Continuing to think on about Deut 23&24, I was also deeply struck by the call to watch our tongues in 23:21-23
“21 “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.22 But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. 23 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.”
We don’t really make vows in the same way as perhaps Israel did – it isn’t part of our culture. However, I think v23 points us towards watching what we say all the time – not to mention Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:33-37
“33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil”
and then also James refers to it too. So there is a real imperative here to think about what we say and how we say it!
I was mainly thinking though about marriage vows. Both from the perspective of those of us who are married, but also those of us who are not. I was also thinking about marriage here because there are the other bits in the passage that relate; divorce in 24:1-4 and also being newly married in 24:5.
For those of us who are married, life is not always a bed of roses! Things can be hard, two sinners (or more when there are children around) living under the same roof is hard. Re-reading the marriage vows (which is the first time I really have in 6 years), in context with the challenge here in 23:21-23 begs the question of how do we look after our marriages? How do we protect them?
What is also clear is that within the context of the passage but also the vows themselves this is not just an issue for the married couple themselves but also for the whole community. In the marriage service the couple are called to “make your vows, in the presence of God and his people.” and there is also the chance for the people to respond with a “We will” when asked whether the marriage will be supported.
So whether we be married or not, part of the community’s role is look out for those who made solemn vows to each other and to the Lord.
I have been challenged by the vows I made when I got married. We live in a culture which is sadly marked by broken marriages and homes – much more so than at any time previously. When things are hard and when there seems to be an easier option round the corner, being challenged and held accountable about what we promised to do seems like a good way to allow people to grow.
When I said to my Wife “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to serve, till death us do part;” I didn’t say “until things become difficult, until I’m bored or until I get a better offer”, marriage was never sold as easy and in some ways it is a good thing that it isn’t easy. It allows us to grow.
When you pair this with the other challenges that the bible throws at you; Ephesians 5 in particular, I was really challenged in how I lead our marriage. Not too well is the honest answer. I’ve never been good at making sure we set aside time to read the bible and pray together, brief spells of good practice have been just that, brief. If I am to live up to the vows I made to the Lord and to my Wife, then I need to be encouraged and challenged to do that more. The call on me as a husband (and all husbands) is to serve our wives sacrificially, not to have the family serve our own agenda.
A huge part of my service to the Lord, is how I keep my promises to Him and to my Wife and that has deeply challenged me in the last week. If I am to keep the promises I made, then spending time in prayer and worship together is going to need to be key.
I talked on Sunday about the need for our humility in admitting we need help, about being open with each other and allowing the church family to care for us. Marriage is between two people, but it is a relationship within God’s wider family, are we humble enough to let others into our marriages?