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Is swearing the worst thing Christians can ever do?

Columbia Biblical Studies: Monday, March 3
Columbia Biblical Studies: Monday, March 3
George Hodan

Today’s bible study is 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.’ Otherwise you will be condemned.

We think of ourselves as Christians and as generally good people. We try to do our work, to help others, to be sensitive to the needs of others, to give to the hungry, and to live good Christian lives. Yet, swear words do tend to escape us. To think that this, above all else, is to be condemned is a frightening thought.

It places the sin of swearing above stealing, adultery, dishonor, and even killing. Taking the name of the Lord in vain is surely bad, but is it this bad? Can it possibly be as bad as James seems to make it sound? Is swearing to be condemned above all else?

Here we must separate a slip of the tongue or a word cried out in frustration and true swearing. One is relatively inconsequential; the other deadly serious in the eyes of the apostle.

Swearing is a conscious act during which the name of God is purposely taken in vain. It is not a slip of the tongue, but rather a conscious act requiring thought and foresight. And it does have consequences. Jesus, in His infinite compassion and forgiveness can easily forgive a thoughtless epithet we may utter. It is quite meaningless. Although wrong, it carries little weight in judgment.

People who swear can repent and ask for forgiveness and, if asked sincerely from the heart and through Jesus Christ our Savior, it will be granted. God can and will forgive. But those who swear, those who rock the cornerstones of Christianity, without repentance will surely be condemned. They who will not ask for forgiveness will not be given forgiveness. All we need to do is ask, yet some will not do so.

May we never swear by anything in heaven or on earth. May we try to confine our replies to simple answers which contain no hint of swearing. And, if we do lapse, may we always pray for forgiveness, knowing that God will forgive us through His son, Jesus Christ. God, save your children from condemnation through Your holy and redeeming love and grace.

References: The People’s New Testament Commentary by M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock and The MacArthur Bible Commentary by John MacArthur.

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