I am reading through the Bible chronologically for 2013. But let me keep it very real: I am not staying on track. Some days I only read half of what I should read that day. Some days, none. I fall behind, then I read two or three or more days to catch up. But it's okay. God's Word is alive and active, each and every time I open it. Even if I don't stay on track by reading the suggested three or four chapters each day, He is ever faithful to speak to this prodigal, whether it be through 3 chapters or 3 verses.
So, Leviticus, chapter 5, verse 4...
4 “Or suppose you make a foolish vow of any kind, whether its purpose is for good or for bad. When you realize its foolishness, you must admit your guilt.
I've done this. Oh boy, how I've done this. Two very specific incidents stick out in my mind...nope, make that four. But if I sat here for infinity, I'm sure that is exactly how many incidents of breaking my own vows I could recall.
Here is what David Guzik says about this verse.
3. (4) Swearing a false oath.
Or if a person swears, speaking thoughtlessly with his lips to do evil or to do good, whatever it is that a man may pronounce by an oath, and he is unaware of it; when he realizes it, then he shall be guilty in any of these matters.
a. If a person swears, speaking thoughtlessly: A careless promise was still a promise before the LORD and had to be observed. If the promise was not kept it had to be atoned for by a sin offering.
b. When he realizes it, then he shall be guilty: When we are aware of our broken vows we must repent of them. It is common to make vows and promises in the Christian that are not kept, and when we see this we must repent and trust in the atoning, covering blood of Jesus to bring forgiveness.
i. Think of these common examples of broken vows:
· More time in prayer
· More intercession for others
· More devotional reading
· More intense Bible study
· More personal witness
· More faithful tithing
· Better example to others
· More patience with the children
· A vow to personal purity in sexual matters
ii. It may not be wrong to make such vows. They may be the legitimate expression of a move of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. Yet if the vow is not kept, it must be confessed as sin and repented of.
(This particular excerpt can be found in his commentary on Leviticus. For more of his commentaries visit enduringword.com.)
I reread this portion of Scripture one day and just sat, pondering. The two incidents of vow breaking that I recalled immediately were not "thoughtless." They were thought out before I made them. And I made them to God. But eventually I realized that they were not Spirit-led. They were me, becoming Pharisaical, adding to God's law something He never intended to be a law. Like I could become holier by observing my own rules. Then I had this internal war over whether I should keep them. Then I broke them somewhere along the way. Then I felt horrible, horrible guilt. Then I wondered if I should try to keep them again!
I know this all sounds absurd and a bit crazy. But, as I was pondering all this, the thought occurred to me that perhaps we as Christians do this all the time. We make these rules for ourselves and if we keep them (and some of us are really good at following rules) then we feel a bit holier. And, if we see others breaking them, then they definitely are not as holy! Because we can pull this Scripture and that one and stack them all up to provide ample support for our rules and perfect reasoning to call into question anyone who doesn't agree with us.
Think about denominations. Sprinkle. Dunk. Speak in tongues. That's absurd! Don't drink alcohol. Sure, why not? Wear dresses. Pants are okay. Remarry. Don't. Let women be deacons, or preachers. Are you crazy? Worship on Sunday. Worship on Saturday. Have music in worship. Don't. Do. Don't. Do! Don't!
(And we get into intense theological debates about such issues and worry more about proving we are right than trying to understand the foundation for others' beliefs.)
Then we add to our denominational list of "do's" and "do not's" our own personal list, and before you know it, we are modern-day Pharisees, who have perfected rule following. Our personal convictions might be religious in nature, or not. See if any of these resonate with you...
don't watch TV
don't watch R-rated movies
only listen to Christian music
read through the Bible every year
don't eat meat
don't eat refined sugar
don't drink caffeine
take a bath everyday
don't wear make-up
use home-made or all-natural detergents/cleaners
don't eat out on Sunday
go to church every time the doors are open
raise your hands in worship
don't raise your hands in worship
send your kids to public school
Let's be honest; we all have our own convictions and it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking others are "less-than" if they don't share them. Perhaps yours aren't on this list, but I'm sure if you were willing to give it some thought, you could come up with at least one or two. I just tried to think of a few that I've been guilty of imposing on myself and/or others, or ones that I feel pretty safe in assuming others hold as universal standards because of things they have said/done.
Here's the thing, we have to be careful about the vows we make to ourselves/God and the rules/standards we say we are going to follow. Even if the vows are Spirit-led, we have to remember Romans 14, or else we find ourselves looking down our noses at others who do not share our convictions, or worse, we may feel that we have very little need for a Savior. I mean, we may feel and even look like the epitome of holiness. But I wonder if Christ would say...
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean." (Matthew 23:27)
Ouch. Every time I read that verse, I wonder in what areas it might be applied to me. We have to remember that keeping the law, be it God's law or our own, might make us look good but it won't save us. A real relationship with Christ will.
Good at keeping the law, or not, one thing we all are is this: in very great need of a Savior. And I would rather be in need than thinking I'm doing okay. Because sometimes I actually do think I'm doing okay, then I try to do "okay" without God, but okay is not good enough. And before long I find myself wanting more than just okay. And sometimes I come running to God, but other times a fall flat on my face and coming face-to-face with my ugly pride is required before I remember I can't save myself.
And I beg the Lord to destroy every last ounce of pride in me. Every. last. ounce. I still see it in sickening quantities in my heart and I want it gone. I see this blackness that plagues my heart and, like David, I cry out, "Create in me a pure, clean heart, O Lord!" (Psalm 51:10).
And then I just try to ignore all those pride promptings to make and follow unnecessary rules. We can't keep them anyway. And, even on the off chance that we do, our obedience to anything other than Christ won't do us one bit of good.
Lord, help me release my self-imposed rules. And forgive me for all the vows I've broken, all the rules I've made but couldn't keep. I acknowledge that there are matters in life that Your Word does not speak to in detail, "disputable matters" as Romans 14:1 calls them. Help me to be fully convinced in my own mind (v.5) and keep what I believe about these things between you and me (v. 22). Forgive me for judging others when they don't share my convictions (v. 13). And may I just love you more, Jesus. May I love You with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love others as I love myself. Amen.
p.s. if you don't remember what's in romans 14, i encourage you to read it again. it is one of my favorite passages about "disputable matters." at the same time convicting and releasing. convicting, in that it reminds us not to judge others. releasing, in that it reminds us that there truly is freedom in Christ.