I need to have a moment of honesty with you right now. There are certain things that have the power to send chills up and down my spine. Do you know what I mean? I’m not just talking about creepy critters or scary movies, although those things certainly have that effect on me, which is why I make every effort to stay far away from them. What I’m talking about, though, is something entirely different and far more serious. When I hear God’s name used in vain, instant chills go up and down my spine. My stomach turns. When I hear or see “OMG”, I can’t help but shudder at the irreverence of God’s Holy name. When I hear someone say, “I swear to God”, I can’t help but have that same reaction. Chills. Shudders.
As I look at James 5:12, I can’t help but wonder if James himself did not share in this reaction with me. He gives such a strong warning to his hearers against swearing at all. He tells them to simply just be people of their word. There is no need to swear by anything. Rather, when you commit to something or make a promise, let your word be enough. The need to swear by something only implies that without it, your words are empty and meaningless. So, he commands them and us to steer clear of this trap.
I’m not sure if it’s the ever-increasing need to please people or the drive for perfection or what, but in today’s world, it appears that someone’s word is no longer enough. A contract needs to accompany a man’s word. And even so, these contracts are easily and quickly broken the moment our desires change. What if you and I, as God’s chosen people, decided to start acting like our Father? Numerous times throughout the Gospels, Jesus would begin His speech with these refreshing words, “I tell you the truth.” Don’t you just love that He will always do just that – tell us the truth. So, why on earth can’t we do the same? Why do we lie, cheat, and steal while swearing that we’re telling the truth? Can’t we just choose to be honest people who say what we mean and mean what we say? When we say “yes”, let’s mean “yes”, and likewise, when we say “no”, let’s mean “no”. Every time we fail in this, we become more like the world and less like Jesus. James 4:4 warns us against that very strongly with words that tell us when we befriend the world, we become enemies with God. Jesus was and remains honest. Even when the truth hurt, He was honest. You and I are called to imitate His behavior. Do we? Are we honest people?
It’s important to understand that much is at stake here. This is not just another command in Scripture that we’re meant to check off the list once we’ve accomplished it. In fact, none of God’s commands are. Blessing hinges on our obedience, but punishment awaits us in our disobedience. Honesty matters a lot to our God, so much that He coupled this command to be an honest person with a strong warning if we choose not to be:
“…or you will be condemned.”
There’s a lot left to wonder about that word “condemned”. Whether it’s pertaining to eternal condemnation or temporal punishment, I don’t want either. I long to be found in the pastures of God’s blessing, and disobedience certainly won’t land me there. If honesty matters to God, it must, in turn, matter a great deal to us. Am I an honest person? Are you? Be reminded today, my friends, that blessing hinges on this very obedience.