There, Paul is explaining why he'd been forced to break his promise to come visit them, not because he wasn't good for his word but because circumstances had changed. But, ever the preacher of Christ, even in the midst of this explanation, Paul couldn't keep from pointing out how reliable the God we know through Christ always is:
Confident of your welcome, I had originally planned two great visits with you—coming by on my way to Macedonia province, and then again on my return trip. Then we could have had a bon-voyage party as you sent me off to Judea. That was the plan.
Are you now going to accuse me of being flip with my promises because it didn’t work out? Do you think I talk out of both sides of my mouth—a glib yes one moment, a glib no the next? Well, you’re wrong. I try to be as true to my word as God is to his. Our word to you wasn’t a careless yes canceled by an indifferent no. How could it be? When Silas and Timothy and I proclaimed the Son of God among you, did you pick up on any yes-and-no, on-again, off-again waffling? Wasn’t it a clean, strong Yes?
Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete. (2 Corinthians 1:15-22, The Message)Though my team and I were incapable of making good on our yes, Paul seems to say, remember two things:
(1)We always proclaimed God's "yes" to repentant believers in Christ;God calls imperfect human beings--which includes every believer in Christ--to share the message of new and everlasting life for all who turn from sin and trustingly follow Jesus. But our faith is not in the imperfect disciples who strive and sometimes fail in their promise-keeping. Our faith is in the God Who, as seen in Christ, always keeps His promises.
(2) Even when humans fail to keep their promises, when God says "yes" to a promise, you can bank your life on it.
I think that this has several implications for the way we live our lives if we confess Christ to be our God and Savior.
First, it means that we need to be judicious in our promise-making. We should only make those promises that we think we are going to be able to keep. When we're associated with Christ, identified by others as Christians, we must remember that we are "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:20) and strive, as Jesus tells us to "Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil" (Matthew 5:37).
Second, we need to be charitable and understanding when circumstances beyond the control of those from whom we feel we have promises are unable to keep them. This is especially the case when they may be unable to keep their promise to us because of another promise they have made to God. This appears to be the explanation that Paul offers in these verses from 2 Corinthians 1. His extenuating circumstances aren't things like, "Oops! We overslept." Or, "We were having such a great time here, it seemed such a shame to go tearing off to Corinth."
No, Paul says, "I try to be as true to my word as God is to his." Especially when a person has a good track record for keeping promises, we should be understanding when they don't fulfill a promise. Especially when a promise to God may supersede their promise to us. As with Paul and his crew who faced persecution and the call of God to remain where they were rather than heading to see the Corinthians, we should be understanding of those who try to be as true to their word as God is to His Word.
That leads to a third implication in Paul's word to the Corinthians: God is the only One Who ever has kept or ever will keep all His promises. God's Word alone is completely reliable. Even the most well-meaning people flub up. God never flubs up! Isaiah 40:8, says: "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever." One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Psalm 118:8, which says: "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in humans."
And here's a fourth implication: Not only should we be judicious, careful, about making promises, we should repent both for careless promise-making and for godly promises broken. We should apologize both to God--because, as C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, whenever we sin (and carelessly breaking a promise is a sin, a violation of the Eighth Commandment, "You shall not bear false witness"), we sin chiefly against God--and to the person to whom we've made our unfulfilled promise.
Of course, repentance means more than saying we're sorry for committing sin; it also means turning to God in the name of Jesus, receiving God's forgiveness, and allowing the Holy Spirit to this aspect of our lives to help us live more faithfully. In our Lutheran tradition, when we install people into positions of responsibility in our congregations, these people are asked to make a series of promises to God and the congregation. And with each promise, they pledge to seek to fulfill those promises by saying, "Yes, with the help of God."
And what do we do if we truly repent before God and truly apologize to people for our broken promises and people refuse to forgive us?
- For one thing, don't allow yourself to remain angry about it. Understand that your broken promise may have caused real hurt to the other person. This is especially so when you've had a track record of promise-keeping with them. When a person routinely breaks promises to us, we think, "That's them." But when someone has usually been reliable breaks a promise, the disappointment is great. Be understanding of how the person to whom we've made a broken promise feels.
- Also, pray for reconciliation. Ask God to work in both of your lives to make it possible for your relationship to be restored. Ask also that God will banish bitterness from your thinking. Ask God also if there are any further steps you should take. Usually, there are no further steps to be taken; you must simply pray and wait.
- Finally, ask God to help you to be a more reliable promise-maker in the future.
As someone who has been known to make promises that I've gone on to break and sometimes, unlike Paul in these verse from 2 Corinthians, out of carelessness, I'm glad that there is One Whose promises can always be counted on.
When Jesus came into this world to die and to rise for the benefit of sinful human beings, He fulfilled the promises of God. And His death and resurrection are the guarantors of all the other promises He makes, from the promise to always be with those who follow Him in this world to the promise to prepare a place for His disciples in eternity.
So, I will ask God's help in being judicious and faithful in my promise-making and promise-keeping.
I will seek, with the help of God, to forgive others as God forgives me, when they seem to fail in keeping the promises they have made to me.
But, I will trust the God revealed in Jesus and in the promises He makes in His Word, the Bible, above all else.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]