#177 – Integrity Idea 026: Keep Your Word

ESSENCE:  Integrity Ideas are specific actions a faithful leader can consider in leading faithfully through business a better way.


COVERT-OVERT CONTINUUM (six Continuums for action):  Practices

COVERT-OVERT RATING (several levels from Highly Covert to Highly Overt):  Highly Covert

STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees, Customers/Clients, Owners, Suppliers/Vendors, Community

Most Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization.  “Keep Your Word” is about cultivating an organizational culture that prioritizes keeping its promises, fulfilling its contracts and honoring its commitments, whether or not legally required to do so and even if it is costly or inconvenient.  It recognizes the importance to business a better way of doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons and emphasizing a “Should We” rather than a “Can We” organizational culture.  For a faithful leader seeking to lead with faithful integrity, “Keep Your Word” reflects Imago Dei, reinforces the importance of trust, models integrity, recognizes that people deserve to be treated with dignity, prioritizes relationships, and embodies the Golden Rule and the command to love your neighbor as God loves you.   In a broken world dominated by business as usual, “Keep Your Word” requires intentional prayer when entering into commitments and when seeking “third-way” solutions to conflicts between obligations, promises and commitments.

Integrity Ideas are specific actions a leader can consider during the Re-Align step of Integriosity®–actions that will begin to Re-Align the organization with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.  You can find more Integrity Ideas at Integrous | Integrity Ideas (integriosity.com)

Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization.  We believe some are critical (and necessary) steps in the RENEW/RE-ALIGN/RE-IMAGINE/RESTORE process.  Others are just ideas to be considered if they feel like a good fit based on what leaders prayerfully discern is best for stewarding the organization toward its WHY.

“Keep Your Word” falls into the “necessary” category.  God is a faithful and trustworthy keeper of promises and covenants, and a faithful leader pursuing business a better way in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities must prioritize an organizational culture aligned with God’s approach to promises and covenants.


“Keep Your Word” is about cultivating an organizational culture that prioritizes keeping its promises, fulfilling its contracts, and honoring its commitments, whether or not legally required to do so and even if it is costly or inconvenient.

It recognizes the importance to business a better way of righteousness–doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons–and emphasizing a “Should We” rather than a “Can We” organizational culture.

For a faithful leader seeking to lead with faithful integrity, “Keep Your Word” reflects Imago Dei, reinforces the importance of trust, models integrity, recognizes that people deserve to be treated with dignity, prioritizes relationships, and embodies the Golden Rule and the command to love your neighbor as God loves you.  We know in our “knower” that honoring our commitments is the “right thing” to do.

Biblical Basis on “Keep Your Word”.  The Bible is full of assurances as to the covenantal nature of God as well as commands and admonitions about keeping promises and doing the “right thing”.  For example:

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:17)

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)

Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight. (Proverbs 12:22)

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Numbers 23:19)

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out. (Proverbs 10:9)

If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. (Numbers 30:2)

Perhaps the most powerful Biblical example of the importance of “Keep Your Word” is the story in chapter 9 of book of Joshua about the deception of the Gibeonites.

• When God commands the Israelites to destroy the Gibeonites (and many other groups in the region), the Gibeonites predict their downfall, dress up as nomads and trick the Israelites into a promise to keep them safe by claiming to be just “passing through”.

• Importantly, the Israelites fail to seek God’s guidance before making their covenant.

• Joshua knows that this covenant must be honored even though it was contrary to God’s command because God wants His people to honor their oaths.

The importance of “Keep Your Word” is driven home hundreds of years later in 2 Samuel.  When David asks God why the Israelites are suffering from a three-year famine, God replies “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” (2 Samuel 21:1)  David talks to the Gibeonites and resolves Saul’s violation asking “What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement . . . ?” (2 Samuel 21:3)  SPOILER ALERT:  They are not interested in money.

The “Can We” Problem of Business as Usual.

“Keep Your Word” seems like an obvious way to behave.  It embodies phrases like “My word is my bond” and “We did the deal on a handshake.”  But business as usual is built on a WHY of Profit as Purpose and assumptions of Scarcity and Self-Interest, all of which exert pressure to shift “Keep Your Word” from “because it’s the right thing to do” to “if it is in our interest.”

