You’ve probably heard stories of the good ole days when people just shook hands over deals . . . when the attorney-written, loophole-closing, fifty-page contracts of today were unknown.
“A man’s word is his bond,” people said. “A handshake is as good as a contract.”
I’m not sure if this is a case of romanticizing and therefore exaggerating the past, or if some people really did make big deals with nothing more than a nod of the head and a shake of the hand.
Here’s what I do know: with Christians, our word really ought to be our bond. When we tell people we’ll do something, we ought to break our necks to do it. We shouldn’t need a stack of Bibles or somebody’s grave to swear on or by.
Because we serve a God of truth, so we tell the truth, unadorned by extra words meant to convince people we really mean it.
James knew well what Jesus had taught, and he includes a loose quotation of one of the Lord’s sayings (cf. Matthew 5:33-37):
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 (James 5:12).
We’ve tried to teach our kids this. If you tell somebody something, you don’t need to say “I swear it’s true” or “I swear I’ll do it” or even “I promise.”
It won’t take people too long to figure out if you’re a truth-teller or not. If you are, they won’t require some kind of verbal proof that you mean what you say.
I think that’s what James is getting at here. I don’t think he’s saying there’s anything wrong with written contracts or taking an oath in a courtroom. He’s telling us to tell the truth.
He’s telling us to do what we say we’re going to do.
That means that we parents keep our promises to our kids. If we tell them we’re going to be at their soccer game at 5:00, it ought to take an earth-shattering event to keep us from being there.
The same thing applies to our spouses, our co-workers, our neighbors, the folks at church.
Christians are truth-tellers, and we don’t need oaths to convince people of it.
If they know us, they ought to know what we mean when we say “yes” or “no.”