"Just say a simple, 'Yes, I will,' or 'No, I won't.' Anything beyond this is from the evil one."
— Matthew 5:37
Have you ever let your mouth get on overload? Have you ever said more than you should have or promised more than you could deliver? Of course you have, and so have I. Jesus knew that was the nature of man, so He taught and warned His disciples about making broad and rash statements, while trying to back them up by pious talk or, more literally, a vow.
"You have also heard that our ancestors were told, 'You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.' But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, 'By heaven!' because heaven is God's throne. And do not say, 'By the earth!' because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, 'By Jerusalem!' for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, 'By my head!' for you can't turn one hair white or black." (Matthew 5:33-36)
The word for vow refers to a "fence, or an enclosure, something that restrains a person." In other words, once you're inside the enclosure, you're trapped. That's the way it is with our words. Once we make a promise, we're bound by that promise. We hem ourselves in. It may sound good to the hearer but it could lead to trouble.
Now Jesus is not talking about official or sworn statements as a witness, or some kind of contractual requirement. He's speaking of making broad statements in our normal speech that are intended to impress or make ourselves look good or important. What it gets down to is our integrity. Can our words, in themselves, be trusted or not?
The writer to the Hebrews points out that the reason men would swear by someone greater than themselves was to put an end to all argument and discussion (Hebrews 6:16). But Jesus explained that was not a good idea, because the more you claim, the more difficult it will be to fulfill. And guess who is right in the middle of setting the trap? The "evil one."
I believe our Lord is saying here, just tell the truth. There's no need to add anything. Just simply say what you will or you won't do, then follow through with what you said. Numbers 30:2 warns, "When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but do everything he said."
Humorist Will Rogers once remarked about the rhetoric of the political landscape of his day, "If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in these acceptance speeches there wouldn't be any inducement to go to heaven."
That hasn't changed, but surely saints, we can. Maranatha!