2020-1-19 Another Proper Use of the Tongue

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          January 19, 2020

“Another Proper Use of the Tongue”
James 5:12

The Lord, through James, had much to say about controlling our tongues in James 3:2-12.  As we recall that text, we must admit that there exists no natural way to control that unruly member, the tongue.  If the tongue is to be controlled, it must be controlled supernaturally.  Yet, by the powerful work and grace of God, we can control it.  To control the tongue is to speak truth, not falsehood…to upbuild, not to tear down…and to speak well of God, not ill or vainly of Him.  We get another proper use of the tongue in today’s text: to let our “Yes,” be yes, and to let our “No,” be no, by avoiding common swearing.  Let us hear today’s text from God’s Word read and proclaimed in this place.


James, led by the Holy Spirit, continues to guide us into wise living by writing, “Above all,” (literally before all), “swear ye not.”  He enlarges upon this latest imperative, commanding us to swear neither by Heaven, nor by earth, nor by another oath.  Note what is really happening when we do this.  When we swear thus, we appeal to something greater than ourselves to vouch for the veracity, or truthfulness, of our statement.  Hence, we declare either that the truth itself cannot stand on its own two legs or we, telling the truth, are insufficient testimony to the truth.

The Lord, through James, offers us a better practice.  In place of common swearing, simply let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No” be no.  A simple declaration of the truth will suffice—without invocation of apparently weightier authority.  Once you are known to others as a true witness to events and facts, your “Yes” and “No” will carry increasingly great weight with others.

When your “Yes” is known everywhere as yes, and your “No” is known everywhere as no, happy results will follow.  Your weighty declaration of what is true and what is false will strengthen your fellow Christian.  More than this, your weighty declaration of what is true and what is false will gain a favorable estimation (or, at least, a more favorable one than formerly) from the thoughtful non-Christian.

We speak thus—with our “Yes” meaning yes, and our “No” meaning no—in order that we fall not under condemnation.  We do not wish to endure the fatherly chastisement of the Lord over this—which, even though infinitely loving, still stings and hurts.  We also would avoid the condemnation of others over this.  We would not be in position to endure the righteous rebuke from injured fellow Christians, and we would avoid at all cost subjecting Christ’s Name to reproach among non-Christians.  As we speak truth in every situation, and our testimony grows in value, we avoid this condemnation mentioned in today’s text.

Yet we know that there are times when we are to declare, in a special way, what is true or untrue, by a method commonly called swearing.  This happens when a secular court compels our testimony—such as in a criminal or civil case.  This also happens when an ecclesiastical (that is, a church) court compels our testimony—as in cases of suspected heresy, immorality, or contempt for the established order of the Church.[1]  An act similar to a lawful oath, whereby we promise to do something, is called a vow.  Examples of these include marital vows and ordination vows.  In such cases, when compelled to testify by proper authority, we may appeal to God Himself, and God alone, for the veracity of our statements (cf. Deuteronomy 10:20, The Westminster Confession of Faith xxi, en toto, esp. xxi.1-2).

Notice that swearing in God’s Name is not forbidden by this text.  Even God Himself has sworn by Himself (cf., e. g., Hebrews 6:17-18).  What is forbidden is a host of other things, including rash swearing, swearing to what one knows to be untrue, and swearing by anything forbidden in Scripture—or by anything like unto the bases forbidden in Scripture.  Let us, then, by God’s grace, be those whose testimony in true to the point that others—and God Himself—knows that our “Yes” is yes and our “No” is no. This is yet another appropriate use of the tongue.


[1] Such ecclesiastical judicial procedures occur, when necessary—and only when necessary—for the glory of God, the good of the offender, and the removal of offense from the Church.  See The Book of Order: The Evangelical Presbyterian Church, The Book of Discipline, chapter 1.