Careless Words

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21)

The wise King Solomon warns us against making a foolish commitment to the Lord in the book of Ecclesiastes. “When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow!” (Ecclesiastes 5:4) Often I hear people saying swear to God, often in promising that they are innocent of something or the other. Other times people do make an oath to God. Such as on the witness stand in some court of justice. This in itself is not a sin, as we are to make oaths in the name of the Lord. “You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.” (Deuteronomy 6:13) By what other name could we make an oath? There is only one God and only He is true and can bind us to our word. An oath in the name of the Lord is binding, as we will be held accountable to it. We cannot take the Lord’s name in vain and He will not be mocked. (Exodus 20:7) Therefore, we should be careful to make a vow to the Lord, as He will require that vow be fulfilled. “When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the LORD your God will surely require it of you.” (Deuteronomy 23:21)

Solomon knows that at some point in our life we will make a vow to the Lord. We make a vow at our baptism, when we become members of the Church, and when we dedicate our children to bringing them up in the truths of the Lord.  In marriage we makes vows before the Lord and so many think nothing of breaking them. Solomon knows we will make a vow to God as he begins this verse with “When you.” Solomon also follows this assumption with a prohibition, “do not be late in paying it.” He follows with this warning, “Pay what you vow!” If we make a vow to God, then we are bound to it. Before making such a statement we should give it close consideration. I can’t help but think of the television show “Married at First Sight.” What are those people thinking? To make vows before God with no care of making the vow secure.

Making a vow to God is not like a car payment where you get harassing calls until you catch up the payments. God expects the vow to be met on time. Solomon refers to the one who fails in his vow to the Lord as “a fool.” People make commitments to God all the time. I committed to reading five chapters of Scripture every day and slowly fell from the habit. I was going to be a virgin when I got married but fell in a drunken moment. Then there are the times of distress when we cry out to the Lord and say, “Lord if you see me through this mess I will serve you with my life” or some other commitment.

The Lord does not forget the vows that we have made with Him and He will hold us to them. The Israelite people were in a covenant relationship with God as His chosen people. That is a vow that they made with Him. But they were a stiff necked people and disobeyed His word. They were punished and returned to His ways only to fall off again to their commitment to God. We see this seven times in the book of Judges alone. Finally the Babylonians came and took them away for a seventy year exile because they had not kept their vow to the Lord. God remembers the vows we make to Him and He will hold us to them.

Solomon then gives some good advice, “It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands?” (Ecclesiastes 5:5-6) I often wonder if those people on social media, on television, and in their everyday walk of life who throw out those Oh My Gods and swear to God have given any thought to what they are doing and that the day is coming they will be held accountable to those words spoken in foolishness. They would be better off if they would keep silent rather than to make rash thoughtless vows to a God that will not be mocked.

I wonder at times at the troubles that people have in the Church and outside of the Church might not be a result of God’s judgment in the present in order to turn them away from their careless words. I know many people who have prospered in this world and show little real respect to God and they are miserable in their wealth. Is God laughing? “He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them.” (Psalm 2:4) Making false vows to the Lord is a serious thing to do and our Lord said it is better to make no vows at all. “But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.” (Matthew 5:34-35)

Solomon now returns to the idea of dreams. “For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:7) Solomon’s conclusion is that dreams and rash words can result in nothing but emptiness. Man makes his plans but if he does not acknowledge the Lord his path will be directionless. “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) Rather Solomon tells us it is better to fear God that He will establish our ways. To stand in awe of Him. If we respond to the Lord in obedience and gratitude He will direct our paths. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The close comes for Solomon with an exhortation that we should be careful of what we think of our fellow folks. “If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them. After all, a king who cultivates the field is an advantage to the land.” (Ecclesiastes 5:8-9) Perhaps these verses is here because Solomon knows that we would not speak foolishly before a wicked but powerful king of the earth. His thinking may be that if we would not, then why would we before an all-powerful God. God is sovereign and in control.

As we strive for excellence in living a Christ Like life here let us not overlook our worship in paying attention to the vows we make to God and others. We are to be respectful to God and to our neighbor. We are to love God and our neighbor as our self. This is not a call for us to cower in silence before God and man but to be sincere in our speech, think through our commitments, and never forget our reverence and awe towards our God. “Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” (Romans 14:16-18)

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, August 19, 2016

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