MAKING OATHS – James 5:12

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INTRODUCTION:

There are so many ways of making an oath.  You’ve probably heard many of these, and maybe you’ve used a few yourselves.  Oaths that use words such as “I swear”, “I swear to God”,  “I swear on a stack of Bibles”, “as God is my witness”, “may God strike me dead if I don’t”, and the list goes on and on.  As a kid, an oath that I heard quite often was “I swear to God, hope to die, stick a thousand needles in my eye”.  That’s a pretty gross oath!  In the Boy Scouts a favorite oath that was used after making a promise was “scout’s honor”. Is there a particular formula that you have used in order to let people know that you were telling the truth?  Is it necessary to go through that rigmarole so that our word will be trusted?

Here in verse 12, James seems to come from out of the blue to talk about this subject of swearing and oaths.  As we dig into this verse I think we are going to find some connections with what has been said earlier in this letter.  This is a verse of Scripture that is easy to misunderstand and misinterpret if we don’t look at it from the context of the Old Testament Scriptures, the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the historical setting and culture into which these Hebrew Christians had been immersed since childhood.

I.  THE REPROOF (verse 12a)

The first three words are :  “But above all”.   James is changing topics and letting his audience know that this new topic is of the utmost importance.  He uses a familiar address to them, calling them “my brothers” or “my brethren”.  By doing so, he is including himself in the words he is about to say to them.  His command is “do not swear”.  James is not talking about using foul or dirty language.  The original meaning of the Greek word was “to grasp tightly (holy objects)”.  In many places in the Classical Greek writings ( Homer, Xenophon, Aristotle, and others), this Greek word, omnyo, referred to grasping something and raising one’s hand as a way of taking an oath publicly.  However, in this case James is not speaking of the taking of oaths, as in a court situation, but of the making of oaths by people in order to convince others that they are telling the truth, swearing “either by heaven, or by earth, or with any other oath”.  James remembers the words of the Lord Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount, because his words are in such close agreement with those of Jesus. It’s as if the Spirit of God brought these words of Jesus to mind, so he wrote them down.  Below is a comparison of parts of the two passages, so that you can see how close in wording they are.

“But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet , , , but let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’, or ‘No, no’; and everything beyond these is of evil.”  Matthew 5:34-37

“. . . do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment.”  James 5:12

There are many Old Testament scriptures related to the taking of vows, but there is one passage in the book of Numbers that must have come to the minds of both audiences immediately:  Numbers chapter 30, the “law of vows”.  The entire chapter is devoted to vows!

The Jews during the time of Christ and James had turned oath-making into an “art form”.  People made lots of oaths in those days.  It appeared to be a form of bragging, drawing attention to themselves by the frequent and elaborate oaths they made.  They figured that if they didn’t put God’s name into their oath, they wouldn’t be bound by that oath, because God wasn’t being called upon to bear witness to it. So they came up with elaborate ways to make their oaths sound very binding to others, when, in their own estimation, the oaths weren’t binding at all!  This was one of many reasons why Jesus called them “hypocrites” (ones who wore a mask to hide the real identities).

II.  THE CORRECTION (verse 12b)

James corrects their misuse of oaths by saying, “let your yes be yes, and your no, no.”  Our honesty and integrity should be such that we don’t need to say anything more.  That’s all it should take for people to believe you.  Lewis Carroll used the following words in his book, “Alice in Wonderland”:  “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.”

Theodor Seuss Geisel was an American writer and illustrator, best known for authoring children’s books under the pen name Dr. Seuss.  You may have read some of his books yourself.  In 1940 he wrote a book entitled, “Horton Hatches the Egg”.  In this book, a bird named Mayzie (“lazy Mayzie”) asks Horton the elephant to sit on her egg for her, saying that she will be right back.  But she never returns! Horton  made a promise, and he says to himself, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant.  An elephant’s faithful, one-hundred percent.”  In the pouring Spring rain, and in the freezing cold winter, Horton continues to sit on that egg and say those words.  In spite of the laughter and jeering of the other animals, Horton is undaunted.  In the face of death, and a trip over the mountain and across the sea, for fifty-one weeks, Horton continues to sit and say, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant.  An elephant’s faithful, one-hundred percent.”  Would that we could each make such a statement about ourselves, mean it, and verify it by our actions!

By the way, the book does have a happy ending.  You can find several renderings of “Horton Hatches the Egg”, along with pictures, on You-Tube.

III.  THE REASON (verse 12c)

James now ends this warning by giving the reason why personal oath-making is a waste of time in God’s sight.  He says, “so that you may not fall under judgment”. James said the same thing in verse 9:  “Behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”  God is all-knowing and all-present (Psalm 139; Jeremiah 23:24).  Therefore, any oath we make, we are making in His presence, and He holds us accountable for every oath we make.

