Why Keep Your Promises?
“VOTE for the man who promises least; he’ll be the least disappointing,” said the late presidential adviser Bernard Baruch. In today’s world it seems that promises are made to be broken. They may be marriage vows, business agreements, or pledges to spend more time with the children. Widely ignored is what is implied by the traditional maxim, “A man is as good as his word.”
Of course, many people never intend to keep their promises. Others make rash pledges they cannot live up to or break their word simply because this turns out to be the easiest course to follow.
Admittedly, keeping a promise may be difficult if unforeseen circumstances arise. But does a broken promise really do much damage? Should you take your promises seriously? A brief look at Jehovah God’s example will help us to see why we should consider this matter seriously.
Jehovah Fulfills His Promises
We worship a God whose very name is bound up with the fulfillment of his promises. In Bible times a name often made a statement about the person. This is also true of the name Jehovah, which means “He Causes to Become.” Thus the divine name encompasses the thought that God will fulfill his promises and accomplish his purposes.
True to his name, Jehovah kept every promise he made to the ancient nation of Israel. Regarding these promises, King Solomon acknowledged: “Blessed be Jehovah, who has given a resting-place to his people Israel according to all that he has promised. There has not failed one word of all his good promise that he has promised by means of Moses his servant.”—1 Kings 8:56.
The trustworthiness of Jehovah is such that the apostle Paul could reason: “When God made his promise to Abraham, since he could not swear by anyone greater, he swore by himself.” (Hebrews 6:13) Yes, Jehovah’s very name and person are a guarantee that he will not renege on his promises, even though they may cost him dearly. (Romans 8:32) The fact that Jehovah fulfills his promises gives us hope that is an anchor for our soul, or life.—Hebrews 6:19.
Jehovah’s Promises and Our Future
Our hope, our faith, and our very life all depend on the fulfillment of Jehovah’s promises. What hope do we cherish? “There are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to [God’s] promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Peter 3:13) The Scriptures also give us a basis for faith that “there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15) And we can be sure that there is something more than this present life. Indeed, what the apostle John calls “the promised thing” is “the life everlasting.” (1 John 2:25) But the promises of Jehovah in his Word are not limited to the future. They give meaning to our everyday lives right now.
The psalmist sang: “Jehovah is near to all those calling upon him, . . . and their cry for help he will hear.” (Psalm 145:18, 19) God also assures us that “he is giving to the tired one power; and to the one without dynamic energy he makes full might abound.” (Isaiah 40:29) And what a comfort it is to know that ‘God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out’! (1 Corinthians 10:13) If we have personally experienced the fulfillment of any of these promises, we know that Jehovah can be trusted absolutely. In view of the benefits we derive from the many promises that God makes and keeps, how should we view our promises to him?
Keeping Our Promises to God
Our dedication to God is undoubtedly the most important promise we can make. By taking this step, we demonstrate that we want to serve Jehovah forever. While God’s commandments are not burdensome, it may not always be easy to do his will, living as we do in this wicked system of things. (2 Timothy 3:12; 1 John 5:3) But once we have ‘put our hand to the plow’ and have become dedicated servants of Jehovah and disciples of his Son, Jesus Christ, we should never look back at the things of the world that we have left behind.—Luke 9:62.
When we pray to Jehovah, we may feel moved to promise him that we will fight to overcome a weakness, cultivate a Christian quality, or increase some aspect of our theocratic activity. What will help us follow through on these promises?—Compare Ecclesiastes 5:2-5.
Sincere promises stem from the heart as well as the mind. Therefore, let us back up our promises to Jehovah by opening our hearts to him in prayer, honestly expressing our fears, desires, and weaknesses. Praying about a promise will strengthen our resolve to keep it. We could look on our promises to God as debts. When debts are large, payment has to be made gradually. Likewise, many promises we make to Jehovah will take time to fulfill. But by regularly giving him what we can, we show that we mean what we say, and he will bless us accordingly.
We can demonstrate that we take our promises seriously by praying about them often, perhaps each day. This will show our heavenly Father that we are sincere. It will also serve as a regular reminder. David left us a fine example in this regard. In song, he beseeched Jehovah: “Do hear, O God, my entreating cry. Do pay attention to my prayer. . . . I will make melody to your name forever, that I may pay my vows day after day.”—Psalm 61:1, 8.
Keeping Our Promises Builds Trust
If promises to God should not be taken lightly, the same can be said about those we make to fellow Christians. We should not treat Jehovah one way and our brothers another way. (Compare 1 John 4:20.) In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Just let your word Yes mean Yes, your No, No.” (Matthew 5:37) Making sure that our word is always trustworthy is one way to ‘work what is good toward those related to us in the faith.’ (Galatians 6:10) Every promise we keep builds trust.
