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  • John Lenschow

Yes or No

James 5:12

1. Recognize the Context: Previous context-James 5:7-11 James turns his address back to the believing community as he calls for patience.

They must be patient in their suffering and oppression (verses 1-6) until the Lord’s return. This imperative is followed by an agricultural example of a farmer patiently wait for the harvest while going through the seasons. Verse 8 makes the application from this analogy with the emphatic “you too.” They must be patient and stand firm (Psalm 57:7). They must wait and be internally strong until the Lord’s imminent return.


In verse 9, James admonishes his readers not to groan and complain about other believers. They are to be patient with those outside the Christian community and those aggravating them from within the community. Then he warns them of potential judgment from the Judge (4:12) if they continue in this behavior.


James then provides a second example of patience in suffering, the Old Testament's prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord. (Matt. 23:29-31, Heb 11). Those who persevered were considered blessed (Matt. 5:11-12, James 1:12). James’ third example of perseverance in suffering is Job (Job 1:21-22, 2:10, 13:15, 19:25-27). His perseverance resulted in the blessing of God beyond what he experienced before (42:10-17).


This leads James to declare “the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” (Ex. 34:6-7, Psalm 103:8, 111:4)


2. Read the Scripture: James 5:12

12 Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

3. Reflect on the Scripture: In one sense, verse 12 appears a little odd and maybe even out of place. However, we often see a final list of behavioral instructions in the closing paragraphs of Paul’s letters. Additionally, these imperatives, one positive and one negative, concern speech ethics and judgment, two themes covered by James from numerous perspectives. So, it is not as unusual as initially thought.


James encourages the believing community not to swear. This verb means “to affirm the veracity of one’s statement by invoking a transcendent entity, frequently with implied invitation of punishment if one is untruthful.”* Here, James echoes the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:33-37).


This behavior was happening in informal conversations. People were invoking heaven or earth (and by doing so invoking God) to affirm their statements' truthfulness. James instructs them merely to confirm or negate their statements with a simple yes or no. Since the Christian community is called to be truthful and careful with their words, nothing else is needed. To be careless with one's words in this way is to bring about God's judgment.

So again, we see the instructions in this verse are consistent with James’ content and message.


* Definition of swear from a Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, BDAG, p. 705).


4. Relate to life:

Now it's time to get specific and respond today. Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message. To pray:

Today, prayerfully consider the truthfulness of your words.


Today, prayerfully reflect on the importance of consistent and faithful speech. Are you true to your word?


To do: (work produced by faith with the Holy Spirit’s help) Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers.

Think of specific relationships and situations. How can you stay true to your word? Write it down.

To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)

Read and study the verses above.


Read and study Matt. 5:33-37.