Standing on the Promises of God
2 Corinthians 1:20
Rev. Brian Bill
In 1994, a 67-year-old carpenter named Russell Herman died in Marion, Illinois. In his last will and testament he bequeathed the following:
• $2.4 billion to the town of Cave-In-Rock
• $2.4 billion to the city of East St. Louis
• $1.5 billion for projects in southeastern Illinois
And in a final act of unprecedented generosity, he left $6 trillion to the Federal Reserve to pay off the national debt (it would take a lot more today because the debt is now over $14 trillion). There was only one problem: at the time of his death, the only thing Mr. Herman actually owned was a 1983 Olds Toronado.
Russell Herman may not have left behind anything of monetary value, but he did leave us all with a good reminder: you can’t give away what you don’t possess.
The bottom line is that he did not have the resources to make any of this a reality. Not so with God. He has all the means to make good on all His promises. Our big idea today is this: In a world of broken promises, God can be counted on.
We’re beginning a brand new series today called, “A Summer of Promise.” I’m really looking forward to us learning together these next 10 weeks.
Let’s begin with a definition. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says a promise is: “A declaration that one will do or refrain from doing something specified…that gives the person to whom it is made a right to claim the performance or forbearance of a specified act.” Most frequently in the Old Testament the word promise refers to “speaking,” “speech,” or “to say.” Here’s the deal: When God says something that settles it.
I’ve come to really appreciate the insights of James MacDonald. I like how his take on promises as found in his book, “Always True.” Here’s what he says: “A promise is the assurance that God gives to His people so they can walk by faith while they wait for Him to work.”
George Parsons from Middletown Bible Church weighs in on the difference between a command and a promise: “A command from God is something we should do; a promise from God is something God will do. A command must be obeyed; a promise must be believed. When God gives a command He says, “YOU WILL”; when God gives a promise He says, “I WILL.”
Adoniram Judson, the great missionary to Burma, once said: “The future is as bright as the promises of God.” D.L. Moody has added: “God never made a promise that was too good to be true.” And here’s a statement worth pondering: “God never over-promises and He never under-delivers.”
Pointers about Promises
It’s important to pause at this point and establish some guardrails on the pathway to God’s promises. Here then are some pointers about promises.
1. Put the promises in their context to get their full meaning. One of the most popular promises is found in Hebrews 13:5: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” This is so comforting, isn’t it? But we seldom quote the first part of the verse: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said…” Because of the promise of God’s presence we can live free from the love of money and become more content with what we have. Now that’s a promise we all need.
2. Be careful about claiming someone else’s promise. Let’s take a look at a very popular passage in Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Let’s go back to verses 1-3 where we see that this is actually a sentence from a letter sent to Jewish exiles living in Babylon. In verses 4-9, the people are told to “Build houses and settle down…increase in number…seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” They’re also warned about not listening to false prophets.
Then in verse 10, we hear the promise: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.” This promise was given to those in captivity. They were going to be there for 70 years, and then God would fulfill His plans for them.
This promise is actually even more powerful when we realize the people it was first directed to and the problems they were facing. With that as a brief background, let’s look at Jeremiah 29:11 again: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Six truths jump out at me:
• God is a promise-keeper. Who else keeps a promise for 70 years?
• God knows everything.
• God is not out to harm you.
• God wants to help you.
• God has plans for you.
• With God our future is filled with hope.
3. Focus on promises that are repeated elsewhere in the Bible. One way to know if a promise is universal is to find the same promise in other places in the Bible. For example, Joshua 1:5 is a promise to Joshua: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Let’s return to Hebrews 13:5 where we see that this promise is restated for all believers: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
4. Be willing to accept all God’s promises, not just the ones you like. For example, God also promises persecution and suffering and difficulty for the Christ-follower. John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble…” We can’t just put the pleasant promises up on our walls and act surprised when suffering comes. Having said that, hold on to the second half of this verse because we know that we don’t suffer alone: “…But take heart! I have overcome the world.””
