Have you ever make a promise with your fingers crossed behind your back? No doubt many of us did when we were kids. I’m not sure when this practice began, but somewhere along the way someone came up with the idea that crossing our fingers behind our back permits us to be dishonest.
During the days of the Bible many believed something very similar. The Jews of Jesus’ day often made a distinction between oaths that were binding and those that weren’t. (see also Matthew 5:33-37) A non-binding oath was any promise that did not involve the name of God; a binding oath did. For instance, a non-binding oath might be something like – “I swear upon my ancestor’s grave that I will do this or that.” God’s name was not involved so therefore it was not binding. However, if that person said – “I swear by the God in heaven…” – then that oath was binding.
Such reasoning not only seems foolish, scripture teaches us that it was also sinful and should be unnecessary. Consider what James tells us –
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.”
Three important principles can be gathered from James’ instruction:
We should never make promises that we don’t intend to keep.
We should never make a promise with our fingers crossed behind our backs. Our ‘yes’ should always mean yes, and our ‘no’ should always mean no.
Our verbal promise should always be sufficient.
There was once a day when it was said that ‘A man’s word was his bond.’ Christians should not need a binding contract in order for them to fulfill their promises. Our ‘yes’ should always mean yes and our ‘no’ should always mean no.
If it takes more than a verbal promise to verify someone’s integrity, we should be suspicious.
Jesus said – “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37) Note – If a simple yes or no is not sufficient, then somewhere there is some dishonesty. Wiersbe writes in his commentary – “The more words a man uses to convince us, the more suspicious we should be.” All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.”