What is the Meaning of James 5.12

“Keep It Real”

James 5:12

INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of James 5.12

James 5. On September 27, 2007, the New York Times published a front page article recounting the tragic and inspiring story of Tania Head.

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She had survived the terror attack on the World Trade Center despite having been badly burned when the plane crashed into the upper floors of the south tower.

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Crawling through the chaos and carnage on the 78th floor that morning, she encountered a dying man who handed her his inscribed wedding ring, which she later returned to his widow.

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She says … ‘I looked around, it was like a horror movie, [the bodies and the smell] was gagging.

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‘I kept thinking about my fiancé, about our wedding, I wanted to wear that white dress and swear my love for him. Something gave me the strength to get up. I believe today that it was my fiancé on his way to heaven.’

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She would discover, that Dave, her fiancé, had perished in the north tower.

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She continues, ‘A fireman took me in his arms. Outside, he handed me over to another fireman, who was carrying me towards the ambulance when the tower came crushing down.

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‘He found cover under a truck and covered me with his body. ‘We were engulfed and soon it was pitch black and impossible to see or breath. ‘We shared his mask until we were rescued. Next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital.’

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Tania Head’s account made her one of only 19 survivors who had been at or above the point of impact when the planes hit. Her story deeply moved audiences like college students to whom she spoke and visitors at ground zero, where she has long led tours for the Tribute W.T.C. Visitor Center… for visitors including former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor Ruddi Giuliani and former Gov. George Pataki.

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“What I witnessed there I will never forget,” she told a gathering at Baruch College at a memorial event in 2006. “It was a lot of death and destruction, but I also saw hope.”

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Tania Head even served the World Trade Center Survivors’ Network, a nonprofit organization as its president. … The problem?

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Her whole story was a lie… all of it. She was in Barcelona on Sept. 11, 2011. In fact her name isn’t Tania Head; it’s Alicia Head.

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Her 6 year lie was found out when The New York Times was looking for an inspiring profile to accompany its sixth anniversary coverage in 2007. Several members recommended Alicia Head.

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They did their normal background checking, just normal background checking, [and] things started not to check out. Head claimed to have gone to Harvard and Stanford, and to have been working at the World Trade Center for Merrill Lynch. None of those institutions had any record of her. …

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What a lie! She took advantage of people…I can’t believe she would lie like that. And the people trusted her; she took advantage of a vulnerable situation for whatever reason.

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But the truth is, lying is a part of fallen nature. Romans 3:13 13 “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”;

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Because lies and lying are built into the human nature, they must also be a part of our culture. It doesn’t take long to think of how lies and lying affect the lives of politicians, lawyers, religion, and philosophy. We even prefer lies over the truth…

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ILL: A cartoonist pictures this preference for lies with two men sitting behind two booths. One is offering the unpleasant truth and he has no customers. Nobody wants the unpleasant truth. The other, however, is peddling comforting lies, and a massive lineup is waiting to buy it.

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Our sin nature too often prefers lies. Ps. 58:3 says we’re liars from birth. And all of this is why we need a strong call to truth telling …

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James 5:12 12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.

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Tell the truth no matter what. Keep it real … that’s the rallying cry of a whole generation … the millennials, those born roughly from 1982 to 2004. The younger generation … which I missed by 3 years … is known for valuing authenticity, being genuine, or keeping it real. Being honest, not pretending to be something you’re not.

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James 5:12 gives us principles on keeping it real. First … Keeping it real is important.

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  1. Keeping it real is important (“Above all”)

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    James says, “But above all, don’t swear.” Above all. Whatever this swearing is he’s talking about, it had become such a problem that it was a very important issue. Spoiler alert: What we’ll see is that when James says don’t swear, its really a command for us to be honest and truthful and to keep it real.

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    We’ll see that not swearing is a mark of genuine Christian faith. Keeping your integrity and not living a lie, no matter if the lie is as big as a Tania Head life, or if it’s a fib, or even if you think you make your lie out to be a particular color, honesty is very important.

