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INTRODUCTION: James chapter 5, look down at verse 12. We are continuing in our series through the book of James and now are really coming to the close of it. James is beginning to wrap up his thoughts here as we come to the end of chapter 5. And the title of the sermon today is “What’s Wrong with Swearing?” Is it wrong for a Christian to swear? Have you ever been to the court of law? Have you ever heard the familiar words, “Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” Well, those are familiar words and when we come to a verse like this in James chapter 5 verse 12, we ask the question, “Is it wrong for a Christian to take an oath like that?” Is it wrong for a Christian to swear?” That is really the question that we want to answer here in James chapter 5 and verse 12. And let me read this with you again, “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.” And so James is giving us a command here to swear not and again the question is what did James mean by that command?
Transitional Statement: And so I wanted to give you just five elements of this command that he gives us here in scripture today, five elements of this command. And first of all . . .
I. THE EMPHASIS. If you are taking notes, the Emphasis. He says, “But above all things.” Notice that phrase there. This phrase indicates a new topic, a new area James is about to address. It also indicates that James is closing his letter. He is beginning to wrap it up with some final thoughts. And it is also an expression that would indicate emphasis. James is saying, “Listen, above all. That is above all in relation to everything that I have already told you. Above everything that you have heard so far, or read so far. Listen to this.” It is as if James is saying, “If you don’t remember anything else I say, please remember this.” What James is about to say is one of the most important things in all of the epistle. And so he is very emphatic here. He really wants to highlight what he is about to say. And so the question is “Why is this so important? Why does James highlight this?” Well, I think it gets to the very heart of the matter of personal integrity. I think it gets also into the very heart of the matter of genuine faith. Because remember the whole theme of the Book of James is genuine faith. Is your faith a real faith? That is the question. And one after another, James gives us tests to find out if our faith is real. And one of the biggest tests that we will ever face in relation to our genuine faith is in the area of our speech, our tongue, our words. Really, James is returning to a theme that he has already talked about, that we have already studied and that is the theme of your speech and your tongue. How believers speak was a brave concern to James. It is the most revealing thing about our spiritual life and our spiritual walk. As a matter of fact, Jesus made this concept very clear. Jesus said this in Matthew 12 verse 34-37, “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things?” he was speaking to the Pharisees, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. 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.” Jesus also said in Luke chapter 6 verse 43-45, “For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil; for out of the abundance of the heart does the mouth speak.” And so again, Jesus emphasizes that very thing that your speech really gives your spiritual temperature or where you are spiritually in your life. And so, this is very important. And James also says, he calls them brethren in verse 12, “But above all things, my brethren.” And so I think there is a ring of compassion there, he is not condescending. He is not speaking down to them. He is speaking with compassion to them that this is very important.
Transitional Statement: And so not only the Emphasis, but I want you to see secondly, notice . . .
