“I’ll do it,” you say. Then the time comes to do it. What happens? Do you keep your word? When you tell your friend you will meet him at 6 o’clock, are you there at 6 o’clock? When you say you’ll finish that project by Wednesday morning, is it finished on Tuesday night? When you say you will do something, do people know it’s as good as done?
Are you known as a man of your word?
It is easy to break your word. People often won’t even fault you for it. They rationalize it just like you do: Something came up. I didn’t foresee this other factor. Things happen. No big deal.
Because this attitude is so prevalent, most of us fail to recognize that breaking our word is a sin!
Being a man of your word is essential to biblical manhood.
God’s Awesome Example
Remember, sin is anything that breaks God’s law of love. His law is the codified form of what God is and how He lives. Sin is anything contrary to the way God does things.
Breaking your word is very contrary to God’s way!
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19; esv). When God says something, it is true. His word is rock-solid, totally trustworthy.
What a difference between God and man! When we say we’ll do something, we often forget we even said it. When we do remember, we often back out. When we announce we will change something in our lives, we often fail.
Not God! When He says He will do something, He does it. When He makes a promise, He keeps it. When He determines to accomplish something, He always sees it through. Every jot and tittle of God’s Word will be fulfilled! This complete dependability is the very foundation of our faith. Imagine if God fulfilled 70 percent of His promises. If He only heard your prayers 82 percent of the time. If His prophecies came to pass 9 out of 10 times. If there was a 96 percent chance that Jesus Christ is actually going to return. Thank God He keeps His word!
Then, compare yourself to God.
Godly men must build this quality! God wants you to become perfect even as He is (Matthew 5:48). Follow His example: When words go out of your mouth, do everything you can to bring them to pass (Isaiah 45:22-23).
In his 1916 book Making Life a Masterpiece, Orison Swett Marden wrote, “Only recently a prominent public man was criticized throughout the newspaper world as one not having enough character to keep his promises. He had not the stamina to make good when to do so proved difficult” (emphasis added throughout). That is so often the issue: You say you will do something, but then circumstances change, and you encounter an unanticipated inconvenience. Suddenly, the short-term costs make keeping your word seem not worth doing.
But think of the long-term cost: losing your credibility. Think of the high cost of being known as unreliable. Think of the high cost of compromising your character.
“He hadn’t the timber, the character fiber, to stand up and do the thing he knew to be right, and that he had promised to do,” Marden continued. “The world is full of these jellyfish people who have not lime enough in their backbone to stand erect, to do the right thing. They are always stepping into the spotlight in the good-intention stage, and then, when the reckoning time comes, taking the line of least resistance, doing the thing which will cost the least effort or money, regardless of later consequences. They think they can be as unscrupulous about breaking promises as they were about making them. But sooner or later fate makes us play fair or get out of the game.”
How often do people break their word to you? They say they’ll be there at 7:30 sharp, and then say, Oh, I forgot! or, Something came up! Often there is no explanation or apology. Or there is an apology, but they do the same thing the next time. It is obvious they don’t really care about a broken word. How about you?
Modern society has gotten further and further from God—and from lives of honesty, integrity and trustworthiness. Agreements must be bound by carefully worded, attorney-approved contracts. But only a couple generations ago, many if not most significant business transactions were sealed with a man’s word and his handshake. No forms. No lawyers. No contracts. The man saying it was the contract.
When a man says, I will do it, he is signing his name to the contract and committing his reputation and his character.
How seriously do you take a word you have given?
Jesus Christ says “[E]very idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36).
Christ also says, “‘But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one’” (Matthew 5:37; New King James Version).
Is your yes really yes? Is your no really no?
“But I had something come up ….” Did you tell that person yes?
“I forgot about it ….” Did you say you would do it?
“I ran out of time ….” Did you give your word?
“Well, I didn’t say ‘I promise I’ll do it.’” Does God make these excuses? Jesus Christ never “promised” to do anything! He let His “Yes” be yes.
“But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not” (Matthew 21:28-30). Christ is contrasting those who refuse at first but then repent and change, with those who say all the right things—Sure, Dad, I’ll help you out!—but don’t follow through and keep their word.
God wants action. This is how we grow in character: not by wishing, but by doing. We don’t grow by promising, but by carrying out our promises.
How to Keep Your Word to Others
1) Be careful what you promise. “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). Before you tell someone you will do something, think about it. Don’t say yes just because that is the most comfortable response for that moment. Learn what it feels like to respectfully and kindly decline to commit when you don’t know for certain you can deliver. Be realistic in what you say you will do. It is wise to state plans as probabilities rather than absolutes (James 4:13-14).
2) Admit when you can’t do it. If you know you can’t deliver, say so. Don’t equivocate because you don’t want to seem rude or incompetent. Be polite, of course, but say no. “Never be ashamed to say, whether as applied to time or money, ‘I cannot afford it’—‘I cannot afford to waste an hour in the idleness to which you invite me’—‘I cannot afford the guinea you ask me to throw away,’” said Lord Bulwer Lytton. “Learn to say ‘No’ with decision, ‘Yes’ with caution—‘No’ with decision whenever it resists a temptation; ‘Yes’ with caution whenever it implies a promise. A promise once given is a bond inviolable.” James 5:12 reiterates Christ’s command in Matthew 5:37. Say no with decision and yes with caution.
3) Once you’ve said it, do it. When you say you’ll do something, the other person must know your promise has value. Write it down so you don’t forget. Make it large in your mind. Use a calendar. Use technology like a memo app. Keep track of the details. Schedule them; follow through. Fulfill your promise 100 percent, even if circumstances change and it becomes twice as hard to fulfill it—win that victory of character! Also, keep your word to yourself—even when no one is watching. When you say you’re going to exercise three times a week, follow through. Do what you must in order to fulfill that commitment, even in the littlest areas, and those successes will multiply.
