode, we dive into talking about the topics of oaths and vows. We'll examine Matthew 5:33-37 and look at how Jesus' teaching applies to us as believers today.

Hey, I'm Matt Brownell.
And I'm Van Owens.
And I'm Tim Adams.
Welcome to Climbing the Mountain, where we dive into the scriptures and discuss themes,
connections, and real life application.
We're kicking off a series here where we're going to examine the Sermon on the Mount and
discuss implications for this teaching for Christians today.
All right, welcome back.
We're going to continue our conversation about oaths and vows.
And so far, we've had a good talk.
We've talked about the difference between an oath and a vow.
We've talked about the fact that our words mean so much about our integrity.
And we've talked about the extreme language that Jesus has used in going forward.
And it continues in this section about oaths.
One thing that I wanted to pick up with that we didn't talk about last time is that, is
Jesus here saying that oaths and vows are bad?
Are they bad?
Well, we might not all agree on this, I think.
But I'm going to say no, because in the New Testament, we see oaths.
Paul writes in Galatians 1:20, and what I'm writing to you, before God, I do not
So he took an oath before God, and even God took an oath to give us great confidence in
the hope he has promised to us.
So in Hebrews 6:16, it says, for people swear by something greater than themselves, and
in all their disputes, an oath is final for confirmation.
So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable
character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable
things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have
strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
So taking an oath is not wrong.
In certain circumstances, perhaps something momentous, it is even warranted.
So I think what Jesus is addressing in this passage is something else, something about
the very nature of truthfulness, honesty, and sincerity.
Yeah, I wrestle with this because that Hebrews 6 scripture, I mean, that's pretty powerful.
God's choosing to make an oath, and it seems like he's doing it because he wants to give
us two unchanging reasons to believe him, right?
One is his unchangeable purpose, and the other one is his unchangeable word.
And so that to me feels like, okay, well, so God made an oath, but then I hadn't actually
seen that scripture in Galatians.
I'm chewing on that as you were talking about.
The challenge, I think, is that if we say oaths are fine, then there's like two things
at play.
One is Jesus says, don't swear an oath at all.
So we're not taking that completely literally.
And two, I think it's a very, very slippery slope here.
Like there's, at what point is an oath valid or is not valid?
At what point do I become, I don't know, it's like my truthfulness needs to be validated
by an oath.
And so when I look at the record of the early church, a lot of them, they just didn't swear
And that got them into a lot of trouble when they were thinking about being, if someone
was baptized and was already a soldier, or if they were in public office that required
them to take an oath, they would then say, well, you have to stop taking an oath in those
And that gave them a lot of persecution.
But I see the value in that because they're saying, I'm not going to make an oath because
I don't need to.
And in fact, my king said, don't swear an oath at all.
And that's more important.
But even with them, there's like this, it's kind of like, well, what's an oath?
And what's just affirming, yes, I'm going to do this.
I came up on this quote, it's like, this is from Clement of Alexandria.
He's like in the second or third century, I forget.
He's talking about this man of great character.
He says, but he does not even swear, preferring to make confirmation in affirmation by yes
and then denial by no.
For it is an oath to swear or to produce anything from the mind in the way of confirmation in
the shape of an oath.
And there he's actually, I need to find it.
But that one, he's saying basically, you're never going to make an oath at all.
But there is another quote, and if I find it, I'll bring it up again.
Where he's basically like, but sometimes people won't believe you basically because they were
And in that case, you might give a little bit more than a yes because they won't believe
you're yes, and that's fine.
So I still feel like I wrestle with this question, and I don't have a solid answer.
But what is super obvious to me is that Jesus is making really strong statements about integrity.
And for all of us, the standard that Jesus is making is way higher than what we're currently
I think there's also something about what he's doing here where it seems like he's not
trying to make more laws, but he's trying to tell us what the heart is of the law.
And I think he's doing the 95% of the time.
Like most of the time, you're going to come across in your everyday speech with people,
you should be honest.
You shouldn't need to make an oath.
But maybe there's that one momentous occasion where you're called before a court and you're
supposed to swear that you are going to tell the truth.
I don't have a problem with that, actually.
I know some people do.
If they're called to be a witness at court, they will say they'll say something like how
they always tell the truth and they don't feel comfortable taking this oath.
When I was wrestling through this thought, is it always bad?
Is Jesus saying this is always bad?
I think that I sort of am thinking about, is he talking about the way that people have
begun to use oaths as loopholes?
Is he saying that, okay, so if you swear by the temple and you don't do what you swore
you were going to do, it's not as bad as by swearing by the name of God, that maybe you
don't, the consequences aren't as bad.
