A Promise is a Promise
“For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’” – 2 Corinthians 1:20a, NLT
Chris Russo hasn’t retired yet, but perhaps he should.
A few weeks ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks were playing the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series to see which team would advance to the World Series. On Monday, October 23rd, the Phillies held a 3-2 series lead and needed only one more win to eliminate the Diamondbacks.
This is where Russo enters the story. During his radio show, Russo promised to retire if the Diamondbacks won the final two games and overtook the Phillies as National League champions. Arizona won Game Six 5-1 and triumphed in Game Seven with a final score of 4-2, prompting Diamondbacks manager Torey Luvollo to remind Russo of his promise.
“A deal’s a deal. You can’t back out of that one, Mad Dog,” Luvollo told the press after his team’s Game Seven victory.
Luvollo claims that he and Russo are friends, so we shouldn’t interpret their back-and-forth as anything more than good-natured rubbing. However, it does raise questions about the validity of our promises. How often should we keep our word? What happens when we choose not to fulfill the promises we make to others?
These thoughts bring us to our next teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Last week, we covered Jesus’ controversial teachings on gouging out eyes and cutting off hands. He wastes no time continuing to drop hard-hitting truths that make us question what we thought and believed previously.
Listen to the words of Matthew 5:31-32 (NLT): “You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.”
Immediately afterward, Jesus begins talking about oaths: “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37, NLT)
Let’s first address the elephant in the room. In the same breath that Jesus affirms the importance of marriage (which, by any definition, is an oath), Jesus also warns us against making oaths of any kind apart from a simple “yes” or “no.” What’s going on??
Simply put, Jesus is reminding us of the weightiness of the promises we make, as well as the limited control we have over many things in life. God has power over everything, and we have power over very little. We shouldn’t over-promise and under-deliver, but we should care deeply about following through on the commitments we make.
This will look different in each person’s life, but I challenge you to think about the essential commitments in your life. First and foremost is your relationship with God. Immediately following is your relationship with your spouse, as I don’t think it’s an accident that Jesus mentions marriage relationships immediately before speaking about the importance of keeping promises. Depending on your circumstances and surroundings, you may also put your children, your extended family, your job, or your community on this list.
Once you define your most important engagements, think about how effectively you are honoring these commitments and fulfilling these promises. What’s going well? What’s not going well? What do you need to improve or do differently? Take this activity seriously because if you aren’t able to fulfill your promises in your most important life domains, anything else you accomplish is quite trivial.
“It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it.” – Ecclesiastes 5:5