What commitments do you have to your church family? Do you serve on a committee? Do you help with a ministry? Are you a member of a church? Participating in a small group? How are you doing keeping your commitments? How do you view those responsibilities? Would you say that they are vows you need to keep?
As the Teacher continues in verse 6, he keeps talking about vows, which we started discussing in the previous post. The NIV translates the next phrase, “Do not protest to the [temple] messenger, ‘My vow was a mistake.’ Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?”
It seems that the Teacher is describing a worshiper who has made a vow of some kind during temple worship. It would be the kind of vow that is noted, recorded and remembered by temple officials. Maybe the worshiper promised to give a donation. Maybe the worshiper signed up to teach a class, fix a wall, or serve on a committee. There are many potential vows that one could make in the context of a church.
But the Teacher says that the person doesn’t follow through in keeping the vow. There are plenty of reasons why we don’t keep our commitments. Sometimes we just forget. If I don’t respond to a text message in a matter of hours, that text message will get buried way down the list below the flood of newer messages. I don’t mean to not follow through, but it can happen. Or breaking a vow could happen simply by laziness, lack of commitment, procrastination, or maybe we bite off more than we can chew, especially in the busyness of life. Have you ever heard yourself say, “Why did I say, ‘Yes’ to that? Why can’t I just say ‘No’ more often? This people-pleasing is getting me constantly over-committed. But I just have a hard time saying ‘No’.” Or maybe your spouse volunteered you for something and you say, “Why did you volunteer me for this?” And you’re thinking, “How can I get out of this commitment?”
Then the church staff person calls you, like the messenger in verse 6. They want to know where you’ve been. Why you have missed meetings. Why you haven’t been in worship. And how do you respond? Inwardly you probably have a mixture of feelings. Guilt. Shame. Embarrassment. Frustration. A desire to do better. A fear that you probably won’t do better. Maybe you want to people please, and say, “Sorry, I promise I will be there next time.” But you know deep down inside what you’re really thinking, “Making that commitment was a mistake. I never should have said Yes to that.” And in a moment of courage and clarity and honesty you blurt out to the person calling you, “My vow was a mistake.” And you want out. You want to be free of the commitment. You want them to say, “It’s fine, I’ll let you off the hook.”
But the Teacher is not so happy about this in verse 6, is he? He says, “Do not protest” that your vow was a mistake. Instead keep the vow. Or don’t make the vow in the first place. Why? Because our worship is loaded with vows. See, for example, the previous post about how singing songs in worship is a form of making vows. And in today’s post we’ve looked a numerous other ways we make vows in worship. Our vows are ways that we demonstrate our relationship to God. When we vow to give, vow to serve, or vow to do anything for the Kingdom, and then we fail to keep the vow, that is hurtful to God.
I’m not totally sure what the Teacher is trying to convey with that last phrase, depicting God as getting angry and destroying the work of your hands. It sounds like the Teacher is saying that if we don’t keep our vows, God will punish us. Dorsey’s translation is not so harsh: “Why should God be angered at what you say and take away what you have achieved?”
Either way, it is very important to God that if we make a vow, we keep it, especially in the context of worship and a church family, especially as disciples of Jesus. And that leads the Teacher to his conclusion about worship in verse 7. If you read this verse in ten different translations, you will probably get ten different renditions of the verse. Check back tomorrow as we study the Teacher’s conclusion about how to worship.