“Talk is cheap, like daydreams and other useless activities. Fear God instead” (Ecclesiastes 5:7, NLT).
One commentator suggests, “Promises inevitably spring from an encounter with God in worship and Word. But, we must be careful, for the Preacher goes on to say, ‘Better not to vow than to vow and not pay’ (v. 5). It would appear that he is telling his readers that many vows made to God are unnecessary, but once made, must be kept. We see this tragically depicted in the story of Jephthah and his daughter (Judg. 11:29–40). How many idle promises do we make to God in the heat of the moment or in the charged atmosphere of a particular circumstance? How many have we fulfilled? Jesus taught that it was better to say nothing and then do the will of God than to make an idle promise that would remain unfulfilled (Matt. 21:28–31). Peter was quick to say to Jesus: ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you!’ (Matt. 26:35); yet it was not long before his words were rendered meaningless” (Matt. 26:69–75).
I recently shared a sermon with Blue Bridge Church on vows. My prayer is that Jesus grant me the grace and goodness necessary to show all those around me (especially my wife and children) that I am a man of my word. Not only will I not need to make unnecessary promises in order for others to trust me, but I also not need to use too many words altogether because my actions will speak for themselves. The commitment I have made to Christ in response to his saving work. The vows I shared with my wife over sixteen years ago. The integrity and influence that I hope to model to my children and with our church.
On a leadership level, this text brings with it a fair amount of tension as well. My mind goes to our church’s heart to go where the people are rather than to wait for them to come to us. Or our aim to be a church that multiples churches – gathering in different places at different times (using different methods). The longer we prayer, plan, and prepare the more there is that fear that creeps up in the back of all of our minds… will we ever plant other venues, sites, or churches. That being said, there is also wisdom (and even courage) in waiting for the right time and neighborhood. Showing reverence (fear) in God that he is very much in control – that he is ultimately the Author of our story and strategy.
Until the day that we are able to “scream” what type of church we are, we can at least speak in our “indoor voices” (or even in a gentle “whisper”). Our aim is to under-promise but to over-perform. I once offered the City of Kennewick multiple volunteers in order to paint a variety of gazebos located in one of their most prominent parks. The commitment was significant even under the most favorable of circumstances. However, the day of our serve project happened to be one of the windiest days of the year (and also a day where many people happened to have calendar conflicts). Needless to say, not only did we fail to finish even one of the gazebos, I am fairly certain that they ended up redoing our work.
Fortunately, the previous situation has been the exception rather than the rule. I would rather organizations speak of our reputation while we are not present rather than us always be the first to lead with our vision the very moment we enter into the room.