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God’s Word for You

James 5:12 Using God’s name

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, August 31, 2020

12 Now first of all, my brothers, stop swearing, either by heaven or by earth or any other oath. Let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

Swearing, cursing, and using foul or obscene language are not all the same thing. When Moses was given the Second Commandment on Mount Sinai, it was specifically a command not to misuse God’s name. Christ, Jesus, God, Holy ____, Man Alive, and similar names and titles for God or the risen Christ all fall into this category. It is distressing to God to hear men cursing one another in any form. We should avoid wishing evil or trouble on one another, most especially when such cursing moves away from taboo language into more ordinary speech as people become desensitized by it. To take an expression, such as the act of sexual intercourse, and turn it into a curse is, in abstract theory, bizarre, and in common usage idolatrous. It takes a gift of God, one of his greatest and most intimate gifts, and reduces it to common garbage. It shows a sinful disregard for God’s love. Free speech or not, I believe that a person who uses this kind of language is guilty of some degree of rape. All foul and obscene language and coarse joking falls under this category and judgment.

What James addresses here is specifically swearing, that is, using God’s name in the form of an oath to emphasize a point. Someone who does this takes all the meaning out of an oath that is genuine, such as the oath to be faithful to one’s spouse (1 Timothy 3:2), to uphold the Lutheran Confessions (1 Timothy 4:15-16), to serve one’s country or uphold the constitution, or to tell the truth in court. So there are some forms of swearing that are acceptable to God. Also, God himself sometimes swears (Deuteronomy 31:23; Micah 7:20), as did Jesus our Lord (Matthew 26:63-64). But God always keeps his promises. To take an oath that cannot be kept is dangerous. What did the Jews do who swore “not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul” (Acts 23:12-14)? Did they let themselves die of thirst and starvation, since Paul lived for nine more years after their oath?

James takes up Jesus’ words: Instead of swearing or taking an oath, “Simply let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no.” To this, Jesus added, “Anything beyond this is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37). James, always the coach, focuses our human attention more on the result than on the source. The result of taking a rash oath is that you will fall under God’s condemnation. It is almost always true that people will respect you more for not cursing and swearing than for doing it, but that isn’t the reason we refrain. We refrain because God commands us not to in the Second Commandment. He wants us to use his holy name in every time of need, to call upon him, pray to him, praise him, and to give him thanks. To do otherwise would be to involve God himself in a lie like a man winking at his son when he tells his wife about the fish that got away. “God is not a man, that he should lie” (Numbers 23:19). The place of liars at the judgment will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur along with unbelievers, murderers, the sexually immoral and the idolaters (Revelation 21:8).

The gift of language is a blessing in a class all by itself. It sets man apart from the animals with a greater distinction than most, for although animals communicate things like Danger!, Food!, and I’m looking for a mate!, only man communicates the gospel, and only through language. Use the words that God has given you for their best possible use. Know that your sins are forgiven in name of Jesus, and give God glory whenever you use his name.

  “In what you speak bring me no shame;
  Do not misuse my holy name,
  But call on me in troubled days,
  Give me your thanks, prayers and praise.”
  Have mercy, Lord!

  God gave these laws to show therein
  O child of man, your life of sin
  And help you rightly to perceive
  How unto God you should live.
  Have mercy, Lord!

  Our works cannot salvation gain
  They merit only endless pain
  Forgive us, Lord! To Christ we fly,
  Our mediator on high.
  Have mercy, Lord!  (Christian Worship 285 3,11-12).

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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