II. THE EXHORTATION. Notice what he says, “swear not.” This is a command. This is in the imperative mood in the Greek, which means a command it is not a suggestion. It is in the present tense, which means it should be a continual action. It is a pattern of your life. This is something that should be a pattern of our life. And it also has the negative in the Greek, which Greek scholars tell us it means James is forbidding an action that is already being practiced. In other words, people were swearing all the time. They were always swearing in their speech. This was something they were always doing. As a matter of fact, William Barclay noted about this era. He said, “This was an age of extra ordinary swearing. People were constantly swearing when they talked.” Now, again, we ask, “What does he mean when he says ‘swear’ here?” Swear does not mean to use illicit speech in this text here. It is not talking about dirty talk, or filthy jokes, or using four-lettered words. It does not mean to curse or use profanity. That type of speech we know is wrong, right? The Bible speaks about that, Paul condemns that. That should not be part of any Christian’s vocabulary. The Bible says in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” And later on Paul says, “Neither filthiness nor foolish talking.” And so we know that profanity and dirty talk is wrong. We know all of that is a sin. But what does James mean here when he talks about swearing? What he is talking about is taking up an oath. That is what he means. When you make an oath. As a matter of fact, one writer said this, “The Jews of James’ day had developed a complex system of swearing oaths. The influence of which Jewish Christians brought with them into the church.” And it is the abuse of that system of swearing an oath that James was writing about here in this passage. You see, this is a day when there were no contracts. A person couldn’t make a contract with another. And so how did you know that when a person told you something that he was telling the truth? How do you know that he wasn’t lying to you? How do you know that he wasn’t deceiving you? How could you make a business deal with someone without a contract? Well, what they would do is they would swear an oath. And swearing an oath served as a binding contract between two people. As a matter of fact, another writer says this, “To take an oath was to attest that what one said was true. To call God to witness to that. And to invoke his punishment if ones word was violated.” And so it was a part of the practice of this day. Now, the Bible does not forbid us to take an oath. As a matter of fact, we live in a world filled with liars and it is necessary at times to take an oath. It is not wrong to go to court and to take an oath, to swear to tell the truth. That is not what James is writing about here. It is not wrong for a minister to take an oath, or a doctor, or a lawyer when they do their various things they take an oath. As a matter of fact, when a wedding couple comes to the altar, they take an oath together do they not? That is exactly what they do. And so James is not saying you can’t do this. As a matter of fact, if you look in the Bible you are going to find out that there are many men of God in scripture that swore an oath. We can go to the Old Testament, there is a story in the Book of Genesis chapter 21 when Abraham dug a well then later on Abimelech came along and he and his servants seized that well. And Abraham came back and said, “Hey, wait a minute. That is my well.” “Well, how do we know it is your well Abraham?” Abraham gave him seven lambs and swore an oath and this is what is says in Genesis 21:30, “And he said, for these seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me, that I have digged this well.” Abraham said, “I am making an oath. I swear that I dug this well. That it is mine.” And they called the name of that place Beersheba, or the Well of the Seven, because there Abraham swore an oath. Abraham had made his servants swear an oath. One of his servants who had to go find a bride for his son Isaac, Abraham made him swear that he would find a daughter from among his own land. And so he had him swear. Rahab had the two spies swear an oath that when they came back, that they would not destroy her house. David swore an oath to Jonathan, to Saul, and to God. The people of Israel unto Joshua swore an oath. And then you can go into the New Testament. You will find people in the New Testament doing the same thing. Paul did it many times. Paul said in Romans 1:9, “For God is my witness.” What is that? That is an oath. “Whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.” So Paul swore that he prayed for these people. In Galatian 1:20, again he swore an oath, “Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.” And in that situation, Paul had to defend his apostleship because there was some who did not believe he was a real apostle. And Paul said, “What I am writing to you I give you my oath, I lie not.” The angel in the Book of Revelation swore an oath. As a matter of fact, did you know that in the Bible are times when God would command his people to swear an oath? In Exodus 22 verse 10-11, there is a story where God said, “If you are charged to guard a sheep or cattle or you are entrusted with your neighbor’s animal and that animal comes up missing, you are to swear an oath that you did not take it.” And so God would command that. If a woman in the Old Testament was accused of adultery, if a husband was suspicious of his wife that she was not being faithful, then he would take her to the priest and she would have to swear an oath. And then the priest would take dust from off the Tabernacle floor, mix it with water and make her drink it. And swear an oath and if she was lying, then literally she began to rot from the inside the Bible says. And so there were times that God actually commanded his people to swear an oath. And there were times were God himself in scripture swore an oath. As a matter of fact, the Bible records in Hebrew 6:13-17 when God made the promise to Abraham since he could not swear by no one greater, he swore by himself saying, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you.” God swore according to himself. Normally a man when he swore to something, it was something higher than him, but there was nothing higher than God, and so God swore according to himself. And God did not do it because he was not trustworthy. God did it to accommodate our weak faith, or Abraham’s weak faith. Abraham said, “God, how do I know that I can trust you?” And God swore an oath according to himself. Often God would do this in the Old Testament. We see the phrase, “As I live says the Lord.” And when we see that phrase, it is God swearing an oath according to himself. Even Jesus during his earthly ministry said this, “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of the fruit of this vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” And so even Jesus took an oath at the Last Supper that he would not drink of the fruit of the vine until we are together again in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Transitional Statement: So again we ask the question what does James mean when he says “swear not”? Well, here let me give you the third thing, and this is . . .
