We are thinking a little about James 5:12.
Partly because there’s a little statement at the beginning of this verse that is somewhat shocking.
You don’t want to miss it.
James says, “Above all…”
That means most importantly.
Now James has already said some pretty important things. He’s already given us a great deal of instruction on how God desires for us to speak. But here as he is drawing this letter to a conclusion, he is coming to a climax, he wants to address the issue when it comes to how we speak that he feels is most important, so he says, “Above all…” or “This is especially important…”
Speak the truth.
I think, one reason, we need to think carefully about these two words, ‘above all’ is, because we live in a society that doesn’t place much value on truth. It’s really unusual for you to hear a call for truth, because almost anywhere else in society, if I made this kind of call to unswerving, unflinching honesty I would be greeted with blank stares, and incredulous faces.
Our culture doesn’t think speaking the truth at all times is all that important.
We’re constantly being made aware of that.
I mean, honestly, just look at the way our political leaders speak.
There are too many examples, especially now, in our current political climate, but I don’t really keep up with the news as much as I used to, so while it might not seem fair for me to stretch so far back, indulge an old man, let me remind you of one example that struck me when I was a bit younger.
Remember Bill Clinton?
At one point he got himself caught in a web of deception.
From what I understand. He perjured himself.
He looked straight into a camera and said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman…” when he in fact did, he got caught and then went to great lengths to explain away and cover up his sin, and in spite of all that, and really we could go on and on, he had a huge, monstrous approval rating.
He lied and nobody really cared.
And you know what that approval rating proved?
It proved just how much like the Pharisees we’ve become. The Pharisees made a big show about being committed to the truth. But they had all kinds of outs, all kinds of situations in which it was perfectly acceptable not to speak the truth. And that’s really the way most Americans look at life. There are certain things you must not lie about, but there aren’t very many of those things, there are many more things you can lie about without a twinge of conscience. That’s why you could have a man who is in the highest office in the land, and there was very little outrage over his complete disregard for honesty. I can’t believe how many times I heard the sentiment, “I mean I can understand why he lied about that. That was embarrassing. He had a right to keep his private life private.”
If it were easy to tell the truth, everybody would do it. Anybody can tell the truth when there is no cost, it takes absolutely no character to do that. And if he had told the truth in the first place, on his wedding day when he promised that he would be faithful to his wife, he wouldn’t have been faced with the temptation to lie later on.
Almost as surprising the widespread approval of that particular president was the complete vilification of the man who was charged with prosecuting him. Here this man who was pursuing the truth, and people kept blaming him, why are you making such a big deal out of all this.? There was a gigantic cost to his investigation, something like forty million dollars and people blamed who for that? The prosecutor. When if the president had just told the truth, we wouldn’t have needed to spend a cent.
Now we know, Scripturally speaking, that the world is constantly trying to conform us to its way of thinking.
So if we look out at our society and we see this kind of thing happening, a disregard for truth, people minimizing the seriousness of the sin of lying; then we have to realize we’re going to be tempted to do the same thing, to act as if speaking the truth were not really that big an issue. So we have to come back to Scripture and fill our minds with God’s Word.
Why does James say here above all, speak truthfully?
Why does God place such a high value on the speaking the truth?
There are a number of different ways we could go about answering that question.
First a failure to tell the truth is source of many of our problems as a society. This is one of the major sources of problems in international relations. One country can’t believe the other. They make a vow, they sign a treaty, but they quickly go ahead and break that vow or treaty as soon as they get a chance. But not only that, a failure to speak the truth is one of the primary sources of problems in domestic politics. The political ads on television almost drive me crazy, because I never know who to believe. Our politicians are not at all interested in speaking plainly, they just want to spin the truth so you never know who to trust.
But still that seems far away. So let’s move a bit closer to home.
Every day thousands of couples stand before each other and before a group of people and make a commitment. They look into each other’s eyes and say something like, “I take you to be my wife or husband, to have and to hold, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, as long as we both shall live…” They all make basically the same promise. But over half of those who make that promise fail to keep it. At the heart of a broken marriage, lies a broken promise. A failure to speak the truth. To let your yes be yes and your no be no. So one of the reasons James says above all speak the truth is because a failure to do just that is one of the primary reasons we have the problems we do.
But second, we can see why James says above all speak the truth, by looking at what God says about the importance of truth.
We know truth is important because throughout Scripture speaking the truth is given as one of the essential characteristics of a godly man.
