Promise Makers

In many words… there is emptiness. Rather fear God (Ecclesiastes 5:7). In many respects the Bible is a story about different Promise Makers and Promise Keepers.

Peter — Failed and ashamed
Peter led the other disciples in making a promise in front of the group. This promise is recorded in all four Gospels (Matthew 26:35, Mark 14:31, Luke 22:33, John 13:37).

But Peter kept saying insistently, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all were saying the same thing, too (Mark 14:31).

Of course the promise was not kept, despite the fact that Peter had the strong support of ten other Promise Makers. The result of this first exercise in Promise Making by Jesus’ disciples was failure and shame. Peter needed special counselling by Jesus before he could return to public ministry (John 21:15-19). There is no record of Peter or the other disciples ever making a promise again. Promises made in the flesh do not help Christians to walk in the spirit.

Herod — Regretful murderer
Foolish pride leads religious men to publicly make and keep promises, even when they know they are doing the wrong thing. Herod, the builder of the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem at the time of Christ, made a public promise to an entertainer.

But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod.  Thereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. And having been prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” And although he was grieved, the king commanded it to be given because of his oaths and because of his dinner guests. And he sent and had John beheaded in the prison
    (Matthew 14:6-10).

A man and his family
And there is at least one Old Testament precedent of a man making a promise to God and keeping it.

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If Thou wilt indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering. When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came about when he saw her, that he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot take it back”
    (Judges 11:30, 31,34,35).

This story well illustrates the macho attitude and values of men who make promises to God.
1) The promise was born of the flesh and of presumption; God never required that kind of foolish  promise.
2) Not only did the promise not help his family, but it led to a great loss in his daughter’s life.
3) Typically, the Promise Keeper refused to accept responsibility for his own foolish and pride-filled  actions, blaming his daughter for the consequences — “Alas, my daughter! YOU have brought me very low, YOU are among those who trouble me…”

How many Christian women today would like to have Jephthah as their father or as their father’s role model?


1. Promise
The English word promise means “an agreement to do or not do something.”

2. Vow
The English word vow means “a solemn promise; to declare emphatically, earnestly or solemnly.” Examples of vows include wedding vows and those taken by people dedicating themselves to lives as nuns or monks. A casual agreement to do or not do something is a promise. A solemn commitment to do the same is a vow.

3. Oath
The English word oath means “a solemn affirmation or declaration, made with an appeal to God or some revered person or object for the truth of what is affirmed.”

For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given is an end of every dispute
    (Hebrews 6:16).

Oaths fall into two categories, affirmatory oaths (those by which something is affirmed as true) and promissory oaths (those by which something is promised). Many courts today accept affirmations in place of the traditional oath — “I hereby swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” The effect of an affirmatory oath ceases once we have spoken the truth. A promissory oath, such as those taken by members of Promise Keepers, binds people for life.

An agreement or statement to do or not do something is a promise. A solemn commitment to do the same is a vow. A solemn commitment accompanied by an appeal to God is an oath.

The one, true Promise Keeper
A major theme of the Bible is “the Promise of the Father.” God is the one, true Promise Keeper of Scripture. His promises are always kept and are always good for those who are affected by them.

God is not a man, that He should lie
God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
   (Numbers 23:19).

This passage teaches us that:
    1) Men can (and do) lie;
    2) Men change their minds;
    3) Men make promises they do not keep;
    4) Only God makes promises and keeps them (every time).
The bottom line is that men should leave promise making to God, who can both be trusted to make beneficial promises and to keep them.

Promises made by God
Solomon acknowledged that God keeps His promises.

Blessed be the Lord, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised; not one word has failed of all His good promise, which He promised through Moses His servant
    (1 Kings 8:56).

Now, O Lord God, Thy promise to my father David is fulfilled; for Thou hast made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth
    (2 Chronicles 1:9).

Redeemed for the promise
Jesus Christ did not make promises; instead He died for us so that we could receive the promise of the Spirit.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” — that in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham  might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith
    (Galatians 3:13-14).

Waiting for the promise
Jesus did not command the disciples to make promises; instead He commanded them to wait for the fulfillment of the Father’s promise.

And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high
    (Luke 24:49).

And gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised…
    (Acts 1:4).

The hope of the promise…
The apostle Paul did not make promises; but held to the hope of the promise made by God.

And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers…
    (Acts 26:6).

Righteousness: God’s promise
The future for which Christians hope will come by the promise of God, not by the promises of men.

But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells
    (2 Peter 3:13).

Preaching the promise of God
It is not for us to make more and more promises, but instead to proclaim the promise of God, which has been fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah.

And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus…
(Acts 13:32-33).

Abraham: strong in faith
Like all those strong in faith, Abraham did not make promises, but instead held onto the promise of God.

And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God
    (Romans 4:19-20).

Those who believe…
We sinners who believe do not make promises, but we humbly receive the promise of God by faith in Jesus Christ.

But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe
    (Galatians 3:22).

Receiving the promise, not making more promises
The New Covenant is all about receiving the promise of God, not about making promises of our own.

And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken  place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance
    (Hebrews 9:15).

Encouraged by God’s promise
We are not encouraged in our spiritual life by making promises, but God has made strong promises in order to encourage us.

