The righteous man “swears to his own hurt and does not change,” according to Psalm 15:4. A dear mentor first made me aware of this verse when I was a new believer. My friend, who was a great influence in my life, taught me that times will come when one might regret making a commitment, but that it is necessary to keep one’s word. In other words, “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’” (James 5:1; Matthew 5:37).
The Importance of Christian Integrity
Counselors often come across counselees who are lax in keeping their commitments. For example, consider the father who promises to attend an event with his son on a Saturday, but then he is offered great seats at the big game at the last minute. Will he abandon his commitment to his son in order to take the better offer? Like the father in the folk song “The Cat’s in the Cradle,” he eases his conscience by offering his son a vague assurance that they will find another time to be together: “We’ll get together then, you know we’ll have a good time then.”
I have been shocked by how easily some Christian leaders (even counselors) break their commitments. On the other hand, I have witnessed wonderful examples of Christian integrity. I know a Christian contractor and friend who bid a fixed price for a project that proved to be much more costly than he had anticipated. My friend did not try to increase the price; he continued to do high quality work and refused to cut corners even when others encouraged him to do so. Several years ago, we invited a popular author as a keynote speaker at a conference. Shortly before the conference, a crisis erupted in his ministry. He went to extraordinary efforts to keep his commitment to us while trying to address the crisis from afar.
There is a sense in which, despite our best efforts, every promise we make is conditional because we may be unable to keep our word due to circumstances beyond our control (James 4:13-15, Proverbs 16:9 27:1). Thus, you might be unable to be somewhere due to sickness, disability, death, or the failure of the airlines to deliver you on time. In fact, only God can perfectly keep each of His promises.
Your Response to Psalm 15:4
1. Expect to do some difficult things for the sake of keeping your commitments. There will be times when you may regret having made a promise, but you should still keep it. I have been guilty of over-committing to outside speaking engagements. What seemed like no big imposition when the commitment was made initially became overwhelming in the midst of the bustle of life. Sometimes heading to the airport I have asked, “Why did I agree to do this? Didn’t I realize how difficult and disruptive this would be?” These, however, are not valid reasons to break my word. Furthermore, usually I find joy and fulfillment once I get there and serve among the Lord’s people.
2. Be very cautious about making commitments. One way to avoid being tempted to break a promise is to avoid making too many commitments. Tell your spouse or your fellow leaders that you won’t accept any significant new responsibility without taking a certain amount of time to prayerfully consider whether it would be wise stewardship of your time and resources. It also might be wise to have others with whom you must clear any commitments.
3. If your promise is conditional, make the qualifications explicit. If there are circumstances other than being prevented by God’s providence (health, family crisis, etc.) which could cause you to back out, make these clear at the outset. For example, a speaker could tentatively agree to speak at a future event with the qualification that he reserves the right to back out by an agreed upon date, if he determines that other priorities must take precedence.
4. If you strongly desire to be released from a commitment, ask permission, rather than just declaring that you are no longer willing to keep your promise. For example, a few months ago I agreed to speak overseas next October. There has been a significant change in my life that would make this an extremely inconvenient time for me to go. When this change took place, I contacted my host asking if he would be willing to release me from my commitment. Yet I also said that if he wanted to hold me to my word, I would keep my promise while trusting God to work out the other situation.
5. It may be that, after evaluating ourselves in light of Psalm 15:4, some of us realize we need to seek forgiveness from others for not following this principle, perhaps even offering to find some way to make it up to those whom we have disappointed.
The perfect example of the righteous man from Psalm 15 is Christ who alone is worthy to abide in God’s holy place (Psalm 15:1) and who lives and speaks with perfect righteousness and integrity (Psalm 15:2-5). He kept His eternal commitment to the Father by coming into the world to save His people. Through His faithfulness, He atoned for our faithlessness. We should strive to emulate our Lord’s integrity.
Join the Conversation
Do you have any other suggestions about how to keep oneself from overcommitting or how to honor an abundance of commitments that have been made?