Tell me Yes, Tell me no but tell me straight up.
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. (Jas 5:12)
People have a tendency to swear and boast when they are expressing the seriousness and intention which they have in accomplishing some object. “I swear i will do this or that”, ” I swear on my mother’s grave that what I am saying is the truth”, or perhaps:
Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” (Mat 26:33)
Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. (Mat 26:74)
No one would no better the advice James gives than Peter would but we all fall into the trap of promising more than we can deliver.
I know that some use this passage as a reason not to take the oath to tell the truth in court. I don’t think the context here supports that use of it. In fact, the Yes, Yes and No, No might be more akin to what you promise to do anyway. There should be know need to promise to tell the truth if you always tell the truth. Of course, people don’t so if they are caught in a lie, perjury charges result.
God doesn’t need to result to perjury charges, we have all bitten off more than we can chew or let our eyes fill our plate with more than our stomach can handle. We have assured people of things that we had no intention of fulfilling and also have assured people of things we had not ability to guarantee we would fulfill.
When a bank lends you money to buy a house, the house stands good for the money owed. You promise in effect to pay the note or return the house. Most of our ‘swearing’ doesn’t even offer a tangible collateral and so we put ourselves in jeopardy by promising what we cannot promise. James refered to this in chapter 4 by saying that we should say “If the Lord wills, we will both live and…” fulfill this promise or that one.
When you promise something and do not fulfill it, it is a mar on your character and God’s. We should be slow to speak and that would include slow to promise but when you promise something be humble about it. If you cannot do a certain something with reasonable certitude then don’t take it on. When you do take it on, don’t give false hopes as to its finish. It is always important to verify both the expectations that another person has and your ability to promise to do something. If you promise, then do it. Don’t had oaths and lofty words to your speech, just say “yes” or “no”