James commands us not to take oaths, but instead to have full integrity (James 5:12).

James commands us not to take oaths, but instead to have full integrity (James 5:12).

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Many years ago, a courageous and devoted American broadcast a message to his listeners that served as a harbinger for where the nation was headed societally and culturally. In his broadcast he revealed what he would do if he were “the devil,” to destroy our culture and undermine our collective societal standards and social mores. That man was Paul Harvey Aurandt, affectionately known to the nation simply as Paul Harvey, and his message not only has proven to be prophetic, but serves as a warning to Americans today of where our society continues to trend.

Paul Harvey was a broadcaster who rendered daily news on the radio from the 1950s through the 1990s, and inspired generations of Americans with true stories of goodness and heroism with his daily, “The Rest of the Story.” He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 for his contributions to the nation. At his peak, his broadcasts reached as many as 24 million listeners and readers, as 1,600 radio stations and 300 newspapers carried his program and columns across the nation.

One broadcast, which he titled, “If I Were the Devil,” ran originally in 1964, but he updated it several times over the years, and the version detailed below aired in 1996. In Paul Harvey’s own words, here is what he said he would do, if he “were the devil.”

Here it begins:

“If I were the prince of darkness, I would want to engulf the whole world in darkness. I’d have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree — thee. So, I would set about however necessary to take over the United States.

“I’d subvert the churches first, and I would begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: ‘Do as you please.’

“To the young, I would whisper that the Bible is a myth. I would convince the children that man created God instead of the other way around. I’d confide that what’s bad is good and what’s good is square. And the old, I would teach to pray after me, ‘Our Father, which art in Washington …’

“Then, I’d get organized, I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting. I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could. I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.

“If I were the devil, I’d soon have families at war with themselves, churches at war with themselves and nations at war with themselves until each, in its turn, was consumed. And with promises of higher ratings, I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames.

“If I were the devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellect but neglect to discipline emotions. I’d tell teachers to let those students run wild. And before you knew it, you’d have drug-sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door. With a decade, I’d have prisons overflowing and judges promoting pornography. Soon, I would evict God from the courthouse and the schoolhouse and then from the houses of Congress. In his own churches, I would substitute psychology for religion and deify science. I’d lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls and church money.

“If I were the devil, I’d take from those who have and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. What’ll you bet I couldn’t get whole states to promote gambling as the way to get rich?

“I’d convince the young that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun and that what you see on television is the way to be. And thus, I could undress you in public and lure you into bed with diseases for which there are no cures.

“In other words, if I were the devil, I’d just keep right on doing what he’s doing.”[1]

Today we celebrate Independence Day in worship, but I want to talk about something that has also been important to our country, integrity.

Something that is for sure missing in our country right now is integrity.

Thomas Jefferson wrote:

Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.[2]

Further, he wrote:

Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.[3]

George Washington wrote:

“In politics as in philosophy, my tenets are few and simple. The leading one of which, and indeed that which embraces most others, is to be honest and just ourselves and to exact it from others, meddling as little as possible in their affairs where our own are not involved. If this maxim was generally adopted, wars would cease and our swords would soon be converted into reap hooks and our harvests be more peaceful, abundant, and happy.”[4]

In a recent biography of Washington Chernow writes:

He valued his reputation for integrity, calling it “the principal thing which is laudable in my conduct.”[5]

Integrity… Let’s talk about integrity.

Why can’t our “yes” be “yes” and our “no,” “no?” Why can’t we be trusted?

In this sermon I want to show you that human beings are all liars. That sounds harsh, but the point is that we have a sin nature that compels us to lie. So, we will do things in order to give more confidence in our words. We swear. But James is saying that even though humans are liars, Christians aren’t liars. James is telling us don’t swear, instead be habitually honest.

Turn with me to James 5:12

But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.

