A promise is a vow or pledge to take an action or an assurance that something will definitely happen. There is nothing inherently wrong or sinful about making a promise. In fact, the Bible records a great number of promises God Himself has made.
When Adam and Eve first sinned in the garden of Eden, God made a covenant—a special promise based on a personal relationship—to send a Savior who would “crush [Satan’s] head” and deliver mankind from sin (Genesis 3:15). God made more covenants with Noah and all mankind (Genesis 9:8–17), with Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3), with the Israelites (Deuteronomy 11 and 30:1–10), with David (2 Samuel 7:8–16), and with believers in Christ (Jeremiah 31:31–34). God has made promises to care for His people (Psalm 9:9–10; Matthew 6:31–33; Romans 8:28), promises to bless those who seek and obey Him (Psalm 37:4; Isaiah 40:31; James 1:5), promises to grant salvation and forgiveness to those who believe in Him and choose to follow Him (John 3:36; Romans 10:9–10; 1 John 1:9), and many more. Whatever promises God makes, He keeps.
Our promises are important, especially when we make a promise to God. “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin” (Ecclesiastes 5:4–5).
Promises can be beautiful and honorable and made for the good of others. But they must be kept. As we are imperfect humans, we should only make promises with care and introspection so they do not turn into sin. Promises can be easily broken or made with the wrong motivation, which may result in damage to ourselves or others. When making a promise, the believer should consider the following questions:
1. Is your promise made with the intention of harming someone else? Jesus declared that the second greatest commandment is to love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:34–40). Jesus also taught that we are to forgive our enemies (Matthew 18:21–22) and not take revenge (Matthew 5:38–40). If the promise is made with the intent to harm someone or seek revenge, it is sin.
2. Do you intend to keep the promise? Promises should not be made without a strict intention to keep them. Even something as seemingly benign as promising someone, “I’ll pray for you,” and then neglecting to pray is a broken promise. When it comes to swearing an oath, Jesus instructed, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37). This can also be applied to promises.
3. Have you thought through your promise? Flippant promises can be dangerous, especially when made to God. In Judges 11:29–40, we read about Jephthah’s thoughtless vow to the Lord. In return for victory over the Ammonites, Jephthah promised to sacrifice whatever met him first when he returned home. Sadly, it was Jephthah’s only child, a daughter, who met him upon his return.
4. Do you have the power to carry out your promise? A promise dependent on someone else’s actions or on an unknown variable has no guarantee to be kept and therefore should be avoided. Promises like these can harm one’s reputation and make the person who promised them seem untrustworthy.
There is an old saying: “A promise made is a promise kept.” This is the standard of faithfulness that every believer should strive for. A Christian should make a promise only if he or she fully intends to keep it.