The damage done by breaking a promise is often magnified when money is involved. Whether paying back a loan, performing a service, or fulfilling a commercial agreement, a Christian should honor his word. This pleases God and cements the mutual trust that is so essential if brothers are to “dwell together in unity.”—Psalm 133:1.
Failure to abide by agreements, however, can harm the congregation as well as the individuals directly involved. A traveling overseer observes: “Business disputes—invariably caused by agreements that at least one party considers dishonored—often become public knowledge. As a result, brothers take sides, and the atmosphere in the Kingdom Hall may become tense.” How important it is to consider carefully whatever agreement we make and put the matter in writing!*
Caution should also be exercised when selling costly products or recommending investments, especially if we personally profit from the transaction. Likewise, there is a need to be very careful not to exaggerate the benefits of certain articles or health products or to promise unrealistic returns on investments. Love should move Christians to explain fully any risks involved. (Romans 12:10) Since most brothers have limited business experience, they may trust our advice simply because we are related to them in the faith. How tragic it would be if this trust were undermined!
As Christians, we cannot adopt business practices that are dishonest or that ignore the legitimate interests of others. (Ephesians 2:2, 3; Hebrews 13:18) To have Jehovah’s favor as ‘guests in his tent,’ we must be trustworthy. ‘Even if we have sworn to what is bad for us, we do not alter.’—Psalm 15:1, 4.
Judge Jephthah of Israel vowed that if God gave him victory over the Ammonites, he would give to Jehovah as a burnt offering the first one who met him after returning from battle. That one turned out to be Jephthah’s only child, but he did not go back on his word. With his daughter’s heartfelt agreement, he offered her for permanent service at God’s sanctuary—a sacrifice that undoubtedly was painful and costly in various ways.—Judges 11:30-40.
Especially do congregation overseers have a responsibility to abide by their agreements. According to 1 Timothy 3:2, an overseer should be “irreprehensible.” This is the rendering of a Greek term meaning “not able to be taken hold of, irreproachable, beyond reproach.” It “implies not only that the man is of good report, but that he is deservedly so.” (A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament) Since an overseer must be irreprehensible, his promises should always be reliable.
Other Ways to Keep Our Promises
How should we view promises we make to those who are not fellow Christians? “Let your light shine before men,” said Jesus, “that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.” (Matthew 5:16) By proving that we honor our word, we may attract others to our Christian message. Despite the worldwide decline in standards of honesty, most people still value integrity. Keeping our promises is one way to display love for God and neighbor and to appeal to lovers of righteousness.—Matthew 22:36-39; Romans 15:2.
During their 1998 service year, Jehovah’s Witnesses spent over a billion hours publicly declaring the good news of God’s Kingdom. (Matthew 24:14) Some of this preaching may have fallen on deaf ears if we have not kept our word in business dealings or in other matters. Since we represent the God of truth, people rightly expect us to act honestly. By being trustworthy and honest, we “adorn the teaching of our Savior, God, in all things.”—Titus 2:10.
In our ministry, we have opportunities to keep our word when we return to visit those who express interest in the Kingdom message. If we say that we will call back, we should do so. Returning as we have promised is a way ‘not to hold back good from those to whom it is owing.’ (Proverbs 3:27) One sister explained the matter this way: “On several occasions, I have met interested individuals who said that a Witness had promised to call back but had not done so. Of course, I know that the householders may not have been at home or that circumstances may have made it impossible to return. But I wouldn’t like anyone to say that of me, so I do my utmost to find the person at home again. I believe that if I let someone down, it will reflect badly on Jehovah and my brothers as a whole.”
In some cases, we may not feel inclined to return because we conclude that the person is not really interested. The same sister explains: “I don’t try to judge the amount of interest. My own experience has taught me that first impressions are often wrong. So I try to be positive, viewing each person as a potential brother or sister.”
In the Christian ministry and in many other areas, we need to show that our word can be trusted. True, some things are more easily said than done. The wise man noted: “A multitude of men will proclaim each one his own loving-kindness, but a faithful man who can find?” (Proverbs 20:6) With determination, we can be faithful and true to our word.
Rich Blessings From God
Deliberately making an empty promise is dishonest and might be likened to writing a check without having funds in the bank to cover it. But what rewards and blessings we receive for keeping our promises! One blessing for being trustworthy is a good conscience. (Compare Acts 24:16.) Instead of nagging feelings of remorse, we feel satisfied and at peace. Moreover, by keeping our word, we contribute to the unity of the congregation, which depends on mutual trust. Our “truthful speech” also recommends us as ministers of the God of truth.—2 Corinthians 6:3, 4, 7.
Jehovah is true to his word, and he hates “a false tongue.” (Proverbs 6:16, 17) By imitating our heavenly Father, we draw closer to him. Surely, then, we have good reason for keeping our promises.
See the article “Put It in Writing!” in Awake! of February 8, 1983, pages 13-15.
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Jephthah kept his promise, even though doing so was painful
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If you have promised to return, prepare well to do so