James 5:12

If you brought a copy of Scripture with you this morning, you could find the book of James, Chapter 5. We’re heading toward the end of this thing on Keeping It Real, and we’re talking today about “words.”

Someone has said, “Behold this truth before your eyes that all the world is lies and lies.”

It takes words to tell lies. Let’s ask God to help us get a grip on this one verse we’re going to look at this morning. Okay?

Our Father, we need Your help. We need your Holy Spirit’s help. Thank you for Your word and please use it to speak to our hearts, to bend our minds, break our hearts, build our faith, and all for Your glory. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

James, chapter five. We’re talking about truth, but we know that the antithesis of truth is a lie, right? And Satan is the father of lies. Jesus told us that in John 8:44. He’s “the father of lies.” That’s why Charles Spurgeon said that…

“Satan has many tools, but the lie is the handle that fits them all.”

Most of us have met individuals or know individuals who simply cannot tell the truth. They could, but they don’t. We call them pathological liars. Just everything their entire life is a lie. But James is not addressing in the 12th verse of the 5th chapter pathological liars. He’s actually talking to Christians primarily, and he’s talking about the subtle lies that we tell. He’s talking to those of us who flirt around the edges of the truth, and that’s going to relate to a number of us this morning.

Words. Whether you use many (moi) or a few, you’re using words. And unless you’re talking to yourself, there’s a recipient at the end of those words that you say, and what you say, and how you say those words can make all the difference in that relationship, right? So James has a word about “words.” And here it is.

James 5:12, “But above all… (notice he says above all. So when you hear somebody say above all, you start to lean in a little bit, right?) my brothers, (So now you know his primary audience are these Messianic Jews who’ve placed their faith in Jesus, the primary recipients of his letter.) do not swear either by heaven or by earth, by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no (why?) so that you may not fall under condemnation.”

That’s a strong word! Just a couple of clarifications about what this passage is not talking about. It’s not talking about swearing in the sense of vulgarity or using the Lord’s name in vain. Don’t get me wrong. That’s a sin when you do that!

[Exodus 20:7], ”Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

The Hebrew word “vain” means to be “empty.” It means “o be “useless.” It means to just wing it around.

When I became a Christian, I was working at John Deere. Just a few weeks into it, I was sharing Christ with the guy on the assembly line, and we were talking about the 10 Commandments and “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” and he looked at me (he was very passionate!) and he goes… ‘Pat, when I tell people, when I say G.D. I don’t mean I want God to damn the thing!” — and I said, ‘That’s the whole point!’ That’s the whole point. When He says “Don’t take God’s name in vain,” He’s saying don’t use it uselessly! Don’t use it flippantly! Don’t use it in an airy, nonsensical kind of a way. That’s what He’s saying here. So He’s not forbidding the making of vows either. That’s another thing that James is not talking about. He’s not talking about never making promises. Some people will take this out of context and say, ‘Well, you get it? We’re never to make a vow. We’re never to make a promise.’ If that were the case, the Bible would contradict itself! Let me show you what I mean.

Deuteronomy 23:21-23, (Here’s God.) “If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. (Notice God isn’t forcing us to make these vows, but He’s edging us that way.) You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, (That would be a good one to underline. Wow!) for you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth.”

And now a scripture that’s probably a little more familiar to you from Solomon in Ecclesiastes 5. Here’s what he wrote.

Ecclesiastes 5:4-5, “When you vow a vow to God, (Notice, the assumption that we’re making vows here.) do not delay paying it, for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.“

And every time, every time I read that, I think of something that took place probably 10 years ago +. I was here on a Sunday night on this platform sitting on a chair, teaching about the importance of Bible reading and your daily habit of doing so. And I asked people to make a commitment to read their Bible at least 10 minutes every day, and all across the auditorium people were raising their hands. And I looked down in the front and my friend Bob Sweeny was right there. I went to school with Bob Sweeny. We went to Bible college together. So I just thought I could tease him on the spot. He wasn’t raising his hand! I said, ‘Come on, Bob, aren’t you gonna make a commitment to that end?’ — and as soon as I said that I thought, ‘That wasn’t the smartest thing that ever came out of my mouth.’ — ‘cause Bob just looked at me, kind of went (he shook his head “No.”) Later on, I asked him to forgive me for creating that awkward moment in both of our lives, and I had to apologize publicly later on. But he said, “Pastor, that scripture for me, Ecclesiastes — within my mind, I fear God! I read my Bible every day. I love the word of God, but I know making a promise like that really puts me on the spot!” I appreciated his fear of God in that moment!

