Do You Keep Your Word?
Helpful facts that young people want to know
THE saying goes that ‘a man is only as good as his word is.’ The same might be said of a woman. The person known as a keeper of his word earns respect. People learn to trust one who is ‘a man of his word.’ Are you that kind of person?
Unfortunately, we often incline to expect more of others than of ourselves in this regard. A son or daughter would feel deeply hurt if the parents failed to fulfill some promise—perhaps to buy something for one, take one on a trip or grant one some special privilege. But does one feel just as strongly about keeping one’s word to one’s parents? Friendships, too, suffer when agreements are not kept, when appointments are not met. True, a person may become unexpectedly ill, accidents can happen, or some other circumstance can make it physically impossible to do something. But, on the other hand, it is easy to make excuses for ourselves; yet we feel disappointed when others fail us.
What are you like in this respect? If you tell someone you will help him to do something or offer to perform some service, do you always fulfill your word? If you make an appointment to meet someone at a certain time, do you show up, and on time? How much is your word worth?
Some may feel that youths should be freer than older persons in these matters, that not as much should be expected of them. But youth is the right time to start developing the habit of being a person of your word. Keeping or not keeping your word tells a lot about what you are like inside now; it also has a molding effect on your mind and heart. It builds up an attitude, a way of looking at things that can produce long-lasting personality traits.
If you are reliable now, you probably will be in later years. And the reverse is just as true. For example, if you do not live up to your word now, in later years you may make a firm agreement to take on a certain job or assignment—and then soon want to back out. Many people do that, but they are not viewed with respect by others.
That same unreliability can show up in marriage. Many violate in a short time the solemn promise they made when they took the marriage vows. Thus they ruin their lives and cause grief to other persons. Perhaps they were not keepers of their word even before they married.
It is not enough to keep your word just in ‘big things,’ things you consider of major importance. ‘Big things’ do not happen every day or every week, not often enough to build up the quality of reliability. Keeping your word needs to be a regular, daily practice.
Concern about fulfilling in smaller matters is what builds up the determination and strength to hold to your word in bigger matters. If you have gained others’ trust and confidence by having a reputation of reliability in smaller matters, you will work hard to keep that reputation and its benefits, even when bigger matters come along.
But if you prove untrustworthy in smaller matters, who will ever ask you to take on responsibility in bigger ones? Jesus showed that things just do not work that way, especially not in God’s dealings with men.—Luke 16:10.
WHERE THE PROBLEM LIES
Why do people break their word? Well, for one thing keeping one’s word puts limitations on a person, it obligates him. When the time arrives for keeping an appointment or some other promise, something else may seem more appealing. Then, too, many times the person may find that making good on his word means much harder work than he thought it would when he gave his word. One may think some material profit will result from an agreement, and later find it will bring loss instead.
What will you do in such cases? Will you stay by your word even though it means some hardship or loss to you? Or do you want the other person to be the one to suffer damage because you do not want to fulfill? For example, if we fail to keep an appointment, we steal someone’s time, keeping him waiting for nothing. If we fail to do certain work, we can cause him other problems and slow down his reaching certain goals, perhaps hinder him from fulfilling promises he himself has made. So, we need to ask ourselves: What kind of person am I or do I want to be? Am I selfish or do I have genuine consideration for other persons?
One may say, “But I didn’t know what I was getting into!” The real question here is: Whose fault was it? Was there fraud or deception on the other person’s side? If not, then if you do not back out but endure whatever hardness fulfilling your word requires, you learn a valuable lesson, one you will remember. That is: Think before you talk, before you give your word. Then, when you speak, mean what you say.—Prov. 10:19.
To say “yes” to something simply because you think it will please someone—but without first thinking out the consequences—can get you into difficulty. By contrast, if you are careful about making promises, if you think matters through and consider how they will affect your future life, then it will be much easier to keep your word once you have committed yourself. You will have prepared your heart and mind to be true to your word.
Naturally, you cannot foresee everything. Circumstances may change between the time of giving your word and the time of carrying it out, or even during the period of carrying it out. But if the other person has not proved false to his or her part, why should you prove false?
Showing God’s view on this, Psalm 15 raises the question as to what kind of person God accepts as his “guest” and then answers, saying: “He who is walking faultlessly and practicing righteousness, and speaking the truth in his heart. . . . He has sworn to what is bad for himself, and yet he does not alter.”—Ps. 15:2, 4.
It is not surprising that God counts as his friends only those who keep their word. Why so? Because he himself does this unfailingly. That is why Joshua could say to the nation of Israel: “You well know with all your hearts and with all your souls that not one word out of all the good words that Jehovah your God has spoken to you has failed. They have all come true for you. Not one word of them has failed.” (Josh. 23:14) The Bible is largely a record of Jehovah’s kept promises. His trueness in the past is what gives us such confidence of future blessings in fulfillment of his promises.
Do you want God’s approval? Then when you find you have given your word “to what is bad for [your]self” do not alter it by breaking your agreement. Of course, this does not mean “bad” in the sense of something that you later realize is contrary to the principles of God’s Word. For if you have told God you want to serve him, then your word to him comes first. (Acts 4:19, 20; 5:29) In such case, you would be untrue to him if you carried out an agreement to do wrong.
Likewise your parents can annul certain agreements you might make, even as a father or husband in ancient Israel could cancel a vow made by his daughter or wife if he deemed it advisable as the family head.—Num. 30:3-15.
Jesus corrected persons in his day who evidently had the habit of swearing they would do this or that, using such oaths with regard to many things of little importance. (Compare Leviticus 5:4.) Jesus told them: “Do not swear at all . . . Just let your word Yes mean Yes, your No, No; for what is in excess of these is from the wicked one.”—Matt. 5:33-37.
This means we should not operate under a double standard. Keeping our word should be our regular practice and it should not take some sworn oath on our part to guarantee that. Not that such sworn oath is prohibited if someone requires it of us, either because of wanting special assurance or because of doubt. But as far as we are concerned, with or without an oath our word should be reliable, trustworthy at all times. Is that true of you? Does your Yes always mean Yes? And when you say “No,” do your actions always show that you mean it?
True, being imperfect, you may overcommit yourself at some time, finding that you have said you would do something that turns out to be in conflict with some other commitment already made. What then? The commitment you made first in almost every case will be the one that should stand. Personal preference should not be the basis for deciding. So, you should be humble and considerate enough to go to the person involved and explain why you cannot fulfill what you promised. Thereby you at least show you are sincerely concerned about the trustworthiness of your word.
If keeping your word with other humans is important, how much more so is keeping your word with God! If you have turned to him in true repentance, perhaps have taken the step of baptism, and have thereby asked him to let you be his servant, do not go back on your word. That would cost you your hope of everlasting life.