So if you swear by the temple or if you swear by the earth or if you swear by your own head,
then maybe it's not as bad.
I think about the sort of the old joke that you've heard a thousand times in the movie
where somebody says, I swear on my mother's grave that I'm not going to do it and his
buddy says your mother's not even dead.
He's swearing an oath that doesn't mean anything.
So I think that that's part of what Jesus is landing on here.
I think so too.
I think that there's more in, and we'll probably tease it out here, but I think there's more
in these four verses or five, I don't know, can I count correctly, five verses that have
to do with an argument that's being made that he's addressing.
And talking about loopholes, it's my next question here.
This whole section, the whole antithesis, it's about someone having taken something
that was in the word and adulterated it to the advantage of those, just for it to look
for a loophole, to look for a way out of it.
That was the case with the divorce passage.
That was the case with all the ones that we've looked at so far.
In this case, it's a tendency that was very prevalent at that time for people to certify
by their oaths, by appealing to heaven or earth or Jerusalem or even their own heads.
They did this to create a sort of ranking system for vows that range between binding
and non-binding.
Can you think of ways that we do this today?
What kinds of oaths do we make now?
I think this gets at the heart of why Jesus chose this example.
I think this phrase that he quotes, I just want to read this first part of this again.
Again, you have heard that it was said to those of old, you shall not swear falsely,
but you shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.
I think that phrase to the Lord, I think, is the piece that is the clever lawyering
where the loophole is being created.
He says with each of these examples that our righteousness should surpass that of the Pharisees
and the teachers of law.
In verse 19, he said of chapter 5, he's saying that the Pharisees didn't follow God's law,
which he came to fulfill because they relaxed it.
They taught others loopholes for getting out of the law.
I think that's what they did here.
You might laugh, but I had an epiphany the other week about this when we were studying
about divorce.
I noticed the Hillel school, one of the prominent rabbinical schools took apart Deuteronomy 24
to create this loophole, the any matter divorce that had no review.
Jesus condemned it.
When we were studying for that one, I came across a separate piece that referenced looking
at a woman lustfully as adultery in your heart.
Then I was like, wait, what's going on here?
That's exactly what Jesus is talking about.
Then I looked and I found it again.
I found it with the anger passage and it blew my mind.
Jesus mentions this word, raca, literally empty-headed.
In an honor culture, that'd be like throwing around the word that signified you're outside
of God's kingdom.
Basically, Jesus was calling out the different factions that it formed and were calling each
other names in a way that passed extreme judgment, essentially saying, you're not saved.
Christians do that today.
But Essenes did it.
They did it to the Pharisees.
They called them raca.
Jesus starts with a couple of these verses from the Ten Commandments and then he gets
the people were getting wrong before he talks about these loopholes, right?
Trying to get out of doing God's will.
This is how the Pharisees relaxed the law.
They took this little piece and said, okay, here's our loophole.
Our way out of doing the hard part of the law, before it was divorced, we talked about
All you have to do is give the certificate and you're righteous.
Could you fulfill the law?
In this case, he's also rejecting their loophole.
He's getting the big picture though, which has to do with overall honesty that God desires
out of us.
The loophole they'd created here was just this word, to the Lord.
If someone says to the Lord in their vow or oath or whatever they're doing, well, hey,
that's on you, buddy.
You blew it.
You used the phrase to the Lord.
You're on the hook now.
However, if you swore by the sacred place, it sounds really good, but well, you don't
really need to keep your word there.
It's okay to wiggle out of it.
And Jesus is saying, nope, nice try, that doesn't fly.
At the end, Jesus says, say yes or no.
And it's sweet, it's short, it's to the point, yet extremely challenging because of the culture
of deceit and deceitfulness that we have.
We live in a world where, and we can be so jaded by it, by the deceit that's in the world,
that Jesus' words seem almost a little naive to us.
We've got shallow social media posts and business practices that are unscrupulous.
We've got politicians who speak out at both sides of their mouth on the same issue.
We've got this sort of fake it till you make it mentality in our world.
How can we get to a point where Jesus can say, just let your yes be yes and your no
be no?
What would he think of the way we conduct ourselves now?
And how can we put that verse?
How can we put verse 37, just say yes or just say no into practice?
Yeah, so I think about this in different spheres of life.
It applies to every sphere of life because every sphere includes our relationships with
people and how we interact.
But when you think about business, it's really easy to fudge the numbers or our whole system
of sales and marketing is often there's a strong desire to maybe I don't mention everything
that's really the issue with my product or maybe-
Go buy it.
We do have that feature even though we don't have it yet.
There's like a million in one way.
Oh, I totally wanted that in it.
So sure.
We can deceive, we can lie straight up, whatever it might look like, but it's not full of truth.
