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Be True to Your Word

12 Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “yes” mean “yes,” and your “no” mean “no,” so that you won’t fall under judgment. (James 5:12)

Closing this section on having reverence to God, James warns the readers to not use God’s name disrespectfully, specifically when it comes to making an oath. In order to understand this oath making issue, we need to learn a few things about the cultural practice at the time. Lea explains, In the New Testament period, some Jews used oaths for frivolous swearing. They would make a statement such as “by my life” or “by my head” to bolster the truth of a promise or statement. They also used evasive swearing. If a person swore by the name of God, his oath was binding. If he swore by another object such as heaven or earth, his oath was not binding.”

So, with that being said, James urged the fellow “brothers and sisters,” to not swear in that false manner, “by heaven or by earth or with any other oath.” This other oath could also be the oath made in the name of God, especially in light of the previous section when there are hardships. How often do we hear in movies or tv shows when the main character is in danger, that they make an oath to God, “God, if you get me through this, I’ll do ‘x’.” James states that this is wrong, a way of taking the Lord’s name in vain. Although it is not an explicit profane usage of the Lord’s name, it is still using His name in an inappropriate manner, for those that make such a promise usually do not follow through with their word. Lea again states, “This prohibition bans the careless use of god’s name to guarantee the truthfulness of a statement. Christians who face suffering can be easily tempted to make a frivolous appeal to God’s name to bargain their way out of trouble or difficulty.”

Therefore, James wants the believers to be honest with their promises, “Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no,’ so that you won’t fall under judgment.” Jesus Himself stated that everyone, including believers, will need to be careful with the words they say, for everyone will have to give an account of it, as seen in Matthew 12:36, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.”

Blessings,

Isaac De Guzman

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