When Right is Wrong – On Swearing

“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” [Matthew 5:37]

I was watching a movie at home with my friends the other day. Then this guy came on the scene and I immediately said, “This is ‘Common’, the secular rapper.” I didn’t think much about it. He looked like him, so I simply remarked what I thought was obvious. Apparently, my friends didn’t think so, and they told me that the person I was referring to was not ‘Common’. He just looked like him. Two against one, I could have easily let it go, but something inside me urged me to stand for my conviction. So, I insisted that I am 100% sure that it was him. I was convinced. If I was wrong, then this other guy must really look like him.

That’s when one of my friends said, “If you’re sure it’s him, then let’s bet some money on it.”

That proposition suddenly made me doubt my conviction. Perhaps I was wrong. On any other day, I would have taken the bet, just to feed my ego. But on this particular day, I opted not to. I think God was saving me from the humiliation that would have followed. However, I did not just say, “OK, you’re right, it’s not him.” Instead I said, “I am 100% sure it’s him. But I am not going to place any bets. Let me be just content with being 100% wrong.”

I don’t know where those words came from, but I honestly believe they came from the Holy Spirit. The flesh part of me couldn’t have come up with something like that. But then again, God has been working on my heart a lot lately. I am not really surprised I said that. So, instead of changing my mind, I decided to change my heart. I said I was convinced that I was 100% and sincerely sure. But I also added that I am OK living with the possibility of being 100% and sincerely wrong. I chose to let the truth stand apart from my personal (imperfect) convictions. It turned out I was wrong. But I learnt a great lesson in that moment.

Suddenly, I realized why Jesus made such a big fuss out of swearing upon anything. I got a glimpse of at least one of the reasons why I should always let my “Yes” be “Yes” and my “No” be “No”. In that moment, the true, fallible, state of my own heart was revealed to me.

How many times have you bet on something that you were sure was right and everybody else was wrong? I am not talking about the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, I am talking about simple facts like, “The car was red.” How many times have you placed such bets and won? I “bet” its been more than once.

Yet, Jesus tells us not to swear or bet on anything. Why would he say that? What if I am 100% sure I am right? I am persuaded that the reason we are told not to swear regarding our convictions is because swearing tends to take away the focus from God to ourselves. It tends to place us on a pedestal above our peers due to its self-vindicating nature. It doesn’t matter whether you are right about whatever it is you are swearing about. It matters that, in doing so, you are sinning by displaying your trust in your own mind, heart and self-righteousness. Yes, that’s what swearing does. It attempts to vindicate us. It tries to seal the deal on our point of view. It gives us the illusion of infallibility.

When Paul said that, “the man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.” (1 Cor 8:2), he was not talking about the accuracy of our facts, but the accuracy of our hearts. He wasn’t talking about what we know, but how we know it.

Paul is telling us that our mere thinking or intellectual understanding can never vindicate or justify us, no matter how sure we are that we are right. Science and pragmatism do not save. Let your “Yes” be “Yes,” because then if you turn out to be wrong, only you will be wrong, heaven will not be wrong, God will not be wrong, your mother’s grave will not share in your error… only you. If you make an oath and it happens you cannot fulfill it, then only you have failed. But if you swear upon any of God’s creation, then your failure will imply that the God who made the object of your swearing is also wrong and has failed. And that’s blasphemy.

“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” [Matthew 5:37]

~ Ngare ~

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