Delivering on Your Promises
“You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it”(Matthew 23:19–22, ESV).
One of the greatest disappointments is when people say they will do things, then don’t follow through. They commit to action, but their commitment is conditional. What they really mean is they’ll fulfill their promise if it works out for them.
Hypocritical excuses grow stale and predictable: “I kept my word for a while, but now—when I didn’t get my way, when it’s not what I thought, when I’m paying a price personally to persevere—I don’t like it. I treat my promise as null and void because what I really meant by my promise was to take care of myself.”
Jesus unloads on promise-breaking hypocrisy. He points out the lengths people will go to create a technicality or loophole to squirm out of promises. We want the benefits of a promise without the cost of commitment. Often, despite our promises, we want to keep our options open.
In Matthew 23:20, the word swears does not describe cursing but rather an oath or vow. To swear is to make a solemn promise, to give your word.
But the Pharisees had a sneaky, “fingers-crossed-behind-their-backs” clause in their commitments. And Jesus called their bluffs. They would swear by the temple, but when challenged for their failure to keep their promises, would respond, “Ah, but I didn’t swear by the gold in the temple” (23:17). Or they’d swear by the altar, but when challenged again would respond, “Ah, but I didn’t swear by the gift on the altar” (23:18)—or worse, “but I didn’t swear by God, who dwells in the temple.”
They expected to be released from their commitments based on hidden technicalities. Sound familiar in our culture of broken promises? Jesus utterly crushes this nonsense and sorts out the nuances of honesty for a bunch of hypocrites. “And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it” (23:21–22).Could He be any clearer?
People of integrity give their word and keep it, regardless of the cost. Significant commitments have one thing in common: they get tested. Whether it’s a commitment to our Savior for eternity or to a spouse for life, those promises will not be left unchallenged. Psalm 15:4 commends the person “who swears to his own hurt and does not change.”
We all face times when it would be a lot easier to go in a different direction. And we have to expect that if we give our word on something, it will cost us. Ecclesiastes 5:4–5 warns, “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay in paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.”
Pay what you vow. Deliver what you promise, or don’t promise. That’s what sincere, honest people do. Hypocrites squirm out of promises they don’t want to keep.
Consider your promises to God. What have you committed to Him? A promise to tithe, to share your faith, to obey Him? How are you tempted to look for technicalities to invalidate your commitments?
Consider your promises to others. When you tell your spouse, “I’ll take care of this; you can count on me,” how faithfully do you follow through? Whether it’s changing a light bulb or a bad habit, if you say you’ll do it, then do it.
Keep your word! Promises have been described like babies: easy to make and hard to deliver. Commitments always come with a cost and if your word can’t be trusted, you can’t be trusted.
Spend a few minutes in self-examination. How faithfully do you keep your word—to God, to your spouse, to your family, to your boss, to others?
As you’ve read Jesus’ warnings today, what promise has come to mind that you realize you need to renew and keep?
God, thank You that even when I am faithless, You are faithful. You always keep your promises, and I can depend on You. For all the times I’ve made promises to You and haven’t kept them, I’m sorry. I feel humbled by how You faithfully, gently draw me back from my wandering and hypocrisy. I want to become more and more a person of my word, even when it costs me. Help me to make wise, thoughtful promises and to keep those promises. Please grow me into someone on whom others can count. In Jesus’ faithful name I pray, amen.