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    And of course, it’s is a big issue, very important. Above all! We’ll see in Matthew 23 that Jesus pronounces a ‘woe’ upon the blind guides for their practice of swearing. That’s damnation, by the way. Living honestly is a mark of genuine salvation, and its crucial to the Christian life.

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    TRANS: Above all what? Don’t swear…

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  2. Keep it real in your oaths (“Do not swear”)

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    “Do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath.”

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    Now, I hasten to clarify that when James says “do not swear,” he’s not saying do not use filthy language. James is not saying don’t use four letter words. What is he saying then?

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    Well, look at what you’re not supposed to do as well…James tells us in the verse, “but your yes is to be yes, and you’re no, no.” In other words, when you say “yes” make it be a “yes.” Be honest. That’s his main point.

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    Swearing has to do with the practice of taking an oath or making a vow. An oath is a statement or a promise with words relating to God or something serious as a sign that you’re telling the truth.

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    A common oath in Canada’s courtroom is “Do you swear that the evidence you shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

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    That’s an oath. Kids take oaths. Maybe you’ve even said, “Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” That’s an oath. Why would little Johnny say that? Because he just told Suzie that there’s an elephant outside!

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    It shows how serious he is about what he just said was true. Little did Johnny know that he was saying that if there wasn’t an elephant outside, that he would promise that he would hope to die and get a needle in his eye.

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    But, to protect himself, little Johnny should have had a pair of the really thick glasses I saw that had that oath around the rims… stick a needle in my eye!

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    TRANS: Well, the Old Testament had its way of regulating truthfulness in certain circumstances.

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    Taking oaths was actually encouraged…

Deuteronomy 10:20 20 “You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.” You shall swear by His name!

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Take your oaths in the name of the LORD.

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And God Himself took an oath…Hebrews 6:13–14 13 For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14 saying, “In blessing, I will bless you and in multiplying I will multiply you.

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God Himself took an oath.

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But in the OT, you were required to keep your vow. You must tell the truth or keep your promise. Keep the promise in your vow!

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Leviticus 19:12 12 ‘You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.

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Numbers 30:2 2 “If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.

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By the way, keep your marriage vows. Many couples take vows of marriage and even plan on not keeping them with a prenuptial agreement in the case of a divorce. Young people, you can’t go into a marriage thinking divorce is an option. Keep your marriage vows!

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But the passages before us have mainly to do using oaths in the “day to day.”

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Deuteronomy 23:21 21 “When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the Lord your God will surely require it of you.

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But like any teaching in Scripture, the fallen ingenious mind of man can twist the Scripture and weasel out of having to keep an oath. By New Testament times, swearing oaths had developed into a system that determined when you could lie.

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[1]In a book of traditional Jewish teachings called the Mishnah, they even outlined when an oath was binding and when it wasn’t. We have an example of this kind of thing in Matthew 23 … Turn to Matthew 23:16. Here, Jesus gives us a window into how religious Jews abused the practice of searing an oath…when they were binding and when they weren’t… Matthew 23:16…

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Matthew 23:16–22 16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, [Jesus quotes the blind guides, the religious Jews] ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ [Jesus was saying, that’s their practice. If you say, “I swear by the temple that I will not eat meat until such and such … .” That’s not binding. But whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated to do what he says.] 17 “You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? [In other words, the gold wouldn’t be sacred if it wasn’t part of the temple. So, why say … only if you swear by the gold of the temple is your oath binding?]

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18 “And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ 19 “You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? [The animal offering wouldn’t be sacred if it wasn’t killed on the altar. So why is it that whoever swears by the altar isn’t obligated? Jesus continues … ] 20 “Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. 21 “And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. 22 “And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.

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In other words, what sacred thing you swear by doesn’t matter. It’s all connected. Keep your oaths!

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Over to Matthew 5 … here is a similar teaching of Jesus, from which James gets his own teaching. Please turn over there…Matthew 5:33.

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Matthew 5:33–37 33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, [citing the OT verses I mentioned a bit ago, Lev. 19:12; Num. 30:2] ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows … to the Lord.’ [but if I make a vow calling on something other than the LORD, than I’m not obligated… was their idea] 34 “But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 “Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. [some of us know that’s the case for sure!] 37 “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.

