“You have my word on it.”
Does that mean anything today?
Hopefully, it does. We’d like to think it means that you meant what you said, you can be trusted, others can count on you.
The sad truth though is that we live in a world where the truth isn’t always the truth. We live in a world of loopholes and fine print, where promises aren’t always honored and people are left to twist in the wind of duplicity.
So how do we know when someone’s telling the truth?
Children say “I promise,” “I swear,” do pinky promises, and cross their hearts.
Adults give you their word, shake hands, make a deposit, or swear on their mother’s graves.
In the Old Testament, they took an oath. An oath meant involving God in whatever issue was under dispute was so as to assure the truth was being told. Oaths were serious business. Israel was told in Leviticus 19:12, “ ‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.’”
Oaths were a real problem for equivocators and people who weren’t truth tellers. Asking them to take an oath meant they either had to involve God in their lie or refuse to take the oath. Since neither of these options would allow them to lie and prosper, they came up with a third option–swearing by something less than God. (This dovetailed with the practice that developed among the Jews of not verbalizing the name of God). Their rationale was that if they swore by something other than God, they could lie or break their promise because they hadn’t directly involved Yahweh.
By Jesus’ time, this evasiveness had been refined to an art form. Christ scathingly denounced the word games the Pharisees and others taught people to play in regard to truth. (You can read what He had to say in Matthew 5:33-37, 23:16-22). He told them that God was involved in everything since everything belonged to Him so whatever they might choose to swear by involved God and obligated them to tell the truth. Then He pointed them away from oaths and promises and toward communicating with such character and integrity as to require no oaths. He was death on deceit and duplicity. No games, no smoke and mirrors, just simple speech that says what it means and means what it says.
Jesus was right—our words communicate our character. What message are people receiving from us?