“I promise.” “Pinky swear.” “You have my word.” How many times have you heard assurances like these? And how many times in your experience have such promises been violated? There once was a time when people honestly would say their word was their bond. No need for formal contracts or commitments in writing – a promise was solemn and certain. But not anymore, right?
Where do we start? It’s too easy to pick on politicians, because it seems their job description includes making promises they have no intention of keeping. Reminds me of the old perfume commercial with the slogan, “Promise her anything, but give her Arpege.”
But the promises made/promises broken scenario is hardly confined to the so-called “hallowed halls of government.” Whether it’s your neighborhood mechanic, the contractor you’ve chosen to do work on your house, a salesperson you consult about a major purchase, or even longtime friends, we have all known times when they made promises that were never fulfilled.
Whenever the issue of broken promises comes to mind, I think of the 1974 song, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” by Harry Chapin. It’s about a little boy asking his dad to play and spend time with him, only to receive empty promises:
"’When you coming home, dad?’ ‘I don't know when.
But we'll get together then,
You know we'll have a good time then.’”
“Then” in this song never comes. In fact, the little boy in the song grows up to be just like his dad: a promise maker and a promise breaker.
Someone once observed, however, whenever we point a finger at someone, four fingers are pointing back at ourselves. Each of us – probably more times than we’d care to admit – has been the promise breaker. As Jesus told a group of self-righteous religious leaders, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).
The earliest time I can remember was as an adolescent, maybe about 10 years old. I was staying at my grandfather’s home on vacation. I’d befriended a boy my age in the neighborhood; I think his name was Billy. He was having a birthday party and I had agreed to come. But I faced a dilemma when a family friend offered to take me to a bookstore and buy me a gift, since my birthday was just a few days away.
Party? Bookstore? Tough choice, but I remember selfishly choosing the bookstore and not even telling Billy I wasn’t coming to his party. I’m sure, if he’s still living, Billy has long since forgotten how I reneged on my promise – but obviously I haven’t. That’s not the only promise I’ve broken during my lifetime, but it’s one I’ll never forget.
Here’s the good news: When it comes to broken promises, there’s one exception. The Lord God is the one true, never failing Promise Keeper. In fact, His promises are actually covenants.
Promises can be made without any legal obligation or validity. Covenants, however, are legally binding agreements. Even more important, as one writer said, “An unconditional covenant can be defined as a sovereign act of God whereby He unconditionally obligates Himself to bring to pass specific promises, blessings, and conditions for the covenanted people.”
For proof of God’s unwavering promises and covenants we can consider the nation of Israel. Historian Barbara Tuchman once observed that Israel is, “the only nation in the world that is governing itself in the same territory, under the same name, and with the same religion and same language as it did 3,000 years ago.”
Dating back to Jacob, the son of Isaac whom God later renamed Israel, the Jewish people have miraculously survived 400 years of slavery, the killing of six million Jews during the Holocaust, and myriad other forms of persecution and opposition. The Promised Land, which the Lord gave to the Israelites following their Egyptian captivity and 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, is essentially the same territory occupied by the nation of Israel today.
Even better than that, God’s covenant promises are available today to anyone who calls upon the name of Jesus Christ in faith. “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance – now that He has died as a ransom to see them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews 9:15).
The “first covenant” refers to the Ten Commandments and all the other laws God established for the Israelites to obey. Repeatedly, however, they failed to keep these laws, in many cases forgetting or ignoring them completely. Hence a new covenant, one of grace – His unmerited favor – made possible only through Jesus’ atoning, once-and-for-all death on the cross.
As 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 declares, “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
We need not strive to be “good enough” for God’s love and favor. His acceptance is solely on the basis of faith, not according to the things we do and the things we don’t: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
Which brings us back to being confident the Lord will never fail to keep His promise to us. Galatians 3:18 states, “For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.” Add to that the assurance of Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever,” and we can have complete assurance that while everyone else we know – including ourselves – breaks promises, God never will.
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.