James is a book of wisdom. Today a single verse. I thought long and hard about attaching this verse to another sermon, but ultimately I went with a sermon on it’s own primarily because the verse starts out “Above All…” ~ if the people of old had access to yellow highlighters, James would have highlighted this verse. “Above All” is James’ highlight pen.
Wisdom is simple. It instinctively makes sense, but you need to hear it. “Check to see if that electric fence is on…” is simple wisdom to warn the person about to touch the fence. James is speaking to confused people not sure how to be consistent in their faith and how to interact in a complex world: READ James 5:12.
Wisdom is the right word at the right time. Wisdom, when we put it into practice, gives confidence, assurance, guides us. Let your yes be yes and your no no! What could be more simple and obvious, yet the world is full of ambiguity, people lying, people not wanting to make commitments, changing back and forth. Everyone agrees with this wisdom, but few put it into practice: Do what you say you are going to do?
This bit of wisdom is similar to the 9th Commandment: “Do not lie.” Deception is common in our society. We have equated politicians with lying…. “how can you tell when ________ (fill in your least favorite politician's name)? their lips are moving.” A lie is any words not true, or any words intended to deceive.
A lawyer had a wife and 12 children. He needed to rent a new home but was having difficulty. When he said he had 12 children, no one would rent to him, afraid the children would destroy the home. He could not say he had no children, after all, lawyers do not lie. He had an idea: he sent his wife for a walk to the cemetery with 11 children. He took the remaining child with him to see homes with the Real Estate Agent. He liked one of the homes. The agent asked, "How many children do you have?” He answered : "12 children.” The agent asked "Where are the others?' The lawyer answered, with a sad look, "They are in the cemetery with their mother.” And that's the way he was able to rent a home for his family without lying.
NEWSFLASH. It’s a lie! Any intention to deceive is a lie.
Our world/relationships need straight talk. Doing what we say. Integrity. Lying/ cheating always creates tension. We lie to ourselves, convincing ourselves what great people we are, making all sorts of commitments, but then not following through. It’s like cheating when you play solitaire. Do you really win?
One person made a list of ways we fall into deception:
The half-truth: you tell the truth, but not all the truth. Abraham did this when he claimed that Sarah was his sister. She was his half-sister, but he didn’t mention she was also his wife!
The “white” lie: these are the “innocent” lies that “don’t hurt anyone.” I fell into a white lie meant to be a joke. In the mid-80s I was a junior high boys counselor on a youth retreat. On the way to Seattle the boys were bragging about staying up half the night. That night we were in the host home in one room. I said they could stay awake, but at 10:30 they had to lay in their sleeping bags and turn off the light. They chatted for 5 minutes, then ran out of things to say. Quiet. None had a watch. 5 minutes later one asked for the time. I looked at my watch, it was 10:45 and I said, 11:30. No one questioned it. They lay quiet. 5 minutes later, “What time is it.” Looking at my watch it said, 10:50 so I said, 12:45. They lay quiet. 5 minutes later, what time is it? I said, 1:30. They were all asleep by 11:00 and the next day bragged about staying up half the night! Is that a lie? I wasn’t truthful. (I should have taken charge and told them or let them stay up….)
Exaggeration: stretching the truth to make yourself look better or get sympathy.
The cover-up: You hide your wrongdoing with the rationalization that it would hurt the other person to find out the real truth. When I did a hospital internship in the cancer treatment unit they told us one of their policies was to refuse treatment unless the person knew what they were being treated for. Too many families wanted to protect grandma telling her something less….imagine the complicated web….
The evasive lie: you change the subject or conveniently dodge the truth by not answering directly.
As a father, a mother, a friend, a community member, a member of the church family, a citizen, a student, a boss, a worker, a child, whatever roles you fill in life, be an honest, consistent, dependable, decisive, firm, confident person of integrity, and you will change the world. Let your Yes, be Yes goes far beyond your words, but also the way you live. If you deceive your children, telling them one thing while you’re living a lie, at some point they will see through your deception and learn the way to get through life is to be dishonest. It’s far better to live with integrity, confessing your sins and asking forgiveness when you’re wrong. If they see vulnerability and truth in your walk with God, they will be far more inclined to follow God.
