Bring to mind, if you will, every faithful friend you are privileged to reference in your mind’s rolodex. Now, when I say “faithful,” I define it thusly: A friend who, after claiming they will be somewhere or do something (even when said claim is made casually or in passing) will—barring death or extreme tragedy—absolutely be where they said they would be, when they said they would be there, or will do exactly what they said they would do. In fact, the thought that the friend in question might not honor their commitment never enters your brain at all because they do what the heck they say they’ll do. That’s that.
Now, upon completion of the above paragraph, some of you said to yourselves, “no problem.” You then listed one or two people and immediately drew a blank. Others of you had a spouse or sibling come to mind, but that was about it. Others still, sucked their teeth, threw a hand up ready to count off finger-after-finger of dependable chums, only to find themselves staring at a fingerless fist in bewilderment.
I’ve recently attempted to work out what it is exactly that seems to keep many, if not most, of my peers from any sort of dependability whatsoever. With a few (wonderful) exceptions, I mostly expect folks to back out of commitments at the last minute or else ignore them altogether. Stranger still, there’s no palpable, collective disdain for the flakiness in question. People seem okay with flakiness because it acts as a permission slip for they themselves to flake.
Bunch of biscuits up in here.
Of course, to some extent, most of us have been guilty of a lapse in integrity at some point or another (I know I have). But for those of us who are disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, there’s a bit of urgency in maintaining our reliability and reputation.
In the fifth chapter of Matthew’s biography of Jesus, the controversial rabbi begins to lay out the best way to pursue purity across a variety of situations. Firstly, as it pertains to settling offenses between brothers and sisters, then addressing harbored hate for others, then lust and objectification, and finally this strange bit about swearing oaths.
“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”
Matthew 5:33-37, NRSV
Seems odd at first, but in the succession of Jesus’ commands on purity, he here calls his disciples to maintain their integrity and trustworthiness with the same unflinching resolve. Essentially, disciples of Jesus are tasked to uphold a reputation of faithfulness akin to whatever friend it was you were able to conjure up in that first paragraph. This sort of person has no use for lengthy or formal oaths, because simply saying they’ll do something carries all the weight one might hope for in a commitment.
Word is bond.
This, of course, brings us back to doing what the heck we say we’ll do. Not only when it applies to elaborate, thoroughly planned formalities and professional engagements, but even when mentioning you’ll do something casually. In passing. Once you’ve committed to doing something, it matters not how glamorous the commitment in question might be, or what might come along to supersede it.
If, for example, you planned on grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend in the morning, grab the cup of coffee with your friend in the morning. You are now booked. All other plans must be made around this engagement, not vice versa. If it’d work better for you to shift your schedule, sleep-in, meet up with someone cooler, go the next day, etc., these things are all beside the point, because you’re going. You said you would. You were the friend someone thought of in that first paragraph. And your friend needn’t know you would’ve liked to move things around, what matters to them is that you’re one of their only faithful friends. You said you’d be somewhere and do something, and that means it’s as good as done.
Word is bond.
You’re tired? Like to catch up on some work? Just learned another friend is in town? Would love a morning at home? Well, those things will have to play second fiddle to the thing you said you’d do first. Otherwise, don’t make such commitments in the first place.
If you’d like to maintain your integrity, that is. If you’d rather be a biscuit, go ahead, flake out.
But if and when you do, the truth is… you’re frustrating. You can’t be depended on. Folks hesitate to entrust you with anything. When you’re not around and someone mentions a list of people who have committed to something in particular, your name comes up and they all say, “so that’s as good as an empty space.”
Perhaps a bit more dire, but still completely true, people think of you as selfish. You’re unwilling to make even small sacrifices just to honor things you yourself have pledged your presence or involvement to. You’re a bad friend.
So it is with the name you bear, those of us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus. There’s so-and-so, the person whose word is worthless, who can’t be counted on, who backs out at the last second, who cancels appointments, who doesn’t show up… and who claims to follow Jesus.
Sobering thought, is it not?
Most of us don’t think of ourselves as flaky. But stop and ask yourself, “do I honor even the commitments I regard as insignificant?” If you say you’ll do something, or be somewhere, will others expect you without hesitation, or await your cancellation text?
I’d like very much to sweep this critique under the dismissive rug of severe or unrealistic expectations, but I’m afraid the standard in question was set by Jesus himself, and it’s not a standard commonly upheld. When you say “yes,” that means yes. This is something we should take very seriously. It isn’t some ideal or a nice suggestion, it’s the integrity all disciples are unequivocally called to.
That when a friend of yours reads some dumb article by some dweeb on the internet, and that article engages them in a thought exercise, imagining each and every truly dependable friend at their disposal… however short that list may be, you’re on it.
Word is bond.