“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 Biblical texts, but I suspect if you keep them simple—that is, you keep them 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 take your stand.
Mean what you say.
Speaking of keeping things in context, I would add to the mixture the following text from Matthew 5:13-16:
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
And now let me add one more 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).
All of these texts stirred in together set the stage for us to know a couple of things.
First of all we learn that there’s really no arguing against the fact that as God’s people, we are a means for blessing the world around us. What we say and do as Christians—our words and deeds born from faith—have spiritual muscle. They have meaning as well as the potential for accomplishing both seen and unseen things.
Second, as God’s people, we can be certain that we’ve 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 the first fruits of truth in the world around us. This means that when someone is interacting with us, there’s a great chance they’ll be interacting with someone who will direct them to truth. And why might this happen? Because we’ve been re-created by the truth to be people who are quick to listen and slow to speak, not only as people interacting with other people, but as people facing off with so many various issues in general in this confusing world. We are a contemplative people. We don’t judge and then act in these circumstances based on our own opinions. In each instance, we align our opinions with God’s opinions—the truth—and then we move forward in response, doing our best to navigate the crazier details, weighing even these against the Word of God.
It’s a pretty neat thing to be a part of such a process. The ground is sturdy beneath someone who is a pursuer of truth for the sake of faithfulness to the One who is Truth in the flesh.
Bringing this to a point—and reflecting on the first two texts from the Bible I referenced above—we really can give very simple answers to complex questions, even in some very confusing situations, ones where 99% of the situation appears acceptable, and yet involve that pesky 1% that just doesn’t seem right.
Take for example what happened to me a couple of years ago.
I received a call from a representative of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) letting me know that I’d been nominated as a “person of influence” in Livingston County and was being asked to participate with a handful of others 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 in my circles 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 sounded 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 vicious 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 various sources. In fact, it’s no secret that Planned Parenthood has long been one of the MDA’s chief suppliers.
I can’t support that. I’ve taken a stand against ever doing so. And I’d be a pretty rotten person if I drew any of you—unwittingly—into giving money in support of it, too. As unfortunate as it is, raising money for the MDA is to put money into the pockets of the folks at Planned Parenthood and is thereby supporting an economic situation that actually gives them an incentive for staying in business. I want Planned Parenthood out of business. But here’s where it gets a little harder.
“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 have a simple point of origin for getting into the depths of the truth as it arises from the Gospel of a love so incredibly wonderful that 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.
As a father, I raise my two sons to know just how important it is in this day and age for them 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, make sure it aligns with the Word of God and then be unbending—even when human reason might test the fences of the enclosure, even when they become tired and they see a way of escape to a safer but less truthful situation. I should add that all along the way, they must know that their efforts matter a whole lot less if they lack humility—even as their efforts relate to God’s Word. Simply put, if you discover by the Word of God you are in error, change. For example, you’ve got God’s Word all wrong if you refuse to do your homework because Ecclesiastes 12:12 says, “Much study wearies the body.” There’s no truth to be found in hearing Jesus say “Do not judge” and then refusing to call sin a sin. These statements teach us, but in such out-of-context ways, they are nothing less than God’s Word pit against itself in the same way the devil manipulated it in Matthew chapter 4. It was there that the old evil foe tried to turn the Scriptures against Jesus.
Our “yes” and our “no” arises from faithfulness to Jesus and the whole of His Word. And I should add that in my experience, it’s pretty amazing the levels of courage to which one will ascend when challenged by a world seeking to consume everyone and everything that doesn’t get into line with its opinions.
Having said all of this, I suppose I’ll leave you with the encouragement to trust your Savior, to know that you are children born of truth who are seeking faithfulness to the One who is Truth in the flesh. Trust Jesus in the face of difficult situations that don’t make sense or appear to require an uncomfortable or counterintuitive answer. Rest your efforts on His shoulders. He’s stronger than you, anyway. Get behind Him. He is your ever-present help in trouble. Knowing this, be strengthened to let your no be no and your yes be yes—because in the end, odds are they’re His no and His yes, too.
You’ll be amazed at how much bluer the sky in any situation will become even when it seems gloomily dark. I can say this because the peace that 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 discover Christians who’ve been through an awful lot—who’ve let their yes be yes and their no be no—and yet they’re still standing.