Think about the number of relationships today that are damaged by a failure to heed this example. If children cannot trust the words of their parents, what will be their view of God as a trustworthy heavenly Father? If a wife cannot trust the word of her husband in small matters, how can she retain her confidence in matters of greater significance? If testimony cannot be trusted in a courtroom or a boardroom, the strain on our justice system and our economy would be devastating.
Within the church, integrity of speech is especially important. The church is governed and fed by teaching and preaching—by words. If the same ministers who proclaim God’s Word are untrustworthy when they speak about other matters—if their words do not match their actions—then the foundations of the visible church can be shaken.
On at least one occasion, some in the church at Corinth questioned whether Paul’s “yes” was yes. They accused him of vacillating; they did not think his actions matched his words. Paul understood how serious this charge was and he was emphatic about his own sincerity of speech and integrity of life, writing, “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you” (2 Cor. 1:12). Regarding the specific charge of saying one thing and doing another, he added, “Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say ‘Yes, yes’ and ‘No, no’ at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No . . . but in him it is always Yes” (vv. 17–19).
Why would the great Apostle Paul expend such energy to refute the charge of saying one thing and doing another? Because his integrity was at stake. His work as an Apostle and a minister of Christ’s Word would be grossly undermined if his words could not be trusted. Paul’s sincere approach, in which every word was spoken in the sight of God and not for personal gain, was a cornerstone of his entire ministry, and it set him apart from other teachers even in his own day. He wrote, “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s Word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2:17).
Integrity of speech matters. Everyone in our life needs to be assured that what we say reflects who we really are and what we will really do. James prefaces his command about our integrity of speech with the phrase, “above all” (James 5:12). This is his way of saying that we are to focus on this as much as on anything else in our lives. Whether in the spotlight of Christian ministry or in the privacy of our homes, our “yes” must be yes and our “no” must be no. The stakes, for now and eternity, could not be higher.