THE SACREDNESS OF VOWS
Sermon Text: Psalm 76:11
“Come, vow and pay the Lord your God. … Bring gifts to honor Him.” (Fenton). (Psalm 61:5, 8) “For thou hearest my vows, O God, thou grantest the desire of reverent men. And I will ever sing the praise, paying my vows through all my days.” (Moffatt). A vow is a “pledge”; it is “a solemn promise especially to God; and engagement solemnly entered into, to adopt a certain course of life, pursue a definite end, observe some moral precept, or surrender oneself to a higher life of holiness.” Such a vow is made by every person who becomes a Christian. When we take on the name of Christ we solemnly promise to be like Christ. When we experience the new birth we enter into a pledge to live the new life. It is our duty to make such vows and it is also our duty to sacredly keep them.
Exodus Movement. Deuteronomy 23:21-23
Here we are told that it is a sin to make a vow unto the Lord and not pay it. This includes oral vows “promised with thy mouth.” The Lord made every effort to teach the Israelites that their promises to both God and man should be sacredly kept. If men or women vowed to devote themselves to the service of the Lord, they were obliged to adhere strictly to His service, according to the conditions of the vow. The same was true when they pledged their children to a sacred service as in the case of Hannah and Samuel. (1 Samuel 1:9-11, 22, 28) Samuel was her only child and it was a great sacrifice to give him up to the service of the temple from his early boyhood days, but if she had failed, the nation would have been deprived of the service of one of the greatest prophets and judges who ever lived. Hannah fulfilled her vow.
Money Vows. Numbers 30:1, 2
Then follows instruction that the money vows or pledges made by children are void unless ratified by express or tacit consent of their parents. If the father holds his peace when he hears the vow of his child, his silence confirms the pledge and it is binding. If he immediately disallows the pledge the vow is void and the Lord releases the son or daughter from paying it. The same is true regarding the vows of married women without the knowledge and consent of their husbands. When he learns of the vow of his wife he can confirm it by his silence or annul it by disallowing it. In the case of a disallowed pledge the promise is “And the Lord will forgive her,” that is, releases her from the vow.
The Scriptures make it plain that vows made to the Lord are sacred and therefore binding and payment should not be deferred or put off. (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6) The vow should be performed while the sense of the obligation is still fresh and strong in our minds lest the lapse of time should lead us to repent of the promise or even deny that the pledge was made. The reason given why this should not be done is because the Lord has no pleasure in fools; that is “hypocritical and perfidious persons, who, when they are in distress, make liberal vows, and when the danger is past neglect and break them, and so discover the highest folly in thinking to mock and deceive the All-seeing and Almighty God.” (Cruden).
Vows of Loyalty
Most vows of loyalty are made when we are in serious trouble or are facing grave danger. For this reason there is a temptation to forget the vow as soon as the danger is over and the deliverance accomplished. But these vows are also binding and obligatory. “I will go into thy house with burnt offerings: I will pay thee my vows, which my lips have uttered, and my mouth has spoken, when I was in trouble.” (Psalm 66:13,14). When the men who manned the ship on which Jonah was fleeing from duty had cast him overboard, “then the men feared the Lord exceedingly and offered a sacrifice unto the Lord, and made vows.” (Jonah 1:16). Whether the vows were kept or not we are not told. While Jonah was in the belly of the whale he remembered his broken pledges and unpaid vows and promised to pay them if God would deliver him. (Jonah 2:1-9). God delivered him and Jonah kept his promise and through him the Lord saved a great and wicked city from destruction.
Avoid Rash Vows
Because even the vows made while we are in trouble are binding we should be very careful lest in a time of emotional excitement or sudden fear or passion we make rash vows which may be difficult of virtually impossible of fulfillment. A vow should be made deliberately and calmly with the knowledge that we have the power to perform it. If the fulfillment of a financial vow is uncertain it is perfectly proper to make the pledge conditional upon the continuance of the present income, or upon the expectation of money to be received. It is not wrong to make vows, in fact it is our duty to make them. The admonition is to recognize their sacred and binding nature and be careful. Legitimate and rational vows made in the face of danger are often ignored after the danger is over.
Jacob’s Vow. Genesis 28:20-22
Jacob was in serious trouble and only God could help him. He had deceived his father and virtually stolen his brother’s birthright from whose wrath he was now fleeing. In his helplessness he cast himself on the Lord and the Lord had given him a remarkable dream revealing to him the plan of redemption in the image of a ladder. In recognition of God’s ownership of all things, Jacob vowed that he would faithfully return to Him the tenth, the tithe. Jacob kept his promise and the Lord gave him what he asked for and more too. His character was transformed as the result of his experience with the angel at the brook; he was reconciled to his angry brother, and became the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. The promise to Jacob included the new earth. See Genesis 31:13.
Every Sabbath Adventists should make the same vow Jacob made. All will, who get a clear view of the plan of salvation and who recognize God as the owner of all things. All who observe the Sabbath and thus recognize God as the Creator should also pay tithe and recognize Him as the possessor of the heavens and earth. The Lord will honor such a vow with rich blessings in this life and with an inheritance in the earth made new. One of the greatest promises in the Bible is made to faithful tithe payers. (Malachi 3:7-12). Most of you have made that vow and have been fulfilling it and can testify that the Lord’s promise is good. Let me urge all others to make such a vow and then faithfully keep it. Begin now to recognize God as the owner of all things and therefore the dispenser of all the blessings of life.