But just in case you’re thinking, ‘Well, I guess you don’t really have to make vows’ then.’ Oh? Look at what the psalmist said. He said,

Psalm 76:11a, “Make your vows to the Lord your God and keep them,” (is what one translation says,) “perform them (do them.)”

So there is an assumption here which means that’s not what James is talking about. And by the way, just to put a capstone on this, even God makes vows. We see it in the Old Testament,

[Genesis 22:16]  but the one verse in scripture, the writer of Hebrews, talking about God’s promise to Abraham,

[Hebrews 6:13,] ‘when God couldn’t swear by anyone greater than Himself, He swore by Himself!

So it’s right there.

So where’s James going with all of this? Well, first of all, he’s giving a nod to his half-brother, Jesus. Remember, James is the half-brother of Jesus, and he’s thinking about some words that Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. Let’s look at them. Here’s what Jesus said.

[Matthew 5:33-37,] “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.” 36 “And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

So what is James talking about then? Here’s what he’s talking about. He’s talking about being, or in some of your cases, becoming a person of integrity, a person of truth, of truthfulness. This shouldn’t surprise you. We see this, not just in James’ epistle, but throughout the Bible. When the Apostle Paul laid out the whole armor of God, remember that in Ephesians chapter six? He said,

[Ephesians 6:14,] you know, have the shield of faith extinguishes the fiery darts of the wicked one, put on the Helmet of Salvation, the Breastplate of Righteousness, feet shod for the preparation of the Gospel of Peace, a Sword, a Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Remember that, because he also told us that we should put on the Belt of Truth. Remember that? And some people read that and they go, ‘Oh, there’s the Bible. I’ve got to put on the truth’ — not talking about the Bible, because he says later that the Sword of the Spirit, is the word of God. The Sword of the Spirit represents the Bible. So what does James mean when he says, “Put on the Belt of Truth?” Here’s what he’s saying. Put on the belt of truth-fulness. He’s talking about a life of integrity. He’s saying that your life should be, and your words should be, a reflection of what is real in your life.

Now we have a funeral in a couple of days and we’re gonna honor the memory of an individual, a member of our church who loved Jesus and served Him most of her life. But it hit me, the other day, I said, ‘Why do I always wait for people to die to honor them?’ And then my thought was of Don Godwin. I don’t even know if Don is here today. Don Godwin is well into his 80s. Now that is a man of integrity. That is a man of truthfulness. John has had ups and downs, and he and I used to do this [he bumped his fists together] when I first came over all kinds of stuff. But I watched him and I watched this man of integrity. And one day I said to him twentysome years ago, when I grew up, I wanna be just like you!” — because he’s a man of integrity. (There, I honored you… and I’m not gonna say anything at your funeral! So… I’m teasing! Geez… I might go before he does!)

What James is doing here is — back in these days, the Jews of his day were using oaths. Remember, these were Messianic Jews, so they understood they were using oaths as a kind of a facade for lying. So in other words, if you swore by God’s name, by Yahweh’s name, you were bound to do whatever you swore. So what they would do is, ‘I swear by the temple mount…’ ‘I swear by the gifts on the altar…’ ‘I swear by Jerusalem itself.’ Sounds like a pretty good thing to swear by, but you weren’t held to it ’cause you didn’t invoke the name of God. So it was pure, unadulterated hypocrisy because they did it as a facade … with no intention of keeping their oaths. And Jesus, with an attitude, confronted that hypocrisy when he laid out those seven woes in Matthew 23:16-22, I’m gonna show those to you here too. Notice what He said,

Matthew 23:16-22, “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! (And that’s exactly what the tone of his voice was, by the way.) For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. [And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.”]

That’s my kind of Jesus right there! I say that because when I read that, and I read all those woes, it reminds me of the Chronicles of Narnia. Some of you’ve read the books. You’ve watched the movies. You remember the scene where Mr. Beaver is talking to the kids, and he’s talking to them about Aslan, the lion. And… they’re saying, “Is he a safe?” “Is he safe?” He said, “Aslan is not a tame lion!” In fact, he says, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe — but he is good. He’s the King, I tell you!”