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Jesus again gives us a window into how the biblical practice of oaths had degenerated. All of these things are connected to God in some way. So in reality, you are swearing by God if you swear by anything.

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What they were doing was saying, “I swear by heaven.” And by swearing by heaven they thought they weren’t obligated to keep their oath. When they swear by heaven, they swear by God. Jesus says swearing by heaven is swearing by the throne of God. See, it’s connected to God.

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Well, what if I swear by the earth? Then I’m not obligated to keep my oath. Jesus says verse 35, if you swear by earth, your swearing by the footstool of God’s feet.

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Well if I swear by Jerusalem, I don’t have to keep my vow. Jesus says swearing by Jerusalem is swearing by the city of the great King, God.

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What if I swear by my head? No, Jesus says you are not even in control of your own hair color. God controls that. “Stick a needle in my eye.” Your swearing by God who made your eye.

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So, basically, these religious Jews were doing what children do. “I swear by heaven I’ll pay you back.” And whole time he had his fingers crossed! Religious finger-crossing was what was going on! They were lying. That’s the big point! I didn’t swear by God, I swore by heaven, so I don’t have to do what I said I would.

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So is it always wrong to take an oath? What about in court? Neither Jesus nor James forbids taking an oath in a law court or something similar. How do we know that? Again, the Mosaic law in Deuteronomy said, “you shall … swear by his name” (Deut. 6:13; 10:20). It was law.

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And Jesus did it…You might want to see this in Matthew 26. Matthew 26:63. When Jesus was before Caiaphas, Jesus actually responded when the high priest put him under oath, where as before He kept silent.

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Matthew 26:63–64 63 …And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God [or I charge you under oath by the living God], that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

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Jesus was asked to give a statement under oath and He did.

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What Jesus and James are condemning then is the normal day to day speech. There is no room for crossing your heart and hoping to die in the Christian life; or saying you swear on a stack of Bibles. This is not speech that’s to be a part of the Christian’s life.

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Don’t say, “I swear” or “I swear to God” in normal day to day living. However, if you’re in a court room, take the oath and swear as they would ask. Jesus did. And be sure to tell that whole truth and nothing but the truth.

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Now, back to James 5:12.

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TRANS: Taking an oath in court is fine, but in your day to day speech keep it real … you don’t need to take oaths …

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  1. Keep it real (“but your yes is to be yes”)

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    James says … “your yes is to be yes, and your no, no.”

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    The problem with saying things like “I swear” in normal conversation is that what you are saying is, “For sure, what I’m saying now… is the truth. And whenever I say ‘I swear’ that most certainly is the truth.” But what are we to think when you don’t swear? If you don’t swear, it implies to us what … ? that you may be lying! So don’t do that! “Let your yes, be yes, and your no, no.”

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    Be a man or woman of your word!

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    But we’re surrounded by lies and liars. One study said[2] that we are lied to as many as 200 times a day, by people or the media. Of course, the vast majority of lies go undetected.

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    But the same nature that breeds those despicable lies is in us, too. Another study said that most people lie everyday! And they don’t even know it! What chance is there that’s happening in your life?

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    In our Ephesians series, we preached on How to Stop Lying and to Tell the Truth. If you are still having trouble with this, you may need to go back to that message on the website.

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    But in that message we tested ourselves against these kinds of lies…

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    • “It’ll be ready in 5 min.” … Sounds a lot better than 15 doesn’t.
    • “The meal was delicious!” And you really didn’t like it.
    • “Oh I see…” But you really don’t have a clue.
    • “You look great in that dress.” And you tell your husband later that was awful.
    • “You don’t look a day past 40.”
    • Kids how often have you said this …
      • “I don’t know.” … and you did. That’s a lie; that’s sin against God!
      • “I did not hear you.”
      • “I didn’t do it.”
      • “yes, I finished my homework”
      • “my stomach hurts.”

