As an author, I’ve signed a few contracts. I’ve asked others to sign them too. What I dislike most about contracts is their endless clauses, spelled out in detailed legal jargon. It’s a litigious age. We’ve all heard of opportunistic folks, with well-paid lawyers, who find legal loopholes in such documents and cash in. So our contracts get longer and longer.
I was working on a book of interviews once. The legal advice had been to have each interviewee sign a contract confirming their participation in the book. All of them did—except one. “My word is my promise,” he emailed back, causing great consternation to my management. But we took him at his word.
A vow in Old Testament times was a promise made before God that had to be fulfilled (Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 23:21). The Pharisees, however, came up with ingenious ways of slipping through the loopholes of such promises. For them, it all came down to the formula you used when you made your vow. A vow sworn by “the temple” could be broken, but not one sworn by the temple’s gold (Matthew 23:16-17). A vow sworn by “the altar” wasn’t binding, but one sworn by the gift on the altar was (Matthew 23:18-22). A simple vow could be forgotten, but a vow made to “the Lord” had to be kept (Matthew 5:33).
Jesus would have none of it.
Whether you swore by the temple, the altar, heaven, or earth, it didn’t matter. Since all of these were God’s, all vows were made to God (Matthew 5:34-35). In fact, to Jesus any vow was problematic. “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t,’” he taught. Anything else was formula-making, which allowed promise-breaking.
“My word is my promise,” said my interviewee. So far, he’s stayed true to his word. Jesus would be pleased.
NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: Genesis 2:15–3:24
Read Matthew 26:63-64 to see how Jesus responded in court. How should you live out your faith in a litigious society?
When are you most tempted to forget your vows or promises? What have you promised to do that you haven’t done? Why?