Beware of Swearing: Be Sure To Keep Your Word
Text: James 5:12
We continue on with our study of Practical Biblical Principles That Believers Are To Practice In Their Daily Lives. Today’s principle is – Beware of Swearing (taking an oath): Be Sure To Keep Your Word.
One of the key themes of the letter is James’ admonition on the proper use of the tongue.
First, believers are encouraged to listen carefully, think before we speak and not to easily get angry in James 1:19 “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:”
Second, in that same chapter, we read in verse 26 that the person who claims to be “religious” (pious or godly) and yet does not bridle or control his or her tongue is lying to themselves and not godly at all. Their profession of godliness is vain (empty). Hence, control your tongue.
Third, in James 3:1-12, James explains the power of the tongue. The tongue has the power to direct, the power to destroy and the power to delight. We are to use our tongues to direct in a godly direction and to delight (encourage).
Fourth, in a recent message focusing on James 5:9 we are exhorted not to grumble!
Now we come to today’s admonition relating to the proper use of our tongue.
ü Beware of Swearing (taking an oath): Be Sure To Keep Your Word
James 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.”
· What “Swearing” Is NOT In This Passage
In the context of James 5:12, the word swear is not referring to how we commonly use the English word today. When we refer to someone swearing we are talking about using the so-called four-letter words, dirty talk, illicit speech, filthy jokes, talk with double sensual meanings, etc.
This kind of talk IS certainly wrong. Paul exhorted the Ephesians; “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” Ephesians 4:29. The things mentioned above are certainly corrupt communication. Another applicable verse is Ephesians 5:4 “Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.”
Further, when we talk about swearing, it is understood to mean, “taking the Lord’s name in vain.” The third Commandment says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” Exodus 20:7 (Deuteronony 5:11; Pslam 139:20).
I want to explain what taking the Lord’s name in vain means. It means to use God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit’s name in an irreverent, flippant, trifling, disrespectful way. It means to make it common, cheap, and insignificant.
When you use the Lord’s name like a throw-away word like the utterance of “God!” or “Jesus!” or “Jesus Christ!” you are taking the Lord’s name in vain! When you damn someone or something in God’s name you are taking the Lord’s name in vain! Further, you are taking the Lord’s name in vain when you say, “O my God!” or OMG!
In fact we are to revere the name of God! His name is Holy. In fact the Jews never even pronounced the name Jehovah, the Covenant name of God. It was a capital crime to use the name of God irreverently in the Old Testament. Leviticus 24:16 says “And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death.”
There is a higher name than Jehovah! Turn to Philippians 2:9-11 “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
To use the name of Jesus in a common way is sin of the highest degree! We are to speak of God and Jesus Christ with reverence and respect. We are to delight in His name and honor it.
· What “Swearing” IS In This Passage
In the context of this passage, “swearing” means making an oath. To “swear” means “to affirm or utter a solemn declaration, with an appeal to God or some other high or holy thing, for the truth of what is affirmed.”
Let me try to explain what is going on here. The Devil is the father of lies according to John 8:44. As one preacher said, “Fallen men are basically inveterate (chronic, confirmed) liars.” In Old Testament times, there were no written contracts, so oaths in the name of God served to attest that what the person said was true. It was to call God to witness to the truth of one’s promise and to invoke His judgment if one defaulted on the promise. It was a very serious matter.
I need to note something here. I like what one commentator said:
“The Bible does not forbid taking oaths, acknowledging that in a world filled with liars there are times when they are necessary. Certainly it is not wrong to take an oath when testifying in court, being ordained, or getting married.”
As I will show in a moment, what I believe James is addressing is the use of ungodly oaths that were designed to deceive.
The Bible gives examples of godly men who took oaths, and in fact, God took an oath (Deuteronomy 29, key verse is 12).
Abraham required his servant to take an oath that he would get Isaac a wife from his relatives and not from the Canaanites (Genesis 24:2-4). The two Israelite spies swore an oath to Rahab (Joshua 2:12-20). David swore an oath to Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:12-17 & 2 Samuel 21:7).
In the New Testament Paul takes an oath before God of his truthfulness (2 Corinthians 1:23 & 11:31). Even an angel swore an oath (Revelation 10:5-6).
God expects a man who vows a vow/oath to keep his word. However, when a girl lived at home and took an oath, her father could nullify it. A wife’s oath/vow could be nullified by her husband (Numbers 30).
I have said all that to say this: I do not believe that James is laying down a blanket prohibition against all vows/oaths. I believe oaths were and are permitted on serious occasions (like marriage) and only in the name of God. What James is speaking out against is unnecessary and deceitful oaths. The Jews had developed the practice of swearing false, evasive oaths by everything other than the name of Lord. They swore by things other than the Lord for the very purpose of pretending truthfulness while they had no intention of keeping their oath. They knew that an oath in the name of the Lord was the only binding oath. Hence, James says, “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath…” James 5:12a.
I believe he very likely had in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who was addressing the Jewish practice of false oaths and said:
Matthew 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.” (see Matthew 5:33-37, key verse 37).
James makes it clear; people of integrity no not need to swear elaborate oaths in an effort to assure others of their truthfulness. And certainly you would not swear an oath to deceive people! Your YES should mean YES and your NO should mean NO! As the Lord said in Matthew 5:37, “for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”
Be a person of integrity! Keep your word!