Now, there’s a balanced view of Jesus. And I say that to you because I’m not a fan of partial, unbalanced descriptions of Jesus. Now, I’ll come back to that. Remember that. I’ll come back to it later on in the sermon.

James has been addressing the way we use our mouths throughout the entire epistle. A lot of you have caught that, but in case you didn’t, in chapter 1,

James 1:19b, “Let every person be slow to (what?) speak…”

Later on in the same chapter, ‘If anyone does not bridle his tongue… worthless religion.’

[James 1:26, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”]

James 3:8, “… but no human can tame the tongue.”

James 4:11, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.”

And finally in chapter four,

James 4:13, “Come now, you who say

He’s always thinking about the stuff coming out of our mouths.

Now when it comes to the subject of the use of our words, I confess, I shudder just a little bit. I once was in a debate with someone over something and in the middle of it he said, “No fair! You know words!” I didn’t know how to respond to that! But if all the scriptures (and there are a multitude of them) that regard the use of our words, none has impacted me more than one little verse in Proverbs 15. At the very beginning of verse 2 it says,

Proverbs 15:2 (NKJV), ”The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly…

Have you ever read that? The key word is the word “uses.” Words have meaning, but so do the timing of our words, the demeanor in which we say them, our voice inflection, right? That’s why another Proverb says,

Proverbs 12:18, ”Reckless words pierce like a sword.

…which is the antithesis of what Paul says in Ephesians 4:29. “First he says,

Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouths…

(The word corrupt, that’s the Greek word that pictures fruit that is rotting. So when you say corrupt things, just picture rotten fruit coming out of your mouth. That’ll stop you!)

“…but instead, say things that edify…”

Literally, the word comes from a word which means “to build a house.”

Another translation in Proverbs 15:2b, again, where it says…

[Proverbs 15:2a,] “… the tongue of the wise use knowledge rightly.”

Another translation uses the word “adorns.” I love that word, because that’s the actual word that’s used in Titus 2:10 where the apostle Paul says to Titus that he says,

[Titus 2:10b,] “… in everything, they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

I love that! In fact, the word adorn is the word “kosmosin.”  We get our word “cosmetic” from that word. “Adorn” the doctrine of God.

I was just meditating on that one little slice of scripture many years ago, and this is the thought that occurred to me. I can’t add to the word of God, but I can adorn it… and so can you. We can’t add to truth, right? — but we can adorn the truth with our words and with our lives that back it up. That’s a life of integrity. And so I prayed, “Lord, use my words to adorn Your words. Use my words to bend minds, break hearts and build faith.” That’s my prayer.

The other day, (last week that is) Colton Willie preached… Did a good job. I loved his illustration of being the seventh grade teacher! Remember the judge at the door? — alluded to verse nine here earlier…

[James 5:9, “… behold, the Judge is standing at the door.”]

and he would leave the room, the kids to go disruptive and everything. And as I listen to that, I’m the seventh grader, because that was me! And right away, I thought of something happened in seventh grade. Sister Mary Marie, she was the sweetest, Nun. You could not dislike this woman, she was so nice and so kind, and so, when the bell rang at the end of class and everybody was getting up to leave, she said, “Mr. Dunlay and Mr. Nemmers… Would you stay behind and come to my desk?” I didn’t have to brace myself. She was the nicest lady in the world. We walked up to the desk, Dennis and I, and she said, “Mr. Dunlay and Mr. Nemmers, you were disruptive in class.” And I’m kind of– you know, I’m like, “Yeah, yeah… whatever.” She goes, “Mr. Nemmers, does your mouth ever shut up?” (audience laughing) And I thought, “Aren’t you going to say anything to Mr. Dunlay here next to me?” Is it any wonder that the second half of Proverbs 15, verse two says,

Proverbs 15:2b.The mouth of fools pour forth foolishness.

… And I was the fool.

And what do you know? Another, Proverbs 10:19 says,

Proverbs 10:19, ”In the multitude of words, there lacks not sin.

Have you ever read that? But James isn’t concerned with many words. He’s concerned about truthful words, words that match our actions. There are people, there are Bible expositors, who just can’t get verse 12, because there’s no real connection, there’s no antecedent connection.

And where does it go? It just seems like it’s out of place, and ‘I don’t even know why it’s there.’

[James 5:12,But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.”]

