Peninsula Community Church
July 14, 2013
James – Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say!
James 5:12 – But above all, my brothers, 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.
As I was preparing this message, I came across this illustration: The story is told of a woman who was at the beach and was approached by a little boy wearing his swim trunks and carrying a towel. “Do you believe in God?” he asked. The young lady was a bit surprised by the question, but said, “Why, yes… I do!” And then the little boy asked, “Do you go to church every Sunday?” Again her answer was, “Yes!” Then he asked, “Do you read your Bible and pray every day?” Again she answered, “Yes!” But her curiosity was getting the best of her. At last the little boy breathed a huge sigh of relief and said, “Ma’am, will you hold my quarter while I go swimming?”
The little boy was simply trying to get someone to hold his quarter. The fact is that we are all looking for someone to hold our quarter while we go swimming. We are looking for people who possess a basic honesty and trustworthiness. We are looking for people we can trust. At the same time, we are trying to be good quarter-holders ourselves.
As we look at this passage, the following questions must be considered. Can the words we speak be trusted? Do we follow through with our commitments? If we fail in these areas, why? What motivates us to act out such things?
The main theme that James is proposing here is that we must be people of our word and that we are to avoid any sense of dishonesty or lying. Have you ever looked at the word “to lie.” To lie means “to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive” or “to create a false or misleading impression.” The second part of this definition is the core of the message that James is presenting.
James is in essence quoting from the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:33-37. Jesus said, “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
We also see the idea of keeping one’s word in Numbers 30:1-2 “Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Israel, saying, This is what the Lord has commanded. If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”
James deals with this issue because the people of his day, as well as those in Jesus’ time, had become good at making promises in every manner possible; as long as it was short of swearing on God which was condemned in the Old Testament. As only the Pharisees and religious leaders of the day could do, they developed an elaborate system of rules that governed the idea of swearing. It listed the unaccepted phrases and those that were accepted. The problem is that they turned the issue into one of “swearing” or “cursing” rather than one of perjury or of integrity and honesty. You know what its like. When we want someone to promise us to do something. We say to them, “Do you cross your heart?” or “Let’s pinkie swear.” The problem, however, is that the people of Jesus and James’ day were doing these acts to make people believe they were men and women of integrity when in reality they were dishonest and had no desire to to keep their word.
Why is it important to keep our word? First, your word speaks of commitment. In other words, we are men and women who do what we say we are going to do. We have heard it said, “We should be a man or woman of our word.” We have also heard it said, “Our word should be our bond.” We complain about lawyers, but most lawyers would not exist if people were honest and kept their word. I remember my dad saying that he purchased the home they now live in back in the fifties with a handshake.
Second, your word speaks of integrity. By reneging on your commitments, you are in fact being disingenuous and dishonest. A man of integrity counts the cost of his commitments before promising or acting. Choose wisely in what you commit to. Let to say the most important word in all of the English language. “NO!”
Your word speaks of trustworthiness. Do your words betray you? Can you be trusted to follow through with what you promised to do?
Your words speak of right motivation. You don’t promise anything you can’t do. I have heard it said that we should under promise and over fulfill. Too often, we promise to do things because of a lack of self-esteem or in that we want to please others and make others happy. This never works.
Robert Feldman, a researcher at University of Massachusetts, found that lying is tied to one’s self-esteem. “We find that as soon as people feel that their self-esteem is threatened, they begin to lie at higher levels. We first experience the terror of being invalidated when we are small children, but by the time we are 3 or 4 we have learned a way to avoid it: we have learned to lie. From then on, whenever we glimpse the faintest possibility that our selves might be threatened with annihilation, we lie. The same is true for making commitments.
To fully understand these things we must emphasis that keeping your word is an issue of the heart. The kind of heart we have will determine our actions. Out of the heart the mouth speaks. Jesus said that it is out of the heart that “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft and false witness and slander all come” (Matthew 15:19). If our hearts are evil, then we will react out of and respond from the condition of our heart.
So if our hearts are misguided, and we are not led by the Holy Spirit, we will find that we are self-protecting, selfishly motivated and full of pride. That leads us to distort the truth and make promises we cannot keep. If a person cannot be trusted then look at their heart for it is the heart that the patterns of life are formed.
What sets us apart as believers? In Ezekiel 11:19, God promises that, “He will remove the heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” As believers, we have been given a heart of flesh that is sensitive and pliable in the hands of God. The opposite is a heart of stone that is callous and hardened.
When we have a heart of flesh we act differently. When we have a heart of flesh we are sensitive to keeping our word, living in integrity, being trustworthy, and having the right motivation. We do what is right because it is right.
One of my favorite commercials is the one about the woman waiting for a bus. As the bus arrives, she quickly gets up to board the buss but leaves her pocket book on the bench. A young long haired skater boarder type is sitting on the bench. When the bus pulls off, he grabs the purse and runs away. In the next scene you see a police car patrolling the idea and the boy continuing run while climbing over fences and darting around corners. The last scene is commercial we see the boy reach out and hand the pocket book to the woman who just got off the bus.
The problem is that when we do not keep our word we are condemned. You might say we are not to judge another person but we can certainly fall under condemnation by others when we cannot be trusted to follow through. We begin to doubt a person’s sincerity and commitment when they fail us over and over again.
How do we resolve this if this is our issue? We repent and turn from this wrong. We pray as the Psalmist David prayed, “Create in me a new heart, renew in me a right spirit.” That is what we need for it is our of the heart that the mouth speaks.