Posted by: Mike Willoughby | August 24, 2010

My Word is My Bond

“My word is my bond” is a saying that has largely fallen out of widespread use.  Sayings come and go, but many of the principles behind the sayings deserve to be sustained.  Unfortunately for many people, the principle of standing behind a commitment – especially when doing so is inconvenient – has also fallen out of widespread acceptance.

I’m not a big fan of the “those were the good ole days” reminiscing which we seem to do as we age.  There are certainly things about society that were better 50 years ago but if we are honest in our assessment, we also have to recognize that there have been many improvements in our world and our society over the last 50 years.  I think many times we look back with “rose colored glasses” on time past and filter out the negatives and focus only on the positives as we do our good ole days reminiscing.  However, I think the value our society places on the integrity of a personal commitment is one area that has declined significantly.

I think part of the blame can be assigned to the influence of post-modern thought on our values.  Post-modernism’s subjectivity has blurred the lines between right and wrong and made it difficult for many to even define “integrity” for themselves.  The kind of unreliable behavior that would have tainted one’s reputation in the past is now excused as spin, artful maneuvering, skilled negotiation and even pragmatism. 

There was a time when a promise virtually ensured that results would be delivered.  Even when following through became inconvenient or even downright difficult, the commitment was honored at all cost.  Very often the commitment was sealed with a handshake and the words, “I promise…” signified that personal reputation was now on the line as security for the promise.  When someone said, “my word is my bond” they were saying their simple verbal commitment was as good as an actual performance bond.  A performance bond is a contractual guarantee from a 3rd party to the agreement ensuring that the promise would be fulfilled or adequate compensation provided in the case of failure.  Back in the day, a handshake on a deal between two individuals of high reputation was better than a detailed multi-page contract.  Now, too often our huge, complicated and impossible-to-read contracts are seemingly designed to conceal multiple ways for one or both parties to slip out of their commitment without consequence.  We now seem to hide behind our legal technicalities which have become more valuable to us than the original commitment that preceded the written contract.  If we allow personal commitments and promises made over a handshake to slip into oblivion only to be replaced by artfully negotiated but worthless pieces of paper, how will we ever be able to count on one another for anything?

Frankly, this concept is even more important and more in danger within our everyday lives.  I can easily point the finger at some big high-profile corporations and corrupt politicians for their lack of integrity as promises and contractual obligations are routinely made and broken, but what about the routine commitments that I make every day?  How valuable is my word for those who rely on me to live up to my commitments?  I have to admit that far too often, my own commitment is watered down in my own mind to the level of “I’ll try my best to…” even though I clearly said, “I will do…”  By mentally translating words of firm commitment into thoughts of squishy intention, I dilute my integrity and damage my credibility.  If the best I can do is to try my best, then that is what I should clearly say.  Over-commitment on my part is no excuse for simply dropping the ball on a firm commitment!

Let’s bring the handshake commitment back and make it the base assumption at least within our Christian relationships!  “My word is my bond” is a great concept.  It is also a very biblical concept.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:33-37:

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 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 even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

I don’t need a bunch of fancy legal language to define and refine my promises.  If a commitment is to be made, all I need is a simple promise.  If I don’t intend to be captive to my word, I shouldn’t make the promise.  If I make a promise, I should be captive to my word.  At all costs!

I am making a personal commitment to do better in this area!

 Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!


  1. Well said Mike. I think that common courtesy is another value that is dying. I remember the biggest lesson in drivers education, besides safety, was courtesy for your fellow drivers out there. Now days people are only concerned about where they are going on the roads and could care less about the guy next to them. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could be a little more like Jesus and think of others first. Let’s all make an effort to show off the “Fruit of Spirit.” Let’s show some Love, Joy, Peace, Patients, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.

  2. Brings to mind the 2 covenants. Convenant of Law based on man keeping his promise (Exodus 24:7) and Covenant of Gospel based on the promise of God alone (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

    We even get a striking image of that when God makes His covenant with Abraham (450 years before the Law), Abraham falls into a deep sleep and the covenant ceremony is carried out by the Smoking Furnace and the Burning Lamp(Genesis 15:17). God already establishing that His covenant would be with the One who could actually hold to His promise.

    Thankfully God made the provision for me, a covenant breaker, to be redeemed by His promise alone. That free grace encourages me to have that same spirit now in my life with others.

    Good encouragement of remembrance as always.

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