An old adage says "your word is your bond." In a world exploding with broken promises, we need a good old fashioned dose of keeping our word.
Perhaps what we promise and to whom is just as important as keeping our word. For example, keeping our promises to God builds character and returns blessings. Keeping our promises in business builds trust and customer loyalty.
On the other hand, even gang members understand trust and loyalty, but their allegiance to nefarious causes is a character train wreck. Equally destructive are promises our children sometimes make in the name of loyalty, but which may harm them or others when kept.
Keeping promises that edify us and others is the truest test of our love for the law of honesty.
Some promises are easy to keep. When I was in the fourth grade, my mother said, "Billy, if you promise not to drink alcohol and to avoid tobacco before the age of 21, I’ll pay you $1,000 on your 21st birthday."
This was an easy promise for me to keep. I hated tobacco and had seen the ravages of alcoholism in my own home. When I turned 21, I had kept my promise and my mom came through with the money, though I refused to take it because she needed it more.
Perhaps the ultimate test of character is keeping a difficult promise. Promises to lose weight or save money come to mind.
For that matter, mustering the energy to pray is easy, but keeping a promise to pray "with all the energy of heart" (Moroni 7:48) may be difficult for some. When kept, difficult promises reward those loyal to the challenge.
In my parents’ generation, a simple handshake secured a promise. Today, we need a cadre of lawyers to pore over the fine print. Legalese has become an anemic substitute for honesty.
The Book of Mormon recounts the value the ancient Israelites placed on sworn oaths and promises. Nephi and his brothers were on the Lord’s errand to retrieve sacred records from an influential but greedy man named Laban. Laban sought to destroy Nephi and steal his family's wealth.
After reluctantly killing Laban, Nephi disguised himself in Laban’s garb. Conducted to Laban’s treasury by Zoram, one of Laban’s servants, Nephi obtained the sacred records and made his escape from Jerusalem with Zoram as an unwitting escort. Realizing the ruse, Zoram tried to flee but could not overcome Nephi’s grasp.
At that point, Zoram swore an oath not to escape nor to warn the authorities: "And it came to pass that when Zoram had made an oath unto us, our fears did cease concerning him" (1 Nephi 4:37). Zoram kept his sworn oath and remained loyal to his promise thereafter. Moreover, Nephi and his brethren simply took his word for it.
Imagine a world of promise-keepers loyal to the Golden Rule. In such a world there would be no locks, no security cameras, no jails and none of those nasty phishing emails designed to dupe us out of our hard-won money.
Keeping our promises to God
As it was with oaths in ancient times, so it is with the promises we make to the Lord today. They are sacred and, when kept, bring an associated blessing.
For example, by partaking each week in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, we renew our baptismal covenants and promise to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ and to "always remember him and keep his commandments" (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77 ).
When we keep the promises made at baptism and renewed with the sacrament, God promises that we "may always have (Christ’s) Spirit to be with (us)" (20:77).
God keeps his promises to his children. Such fidelity is evidence of his love for us. Likewise, keeping our promises to God is evidence of our love and loyalty to him.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf recently related a German proverb that says, "Promises are like the full moon. If they are not kept at once, they diminish day by day" (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "I’m Committed," Ensign, July 2011, p.5).
God’s commandments are not a pick-and-choose buffet. When we keep all of God’s commandments willingly and immediately, we are entitled to all of God’s blessings. That is a promise — a promise I can confidently keep.
William Monahan is a 1980 graduate of BYU Law School. He practices law and teaches law and ethics. A former Phoenix stake president and current high councilor, he is active in interfaith efforts and is a U.S. Air Force veteran.
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