As we have described in prior posts, a “Can We” organizational culture is one in which ends justify means and ethics or the law are seen as the only boundaries (or even obstacles) in the pursuit of the organization’s purpose.  When faced with a choice, people are explicitly or implicitly rewarded for asking Can We choose the alternative that most aligns with a WHY of Profit as Purpose.  Ken Eldred has observed:

Amorality is becoming more and more the predominant moral foundation in the Western world today. The question is not whether something is right or wrong but whether it’s legal or illegal.

Business as usual and a “Can We” culture does not do “Keep Your Word” well because commitments are viewed as purely economic arrangements that can be dishonored if “the price is right”.

In the United States, breaching a contract is not illegal and generally not even viewed as unethical–its just business.  With the rare exception of contracts for which money is an inadequate remedy for a breach and injunctive relief is warranted, dishonoring a commitment is a purely economic decision–are the potential monetary damages and reputational harm more burdensome than the cost of complying.

Sometimes dishonoring commitments becomes an acceptable way to shift all the disadvantage to others. For example, when the economy becomes uncertain, it is not unusual to read about large professional firms–e.g., law firms, consulting firms and banks–rescinding offers to recent college or professional school graduates or delaying start dates by as long as a year.  This has been in the news in recent weeks.

There seems to be little regard for the commitment made to students who have gone through a rigorous interview process and likely turned down other opportunities in accepting their offer only to be told that the terms of the offer have changed.  The question being asked is almost certainly “Can We”:

• “Can We” legally defer/rescind the employment offer?

• “Can We” get away with the deferral/recission without having the resulting erosion of trust in our commitments damage future recruiting (at least, not too badly)?

The reason for dishonoring their word is economic and “purpose-driven”–embracing “Keep Your Word” would negatively impact the bottom line, which is their organizational WHY.   It is another example of how a WHY of Profit as Purpose devalues human dignity because when profit maximization is the “end”, people by definition can’t be more than a means–tools of production.  For the students, it is dehumanizing whether they recognize it or not.

The “Should We” Approach of Business a Better Way.  

By contrast, business a better way in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities calls for a “Should We” culture in which people are explicitly or implicitly encouraged to ask things like:

• Is dishonoring a commitment consistent with how we want to serve our stakeholders?

• Is dishonoring a commitment consistent with our values?

• Is dishonoring a commitment consistent with our intentional culture?

• Is dishonoring a commitment doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons?

• Is dishonoring a commitment consistent with what we say we stand for and who we say we are?

Righteousness and Integrity.  We do believe that God has implanted every human with what Tim Keller calls “first-order beliefs” such as “honesty, justice, love, the Golden Rule“– a “universal knowledge of God and of good“.   We know deep down that “Keep Your Word” is the “right thing” to do, and in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The time is always right to do the right thing.

We believe “righteousness” is one of the “first things” that a faithful leader must prioritize.  Proverbs 21:21 says “Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.”   We explained back in post #042 (Righteousness–More than “Do the Right Thing”) that righteousness requires considering the HOW and WHY of our actions in addition to the WHAT.

Righteous targets and goals can be achieved through means that are unethical or even illegal, such as through deception or bribes.  They can also be achieved in ways that are uncaring or even exploitive or hurtful to other people (whether customers, fellow employees, vendors or suppliers), communities or creation.  Dishonoring a commitment is not a “right way” even if it achieves a “right thing”.  HOW matters.

Rick Warren wrote “Integrity is uncorrupted motivation. It means you do the right thing, and you do it for the right reason.”  Righteousness in an organization ultimately means furthering the ultimate purpose of the organization, which is not profit if the organization is pursuing business a better way.   If operating with integrity (another “first thing”) is a value of the organization, then “Keep Your Word” must be a prioritized practice.  WHY matters.

When it comes to “Keep Your Word”, honoring a commitment may be costly or inconvenient.   Tim Keller (quoting Bible scholar Bruce Waltke) says “The very definition of righteous people is that they disadvantage themselves to advantage others.

Imago Dei.  If the God of the Bible is a faithful god of promises and covenants (and He is), living out Imago Dei must include reflecting to the world an image of a covenantal God who keeps His promises.  Recognizing Imago Dei also requires treating others with dignity as fellow creations in the image of God, and that means respecting them enough to honor the promises and commitments we make to them.