I get why James says “Above All…let your yes be yes.” In my honored position of being an informal counselor to dozens/hundreds of people in the community, even before I studied for this message, if you were to ask me for how to serve the community and impact people, I have two things I try to do: 1) LISTEN more than I speak. 2). Let my yes be yes and my no no. Many people crave to be heard and need people to do what they say they will do. As Christians, we will reach people for Christ by being people of character, principled, consistent
James 5:12 is a single verse, but like a small suitcase you can pack in a lot.
Do not swear…. Watching your language is a good idea… but that is not the kind of swearing James has in mind. He’s talking the vows type of swearing, “I swear on the Bible.” James is not against making formal vows, because there is a time for marriage vows, contracts. James is saying don’t make a big deal out of everyday commitment. Let your word be your word. The other day I told Doris I’d contact another person the next morning and get back to her. I did what I said I would do. What if I had gotten out the Bible, put my hand on it, and said Doris, I promise I will call Stenovich’s and if I fail to get back to you then you can have my first born child! That would be silly. And I never do anything silly.
“Do not swear by heaven or by earth or by anything else.” Apparently in those days a game was played with words that if a person swore in the name of God then there commitment was binding, but if it was anything less, like what is brought out in the Matthew Scripture about not swearing by your head, then the commitment was not binding. It’s equivalent to the child’s game of making a promise with your fingers crossed. If you cross your fingers then the promise doesn’t count.
Adults are too sophisticated to play such games.. HA… I tire of people telling me what they think I want to hear so I will do what they want me to do. It is commonly assumed what I want more than anything else is for people to come to MY CHURCH. How many times I’ve been told “I will show up, I will do this, I will pay the money back…” as much as possible I let people off the hook: “It’s a gift from the church to pay your power bill, if you choose to pay it back that is fine, but there is no obligation.” I don’t want people to feel guilty when they don’t.
I also tend to stay away from doing things like having people stand up in a church setting committing to read the Bible a certain number of minutes per day or pray or give. Those commitments are good and awesome, spiritual disciplines are incredible, but I firmly believe they need to be in the context of yes or no, not a formal commitment that is likely to make you feel guilty if you break it. Read your Bible as often as you can to get to know the Lord better. But if you miss a day, just come back to it the next day and move on.
“Otherwise you will be condemned.” This sounds harsh. Wisdom is a black and white world. Are you ready to live as a Christian or aren’t you? It’s time to make a decision. Are you going to live for Christ as a person of high character, a person that others can depend on, a person that can depend upon yourself, or aren’t you? “Condemned” could mean something as simple as a stressful life, a guilt ridden life, a life full of tension and drama, or it could mean a life in which you really are no Christian at all.
If you live a life commonly deceiving others, perhaps that means Jesus Christ is not truly on the throne of your heart. I am not the judge. But God is. I don’t know your heart. But God does. Go to God. For those who commonly deceive others, “oh what a tangled web we weave.” I do not like drama, the tension between people, the posturing… One reasons I strive for a simple life is because there is much more satisfaction. Drama is it’s own curse. Learn to let go. Be a person of integrity. Do not control others by allowing your “yes” to really mean maybe and your “no” actually mean “that’s my intention of the moment.”
Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Decisive. Simple. This is the character of the person God wants you to become.
The greatest curse of this present world is not people who believe differently from me as a Christian. It is not the country passing laws that are contrary to my Christian convictions of right and wrong. The greatest curse is ambiguousness. We live in an age of confusion. The world is telling us to be open minded and non-judgmental ~ don’t form opinions that might be in disagreement with others…. Yet the Lord has wired us to make commitments and stake our lives on truth. It’s a common misconception for people to think the highest ideal is to keep our options open, to not put limits on our lives, in case something better comes along. But we need to know our limits so we can make good decisions and keep our commitments. As soon as I become a parent that means something as to what my responsibilities are. I am instantly committed to saying YES to taking care of my children. Yet in our world too many people become parents and then discover it is hard, or get married and find it is not exactly what is expected. Your YES means yes to fulfilling your obligations.
INTEGRITY IS ITS OWN REWARD! The best way to sleep at night is to do what you say you will do. Be a person of character and you will be blessed, you will be satisfied. The Lord Jesus Christ cares about our everyday character and how we conduct ourselves. He cares about our commitments and being good and honorable people. The way to follow God and be a witness for him is to fulfill our commitments, to be decisive, to make decisions, to talk straight instead of living ambiguously. Fulfill your commitments, for this is the word of the Lord and the desire of our heavenly father. Amen.