“They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy.”
Romans 1:31 NLT
Yesterday we looked at the background to Paul’s first attribute in verse 31 – the “refus[al] to understand”. Paul’s second character trait is that wicked people, those who “thought it foolish to acknowledge God”, also “break their promises”. Are these any promises or just those concerning God? The dictionary describes a promise as a declaration assuring that someone will or will not do something. We shouldn’t make promises lightly, but sadly, many do and then break them, if it suits them better. Or promises are made rashly without thinking of the consequences or how they can be implemented. Sometimes people make promises just to get themselves out of a hole, with no intention of fulfilling what they had promised. The days of a word being a bond are long forgotten. But to answer our question, Paul was referring to all promises, not just vows for or to God.
God has made many promises. In fact, the Bible is full of them. Take for example Isaiah 41:10, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand”. Or how about Isaiah 43:2, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you“. Here’s a verse from the New testament, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you“. (1 Peter 5:7). The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 5:14-15, “And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.” For those of us concerned about our countries, 2 Chronicles 7:14 is a verse worth camping around for a while. “Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land”.
But we shouldn’t think that God only promises good things. Right back in Genesis 3:17, we see the consequences of Adam’s sin, “And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it”. And ever since, mankind has found life hard. Because of Adam’s sin, human beings in subsequent generations found themselves unable to easily access the plentiful supply of food originally planned by God.
But these are not just divine words, implanted in the Bible to make us feel good. These are promises God has made, and if there is one thing that God is incapable of doing, it is that He is unable to break a promise. If God has said He will do something in His Word, the Bible, then He will keep that word. We need to heed everything God has promised.
But Paul highlights the wicked behaviour of those who make promises and them break them. Why would that be a character trait of “sinful, wicked people” (Romans 1:18). The very cohesion of society relies on people behaving in a way that builds it, not breaks it down. And promises are one of the roots of a secure society. One of the promises that is broken far too readily is the one made in a marriage ceremony. Here in the UK, over four in ten marriages end up in divorce. A tactic of our enemy, the devil, is to break up families because he knows that broken families can contribute to broken societies. Marriage was ordained by God. We receive a glimpse of God’s heart in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church. In Ephesians 5:31-32 we read, “As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one”. A broken marriage promise strikes at the very heart of God’s plan for His church. But for those despairing in a broken relationship, God’s light and guidance will bring illumination and the right course of action. There is always hope, no matter how hopeless things might appear. There is a life after divorce. God will always bring forgiveness to a penitent sinner.
We pilgrims must be careful in making promises, treating them as being sacrosanct. They are not something we should make lightly. A man or woman who keeps their word oils the wheels that keeps our families and communities together. In many ways we are living in the light of a promise. One day we will be welcomed into God’s presence in Heaven, A promise He made and will never break.
Dear Father God, we worship You and thank You for the loving promises You have made to each one of us. Please help us too, to keep our promises and extend Your promise of Good News to all we meet. In Jesus’ name. Amen.