Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Oaths and Vows (James 2:5-10)

"Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned" (James 5:12).

James tells us that this exhortation is “above all else.” He tells us not to swear oaths and vows, but to let our word always be good. Some have taken this to mean that Christians may never swear oaths, make vows, or give testimony under oath. If this were James’s meaning, it would contradict the many vows and oaths found in the Bible, some by God Himself (Num. 30; Heb. 6:13).

The Bible tells us that all men are liars, and thus is it often very necessary for us to get promises in writing. Many a person has entered into a work situation without a written contract, only to find that he or she is not given what was verbally promised. We need to get such things signed and sealed by a notary—and this surely goes beyond James’s statement, “Let your ‘Yes’ by yes, and your ‘No,’ no,” which is after all but a summary of what Jesus Himself taught in Matthew 5:33–37.

Practically speaking, what James and Jesus mean is twofold. First of all, it is idolatry and blasphemy to swear by anything other than God. That is why this command is “above all else.” If we swear by heaven or by earth or by the temple or by our mother’s grave, we are making something in the creation into God. We are calling upon these created things to take up God’s function as ultimate Judge. To do this is blasphemy. If we need to take an oath, let it be in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, or in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord, or else let us not take it at all.

Second, James and Jesus mean that our word should always be good. Here again James is writing about the use of the tongue. How often we glibly promise things, or agree to things, when we don’t really mean it. How many of us have pledged a certain amount of money to the church this year without making good on that pledge? How many of us have been let down because someone we trusted did not keep his or her word? In a Christian society there should gradually be less and less need for oaths and vows, because the promises of men and women will be true and able to stand on their own.

Today’s lesson points to two sins: attaching superficial oaths to the things we promise, swearing by created things; and being loose of speech, so that our promises are not trustworthy. Ask God to show you when and where you have failed in these areas. Ask Him to help you become a person of truth.