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  • Alan Salwei

James 5:12 - Yes Means Yes

You don't need to invoke God's name every time you make a promise if your life truly reflects God's name.

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Read James 5:12

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Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 99

Q. What is God’s will for us

in the third commandment?

A. That we neither blaspheme

nor misuse the name of God


cursing, perjury,

or unnecessary oaths,

nor share in such horrible sins

by being silent bystanders.

In a word, it requires

that we use the holy name of God

only with reverence and awe,

so that we may properly

confess him,

pray to him,

and praise him

in everything

we do

and say.



In Matthew 5:34-37 Jesus speaks against making oaths, instead encouraging the people to “let what you say simply be ‘Yes’ or ‘No’”. In James 5:12, James is restating this same teaching for the recipients of his letter.

This reminder was necessary because it was far too common for people, including even the religious leaders such as the Pharisees, to be guilty of making empty oaths. Agreements would be sealed with an oath such as swearing by the temple, that if the oath were broken the guilty party would tear down the temple stone by stone. This might add some showmanship to the agreement; however, the inauthenticity of these words is concerning. These deals were commonly struck with no intention or expectation of one party attempting to tear down the temple if they failed to live up to their end of the deal. This lack of intention made these oaths no more meaningful than a modern-day pinky promise.

Dig Deeper

Swearing an oath was once an important part of serious transactions. In making an oath you are vowing that if you break your agreement then some predetermined misfortune will come upon you, such as the example of swearing to tear down the temple if you break your oath.

While these types of oaths are not as common as they were in the 1st century, there are still remnants that can be seen today. One example is the pinky promise. While often thought of as something youth use to declare their intention to keep their promise, the pinky promise has a bit of a darker meaning behind it.

Very literally, a pinky promise is an oath that if you break your end of the bargain then your pinky finger will be chopped off. Fortunately, this is not an oath that is often upheld, otherwise there would be children running around everywhere missing a finger. However, this is an example of an unnecessary oath.

While Jesus and later James speak against the making of unnecessary oaths in a general sense, the third commandment speaks to not misusing the name of the Lord through invoking his name in an unnecessary oath. When such an oath is made, it cheapens the value you hold on the name of God.

Instead of depending on a grand gesture or oath to declare your intention to keep your word; follow the instructions given by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and repeated by James: “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’”. Be honest in all your dealings so that your word will be trusted as true and so that there will be no need to make a grand oath to declare your intent to honor your word.

  • ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, who answers every promise He's made with "YES" in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20);

  • ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that your the way you keep your word will be a reflection of Christ's integrity;



Read the New Testament in a year, a chapter a day - 2 Corinthians 11


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