If you are ever called on to testify in court, you will be asked, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” Are you violating Scripture to put yourself under such an oath? Some Christians would answer, “yes.” by what they read in Matt 5:33-37 when Jesus said “Do not swear at all…”
But this is where we need to be careful! James says this goes beyond the taking of oaths or vows…He deals with the issue of truthful speech in midst of suffering. Oaths ought to foster truthful communication, but in reality they had become a smokescreen for lying. This portion of James letter seems out of place with the context that surrounds the issue of suffering. But think about! If you have ever suffered you know the answer to this portion of James letter. It’s easy to say things you do not mean, and even make bargains with God, when you are going through difficulties.
For example Lord if you get me through this situation or the pickle I’m in, I promise I will go to church every Sunday. Lord if you get me through this I will serve you and even give my life to you. Lord if you get me out of this I will be a better husband/wife and father/mother. But sadly many of these promises are never fulfilled because we don’t see God as we ought too. The Bible does not forbid all oaths as God dealt with His children. God swore to David with an oath that one of his descendants would always sit on his throne. Act 2:30 says “Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne,” Jesus stood before the courts under oath. “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." Matt 26:63-64
The Apostle Paul on many occasions often swore by the Lord. Rom 1:9 says “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,” But the Bible does forbid both lighthearted oaths and false oaths.
Example! In Judges 11:29-40 we read about Jephthah who foolishly vowed to sacrifice the first thing that walked out of his door when he returned from battle. When it happened to be his only daughter, he foolishly kept the foolish vow. He never should have made it in the first place and he should have broken it when it meant killing his daughter. So often frivolous vows stem from a prideful heart. Sometimes we want to impress others with our spiritual commitment, and so we make a boastful vow. The unconverted young Martin Luther made his famous promise to become a monk when a bolt of lightning terrified him in 1505. That didn’t stick, because when he read the book of Romans later on in life those vows he made were nothing more than frivolous and false.
Our vows are to be reserved for sincere and important occasions, where it matters the most personally. Vows that have eternal implications and build on the integrity of our person. To take an oath in court, or to vow to be faithful to your spouse at your wedding, or to vow to be faithful to the Lord at your baptism are examples of godly vows. But according to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5:33-37 the Jews were notorious of making vows and oaths in all the wrong things. But what’s interesting is that they never used the name of God in their oaths, out of fear of blaspheme. So they would swear by Heaven, and Earth or Jerusalem, or even by their own heads. And what good is that? Matt 5:36 says “or shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.” But Jesus taught that it’s impossible to avoid God in such oaths.
Heaven is His throne
The Earth is His footstool
Jerusalem is the city of the “Great King”
Your head is under the sovereign control of God.
When James says, “Do not swear,” he is not referring to taking the Lord’s name in vain, although Scripture clearly forbids that. He is referring to not invoking God’s name in everyday speech to assure the truthfulness of what you say. Example! Have you ever heard someone say, “I swear to God that’s true?” Why do you need to say that? Because you begin to wonder whether anything he says is true. Your word should be true without needing to make a big deal about it.
True Christian character requires few words! The person who uses many words (including oaths) to convince others has something wrong with his or her character. If you are a true Christian, with integrity then all you have to say is yes or no and people will believe you. Jesus warned us that anything more than this is from the evil one in Matt 5:37. This is why it’s important to be patient during a time of suffering! Throughout the letter and especially in the preceding passage, James has been concerned to encourage his readers' patience and perseverance in the midst of trials. It is clear that James anticipates in their suffering the temptation to compromise their moral standards and so become polluted by the world.
From the very beginning, James has said that his readers' faith is being tested in the trials (James 1:3).
In the midst of trials, Christians are to ask God in faith (James 1:6).
It is because of this faith they hold in Christ that they are not to show favoritism (James 2:1).
It is faith that constitutes true riches (James 2:5).
James has gone to great lengths to emphasize that genuine faith will manifest itself in deeds (James 2:14-26).
His whole letter is a plea for his readers to be not merely religious people, but people of faith in Christ alone.
Doing right when you are done wrong is hard! We are to never focus on the situation or you’ll get angry, instead James says for us to “Patient “as we looked at last Sunday. Yes you’ve been wronged but don’t let this get you down where you dishonor the LORD who saved you and gave Himself for you. We are not to focus on yourself, or you’ll have a piety party. Take each situation and be strong in Christ. See that this person is not an enemy but as a tool for your spiritual growth.
We are not to focus on someone to blame, or you’ll end up complaining. Don’t shift the blame on others, instead view others as a means God uses to shape and mold your inner person. We are never to focus on the present but look to the future for insight. In order to do that, we need to turn to the Word of God. So consider memorizing these verses and stitch them on the fabric of your heart. As you stand firm and do not pretend to say yea with your lips, and annul it in your heart; let the yea or the nay which you express be genuine from your transformed life. A man who makes that his common method of speech is the man who will be believed. Let your yes be yes and your no be no! (v12) But in order for this to happen, we need to stand be tested true to the promises of God as we endure this Christian life. How we use our words, in a crisis, shows how much we trust the Lord.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” Rom 8:18-25
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Cor 4:16-18
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:3-9
These are 3 simple reminders of God’s provision and goodness as we endure for His name sake though a life of integrity and genuine Christianity. Why? Our speech and actions provide the most revealing evidence or position of our spiritual condition. When we make a vow to serve Christ that is outward expression of true inward change. When we make a vow to live and die for Christ that is an outward expression of an inward change. When we vow to be whom the bible speaks about in the New Testament, the world will take notice, ask or get violently upset because they see Christ in us. Why? God has revealed Himself and has given everyone a conscience to know right from wrong. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,” Rom 1:20. What does Romans 1:20 reveal as we look at James 5:12? God knows who are genuinely His and those who are faking it. What Jesus calls of us as to…..His sanctified (set apart) children are that we be straightforward, honest, and plain with our speech, seasoned with grace and salt. The use of oaths is contrary to faith, it marks unbelief. Faith always means yes when it says “Yes”. People of faith have no need to make oaths to give their words weight or to prompt a solution to suffering. They wait patiently as they endure suffering Why? To speak otherwise brings about condemnation and judgment. (v12c)
“…fall under condemnation or judgement.”
The Mosaic Law warned about this! "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” Exo 20:7. It’s so much more than using God’s name as a curse word…. but to make an oath under God falsely is very dangerous. Jesus pronounced “Woe you Pharisee’s” because of their false oaths. Matt 23:16 says “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.” The sobering reminder is that that those who continue to blaspheme God’s holy name through lying oaths face eternal damnation. This being another test of living faith. Not to say we are perfect and will won’t mess up on occasion. BUT! Those whose lives are patterned by habitual lying give evidence of having an unregenerate heart.
And the Bible is very clear where a lifestyle of lying leads too. “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." Rev 21:8. So as James says “But let your "Yes" be "Yes," and your "No," "No," lest you fall into judgment.” Be honest and speak the truth at all times for the glory of His name.
As a pastor I don’t know what’s in store for you in the coming weeks, months and years and neither do you! God knows and has counted your days to endure for Him and His glory as we wait for Christ’s return. Whatever that might be from……Losing your home, job, prolong grief with a neighbor or friend, a rebellious child, a parent who treat you like garbage or a bad grade on your examine. James is reminding us no matter what we go through…. Faith that preservers are trustworthy in speech. The words from our mouth should be consistent and dependable that they guarantee reliability. This is what Christ has done for us through the promises of eternal life.