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    • And parents…come on …have you said this…?
      • When it’s a 9 o’clock bedtime, do you say … “oh look at the time, it’s almost 9 o’clock.” And it’s really 8:15.
      • “Daddy’s just checking the candy box to make sure the candy’s still in there.”
      • On a long road trip… “Don’t worry, we’re almost there.”
      • “Just take the medicine, it tastes great.” But you hate it or haven’t tried it.
      • “Maybe tomorrow” or “we’ll see” … when you have no intention of it ever happening and no intention of ever “seeing.”

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    [3]According to a survey by psychotherapist and consultant Dr. [deacon name] Blanton, 93% of respondents out of forty thousand Americans admitted to lying “regularly and habitually in the workplace.”

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    Lying to your coworkers…”I’ll have this done on Monday” … and you know there’s no chance. .. or “I’m sick today.”

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    And what about exaggeration. Do you always exaggerate? Do you always exaggerate to everyone?

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    ILL: Someone in my extended family drew my attention to Geico commercials. I’m out of the TV world, so I looked up some Geico commercials and found them very funny.

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    Here’s’ one … It’s a dark and stormy night out on the sea in a commercial fishing boat. The fisherman recounts the tale… lightning flashes … “The beast was as long as the boat. For seven hours we did battle until I said, ‘You will NOT beat meeeee!!!!’ as the heroic fisherman jerks the line and the beast jumps high above the boat lightning crashes….

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    The camera immediately goes to the fisherman as he ends his story and we see the incredulous victims of his fish story as his partner nonchalantly strolls up with this beast … a very small fish in one hand… “Great, what should I do with your fish.” “Gary! Just put it in the cooler.”

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    Exaggeration. We’ve all told our fish stories …

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    Or you’re having a bad day, and someone really wants to know how you’re doing. Really wants to know. And you say…”I’m doing fine.” No you’re not, you’re a disaster! You didn’t sleep last night, the kids have been screaming, you’ve run around all day…well part of the day…and the phone has been ringing off the hook and you burned dinner. If you were handling all that ok, sure you’re fine. But you’re not. Tell the truth.

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    In a sense you’re just like Tania Head and you want to escape into your little fantasy world where everything is ok, but it’s not and you need help.

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    Be honest, keep it real.

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    ILL: Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who, along with her father and other family members, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. She was imprisoned for her actions. Her most famous book, The Hiding Place, describes the ordeal.

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    [4]German soldiers who occupied the Netherlands during World War II conducted raids of the Dutch homes to kidnap Dutch teenagers who would be used in factories for confined labor. One such raid happened to Corrie and her brothers.

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    Corrie was visiting her brother and his family at a nearby town in the Netherlands and had planned to stay over for the next day. That afternoon her brother was busy elsewhere with his ministerial duties and her sister-in-law, Nollie, with the two older daughters had gone shopping for a pair of shoes. Corrie was chatting with the two younger daughters, Cocky and Katrien, when all at once their two older brothers, Peter and Bob, raced into the room with faces ghostly white. “Soldier! Quick. They are only two doors down and are coming this way.” So they hide the boys under table and below the floor to keep them from being taken away into forced labor. That was the potato cellar. Now, in her own words, Corrie tells the following story.

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    The boys quickly jerked the table back, snatched away the rug and tugged open the trapdoor. Bob lowered himself first, lying down flat, and Peter tumbled in on top of him. We dropped the door shut, yanked the rug over it and pulled the table back in place. With trembling hands Betsie, Cocky, and I threw a long tablecloth over it and started laying five places for tea.

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    There was a crash in the hall as the front door burst open and a smaller crash close by as Cocky dropped a teacup. Two uniformed Germans ran into the kitchen, rifles leveled.

    “Stay where you are. Do not move.”

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    We heard boots storming up the stairs. The soldiers glanced around disgustedly at this room filled with women and one old man. If they had looked closer at Katrien she would surely have given herself away: her face was a mask of terror. But they had other things on their minds.

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    “Where are your men?”” the shorter soldier asked Cocky in clumsy, thick-accented Dutch.

    “These are my aunts” she said, “and this is my grandfather. My father is at his school, and my mother is shopping and—“

    “I didn’t ask about the whole tribe” the man exploded in German. Then in Dutch: “Where are your brothers?”

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    Cocky stared at him a second, then dropped her eyes. My heart stood still. I know how Nollie had trained her children [to never lie]–but surely, surely now of all times a lie was permissible.”

