This present political, social, economic climate makes it abundantly clear that words matter. Whether they are spoken, written, or tweeted, the words we release into the world have the power to heal or harm, to bring clarity or confusion, to empower or disenfranchise.
The words we Christians use to express ourselves reveal who we are as a person. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
The words we Christians use to express ourselves reveal the impeccable, loving character of the God we serve or make Him seem like a charlatan or a myth. The words we use can present Him as the One True God or a fake god.
James, the brother of Jesus, was so concerned about the words of Christians, he wrote, “But above all, my fellow believers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be [a truthful] yes, and your no be [a truthful] no, so that you may not fall under judgment” (James 5:12, Amplified Bible). Le t us examine his teaching closely.
“But above all,” seems to imply that if they only remembered one thing, they should remember the teaching that is about to come.
“my fellow believers” reveals that James is speaking directly to his Sisters and Brothers in the Lord. However, this teaching will help anyone who want to live a life of truth.
“do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath” needs clarity. James is not denouncing legal oaths. Following are several, acceptable oaths that Christians may take:
- The Hippocratic Oath, which is taken by physicians.
- The Oath of Office, which is taken by the President of the United States.
- The oaths of enlistment, which are taken by people who join the United States military.
- The oath to testify in court.
- Wedding vows in which you make a solemn promise to be faithful.
Also, James was not talking about cursing using four letter words or God’s name in vain. James denounced using everyday slogans to convince someone to believe you. James was talking about a practice that was apparently common in his era: making an oath or swearing using heaven or earth to convince others that either you were telling the truth or that you would keep your promise (biblerf.com). Today, we might think of saying, “I swear on a stack of Bibles I’m not lying,” or “I swear on my mother’s grave that I’ll pay you next Thursday,” or “I swear to God I am telling the truth.”
“but let your yes be [a truthful] yes, and your no be [a truthful] no,” James taught. Say what you mean and mean what you say. No more or no less. “We should tell the truth so consistently that oaths become superfluous, a waste of words” (Daniel M. Doriani).
“so that you may not fall under judgment.” Jesus explained this kingdom principle like this: “But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthews 12:36-37).
My Brothers and Sisters, God knows every word we release into the world. They have life, and power. The words we speak, write, and tweet not only affect us, but everyone around us. Our words also reveal to others the character of the God we represent. We can and must do better monitoring our words.
I leave you with wise words from Peter and David:
- Peter taught, “If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies” (1 Peter 3:10 NLT).
- David sang, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14, ESV).
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Dr. Dorothy J. Haire
Author & Blogger
Both church planter and pastor of Bread of Life Christian Church for the last 18 years, Dr. Haire is a beloved mother and successful author. Empowered to deliver the word of God to His people, Dr. Haire uses her digital platform to educate and develop Christian communities that are rooted in the word of Christ.