Simply let your “Yes” be “Yes” and your “No” “No”; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:37, NIV 84)
The making, keeping and breaking of promises is a significant theme in the current political crisis in the UK. What promises were made at the time of the Brexit referendum? What promises have been made since? Which have been broken?
Democracy requires the making of promises – all parties issue manifestos, which are essentially sets of promises. Along the way, sometimes carefully, sometimes casually, politicians make promises. At each election, parties are judged by their policies and their successes – and voters will punish a party which has broken its promises. In today’s world, with every casual comment recorded and replayed, it is easier to spot broken promises than ever.
Promises are central to the Bible. God makes Himself known to Abraham by making promises. As the storyline of Scripture unfolds, He shows Himself to be real by sticking to those promises. Indeed, it is one of the wonders of the Bible that we see how remarkably He does that, and how many promises find their fulfilment in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Who, other than the true and living God, could make the huge promises He does, and fulfil them so precisely over many centuries?
When the Bible describes God as ‘faithful’ it refers primarily to the way He keeps His promises. His faithfulness is central to His relationship with us. For He calls us to trust His promises. That is what faith is. And we can be quite sure that, since He is faithful, our trust will be rewarded. His promises never fail.
It can be no surprise, then, that Jesus calls His followers to show faithfulness, too. In the passage above, Jesus puts high store on keeping one’s word. This must so characterise His followers that they don’t need to swear oaths to be taken seriously. We shouldn’t need to say “I promise”; a simple word should be our bond! We should do all in our power to keep our promises.
Of course, not only does faithfulness reflect the character of God; it is also for our good. Broken promises destroy trust. A major ingredient in the present political crisis is a lack of trust on all sides. This in turn weakens respect for those in authority, creates cynicism and forms a climate which might favour extremism.
Once lost, trust is slow to repair, precisely because it requires time to show that you really do keep your promises.
It is not my place as a minister of the good news of Jesus Christ to campaign for any particular political position. But here is some Biblical advice for politicians of all stripes: as far as it is in your power, keep your promises, even if it hurts.