How good is your word?  Can people depend on what you say?  Do friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors, classmates believe you and trust you without question?  Dennis DeHaan put those desires into the words of a poem and prayer:

Lord, by Thy Spirit, grant to me

A deep desire for honesty,

So that, when I must give my word,

No one will doubt what he has heard.

A HEAVENLY PERSPECTIVE:

There is Someone whose faithfulness and credibility is unsurpassed.  In Genesis 12:1-3, God made a promise to Abraham, and at the end of verse 3 God said, “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  In Numbers 23:19 God told Balaam to say these words to Balak:  “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it?  Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”  In Deuteronomy 7:9, God gives these words to Moses:  “Know therefore that the Lord your God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments . . . “

Joshua says the following words in Joshua 23:14, “Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed; all of them have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed.”

Can God be trusted to keep His promises?  You know He can!  He’s been proving it over and over again!  He promised to send a Redeemer, His own Son, as a sacrifice for our sins.  Isaiah describes Him in chapter 53.  John the Baptist said of Him, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  When the price had been paid, Jesus cried out on the cross, “Finished!”  The masterpiece of God’s sacrificial love was completed,

God has made you a promise, in case you haven’t claimed it yet.  John 1:12-13 says, “But as many as received Him (Jesus Christ), to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”  Faith is taking God at His Word, and acting upon it.  Are you ready to give Him your life in exchange for His?  If you are not a child of God through faith in the finished work of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, you don’t know what you’re missing!  You can take His Word and my word for it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

\ There is still more work to be done!

 

RIGHT THINKING – Philippians 4:8

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INTRODUCTION:

Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinks within himself,  so is he.”  Our thoughts are the clearest test of our character.  When compared with our actions and our speech, our thoughts are the hardest things to control.  Evil thoughts, impure desires and temptations are constantly knocking at the door of our minds.  We cannot always avoid them or shut them out, but we can keep from entertaining them and making them feel at home.  The best way to keep evil thoughts out, is to bring good thoughts into our minds.  What you and I read, look at, and listen to, will to a great extent determine our thoughts and our outlook.

The best way to keep evil ideas and worry out of our minds is to concentrate on things that are good and pure and beautiful.  The mind is not a blank slate, and is never totally at rest. Also, our thoughts are real and powerful, even though our thoughts cannot be seen, weighed, or measured.  In verse 8 the apostle Paul tells us in detail what things we ought to think about as Christians.  He gives us eight things to dwell upon.

I.  “WHATEVER IS TRUE

Dr. Walter Cavert reported a survey on worry that indicated that only 8 percent of the things people worried about were true concerns.  The other 92 percent were either imaginary, never happened, or involved things that the people had no control over.  In John 8:44 Jesus said that Satan  “is a liar and the father of lies”.  Whenever we choose to believe an obvious lie, Satan takes over.  The word “true” means “real” instead of phony. It can also mean “unconcealed” or “undeniably true”. Two opposite examples of this kind of thinking are found in the New Testament.  Barnabas determined to sell his property and donate the money to the church in Jerusalem.  He responded to the leading of the Holy Spirit and did it.  Ananias, on the other hand, had thoughts of personal glory.  He said publicly that he would give all the money from the sale of a piece of property to the church at Jerusalem;  but then he only gave a portion of the money, kept the rest, and lied about it.  This attitude, and the actions that resulted, cost him and his wife their lives.  You can read about this in Acts chapter 5.

II.  “WHATEVER IS HONORABLE

The word means whatever is “worthy of respect” and “serious”, rather than trivial and unimportant things.  For example, while Moses was on the mountain, alone with God, and receiving God’s Law for his people, his brother Aaron was down in the valley having a party with the people of Israel,  and they worshiping a golden calf.  Later Aaron was ashamed.  God wants us to fill our minds with things that are serious and noble, rather than things that are of little or no value.

The apostle Paul also uses this word when speaking to the deacons and elders of the church in I Timothy 3.  He tells them to be honest and straightforward, not being gossipers nor slanderers. Paul is saying, “If it’s not true, don’t let it enter your mind.”

III.  “WHATEVER IS JUST

The apostle Paul is talking about focusing our thoughts on what is right rather than on what’s comfortable or what’s convenient.  For example, Joseph of Arimathea was a just man, concerned about doing the right thing.  He risked his life when he went and asked for the dead body of Jesus.  Taking the body of Jesus and burying Jesus in his own tomb was no easy task, and Joseph became an enemy of the Jews for doing it.  But it was the right thing to do and he did it.  Pontius Pilate, on the other hand, tried to avoid the decision he was faced with, and he tried every trick in the book.  But Jesus was still standing before him on trial for His life.  Pilate knew what was right, and he knew what would happen if he did it.  He chose what was convenient, washed his hands of the matter, and let the Jews put Jesus to death. Pilate went to his grave responsible for his thoughts and his actions. The word “just” here means “just in the eyes of God”, not merely in the eyes of men.

