The Use of an Oath
The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff for use as a Bible Study aid.
Intro - The believer's use of the tongue is a major concern of the Scriptures and is a matter that James deals with extensively (cf. 3:1-12).
Our words are a reflection of our character and as such should be a manifestation of godliness in our lives as believers (cf. Matt. 12:33-37).
The Old Testament also makes this connection between our words and our character (cf. Prov, 6:12, 19a; 8:6-8; 10:31,32; 12:22).
In light of this, we need to note what the Old Testament says about oaths as background to the instruction James is going to give regarding our responsibility to manifest righteousness in all our conversation (cf. Ex, 20:7; Lev, 19:12; Num. 30:2; Deut, 23:21-23).
James has been exhorting his readers to manifest patience and to live in light of the imminent return of the Lord. There is blessing promised to those who demonstrate endurance.
Now he wants to remind them of the importance of being totally honest and trustworthy in the matter of speech. They are not to swear or make oaths.
But above all - This is a matter of special concern for James. This probably reflects the fact that the use of the oath had become rather common in everyday speech among the Jews. This led to a variety of abuses, such as deceit in the use of the oath.
my brethren - Again James writes out of the warmth of a family relationship in the instruction he gives them. He has been warning them of the dangers of worldliness (3:13-5:11), and this is just another evidence of the worldliness that must be avoided by the believer.
do not swear - This command is amplified by a couple of examples and then by a general, all-inclusive statement. This is similar to the instruction of Christ in Matthew 5:33-48. (cf. also Matt, 23:16-22.)
The Jews had devised various ways to invalidate oaths. Thus they regarded some oaths as binding and others as non-binding.
let your yes be yes - The point in this is that the word of a believer is to be totally trustworthy. If everything we say needs to be established by an oath, it is an indication that our general speech is unreliable. In effect, we are liars unless bound by oath. This is the presupposition of the oath taken in our courtrooms.
so that you may not fall under judgment - In this context James warns believers of the danger of judgment for functioning like the world (cf. 5:9).
A question that immediately comes to mind when reading this passage is whether or not a Christian should take an oath in the courtroom. It does not seem that this is the kind of situation in view here. There are times when oaths are legitimately used in the New Testament:
An oath is a guarantee of reliability, a confirmation of truthfulness (cf. Heb. 6:16,17). God used an oath to show men the absolute trustworthiness of His promise to help them believe.
It does not seem that every oath in every situation can be ruled out by the command of James. Rather, it is the common, everyday use of oaths that reflects the fact that our word is not reliable (cf. Col. 3:8,9; John 8:44).
Our words are to be a manifestation of our transformed lives. This happens only through personal faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through faith we are born into the family of God and thus can now manifest the character of God in our words as well as our actions (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14-21).
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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.