5. The ultimate aim of God’s promises is to glorify Himself. Be careful about demanding that God must do something for you. We can’t just name it and claim it without worshipping the Name that is above all names and desiring that He display His honor and glory. Psalm 119:38: “Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared.”
6. Some promises are conditional. God will do His part when we do ours. Often we see this in the use of “if/then” passages. Notice Deuteronomy 11:22-23: “If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow – to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways and to hold fast to him – then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you.” Conditional promises are also found in the New Testament. Here’s one from James 4:10: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
7. Promises must be appropriated and applied by faith. Charles Spurgeon has said: “Do not treat God’s promises as if they were curiosities for a museum; but believe them and use them.”
By the exercise of our faith, God’s promises become personal. Hebrews 4:2: “…But the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” One time we’re told that Jesus did not do many miracles in a town “because of their lack of faith” (Matthew 13:58).
This is clearly seen with the giving of the land of promise (that would be Wisconsin) in the Book of Joshua. Joshua 21:43: “So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers…” The promise of land was given to them but they had to take possession of the promise to make it their own: “…and they took possession of it and settled there.” Let’s not be like the people described in Psalm 106:24: “Then they despised the pleasant land; they did not believe his promise.”
8. Don’t be passive about God’s promises. Friend, if you want to profit from the promises, you can’t be passive about them. Hebrews 6:12: “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” Charles Finney put it like this: “The promises were made to be used by God’s children, by all who will believe them and appropriate them.” Proverbs 13:4: “The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.”
9. Make sure you are prepared to receive God’s promises. As we learned last week from 1 Samuel 2:30, God honors those who honor Him. God is looking for surrendered hearts and for those who are quick to confess sin. Psalm 66:18: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”
10. Hold on to hope. Sometimes we have to wait a long time before a promise is fulfilled in our lives. Hebrews 10:23-24: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Don’t give up. Don’t bail when you think God has failed you. He hasn’t. Hebrews 10:36: “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” Remember that “A promise is the assurance that God gives to His people so they can walk by faith while they wait for Him to work.”
Walking Through Word
In a world of broken promises, God can be counted on. I thought it would be good for us to soak up some Scriptures that speak of God’s promises. This list is by no means exhaustive but I hope to increase our understanding that God loves to make and keep promises for His people. My other aim is to whet your appetite to dig into God’s Word so that you have the joy of discovering God’s promises for yourself. Let’s worship together as we walk through the Word.
Numbers 23:19: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?”
Deuteronomy 1:11-12: “May the Lord, the God of your fathers, increase you a thousand times and bless you as he has promised!”
Joshua 23:14-15: “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”
1 Kings 8:24: “You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it – as it is today.”
1 Kings 8:56-57: “Praise be to the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses.”
1 Chronicles 17:23: “And now, Lord, let the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house be established forever. Do as you promised.”
Nehemiah 9:8: “You have kept your promise because you are righteous.”
Psalm 77:8: “Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time?”
Psalm 106:12: “Then they believed his promises and sang his praise.”
Psalm 119:50: “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.”
Psalm 119:76: “May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.”
Psalm 119:116: “Sustain me according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed.”
Psalm 119:162: “I rejoice in your promise like one who finds great spoil.”
Psalm 145:13: “The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.”
2 Corinthians 7:1: “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”
Rom 4:16, 20: “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring…Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.”
Powerful Promise Passages
Let’s look a bit more closely at two key passages in the New Testament as we set the table for the next nine weeks.
2 Peter 1:3-4: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” I see two things that we must do.
• Unleash God’s power. Friend, do you know that you don’t need another book or blessing or seminar or experience if you know Jesus? Notice the past tense: “has given us everything…” You have all that you need right now to be all that God wants you to be – the word “everything” means everything!
