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What the Bible says about Idle words
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

Notice what God says about speaking:

Proverbs 10:19: “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.”

Proverbs 17:27: “He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit.”

James 1:19: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”

James 3:2: “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.”

So many verses give similar counsel about speech that one cannot help but understand the importance that God places on being careful about what we allow to leave our mouths. Matthew 12:35-37 drives this point home:

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

Speaking is a major aspect of character, providing a clear window into our hearts. A quotation often mistakenly attributed to Abraham Lincoln is apropos to the passage in Ecclesiastes 5:1-7: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” What sets Solomon's counsel apart from other verses on speaking is that the others are good advice for relationships in general. Solomon's verses, however, are focused directly on a person's relationship with God.

What do we talk about when we are before God? Before going any further, we should clarify the nature of being “before God.” Solomon says that we must not forget that God is in heaven and we are on earth, implying His sovereignty. Yet, he also mentions going to the House of God, implying a specific place and time we go before God. Is Solomon's main concern here on God's sovereignty or on the specific place? Since the unwritten but over-arching theme throughout Ecclesiastes is that everything in life matters, his main concern here is a gentle reminder that we are always before God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Six): Listening

James 5:12

How James addresses this to his audience tells us he considers it an extremely serious matter. His use of "above all" suggests that we should be especially careful on this point. It is as if he is saying, "Make sure you catch this point because it may be the most important one." Swearing oaths is not a trivial matter!

In the Old Testament, taking oaths by God's name was more prevalent—even commanded (see Deuteronomy 6:13)—but God holds those He has called out of this present, evil world to a higher standard. The ancient Israelites were carnal human beings whose behaviors had to be constrained by statute. Knowing they would swear oaths, God directed them to take them honestly and only in His name, thus regulating and elevating the practice.

Christians, though, are to follow God's law, not just in the letter, but also in the spirit, a more in-depth and encompassing charge. The standard that has been set for us is that our word should always be true. Paul writes, "Therefore, putting away lying, 'Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,' for we are members of one another" (Ephesians 4:25; see Zechariah 8:16).

Our Savior puts it even more strongly in the form of an admonition: "But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:36). Because God is with us, every word that we speak is spoken in God's presence and thus should be true, making oaths unnecessary.

As God's people, we are to represent Him in honesty and obedience and reflect Him in our conduct in every way. Because of this, we do not need God's name in an oath to back up our word. Therefore, a Christian should simply say "yes" or "no" according to what he honestly believes to be true, even in legal matters. As Jesus says, anything we try to add to the unvarnished truth is Satan's handiwork (see John 8:44). In short, a Christian's word should be his bond.

John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Swear Not!


 




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