Christian Integrity: Keep Your Vows

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Here’s the Audio for this sermon:

For the past while we’ve been studying the characteristics of a person and a Christian of integrity. We’re asking the question, “what does it mean to look and act like a Christian, and a Christian church?” It all starts with the first verse, the question that is asked at the of the list, “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” In other words, what do the people of God look like? What does a believer act like?

Let’s read the rest of the Psalm together. I’m reading from the ESV now.

“He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose yes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.”

Quick Review

What we see in Psalm 15 are some very important words that describe what Christian Integrity looks like. We all want to be – we want our children to be – people of Christian integrity. We want to work with, compete against, and have friends who have integrity. But what does that look like? Psalm 15 tells us 5 critical things that we need to have in order to say that we have integrity. These are perfectly shown in the life of Jesus, who is our model for life.

If we are to be his people, then we must always be Truthful (we tell the truth all the time), Loving (we love all people and never discriminate based on outward differences), Honouring (we reject hypocrisy and hypocrites, but honour people who are working out their faith every day), we are Trustworthy (we never break our promises) and we are Generous (we use our money well). This week we are looking at the second part of verse 4 where it says that a man or woman of God, “…swears to his own hurt and does not change;”. I like the NIV translation of this verse which says, “…who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind;” or the New Living Translation which says, “…and keep[s] their promises even when it hurts.”

A Multivitamin Psalm

I’m amazed that this short psalm is so encompassing. It’s like a multivitamin — small, but full of important things we need to live. And in a way it’s also like a multivitamin because if we let it get inside us, it can do well, but sometimes chewing on it can taste pretty bitter. Psalm 15 covers our everyday actions (what we do), the motivations of our heart (why we do what we do), the importance of how we use our words, how we treat believers and non-believers, how to protect our reputations, and how we use our money. You can’t live on multivitamins though, which is why we are going to the rest of scripture to get a balanced diet – to help us understand more about what’s going on and how we can obey God’s word.

Divided in Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength

Integrity is rooted deep in the heart of all believers. To have integrity means being a whole Christian – worshipping and serving God all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind and all our strength (Mark 12:30). Not just our minds, or just our hands. It means not being divided between two things – ourselves and God, or the world and God. It means not being split in our hearts, which causes us a lot of grief.

If you are a believer, then I’m sure you’ve felt this. You are faced with a choice, and the pulling in your heart begins. You love God, but you also feel emotionally attached to something else… or you know that obeying God means you will feel bad for a little while, or lose a friend, or look bad in front of people. And so your heart is divided.

Or you feel a division in your soul. Part of you wants to pray, but the other part wants to pretend God doesn’t exist – to watch TV, sleep, read a favourite book. Every time you are tempted to sin, you feel that division in your soul – part wanting to obey God, part wanting to reclaim your soul to yourself, to give it back over to the devil so you can experience some worldly pleasure. And it causes you pain because you have a divided soul.

Or you have a divided mind. Your thought-life sometimes feels like a game of racquetball, your thoughts bouncing around from worship songs to sexual sin, from bible verses to jealousy and bitterness, from love to fear and worry. You want to devote yourself fully to God, but moments later you are fanaticizing about what you could do if you won the lottery. Right in the middle of a time of prayer you start to make a grocery list. A divided mind, and it causes you to feel guilty and frustrated.

Or divided strength. The same hands you used to help someone, that you raised in worship, that turn the pages of your bible, that hug your children, within hours are used in private sin. The natural talent you have allows you to worship God in a special way, but it is also a way to elevate yourself above others so you can feel superior to them.

Everyone feels this. Not one person in this world has perfect integrity. Not even the most dedicated monk, living in the most distant monastery thinks about God all the time. Not even the Apostle Paul could! Listen to him wrestling in Romans 7, the same way each of us does:

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:15-24, ESV)

Jesus as Our Model and Strength

Paul is caught up in the same spiritual warfare as we are, daily battling our fleshly/worldly desires and our spiritual ones. Who will save us from this body that wants to eat spiritual death, walk the path of death, enjoy spiritually dead things, revel in demonic, hell-spawned sin, hang around spiritually dead people? Who can save us from this divided heart?

We can’t save ourselves. Paul answers the question this way in verse 25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” What is required to save us from this divided heart, this “body of death”, is that someone live a perfect life, be a perfect model, and then go through death, be killed, and then destroy death by rising from the dead! Who can kill death? Who can save us from this body of death? The one who destroyed death once and for all, Jesus Christ!