4) If you blow it, admit it. Don’t lie or make up excuses. If you can’t do it, or fail to keep your word, be honest. When you make a mistake, don’t ignore it. Apologize! Apologize with a sense of the gravity that you have broken your word. When you make a mistake, care enough to do what you can to fix it. Then determine even more deeply that next time, you will keep your word.
Keep Your Word to God
If you are striving to embrace biblical manhood, you speak often to God, praying on your knees. You speak of how you want to improve: I want to pray more passionately. I want to love my wife and children more. Devote more time to Bible study. Overcome this or that sin. These are good thoughts, good commitments to make.
The question is, when you take such matters to God, do you follow through?
God keeps track. “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God,” says Ecclesiastes 5:2, 4-5: “for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. … When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.”
Be careful what you tell God. He holds you to account! Do not be rash. Do not make a promise you cannot keep.
That is not to say you should never make a commitment to God, or carefully say everything with noncommittal wording. It is to say that when you commit to God, follow through.
We need to develop the character to keep our word to God. We must make necessary changes in our lives—not just for a day or a week, but day after day after day until we follow through, make a permanent change and keep our word!
Does God consider you reliable? When He shows you something you need to change—through Bible study, prayer, literature, a spoken message, a conversation or an experience—can He count on you to follow through?
This is why God’s truth is dangerous knowledge. We are accountable for what we learn.
“The human man is made literally from clay,” Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in The Incredible Human Potential. “God is like the master potter forming and shaping a vessel out of clay. But if the clay is too hard, it will not bend into the form and shape he wants. If it is too soft and moist, it lacks firmness to ‘stay put’ where the potter bends it. … [T]he human clay must be pliable, must yield willingly. … [Yet] if he is so lacking in will, purpose and determination that he won’t ‘stay put’ when God molds him partly into what God wants him to be—too wishy-washy, weak, lacking root of character—he will never endure to the end. He will lose out.”
God must be able to rely on you to stay put when He shapes you! Yes, you need His guidance and power. But you also need that “root of character” in you to do as God instructs. That “root of character” is not God’s righteous character; it is a necessary ingredient for God to be able to build His righteous character in you. It is the basic stiffness of spine that makes a man a man and not a jellyfish.
The overwhelmingly prevalent attitude is to simply fail in our attempts to overcome and then to make excuses after the fact. But as the saying goes, an excuse is nothing more than the skin of a reason wrapped around a lie.
Psalm 15 lists qualities God loves. Verse 4 praises “He whoswears to his own hurt and does not change” (nkjv). Sometimes we can be shortsighted and commit to something that ends up being “to our hurt.” But here is the real challenge: If that happens, do you then change? God is impressed by the man who changes not. Even when that man realizes the difficulty in the commitment, he sticks with it, even if he is going to suffer for it.
Think on Christ’s crucifixion. Christ had committed to it. He had second thoughts, but followed through, “to His own hurt”!
Compare yourself to God in this area of biblical manhood. “Why is it impossible for God to sin?” Mr. Armstrong asked. “No greater power exists that will prevent Him—but God has simply by His own power—supreme and above all power—set Himself that He will not!” (ibid).
Do not think, God is God; I can never be like that. Your human potential, your masculine purpose, your duty to your God and to others, and your only hope beyond this life is to be like that.
This may seem overwhelming, and with the human spirit alone, it is impossible. You cannot accomplish this by simply willing yourself into following through. You need God’s help! Remember: With God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
How to Keep Your Word to God
1) Ask God to set your priorities. God knows what you can handle. He does not expect you to do more than you are capable of. Ask Him to show you what to focus on, what to pour your heart and effort into, what to use His Spirit to accomplish.
2) Only commit to what you can fulfill. Jesus lived sinlessly and showed that this is possible. When He dwells in you, He can live a sinless life through you. Never compromise on striving for that. But when it comes to specific commitments like, I will pray for 10 people every day; I will approach my wife about this problem; I will sacrifice this and that—do not just let these lightly tumble off your tongue in prayer. Seek God’s guidance, carefully consider what needs to be done, and take your word to Him seriously.
3) Keep track. We are human beings, and we forget. We forget even our seriously considered, earnestly delivered commitments to God. When we get up from our prayers, we quickly become distracted. Record your commitments, your projects, your plans. Make note of the sin you are besieging. Write down the virtues you want to grow in. Do not let these commitments exist only in your mind while you’re praying. God remembers them—you must too!
4) Change one thing at a time. Real change requires focus. If you try to change too much at once, your focus is diffused and your efforts are ineffective. Choose the most important thing, commit to it, and fix it at the forefront of your thinking. Grapple with that commitment day in and day out until it becomes a new habit. A good rule of thumb is to commit to no more than one per month.
A Word of Honor
“I have been asked what I mean by ‘word of honor.’ I will tell you,” wrote Karl G. Maeser. “Place me behind prison walls—walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground—there is a possibility that in some way or another I might be able to escape. But stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of that circle? No, never! I’d die first.”
“A man is already of consequence in the world when it is known that we can implicitly rely upon him,” Lord Bulwer Lytton said. “I have frequently seen in life a person preferred to a long list of applicants for some important charge, which lifts him at once into station and fortune, merely because he has this reputation—that when he says he knows a thing, he knows it, and when he says he will do a thing, he will do it.”
What is your reputation? Strive to be more like God. Follow His example! When you keep your word, you keep His word!