It is unrighteous to be a promise-breaker. In fact, the gospel itself hangs on the promise-keeping of God. Let me explain.
Our Promise-Keeping God.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul explains to the Corinthians why he had a change in travel plans. When Paul initially heard about the issues in Corinth, he had a strong impulse to re-route his trip through Corinth to deal with the problems head on. Instead, he chose to stick to his initial itinerary and send a letter instead. However, Paul was afraid of the impression his travel plans might give the church:
“Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time?” (1:17)
Am I jerking you around? Am I being fickle? Am I saying one thing and doing another? Am I making promises and keeping them whenever it’s convenient or advantageous to me? Absolutely not, Paul says:
“As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.” (1:18)
The foundation for Paul’s promise-keeping is the nature of God. God is a faithful God. He keeps his promises (cf. 1 Thess. 5:24; Numbers 23:19; Joshua 23:14). The righteousness of God is proved to us in that he makes promises and he keeps all of those promises: “And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous” (Nehemiah 9:8). As a Christian–even more, as “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”–Paul understands the importance of imitating and glorifying God by keeping his word.
The Gospel of Promises Kept.
Even more, Paul realizes that the message he has been commissioned to preach throughout the world is jeopardized by ministers who fail to keep their word. Promise-keeping is at the center of the gospel itself:
“For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him…” (1:19-20)
All of the promises that God made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and to the people of Israel are fulfilled in the Son of God. Every single promise—of salvation, of deliverance, of forgiveness, of peace, of inheritance, of victory over death, of judgment, of righteousness—is Yes in Jesus Christ. This is the good news that Paul and Silvanus and Timothy spent a year and a half in Corinth proclaiming: God through his promises has directed all of our hopes in this world or the next to Jesus Christ the Son of God.
The gospel is built upon this foundation: God keeps his Word. If this is not true, then the gospel is not true.
But wait. What if the person who taught you this gospel of the faithful, word-keeping God was a person who himself didn’t keep his word? This was Paul’s fear. What appeared to be waffling on his part in making travel arrangements, wanting to come to Corinth at first but deciding to refrain, could cause the church at Corinth not only to doubt Paul but to doubt the truth of the gospel they received from him.
Your Life Is the Amen.
This is why we must keep our word. We surely cannot add anything to the gospel; however, our lives are to be an affirmation of what God has done:
“That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” (1:20)
When someone else is praying, we listen, we listen, we listen, and then at the end, after they say, “Amen,” sometimes we add an “Amen.” When we do that, are we adding anything to the substance of the prayer? No. We are simply telling God, “Let it be so.” It’s a statement affirming everything that has already been said.
If you are a Christian, your life is an Amen to the promises of God that are fully kept in Jesus Christ. We add nothing to the gospel. However, as we keep our word, our lives become the Amen—the “Let it be so”—to the rest of the world. This is what it means to live lives worthy of the gospel. It’s to live a life that is an Amen to the promise of God kept in Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, we know that God keeps his promises because he put his Spirit in our hearts: “…He has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (1:22). When he did, all of the sudden things began to change. We wanted to please God. We hated it when we lied to our parents. We felt ashamed when we fought with others. We began to ask for forgiveness. The sins that held us captive no longer had power. And as we read the Word of God, whether in Genesis, in Leviticus, in Zechariah, in Matthew, or in Revelation, the Holy Spirit began to reveal to us over and over again how all of God’s promises are Yes in Jesus.
Keep Your Word!
Which is why, brothers and sisters, we must keep our word. We are a people who affirm a promise-keeping God with everything that we are. Can we do that if we are a promise-breaking people? Why should anyone trust the message of Jesus we proclaim if they can’t even trust us to keep simple commitments we have made?
Think about the promises that you have made in your life. Some of them are very weighty. If you are married, you took vows. Infidelity, adultery, unjustified divorce are unfitting among the people of God because we keep our word. Or think about your church covenant. Those are serious promises. Most church covenants promise to regularly gather, to support the ministry sacrificially, to keep spiritual fellowship with the Lord through Bible reading and prayer. Are you keeping those promises?
In your workplace, what regular commitments do you have? Do you find it easy to let those responsibilities fall? Do you find it easy to promise to be somewhere to do something and totally forget about it? Sometimes we think these less weighty promises don’t really matter. But in 2 Corinthians 1, Paul has gone out of his way to explain a change in his travel itinerary! His travel itinerary! If only we endeavored as much to keep our word, to never give anyone cause to disbelieve the gospel because of our unfaithfulness.
Paul tells the Jews in Romans, “You who boast in the Law dishonor God by breaking the Law. For as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’” So what if you or I can preach the most elegant sermon or use the most persuasive words to declare the gospel and yet we cannot even be trusted to keep our word?
God Help Us.
We are finite creatures. We do not have infinite knowledge and power like God does. Sometimes, keeping our word is impossible. In those instances, we magnify God’s righteousness by acknowledging our sin and asking for forgiveness–not in ignoring our broken promise or minimizing its importance.
In my opinion, better to under promise and over deliver. Many of our promises are broken because we promised to do something that wasn’t in our power to do in the first place. Sometimes we promise things in the moment out of fear. Other times we try to use empty promises to garner favor with others.
If we are going to keep our word, we have to know our place. We have to realize that it’s not our job to make up new plans, but to live out an Amen to what God has planned for us in Jesus Christ. God give us the humility to walk in his ways as humble word-keepers by the power of his Spirit.