“Just let your word Yes mean Yes, your No, No.”
1. What did Jesus say about the swearing of oaths, and why?
GENERALLY, true Christians do not have to make sworn oaths. This is because they obey Jesus, who said: “Just let your word Yes mean Yes.” He meant that a person should keep his word. Jesus prefaced that command by saying: “Do not swear at all.” He said this in condemnation of the casual habit that many people have in their daily conversation of repeatedly swearing to this or to that, without ever intending to do what they say. By going “in excess” of a simple Yes or No to state their intentions, such people may reveal that they are really untrustworthy and thus under the influence of “the wicked one.”
2. Explain why it is not always wrong to make sworn oaths.
2 Do Jesus’ words mean that all making of oaths is bad? How could that be? As we learned in the preceding article, Jehovah God and his righteous servant Abraham made sworn oaths on important occasions. Also, God’s Law required the taking of a sworn oath to settle certain disputes. (Ex. 22:10, 11; Num. 5:21, 22) Thus, it may be necessary for a Christian to swear to tell the truth when testifying in a court of law. Or, on a rare occasion, a Christian might find it necessary to make a sworn oath to assure others of his intentions or to help settle a matter. In fact, when Jesus himself was put under oath by the high priest, he did not object to it but responded truthfully to the Jewish Sanhedrin. (Matt. 26:63, 64) Jesus, however, did not need to swear to anyone. Even so, to emphasize the reliability of his message, he often introduced what he said in this unique way: “Most truly [literally, “Truly, truly,” ftn.] I say to you.” (John 1:51; 13:16, 20, 21, 38) Let us see what else we can learn from the examples of Jesus, Paul, and others whose Yes meant Yes.
—THE FINEST EXAMPLE
3. What did Jesus promise God in prayer, and how did his heavenly Father respond?
3 “Look! I am come . . . to do your will, O God.” (Heb. 10:7) With these meaningful words, Jesus presented himself to God to carry out all that was foretold about the promised Seed, including his being ‘bruised in the heel’ by Satan. (Gen. 3:15) No other human has ever volunteered to shoulder such a heavy responsibility. From heaven, Jehovah voiced his complete trust in his Son, though not requiring that Jesus swear to be true to his word.
4. To what extent did Jesus let his Yes mean Yes?
4 Jesus always practiced what he preached by letting his Yes mean Yes. He allowed nothing to sidetrack him from the commission he received from his Father to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom and to make disciples of all whom God drew to Jesus. (John 6:44) The Bible describes the extent of Jesus’ truthfulness in these well-known words: “No matter how many the promises of God are, they have become Yes by means of him.” (2 Cor. 1:20) Indeed, Jesus is the finest example of one who proved true to what he promised his Father. Next, consider one who did his best to imitate Jesus.
—A MAN OF HIS WORD
5. What example did the apostle Paul set for us?
5 “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10) With these sincere words, Paul, then known as Saul, responded to the direction of the glorified Lord Jesus, who had appeared to him in a vision to stop him from persecuting Christ’s disciples. As a result of this encounter, Saul humbly repented of his past course, got baptized, and accepted the special assignment given to him to bear witness about Jesus to the nations. From that time onward, Paul continued to address Jesus as his “Lord,” acting in harmony with that expression until the end of his earthly life. (Acts 22:6-16; 2 Cor. 4:5; 2 Tim. 4:8) Paul was not like others of whom Jesus said: “Why, then, do you call me ‘Lord! Lord!’ but do not do the things I say?” (Luke 6:46) Yes, Jesus expects all who accept him as their Lord to be true to their word, as was the apostle Paul.
6, 7. (a) Why did Paul change his plan to revisit Corinth, and why were his critics not justified in questioning his trustworthiness? (b) How should we view those appointed to take the lead among us?
6 Paul zealously spread the Kingdom message throughout Asia Minor and into Europe, establishing and revisiting many congregations. On occasion, he found it necessary to swear to the truthfulness of what he wrote. (Gal. 1:20) When some in Corinth accused Paul of being untrustworthy, he wrote in his defense: “God can be relied upon that our speech addressed to you is not Yes and yet No.” (2 Cor. 1:18) At the time of writing that, Paul had left Ephesus and was traveling through Macedonia on his way to Corinth. Originally, he had planned to revisit Corinth before going into Macedonia. (2 Cor. 1:15, 16) But, as with traveling overseers today, sometimes routings have to be changed. Such changes are not made for trivial, selfish reasons but because of some emergency. In Paul’s case, the reason he delayed his planned visit to Corinth was for the congregation’s own good. How so?
7 Some time after making his original plans, Paul received disturbing news that disunity and immorality were being tolerated in Corinth. (1 Cor. 1:11; 5:1) To correct the situation, he wrote strong counsel in his first letter to the Corinthians. Then, instead of sailing directly from Ephesus to Corinth, Paul decided to give his brothers time to apply his counsel so that when he eventually arrived, his visit could be more encouraging. Assuring them of the truthfulness of the reason for his change in plans, Paul wrote in his second letter: “I call upon God as a witness against my own soul that it is to spare you that I have not yet come to Corinth.” (2 Cor. 1:23) May we never be like Paul’s critics; rather, let us show our deep respect for those appointed to take the lead among us. The truth is that we do well to imitate Paul, just as he imitated Christ.
