"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the 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. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No;' anything beyond this comes from the evil one." Matthew 5:33-37.
When I read this verse the other day it jumped out at me. I began going through my various Bibles and commentaries to see what they had to say regarding these verses. One commentary translated this as "say what you mean and mean what you say." The New Life Application Bible said:
"Vows were common, but Jesus told his followers not to use them--their word alone should be enough (see James 5:12). Truthfulness seems so rare that we feel we must end our statements with "I promise." If we tell the truth all the time, we will have less pressure to back up our words with an oath or promise."
What often happens is that promises are made to people or ourselves and not to God, which dooms them from the start. Maybe this is why I don't particularly care for weddings. There's so much pomp and ritual surrounding what is a very public stating of a promise to love one another and live happily ever after, often made in a church by people who don't go to church and don't plan on going after they're married! (For the record, my husband and I went to the altar under these very conditions). The promise itself is the featured entertainment, but is it an unconditional "yes" to Jesus? Or is it an earthly, conditional promise that says "I'll love this person as long as they make me happy." Because if it’s the latter, when showtime is over and everybody comes down off their romantic high, that superficial "promise" goes right out the window.
I also see the getting away from saying "yes" to Jesus in the trend of bringing ancient spiritual practices into the Christian worship service. In these services, a greater commitment or promise to God is made through an emotional experience; a person lights a floating candle, walks away with a stone, or repetitively chants a word or song. But Jesus is saying we don't need to do this, and in fact it can be detrimental to do this because Satan can use it to get our focus off of Jesus and His Word and put it instead on ourselves. It can cause us to believe there is special power in an object or ritual when in truth the power is in Jesus Himself (the implication being that the Triune God isn't enough, nor sufficient). The practices and rites of Eastern religions are being grafted, at an alarming rate, into what is supposed to be a time of worship and teaching about Jesus and the Bible. Satan can use these practices so that the ritual, talisman or mood becomes the object of our faith and worship, replacing Jesus and His Word entirely!
Experiential, multi-sensory based worship and faith tends to remove the authority of Scripture. Where is the mystical token we received in church when we really need it? It's in the cup-holder of the car or on top of the clothes dryer! But when Scripture is written on our hearts, we can bring it to mind in a moment's notice, allowing us to say "yes" to Jesus and "no" to Satan; Just as Jesus Himself did when he fought off the devil.
In the grocery store...during tortuously long visits with extended family over the holidays...when the teacher seems out to get our kid...when we don't see eye to eye with our spouse, boss or sister...recalling Scripture is what will get us to honor our "yes" to Jesus. This is why it is the reading, preaching and studying of Scripture in all its sufficiency, and not the taking of window-dressed vows or a weekly walk through ancient rites that needs to be our practice. Jesus wants to protect us from emotional manipulation and from going casually or ritually along with the crowd in making a promise through some kind of medium; a promise that can never stand up because it isn't a daily, unconditional "yes" to Jesus Himself.
"So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, 'Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?' He replied "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!" Mark 7:5-9
"Above all, my brothers, do not swear--not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your 'Yes' be yes, and your 'No,'no, or you will be condemned." James 5:12