In other words, when God saved us, we became His people. As Psalm 15 says, we “dwell in his sanctuary”, we “live on his holy hill.” He saved us. He adopted us into his family and since we are his, we have access to the same privileges as Jesus Christ. We are not alone in the struggle for integrity. We have the Holy Spirit inside of us, convicting us of sin, reminding us of our hope, showing us our Father, giving us new wants and desires. And when we listen to Him, we will have what is needed to combat our divided hearts.

Stay Close to Jesus!

This is why every mature believer since the beginning of time has said the same thing over and over – it has not changed!

Stay Close to the Word of God: Read, study and meditate on the Word of God. If you want to live a wise life, go to the source of all wisdom. If you want to be like Jesus, read about Jesus.

Stay close to Jesus: Talk to Him all the time – be in prayer in the morning, the afternoon, the evening, about all things. If you want to be protected, strengthened and encouraged, stay close to Jesus.

Stay around Jesus’ People: Love and be loved by other believers. Serve and be served by other believers. Don’t try to draw strength from hypocrites, unbelievers, and people who play for Satan’s team. Lean on your Christian friends and Elders in the church.

It hasn’t changed for millennia!

This is what God said to Adam and Eve – Listen to my word, stay close to me, take care of each other.

This is what God said to Israel – Listen to my word, stay close to me, take care of each other.

This is what God said to every prophet – Tell them my word, tell them to draw close to me, tell them to start taking care of each other.

This is what Jesus told Paul and Peter and James and John to write to His churches – Tell them to stay in my word, tell them to stay close to me, tell them to take care of each other.

And that’s what Jesus came to do for us and to model for us – Jesus perfectly obeyed God’s word, Jesus was in perfect union with God, Jesus cared so deeply for people that He gave His life for them.

And He gives us access to His Spirit when we obey Him!

God Makes Promises and Keeps Them

Using this as our stepping off point, let’s talk for a little bit about this idea of being trustworthy and how our ability and desire to be trustworthy comes from God. God has made a lot of promises and it would be counter to His very nature, since He is God and can do anything, to break a promise. He can always keep His promises because of who He is.

Listen to some of these:

  • 1 Corinthians 10:13, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:3, “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”
  • John 10:28-29, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
  • John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
  • (And my favourite verses) Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”
  • (And perhaps the most comforting promise) 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

We live and die by the promises of God. We believe that He will follow through on them. He is not a liar. He does not go back on His word.  Whether we realize it or not, when Christians are in trouble, we echo the words of Psalm 119:154, “Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise!” When we worship God, foremost on our minds are his promises, like in verse 162, “I rejoice at your word [“promise” NIV] like one who finds great spoil.” When we read and remember all of the promises He has given us, and his ability to follow through, it’s like looking over a vast treasure. They are our sure inheritance.

Keep Your Vows

And so what God is concerned about here in Psalm 15 is our reputation for being like Him, like one of his people – to be trustworthy. What we say is always what we do. A person of integrity doesn’t break their promises. We are not liars. My ESV Study bible says this, “Vows must be kept because God keeps his promises and desires that his people imitate his moral character.” Therefore God takes what we say very seriously.

And if you made a vow to God, it was very serious business. Listen to part of the Law from Deuteronomy 23:21-23,

“If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth.”

Remember the vow of Jephthah from the book of Judges. He was facing down an enemy army, and even though God had already promised Him the victory, He panicked and made a rash vow to God that if God let him win, when he returned from battle, anyone or anything that came through the door of his house would be offered as a sacrificed. Of course God kept His word and Jephtheh won the battle, but the one who came through the door was his daughter. And He dedicated her the service of God and that she would never marry, ending his own bloodline. His life is a lesson in rash vows.

A person must be careful with what they say, especially to God. And when they do make a promise, they need to fulfill it quickly, and no delay. Why? Because God will hold everyone accountable to their actions, and to their promises. Even the rash and foolish ones. He wants to teach us that words matter.

Turn to Ecclesiastes 5:2-7 and read another warning,

“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words. When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.”

Scripture teaches us that we need to be careful with our worship, our prayers our words, and our promises when coming before God. God will hold us accountable to these things. He says that it is the fool who comes before God with many words, and many promises, but doesn’t keep them.

In verse 6 we see the messenger coming to collect on the vow and the person who made the vow saying, “Oh no… I didn’t mean it. It was a mistake. I was just in the moment. I didn’t mean to. That was just part of the song I sang. I was desperate. I was afraid. I was caught up in emotion.” And God still holds them accountable.

Proverbs is right when it says in 20:25 says, “It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows.”

Vows Today?