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    “Do you have brothers?” the officer asked again.

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    “Yes,” Cocky said softly. “We have three.”

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    “How old are they?”

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    “Twenty-one, nineteen, and eighteen.”

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    Upstairs we heard the sounds of doors opening and shutting, the scrape of furniture dragged from walls.

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    “Where are they now?” the solder persisted.

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    Cocky leaned down and began gathering up the broken bits of cup. The man jerked her upright. “Where are your brothers?”

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    “The oldest one is at the Theological College. He doesn’t get home most nights because—“

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    “What about the other two?” Cocky did not miss a breath. “Why they’re under the table.”

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    Motioning us all away from it with his gun, the soldier seized a corner of the cloth. At a nod from him the taller man crouched with his rifle cocked. Then he flung back the cloth.

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    At last the pent-up tension exploded: Cocky burst into spasms of high hysterical laughter. The soldiers whirled around. Was this girl laughing at them?

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    “Don’t take us for fools” the short one snarled.

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    Furiously he strode from the room and minutes later the entire squad trooped out. Cocky had earned the miracle it required to cancel out the likely consequences of her telling the truth.

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    She told the truth, even though it could have cost her something. Now, you may not have had the audacity to say that and sometimes you just need to keep your mouth shut. But the point is, tell the truth even if it hurts.

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    TRANS: Finally, why … why keep it real and tell the truth?

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  2. Why keep it real (“so that you don’t fall under judgment”)

End of James 5:12 … “so that you may not fall under judgment.” That’s why you should keep it real and be honest and be the real you.

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James 5:12 12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, [why?] so that you may not fall under judgment.

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A sober warning: live a life of truth so that you may not fall under judgment.

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Someone whose life is characterized by lying… Someone who loves and practices lying, the truth of Christ is not in him.

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In the New Jerusalem where those rescued from their sin will spend eternity … in the New Jerusalem…

Revelation 21:27 27 [there is] nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

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Revelation 22:15 15 Outside [the New Jerusalem] are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.

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Where are the liars? Revelation 21:8 8 “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

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All liars, those who are known for lying, and those who love and practice lying are not saved. The Tania Head’s of this world are not saved; they do not have eternal life.

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The unbeliever will fall under God’s judgment.

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And the believer who starts to practice lying will experience God’s judgment in the sense of His righteous decision for discipline. Justice will be served. If you start to go down the path of falsehoods, it’ll call into question your salvation. God will see to it that you live a a life of telling the truth.

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God is the God of truth. “Jesus said ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

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Satan is a liar and the father of lies.

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Whose life are you most like?

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The psalmist of Psalm 119 summarizes God’s word in verse 160 as “truth.” God draws near only to those who call upon him in truth and we are called upon to love not in word only but in deed and in truth. A believer’s heart cries out, “teach me your way the Lord that I may walk in your truth.”

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CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of James 5.12

In Luke 1, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist who prepared the way of Jesus the Messiah, the Promised One, the LORD Himself, …Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied of the salvation that had come to the nation of Israel.

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Zacharias knew by the revelation of God that his son John the Baptist would prepare the way of the God of heaven. And he recounts in verse 73 of that chapter the oath that God Himself swore to Abraham…

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God had sworn with an oath to send the Messiah. God kept that oath. Jesus Christ, the way the truth and life, is indeed truth and eternal life for all who call upon Him in truth.

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Reveal all of your heart to Jesus Christ; Bare it all to him confess it all… And he will be faithful and righteous to forgive you of your sin and to cleanse you all unrighteousness.

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561. Living for Jesus. first line: Living for Jesus a life that is true.

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Go to James Main Page

Go To New Testament Books

Go To BibleTrove Home Page

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  1. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Talmud/shevuot3.html

  2. http://liespotting.com/2010/06/10-research-findings-about-deception-that-will-blow-your-mind/

  3. http://www.forbes.com/sites/keldjensen/2013/06/24/three-shocking-truths-about-lying-at-work/#2ecbdf201a3c

  4. http://characterqualitystories.com/cqs/node/21

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