Matthew 5:33-37 33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
In my first year of this blog, I wrote some similar thoughts on this passage in Yes be yes, and no, no… It’s also a chapter in my Devotional Book. Today, I would like to look at the difference between agreements and promises.
When I was in my high school and early college years I would often tell people that if I said, “I promise…” then you could count on me following through with my commitment. As I have grown older, I have learned better how to just make a commitment without any extra promises to keep that commitment. Reflecting back on those years, I must have lived in such a way that I could not be counted on at my initial word. It took a promise or an oath to bind me to an agreement or commitment. I might as well have written out a contract.
Simply defined, a promise is an oath. It is an oath, declaration, pledge, or a vow to fulfill something I will or will not do. To me, to use the words, “I promise” means I have somehow been untrustworthy before. The promise is something extra to keep me in integrity and to assure the other party that I will keep my word. Even then, there is no guarantee the promise will be fulfilled.
The agreement is simpler and lines up with truth an authenticity more than the promise. When I agree, I have given my word that within my power, I will fulfill my commitment. If I have lived in such a way that I keep my agreements, then my agreement is all I need. My “yes” means yes, and my “no” means no. If I break my agreement, I deal with less shame and am freed up more to take responsibility for breaking an agreement.
In other words, the oath/promise feels like bondage. The agreement is the way I should live. When I break a promise, I have created a poor situation by going against an oath, which seems more binding. When I break an agreement, and I normally do not, I can rest on the fact that I can make this up in some way because I am not characterized by breaking agreements. It is not a pattern for me. An agreement also frees me up to change the agreement in the future. I can get in touch with the person I have a commitment to and re-negotiate the agreement.
As I look at this passage, I believe that Jesus is helping me simplify my life. He is helping me to shape my character in such a way that I can say a word, and that word would be my word. As I continue this journey of life, the more authentic and truthful I can live, make me more trustworthy.
1. What would be your differing definitions of promise and agreement?
2. Have you lived in such a way that your “yes” means yes and your “no” means no?
3. What needs to change for you to live in this way?
4. Are you overloaded with your agreements? Why do you think you are? What do you gain out of saying “yes” when it is hard to keep that agreement?
5. Pay attention this week to how you keep your word. Let God show you some things around that as you take note.
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