As we are wrapping up our look into the book of James on Sunday mornings here, we recently touched on this verse out of James, Chapter 5:
But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (v.12)
This verse is a direct reference by James to something Jesus himself said in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:33-37). What both Jesus and James were trying to convey to their audiences was that believers are to be people of such noble character, of such integrity, that the words they speak match up with the Word they live by. We are to be people who keep their word at all times—people who honor their commitments and promises.
When we don’t keep our word, we break the confidence and trust of others around us. When I was in college, the campus ministry I was involved with had different ministry teams the students were encouraged to serve on. Someone approached me about serving on the team that oversaw the setup and tear down of our technical equipment as part of our weekly worship service in one of our campus lecture halls. I made a commitment to show up 3 hours early each week to help setup and to stay for 30 minutes after the service to help tear down. Well over the course of the semester I settled into the habit of only helping out when I wanted to. If I got busy or something better came up I just simply didn’t show up. There were even times when someone would call me the day of to remind me, and I would turn around and decide not to go and help after telling them that I would. Eventually, the others on the ministry team decided to stop reaching out to me for assistance, or for any other matter.
Here are 3 good habits to develop as we all seek to be people who keep their word:
- Stop Looking For Loopholes—Jesus encourages his audience to keep their word/commitment in response to people in his day questioning the grounds for divorce. People were searching for a justifiable reason to follow through with a divorce. Jesus’ response was to stop looking for a way out. We are to spend our time and energy trying to keep our commitments, instead of searching for a way out of them. Jesus’ point was that he wanted his followers to take their vows more seriously, taking every measure to fulfill them.
- Realize That You Have To Live With It Until You Live Up To It—A professional athlete signs a contract for a lot of money. Over time, as the athlete performs, they typically want a better contract for even more money. The reality is though that they usually don’t get more if they haven’t lived up to their current contract. We as humans are so quick to break our commitments if we see something better or more attractive elsewhere. If we think we can have a more lasting and fulfilling love with someone else, we can break the commitment in our marriages. We don’t like what our church has to offer us, we can go and become members elsewhere. What we often don’t realize though is how damaging it is—how much of a toll it takes—when we break our vows and don’t keep our word. We justify it and tell ourselves it is no big deal, when deep down we know we aren’t being and doing the things that Christ has called us to be and do. We must not abandon our commitments. Instead, we must live up to them...we must break our backs trying to keep them, because if we don’t then we have to live with the consequences until we face the truth of what we have done. Just as an athlete won’t get more money unless he lives up to his current contract, God won’t bless us with more responsibility and others won’t place more trust in us, until we live up to our commitments with one another and with God.
- Be Careful When It Comes To Making Promises—Don’t make promises that you don’t intend to keep. It is better not to make promises at all than to break a commitment to someone. Back in college I had a pastor at my local campus ministry ask me why I made a commitment to serve in the first place when I had no intention of keeping that commitment. Even though I wouldn’t be serving in an area of interest or where my spiritual gifts could best be utilized, I had made a commitment that I never needed to make in the first place. It was a humbling experience for me, and it was one in which I disappointed and broke the trust of several brothers and sisters in Christ. However, I made sure to learn from that experience, and more importantly from God’s Word. I learned to be careful with the promises that I make and to make sure that I do everything I can to keep my word. Nothing destroys integrity more than dishonesty. The key isn’t to make more promises, but to keep the one’s we do make. The next time someone asks you to make a commitment, ask that person for some time to think and pray over it. Don’t go all in unless you are ready to give your all to keep your word.