What Is Your Word Worth?
Charles Naylor, 1920
Everything is measured by some standard of value. Material things are measured by length, breadth, weight, density, usefulness, or intrinsic value. Character also has its standard of measurement. Some people are valued more highly than others, whether in the community, in the church, or in the nation. People are valued, not for their physical size or weight — but for their abilities and more especially for their characters. In a Christian the special thing of value, and the only special thing — is his character. If one's character is not of a higher and better quality than that of people in general — then one has no right to the name Christian.
The quality of ones character is indicated in various ways. One's words are generally a clear index to one's character. A person is judged by them, and his value is reckoned by the reliance that may be placed upon his word. We know some on whose word we fully rely. If they tell us anything — then we believe them. If they make us a promise — then we do not expect it to be broken. We rely upon them, because they have shown by their conduct that they themselves place a high value upon their own word. Of such people it is often said, "If he says it is so — then it is true," or, "If he makes a promise — then he will fulfill it." Such men wield a strong influence in a community. People can easily believe and trust in their character.
It is a sad fact that such individuals are the exception rather than the rule, even among professed Christians. How many times promises are made, only to be broken or forgotten! This is a grave matter and marks a serious defect in Christian character. We should never make a promise, unless we fully expect to fulfill it, and we ought to feel under deep obligation to keep our promise. If we are careless and neglectful of this, it is sure to lower us in men's esteem, and we shall be cheapened and discredited.
Many times promises are made hastily. The person does not stop to consider what he really is promising; he does not weigh its meaning. He says, "Yes, yes, I will." But later when he thinks the matter over, it looks different to him. He is sorry that he made the promise, and begins to look for some way out so that he will not have to fulfill it.
These hasty promises are just as binding as any others. If we ignore them and do not make our word good, the people to whom we have made them will have just reason to condemn us. It is easier to make promises, than it is to fulfill them. Beware of making haste to promise. Think about the fulfillment. Think whether you really want to do, or really will do — what you promise. Consider your promises binding. Have the fear of God before you just as much in this matter as in other things. If you wish people to value your word, you must show that you value it yourself. If you do not value it enough to keep it, do not expect others to value it. If you value your word, it will make you careful about your promises — careful in making them, careful in keeping them.
Do not make rash promises. Consider what you are promising. Is it something that you can perform? Consider your ability and what things may hinder the fulfillment of the promise. Have you any just reason to suppose that you can fulfill it? Would it be wise for you to do it? Would it be best? Have you made other promises that will conflict with it? Remember that when you once promise, if you do not keep your word — then your failure leaves a shadow upon your character in the mind of the one you promised, unless there is some good and sufficient reason to excuse you in his sight.
Do not make careless promises. The Bible tells us that in our planning we should say, "If the Lord wills." That is, we should take in to consideration that the unexpected may happen. We do not know the future — therefore we ought not to make our promises too positive. We ought to qualify them so as to allow for hindrances.
We ought to be honest in making our promises. Many promises are made when there is no intention of carrying them out. Many people, rather than to say no, will promise and then refuse to perform — thereby making themselves liars. They have not manhood enough to refuse and honestly tell why — so they make a promise and break it. That is the coward's way out. It is the dishonest way out.
Some people say, "If the Lord wills — I will do so," when they do not consider the Lord in the matter at all, but simply mean, "If I do not change my mind." Do not throw the blame on the Lord. If you think you may change your mind — then do not commit yourself definitely. If you are not fully decided — then do not be afraid to say that you do not know what you will do. Be honest enough to let the other know the state of your mind. Be honest in making promises — be honest in fulfilling them.
Fidelity to Promises.
Do not make too many promises. He who is too free to promise, places little value upon his promises. He forgets them readily or lets some trifle hinder the performance of them. He always has a ready excuse to ease his conscience and to release himself from the obligation. This indicates a lack of godly character, and a lack of real sincerity.
When you make a promise — do not forget it, do not break it. Never disappoint people, when you can help it. They feel disappointment as keenly as you do. There is an old saying that "promises are like pie-crust — made to be broken." Are your promises of the pie-crust variety?
Possibly you have heard the story of the old deacon. A man came to him one day to endeavor to get him to fulfill a promise that he had made. The deacon refused. The other urged and entreated him, but still he refused, and finally said, "The Bible says that we should let our words be yes, yes, and nay, nay — and my words are so." "Yes," quickly retorted the other, "when you are asked to make a promise, they are yes, yes; but when you are asked to fulfill it, they are nay, nay." This is one brand of yea-and-nay Christians, but not the kind in whom God delights or man trusts.
When you make promises — then keep them. They are a test of your character. I do not mean that you should be under bondage to your promises. Sometimes we fully believe we can and will perform them, but later find that it is impossible. In such a case we should explain matters and so relieve the mind of the one to whom the promise was made and show him that the failure to make good our word is not due to neglect or unwillingness.
Keep your business promises. Many people get into debt and promise to pay — and then just let things drift along. This is wrong. Pay your debts when you agree to, or give a reason for not doing so — and let it be a reason, not an excuse. If you promise to do work for someone — then do it. Keep your promise if you must sacrifice to do so.
Many parents are very careless and inconsiderate regarding their promises to their children. Children will "tease" for things if allowed. Too many times parents make promises that they do not ever expect to fulfill, just to be rid of the children's asking. Children soon learn the value of such promises — and they learn the value of your character. Do not lie to your children — do not make promises to them unless you mean them. If you make promises to them and then are not able to keep them — then value your word enough and their respect enough, to explain to them the reason.
Reader, what is your word worth? What value do you place on it? What value do others place on it? What value does God place on it? God wants you to "speak the truth, and lie not." Your standing, your influence, your usefulness — all depend upon your faithfulness; and if you are faithful, you will be faithful to your promises. Think seriously over these things. If you are at fault, set about to amend. Such a fault will be a blight upon your life and upon your character until it is corrected. When the Psalmist pictures a righteous man, he says that he "swears [promises] to his own hurt, and changes not." Are you that sort of righteous person?