Questions to Consider
1. Briefly review the “middle parts” (ex: merciful, poor in spirit) of the Beatitudes, the “salt and light” passage, and the “heart of the law” passage in Matthew 5:1-12, 13-16, 14-20. Now read 33-37 in light of those passages.
2. Summarize, in your own words, the main idea of 33-37. Are all oaths inherently sinful? How do you know? Is this passage mainly dealing with swearing oaths to God or to people? Does this passage forbid all oaths, such as a politician’s oath of office, the oath of enlistment for the military, being sworn in as a witness in court, etc.? How do you know this?
Explain the difference between the formal oath of a covenant (such as the oaths God made as part of His covenant with His people) and the casual, reckless oath of someone in a trivial situation who invokes something higher than himself as a guarantee: ex: “I swear by Heaven I’ll be there at 6:00 tomorrow,” or “I swear to Jerusalem, that pig really did fly!”. Would the oath of office / military / court / etc. fall under the category of a formal, covenant-type oath, or a casual, reckless type of oath? Which type of oath does this passage prohibit?
Think about the character of a person who goes around tossing out casual oaths all the time. If you had to swear to something higher than yourself that you really would be there at 6:00, that the story you were telling really was true, that you really would do what you said you were going to do, and so on, in order to convince people to believe you, what would that indicate about your trustworthiness, reliability, honesty, and integrity?
3. In the Beatitudes, Jesus lists the traits that define Christian character. In much of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount He fleshes out what many of these character traits look like when walked out in “real life”. Which of the traits (the “middle parts” – there could be several) listed in the Beatitudes is Jesus expanding on in 33-37 as we think about being trustworthy, reliable, honest, and a person of integrity? How?
How do dishonesty and failing to be a woman of your word bland your saltiness? (13-16) How can being honest, reliable, trustworthy, and a person of integrity make you saltier and brighter?
4. Review from our previous lessons (links above) the idea that the Sermon on the Mount is to the New Testament / new covenant what the Ten Commandments were to the Old Testament / old covenant.
Though taking oaths is not mentioned in the Ten Commandments (it is dealt with elsewhere in the law), which of the Ten Commandments does Jesus touch back to and expand on in verses 33-37? Explain how swearing by God and could end up as taking His name in vain. How is lying connected to the instruction not to take casual oaths in order to convince or deceive people?
How do Jesus’ phrases “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” verbally transition the people from their focus on outward obedience to the letter of the law to zeroing in on the attitude of their hearts and the spirit of the law? Explain how being honest, reliable, trustworthy, and a person of integrity are the heart of the law behind the ninth Commandment. Explain how reverencing God and His name by not invoking Him in a casual or deceptive oath are the heart of the law behind the third Commandment.
5. Review: Examine again the “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” proclamation. Who had the people heard it (the law) said by? Who taught them the law? How does Jesus saying, “But I say to you…” establish Jesus’ supremacy over the Pharisees, scribes, priests, etc. Imagine you’re one of these Jewish leaders and you’re hearing Jesus say this. What might your initial reaction be?
Recalling our Sermon on the Mount / Ten Commandments motif, how might Jesus’ “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” proclamation have evoked images of Moses as lawgiver, and signaled to the Jewish leaders and people that the better Moses was here?
6. Carefully examine verse 33. Is breaking your oaths to people OK as long as you’re keeping your oaths to the Lord?
How would swearing to the things in verses 34-35 be similar to our modern day phrase, “I swear to God,” (when making an oath to a person, not to God)? How would taking an oath “by your head” in verse 36 be similar to our modern day phrase, “I swear on my mother’s grave / life,”. Who or what is being invoked in each oath? Why is it sinful to invoke God or His name in a deceptive or casual oath? Why is it pointless to swear by anything earthly or lesser than God? How do such oaths trivialize God or whatever you’re swearing by? Compare these thoughts and conclusions to what Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:16-22.
Why does making the types of oaths forbidden in this passage instead of just saying “yes” or “no” come from evil (37)?
7. How does James emphasize this passage in his epistle?
How should Herod have applied this passage on oaths? What can we learn from his story about the consequences of making rash or casual oaths?
Oaths and vows are closely related in Scripture. Look up and read all of the passages in Scripture regarding oaths and vows. What are the differences between oaths and vows? What are the similarities? Look at where the passage on oaths falls in Matthew 5. What topics does Jesus deal with immediately before and after the passage on oaths? How does being honest, reliable, trustworthy, and a person of integrity lend itself to keeping your marriage vows? How does refraining from deceptive oaths and being honest, reliable, trustworthy, and a person of integrity connect to retaliation (38-42) and loving your enemies (43-48)?