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. – James 5: 12
More than twenty years ago I helped launch a medication that helped thousands of people suffering from pain, but it also hurt some who found ways to abuse a drug, which we promoted as having little or no abuse potential. I learned a valuable lesson then and apologized for my unintentional error. Today, I still speak more conservatively than some about medications and their effects because I know that some people may take action based on what I tell them.
In his brief letter, James writes about the power of our words in each of the five chapters. In this final passage he echoes the words of Christ who told us to “not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:34-36).
James tells us that by speaking plainly we will avoid condemnation and I believe we can describe two different types of condemnation. First, we can avoid disappointing others by letting our ‘”yes” be yes and your “no” be no.” Failure to speak clearly damages relationships. Second, when we over promise, we feel the weight of our unfulfilled promises.
Simply said, we are to place limits on the words we speak. Do what you say and say what you do.