Vow of Zacchaeus. Luke 19:1-10
“Here and now, Master, I give half my property to the poor, and if I have unjustly exacted money from any man, I pledge to repay to him four times the amount.” (Wey). Zacchaeus made this vow to Jesus in the presence of the multitude who were murmuring because Jesus was accepting the hospitality of one they considered a “notorious sinner.” Restitution is one of the chief evidences of genuine conversion; it is one of the fruits meet for repentance. When genuine Christianity begins, all dishonesty ends. Zacchaeus kept his vow although it left him a poor man in material wealth, but immensely rich in happiness and spiritual treasure. Poverty of soul is a far greater calamity than material poverty. Getting what our depraved appetites and passions lust for at the price of dishonesty brings “Leaness to the soul.” The price is too great for such meager results.
All Obligation Are Vows
There are those who are unwilling to make even conditional pledges to the support of the church when they are constantly making vows to their fellow men. Every financial obligation and promise is a vow. This includes the monthly rent or payments on a contract and all other weekly, monthly or yearly payments or obligations, such as telephone, light, water, gas, coal, grocery and other bills. We cannot do business without making promises or vows to our fellow men and it is proper that we should do so providing we pay them and refuse to enter into any arrangement that we cannot live up to. This is where the instruction of Deuteronomy 23:21-23 and Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 especially applies. Why should we be so willing to make so many vows for our own benefit and then refuse to make pledges to finance God’s cause? Such a course is inconsistent and unfair to others who are bearing the burdens in a business like manner.
Wages are Vows. Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14,15; Jeremiah 22:13
These Scriptures show that all who employ others for any kind of service and promise payment at a certain time are bound by the sacred obligations of a vow or pledge which should be strictly kept. A person has no right to employ another or others unless they are able to pay their wages. If there is any uncertainty about the time of payment it should be made known to the person employed before he begins his services. This is strict Christian honesty and should be carefully adhered to by all Christians.
A genuine Christian should faithfully live up to his or her marriage vows: “Do you covenant to live together in the relation of husband and wife, forsaking all others, promise to love, cherish and protect each other in sickness and in health; clinging to each other in adversity as well as in prosperity until death shall separate you?” Are you husbands and wives strictly loyal to that marriage vow which is sacred and binding? Your baptismal vow is sacred and binding. In it you promised to forsake the world and all its foolishness and follies and cling to Christ alone till death. Those who are baptized into this movement thereby vow to be loyal to the principles and teachings of the message, which is God’s special message for this time. Are you loyal, or are you drifting and breaking your baptismal vows?
Condition of Eternal Life. Ezekiel 33:15, 16
Only those who make full restitution for dishonest dealings and who “restore the pledge” or pay their vows to both God and man are promised eternal life. The seriousness of breaking a promise or pledge is illustrated in the experience of Ananias and Sapphira. (Acts 5:1-11). They pledged the entire proceeds of a piece of property and then withheld part of the price and the Lord visited upon them terrible judgments for refusing to pay their vow. The last days are to be characterized by laxity in paying vows and meeting obligations. It is a generation of “liars” and “truce breakers” or covenant breakers. They do not keep their promises.
Spirit of Prophecy
At stated periods, in order to preserve the integrity of the law, the people (of Israel) were interviewed as to whether they had faithfully performed their vows or not. A conscientious few made returns to God of about one-third of all their income for the benefit of religious interests and for the poor. … There must be an awakening among us as a people upon this matter. There are but few men who feel conscious-stricken if they neglect their duty in beneficence. But few feel remorse of soul because they are daily robbing God. … There are many neglected vows and unpaid pledges, and yet how few trouble their minds over the matter; how few feel guilt of this violation of duty. We must have new and deeper convictions on this subject. The conscience must be aroused, and the matter receive earnest attention; for an account must be rendered to God in the last day, and His claims must be settled.” —Vol. 4:467, 468.
Sacred and Binding
“Although no visible marks of God’s displeasure follow the repetition of the sin of Ananias and Sapphira now, yet the sin is just as heinous in the sight of God, and will as surely be visited upon the transgressor in the day of judgment; and many will feel the curse of God even in this life. When a pledge is made to the cause, it is a vow made to God, and should be sacredly kept. In the sight of God it is no better than sacrilege to appropriate to our own use that which has been once pledged to advance His sacred work.
When a verbal or written pledge has been made in the presence of our brethren, to give a certain amount, they are the visible witnesses of a contract made between ourselves and God. The pledge is not made to man, but to God, and is as a written note given to a neighbor. No legal bond is more binding upon the Christian for the payment of money, than a pledge made to God.
Persons who thus pledge to their fellow-men, do not generally think of asking to be released from their pledges. A vow made to God, the giver of all favors, is of still greater importance; then why should we seek to be released from our vows to God? Will man consider his promise less binding because made to God? Because his vow will not be put to trial in courts of justice, is it less valid? Will a man who professes to be saved by the blood of the infinite sacrifice of Jesus Christ “rob God?” Are not his vows and his actions weighed in the balances of justice in the heavenly courts?
Let us join the Psalmist in saying: “My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear Him.” “I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all His people.” (Psalm 22:25; 116:18).
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