Parts 1 and 2 looked at the top two toxic habits common to people of all cultures and time periods. They remain entrenched because we either believe them to be good (willful anger and contempt) or don’t realize we’re harboring them (an adulterous spirit that divorces God’s kind of love). Therefore, we’re in no great hurry to get rid of them.
Unfortunately, they intensify poison #3: swearing oaths. This is another broad, sneaky category that includes promises, commitments, or keeping one’s word, which always seem right and good, but can backfire into hard-hearted stubbornness and pride. So when Jesus addressed this in his Sermon on the Mount, he advised to not swear at all. Instead, just let your Yes be yes and No be no. “Anything further comes from the evil one.”
Warning: May Cause Blindness
Tied to this is insistence—insistence on winning arguments, for example, or forcing others to live up to our expectations, standards, or demands. Swearing and insistence are a common form of spiritual adultery that can kill a loving, gracious spirit. The opposite would be to not force or press a claim, one positive definition of the Greek word for divorce (apoluo).
I’ve said in other posts that the basic definition of pride is a pre-disposition to insist on having your way. It’s the opposite of love and brings with it impatience, unkindness, ego, compulsion, manipulation, and all sorts of inner and outer turmoil.
Pride is a universal habit acquired early in life. (Just watch any two-year-old who doesn’t get his way.) Children don’t yet know how to handle their anger alert. And, given the lifelong love affair adults have with anger, grown-up tantrums look a little different, but the same spirit is behind them. Love, by contrast, is the ability to not insist on having your way. Paul noted in 1Cor. 13:4 that love is patient, kind, and not proud.
My point is the cumulative effect of all the toxic waste that builds up in the human spirit to render peace, joy, and Christ-like freedom from sin’s control impossible. This is how mysterious Babylon keeps an unsuspecting world, including Christians, drunk on the “maddening” adulteries in her cup. (Generally, we’re taught that the only solution is forgiveness rather than drinking something different.)
We have two simple antidotes to the mind-set of swearing: developing the habit of asking rather than demanding, and letting answers from yourself (and others) be what they are without automatically launching into anger, anxiety, or self-supremacy. This doesn’t mean we must always like every Yes or No. It just means we can learn and practice a quieter spirit that isn’t so easily rattled.
Yet this truly is impossible when the first two poisons remain. That’s why Jesus doesn’t start his Sermon with oaths. He starts two steps back.
More Side Effects
When I think how many times I’ve said, “I swear,” I wince. “I swear, that guy is nuts!” “I’ll make it up to you, I swear.” Cross my heart and hope to die, we swear on a stack of Bibles, on grandmother’s grave, or by Jove. We pinkie swear, insist, and promise the moon, all to make others believe we’ll keep our word at all cost, or that we mean Yes or No.
And it can have nasty consequences straight from hell.
For a biblical example (Mrk. 6:17-28), when Herodias’ daughter danced for Herod’s banquet guests, he swore to give her up to half his kingdom. It turned out that what she wanted was John the Baptist’s head on a platter. That came from her mother, Herodias, who had long nurtured an angry grudge against John. He had pointed out that she was actually an adulteress rather than Herod’s lawful wife.
Now Herod didn’t particularly want to kill John, but his public oath had backed him into a corner. His reputation and ego were on the line. So John’s murder was the progressive result of willful anger and contempt, adultery, and Herod keeping a sworn promise.
We find another biblical example (Luk. 22:34-61) where Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him three times before the rooster crows. Peter’s ego doesn’t let him believe it. But later that night after Jesus’ arrest, when several people recognize Peter as one of Jesus’ followers, Peter swears several oaths—not only that he isn’t a follower, but that he doesn’t even know the man. A rooster then crows, Jesus looks straight at Peter, and Peter suffers a catastrophic breakdown that nearly destroys his spirit with guilt and grief.
Although swearing is no guarantee of honesty, it’s sometimes mandatory—testifying in court, joining the military, or taking the oath of office, for example. So we sometimes have little choice. This wouldn’t be necessary if people followed Jesus’ strategies and tactics for developing a strong, clean spirit that doesn’t need to lie or save face.
But if we’re compelled to swear, I don’t think it’s a sin just because Jesus said to not swear at all. That isn’t what he meant by coming from the evil one, at least not for the person compelled. Like many situations Jesus covered, the sin is to live it as a life-style, using it to manipulate people’s judgment of your integrity and image.
God and angels are known to swear occasional oaths. The difference is that God doesn’t insist that people believe Him. Love doesn’t force itself or impose well-being, so He’ll graciously let you destroy your spirit if that’s your choice. He’ll even provide hell where you can be with like-minded others if you insist on it, although that’s not His first choice.
So next week, poison #4!