I will absolutely have that for you by 3:00 p.m.
You know how important this is.
I swear. I won’t let you down.
You’re not known as a man of your word.
I swear on my mother’s grave.
I just need to know that you will deliver what you promised.
I swear on the Bible.
OK. You understand why I’m concerned considering how many times you have not lived up to your word.
I swear on a stack of Bibles.
Just do what you said you would do.
Cross my heart and hope to die.
Just fulfilling your promise will be enough.
I swear on my mother’s grave, and on a stack of Bibles, and cross my heart and hope to die that I will have that ready for you by 3:00 p.m.
And sure enough, 3:00 p.m. rolls around and the promised item or effort has not been delivered.
Something came up.
But you promised.
It was important.
So was what you promised to do.
Well, stuff happens.
What do our words mean?
Is our “yes” really yes?
Must we add something to it to make it a yes or does the fact that we feel we need to add something to it degrade the “yes” in yes?
When you schedule that doctor’s appointment or an appointment for an oil change and they tell you 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday, do you think, “that means 3:45 p.m. at the earliest?”
There are surely confounding factors in the world. Stuff does come up. Can I really keep all of the commitments I make? Should I expect any more or less from others?
What value do our words have?
God spoke creation into existence. There is surely power and authority and certainty in those words.
God sent us the Word—the Message—that we know as Jesus. There is power and authority and light and love and wisdom and glory and honor in that Word.
And we are made in the image of God.
We are being made in the image and likeness of Jesus.
Should our words not also have power and authority and bring honor and glory to God as well?
May my words and my thoughts be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my refuge and my redeemer!
Psalm 19:14 (Good News Version)
What beautiful words. What a wonderful way to say godly integrity. For our words and deeds should agree. They should not be in conflict with one another. Moreover, they should both be pleasing to God.
Our words talk a lot about who we are.
In a community of faith, we don’t need oaths. We don’t need to add to our words to make them true. We speak within our authority. We accept the words of others in God’s family. We don’t promise things we can’t deliver. We don’t listen with the intent of twisting something to our advantage.
A “yes“ is a yes and a “no” is a no.
Some take this to literal extremes to say that they can never say, “Maybe” or “that depends;” but it is more likely that this is not a syntax syllogism to limit our vocabulary. It is a charge to genuine speech and living.
Are you going to watch the game today?
Maybe, I have to cut the grass first, then wash the dog, and then who knows what’s still on my honey-do list.
The integrity of the family of faith is not lessened in such a commitment to maybe watch the game on Saturday.
I solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that I bear true faith and allegiance to the same.
Those words still bring a chill. There’s a commitment. There are no exceptions for bad weather, terrible pay, or people shooting at you for no apparent reason. You said that you would do it so you do it.
So what do our words mean?
They must be genuine. They must be real. They must not be used for purposes of deception or to gain undue advantage.
What do you want for your horse?
Too much for my blood. I’ll give you ten.
Can’t do it.
What if we split the difference?
You mean you would go twenty?
Well if you can go twenty, I could come down to twenty-eight.
What just happened?
You would think that splitting the difference would bring people closer to agreement sooner, but it can also be an opportunity to manipulate.
So what do we who know Christ do and say in a world that doesn’t? Consider the message Jesus gave the 12 before sending them out to proclaim, “That the Kingdom of God was near.”
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
We are to be on our guard against the ploys and practices of the world, but we are to maintain our integrity within it. We speak truth. We speak without intent to deceive. Our “yes” is yes and our “no” is no, but we know that we live in a world where that is seldom the case. We are the exceptions in the world.
Yet we are flawed people and sometimes our human nature permeates our speech. Sometimes our emotions override our intellect and speak for us. Sometimes we just have to be right and have the last word.
James counseled to be quick to listen. What does it mean to be quick to listen?
How can you listen quickly?
Really, how does being quick to listen make sense?
Try it this way. Be first to listen. In any discussion, be the first to listen to the other person and try to understand what he is saying. Give your first and best efforts to comprehending her words, sentences, emotions, and body language.
Be the first to listen.
Be quick to listen.
Then be slow to speak.
This takes less explanation. Wait before you speak. Consider your words before you speak. While some occasional banter makes for good entertainment; considered thoughts and well delivered words make for better conversation, messages, and communication.
I sometimes make people uncomfortable by not responding immediately to what they said. It is this acquired habit of thinking and meditating upon the proffered thought before responding. In other cultures, time to think between spoken words is not as awkward as it is in the west.
We need to make time and space for thinking before we speak.
And lastly, we are admonished not to go quickly to anger. Our anger won’t produce the righteous result that we think it will. Sometimes it feels good to let someone “have it.”
It feels like we have done the right thing. That perfect little quip that says, “Gotcha!” feels like we have done right by God and by man and especially by our emotional self. But when we go quickly to anger, we are saying, “I dare you to find the Christian here. We are looking just like the rest of the world. Just see if you can tell us apart.”
But we should make it easy to tell us apart. We speak the truth. We don’t manipulate the words of others. We are on our guard for deception but hold our course of integrity. We listen first, especially for trying to understand others. We live in the light and should be listening to those who are hurting because they don’t. And we speak only after we think about what we will say.
And do we get angry? Sometimes. Anger is a natural emotion. It should not govern our decision making, but sometimes we do get angry. But while we should be quick to listen, we must be slow to anger.
Anger must not be our first response, usually not our second, third, or fourth either; however, there may be a time where we stop resisting our anger and let it come out.
This should be the rare exception.
When this happens we must understand that though we may feel right and righteous in our anger; only God is permitted righteous anger.
Our anger is a concession to navigating a sinful world. It will not produce the right living that God desires from us. It feels like it does at the time but it does not produce genuine righteousness.
We must be slow to become angry. Once angry, we are less likely to be slow to speak and we are surely no longer listening, at least not listening to understand. Our listening becomes rewired to find things that will continue to fuel our anger.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Psalm 19:14 (NIV)
Try saying that the next time your give into anger. Now there’s a dichotomy. There is some cognitive and emotional dissonance. There is some distance between word and thought, between word and emotion, between saying we follow Jesus and living like we do.
The Proverbs tell us:
The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,
and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.
Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
and discerning if they hold their tongues.
Proverbs 17:27-28 NIV
And James also counsels us on how dangerous our tongues can be.
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.
James 1:26 NIV
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect,able to keep their whole body in check.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
So must we cut out our tongues?
I would hope not. Quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger might just let us master our tongue, but make no mistake, daily mastery is required. In a life surrendered to Christ, daily mastery of our tongue is possible for we give Jesus Christ the right to approve our message before we release it.
Remember the children’s proverb: Sticks and stones my break my bones but words may never hurt me.
Yes, they can!
Words can hurt.
They can heal.
They can reveal wisdom.
They can reveal foolishness.
They can please God.
They can displease God.
The very word of God spoke creation into existence.
Our words have power too.
We must use them with wisdom.
We must use them with good purpose.
We must use them in love.
We must commit to only those things that we will really do.
We must say no to those things we have no business doing.
Our occasions for taking an oath or vow should be few for we are God’s people and everything we do is already done in the name of God.
Everything that we do is already done in the name of God.
Everything we do is already done in the name of God.
Everything we do is in the name of God.
May our thoughts, words, and deeds be in agreement with each other, full of truth, and always pleasing to God.
Lawful Oaths and Vows (From Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith)
6.25 Christians should bind themselves by oath or pledge only to those good and just promises they are reasonably able to perform.
6.26 A vow is similar to an oath and should be made with care, performed with faithfulness, and honored with integrity. Persons should vow to do only that which is consistent with the scriptures.