And I know it's also in business.
Those are the places where I can feel like, oh, if I don't actually, if I don't say this
thing, that's maybe not totally true, maybe I don't get the sale.
Maybe my boss is annoyed with me.
And there's a lot of opportunities for fear to come in.
Oh, I need to be less than fully truthful.
That's the only thing that I can do in this situation.
So that to me feels like one area that's just, it can simplify it.
I think in my business practices, in the way I deal with my coworkers or with my boss or
the people that my clients, am I full of honesty with those people?
And a lot of companies, like my company says, integrity is a core quality.
We all kind of espouse integrity.
But it's another thing to be that in the workplace.
There can be a lot of pressures even in a company like that to, maybe we don't need
to be full of integrity this time.
So I think this is hard.
If you actually think about how the rubber meets the road here and how we take this and
put it into practice, because being honest about things, sometimes it'll make you look
And at work, you don't want that.
You want to look good all the time.
And it's the same, we live in such a weird world with social media.
That's where I see it a lot, where people are not honest necessarily about what they're
only showing you the best thing they've ever done and the perfect lighting and the perfect
shot and the glorious life that they're living and everything's wonderful.
And then maybe on the inside, they don't feel that way.
But you can't show that.
You show that and people don't like that.
And so maybe social media may be not the best place to have a real conversation in the first
place, I don't know.
But oh, gosh, I might get in trouble for this.
But the idea of having a platform called Truth Social seems like, I don't know, it has to
be the epitome of hubris.
But anyway, people are not truthful online.
It's hard enough to be truthful face to face.
I don't know, this is tough.
The other thing I think about with this is the phrase keeping it real.
I don't know if that's still an idiom.
I've probably dated myself.
But sometimes maybe we shouldn't say every thought that comes into our head if it's mean,
you know, particularly, I'm just keeping it real.
Maybe you shouldn't.
Maybe you should deny yourself.
I don't think that Jesus is talking about doing that here.
I think he's addressing honesty and genuineness.
But I don't think you need to be mean and nasty to people either, because that's something
There's a difference between being full of integrity and standing by what you say and
saying everything that you think.
Those are two different concepts.
But yeah, one of the things I was thinking of as we're talking is, you know, sometimes
the reason why we don't tell the truth is just that there can be a cost to doing it,
Like there's, sometimes it's going to cause, often actually, it's going to cause some amount
of inconvenience or pain in the short term, which is why we're not doing it, right?
If there was no issue with telling the truth, we probably would.
And this quote is kind of also in the business world, but I think helps me.
This guy, he says, whoever sells or buys anything should not name two prices for what he buys
or sells, but instead state the net price and just speak the truth.
And he says, you know, this is a haggling society he's talking in.
If you just say your price, you're not going to get the price.
Like the price is going to get way down.
That's why you pretend it's way higher.
He says, and if you don't get the price, you get the truth and you're rich in the possession
of righteousness.
And you know, that to me is a good example of the way in which truth could cost us something,
That's a very literal way.
But when we hit those situations, what are we first willing to give on, right?
Is it like the financial thing that I might get or is it the convenience of the relationship
being a certain way?
Or is it, you know, I believe that, you know, standing by what I say and being truthful
with this person and with myself is, you know, the most important thing and one of the most
loving the ways that I can contribute in this relationship.
And so I'm going to do that even if it costs me something.
The other thing is I'm thinking about this, about being honest and genuine.
I think in a business setting, and not just in a business setting, but a lot of settings,
if you're transparent, then assuming people aren't just wanting to step all over you,
assuming you're in an environment where people are productive and cooperative and want to
work together, well, then that's the best situation because then they actually know
what's going on and they're not caught by surprise and they can help if you need help.
And that's a hard, but sometimes that's hard for us to admit that we need help.
And so I think there's a great humility that's required to be honest and transparent.
This is just, this is really hard.
And the, about the only thing that I landed on that was a solid conclusion for me as I
was studying out all these passages is that this is a very, very difficult thing because
it gets to, when we talk about, Tim, you talked earlier in our previous conversation about
the name of God being more than just his name being the totality of who he is.
In some ways, our yes and our no are the totality of who we are.
And how much does, is my yes really a yes?
And how much can I do to make sure that that is the, that it's the truth?
And it's one of those things where one of the things I pray almost every time I pray
is God, I love you, but I don't love you enough.
And I need you to help me love you more.
Which doesn't make any sense.
It's like you never say that to a person or not that God isn't a person, but you never
say that to another human being.
And it's just, it's really, really hard.
And it's something that again, that you need your relationship with God, you need the Holy
Spirit working in you, you need your community to help you to do that very simple just say
yes or no, just say yes or no.