In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us
    (Hebrews 6:17-18).

Need of endurance
We are to receive the promise of God through persistence in faith, not through making promises of our own.

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised
    (Hebrews 10:36).

The “Seven Promises”
The Promise Keepers organisation claims that Godliness, Christ-likeness, and growth towards Christian maturity will result from the following promises.

1. A Man and His God.
A Promise Keeper is committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer and obedience to God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.

2. A Man and His Mentors.
A Promise Keeper is committed to pursue vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that a man needs his brothers to help him keep his promises.

3. A Man and His Integrity.
A Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical and sexual purity.

4. A Man and His Family.
A Promise Keeper is committed to build strong marriages and families through love, protection and biblical values.

5. A Man and His Church.
A Promise Keeper is committed to supporting the mission of the local church by honoring and praying for his pastor, and by actively giving his time and resources.

6. A Man and His Brothers.
A Promise Keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.

7. A Man and His World.
A Promise Keeper is committed to influencing the world, being obedient to the Great Commandment (see Mark 12:30-31) and the Great Commission (see Matt. 28:19-20).

The Seven Promises promoted by the Promise Keepers organisation are confusing and, in combination, impossible to keep.

Promise 3 vs Promise 6
Promise 3 commits you to “practicing spiritual… purity.” Promise 6 commits you to “reaching beyond… denominational barriers.”
    If you keep Promise 6 by reaching out across denominational barriers to people who believe, practice and teach false doctrine, you will break your promise to practice the spiritual purity required by Promise 3.

Promise 5 vs Promise 3
Promise 5 commits you to “honoring (your) pastor”. What if you discover that your pastor is an adulterer, paedophile, thief, or liar?
    If you stop honoring him, you will break Promise 5. If you continue honoring him, you will break Promise 3 (to practice spiritual purity).

Promise 7 vs Promise 6
Promise 7 requires you to be obedient to the Great Commission. Promise 6 requires you to demonstrate unity across denominational boundaries, which effectively means withholding the Gospel from members of denominations which teach a false gospel.
    If you keep Promise 7, you will break Promise 6, or vice versa.

Promise 2 — Placed under a curse
Promise 2 says that “a man needs his brothers to help him keep his promises,” but the Bible says, Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind… (Jeremiah 17:5).

The Seven Promises can be broken in so many ways, deliberately or accidently, that they are no more than a formula for offending God, and either creating a guilty conscience or a hardened heart. The fact that it is impossible to keep some of the Promises, without automatically breaking others, is simply another reason to shun promise making altogether.

The Bible contains many additional comments on the subject of “Promise Making,” all of them an encouragement for us to avoid it as we would avoid the plague.

It is better not to vow…
The Bible clearly says that it is better not to make solemn promises. To make a promise to God and not keep it is the work of a fool; such a thing leads to God’s anger and judgment. A genuine fear of God keeps people from making promises.

When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it, for he takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a   mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands?    For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather fear God
    (Ecclesiastes 5:4-7).

Sermon on the Mount
Jesus made it quite clear that we should stay away from vows and oaths and promises. He echoes the teaching of Ecclesiastes that we should use direct, simple language — “Yes” or “No.”

Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord. But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black, But let your statement be, “Yes, yes” or “No, no”; and anything beyond these is of evil
    (Matthew 5:33-37).

Good intentions
Many people wrongly assume that God is pleased with our good intentions. In fact, God is only ever pleased with our faith and obedience. Jesus taught this lesson through a parable.

But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, “Son, go work today in the vineyard.” And he answered and said, “I will, sir”, and he did not go. And he came to the second and said the same thing. But he answered and said, “I will not”; yet he afterwards regretted it and went. Which of the two did the will of the father?” They said, “The latter”
    (Matthew 21:28-31).

The one who promised nothing, but did what he was called to do, pleased the Father. Unbelievers understand the significance of doing more than you promise, as can be seen in the common business motto: “Under promise, over deliver.” One company has adopted as its theme, “Just do it”, highlighting the difference between promising to do something and actually doing it. If you want to please God, promise nothing, but do everything He calls you to do.

Profaning God’s name
We are forbidden to swear — to take an oath — falsely; that is, to promise but not perform our promise.

And you shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the Lord
    (Leviticus 19:12).

Why take the risk of swearing an oath and then being unable to fulfill it? Why offend God by profaning His name?

Bound by the whole promise
Keeping half a promise is not enough. God insists that you keep all of your solemn promises.

Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the sons of Israel, saying, “This is the word which the Lord has commanded. If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth”
(Numbers 30:1-2).

Under judgment…
James repeats the teaching of Jesus, and adds that the use of oaths, vows or promises — far from improving your spiritual life — can lead to God’s judgment.

But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment
    (James 5:12).

“If the Lord wills…”
The Bible calls us to humbly submit ourselves to the will of the Lord, rather than arrogantly boast of what we will do tomorrow.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”  Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapour that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil
    (James 4:13-16).

Don’t be a Promise Maker.
Don’t set yourself up to offend God, to create a crushing burden of guilt in your life, or to harden your own conscience when you fail. Rather, look forward to and hasten that Day when all the promises of God shall be fulfilled in your life.

Henry G. Sheppard : 12 February 1998

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