OTHER FINE EXAMPLES
8. What example did Rebekah set for us?
8 “I am willing to go.” (Gen. 24:58) With these simple words, Rebekah answered her mother and her brother respecting her willingness to leave home that very day and travel with a stranger over 500 miles (800 km) to become the wife of Abraham’s son Isaac. (Gen. 24:50-58) Rebekah’s Yes meant Yes, and she proved to be a faithful God-fearing wife to Isaac. For the rest of her life, she dwelled in tents as an alien in the Promised Land. She was rewarded for her faithfulness by becoming one of the ancestresses of the promised Seed, Jesus Christ.
9. How was Ruth true to her word?
9 “No, but with you we shall return to your people.” (Ruth 1:10) The Moabite widows Ruth and Orpah kept saying this to their widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, who was returning from Moab to Bethlehem. Finally, at Naomi’s urging, Orpah returned to her homeland. But Ruth’s No meant No. (Read Ruth 1:16, 17.) She loyally stuck to Naomi, abandoning forever her family and the false religion of Moab. She endured as a faithful worshipper of Jehovah and was rewarded by being one of only five women mentioned by Matthew in Christ’s genealogy.
10. Why was Isaiah a good example for us?
10 “Here I am! Send me.” (Isa. 6:8) Before saying this, Isaiah saw a glorious vision of Jehovah sitting on His throne above Israel’s temple. While gazing upon this glorious sight, Isaiah heard Jehovah say: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” This was an invitation to be Jehovah’s spokesman to deliver God’s message to His wayward people. Isaiah proved true to his word
11. (a) Why is being true to our word so important? (b) What warning examples are there of some who were not truthful?
11 Why has Jehovah had the above examples recorded for us in his Word? And how serious is the matter of letting our Yes mean Yes? The Bible clearly warns that a person who is “false to agreements” is among those who are “deserving of death.” (Rom. 1:31, 32) Pharaoh of Egypt, Judean King Zedekiah, and Ananias and Sapphira are among the bad examples highlighted in the Bible of individuals whose Yes did not mean Yes. They all fared badly and stand as warning examples for us.
12. What will help us to be true to our word?
12 Living “in the last days,” we are surrounded by people who are “disloyal,” people “having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power.” (2 Tim. 3:1-5) As much as possible, we must avoid such bad association. Instead, we should regularly gather with those who strive always to let their Yes mean Yes.
YOUR MOST IMPORTANT YES
13. What is the most important Yes spoken by a follower of Jesus Christ?
13 The most important promise that a person can make concerns his or her dedication to God. On three specific occasions, those who want to disown themselves as disciples of Jesus have the opportunity to say Yes to inquiries about their intentions. (Matt. 16:24) When two elders interview a person who would like to become an unbaptized publisher, the person is asked, “Do you really want to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses?” Later, when the individual has made further spiritual progress and wishes to be approved for baptism, the elders will meet with him or her and ask, “Have you made your personal dedication to Jehovah in prayer?” Finally, on the day of baptism, each candidate is asked, “On the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, have you repented of your sins and dedicated yourself to Jehovah to do his will?” Thus, in front of witnesses, these new ones say Yes respecting their promise to serve God forever.
14. What self-examination should we periodically make?
14 Whether you are newly baptized or have been serving God for decades, you need to examine yourself periodically and ask questions like these: ‘In imitation of Jesus Christ, am I continuing to be true to my most important Yes? Am I continuing to obey Jesus by making the preaching and disciple-making work the main focus of my life?’
15. In what areas of life is it important to let our Yes mean Yes?
15 Proving true to our dedication vow means that we must also be faithful in other important matters. For example: Are you married? Then continue to honor the precious vow you made to love and cherish your marriage mate. Have you signed a business contract or filled out an application form for theocratic privileges? Then be true to your commitments and to what you have promised. Have you accepted an invitation to a meal by someone of humble means? Then do not cancel it if a seemingly better invitation is made by someone else. Or have you promised someone you met in the house-to-house ministry that you would call again to give that person further spiritual help? Then by all means let your Yes mean Yes, and Jehovah will bless your ministry.
BENEFITING FROM OUR HIGH PRIEST AND KING
16. If we have failed to keep our word, what should we do?
16 The Bible states that as imperfect humans, “we all stumble many times,” especially in the use of our tongue. (Jas. 3:2) What should we do upon realizing that we have failed to keep our word? In God’s Law to Israel, there was a merciful provision for someone who was guilty of “speaking thoughtlessly with his lips.” (Lev. 5:4-7, 11) There is also a loving provision for Christians who commit such a sin. If we confess the specific sin to Jehovah, he will mercifully forgive us through the office of our High Priest, Jesus Christ. (1 John 2:1, 2) To remain in God’s favor, however, we must show fruits that befit repentance by not making a practice of such sins and by doing our best to make amends for any harm done by our thoughtless speech. (Prov. 6:2, 3) Of course, it is far better to think carefully before making promises that we are unable to fulfill.
17, 18. What glorious future awaits all who strive to let their Yes mean Yes?
17 What a wonderful future awaits all worshippers of Jehovah who keep striving to let their Yes mean Yes! For the 144,000 anointed ones, it will mean immortal life in heaven, where they will share with Jesus in his Kingdom “and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.” (Rev. 20:6) For countless millions more, it will mean benefiting from Christ’s Kingdom rule in an earthly paradise. There they will be helped to grow to physical and mental perfection.
18 By proving faithful in the final test at the end of Jesus’ Millennial Reign, we will never again have reason to doubt anyone’s word. (Rev. 20:7-10) Every Yes will mean Yes, and every No, No. For everyone then living will be a perfect imitator of our loving heavenly Father, Jehovah, “the God of truth.”