It had been a busy week. There were a few people who lived out of town that I wanted to visit on Friday. I was about to set up some visits, when my phone rang. It was Paul and he said that he just needed to talk with me. “Could we get together on Friday?” It sounded important, so we agreed to meet at 10:00 in the morning. The visits I had wanted to make would just have to wait till next week. Friday morning came and it was 10:00 o’clock. But Paul was not there. By quarter after ten he still had not shown up. I tried to call him but there was no answer. I waited a little longer. I started getting a liile upset. Why was Paul not there? I had re-arranged my schedule for him. Had he been in an accident? Had he just forgotten about our meeting? Maybe I was not just no that important to him? I tried to figure out why he had not come or at least called. I felt somewhat personally insulted. Like someone had stolen something from me. And not only me, but from the others I had hoped to visit.
Has anyone ever stood you up? They promised to me you but they never came? A friend tells you they will come over to play with you, so you look forward to Saturday morning? But they never come. Family friends say they are coming to visit on Sunday, so you even prepare some extra food? But they never show up. I believe we all have had this experience and been bothered by it. And the next time the person arranges something with us, we even have some doubt whether we can rely on them
James tells us: Read vs. 12. What James is talking about is that we are to keep our word. That when we say we will do something or meet someone, we actually do what we said.
James is summarizing something that he had heard Jesus teach.
Mat 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.1
Both Jesus and James are talking about taking oaths, about swearing an oath.
God, Jesus and Paul all made oaths. We are called to make oaths before the Lord at times. Promising to fulfil our vows, the Lord being our helper.
But what the people in James’ day were doing were making oaths on a daily basis. And there was a problem with this.
First, it meant that they were not taking their oaths very seriously.
An oath is a serious matter. In Deut. 6:13 we read “Fear the Lord your God, serve Him only and take oaths in His name.” Taking an oath is a serious matter.
What Jesus says is that when we swear by heaven or earth, we include God in our oath since these both belong to God. An oath is raising the stakes of our promise. It is saying that we promise and include something precious in that promise to show we are sincere. People say – “on my life, on my mother’s grave, or in the name of God.”
When we start making oaths for everything we say, we are taking something reserved for special occasions and making it the norm. Its like having a Christmas dinner every day. Then when Christmas comes the meal is not very special. In fact we might rather have a peanut butter sandwich for a change.
We trivialize that which is important. We desecrate that which is holy. When we invoke God’s name or other things he has given us, we are making God out to be unimportant.
And not only that but we make God a party to our promise. We involve Him in what we promise to do. And when we do that on a regular basis, sooner or later we will break our oath and God becomes part of a broken promise.
This is very serious. In fact, this is the third time that James talk about sins of our lips. He has talked about words spoken in anger.
James 1:19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,
James 1:26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
And in chapter 3 he talks about the evil and power of the tongue. Slandering and cursing.
This sin we are looking at this evening may seen less harmful and yet James suggests it is greater than the others he has mentioned. For he starts the verse by saying “above all.”
A second problem with taking oaths, is that we don’t take the other things we say as serious. When we start saying “I promise, or honest to God” when we want to make sure that the other believes us, then it means that when we don’t make an oath, we are implying that we are not as serious about what we promise. We can always say “well, I didn’t promise, I would do that.”
And that ties in to the main thing that James is teaching. Be people of your word. Let your “yes”be “yes”and your “no”be “no”.
We are people of God who are call to bring His Word. We witness to God by the way we live but also by our proclamation of who God is. If we go about not keeping our word, not doing what we say we would – whether to others or to our own parents and children – then they start questioning if they can believe anything we say. What we do is make them start questioning the words by which we share our faith. “He says there is a God, but I don’t know, he says many things taht I can’t believe. Why should I believe him now?”
We live in a world in which ones word does not mean much to most people. We break vows to God, to the church and to our spouses. We even support people in their vow-breaking.
If we can be people who keep our word, we will be different. People may wonder what is wrong with us, especially when others break their word, we must not see this as an excuse to break ours, but rather as an opportunity to bring the light of the truth into the world.
Maybe another did not keep their part of the bargain, but I made a promise and I will keep my part.
Then the world we will see that we are truly people of the Word. That we represent the Truth, which comes only from God.
It is easy to break our promises. To let our “yes” become a “no”. We may forget. Something more important may come along. Something might get in the way. We promise to fix a truck by tomorrow but the job becomes greater than we thought.
Well, try to keep your promise, but if something unforeseen comes up, make sure you let the other person or party know. It shows you value their time and you value the words that you speak. When we break a promise, it may not seem like a big deal, but it may mean much to another. It may be another of many rejections they have felt in their lives. This is a serious matter.
Above all, let your “yes” be “yes” and you “no” be “no”.
Means we think through what we say. Child asks for something and without thinking we say “no”. After some thought we change our mind. “It’s ok.” But what it means is that the child knows that our yes or no means little. We change to often . May be times we have made wrong answer and we need to admit we made mistake. But much better to think things through before we say “yes” or “no”.
May we glorify God through lips that can be trusted. May our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no.”
Article by John Kapteyn
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