Are you kidding me? This verse is a reflection of the entire epistle! This has been the message of the entire letter! Let your mouth reflect your life! If our lives are so made up of words — and they are — then, let’s determine to get them right. When you speak to others, determine before God to speak words of truth, and not just truth… but truth in love.

Just the other day I was meeting with a group of men I’m discipling and we were studying a book on “fatherhood.” It was a great chapter of challenging us dads and how we handle our kids and this and that. And it gave a plethora of guidelines for us to have. But one of the guys in our group having just studied the love chapter a few days earlier, said his issue with the chapter was, “It didn’t tell us to do this… do this… do this, do this… in love.” He said, “I wrote “in love” after every injunction, after every command.” I thought, “Brilliant!” — because God wants us to speak truth, but not weaponized truth! Speak it, even if it hurts, but speak it in love. And isn’t that what the Apostle Paul said in Ephesians… speaking the truth — right? — in love.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve noticed that most liars are not as good as they think they are at lying. Have you noticed that? And another Proverb, 12:19, says,

Proverb 12:19 (KJV), “The lip of truth is established forever: but a lying tongue… (watch this) is but for a moment.”

Whenever I read that, I remember back in the day, we’d stand at the door and do our ‘howdies’ as people walked out. Nobody got out of here without seeing me. We don’t do that anymore, but… This guy walks through the line and I noticed I hadn’t seen him the week before. I just said it. “I missed you last week.” “Oh, man… my daughter had a real high temperature. I was up with her all night.” I said, “I’m sorry! How’s she…?” “Oh, she’s fine now.” “That’s great! See you. Bye. Have a good day.” Literally 30 seconds later, his wife comes through the line. I said, “Glad to hear your daughter’s feeling better.” She goes, “What?” I said, “Your daughter had the fever last week.” “She didn’t have a fever! He was up all night watching movies!” Busted! (audience laughing)

The lip of truth is established forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.” So speak the truth in love. It’ll keep you out of trouble.

Secondly, speak words of encouragement. This is a really big deal. And I’ve got another Proverb, but I’ve been quoting them to you, so I want you to see this one.

Proverbs 18:21 (KJV), “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

There is so much inherent power in your words to build up or break down, to encourage or discourage! This is why Paul said to the Corinthians,

[2 Corinthians 13:10,] ’It’s my aim to build you up, not tear you down.’

And we know it, right? You watch the football games, and you watch the baseball games, and you watch games where they’re just cheering one another on… and just words of affirmation, encouragement… send people back out and — you’ve experienced this, I’m sure of it!

I used to wrestle, (Greatest sport of all time!) and it was several years after high school and I was in a tournament. I was still in pretty good shape, and I figured I would do just fine. Well I did not do just fine! I mean, I was out of shape. I thought I was in shape but my cardio was not there, and I made it to the semifinals in this tournament. I’m wrestling this guy… he’s pretty good! And you know what they did? They gave us a one-minute rest between periods, which was basically torture, because you had to go back out there again! And in the middle of the semi-final, I literally, — between the second and third periods — I literally crawled to the end of the mat, I was so tired! I’m literally laying on my back [breathing hard], but I had a friend, Will. He was my friend. We’d worked out together, and he comes up to me and he looks over at me and goes, “Man, you sure do you look tired!” That is not the thing that gets you back out on that mat! I’m telling you that right now!

And if you’re a parent, you know the power of words to your kids, don’t you? You know that power, the power that God has given you, that you possess in your words. This is why the Apostle Paul says this in Colossians. It’s different than the way he puts in an Ephesians, so I purposely give you this verse where he says,

Colossians 3:21,”Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.

See this word “discouraged.” That’s, not used in the parallel epistle of Ephesians. That word “discouraged” literally means “to become spiritless.” It literally pictures a parent reaching in and just gutting the kid of his spirit, and you do it… with your words. So God would have us use words of encouragement to build one another up because another Proverb says,

Proverbs 15:23, ”A man has joy by the answer of his tongue and a word spoken at just the right time, how good it is!”

Right? — and you know this!! That’s why Mark Twain said,

“I could live for two months on a compliment.”

…and he wasn’t even a Christian! You know how encouraging words are, what they can do to you. I mean, just the other day, I’m working with a man I had the privilege of leading to Jesus not long ago, and we’ve had lots of studies together, but this one was just so precious! I can’t describe to you how precious this time around the word of God with this new Christian was! But sometimes, you kind of wonder how he’s receiving it.  I was loving it! Wasn’t sure if he was. Like, within an hour after we separated, he sent me a text, and here it is.

