James 5:12 NKJV
Matthew 5:37 NKJV
History indicates during the 1st Century Jewish people were practicing different kinds of oaths at the time. First, if they made a binding oath they used the name of God. The second kind of oath was a non-binding oath and since they didn’t use the name of God, they could ‘wink’ or do something like cross their fingers to get away with telling a half-truth (https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/james-5/12).
It was their way of fudging on the whole truth. In James 5:12 it says, “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment.”
The root cause of the problem of taking an oath was about honesty.
Notice that James made a definite point of beginning this verse with the words, “above all”. That indicated James was addressing an important issue and he wanted to highlight it. In today’s culture we might say, ‘hey, listen up!’
James was pretty passionate about telling his audience that they needed to immediately stop using oaths because they were being misused. He flatly told them “do not swear”. This kind of swearing wasn’t pointed at using ‘colorful’ words. James’ reference was more like, ‘do not swear on your mother’s grave.’ He was saying they didn’t need to add additional elements to their promises.
He clearly said either say “yes” or “no”.
In other words, BE honest.
BE succinct with your answer. Express yourself clearly.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said something similar. According to Matthew 5:37, “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”
While there was a time and a place for oaths in the Old Testament and the New Testament, the culture was abusing and twisting how and when an oath should be used. Jesus was telling them they needed to let their character and truthfulness matter. He wanted then to see that they don’t necessarily need to do an oath. If they have integrity and practice truth, others will know they are men of their word.
The same concept is true today.
We’ve all known men and women who were trustworthy people. We know if they say yes or no they mean it.
We’ve also known people who cannot always be trusted. They tend to fudge on the truth. They say outlandish things that have some measure of truth and some measure of embellishment of the truth. That’s exactly what Jesus was warning us to avoid.
Jesus wants His followers to avoid embellishing the truth. He was saying, make your words “yes” or “no”. Do not stand halfway between and speak a partial truth.
There is a reason for that.
It’s because a person’s word needs to mean something.
I think that concept is one of the most difficult things we can teach to a young child. See, children (and adults) sometimes have a protective mechanism that makes them shy away from ‘being wrong’. For children, they may not want to get into trouble and be punished. Sometimes, adults who weren’t properly taught to speak the truth try to protect themselves when they are wrong about something. Full disclosure of the truth is not something they’ve practiced.
I have two sons who are career military officers (USAF and USSF) and my son-in-law was (is) a Marine. I’ve noticed that truth…the WHOLE truth is mandatory behavior. Nothing else is acceptable.
That’s exactly what Jesus was talking about. Either say YES or say NO.
There is no in-between.
Today’s Spiritual Practice is: Truth
Meditate on speaking the truth in love to others. What does that look like? Practice truth.
In God, Deborah