Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:33-37, Exodus 20:7, Ecclesiastes 5:4-7, Matthew 26:62-64, James 5:12
I should be walking around with a needle in my eye. Maybe you should too.
That visual might make us cringe, but a touch of squeamishness is just what we need to really hear Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 5:33-37. Sandwiched in the middle of hard-to-digest teachings on divorce and loving our enemies, Jesus calls out our long track record of broken promises.
“Cross my heart. Hope to die. Stick a needle in my eye.” Remember saying that as a kid? As we vowed to be BFFs with our playmates or to tell the truth in a given situation, we may have crossed our hearts with our little fingers, but we didn’t really hope to die. We certainly didn’t expect someone to stick a needle in our eye if the promise was forgotten or broken.
With all of the conviction our hearts could muster, we made a vow we couldn’t keep. It’s a habit we likely haven’t grown out of entirely, and one that is not new to Christ’s followers. The practical takeaway of this mini-sermon on vows is simple, though certainly not easy. I can’t say it better than Christ, so I won’t attempt to.
“But let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one.”
- Matthew 5:37
In a world where words are cheap and promises are disposable, we are called to be promise keepers, a people who faithfully follow through. If we say we will do something, we ought to show up and do it. If we aren’t sure we can, we should ask the Holy Spirit to help us decline or stay quiet.
There are a zillion practical applications of this truth, but just using these words as a guide to manage our calendars and commitments is the lower-hanging, easy-to-pick fruit. Let’s look up and see the gospel.
The Old Testament is packed with followers who made dramatic vows to the Lord:
- Jacob vowed to worship Yahweh and tithe a tenth of his belongings if God would meet his physical needs (Genesis 28:20-22).
- Samson’s parents made a vow on his behalf, promising to never cut his hair (Judges 13:5).
- Hannah vowed to send her firstborn son to live in the temple if God would give her the baby she longed for (1 Samuel 1:10-11).
- Jonah attempted to use a vow to pry open the mouth of the huge fish that swallowed him (Jonah 2:9).
- David vowed not to sleep until he built a temple for the ark of the covenant (Psalm 132:2-5).
The people on this list kept their promises imperfectly or not at all, just like we do. They may have followed through on one specific vow, but each of them failed at keeping their promise to worship God alone and to obey Him perfectly. We’ve followed suit by promising to love, serve, worship, and obey out of one corner of our mouths, while sinning out of the other corner. But we should not get used to this. Breaking promises to God, and to others, should always make us squirm. Even more, it should cause us to repent and look to Jesus.
Our imperfections highlight and point to Christ’s perfection. He is the ultimate and only promise keeper. Despite our trail of broken promises, God has not reneged on His promise to save us and free us from sin, to bring us back into relationship with Him. This is the gospel, isn’t it?
We can say what we mean and mean what we say because we bear His image. More importantly we can be constantly buoyed by the hope that God will keep every promise He’s ever made to us.
Erin Davis is an author, blogger, and speaker who loves to see women of all ages run to the deep well of God’s Word. When she’s not writing, you can find Erin chasing chickens and children on her small farm in the Midwest.