III. THE EXPLANATION. And really the key to understanding is look again in verse 12. Look at the next phrase, “But above all things, my brethren, swear not,” watch this, “neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath.” You see the problem James is addressing here is swearing by other things, by things other than the name of the Lord. You see in these days there were two types of oaths. There was the binding oath, and there was the non-binding oath. And when a Jew, whenever he would swear according to the name of God, that was considered binding. But whenever he would swear according to something else, sometimes he would swear by the temple, or sometime he would swear by the veil of the temple, or sometimes he would swear by his own head. Or he would swear at any other thing other than God that was a non-binding oath. At least that is what they thought. And the trick was, as a matter of fact, Barclay says this, “The result of this was that it became a matter of skill and sharp practice to find an oath which was not binding.” And this made a mockery of the whole practice of confirming anything by an oath. In other words, they wanted to plant in the oath that they swore a secret out, a way to get out. In other words here is the idea, they did not want to have to keep their word but they still wanted you to trust them. And so what would they do? They would swear but they would not do it according to the name of God, because what it revealed is in their heart they never intended to keep their word anyway. They wanted an easy out. We can relate this today with someone who will say, someone ever make you a promise and they didn’t come through and then what did they say? “Well, I had my,” what? “My fingers crossed.” It means I’m out, it’s non-binding. That is kind of the concept here. Or today if a person would make a contract today and there is all these hidden clauses in the contract that you did not know about. When it came time for you to cash in on whatever was given to you, in the contract were all these hidden clauses which made it non-effective. Did that ever happen to anyone, don’t raise your hand. You know some of these contracts, and all this writing, there’s these hidden clauses, and what is it? It is deception. Because the person never really intends to fulfill their end of the bargain. In other words, this was all done to hide a lying heart. They would say, “Oh, I swore, but it wasn’t according to according to the name of God and so therefore God won’t judge me. And I don’t have to fulfill my word.” And that was what was happening here. What was happening is that this was an issue of integrity. And James is saying, “Listen, if you are a true believer, if you have genuine faith, you will have integrity and you will fulfill your word.”
Transitional Statement: As a matter of fact, notice the next thing . . .
IV. THE EXPRESSION. In verse 12, “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay.” What was James saying? He was saying, “Listen, say what you mean and mean what you say. Give your word and keep it. Stop deceiving, stop lying. Stop saying one thing and meaning another. Stop trying to hide the truth with your words, with your oaths that are non-binding. You do what you say you are going to do.” As a matter of fact James is simply repeating something that Jesus had already taught. Take your Bibles go back to the Book of Matthew and look in Matthew chapter 5. Go back to Matthew 5 and let me show you this. Jesus was saying the same thing. Matthew chapter 5 and look at verse 33. Matthew 5:33 says this, “Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; Nor by the earth, for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” Jesus is rebuking the Jews in his day for having this system of oaths whereby they are non-binding and they don’t keep their word. And the idea is that if you think that because you are swearing according to a non-binding oath that you are not going to be condemned by God, you are wrong. Whenever you give an oath, you are bond to obey it. So, if you swear by the earth, well that is God’s footstool. If you swear by Jerusalem, that is God’s city. In other words, you can’t keep God out of this oath. God is there, he is watching, all the creation is his. If you swear by anything else, God is still a party to this. And so don’t you think that you are going to keep God from judging you just because you do not evoke His name when you swear an oath. What he is saying is, “Listen, you ought to be honest enough that whenever you give your word people know you are going to keep it.” That is the bottom line. Say what mean and mean what you say. Jesus said anything less than this is evil or of the evil one. Look again in Matthew chapter 23 and Jesus also addresses the same issue again. Flip over to Matthew chapter 23 and look at verse 16. Again Jesus is speaking to the scribes and the Pharisees in 23:16 and he says,
“Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whosoever therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whosoever shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear be the heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.”
