Honesty is the best policy. No doubt this is something that we have heard throughout our lives. No, it’s not a Scripture verse, but it does in fact, reflect biblical truth. Throughout the Word of God, we read of the value, necessity, and benefit of being honest. Honesty includes with it the idea of being both principled and reliable. Christ, in His Sermon on the Mount, speaks directly to this issue when He said:

“But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).

Just what did Christ mean by this statement, and what are its far-reaching implications to every child of God?

Christ in essence is saying here, that not only are we to be people who mean what we say, we are also to be people who keep what we say. If we have to resort to an oath to uphold or reinforce our words, what does that say about us? Christ says that anything more than your simple yes, or your simple no, in normal everyday conversation, is of the devil. Those are powerful words.

What Is the Context of This Verse?

When we look at this verse in its context, we see that Christ was forbidding oaths. It has been said that if an oath is necessary, then integrity is lacking. I can vividly remember, when I was much younger and before I was born again, trying to impress others, or else prove the truthfulness of a statement I had made by adding – not the phrase, “I promise you that I’m telling the truth” – but a brazen, “I swear to God.” Not knowing God, it was easy; we all did it without even blinking. The fact is that sometimes I actually was telling the truth, but sometimes I wasn’t. Such is the mind and heart of the unsaved. 

Those who were a part of this crowd that had gathered to hear Christ speak on the mount, understood what Jesus meant, but they also knew what the Law stated:

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord. But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black” (Matthew 5:33-36, emphasis mine). 

Jesus in essence told those under the sound of His voice not to lie under any circumstances. The phrase, “to the Lord” in verse 33 could, for all intents and purposes, be used as a cover for a lie. What those listening understood was that any oath which was taken with God’s name in it was legally binding; but that an oath taken without God’s name in it was not legally binding. 

Does This Verse Forbid Oaths of Any Kind?

What should be understood as we unpack Christ’s words is that His prohibition does not forbid solemn, official oaths, because we see several instances in Scripture where God Himself, and others swear. We cite several of those instances here:

“For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself” (Hebrews 6:13).

The Lord has sworn And will not relent, You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4).

Twice in scripture, Paul the apostle invokes God as his witness:

“Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth” (2 Corinthians 1:23).

“For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers” (Romans 1:9).

Finally, we note that Christ Himself allowed Himself to be put under an oath — and we know that nothing that Christ did can ever be considered sin. Here is the event in its full context:

“Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none. But at last two false witnesses came forward and said, ‘This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’ And the high priest arose and said to Him, ‘Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?’ But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, ‘I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven’” (Matthew 26:59-64).

Concerning this event, the fact is that the high priest did not know that he didn’t need to put Christ under an oath in order to get a confession of truth, but yet Christ responded to it — and not because He was being pushed or coerced into it. 

Why Is Honesty So Important for Us?

Jesus’ words continue to have far-reaching implications as to how we live our lives. Personal integrity becomes an extremely important factor as we live before the world. It should be understood that whether or not we can maintain that integrity will have an impact on our witness to those in the world. Scripture makes this clear:

“Avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us: Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Corinthians 8:21, KJV).

“Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men (Roman 12:17, KJV).

Allowing our yes to be yes, and our no to be no reinforces who we are in Christ. Since we have identified ourselves with Him, it means that at all times we are to remember that our ultimate goal in this life is to be like Christ, and that dishonesty will serve to distort the world’s perception of Christ. Satan has already blinded their minds that they should not receive the glorious light of the gospel, and our behavior in the world should not be used to reinforce the Devil’s lies. 

There is one remaining factor to keep in mind when speaking of personal integrity. The phrase “all men” in the previous verses is referring to those outside of Christ, but we are also to maintain honesty toward one another: 

Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:9-11, KJV).

Let us remember as we live out this life in Christ, that we are to walk and talk as He did, and that means being honest at every turn. 

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Love portrait and love the world

Michael Jakes is an Associate Pastor, Bible teacher, and writer. He is co-founder of That’s The Word! Ministries, a distinctly Cross-centered outreach. He hosts several live weekly podcasts, including "The Bible Speaks Live," and "The Cutting It Right Bible Study." Michael is also the author of two books, The Lights In The Windows, and Churchified Or Sanctified? He and his wife Eddye have been married for over 40 years, and reside in New York. You can follow him on Facebook and Youtube and listen to his podcasts on Spreaker