You’ve seen the character in movies and television–that overworked parent who makes a promise to be at a child’s sports event and then isn’t able to make it for some reason. In that situation, we feel bad for the child because that horrible grownup broke his or her promise. How dare they make a promise they couldn’t keep to that poor child?
Right? That’s usually the way that type of character is portrayed. But if you’re the adult watching that, you tend to identify with the parent. I mean, you’re busy working, trying to make ends meet in a financial environment that seems dead set against your success. And a kid isn’t going to understand that.
So grownups understand. Sometimes you have to break your promises. It’s part of being an adult.
Today’s verses are Matthew 5:33-37.
“You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.”
God takes promises seriously, and so does Jesus. That’s one thing we should always remember about them. When God–and by extension, Jesus–makes a promise, He will always always keep it. He may not keep it in the time we want Him to, but He will always honor His word, regardless of whether we deserve it or not (and we never deserve it, by the way).
But what about promises we make to God?
This passage was talking about a group of people during that time who would make sacred vows and then treat them casually. They would make a somber promise to God and then treat it as though it didn’t matter. They’d break their word at the drop of a hat, and Jesus wanted them to know that it wasn’t acceptable. A promise to God should never be treated lightly, just like a promise in general should never be easy to dismiss.
People are good at rationalizing, remember? We can talk ourselves into and out of just about anything, and we can come up with dozens of reasons that explain why it’s okay to break our promises. But just because we can explain why doesn’t excuse it.
Why are promises so important? Well, they’re a measure of the kind of person you are. When the going gets tough and life gets hard, do you change your mind about honoring your word? See, making promises is easy; keeping them is the hard part. And it’s the choices we make when life gets difficult that show others who we truly are.
Jesus lived a life that didn’t need vows. If He said He would do something, He did it. And that’s the life we need to live. Our word alone should be sufficient that we’ll do what we’ve said (James 5:12).
So the next time you’re trying to impress someone, don’t make idle promises that don’t mean anything to you. Just say yes or no and stick to it. Let your actions speak louder than your words.