And Jesus again is condemning that whole system. And he is saying, “Listen, God is involved in every oath that you give. There is no such thing as a non-binding oath, because God is involved in all these things. And so it is a very serious thing for a person when they give their word if they deceive or if they lie. God calls that person into account. When we give our word, we’ve got to keep it. Don’t deceive, don’t lie, that is the whole emphasis here.
Transitional Statement: Go back to James chapter 5, notice the last part of this verse. Notice where he says, “lest ye fall into condemnation.” That is . . .
CONCLUSION: So really what James is saying is, “Look, the evidence of true salvation, the evidence of genuine faith is someone who lives a life of integrity that keeps their word, is not based on lies and deceit.” If the pattern of your life is lying and deceit, you need to examine your salvation because Christians don’t do that. Oh a Christian might fall into a lie every now and then, but that is not going to be the pattern of their life. A person who is a continual liar who lives a lie, the Bible says in Revelation that they are not going to heaven. Revelation 21:27, “There shall by no means enter into any one that defiles or causes an abomination or a lie.” Later on in chapter 22 verse 15, talking about being outside the city, “outside are dogs, and sorcerers, and sexually immoral, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loves and practices lying.” God says there are not going to be any liars in heaven. If your life is a pattern of that, then you need to examine your heart. Again, I say a Christian can stumble into a lie and get up and confess it and confess it to the person and forsake it. But a person who has a continual pattern of lying in their life, that does not show a heart that is truly regenerated where the Truth, Jesus Christ, lives inside. You are not going to live a life that’s a lie. That is what God says. And so that is why James says, “Listen, if you don’t hear anything else I say, hear this one thing. Swear not, that is tell the truth. Let your yea be yea. Let your nay be nay. Let’s pray together. Father, we thank you for this truth, so important for us. Lord that as your people that reflect you as lights in this world, that we be people of integrity. That we walk in the truth. That we are people who love the truth and tell the truth with our lips. Tell the truth in love. That is the thing that is to mark us as your people. And so Father help us in that thing. Help us Lord to detect any deceit that is in our heart any lies, and Lord to confess it, forsake it, to come to the light, to hold to the truth, and determine to be people of integrity, people of truth. Speak to our hearts today we pray. With heads bowed and eyes closed, let me give an invitation to those, you may be here today and you may not know the Lord Jesus as your Savior. Do you know what Jesus said? He said, “I am the Way, I am the Truth. I am the Life. No man comes unto the Father except by me.” And so friend, Jesus Christ stands today waiting for you to come to him. If you will turn from your sin and come to the Savior, he will save you today. As a matter of fact, there will be men up here in the front of this altar, we will be waiting for you. If you want to know more about how you can become a Christian, how you can be saved, then we would love to show you from the Bible. We will take you aside and we will show you from the Bible how you can know for sure that you are a Christian. And when we give this invitation in just a minute, I encourage you to come. Jesus waits, he wants to do a work in your heart. And if God has spoken to your heart in any way and you want to use this altar, you do what the Spirit of God says. If you are here today and say, “God is leading me to be a part of Ellendale Baptist Church. God wants me to make this my church home, the place where I worship.” You come, we will receive you here today. Let’s all stand together. Brother Tommy is going to lead us in a hymn, a hymn of invitation. I will down here to meet with you. You come as the Holy Spirit leads you to come today.
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