We’ve all read it, though perhaps some more than others. We know how it reads. After Christ admonishes us not to “swear at all” He tells us plainly to, “Let your communication be, ‘Yea, yea; nay, nay.” For whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” - Matthew 5:37
I spent many years working in the film industry, and there’s an old saying among those who’ve been there for any length of time that goes, “Hollywood is like a bowl of Granola - whatever isn’t a fruit or a flake, is a nut.” Which is pretty must just saying Hollywood is full of crazy people. For the most part, that saying is dead-on. Unfortunately, at least when it comes to flakes, this kind of behavior doesn’t stop at the city limits. In my experience, it seems that flaking is not only becoming more common, but more socially acceptable.
But just because something has become socially acceptable, does not give Christians the right to participate in it. We’re held to a higher standard - the gold standard, if you will - and it’s our job to operate in accordance with the instructions of our Lord, even if we’re the only person in the entire world doing so. Perhaps especially then.
Allow me to clarify here that I don’t believe that most people I know intend to break their word or not fulfill a verbal commitment. Most people I know are quite the opposite. They tend to overcommit themselves from a sincere desire not to offend anyone, or to avoid confrontation and uncomfortable situations. They don’t like to say “no” because they don’t want anyone to feel as if they’re not wanted, or not liked. And in theory, this is a tried and true Christian principle as more than one apostle tells us “to offend no one.”
But this teaching, just like any other, has its parameters. And in truth, this kind of behavior, when allowed to play out to its full extension, not only offends a great deal, but also produces quite a terrible testimony as to the credibility and reliability of the servants of Jesus Christ.
Letting our “yay be yay,” and our “nay be nay” is a plain statement that tells us we should do what we say we’re going to do, and not do what we say we are not going to do. At first glance this seems to be fairly simple but, as it is with so many other things, the application of it is not nearly so easy as it sounds.
Keeping our word, or failing to keep our word, shines a bright light on our credibility, which in turn drastically affects testimony. And the testimony can be quite a sharp one. If you tell someone you’re going to do a thing, in the moment it is gratifying to the other person and often even encourages them or excites them. Especially if it’s a favor they’ve asked of you, or an invitation they’ve extended to you. But if we’re overextending ourselves because we have not properly allotted time for the commitment we’ve made, they go away happy, and we go away stressed. If you’re at all like me, you make the commitment, and then the next immediate thought is, “Crap, I really don’t have time for that.” And if you pile enough of those onto one another, you run around frantically trying to keep every commitment (an impossibility), failing in some cases and half-heartedly keeping the ones you can manage.
Then, slowly but surely, you become “that person” who is wholly unreliable and eventually, sooner or later, people just stop believing you. What then? What is left of our testimony at that point? And most often, when someone no longer believes a particular thing you say, they no longer believe anything you say. So what happens at that point, when one day you go to them and say, “Have you heard about the glory of Jesus Christ?” What happens then?
An absolutely fundamental aspect of our testimony is DOING what we SAY WE’RE GOING TO DO. This is not something to be overlooked, or passed by. This is not something we can gloss over or take casually. We must guard well the credibility of our testimony so that the testimony itself has merit. Else we become ineffectual servants. And an ineffectual servant has no value to its master.
We do not want to become that person who reliably does not keep their word. We want to shine to the opposite. We want people to know that we’re Christian, and therefore we are unwaveringly reliable. We want to stand in stark contrast to common societal behavior - no matter how common it might be. In doing that, we provide an unshakeable testimony that not only stands out to people, but makes them desire to work with us, and build relationships with us, and regard and respect us. Not because it benefits us, but because if it gets them to ask questions, it could just be the thing that brings that particular child home to their Father.
As an aside, this same credibility applies to email and email “forwards”. I can’t tell you how many forwarded emails I’ve gotten with prayer requests that, once I did the research, were from things that happened 10 years ago, if they were ever actually real at all. It doesn’t take long to confirm the truth of something online by using snopes.com, or at least tracking down a credible second witness to validate the information. It’s really unfortunate that we live in a society that would spread untruths in such rampant fashion, but the fact is that we do and we don’t want to have people rolling their eyes when they receive a serious email from us. Much like the boy who cried wolf, if we destroy our credibility in these kinds of ways, we won’t have credibility when we need it most. We want people to regard all conversation and all correspondence from us, as Christians, with merit and legitimacy. Again, we want to be different. We want to be worth our salt and closely and carefully protect the value of our testimony.
At the rock bottom of this thing, it's not just flaking or a failure of commitment when you don't keep your word. At the moment you break that commitment and don't do what you committed to, it becomes a lie. Which means not only is flaking something we desire to avoid, it's something we actually need to repent for. After writing this, I find myself with a much greater conviction to battling this all too common societal behavior.
Do something with me this week. Take inventory of your commitments. Stop for a moment before you say “yay” or “nay” to something and really consider whether or not it’s something that’s feasible and realistic for you to do. Take the time to determine your response and weigh the consequences of both choices. If you have to say, “Can I get back to you on that?” to someone, then say that. People understand how busy life can be. For the most part they’ll appreciate the honesty and the contemplation. It’s certain they’ll appreciate it more than if you make the commitment and then break it down the line. Only commit yourself to the things you KNOW you can do and KNOW you can do with your whole heart. Take the time to give your personal commitment the weight of consideration it deserves. God NEVER breaks His word, and neither should we.