Because of the Fall of man in the Garden of Eden, people sometimes lie.
Sometimes children lie to their parents and sometimes parents lie to their children.
Sometimes husbands lie to their wives and sometimes wives lie to their husbands.
Sometimes people lie to their employers and sometimes employers lie to their employees and to the public.
People sometimes lie to the government, particularly on their income taxes.
It seems that much of our society is built on a framework of lies.
This basic dishonesty has led people to impose oaths on others in an attempt to force them to be truthful and keep their promises.
Because we recognize humankind’s basic dishonesty, there exist:
the simple oaths of children,
we have the sophisticated oaths of some organizations,
and then we have legal contracts,
and then we have peace treaties.
In our text for today, James is echoing the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:33-37.
Matthew 5:33-37 = “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
What is referred to in Matthew and in James is the light, casual use of oaths in informal conversation.
It does not refer to formal oaths in such places as courts of law.
In casual conversations, rather than using an oath to convince people that a statement is true, we should let our “’Yes’ be yes,” and our “’No,’ be no.”
In other words, we should be honest in all of our speech.
We should be honest in all our speech so that when we say something, people will know it is the truth.
In the careless use of oaths a person is in danger of taking God’s name in vain for which he will be judged.
An oath is when the name of something or someone greater than the person making the oath is used to give greater credibility to what is said.
Any oath calling on God invites Him to witness the truthfulness of what is said.
An oath was generally taken to be the absolute truth, which ended every dispute.
The one who violated an oath would bring judgment upon himself or herself.
In our text, James issues a command to stop swearing.
There are 4 features in this command to be considered:
James 5:12a = Above all, my brothers, . . .
The phrase “above all” indicates the distinction between the exhortation that follows and the other exhortations preceding it.
The command in verse 12 is the first of several that close out this letter written by James.
As he winds down his letter, the author touches on some important concluding matters.
Because it occupies only one verse, some may be tempted to dismiss this warning against swearing as being relatively insignificant.
But the phrase “above all” sets it apart as a very important command.
“Above all” means “most importantly”.
How believers speak is a great concern because it reveals what is in their hearts.
The prohibition against false swearing in verse 12 reflects the truth that a Spirit-transformed heart will reveal itself in honest speech.
How people speak is the most revealing test of their true spiritual condition.
People sin more with their tongues than in any other way.
One can’t do everything but one can say anything.
That’s why Jesus said “ . . . out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34
The heart is a storehouse and people’s words reveal what they keep there.
---------------------------------------------------------- James refers to his readers as “brothers”.
This shows that his attitude was not one of condescension, but of compassion.
He identified with them as one who also needed to guard his own mouth and speak the truth.
For him, too, the matter of honest speech was of utmost importance.
The second feature in this command to consider is:
James 5:12b = . . . do not swear – not by heaven or by earth or by anything else.
In this context to “swear” does not mean to use illicit speech, dirty talk, filthy jokes or four-letter words.
That type of unwholesome speech is forbidden in Ephesians 4:29.
Ephesians 4:29 = Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths . . .
Ephesians 5:4 = Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place . . .
In this context in James, swearing is talking about the taking of oaths.
The custom of swearing oaths was a major part of life in biblical times.
The Jewish system of swearing oaths had its roots in the Old Testament.
In a time when written contracts did not exist, oaths served to bind agreements between people.
To take an oath was to declare that what one said was true, to call God to witness that, and to invoke His punishment if one’s word was violated.
A violation of an oath was a very serious matter.
The Bible does not totally forbid taking oaths, acknowledging that in a fallen world there are times when they are necessary.
The Bible gives examples of Godly men who took oaths.
The Bible also records God Himself taking oaths.
Certainly it is not wrong to take an oath when testifying in court or getting married.
Oaths are wrong when they are misused with the intent to deceive others.
Oaths are wrong when they are taken flippantly.
Sometimes kids will make an oath with other kids trying to convince them that they are telling the truth.
They will say something like this:
“What I am telling you is true. I cross my heart, I swear to God and hope to die if it is not true.”
I had a friend who would say that quite often.
The first few times I believed him.
He crossed his heart, swore to God and hoped to die.
But eventually the oath became meaningless because this person would lie even with the oath.
To convince others that the truth is being told some will say:
“I swear on a stack of Bibles.”
“Now this is the gospel truth!”
“God is my witness.”
These are all ways that people try to convince others that they are telling the truth.
Men and women who are truthful will be truthful whether they are under oath or not.
Since swearing oaths was a big part of Jewish culture, Jewish believers brought that practice into the church.
It had become an issue in the church.
The third feature in this command to consider is:
James 5:12c = Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, . . .
The lack of integrity in our society is not new.
The lack of integrity has been around since the Fall in the Garden of Eden.
It is one of the marks of the world system.
