Saturday in the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

James 5:12

Yes’s and No’s

James has said much about purity of speech throughout this letter warning his readers to guard their tongues.  So here is one last admonition about our tongues and it comes straight from James’ half-brother.

“But above all, my brothers,” James begins.  He is signaling from the very beginning that what he is going to say next is extremely important.  Indeed, the sentence seems to interrupt the flow between verses eleven and thirteen, as if he only just remembered to say this.  This is not to say that this line was an after-thought—as shown throughout his letter, the use of the tongue was a crucial matter for the Bishop.  But whatever the case, James wanted his readers to be aware of this important point: “Do not swear either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.”  Jesus said the same in Matthew 5:33-37 and provides us two reasons for not taking oaths: 1) Because we may not be able to fulfill them.  Who are we to swear that we will do such and such when we do not even know what tomorrow will bring or whether there will even be a tomorrow (4:13-17)?  As Jesus said, we cannot make one of our own hairs white or black; but, even more so, 2) Why is there need?  Are we not able to tell the truth without an oath?  The taking of an oath assumes that without such we would tell a lie.  And so James quotes his brother and Lord: “Anything more than [saying yes and no] comes from evil.”  Christians are people of simple and unalloyed speech without deceit and manifesting a pure heart.

Now someone will ask, “Then what about courts of law where we are required to do so?”  We must recognize that courts belong to the world and not the Church.  Naturally, courts must rely on oaths on account of the people that come through their doors.  And there are times Christians must come through those doors as well, usually as witnesses or character references, but on occasion, sadly, for wrong-doing.  In such cases, we must comply knowing that government is instituted by God (Romans 13:1-7), and we must live in the world.  I believe James is speaking more to swearing as a manner of speaking.  This is condemned.  It’s unnecessary and communicates that one is a dishonest person.

Christians are simple and sensible people.  They do not fuss, they do not gossip, they hold their tongues, they speak a comely and fit word at the right time, and they speak the truth in love.

Author: The Reformed Baptist

My name is Stephen Taylor, ordained Baptist minister of eighteen years pastoral experience with a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Better than that, I am married to a godly woman, Karla, who has been very patient with me since 1989. I have two daughters, both of whom I homeschooled for extended periods of time, who became godly young women, and who ran off and married godly young men, all of which is very proper. The oldest daughter has even seen fit to bless me with a grandson and a granddaughter, and my youngest daughter with a grandson, all three of whom are bundles of exceeding joy. As you can see, I am quite blessed. This website is dedicated to helping people grow in the wisdom and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ through the gift of writing that the Lord has given to me. It is specifically about helping His people grow in godliness, the theme you see repeated above. I write devotions with this aim and hope that they might be of some help to God’s people. Full disclosure: I am of a Reformed bent, meaning that my understanding of Scripture is primarily informed by the Reformers and their successors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, as a student of church history and theology, I strive to remain true to that teaching handed down once for all unto the saints through every age of the Church. I like to think of myself as a “catholic” Christian, as the Reformers thought of themselves. At any rate, feel free to read, pray, and contact me if you wish, or correct me if need be. As you can see, I tend to follow the church year. Of course, I make no special claims about these devotions. I know very well that others have written better and plumbed the depths of God’s word with greater insight. But if my musings help someone draw closer to the Lord, well then, I have my reward. Blessings to you and may the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ speak to you that word which He knows you especially need to hear. Grace & peace, Stephen Taylor

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