Mean What You Say
In today’s sermon, I take a look at the idea of making promises and why the believer should refrain from making promises to people and in the name of God.
“I cross my heart, and hope to die.” That is often said when a child is making a promise to another child, or maybe even when some adults are making promises to a child. That phrase and ones similar to it are typically said when someone wants to get somebody to truly believe in whatever it is that they are promising. In other words, we find that promises are typically used to persuade or to convince somebody. What type of person feels they have to use a promise to convince somebody?
For example, when I hear the phrase, “I cross my heart, and hope to die,” I am reminded of one of my favorite Christmas movies. In Home Alone 2, two thieves (Harry and Marv) are caught by a child (Kevin) robbing a toy store. Kevin takes a couple of pictures of them in the act and the two thieves end up chasing him to an abandoned house where he’s set all sorts of traps up for them; just like in the first movie. It gets to a point when one of the bad guys tell Kevin to hand him the photos and nobody would get hurt if he did. Kevin asks him if he promises, and then Harry responded, “I cross my heart and hope to die.”
If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Harry was lying through his teeth! This is actually a prime example of why we as believers should know better when it comes to making promises. Promises are subjective to whoever it is that is making the promise! What I want to do today is focus on what Jesus says about being the person that makes promises.
Confused about promises
In last Sunday’s sermon, while we were taking a look at the error that Ananias and Sapphira made, oaths (or promises) became a key part of the sermon. I find that many times when I am explaining scripture to somebody that there is often confusion over my explanation. To be clear, it is not because of something I said wrong or because the person I was speaking to was ignorant.
For example, I was talking to someone about forgiveness a couple weeks ago and there was a bit of confusion on the other end with my explanation. I believe a lot of confusion over things spiritually typically happens because many of us have spent so many years living in this world. Through our life experience, we add to our logic what we have learned in the world. We will then override scripture, spiritual teachings, with our own logic and become confused as to what scripture is teaching us. (If you want to know my thoughts on forgiveness, I have preached a few sermons on forgiveness.)
I don’t want there to be any confusion when it comes to making promises. Some of us may have already learned this lesson about promises while others may still recklessly make promises. Beware of the promises that you make.
Jesus’ teachings on making promises
Sometimes some of us need to see scripture tell us things directly so that we will know whether it is right or wrong for us to do a thing. In our key verse (Matt. 5:34), Jesus teaches, “do not swear at all.” Swear, we should understand, is not the same thing as saying curse words. Swear in this sense, is connected to making oaths (promises or vows).
Jesus directly tells us, “Don’t make promises at all.” Now, this may go against what some of us have learned to believe (our personal logic) because of what we have learned in life. Some folks will see making promises as a way to gain trust. Some folks have used the benefit of “keeping promises” to “advance”. IT is completely possible that some of us have lived all our lives not believing there was anything wrong with making promises. So, let us understand why it is that Jesus says this to us.
Old Testament promises
Jesus makes reference (Matt. 5:33) to what was said to those “of old” (ancient times). What He is referencing is what is said about making oaths to the Lord in the Mosaic Law. In Exodus we are told (Ex. 20:7), “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” Those who made an oath in the Lord’s name but did it in vain (without success/failed), would not be considered innocent of the oath that they had made.
You see, the Lord took promises very seriously and He expected for those who made the promise (or taken the oath) to be faithful to their promise. To this day, since God does not change, we know that the Lord still takes promises very seriously. (Especially promises made in His name.) The reason God expects for us to be faithful to our promises is because He Himself is faithful to His promises.
God promised Noah to never flood the earth for destruction purposes (Gen. 9:11) and there has certainly been no more global floods. God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the Promised Land, and that through him the world would be blessed (Gen. 22:17-18). The Israelites did inherit the land of Canaan and the world was blessed by the coming of Christ who came through the seed of Abraham. Scripture is filled with the Lord making promises and keeping the promises He made.
