How important is it to you to keep your word? For me, it’s vitally important. If I’m completely honest, I’ve stressed myself out more than once over the years trying to accomplish everything that I agreed to do. I wondered where this came from, and looking back, I can see moments in my life where this belief was cemented. But those times when it pushed me into crisis mode are not pleasant memories.
Which leads me to ask a follow-up question: What about those times when life intervenes? When you can’t follow through on what you said you would do? How does that affect your faith and your emotional stability? Does it merely mess with your mind or does it also cause you to add pressure to your friendships?
And what truths presented in the Bible address this?
The Sanctity of Truth
Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom. ~Thomas Jefferson
To really talk about this, we have to broaden the discussion for a moment. This may seem like a rabbit trail but hang with me.
Is it ever right to lie? Some find it very easy to be black and white about this issue. I used to, coming down with a solid stand with the group that said no lie is ever righteous. But I ran into two biblical problems, stories that show people lying for good reason. One I’ll talk about farther down.
The one I’ll mention now is Rahab. I’m sure many of you are familiar with her story. She lived in the wall of Jericho and somehow came into contact with the Israelite spies checking out the city. When city officials were looking for the spies, she not only hid them on her roof, she outright lied about it.
Joshua 2:3-6 records the following:
So the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab: “Bring out the men who have come into your house, for they have come here to spy out the whole land.”
Rahab had hidden the two men, but she replied, “Yes, the men were here earlier, but I didn’t know where they were from. They left the town at dusk, as the gates were about to close. I don’t know where they went. If you hurry, you can probably catch up with them.” (Actually, she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them beneath bundles of flax she had laid out.)
The men promised to protect her and her household during the attack. When they told Joshua what had happened, he agreed to the pact, and when the battle for Jericho was over, Rahab went to live with the Israelites. But don’t discount her as some common liar. She had a bigger impact than protecting two unnamed spies.
She is listed in Jesus’s genealogy in Matthew 1 as the mother of Boaz, the man who married Ruth and became the grandfather of King David. She is also listed in Hebrews 11, referred to as the Hall of Faith. The writer of that New Testament book boldly declares, “It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.”
Even though she lied, her faith caught God’s attention. Does that mean that telling a lie isn’t as black and white as we’d like it to be?
Keep Your Word
One passage of Scripture that the group of those who tow the firm line on this often use to defend their position is found in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:1 tells us that Jesus saw a crowd, so he sat down on a mountainside. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach.
The verses people often pull out is Matthew 5:33-37.
“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.
While that can be convicting to all of us at different moments in our lives, it is frequently used by our enemy to be condemning. So we should look a little deeper to see what was really going on here.
The Old Testament gave several guidelines for uttering oaths or vows—a promise to God that went above what He required. The Pharisees, as was their nature, had complicated the process, adding in all kinds of additional requirements and expanding the definition of what an oath or vow was.
The Holman New Testament Commentary for the book of Matthew adds some great insight here.
Beginning in 5:34, Jesus again used hyperbole when he instructed the people not to make any oaths. Oaths, properly understood and respectfully used, are a good thing. Jesus was saying that it is better just to make a promise and keep it (and prove by your track record that you are a promise keeper worth trusting) than to thoughtlessly use the powerful name of Yahweh to back up a promise that may or may not be kept. Simply put, Jesus insisted that his followers tell the truth always—not simply when “under oath.”
A Little Balance
But the fact that Jesus commands us to be promise keepers doesn’t solve our Rahab problem. Some will try to ignore this, saying she was merely exercising her free will, that God really didn’t condone it. As I mentioned above, we have one more story to consider.
I tell you all about it . . . next week.
Deputy Fire Marshal Casandra McCarthy promised to protect the citizens of Silver Heights from fire hazards and natural disasters But life intervenes and threatens to overwhelm her.
Inspector Cassandra McCarthy never thought she’d be raising her two daughters alone, but her husband’s unexpected death forced her to find a career. Now working beside a retired Special Operations soldier and veteran fireman, she serves her small North Carolina town, protecting them from hazards they don’t understand. She loves what she does and trusts God to provide—until a hurricane and a series of unexplained fires hits too close to home. What will it cost Cassandra to protect the citizens of Silver Heights?