Today read James 5.
Are you a man or woman of your word? If you tell someone you will do something or be somewhere or arrive at a certain time, can that person count on you? Or, do you have to preface or follow something you’ve said with the statement, “I swear!” or “I promise!” Those phrases are necessary when we know we can’t be trusted. When we’ve just failed to keep a commitment or have a habit of being undependable, we have to resort to saying, “I swear” or “I promise” to manufacture a little bit of credibility for ourselves.
Jesus commanded us, his followers, not to say these things. James repeats those words of Jesus here in James 5:12: “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.” The point of saying “a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” is that you will do what you agree to do or you will be honest if you can’t, won’t, or don’t want to do it. Because we want people to like us, we all have a tendency to say “yes” to things that we really don’t want to do. James reminds us that following Jesus means being upfront and honest with others. A person who is consistently honest and keeps his or her word is someone who can be trusted in the future. That kind of person, so rare in our world, never needs to say, “I swear” or “I promise.”
Look, life happens sometimes and prevents us from keeping our word when we had every intention of doing so. When that happens, the best thing to do is go to the person who was counting on you and apologize, taking responsibility and explaining–truthfully–what happened. These days, of course, everyone has a cellphone on them, so missed commitments can be renegotiated. A renegotiated commitment is not a broken commitment. A person who keeps his commitments will keep his commitments or he’ll contact you to explain or apologize as soon as possible.
Today you will be asked for things–to show up at a meeting, to take on a responsibility, to come for an appointment, to bake cookies for your kids’ bake sale–whatever. Being Christians means being people of truth; if you can’t do what is being asked of you, there is absolutely no shame in saying, “No.” Remember that is one of the options James said we could say in verse 12. As followers of Christ, let’s make our commitments slowly, carefully, and with every intention of fulfilling them. Do this day after day, week after week, and people will learn that you can be trusted. That is a character quality that pleases the Lord.