Satan is the prince of this world.
He is a liar and the father of lies.
It is not surprising then that the world system that he influences is characterized by lying.
It is through novels, movies, television, music and advertising that Satan promotes his lies.
He blends together truth, fantasy and falsehood making it very difficult to unscramble.
He adds just enough truth to make it seem right.
Because there is an element of truth in what he does, people are deceived and are led astray.
Much of business, politics, government, education, science, and religion is built on half-truths.
Yet even the most corrupt societies have always realized that in certain areas the “real truth” is necessary.
Courts of law require witnesses to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Because of the extreme importance of truthful testimony to justice, perjury itself is a crime that can bring severe penalties.
Perjury is basically lying under oath.
Even gangs, who may lie and cheat on a regular basis, demand the truth within their own gang.
This is necessary for their survival.
Reiterating Jesus’ words, James calls for simple, straightforward, honest speech.
Christians are to be the kind of people whose “yes” means “yes” and whose “no” means “no”.
People of integrity have no need to swear elaborate oaths to convince others of their truthfulness.
We need to remember that neither Jesus nor James prohibited swearing oaths under special circumstances.
But under normal circumstances they are needless for the believer, who is marked by honesty.
Speaking the truth in every situation will cause believers to shine forth in the darkness of a world of lies.
Integrity is characterized by soundness, completeness, wholeness, habitual truthfulness and doing what’s right for the right reasons.
James Patterson co-authored a book entitled The Day America Told the Truth.
In the book it is recorded that over 90% of Americans admit to lying routinely and 36% of these say they tell big lies that hurt other people.
Money magazine did a survey asking people if they would commit a crime for $10 million if they thought they could get away with it.
Nearly one out of four people surveyed said they would do it.
The fourth feature in this command to consider is:
IV. The Motivation
James 5:12d = . . . or you will be condemned.
As motivation against swearing false oaths, James points out the consequences of violating them.
Those who do so will be condemned.
One of the 10 Commandments found in Exodus 20:7 states:
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
One way of misusing God’s name is to swear falsely.
The condemnation James has in mind here is not God’s chastening of believers.
The Greek word (krisis) translated “condemned” is never used in the New Testament to refer to the chastening of believers.
James certainly does not teach that believers will never sin with their tongues.
Christians sometimes slip into a condition of being untruthful.
But that is not James’ point here.
The sobering warning he gives is that those who continue to blaspheme God’s holy name through false oaths may face eternal damnation.
Those whose lives are characterized by a pattern of lies may not know Jesus.
Because they do not know Jesus, they will be condemned.
Where do lies come from?
In John 8:44, Jesus said this to the Pharisees who were the religious leaders of that day:
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
The Bible teaches that liars, spiritual children of the father of lies, will be sentenced to hell.
Speaking of liars in Revelation 21:8, it says that “their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.”
If we have a reputation for exaggerating or lying, we will have a hard time getting people to believe us when we are telling the truth.
But if we are always honest, people will believe our simple yes or no.
By avoiding lies, half-truths, and omissions of the truth, we will become known as trustworthy people.
We should mean what we say and say what we mean.
It’s called integrity.
Jesus calls us to integrity.
There are some stumbling blocks to integrity:
In our society many people are going after gold instead of going after God.
Another stumbling block to integrity is:
Some will engage in unfair practices or dishonest dealings to build or protect their personal accomplishments.
Another stumbling block to integrity is:
Exaggeration is used to impress friends or clients.
Often a low self-image will prompt this type of behavior.
There may also be a tendency to hide the truth fearing what others might think if they really knew.
We have what might be called the “Be-Attitudes” of integrity:
God comes first and then we need to try to maintain a balance between our families, our jobs, and our ministries.
We need to be careful that we do not adopt a pious appearance.
We should not pretend we are spiritual, when in fact, our spiritual tank is empty.
Everyone will stumble at times, but the overall pattern of our lives is what really counts.
Our personal integrity and our public integrity should be governed by the same rules.
A lack of integrity even in very small things can destroy a Christian’s witness and can lead to larger offenses.
Sloppy work and mediocre performance in the work place can bring reproach to the name of Jesus.
God has promised to give us wisdom if we ask.
Life is very complicated and we need God’s wisdom.
Wisdom will enable us to make right decisions which will bring glory and honor to God.
The way we treat others will reveal to them whether or not we value them as people.
As Christians we have something to be positive about.
We are children of the Heavenly King looking forward to a heavenly home.
Encourage others and share the hope we have with those who have no hope.
These Be-Attitudes can only be genuine through the power of the Spirit of God.
We need to allow the life of Jesus to fill us and flow through us to become men and women of integrity.
A simple meaningful prayer expressing our desire to become men and women of integrity might sound like this:
“Lord, have your way in my life.”