This is the second of two posts looking at Matthew 5:37. The first was about how our struggle to say yes or no and mean it ultimately comes down to trust. In this post, let’s look closer at the second half of the verse, “anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
I’ve always been intrigued by these words of Jesus. One of the first teachings I heard on this verse explained how the phrase “comes from the evil one” means “is the beginning of evil.” That makes sense when you think of all the things Jesus clearly said that we soften, dilute, add to, or ignore. Unfortunately, we do this all the time with the things we consume, the little white lies we tell, and the thoughts we harbor.
But Matthew 5:37 actually leans in a different direction according to people a lot smarter than me. Many translators substitute “more” for “beyond.” It’s about adding to yes and no. Check this out, from J.I. Packer . . .
“Jesus is referring to the ceremonious way in which Jews, particularly the Pharisaic types, took oaths. It was one of the things in the culture of the time. Jesus was nailing it as an undesirable procedure because it was all about pulling the wool over other people’s eyes. That is, people swore these impressive sounding oaths, and the whole situation they were creating thereby was phony.
What were the oaths anyway? They were forms of words designed to impress. They weren’t indications that the person swearing the oath had any power over the things that the oath mentioned. It was just using swear words to impress and so produce acceptance of things in relation to the oath, when in fact this was relationally phony because the persons taking the oath to impress didn’t intend to keep the promises or commitments that they were apparently confirming by taking some oath. They were just fooling folks. And Jesus said, in essence, ‘Don’t let this foolery ever touch you.’
This fits really well into the context of the Sermon on the Mount because it’s going after the Pharisees for their hypocrisies. Jesus is against hypocrisy in all its forms, and he’s for straightforwardness and transparency and honesty and responsibility in all its forms.”
When my kids were still kids, they’d ask, “Daddy, can we go to Six Flags on Saturday?” I was pretty sure I didn’t want to endure a hot day at a noisy amusement park, but neither did I want to endure the pain, harassment, and noise of telling them no in the moment. So, I said, “We’ll see.” You can guess what happened. They heard yes and started getting excited, making their secret little plans, and pulling out their savings to waste on candy and toys. I heard no because I didn’t really want to put everybody through an exhausting weekend tribulation. So, when I said, “We’ll see,” it was (technically) an oath designed to impress. It was definitely “the beginning of evil.” It would have been so much better to have made a yes or no decision and stated it clearly. Instead, I created an expectation that ultimately lead to anxiety for myself and my whole family.
Let’s push ourselves to be people of clear thinking, Godly wisdom, decisiveness, and honest communications. Being wishy-washy, in thought, word or deed is from the evil one.
Scripture: All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:37)