• Utilize God’s promises. God’s promises are great and they are precious. The word “great” is the superlative root word “megas,” which means exceedingly outstanding. The word “precious” means prized and of such great value that a suitable price is hard to estimate. I have two images that come into my mind when I hear the word precious. The first is of Gollum in “Lord of the Rings” when he refers to the ring as “My precious…my precious.” The second is an experience Beth and I had over 15 years ago when we were invited to a couple’s house. They had a very sweet relationship and called each other endearing names throughout dinner. By the end of the meal we wanted to barf. Here’s how their conversation went. “My precious, can you pass the ketchup?” “Sure, darling. Anything for you.” “Sweetheart, you did a super job with the burgers on the grill tonight.” “Thanks, can you pass the butter, buttercup?” Sometimes I’ll use these words just to see how Beth will react.
But with God, his promises are not superfluous or just flowery speech. His promises are to be prized because they are precious. God’s promises are mega magnificent! John Bunyan, who spent much of his life in prison for his faith, wrote these words: “The pathway of life is strewn so thickly with the promises of God that it is impossible to take one step without treading upon one of them.”
Notice the two benefits of appropriating these promises:
• We get closer to the Savior: “…so that through them you may participate in the divine nature.”
• We get farther from sin: “…and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
In a world of broken promises, God can be counted on.
2 Corinthians 1:20: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.” The promises of God are not “yes” and then “no.” They are not “I don’t know” or “Maybe so.” The promises of God are yes.
The context here is that some Christians were accusing Paul of breaking his promises because his travel plans changed and he was not able to come to Corinth. Some were even casting doubt on the message of Christ that he preached so he wrote back to establish that he was not a promise breaker. And God certainly isn’t either. I wrote down these statements as I reflected on this passage.
• God’s promises are many, running from Genesis to Revelation.
• These promises are made by God Himself and therefore will be kept.
• These promises reflect God’s character.
• These promises are established beyond all doubt. The word “yes” is Greek and means certain and true. Someone has said that God’s favorite word is “yes.” “Amen” is Hebrew and means “so be it” or “it’s already done.” It can also mean “fully accomplished.”
• All of God’s promises are fulfilled in the person of Christ. We could say that all of the conditional promises are kept by Christ. We could change the “if” to “since.” Since He has fulfilled all of the Father’s conditions, then all God’s promises come through Him because Immanuel is God’s Amen. Revelation 3:14: “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation.”
• These promises come through Christ but must be claimed by us (“spoken by us”). One must know Christ in order to claim the promises that come through the Promised One. God is looking for people who say “yes” and “Amen” to Him. Most promises are for believers only.
• These promises are given for the glory of God, not just for our good.
Saved by a Promise
Aren’t you glad that salvation has nothing to do with our promises to God but rather with His promises to us? Have you received the promise of eternal life? 1 John 2:25: “And this is what he promised us – even eternal life.” This will be our topic next week. Until you have believed and received, God’s promises will not be accessible to you.
You need to know that there is some urgency in accepting Christ. One day it will be too late. That’s a promise. But because God is patient, He is giving you time right now to decide to follow His Son. 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
If you’re ready to receive the promise of forgiveness and eternal life, then confess that you are a sinner and repent of the way you’ve been living. Believe that Jesus is the Promised One and that when He died on the cross He did so as your substitute. He’s paid the price for all your sins. But none of this is applied to you until you surrender and receive Him into your life. You can do that right now.
Action and Interaction
Here are a couple ways to allow God’s promises to percolate in your life.
1. As you read your Bible underline every promise you come across.
2. Share these promises with your family at the dinner table. Related to this, Pastor Jeff has designed some family devotional cards that are available at the Resource Center. Stop by and pick one up.
God’s entire communication with us can be put into two words: “I Promise.” We don’t have to worry if He will make good on what He has promised because He never over-promises and He never under-delivers. When His Son died, he guaranteed that those who are adopted into His family through faith will inherit all that He has promised. In a world of broken promises, God can be counted on.
In what ways do you need to stand on the promises of God? What problems are you facing right now? Are you discouraged? Afraid? Lonely? Overwhelmed? Lost? Anxious? Confused? If you’re ready to stand on His promises, I’m going to ask you to stand right now. Let’s sing this closing song as an affirmation of faith.
Closing Song: “Standing on the Promises”