“I thought I’d let you know, every time we meet, I feel like you’re truly feeding my spirit and soul.”

I called Marilyn up… “I’m done for the day. I’m a happy boy!” No… that’s not what I did! — but I could have! — because you know what a word spoken at just the right time does, right? So be a builder up, be an encourager.

There’s just one more thing I must say about when you speak to others, determine before God to speak with words of, not just love, or truth in love, or encouragement, but here… (this one you might not be ready for) accuracy. Hyperbole is a legitimate form of communication, right? ‘I could eat a horse.’ Well, you know what I mean. I’m not lying to you. You get it. I’m a hungry guy. But intentionally distorting the truth, flirting around the edges as we mentioned earlier, that’s a lie.

If you’ve ever had to be in a court of law — even if you haven’t, you’ve seen it on TV — when you stand before the judge, they don’t make you put your hand on a Bible anymore, but they still make you say, “I swear to tell the truth, the whole…“ Why so redundant? “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” Why the redundancy? — because even in a court of law, they know that the human condition is to lie, is to flirt with the edges. Inaccuracies occur when we fail to tell the whole truth.

Earlier I said I’m not a fan of partial, imbalanced descriptions of Jesus. And some people reacted that way at the Super Bowl last week. Remember that half of us watched the Super Bowl for the commercials, right? And there was a Christian commercial, right? Remember that? And it was very beautiful and it kind of gave that softer side of Jesus where he washed the feet of his disciples… and very nice, and some of us were probably moved. But the Christian internet just blew up, because, to many, that was not a full… was not a whole… was an inaccurate view of Jesus. In fact, one individual responded to that with this meme [showing a picture of Jesus swinging a whip in the temple], I mean, “Yeah… He gets us.” (laughs) I have to admit when I saw that, I did laugh. But is that accurate? Go like this. [Shake your head “No.”] It’s not even close any more than the other! It’s not even close. And so why I laughed at that, I smiled when someone put this out. Take a listen…. [a video was shown of people who’s lives were changed by Jesus and words at the end, “Jesus doesn’t just GET US, HE SAVES US, HE TRANSFORMS US, HE CLEANSES US, HE RESTORES US, HE FORGIVES US, HE HEALS US, HE DELIVERS US, HE REDEEMS US, HE LOVES US… Such were some of you.”] Amen? Why does that make you clap or smile?— because it’s telling a more accurate look at our Lord Jesus Christ Who doesn’t just save you… He changes you! And when He changes your heart, He’ll change your mouth! The psalmist put it best.

[Psalm 40:3,] “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.”

That’s the change! Jesus doesn’t just get us… He saves us, and

[2 Corinthians,5:17] “If anyone’s in Christ, they’re a new creation!

Now when James wraps up his words in James 5:12, he wraps it up with a little line that we almost don’t think about. He says,

James 5:12, “… so that you may not fall under condemnation.

That’s a strong word. That’s a really strong word! That word ties it to the context in verse 9, the Judge standing at the door. The word “condemnation” here conveys the idea of a judge rendering a verdict. God renders a verdict by the way our words are backed up by our lives.

I was in a courtroom sometime back. The judge on the bench was listening to a defendant who was playing very fast and loose with the truth. I and those with me were wondering if a judge could see through any of this. And when he rendered his verdict, it was clear that he was an exceedingly wise judge. He saw right through the lies!

Friends, every single one of us are going to stand before the Judge of the universe, the all-knowing, the omniscient God who knows all things! We all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. He does stand at the door! He does knock! The only question is, when you open the door… and you will open the door… will you meet Him as Savior… or Judge? And I fear for many of you that you won’t meet Him as your Savior. You know about Him, but you don’t know Him, because you’ve never placed your faith in the one who took your judgment. Today, will you contemplate these solemn words from James? — because anything less will bring condemnation.

Will you pray with me?

Our Father in heaven, we know that we come before you as Almighty, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient, All-knowing God. You know every word that comes out of our mouths before they come out. And, oh, that we could pray with David, “Let the words of our mouth, the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to You, our Rock and our Redeemer,” and forgive us when our words do not match our lives. We repent. Help us, Lord, to have words that are always a reflection of You, truth in love, encouragement and accurate so that You might be pleased and others might see the truth in our lives and desire it themselves. These things we thank you for. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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