In his epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul used the words, “yea” and “nay” several times: “And to pass by you into Macedonia, and to come again out of Macedonia unto you, and of you to be brought on my way toward Judaea. 17 When I therefore was thus minded, did I use lightness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea yea, and nay nay? 18 But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea. 20 For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (II Cor 1: 16-20).
In this passage, Paul was expressing his desire to visit the flock at Corinth by way of Macedonia (v 16). In verse 17, the apostle reiterated his sincere intention with the words “yea yea, and nay nay”. Why was there this emphasis? His enemies had accused him of vacillating due to an earlier change of plan. The word, “lightness” (“elaphria”) has the idea of levity or fickleness. Paul’s defence was that that he did not “purpose according to the flesh” – that is, he did not make plans to suit his ease or convenience. Paul asserted that it was not his character to vacillate – “that with me there should be yea yea, and nay nay”.
The apostle defended his integrity by appealing to the faithfulness of God to His Word: “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen” (v 20). Our God does not lie. He will fulfil every promise He makes (Num 23: 19 cf. Tit 1: 2). God’s trustworthiness was another reason why Paul felt bound to emulate the Lord, and to be true to his word.
Applying this lesson to ourselves as God’s people, let us consider how we can follow the Lord’s example of faithfulness and maintain a character of the highest integrity.
As Christians, we must be true in every aspect of our lives. One mark of integrity is the keeping of our promises. We may sometimes rashly give our word without much thought in order to diffuse a sensitive situation or to pacify a child.
However, once we have given our word, it is our responsibility to honour it as far as possible. In Psalm 15, the psalmist David referred to a righteous man who “walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart” (v 2).
One characteristic of this upright person is his swearing “to his own hurt, and changeth not” (v 4). This means that his word is firm and he does not renege on his promises. He speaks the truth even when it proves costly or inconvenient. If, as a result of his honesty, he faces a painful outcome, he will not change his mind nor compromise his integrity. He will rather suffer losses than dishonour his word.
In the Book of Proverbs, King Solomon highlighted the importance of walking in integrity: “Better is the poor that walketh in his integrity, than he that is perverse in his lips, and is a fool” (Prov 19: 1); “Better is the poor that walketh in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich” (Prov 28: 6). In this second proverb, the poor but upright man chooses godly integrity over perverseness.
The poor man’s integrity “makes him more excellent than his neighbour, though his poverty may expose him to contempt and may dispirit him. Let him be honest and walk in integrity, let him keep a good conscience and make it appear that he does so, let him always speak and act with sincerity when he is under the greatest temptations to dissemble and break his word … He is better, has a better character, is in a better condition, is better beloved, and lives to better purpose, than many a one that looks great and makes a figure” (Matthew Henry).
Brethren, let us be faithful even as God is faithful. Be honest in all our dealings. Like the psalmist, let us speak the truth no matter what it will cost us. Honour God by honouring our word. When we fail to keep our word, we shame the name of Christ. Broken promises destroy trust, causing pain and disappointment. Once trust is lost, it is hard to regain it.
As God’s people, let us be true to our word. Do not make rash promises that we cannot fulfil. If we give our word, make sure to honour it. May the Lord grant us grace to walk uprightly before Him and to maintain a good witness before the watching world.