  • Notice that James writes “above all.”
    • It seems that this is the most important command he has given. What other command has James started with “above all?” None. This is the only time “above all” is used in the epistle of James.
    • What James is about to introduce is clearly very important. But this is not new material. James has written about our words all the way through his epistle. In James 1:19: be slow to speak; James 1:26: anyone who thinks of himself as religious must keep a tight rein on his tongue. James 3:1-12 are about not using our words to curse people. In chapter 4:11-12 it says not to slander one another, then in verses 13-17 he writes about boasting and bragging. So, James is not introducing a new theme, but building on an old theme.
    • Actually, if you look in your Bible you will see that there are only about eight verses left in this epistle. It seems that James is hitting on a few important points as he closes.
    • So, James introduces this one as the most important.
    • Look at the rest of the verse, what do you think? You may not care too much about an oath, but look at the end of the verse. “Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” This means you should be trustworthy.
      • How many of you are employers? Don’t you want employees you can trust?
      • How many of you are parents? What do you do when your children directly lie to you? Do you pat them on the back and say, “Way to go son”? No, of course you don’t. Even if you are habitual liars you don’t let your children lie.
      • Integrity is lacking today, isn’t it? Do we even know who to trust in politics or the news?
    • So, we must see why this is introduced with “above all.” James wants Christians to be trustworthy.
  • Now, James gives the command. He says not to swear. Don’t swear by Heaven or by earth or by anything else.
    • Before I talk more about swearing, I must reference

Matthew 5:34-37:

But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.

  • You can see that Jesus gave the same teaching. But I can tell you that James didn’t look at Matthew’s scroll and plagiarize this material. This epistle of James was written before Matthew was written. James might have heard Jesus teach this, but also we must remember that the Bible has many authors but God is guiding the authors. God is inspiring and guiding the message.
  • Now, when James writes about swearing he is not talking about a list of vulgar words. He is talking about calling on God or an object to support your words.
  • An oath or swearing had three parts. It was a testing to the truth, calling for God to witness and, thirdly, invoking God’s punishment if you violated your word. To say “I swear to God” meant I want you to know I’m telling the truth, I want God to witness I’m telling the truth and I want God to punish me if I’m not telling the truth. Very serious. You’re invoking the curse of God on you if you lie in an effort to try to convince somebody that you’re really telling the truth.
  • People did this in that time period. One reason that Jesus preached against it was that the Pharisees would swear by the temple thinking they were okay to do that. But Jesus says that God created the temple. No matter what, when you swear, you are swearing by God.
  • There are a number of times in the epistle of Hebrews that it references how God would swear by Himself in Genesis and that is true. But God can do that because He is God and there is no one greater. Besides that, it is likely what James is condemning is flippant swearing. He is not condemning an oath in a court room.
  • So, James tells us not to swear.
  • One of my sources read: Misuse of the name of God, profaning the name of God, blaspheming the name of God, dragging down the name of God, invoking the name of God illegitimately, all of that is, in a sense, related to the kind of swearing that James has in mind. But it’s a very specific thing that he’s after here that was a part of that Jewish culture. May I add to you that it wasn’t only Jewish, it also belonged in the Greek culture. Have you ever heard anybody say, “By Jove,” have you heard that? Jove was a Greek god and when the Greeks wanted to swear they swore by Zeus or by Jove, or by somebody…J-o-v-e.
  • Next James tells us the motivation not to swear. The motivation is that we are habitually honest. “Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.”
    • These days we have contracts for business deals, we have to sign things at banks, and we have to swear an oath at a court room because people are not trustworthy. People will lie to protect themselves. Teachers can tell you that parents will lie to protect their children.
    • James is saying this should not be true among Christians.
    • A preacher was going to preach on honesty and he told everyone to read Joshua 25. The next Sunday he came and said, “Great. Now you’re the ones I want to talk to. Joshua has only twenty-four chapters, and I am especially concerned about you tonight.”[6]
    • That was meant in humor, but there is a point there. Christians must do better.
    • When I was a senior in high school I went with my youth pastor, Dave, to pick up an old truck he was going to buy. It was actually a truck that was pretty much in parts. He was purchasing this in order to restore his 69 Chevy truck. Dave had agreed on a set price with the seller to purchase this for. I remember the seller filling out the title with the price he was selling it for. He asked Dave, “How much do you want me to write down that I am selling this to you for? The government gets enough of our money.” He said this because, though he had already received the money from Dave, Dave would have to pay taxes on whatever amount written down that he was selling it for. So, the seller was willing to write down as little as one dollar so that Dave wouldn’t have to pay as much in taxes. But Dave was paying much more. This was a lie.
    • Dave responded to the seller by saying, something like, “Just write down the amount we agreed on, it’s the right thing to do.”
    • That was an amazing example of integrity, of Christians doing the right thing. That was an example that I was not taught, but I caught. That was an example that I needed to see. Here I was a young man about to graduate high school. Here I was a young man with all the pressures of the world and I saw an example of a godly man doing the right thing.
    • I want to ask you to reflect on your honesty:
      • How’s that working for you?
      • Have you told any white lies lately? Maybe you have fudged some numbers in order to get something cheaper.
      • Maybe you have tried to use a coupon twice.
      • Maybe you have been pulled over for speeding, what did you tell the police?
      • Maybe you didn’t do something correct at work and when confronted you stretched the truth.
        • Students, this message is for you too. The Word of God is for every age group and every age group must still fight off sin.
        • Even pastors must fight the temptation to stretch the truth. I was listening to Chip Ingram on Moody Bible Radio. He is a pastor out west. Back in the late 70’s he would say, “there were X amount of people at Bible study last week.” His wife confronted him about this. He knew exactly how many were at the Bible study, but it would sound better to say 65-70 rather than 64 people were there.
      • It is not my goal to make you feel bad, nor is it my goal to make you feel extra special. If this goes either way it is the convicting power of Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s work. It should make you feel good to confess this to God and move forward.

