Growing up, my brothers and I would confirm the validity of seemingly unbelievable statements we made by saying, “I swear!” or, “I swear on the Bible!” or even, “I swear on a stack of Bibles!” With time, it seemed that we grew to measure the veracity of each other’s statements by how high this imaginary stack of Bibles was. In that regard, I suppose we were not unlike the Pharisees in Christ’s day, who measured the reliability of statements based on the object of swearing. Somehow statements given while swearing on the temple or the altar were not as trustworthy as those sworn on the gold of the temple or the gift at the altar.
Hold that thought for a moment.
Meanwhile, if you go far enough back in the history of the Brethren movement, you will discover that our roots include a commitment to “non-swearing.” This was more than saying that our forefathers refrained from using profane words. It was also an expression of their commitment to not use statements like my brothers and I or like the Pharisees of old. In fact, even in a court of law, they would not “swear on the Bible” to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Instead, they would simply affirm their words as truth.
At first glance, it may seem illogical that a Christian would refuse to use the Bible. But, when we must understand Christ’s warnings in Matthew 5, we realize that this commitment to “non-swearing” is right in light with Christ’s instruction, “do not swear an oath at all” (v. 34). Instead, whether in a court of law or in a conversation with siblings or in statements made to teachers or co-workers, we need to be people of our word. Our “yes” can be trusted. Our “no” is reliable.
How does this fit into our discussion of covenants? We may view covenants as those agreements that are much more formal, legal, and binding. We may feel as if the expectations of truthfulness in and execution of such agreements are at a higher level than the simple interactions of life. We may think that it’s ok to be less accurate or less accountable for the things we say and the commitments we make in the less legal areas of our lives. But Christ calls us to integrity and trustworthiness.