Reflecting the character of God also requires prioritizing relationships, and prioritizing relationships requires building and maintaining trust.  Dishonoring commitments destroys trust and, in the process, undermines healthy relationships by dehumanizing others deserving of dignity. “Keep Your Word” honors relationships by building and reinforcing a foundation of trust.  It is Humanizing.

Even worse, when someone professes a Biblical faith and fails at “Keep Your Word”, their hypocrisy reflects to the world an inaccurate image of God.

Golden Rule and the Great Commandments.  “Keep Your Word” embodies the Golden Rule found in Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31.  The Bible calls us to treat others as we would wish to be treated and love them as ourselves.  It goes without saying that people generally wish others would keep their promises, fulfill their agreements and honor their commitments.  For that reason, we are commanded to “Keep Your Word”.

CONTINUUM: Proclamation and Policies

The Integriosity model organizes “heart change” along six Covert-Overt Continuums.  There is nothing magic about these categories, but we believe they are helpful in thinking about practical execution of a Re-Imagined Purpose, Re-Imagined Values and a Re-Imagined Culture.  The Continuums are Prayer, Proclamation, Policies, Practices, Products, People.

Each Continuum represents an area in which leaders can begin to think about, plan and institute Re-Alignment changes to the heart of the organization.

“Keep Your Word” is on the Practices Continuums. It is a practice the organization can adopt to affirm its commitment to the Biblical principles of Imago Deo, the Golden Rule, love your neighbor and the importance of trust, integrity and relationships, and to reflect and reinforce its purpose and values.

COVERT-OVERT RATING: Highly Overt to Highly Covert

The Integriosity model breaks the Covert-Overt Continuums into six gradations–from Highly Covert to Highly Overt–that we believe are helpful in beginning to pray and think about what is most appropriate for an organization at a particular moment in time.

Most Integrity Ideas will have one place on the scale.  Some can vary depending on how they are implemented.  “Keep Your Word” can be anywhere on the Continuum from Highly Overt (An overtly faith-based action involving community, website, sales/marketing materials) to Highly Covert (an action that would be taken by a secular company), depending upon the nature of the organization and the way the practice is explained.

Secular organizations have an interest in establishing and maintaining trust with stakeholders such as employees, customers/clients and vendors/suppliers.  “Keep Your Word” is critical if an organization wants to be trusted in the future.  But adhering to a practice of “Keep Your Word” when it is costly or inconvenient is counter-cultural, and explaining counter-cultural behavior to various constituencies inside and outside the organization is an opportunity to be more overt about the WHY behind its practice.

STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees. Customers/Clients, Owners, Suppliers/Vendors, Community

When we categorize faith-based actions, we also consider the stakeholders principally impacted by the action: Employees, Customers/Clients, Owners, Suppliers/Vendors, Community and Kingdom.

“Keep Your Word” serves every constituency to which the organization makes commitments or promises or with which it enters into contractual relationships.  That includes Employees with employment agreements and commitments, Customers/Clients with purchase contracts, warranties and guarantees, Owners with shareholder agreements and commitments, Suppliers/Vendors with supply contracts and commitments, and even Communities with commitments and understandings.

We promise according to our hopes and perform according to our fears. (François VI de la Rochefoucault)


While it might be easy to decree a practice of “Keep Your Word”, implementing a practice that will help employees navigate the principle requires more thought and prayer.

The difficulties and practicalities of implementing “Keep Your Word” are captured by two quotes:

We promise according to our hopes and perform according to our fears. (François VI de la Rochefoucault)

Rarely promise, but, if lawful, constantly perform. (William Penn)

A faithful leader implementing “Keep Your Word” must be prayerful about making commitments and prayerful when keeping them becomes complicated.

Making Commitments.

The biggest mistake the Israelites made in the story of the Gibeonites was failing to pray before making the commitment:

So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord. And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.  (Joshua 9:14-15)

God takes promises seriously–even bad ones.  That means faithful leaders need to seek guidance before making commitments, particularly significant ones.  Rochefoucault says we make promises based on our “hopes”, but our hopes may not align with God’s plans.

A reminder to pray is necessary because unfortunately many faithful leaders do not associate God with organizational decisions.  Oswald Chambers observed:

In spiritual issues it is customary for us to put God first, but we tend to think that it is inappropriate and unnecessary to put Him first in the practical, everyday issues of our lives.

Chambers warns “Don’t plan without God. . . . We get ourselves into circumstances that were not chosen by God, and suddenly we realize that we have been making our plans without Him—that we have not even considered Him to be a vital, living factor in the planning of our lives.