And so I wanted to, I switched this as the last question because I think it's a really
hard question.
And I thought maybe that, maybe that knowing that we're getting towards the end of it,
we could try to keep it succinct.
But Jesus says that anything beyond yes or no comes from the evil one, the evil one being
What does Satan have to do with this?
Maybe this is too big of a question that you could do a whole series of podcasts, I think,
on Satan, on the devil.
What does the devil, the evil one have to do with this?
And what does he have to do with our sinful nature?
Well, first I should just say some translations render this evil.
Anything beyond this comes from evil, not the evil one.
But either way, I think we're pointing back to something fundamental in this Sermon on
the Mount, which is we become whom we behold.
If we see our need for God and then fill up on him, we really see him like the baditudes
say, we'll become more like him.
Conversely, we can become more like the father of lies, if that's what we're focused on.
Yeah, and we see that father of lies.
We see him work right at the beginning in Genesis 3.
He uses deceit to confuse Eve on what God actually said, then he outright lies and says,
no, God is not being truthful to you.
And it was that doubt that God is being truthful, that he cares about me, that that's how Satan
caused the fall of humanity.
He's called the prince of lies, the father of lies, probably for that reason.
So I think Jesus in John 8 is basically, yeah, you do what your father does.
He says that to the Jews.
And that's around when he is calling Satan the father of lies.
I don't exactly know what he's doing there in John 8 exactly, but I do know that if we're
not able to stand by our yes or our no, then we have some of those lies inside of us.
And that's one of the main poles that Satan is using to destroy us and then also damage
those around us.
Yeah, I think it's really helpful to hear you guys talk about it as well, because I
think what happens to Christians in general, I know what happens to me is I swing the pendulum
when it comes to the evil one.
I think on one side of it is that he is the evil one.
He's Satan.
He's so mighty and powerful.
How can I possibly resist him?
He's the prince of this world.
You know, he's the one who is in charge of everything here and now in a way.
And so I give him too much power.
And then the other side of the pendulum is I give him none.
He's the little red cartoon character who hovers over my shoulder that I can pluck away with
my finger.
But I think it does help to think of it as who are you going to imitate?
Who are you going to behave like?
Are you going to behave like your father in heaven or are you going to behave like the
father of lies?
I liked what you said about Genesis too.
I was thinking about, yeah, he, from the get go, is subtle.
What he does there is a masterful attack on their faith.
He gets them to doubt God.
And he clouds it with fear.
He appeals to their desires.
He twists things around and when we're not focused on God, we're so susceptible to those
lies because they're all around us.
You know, in Romans 12, it says the world is constantly, acting on us, trying
to push us into its mold.
And so the only way out of that is to continually renew our minds and keep our minds focused
on God.
But he's always, he's the one that's always looking for the loophole.
He is.
He is.
And I think that's, that's my main takeaway from these conversations we've been having
this time and last time on this, that if I'm coming to this discussion about oaths, discussion
about integrity, thinking about, well, how much integrity do I really need to have?
Then I've got my head in the wrong place.
And it was like, love the truth.
Let nothing but truth proceed from your mouth, that the spirit which God has placed in your
flesh, maybe you found truthful before all men and God who dwells in you will be glorified.
And that, that's what I, that's what I want my heart to be when I'm thinking about,
can I stand by what I say?
You know, I think Satan, what he does is he gets us to doubt the only one in whom there
is no falsehood and God is the only one that we can trust.
And I think, I think that's a little, if I can branch out here for a sec, I was thinking
about the verse about your hair, I think mostly because I'm bald.
It troubled me a little bit.
And I, but I think that's what he's kind of getting out in there a little bit.
It's, I guess I kind of joke that the gray ones were the weak ones and they left first.
But now even the ones on the side that I shaved my head really tight on the side now because
even those are turning gray.
And I don't have a goatee anymore because on my beard is gray and that was like cut,
shave that off.
That looks bad.
Anyway, but what I was thinking about with this hair dyeing thing, you know, you can't
change your hair.
They had a hair dye back then, right?
I mean, Lydia was a, she dealt in purple cloth.
So I'm sure that you could dye your hair back then.
That was not like a new thing like we can hair.
Oh, suddenly we can dye our hair now and look at us.
But you know, when you think about that analogy, it's genius because what happens?
Well, the truth comes out.
You're still the old, your roots.
They look, they're all gray.
And so it kind of gets at a, it's an amazing metaphor really of how weak we are and how
our lives have a way of being revealed and just how little control we have and how much
we need God.
God is the only trustworthy one that we need.
We need to rely on him.
That's true.
Well, great conversation guys.
I think we can wrap it up there and we'll see you next time.

bottom of page