In Exodus 18:21 Jethro is counseling his son in law Moses, and he’s describing for him the kind of men who should be chosen to help him lead the people of Israel, he says, “you shall select out of all the people men who fear God, men of truth; those who hate dishonest gain…” He saw truth as an essential quality for leadership. The Psalmist explains in Psalm 101:7 that one of the marks of a righteous leader is that he hates deceit. He prays, and we find this over in Psalm 119 that God would remove all those who speak lies from His presence. A righteous man is so committed to the truth that he will not tolerate anyone who tells lies. A godly man is absolutely committed to the truth. Remember Psalm 15? “O Lord who may abide in Thy tent? Who may dwell on Thy holy hill? He who walks with integrity and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart….” Our culture may act like the truth is not all that important, but God does not. You can’t live a life that pleases Him unless you are committed to the truth. The apostle John actually describes being a Christian as being a person of the truth.
We truth is important because God earnestly exhorts us to speak the truth.
God pleads with us to be truthful. That’s what we are seeing here in James. And that’s what we see throughout Scripture. In Proverbs 3:3 we’re told to refuse to allow “kindness and truth to leave us, to bind them around our neck and to write them on the tablet of our hearts.” Then over in Proverbs 23:23 Solomon exhorts us to “Buy the truth and do not sell it, get wisdom and instruction and understanding…”
There’s a powerful passage in Jeremiah 5.
God is angry with the nation of Judah because they are living in complete and absolute wickedness. They are ignoring Him. And yet because He’s merciful He says to Jeremiah, “Roam to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and look now and take note. And seek in her open squares, if you can find a man, if there is one who does justice, who seeks truth then I will pardon her.” God is saying, look I want to have mercy on this nation, I am a God who loves mercy, and if you can just find one person who is committed to the truth than I will relent from punishment. One person who speaks truth can save a nation. God values the truth.
A commitment to the truth is a means of protection for you. Charles Spurgeon, once explained, “When a heart is untruthful, when honesty has gone from it,” in other words, when it’s characteristically untruthful, when it is habitually a deceptive heart, when it lies as a pattern of life, he said, “then it is prepared to be the seed plot of every evil thing. Any crime is possible to a liar. He who is rotten with falsehood will break at the touch of every temptation.”
If you make lying a practice, if if it is natural for you to lie, you are placing yourself in a very dangerous position. You’ll do anything. Because you don’t fear getting caught. If you get caught you will just tell a lie, and that right there, removes a great barrier to temptation.
Listen to how John MacArthur puts it, “If you’re devoted to the truth, if you’re committed to truth and speaking truthfully and being honest, you are restrained in temptations because you’re afraid that somebody might ask you about your life—somebody might ask you about your behavior and you really don’t want to lie. So, that disdain for lying, that reluctance to be put in a position to have to lie becomes a restraint in the time of temptation. You see, for a person whose heart has been cultivated to being truthful, the thought of lying produces fear, guilt, shame, apprehension,…anxiety.” So a commitment to consistently speaking the truth, that’s a means of protection for him. That’s why and this is just a footnote, as parents you want to severely punish lying. You’ve got to build in your children a love for truth and a real fear of lying. Because if they don’t fear lying, than any sin is an option. They’ll just cover over their tracks. But if they are committed to the truth, that’s going to be a restraint when they face temptation because they know they are going to be found out sometime soon.
But perhaps nothing highlights the importance of truth to God than the fact that Scripture consistently portrays truth as one of His essential qualities.
In Psalm 31:5 He’s called the God of truth; in Psalm 86:15 we see that He is abundant in truth; in Psalm 108:4 that His truth reaches to the skies; and in Psalm 111:7 that truth is the work of His hands. John says that Jesus came to earth full of grace and truth; and Jesus Himself says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Jesus is the truth. Paul explains in Ephesians 4:21 that the truth is in Jesus. In John 14:17, 15:26 and 16:13 the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth. God’s Word is called the word of truth, the gospel is called the message of truth, and Christianity in 2 Peter 2:2 is actually called the way of truth.
“Lying is contrary to everything that represents God.” And that’s why, while our world may minimize the importance of truth, and, our world may tell you it doesn’t matter, you don’t have to keep your word, as Christians we know that God does not minimize the importance of truth, and we understand why James says here above all you must speak the truth.
Why, above all, speak the truth?
Because of the high priority God places on it.