A People of Covenant

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I recently heard a comedienne and actress talking about her third engagement. She has been twice married and divorced and is now preparing for her third—“and final,” she claimed—marriage. We live in a world in which divorce seems almost normative. We live in a world in which people’s word means very little.

Think about it. How often do we see politicians making grand promises as election season draws close? We hear those promises and agree that things will be better if they are fulfilled, but we don’t really believe thatthe politician intends to keep his word.

We are quickly able to detect advertising talk. The claims of unparalleled service and satisfaction rarely match the reality. When authority figures make grand truth claims, we tend to immediately view those claims with a degree of scepticism. And when we see a bride and groom make vows to each other “until death do us part,” the little voice inside our head wonders if they really mean it.

We have been trained to believe that a person’s word means very little. Verbal contracts are meaningless. Unless a twenty-page document is signed and dated in triplicate, we don’t expect people to honour their commitments. It only means something if it is in black and white. Even then, perhaps not.

The Bible takes a very different approach. Jesus taught that oath-taking should not play a featured role in the life of the Christian. Instead, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or “No’; anything more comes from evil” (Matthew 5:33–37). In other words, your word should be your bond.

Though it is not the main point of Psalm 65, David does touch on this reality. “Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed” (v. 1). He goes on to rejoice in God’s faithful salvation to his people, which seems to be the basis of his commitment to pay vows to God. If God is so faithful to us, ought we not to be faithful in return?

Christians should consider this very carefully. If unbelievers do not take very seriously the marriage vows stated at the altar, Christians should be radically different. If unbelievers consider a promise made to a child or a friend something to be easily broken, Christians should be bound by their word. Christians are a people of covenant and, of all people, should consider covenant obligations morally binding.

Solomon, who knew what it was to forsake covenant obligations, warned his son in this regard. “Do not be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.” The context makes it clear that he had vows in mind here. “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake.” He warned that God will “be angry at” and “destroy” those who vow rashly (Ecclesiastes 5:1–7).

As a church, we entered last Sunday into a new sermon series in which we are considering the vows made when we signed the church covenant. As we head into another weekend, allow this psalm to prepare your heart. Approach the preaching of the word on Sunday with a deep-seated commitment to perform the vows you have made to God.