Consider this scenario: An elder who is a member of a Hospital Liaison Committee has arranged to work with a young brother in the field service on Sunday morning. That morning the elder gets an urgent phone call from a brother whose wife has just been in a car accident and was rushed to the hospital. He asks the elder to help him find a doctor who will cooperate on the matter of blood. So the elder cancels his field service arrangement with the young brother in order to provide loving support to a family facing an emergency.
Imagine another scenario: A single mother with two children receives an invitation from a couple in her congregation to spend an evening with them. When she tells her children about it, their faces light up. They eagerly look forward to the evening. However, the day before the visit, the couple tell the mother that something unexpected has come up and that they have to cancel the invitation. She later learns why the couple canceled. After inviting her, the couple were invited by some friends to come to their home that same evening, and they accepted.
As Christians we should, of course, keep our word. We should never find ourselves saying, as it were, “‘yes’ and yet ‘no.’” (2 Cor. 1:18) However, as the two examples illustrate, not all situations are the same. There may be times when it seems that we have no choice but to cancel an arrangement we have made. The apostle Paul once found himself in such a situation.
PAUL ACCUSED OF FICKLENESS
In 55 C.E., while Paul was in Ephesus during his third missionary tour, he intended to cross the Aegean Sea to Corinth and from there travel on to Macedonia. On his way back to Jerusalem, he planned to visit the Corinthian congregation a second time, evidently to collect their kind gift for the brothers in Jerusalem. (1 Cor. 16:3) This is clear from 2 Corinthians 1:15, 16, where we read: “With this confidence, I was intending to come first to you, so that you might have a second occasion for joy; for I intended to visit you on my way to Macedonia, to return to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me off to Judea.”
It appears that Paul in a previous letter had informed the Corinthian brothers of his plan. (1 Cor. 5:9) Shortly after writing that letter, however, Paul heard through the household of Chloe that there were serious dissensions in the congregation. (1 Cor. 1:10, 11) Paul decided to adjust his original plan, and he wrote the letter that we now know as 1 Corinthians. In it Paul lovingly provided counsel and correction. He also mentioned that he had changed his itinerary, informing them that he would first go to Macedonia and then to Corinth.—1 Cor. 16:5, 6.*
It seems that when the brothers in Corinth received his letter, some of the “superfine apostles” in that congregation accused him of being fickle, of not keeping his promises. In his defense Paul asked: “Well, when I had such an intention, I did not view the matter lightly, did I? Or do I purpose things in a fleshly way, so that I am saying ‘Yes, yes’ and then ‘No, no’?”—2 Cor. 1:17; 11:5.
We might ask, In these circumstances was the apostle Paul really ‘viewing the matter lightly’? Of course not! The word translated “lightly” has the sense of fickleness, as if a person was unreliable, not keeping his promises. Paul’s rhetorical question “do I purpose things in a fleshly way?” should have made it clear to the Christians in Corinth that Paul’s decision to change his plans was not because he was unreliable.
Paul emphatically refuted the accusation, writing: “But God can be relied on that what we say to you is not ‘yes’ and yet ‘no.’” (2 Cor. 1:18) Certainly, Paul had the best interests of his brothers and sisters in Corinth at heart when he changed his arrangements. At 2 Corinthians 1:23, we read that ‘it was to spare them’ that he changed his original plan to go to Corinth. Indeed, he had given them an opportunity to put things straight before being with them in person. As he had hoped, while he was in Macedonia, Paul heard from Titus that his letter had indeed moved them to sorrow and repentance, which gave him great joy.—2 Cor. 6:11; 7:5-7.
THE “AMEN” SAID TO GOD
The accusation of fickleness might have implied that if Paul could not be relied on to keep his promises in everyday life, neither could he be trusted in his preaching work. However, Paul reminded the Corinthians that he had preached Jesus Christ to them. “The Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you through us, that is, through me and Silvanus and Timothy, did not become ‘yes’ and yet ‘no,’ but ‘yes’ has become ‘yes’ in his case.” (2 Cor. 1:19) Was Paul’s exemplar, Jesus Christ, in any way unreliable? No! Throughout his life and ministry, Jesus always spoke the truth. (John 14:6; 18:37) If what Jesus preached was completely true and reliable and Paul preached the same message, then the apostle’s preaching was reliable too.
Of course, Jehovah is “the God of truth.” (Ps. 31:5) We see this from what Paul next writes: “No matter how many the promises of God are, they have become ‘yes’ by means of him,” that is, by means of Christ. Jesus’ flawless integrity while on earth cleared up any possible cause for doubt concerning Jehovah’s promises. Paul continues: “Therefore, also through him [Jesus] is the ‘Amen’ said to God, which brings him glory through us.” (2 Cor. 1:20) Jesus is the personal guarantee, or the “Amen,” that every promise Jehovah God makes will come true!
Just as Jehovah and Jesus always speak the truth, so Paul always meant what he said. (2 Cor. 1:19) He was not fickle, one who made promises “in a fleshly way.” (2 Cor. 1:17) Rather, he ‘walked by spirit.’ (Gal. 5:16) In his dealings with others, he had their best interests at heart. His Yes meant Yes!
DOES YOUR YES MEAN YES?
Nowadays, it is common for people who do not live according to Bible principles to make promises and then break them if a minor problem arises or something more appealing turns up. In business matters “yes” does not always mean “yes,” even when agreements have been confirmed in writing. Many no longer view marriage, an agreement between two parties, as a lifelong commitment. Rather, the skyrocketing divorce rate shows that many view marriage as a casual union that can easily be abandoned.—2 Tim. 3:1, 2.
What about you? Does your Yes mean Yes? True, as considered in the opening part of this article, it may happen that you have to cancel an appointment, not because of fickleness on your part, but because of circumstances beyond your control. But if you as a Christian make a promise or a commitment, you really should do all you can to keep it. (Ps. 15:4; Matt. 5:37) If you do, you will become known as someone who is trustworthy, a person of your word, one who consistently speaks the truth. (Eph. 4:15, 25; Jas. 5:12) When people realize that you can be trusted in everyday matters, they may be more willing to listen when you share with them the truth about God’s Kingdom. Therefore, let us make sure that our Yes really means Yes!