Breaking Promises

They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy.
‭‭Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭31‬ ‭NLT

Yesterday we looked at the background to Paul’s first attribute in verse 31 – the “refus[al] to understand”. Paul’s second character trait is that wicked people, those who “thought it foolish to acknowledge God”, also “break their promises”. Are these any promises or just those concerning God? The dictionary describes a promise as a declaration assuring that someone will or will not do something. We shouldn’t make promises lightly, but sadly, many do and then break them, if it suits them better. Or promises are made rashly without thinking of the consequences or how they can be implemented. Sometimes people make promises just to get themselves out of a hole, with no intention of fulfilling what they had promised. The days of a word being a bond are long forgotten. But to answer our question, Paul was referring to all promises, not just vows for or to God.

God has made many promises. In fact, the Bible is full of them. Take for example Isaiah 41:10, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand”. Or how about Isaiah 43:2, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you“. Here’s a verse from the New testament, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you“. (1 Peter 5:7). The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 5:14-15, “And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.”‭‭ For those of us concerned about our countries, 2 Chronicles 7:14 is a verse worth camping around for a while. “Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land”. 

But we shouldn’t think that God only promises good things. Right back in Genesis 3:17, we see the consequences of Adam’s sin, “And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it”. And ever since, mankind has found life hard. Because of Adam’s sin, human beings in subsequent generations found themselves unable to easily access the plentiful supply of food originally planned by God.

But these are not just divine words, implanted in the Bible to make us feel good. These are promises God has made, and if there is one thing that God is incapable of doing, it is that He is unable to break a promise. If God has said He will do something in His Word, the Bible, then He will keep that word. We need to heed everything God has promised.

But Paul highlights the wicked behaviour of those who make promises and them break them. Why would that be a character trait of “sinful, wicked people” (Romans 1:18). The very cohesion of society relies on people behaving in a way that builds it, not breaks it down. And promises are one of the roots of a secure society. One of the promises that is broken far too readily is the one made in a marriage ceremony. Here in the UK, over four in ten marriages end up in divorce. A tactic of our enemy, the devil, is to break up families because he knows that broken families can contribute to broken societies. Marriage was ordained by God. We receive a glimpse of God’s heart in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church. In Ephesians 5:31-32 we read, “As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one”. A broken marriage promise strikes at the very heart of God’s plan for His church. But for those despairing in a broken relationship, God’s light and guidance will bring illumination and the right course of action. There is always hope, no matter how hopeless things might appear. There is a life after divorce. God will always bring forgiveness to a penitent sinner.

We pilgrims must be careful in making promises, treating them as being sacrosanct. They are not something we should make lightly. A man or woman who keeps their word oils the wheels that keeps our families and communities together. In many ways we are living in the light of a promise. One day we will be welcomed into God’s presence in Heaven, A promise He made and will never break.

Dear Father God, we worship You and thank You for the loving promises You have made to each one of us. Please help us too, to keep our promises and extend Your promise of Good News to all we meet. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Marriage

“For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”
“For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her”.
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭5:22, 25‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We can’t lift Ephesians 5:22 out of this Scripture passage, taking it out of context. Some have attempted to do this in the past, with disastrous consequences. But in the misogynistic society in Paul’s day, a wife’s place was often little better than a servant’s. Even today, some Middle-Eastern countries still have the same cultural expectations. So as the letter to the Ephesians was being read out, you can just imagine the emotions and thoughts that would have been swirling around in people’s minds. Often people hear only what they want to hear, and verse 22 perhaps resonated in a male mind, leading to a confrontation between a husband and wife when they returned home, verse 25 forgotten or ignored.

There is something special about a God-ordained and God-focused relationship. In a marriage, both the man and woman have their own particular roles. Roles designed by God, who clearly understood how marriages will work. And we find that successful, life-long, marriages have in place a mutual love and commitment, that weathers all the storms of life. That is not to say the lives together have all been easy, but the husband and wife have worked through issues together.

The marital model Paul wrote about, as captured by our verses today, is based, first and foremost, on a husband loving his wife, in such a way that it mirrors the sacrificial love Jesus had, and still has, for His church. A husband lays down his life for the sake of his wife. That means he puts her needs first. He looks after her, giving her protection and security, dealing with any marital issues with compassion and leadership. In return, the wife uses her experience of submission to Jesus as the basis of her submission to her husband. In the issues of life, the marital love-submission model concludes with the husband making the final decisions, but in reality, such conclusions are jointly made.

So what does today’s pilgrim make of marriage? The image of a lonely single man or woman walking the paths of life, facing into whatever dangers and difficulties are around the next corner, is somehow softened by two pilgrims, hand in hand, helping each other through whatever is before them. There is a Scripture that, in the end, defines a successful outcome to the pilgrimage, all obstacles resolved. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 reads, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken”. The secret lies in the third cord. Though a man and woman can weather many of the storms of life together, the addition of a third Person makes the marriage invincible. A couple who are close to God inevitable end up closer to each other. They pray together. They worship Him together. And in times of discord and disagreement, coming before God with the issues will result in a remedy. With God being the most important Person in the marriage, it cannot fail to succeed. 

Vows

For You, God, have heard my vows; You have given me the heritage of those who fear Your name.
Then I will ever sing in praise of Your name and fulfil my vows day after day.
Psalm 61:5,8 NIVUK

David’s on the run again. He’s either running from Saul or he’s running from his son Absalom, but he’s definitely running. Apparently, according to verse 2, he’s at the ends of the earth. And he cries out to God to lead him back to his safe place, the rock of God.

But one word crops up twice in this Psalm – the word “vow”. Now this is not a word in general circulation these days. You don’t find it mentioned much, if at all, in Facebook posts, or in Twitter feeds. The problem with this word is that it is a word of commitment, something 21st Century people avoid. The word “vow” implies keeping a promise that has been made. The nearest we get to a vow is a New Year’s resolution, written down on January 1st and forgotten by January 3rd. Or perhaps in a court of law, where we vow to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. Biblically, the word “vow” means to make a solemn promise to do something, especially for God. And David made vows. We don’t know specifically what they were but verse 8 suggests that they were fulfilled during a time of praise. 

But vows should not be made lightly. They can have a good or bad outcome. In Matthew 14 we read about Herod’s birthday party, where the daughter of his wife Herodias performed a dance that especially pleased Herod’s guests. And Herod, stupidly as we find out, vowed to give the young woman anything she wanted. Prompted by her mother, she requested the head of John the Baptist on a plate because the prophet had taken a stand against Herod’s wish to marry his brother’s wife, something against Jewish law. Herod, to save face in front of his guests, had to keep his vow. And then we read about the Apostle Paul’s vow in Acts 21:26. 

So should we be setting and keeping vows today? The most important of them (in my opinion) must be the marriage vow. The following extract is taken from the Book of Common Prayer and has been uttered by countless millions of people over the centuries. Sadly, over 40% of couples in the UK apparently fail to keep this vow.

‘I, (name), take you, (name)
to be my wife/husband,
to have and to hold
from this day forward;
for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
till death us do part,
according to God’s holy law.
In the presence of God I make this vow.’

But should we be setting any other vows? Now that’s a challenging thought. Isn’t the setting of vows a bit legalistic? It needn’t be – perhaps a good vow to start with is the one to always thank and praise God, regardless of the circumstances – that’s not legalistic. As we respond to God’s amazing grace and love, this is surely not a hard vow to keep.