The Word of a Man
“But above all…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.”- James 5:12
Elders and deacons, we have seen, must be selected on the basis of the kind of life they live, one in which sobriety, faithfulness, dignity, and respect predominate (1 Tim. 3:1–13). But this kind of character is not only required of church leaders; God expects all of his people to develop these traits (Gal. 5:22–23). In order that we might gain a better understanding of the way of life our Lord demands of us, we will now take a short break from our study of 1 Timothy to look at several other aspects of godly behavior using Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series Meaning for Men. Note that the studies based on this series will not be applicable to men only but also to women who follow the Savior.
Scripture provides a comprehensive explanation of principles for living coram Deo, before the face of God in a way that pleases Him. Yet because of the many directives we find in the Bible, it can be helpful to single out certain principles to help us prioritize the things our Lord prioritizes. Jesus Himself does this when He says the two greatest commandments are to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:24–30). James, the Lord’s brother, does something similar when he tells us to “above all” else let our yes be yes and our no be no (James 5:12).
The chief concern of this verse is not to keep us from swearing oaths altogether. Many first-century Jews made promises in the name of the temple or altar thinking that their word would not be as binding as if they had made the vows in the name of the Lord. This manifests an attitude that takes the truth lightly, but God takes the truth so seriously that He expects us to keep every righteous promise that we make (Num. 30:1–2). If we do not know if we can keep our promise, it is better to say no than to swear by something with the hope that we will get off the hook if we do not follow through. That is James’ point here.
Christians are to be so committed to the truth that they never look for ways to get out of their promises. They make commitments with care lest they get overburdened and make themselves unable to follow through. Whatever the cost, their yes can be counted on to mean yes and their no to mean no.
Dr. Sproul says that one of the chief differences between us and the Lord is our penchant for breaking promises, while He always fulfills His promises. Think today of a promise you may have not yet fulfilled and then go and keep it. If you have broken a promise to another person, make amends that you might be known as a person of integrity. Take care in the promises you make, and enter only into commitments that you can keep.
Passages for Further Study