God is faithful and so the one who makes any sort of promise must be as faithful as the Lord is faithful. Understand that this is true whether you are making a promise to a person or to the Lord. So, is it possible for you to that type of person of faith when it comes to promises? Do not be quick to answer that question!
Scripture shows us that God continued to warn the ancient Isrealites in the Mosaic Law against swearing and making promises, especially in His name. In Leviticus, we read (Lev. 19:12), “And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” Clearly, this subject is a subject of great seriousness to the Lord.
If you made an oath in the ancient days, especially to the Lord, you better had kept that promise and not broke it! Punishment from being guilty of breaking an oath in the Lord’s name would soon come to those who would swear in vain to the Lord. Why? Because you were not being faithful to yourself or to the Lord. To all of this, Jesus simply and directly says to us, “just don’t do it; do not promise at all.”
Promises are hard for us to keep
The idea of making promises is thought to be something that is very sacred in our society. For example: we take wedding vows to love our spouse until death do us part. We are taught that a promise is something that you’re supposed to always keep and never break but many of us make promises without realizing just how hard it can be for us to keep them. It would take somebody being infallible, or perfect, like God, to not ever break a promise.
God is able to keep His promises because He does not forget His promises and God simply cannot fail. So, with that thought in mind, we must be humble enough to admit that there is a problem with the concept of a person never breaking a promise. If we are honest with ourselves, we know for a fact that we are fully capable of failing.
Human power is limited
In many cases, promises are made with good intent in mind. For example, I could promise to always be a shoulder to lean on. (This is something that family do for one another and something that friends do for one another as well.) Yet, at the very same time, there will be times when my shoulders are full of my own burdens, and I simply cannot take the weight of your leaning on my shoulders. Sadly, even with my good intent in mind, such a promise is broken in that moment.
I am certain there are other promises out there that we have made with good intent, but we simply can not live up to keep them because we are simply human. (Another reason why we must learn true forgiveness.) On this thought, Jesus even said (Matt. 5:36), “Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.” Even with good intentions in mind, it is likely that we will break our promises because we are limited by what we can do, especially without the Lord’s intervention.
There are others who make promises for the intent of gaining or winning a position. For example: Politicians and con men are always making promises so that they can convince people to follow them. Turn on the TV and I am certain you will see a man making promises he has no intentions of keeping so that he can hold a position. On that note, we find that liars also make promises so that they can also convince folks that they aren’t lying but are telling the truth.
In most of these cases, it seems, promises are used to gain the trust of somebody. The folks who will use promises in this sort of manner will say anything to gain your trust. Do you know the type of person that would do this? The same one that said to Jesus after taking him to a high point (Matt. 4:9), “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
So, here lies another great danger when it comes to making promises: it becomes so hard to know when you can trust somebody and their promise! The devil is out in the open nowadays, and he’s making several promises right now. Some are even falling for the words of the devil so we all must be on guard not to fall for the devil’s words.
Be the person that don’t have to make promises
Jesus does not want the believer to be the kind of person that has their character questioned! Here is why we see it was so important to Jesus to tell the disciples not to be the kind of people to make promises: He did not want them to be associated with liars, con men, or the devil. Sadly, too many church folks are now being associated with liars, con men, and all sorts of evil.
Those of genuine faith should be the kind of people that say exactly what they mean and mean exactly what they say! You should want to be the person that does not feel it necessary to rely on exaggerated promises! We should be the kind of person that simply speaks the truth and we don’t have to make some sort of convoluted promise to convince somebody to trust us. So, Jesus says to us (Matt. 5:37), “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’”
You see, this person is far more trustworthy than the person who has to make promise after promise after promise. The goal for us as believers is, again, to strive to be Christ-like. When the Lord says He is or is not going to do something, we take Him for His word. Our word must speak for us as believers today!
I believe that this is a lesson that many of us learn as we get older and older. We have had people to break their promises to us and we, ourselves, have most likely broken a promise in our lifetime. So, some of us learned that it is best if we just be truthful.