“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
Jesus said that in Matthew 5:37.
“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.”
The Apostle James said that in James 5:12.
Plenty of folks spend time debating what is meant by either of these texts from God’s Word, but I’d say that if you keep them simple—that is, keep the verses in context, taking the words for what they are—you’ll find, ironically, that the way to interpret them is almost the same as their meaning: Keep things simple. In other words, know what you believe and stand on it. Or perhaps another way: Mean what you say.
Speaking of keeping things in context, I would add as a cross-referencing text the following from Matthew 5:13-16: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its savor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Let me add to that from James 1: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we would be a kind of first fruits of His creation. My beloved brothers, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteousness that God desires.…” (vv. 18-20).
Together, these texts set the stage for us to know a couple of things. First of all we learn that there’s really no way to argue the fact that, as God’s people, we are a means for blessing the world around us. Both words and deeds born from faith mean and do something. Second, as God’s people, we have been established as those born from the Word of Truth—which is Jesus Christ, Himself. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. By our baptism into Him, we are first fruits of truth in the world around us. This re-creates us into people who are quick to listen and slow to speak, which means that before we take a position on something and then move forward in response, we do our best to understand the situation fully, weighing it against the Word of God, all the while being willing to change our position as the Word of God catechizes.
We are constant pursuers of truth for the sake of faithfulness.
With all of this in mind, we really can give rather simple answers to complex questions—even in some very confusing situations, ones where 99% of the situation appears acceptable, and yet there’s that pesky 1% that’s not.
Lots of folks might argue what I’m saying as being impractical in this day and age, maybe even foolish. Take for example what happened to me on Monday.
I received a call from a representative of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) letting me know that I’d been nominated as a local celebrity (whatever that means) in Livingston County and was being asked to participate with a handful of others in the area in a fundraising event. They called it the Livingston County Lockup, and the details were that I’d be “locked up” at Aubree’s Pizzeria in Brighton for an hour or so with the hopes that people from my congregation, social media circles, and the like would donate toward my bail. In the end, all of the money collected would go toward the MDA’s research efforts toward to a cure.
It sounds great. But I said no. I’ve taken a position by God’s Word against supporting anyone or anything that promotes Abortion or the trades that keep the murderous practice in business. The MDA is one of the worst offenders when it comes to fetal tissue research. No insignificant percentage of their samples are actually the remains of aborted children they’ve purchased from suppliers like Planned Parenthood. In fact, Planned Parenthood is one of the MDA’s chief sources.
I can’t support that. I’ve taken a stand against ever doing so. And I can’t draw you into it either. When I raise money for the MDA, I’m putting money into the pockets of the folks at Planned Parenthood and thereby supporting an economic situation that actually gives them an incentive for staying in business. I want them out of business. But here’s where it gets tough.
“Isn’t Planned Parenthood already funded by the US Government?”
“Don’t you pay taxes?”
“Isn’t there a chance that some of your dollars are going to Planned Parenthood?”
“Are you going to withhold your taxes from the Government?”
“But Pastor Thoma, wouldn’t it be great to find a cure for Muscular Dystrophy?”
“Don’t you think that the cost is worth the gain?”
“I mean, these kids were going to be aborted anyway. Some were even the result of rape or incest, so isn’t it better that they would have an ultimate purpose, and that it would be one for good, perhaps saving millions in the future from a debilitating disease?”
Each of the above “yes” or “no” answers is grounded in the Word of God. Whether its Ezekiel 18:20 teaching that a child shall not pay for his father’s sins, or Matthew 22:21 where we are instructed to give Caesar his financial due, or Romans 13:1-7 where we are mandated to honor those in seats of governmental authority, each answer is shaped by the Word of God. And when we let our yes be yes and our no be no, we set the stage for discussing truth as it arises from the Gospel of a love so incredibly wonderful, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can’t help but want to be in alignment with the One who won our forgiveness that we would be His own and live under Him in His kingdom.
I tell my sons that they need to be men of their word. When they say they will do something, they are to do it. If they take a position on something, they need to be unbending—even when human reason tests each corner of the enclosure and seems to provide a way of escape from an uncomfortable situation. But in the end, their efforts matter a lot less if their intentions don’t include humility or aren’t tethered to the pure Word of God. In other words, when the Word of God shows your error, change. And, for example, there’s no use in you refusing to do your homework because Ecclesiastes 12:12 says anti-contextually, “Much study wearies the body.” This is to pit God’s Word against itself in the same way the devil did in Matthew chapter 4 when he attempted to use the Scriptures against Jesus. Not good. But the world will try it.
A “yes” or “no” arising from faithfulness to Jesus and His Word cuts through that nonsense. And in my experience, it’s pretty amazing the levels of courage that are mustered when facing off against a world seeking to consume everyone and everything that doesn’t get into line.
Having said all of this, I suppose I’ll leave you with the encouragement to trust your Savior that you would be a child born of Truth who is seeking faithfulness to the One who is Truth in the flesh. Trust your Jesus in the face of difficult situations that sometimes require an uncomfortable answer. Set your efforts on His shoulders. He’s stronger than you. Get behind Him. He is your rock and your fortress, an ever-present help in trouble. Knowing this, be strengthened to let your no be no and your yes be yes.
You’ll be amazed at how much bluer the sky will become, and how many more hues you’ll discover in the gift of a sunrise. I say this because the peace God provides His people in times of struggle isn’t just something we talk about as an abstract. It’s real. Take a look around. You’ll see some Christians who’ve been through an awful lot, and yet they’re still standing.