William Penn offers another piece of advice on making commitments–do it rarely.  We think that means only when necessary to further the WHY of the organization.

Keeping Commitments.

Despite prayer and thoughtfulness in making commitments, “Keep Your Word” can still get complicated in a broken world.  Penn wisely adds “if lawful”, but even that doesn’t anticipate all potential problems.

A faithful leader is faced with a difficult dilemma if honoring a commitment would be illegal or in conflict with other commitments.  For example, if honoring an onerous commitment would bankrupt the organization, it might be prohibited by bankruptcy laws.  What about a commitment so expensive that honoring it would violate a fiduciary duty to owners or require laying off many employees?  What if two commitments conflict?

James Hunter warns:  “To enact a vision of human flourishing based in the qualities of life that Jesus modeled will invariably challenge the given structures of the social order. In this light, there is no true leadership without putting at risk one’s time, wealth, reputation, and position.”

A faithful leader will be facing those challenges with both hands tied behind their back (and possibly blindfolded with their feet bound) without seeking God’s guidance, protection and provision through prayer.  Although these challenges may come in the form of human resistance and resistance from worldly systems, the Bible tells us that these challenges are spiritual:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  (Ephesians 6:12)

Back in post #091 (Trust in God), we identified these challenges as resistance, dilemmas and risks.

• Resistance.  Resistance to leading an organization with faithful integrity through business a better way will come because it challenges the “given structures of the social order” in a fallen world of business as usual characterized by assumptions of Profit as Purpose, Scarcity and Self-Interest.  With prayer, God can break through that resistance.

• Dilemmas.  Because an organization is operating in a fallen world, there may not be “easy answers” to organizational challenges–leaders are likely to be faced with choices that involve two imperfect alternatives.  Through prayer, God can provide creative “third-way” solutions to dilemmas.

• Risks.  Risks are necessary when facing resistance and resolving dilemmas in line with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.  Through Prayer, God’s favor can protect leaders and organizations facing such risks.

Rochefoucault observes that we “perform according to our fears.”  We believe fear–grounded in the Scarcity and Self-Interest assumptions of business as usual–is a factor in leading worldly organizations to ask “Can We” rather than “Should We”.

Through prayer, faithful leaders need not fear.  They can face resistance, dilemmas and risks with the promise in Ephesians 4:7: “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds.”  In his book Why Business Matters to God, Jeff Van Duzer rightly suggests that the same God who calls leaders to lead with faithful integrity through business a better way will be present to equip those who are called:

We are not expected to fulfill the creation and redemption mandates in business relying solely on our own wisdom, judgment and perseverance. The same God who calls us to these high standards provides us with access to the discernment and power that will enable us to fulfill them.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): The inspiration for this post came this past weekend attending our daughter’s graduation from college (we are so incredibly proud of her).

As the weekend went on, we met more and more of her classmates whose lives were being disrupted by employers casually delaying their scheduled start dates.  These were large consulting firms and banks.  Some delays were for a few months and others were up to a year.  These delays had ripple effects.  Plans to share apartments disrupted.  Plans to move disrupted.

Young people had made plans based on commitments from large organizations.  They had interviewed, assessed opportunities, selected an employer based on a promise, and then declined other opportunities based on that promise.  Those other opportunities are now closed doors.  Most are left with no option other than to accept the delay, regroup and try to make the best of the gap.  Most will probably live at home.  To some extent, they have been dehumanized.

They were promises according to “hopes” and performance according to “fears”.  It is hard to see these delays (and the fears) as being about anything other than money–Profit as Purpose.   “Keep Your Word” would negatively impact the bottom line, and the leaders of these organizations asked “Can We?”  “Can We” shift the burden of our commitment to the students?  I have little doubt that a different answer would have emerged if they had asked “Should We?”

To be clear, I do not believe that good faith renegotiation of a commitment is dishonoring that commitment.  Those employers who offer graduating students incentives to “agree” to delay their start dates (such as paying them a reduced amount to work for a non-profit) are finding a “third-way” through their desire to reduce costs and their commitment.

Perhaps these organizations will pay the real price in a future recruiting season if students perceive that trusting them is a risk.  But that’s tomorrow’s longer-term problem–today’s is short-term Profit as Purpose.

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Photo credit: Original photo by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay (photo cropped)