James abruptly switches gears in today’s passages, much the way topics change in the Book of Proverbs.
Jam. 5:12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.
James isn’t talking about cursing or using vulgar language. He’s talking about making oaths and vows. The Jews had a problem in this area. I have read that, in Bible days, they were infamous for making carefully worded vows. They were crafted to make their vows sound convincing, but not to be binding – like making a promise with your fingers crossed.
It seems to me that the swearing James corrects here might have arisen from their difficult circumstances. Maybe they were promising God that they would do certain things if God helped them through their hardships. Maybe they were telling others what they would do when they got back on their feet. It’s also very possible that they were swearing about what they would do to their persecutors. What ever their purpose, James rebukes their practice. The Lord also rebuked them for this during His earthly ministry:
Mat. 23:16-22 Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! (17) Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? (18) And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. (19) Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? (20) Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. (21) And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. (22) And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.
Earlier, Christ preached against making vows like this:
Mat. 5:33-37 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: (34) But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: (35) Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. (36) Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. (37) But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
God expects His people to be known as truth tellers. We must say yes when we mean yes and say no when we mean no. I don’t think this prevents believers from making marriage vows, or taking an oath in court. Rather, it is a ban on frivolous and deceptive vows that are not required of us, but that we make to influence others to believe us. (If any of you want me to back that up from Scripture, I think I could make a good case, but I’m too tired, and its to late to do it now. If you’re interested, add a comment to this post and I’ll put it together.)
We will answer to God for our words. We may be able to deceive others with carefully crafted promises, but we’re not fooling God and we’ll not get away with it.
How Are You Doing?
Meditate on James 5:13 for tomorrow. This will be another short study. Why do you think God gives specific advice on what to do when you’re happy?