Now, just so we don’t think this is an academic exercise that only applies to ancient Israel, let’s ask the question: Can this happen today? We don’t make blood sacrifices any more, and I can’t remember the last time I took an ephah of grain to a temple because I needed a new set of oxen, so can we make a vow before God today?

I believe we can, but it’s different for us, because I believe that God takes what Christians say today even more seriously.

You’ve probably heard people say, “I swear to God!” “I swear on my mother!” “I swear on the Bible!” People did that back then too. They used to swear by all sorts of things: By earth, heaven, the temple, the alter sacrifices, the gold in the temple… but like good Pharisees, they had all these little rules about it.

In Matthew 23:16-21 Jesus looks at the Pharisees and teachers and talks about this very thing. He says,

“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”

His point is that everything is God’s so no matter what you are swearing by, it is all holy! You are accountable for all your words and vows, no matter what you swear on, because everything God has done is sacred. Even the hairs on your head belong to God. You can’t even swear by your own head, because you are not your own! Therefore, all vows are holy and need to be kept.

A Higher Standard

But Jesus went even farther. In the Sermon on the Mount we read Jesus talking to His followers about being trustworthy and careful with our words. And, as Jesus always does, He pushes beyond the Old Testament Law. Turn to Matthew 5:33-37.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

He said to His followers that they need to be so well known for their trustworthiness that they don’t even need to make an oath or a vow. It should simply be… “Oh, that person’s a Christian? They follow Jesus? Well, then I can trust them because everything they say is true.”

People used to use these oaths, and vows, and pledges, to get around things. They tried to find loopholes and ways to get off the hook. “Oh, I vowed by the temple, and not the gold… so it doesn’t count.” “I vowed by the alter and not the sacrifice, so it doesn’t count and I don’t have to do it.”

Jesus always took the Old Testament Law and then raised it up to a higher standard. As one of my commentaries said, “Instead of letting people off the hook, he set the hook deeper. Jesus spoke about oaths in order to point out that they were not the main problem – integrity was. A liar’s vow expresses a worthless promise. But when a person of integrity says yes or no, that person’s simple word can be trusted.”

Anything Beyond…

I think what affects me the most is this verse in Matthew 5:37,

“Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

The first thing that grabs me is that this is supposed to be simple. And it really is. Just do what you say. When you say something, mean it. When you say you’ll do something, do it. When you say you won’t do something, don’t do it. Keep your promises.

But the other part is, “Anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” I think what this means is that we shouldn’t be adding a bunch more words to our words. People should just be able to trust what we say, without a bunch of extra explanation, excuses, justifications, pretexts and rationalizations.

For example, if someone comes up and says, “Will you do this?” We should be able to say, “Yes, I will.” And leave it at that. It’s when someone is a known liar and can’t be trusted, that more and more words start coming. People only need oaths when there is a possibility that the other party is lying! That’s why we have such a proliferation of contracts in our world. We can’t trust anyone! Believers know that every word they speak will be held accountable by God, and so they simply do what they said they would do, or don’t do what they said they wouldn’t do.

Two Applications

So, in keeping with what Jesus has said, and what the Psalm has said, let me pull two simple applications out of this.

First, and this is obvious, Christians need to be careful with what we say. And this means both “yes”, and “no”. If you don’t plan on doing it, then don’t say YES. If you don’t want to do it, then say NO. If you don’t have the time to do it, then say NO. If you are already way over committed, then just say NO. If a telemarketer calls you on the phone and asks for a pledge, and you aren’t going to, don’t lead them along, or pretend… just say NO.

If someone asks you to do something that you cannot accept, you shouldn’t need to launch into the 20 minute explanation of your schedule, your health, your family problems… and all the reasons why you can’t say yes. Simply say “I’m sorry, NO, I can’t.” If you have a good reputation then they know you’re not being rude, or blowing you off, they know you can’t because you said so.

And when you learn to say NO, when you say YES to something, it will mean so much more to you and the people around you! You’ll be known as a person who is able to follow through. You will have integrity.

So the first thing is that we need to be careful what we say, and what agreements we make. Just let our YES be YES, and our NO be NO, and let that be that… anything else is evil.

Modern Vows You May be Breaking

The second application I’d like to make, is that we need to keep the vows we make — the YES’s and NO’s we’ve already got. I’ve been thinking about this, and this may hit home for some of you. We, as Christians who will stand before God, and who know that all of His things are holy, even us… must fulfil our vows, pledges and promises. He takes them very seriously because our integrity reflects His character, His Kingdom and His Son.