There was a young Christian man in a southern university. He made the football team as the starting split end. And he continually was before God saying, “Help me in the climax of moments to be absolutely honest. I pray for honesty— that one mark of integrity. I want to be that, Lord, and I’ll work on it through the season.”

The rival team came that night, homecoming. He ran his route and went into the end zone. The quarterback shot him the pass and he got it low. He landed on it, and the referee shouted, “Touchdown!” But that boy knew he had trapped that ball (For you who aren’t into that, it means that he didn’t really catch it. He landed on it while it was on the ground and it looked like he caught it.). The stands were just cheering, you know, sending him on his way, the hero of the game. He said, “Wait a minute.” Can you imagine this? Walked up to the referee and shook his head. He said, “I trapped it.” The referee canceled the touchdown and they lost the game.

Now you may not understand much about football, but you know what it is to be a fan. And that boy stood all alone, not only against a team that said, “What does it matter, man?” but against the stands full of people. He said, “I can’t take the credit. I did not catch it.[7]

  • Lastly, James gives the consequence. The consequence is condemnation. The consequence is judgment.
    • What does this mean? What it means is James is consistent with the pattern of the whole epistle. The whole epistle calls us to look into our hearts and see if we have a living faith. If you are living the faith you will not be habitually lying.
    • You will not settle for lies, not even little bitty white lies, not even a stretch of the truth.

Closing:

We need integrity in our world today. I don’t know if our founding fathers had more integrity, but they did seem to care about it more than we do. They cared about their reputation for integrity. We are in a country founded on Judeo-Christian values and we have lost them. We are also in a country founded on sacrifice. Our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence knowing they were risking their lives and their livelihood. If the British caught John Adams or George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or any others, they would have been tortured and killed. Some were captured and some suffered losses. There is a popular writing about what happened to some of them and I considered sharing it, but I am not because there are questions about its accuracy. Either way, we do know that they were taking risks by signing the Declaration of Independence. We know also that they cared about their integrity.

I don’t want to close this sermon without giving you an opportunity to confess what you need to confess. So, I am going to open in prayer and then give you a moment of silence. It is important to confess our sins to God. We are forgiven, but we must confess.

Dear Jesus thank you for the forgiveness which you offer us. Go ahead and confess anything right now. Ask God to help you do better.

1 John 1:9-10

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Dear God thank you for the forgiveness we know we have in You, Amen.

[1] https://www.idahostatejournal.com/opinion/columns/paul-harvey-s-warning-to-america-if-i-were-the-devil/article_fd1e24af-17d1-5ee0-b3d8-8dd97d87f2cd.html

[2] https://www.azquotes.com/author/7392-Thomas_Jefferson/tag/integrity

[3] ibid.

[4] https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/4356.George_Washington

[5] Chernow, Ron. Washington (pp. 501-502). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[6] Swindoll, Charles R. Read in Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN 1998. Page 272. (cited from Bob Phillips, The World’s Greatest Collection of Heavenly Humor)

 

[7] Swindoll, Charles R. Read in Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN 1998. Page 304. (cited from James K. Krames, “Tender Loving Heart,” Living Free

2 thoughts on “James commands us not to take oaths, but instead to have full integrity (James 5:12).

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