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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.

The Passage

Above all things. Or “especially.” Notice he leads in with “but” leaving us to attach this to previous commands. James stresses again that our speech provides the most revealing glimpse of our spiritual state.

Swear not. The Jews were known for using various oaths to back up their statements. They were ever careful not to use the name of God in their oaths, lest they blaspheme. So, they would swear by heaven, or earth, or Jerusalem, or even by their own heads! But Jesus taught that it is impossible to avoid God in oaths.

  • Neither by heaven. Heaven is His throne.
  • Neither by the earth. Earth is His footstool.
  • Neither by any other oath.

Jerusalem is the “city of the great King.” Your head…“Thou canst not make one hair white or black” (Matt. 5:36).

Let your yea be yea. Mean yes when you say yes. Mean no when you say no. True Christian character requires few words. “The person who must use many words to convince us, has something wrong with his character and must bolster this weakness by using words.” “If you are a true Christian, with integrity, then all you have to say is yes or no and people will believe you.”

James warns that anything more than this is evil. “Lest ye fall into condemnation.”

The Principle

James’ teaching is simply a resounding of what he experienced Christ teaches.

Proverbs 22:1 “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, And loving favour rather than silver and gold.”

Ecclesiastes 7:1 “A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.”

Basil Miller reported that at the end of the American Civil War, General Robert E. Lee was broke, as were many of his countrymen. Money was scarce. About that time a state lottery offered him ten thousand dollars a year for the use of his name. He replied, “Gentlemen, my name is all I have left, and that is not for sale.” Your name is all you have: character, integrity, honesty.

The Practical Use

J. Vernon McGee wrote of his father: “I can remember when my dad went to the bank one year to borrow money to get his cotton gin started. The banker was busy and said to my dad, “Go ahead and take the money.” My dad said, “But I haven’t signed the note.” I never shall forget what the banker said, “If you say you will repay it, that is just as good as if you have signed a note. So come in later and sign up.”

The practical use for what James writes is just that. If we say we are going to do something, we should. J.P. Morgan was once asked what he thought was the best bank collateral.  He replied, “Character.” Even Andy was able to let prisoners out to plant trusting they would return to finish their sentence.

During the 1983 National Spelling Bee held in Washington, D. C., thirteen-year-old Andrew Flosdorf of Fonda, New York, eliminated himself from the contest when he informed the judges he had misspelled “echolalia”. The judges had failed to catch the error. When questioned as to why he turned himself in, he straightforwardly replied, “I didn’t want to feel like a slime.”.

Above all things, let you yea be yea and your nay be nay.

A little boy was asked by his Sunday School teacher to define a lie. He said, “A lie is an abomination to the Lord, and an ever-present help in time of trouble.” Like many in our day, he had his Scriptures as well as his moral values confused.

Pastor Chance Strickland

Harpeth Baptist Church
Kingston Springs, TN