So let me ask you this. Are you fulfilling the agreements you’ve made? Are you looking for a way out? Or, are you breaking any? Remember the Psalm. “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” One “who keeps his oath even when it hurts”.  Here’s some examples of some promises that we make today. How are you doing on these?

Rental / Lease agreements. You promised to pay your rent on time, take care of the place, not sub-let, to report things that go wrong, and to clean up after yourself. How are you doing?

Copyright Agreements. Every movie and CD you’ve ever bought has had a copyright in it. In Canada you are not allowed to copy music or movies you didn’t pay for. Not even for “private use”. You can’t borrow from the library and put the music onto your computer. It’s illegal. Have you broken that agreement? Are you clean in this area?

If you have Netflix then you are only allowed to watch programming available in your region. Changing your computer to get the “American Netflix” breaks your terms of service agreement. It’s the same with American Satellite systems. They are illegal in Canada.

Business agreements. Are you fulfilling all of your business agreements? Are you doing good work, done on time, without gouging the customer for extra profit, cutting corners, using inferior products, and all the rest? Are you a trustworthy business person?

Employment contracts. When you started your job, you probably agreed to certain things when you signed an employment contract. You promised not to steal anything from work… not even a pen or a paperclip. You agreed to use your sick days when you are sick… not other times. You may have signed a confidentiality agreement. Employees, are you keeping it? And if you are an employer, then are you following your agreements? Paying on time and in proportion to their work, granting them their time off without guilt or frustration, making sure they get their break times, that they are trained and understand their job.

Visitor Agreements. When you bought that that day-pass to the zoo, the park, the campus, the hotel, or whatever, you probably accepted a visitor agreement. You agreed not to take pictures of certain things, not to take anything home, not to pick any flowers, to clean up after yourself, to stay away if you feel sick, and many have the agreement to “not make unreasonable demands”. Are you abiding by your agreements?

Loan or Credit Card contract. When you agreed to take their money, you promised you would pay it back. Are you? Or are you trying to find all sorts of ways around having to pay back what you owe them? People think that they are just big, evil corporations… but you made a contract with them. God takes that very seriously! Are you keeping your end of it?

Store agreements. When you bought that thing from the store, you agreed to pay for it. Did you pay the right price for it? If they made a mistake and gave you too much, did you go back and tell them and pay more? When that poor, underpaid, overworked cashier told you “I’m sorry, that’s not our policy”, did you freak out on them? You agreed to purchase it there. You paid for it. The return policy is written on your receipt, on the wall, on the website. Do you expect special treatment? Are you asking them to break their own rules, to make their YES into a NO, for your sake?

Church Membership. When you became a church member you agreed to certain things. You agreed to support the church financially, and with your time and abilities. You agreed to be actively involved in votes and meetings, even when they are boring.

When you voted for last year’s budget, they whole church raised their hands to say they would allow the deacons to spend the money, and that they would give in proportion. Have you been living up to that agreement? We have a large financial deficit this year, so either we agreed to spend too much, or people aren’t supporting in the way they agreed to.

There are people who used to attend this church, who agreed to support it during good and bad times, but left others here to pay the bills and fulfill their ministry responsibilities in their place. They broke their promise to the church.

When you voted for the elders and deacons you agreed to submit to the eldership, support new ministries with your work, attendance and finances. As a Church Member you agreed to be active in your spiritual development, and practice church discipline. If you are a member, are you doing these things, even when it’s inconvenient, or difficult… “even when it hurts”?

Marriage agreements. A vow taken before God for life. Even when it’s hard… when it’s next to impossible to see how it’s going to work out… are you willing to stay together and seek reconciliation? Are you putting effort in? Serving for, suffering for, loving, caring, and pursuing your mate like you are supposed to? Husbands, are you being Jesus to your wife? Wives are you respecting and caring for your husbands? Or is there a point at which you believe it is ok to break your covenant because it is too hard. Maybe not divorce, but merely avoid each other – live separate lives. Do you have that thing in the back of your mind that says, “If they do that again… I’m out of here… I’ll never forgive them!” Or, have you said to yourself, “I’m going to love them and serve them and keep my vows, no matter what!”

I could go on, but you get my point. Is your YES YES and your NO NO? Are you sticking to your contracts, agreements, and covenants… even when it hurts? Or are you like the world that seeks to blame others, wants special treatment, makes excuses, breaks promises, and walks away when it’s too hard?

You are a child of God who has the Holy Spirit within them, a new creation that does not love the things of the world anymore. Are you leaning on God and drawing from His strength so you can obey Him in this way?

One thought on “Christian Integrity: Keep Your Vows

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