I have a confession to make. Every time I hear the phrase, “let your ‘yes’ be a ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be a ‘no’”, I feel like I am being reprimanded. It’s true, and I know I fall short time and again. This phrase is often used in faith communities, referencing both James 5:12 and Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 5:37, “All you need to say is simply ‘yes’ or ‘no;” the second part of the verse provides a non-negotiable reason for Christians to heed this advice, “anything beyond this [a simple yes or no] comes from the evil one.” In particular, we use Matthew 5:37, to encourage one another to be truthful, and in the context of the rest of the chapter, to remind ourselves to honor our commitments and to “live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward [us]” (Matthew 5:48b MSG).
These are very good things, and as Christ-followers, we are commanded to do so. While the Spirit indwells us to lovingly shape and guide us, we are also living in a broken world filled with imperfect information, surrounded by temptation, and we are weak and flawed from birth. My mother will attest to my own flaws as she once shared that as a child, I was so strong-willed and stubborn that she often needed to present multiple options in order to steer me in the right direction. Conveniently, I have no memory of this, but I suspect it was an incredibly frustrating process for both of us. (Mom – If you’re reading this, I’m sorry I acted like a brat. I thank you for your patience in raising me, and I hope that you have seen growth in my character. PS: I love you very much).
Let us be clear. I am not questioning Jesus’ words, and I admit that I am more than capable of making empty promises or making decisions out of selfishness or whim, which Jesus warns us against in Matthew 5. As I reflect on this, however, there have also been times when my “no” turned into a “yes” (or my “yes” turned into a “no”) based on new information being presented or by a prompting from the Spirit that helped me to see something I hadn’t before. In those times, it requires courage and conviction to withstand criticism, prayerful attention, faith that God’s plans are good and trust that He is at work in each and every situation. We are, after all, called to love and to serve each other.
But the greatest gift that we have in this is a God who is unchanging, and who keeps His promises.
Hebrews 1:11-12 and Psalm 102:26-27 assure us of this fact: “They [the heavens and the earth] will perish, but You [God] remain forever. They will wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But You remain the same, and your years will never end.” The author of Hebrews also assures us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Because of this, we know that we can rely on Him; that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).
But as I reflect on my own character, I also realize that I am so very far from being unchanging. In general, this can be good as I clearly need to change and grow in certain areas. However, I can frustrate, hurt and disappoint others (or myself) by not keeping my word, often at inconvenient times. This sometimes results in a loss of trust in relationships. And so I often stand, rightly reprimanded, for not letting my “yes” be a “yes” and my “no” be a “no.”
I take great comfort in knowing God is unchangeable because that tells me I can trust His promises of grace, mercy and forgiveness, and that He, and He alone, always stands by His word. “The very essence of [God’s] words is truth (Psalm 119:160a), and this is the ideal to which I aspire.
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