IV. “WHATEVER IS PURE

This probably refers to moral purity. There will always be temptations to sexual impurity. There is so much in our world today that gets our minds focused on things that are immoral. In the Old Testament scriptures David and Uriah are good examples of these two opposite thought patterns. King David sent his men to war and went to bed himself. He saw his neighbor’s wife and went to bed with her while her husband was fighting the enemy. He got the woman pregnant and called the husband home on a phony excuse hoping he would go to bed with his wife, but his plan failed. David then got him drunk but he still wouldn’t go home to his wife. So he sent Uriah back to the battlefield with instructions that he be killed. All of this was the result of David’s dirty mind. Uriah, on the other hand, was pure and blameless. He couldn’t go home to his wife for even one night when the soldiers under his leadership were risking their lives on the battlefield. Even when David got him drunk, Uriah had more moral stability than David did when he was sober.

What do you do when impure thoughts and desires start to enter your mind? Do you open the door and invite them in, or do you shut the door and move away from them? God wants our minds to be uncontaminated by sin and always prepared to worship Him.

V. “WHATEVER IS LOVELY

It means to think about things that promote brotherly love rather than conflict and disharmony. Many things happen to bring misunderstanding and conflict, and often these things happen because they are made to happen by people who want them to happen. They are miserable people, and they want to make other people miserable too. For example, Demetrius, the silversmith in Acts 19, was trying to stir up trouble for the apostle Paul and cause a riot at Ephesus, but the town clerk, whose name we don’t know (so we’ll call him “anonymous”), calmed the crowd. What are you – a Demetrius or an “anonymous”? Do your thoughts focus on peace with others or conflict?

VI “WHATEVER IS OF GOOD REPUTE

We get the word “euphemism” for this Greek work.  It refers to what is praiseworthy, highly regarded, and of good reputation.  The word is used to describe Cornelius in Acts 10:22.  He was “well spoken of” by the entire nation of the Jews.  Are we focusing on the good things we see in others, or do we dwell on their faults and shortcomings?

The following is a powerful lesson learned about negative thinking.  In 1892, John Hyde boarded a ship in New York harbor and set out for India.  His goal was to proclaim the gospel to people who had not heard about Jesus.  During the next 20 years he earned the nickname “praying Hyde” because he often spend hours and even many days in prayer for the salvation of nonbelievers and the renewal of Christ’s followers.  On one occasion, Hyde was upset about the spiritual coldness of a pastor, so he began to pray, “O Father, you know how cold -”  But it was as if a finger stopped his lips from uttering the man’s name.  Hyde was horrified when he realized that he had judged the man harshly.  He confessed his critical spirit and then determined not to focus on the shortcomings of others but to see them as individuals whom God loves.  Let’s not be faultfinders in our thoughts, words, and prayers.

VII. “IF THERE IS ANY EXCELLENCE

The word means “helpful”,  not critical. It also means “goodness” and “uprightness”. When Nehemiah and Ezra were trying to rebuild Jerusalem, Tobiah and Sanballat found fault with everything that was done. In contrast, in Mark 5, when Jesus healed the demon possessed person, this man went through ten cities giving a helpful message to all who would listen, and great blessing resulted. What a wonderful demonstration of his joy and appreciation!

VIII. “IF THERE IS ANYTHING “WORTHY OF PRAISE”

This means thinking about the positive side rather than the negative side of a situation. When the twelve spies were sent out to look over the promised land and give their report, Joshua and Caleb gave a positive report and believed that God would give them the victory. The other ten spies saw some large problems and wanted to forget the whole thing. They disobeyed God’s command to conquer the land which He had already given to them. The result was that God allowed only Joshua and Caleb, from their generation, to enter the promised land.

As a thought enters your mind, ask yourself the question:  “Would God praise me for that thought?” Then ask yourself:  ” Do I want my thoughts to  be worthy of His praise?

CONCLUSION:

These eight categories of thought can be found in their clearest form in the Bible , the Word of God, and also in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ as He is described in God’s Word.  The apostle Paul says, “consider these things” –  memorize them, meditate on them, let your mind be constantly occupied with them.  Remember, we are in a battle against the ways of the world, the lusts of the flesh, and the temptations of Satan, and that battle is won or lost in our minds.  We give in first in our minds.  We sin first in our minds.  As II Corinthians 10:5 says, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.  Enjoy the victory as you fill  your mind with the things God desires, and leave no room for the things He forbids.  “Good thinking, my friends!”