Vows before God and Man

“When you vow a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it, for he takes no delight in fools. Fulfill your vow. It is better for you not to vow than for you to vow and not fulfill it. Let not your mouth cause your flesh to sin and do not say to the face of the messenger that it was in error. Why should God be angry at your voice? And why should he repeatedly destroy the work of your hands? For there are great dreams, vanity, and many words but it is God that you should fear.”

(Ecclesiastes 5:3-6 {5:4-7 in English Bibles})

Solomon covers much the same ground as we saw him cover in verses 2-3 (in our English Bibles), yet he delves more deeply to add emphasis. How often we are careless on how we make our vows. We might swear that we will complete a project by a given time or that we might pay a debt if such an such an extension is given. Having been a High School teacher for several years, this was a common practice of students — “if you will just give me a little more time to complete this assignment…”

Making a vow or a request such as this is not the problem. The problem is our intent. Do we really intend to live up to the vow we have made? Do we also realize that as Christians, all of our vows either explicitly or implicitly invoke the name of God? Think about it, if, as a Christian, you make a vow to do a certain thing, what will that person to whom you vowed think of the character of our God if they discover you had no intention to fulfill said vow?

And so, when that person sends a messenger to you and says, “hey, you said you would do this…” how then will you respond? Will you lie or make up an excuse? Will you say, “No, dear friend, you misunderstood my words”? What will that person think of our God then? Do you not know that God hates a lying tongue (Proverbs 6:17)? Do you not think that God will hold your feet to the fire if you do not fulfill the vow you made in his name? Why would you wish to anger the God of heaven over petty earthly things you happened to promise?

As a pastor, one of the things that has always struck me are the vows that people take when they come into membership in a local church. Yikes, how quickly those vows are cast aside when they become inconvenient and how slow the leadership often is to discipline those who refuse to fulfill their vows. Yet, this is not just a trouble that congregations happen to have. Pastors do the same thing. They vow to shepherd a congregation, but often when the times get tough, they are looking for greener pastures elsewhere. And again, how rarely they submit to the discipline of their fellow Elders.

Solomon sums up these things by saying that there are many dreams — and dreams are not bad if you strive toward them — but the heart of the matter is that we must begin with the fear of the Lord. If we do not do so, how do we think he will honor the works of our hands or the words of our mouth. How do we think he will bless the pursuit of those dreams and not reduce them to idle chatter and an abundance of vain words?

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