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AM Bible Study Archives
"Do Not Swear"
Wednesday AM Bible Study
November 5, 2003
Our Savior has taught us that a man's mouth speaks from that which fills
his heart " (Luke 6:45). And while few Christians would even think of
using strong profanity and lewedly vulger words many, it seems, are unconcerned
by the kind of thoughtless use of oaths and vows that treat the name of
God with irreverence, and thus take the edge off their testimony before
the world. We can tell that the Bible is a book from God, in that it takes
very seriously what many of us naturally think of as unimportant and harmless.
As we come this morning to the instruction of Pastor James to the precious
people intrusted to his spiritual care; we find that James, under the
inspiration of the Holy Sprit, makes a very big deal about what comes
out of our mouths. In his instructions to a group of suffering, persecuted
first-century Christians on how to conduct themselves - and in addition
to all that he has already said about the use of the tongue - he adds
this admonition in verse 12.
I. WHAT THIS VERSE IS NOT TALKING ABOUT.
A. Many have believed that this verse is forbidding all forms
of formal oath-taking or swearing, such as in a court of law. An "oath",
in such a case, is an appeal made to God - who alone can see into our
hearts and can read our thoughts - regarding the truth of what we're
saying about something, or the sincerity of our promises to do something.
And on the surface, it seems as if James is saying that we should never
B. But the more we look elsewhere in the Bible, the more we have
a problem the idea that all such oaths of any sort are forbidden.
1. There are many examples in the Old Testament in which
oaths in the Lord's name were commanded (Deut. 6:13) as a way of testifying
that God is worshiped (Deut. 10:20; Hebrews 6:16).
2. God commanded that legal matters be settled by an oath (Exodus
3. Oaths were commanded as testimony in court; and even the Savior
Himself responded to a call issued with an oath (Matt. 26:63-64).
4. Oaths were used to affirm the truth of one's statements (1
Kings 17:1; 2 Cor. 1:23; 2 Cor. 11:31; Gal. 1:20; Romans 9:1).
5. Oaths were used to bind someone to a duty (1 Tim. 5:21; 1 Tim.
6:13; 2 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 2:14).
6. Even angels swear by an oath (Rev. 10:5-6).
C. And so, if we take the whole of Scripture into account, we'd
have to say that whatever James is forbidding in this verse, he is
not forbidding the taking of all oaths "of any sort". To say that
would be a contradiction to what is found elsewhere in the Scripture.
II. WHAT WE ARE FORBIDDEN FROM DOING.
A. We've noted before that James often draws his instruction
from the Sermon on The Mount; and that is also true in this case. Jesus'
teaching on oath taking provide us with the best commentary on what
James is forbidding (Matthew 5:33-37).
1. The people in Jesus' culture knew that the careless
taking of oaths was a very evil and irreverent thing to do. It was
tantamount to 'taking God's name in vain' (Leviticus 19:21).
2. And so, in order to promises before each other that they had
no intention whatsoever of keeping (as people so often do today),
they began swearing by oaths that were based on things related to
the Lord in an indirect way. In doing this, they didn't feel so
bound to keep to their oath. It was sort of a case of "oath-lite",
if you will.
3. By doing this, they were essentially using the things of God
as a means of disguising a lie; and were missing the whole point
of God's command to not swear falsely, and thus profain the name
of the Lord and taking it name in vain (Matt. 23:16-22).
B. So it isn't the matter of swearing by oaths altogether that James
is concerned about, but rather the matter of swearing by oaths in
a vain way.
1. A "vain oath" would be one in which we really don't
mean what we say. James calls his readers to make sure that their
"yes" really means "yes",and that their "no" really means "no". A
vain oath would involve calling the things of God to witness, in order
to make it sound like we're really binding ourselves to the truth
or sincereity of something when we're not
2. A "vain oath" would also be one that uses the things of God
in a thoughtless and irreverent way. James calls his readers to
cease from swearing "by heaven or by earth or [literally] with any
other oath of that kind." The Greek word James uses for "other"
is a specific word that doesn't mean "another of any kind", but
rather "another of that specific kind". He forbids them from saying
such things as, "By heaven ...", or "By the earth ..." or "By Jerusalem
...", or even, "By my head ..." or any other such substitute for
a serious, sincere, solemn calling upon the name of the Lord in
the way that shows reverence. In otherwords, if you're not going
to call upon the name of the Lord and mean it, then don't swear
by an oath at all.
C. James says that this is a matter of grave importance. He says,
"But above all, my brethren, do not swear ..."; and the phrase "above
all" is one that is meant to communicate the superiority of the matter.
As a top priority, they were to cease from this ungodly practice of
swearing by vain oaths.
III. WHY GOD FORBIDS THIS.
A. There's a relationship in these words to what preceeded
them redgarding the trials of persecution. Early Church history is marked
with stories of many Christians who bravely withstood these trials and
willingly laid down their lives for their testimony to Christ. But there
are also stories of some who failed the test.
1. It's not hard to imagine, in such cases, that many Christians
would feel pressured, in a variety of situations, to bind themselves
by "vain oaths" that they really didn't want to be bound to. Some
would be tempted to deny with an oath that they were followers of
Jesus in order to save their own lives, as Peter did (Matthew 26:72);
while others might be tempted to bind themselves to promises they
had no intention of keeping in order to simply look good before the
church, as Ananias and Sapphira did (Acts 5:1-11).
2. James is warning them not to do this, but rather to let their
"yes" be "yes", and their "no" be "no" - even in a time of distress
and great pressure.
B. Why then does God forbid us from "vain oaths"?
1. There's the fact that swearing by vain oaths often involves
a kind of language that is completely innappropriate for a follower
of Jesus Christ
2. It involves irreverence toward God. When we swear to a vain
oath, we are trying to 'use' God and the things of God in an ungodly
3. It presents a bad witness to others, in that they can see that
we really don't revere the things of God.
4. It has the net effect of deminishing our own trustworthiness
by the fact that our word isn't good enough, and that we feel we
must butress our promises with an oath.
5. It violates the spirit of the third commandment. We are forbidden
from anything that would involve taking either the name of the Lord
in vain, or speaking of the things of the Lord in a vain and insincere
manner; and are warned that God will not leave him unpunished who
does so. This, I believe, is behind James' solemn warning not to
bind oneself with vain oaths, "lest you fall into judgment" (Ecclesiastes