Bill Burk, the man God used to bring my dad to Christ, used to employ a simple litmus test to determine if a man was truly interested in the Gospel or not. He would schedule a day to come and study the Bible with the man. On the appointed day, if the man was there waiting for him, he would take it as a sign of interest; if he was out tending his field or hunting his game, he would go on to the next house. End of conversation.

Bill was a big believer in the binding nature of words and in the fact that words truly reveal the intent of a person’s heart. And I know that approach worked well with my dad, who was somewhat methodical from the day I was aware of his existence. Not sure how well it would work with an illiterate fisherman who hadn’t even seen a calendar his whole life, let alone made an appointment with someone. But that’s for another day. One has somehow to prioritize feeding his family as well…

Bill’s practice derived from an application of Jesus’ words, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.'”

In this day and age when truth is like an endangered species, this is a great reminder to all of us. The religious leaders of the day had come up with all sorts of creative ways to get around the obligation of an oath. To speak in today’s terms, they could be seen with their fingers crossed, if the camera turned to show their backs, whenever they were promising to do something of significance. Their words became meaningless and they did all of this while sounding extremely pious.

In rebuking their misuse of oaths, Jesus reaffirmed the pervasive nature of God’s presence in all of our transactions, since He said that any kind of oath was ultimately invoking the Creator, because He owns everything. His rebuke also declared once and for all that the integrity of one’s inner being is infinitely more important than keeping appearance. One can get around promises in clever ways but one can never get clever enough to fool the Creator.

But instead of pondering the meaning of this teaching, we find ourselves arguing about whether Jesus was talking about taking an oath in a court of law, cursing or taking the Lord’s Name in vain — interesting topics, but not the subject of this text.

Here, Jesus is concerned with what we told our school teacher when we failed to bring our homework, after promising her “it will be done by tomorrow.” He wants to know if “the check is the mail” when we say it is. He cares about our failures to come to our kid’s soccer games, after we said you would be there for the umpteenth time. The applications are endless.

The world would be a better place even if only those who call themselves Christians spoke “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” Jesus expected nothing less and nothing more from His disciples. And Bill Burk apparently understood that.

Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA