Imagine this: An elder who is a member of a Hospital Liaison Committee and a young publisher have arranged to work together in the field service on Sunday morning. However, 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 operate on her without using blood. To be able to show his love and support to the family during this emergency, the elder cancels the plans for field service he had made with the young brother.
Now imagine this: A single mother with two children is invited by a couple in her congregation to spend an evening with them. When she tells her children about the invitation, they are so excited. They can hardly wait for the day to arrive. 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 finds out why they canceled. After inviting her, the couple were invited to visit some friends, and they accepted.
As Christians, we should keep our promises. We should never say “‘yes’ and yet ‘no,’” that is, we should never agree to do something and then change our mind without good reason. (2 Corinthians 1:18) However, as the two examples above illustrate, not all situations are the same. There may be times when it seems that we have no choice and we must cancel arrangements we have made. Even the apostle Paul had to do this once.
PAUL WAS ACCUSED OF BEING UNRELIABLE
In the year 55, Paul visited Ephesus on his third missionary tour. He was planning to sail across the Aegean Sea to Corinth and travel from there to Macedonia. Then, on his way back to Jerusalem, he planned to visit the Corinthian congregation a second time, to take their kind gift to the brothers in Jerusalem. (1 Corinthians 16:3) We know this because at 2 Corinthians 1:15, 16, 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 had written a previous letter to the Corinthian brothers, informing them of his plan to visit them. (1 Corinthians 5:9) A short time after writing that letter, Paul heard from Chloe’s family that there were serious problems in the congregation. (1 Corinthians 1:10, 11) Paul changed his original plan and decided not to visit the Corinthian congregation at that time. He then wrote the letter that we now know as 1 Corinthians. In it Paul gave counsel and correction. He also wrote that he had changed his travel plans and that he would go to Macedonia first and then go to Corinth.—1 Corinthians 16:5, 6.* (See footnote.)
It seems that when the brothers in Corinth received his letter, some of them accused him of not keeping his promises. They thought that they were better than Paul. He called these ones “superfine apostles.” To defend himself, 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 Corinthians 1:17; 11:5.
We might ask, In these circumstances did the apostle Paul really “view the matter lightly”? Of course not! The word translated “lightly” means unreliable and can be used to describe a person who does not keep his promises. Paul’s question “do I purpose things in a fleshly way?” should have helped the Christians in Corinth to see that Paul’s decision to change his plans was not because he was unreliable.
Paul answered their accusation when he wrote: “But God can be relied on that what we say to you is not ‘yes’ and yet ‘no.’” (2 Corinthians 1:18) He changed his travel plans because he wanted the best for his brothers and sisters in Corinth. At 2 Corinthians 1:23, we read Paul’s words: “It is to spare you that I have not yet come to Corinth.” By changing his plans, he gave them a chance to apply his counsel before he visited them. And that is what they did. While he was in Macedonia, Paul heard from Titus that the letter had helped the Corinthians understand that what they were doing was wrong and that they had repented. This gave Paul great joy.—2 Corinthians 6:11; 7:5-7.
JESUS IS THE GUARANTEE
When the “superfine apostles” accused Paul of not keeping his promises, they might have also been saying that he could not be trusted in his preaching work. However, Paul reminded the Corinthians that he had preached the message of 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 Corinthians 1:19) So was Jesus Christ unreliable in any way? 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 Paul’s preaching was reliable too.
Jehovah is “the God of truth.” (Psalm 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. Because Jesus kept his integrity while on earth, we can be sure that Jehovah’s promises are reliable. Paul continues: “Therefore, also through him [Jesus] is the ‘Amen’ said to God, which brings him glory through us.” (2 Corinthians 1:20) What does it mean that Jesus is the “Amen”? It means that Jesus is the guarantee that all of Jehovah’s promises will come true.
Clearly, then, when Paul said “yes” he really meant “yes.” Like Jesus Christ and Jehovah God, he meant what he said. (2 Corinthians 1:19) He was reliable; he was not someone who made promises “in a fleshly way.” (2 Corinthians 1:17) Instead, he was guided by God’s spirit. (Galatians 5:16) Everything that he did proved that he wanted the best for his brothers and sisters. His Yes meant Yes!
DOES YOUR YES MEAN YES?
Today, it is common for people to make promises and then break them because of a minor problem or because they prefer to do something else. In business matters “yes” does not always mean “yes,” even when an agreement has been signed. Many no longer view marriage as a promise that they have to keep for the rest of their lives despite the difficulties that they may face. The number of people getting divorced is rapidly increasing, and this shows that many view their marriage vow as an unimportant promise that can easily be broken.—2 Timothy 3:1, 2.
What about you? Does your Yes mean Yes? As we saw at the beginning of this article, it may happen that you have to cancel an appointment, not because you are unreliable, but because of circumstances that you cannot control. But if you make a promise, you really should do all you can to keep it. (Psalm 15:4; Matthew 5:37) If you do this, you will become known as someone who is reliable, a person who always speaks the truth. (Ephesians 4:15, 25; James 5:12) When people realize that you can be trusted in everyday matters, they may be more willing to listen when you talk to them about God’s Kingdom. So we should make sure that our Yes really means Yes!