How many of you have ever regretted a commitment you made, something you agreed to do which later turned out to be more than you bargained for? Watch this clip of a woman who knows how you feel.
Clip of Private Benjamin
Although I don’t recommend the movie, this clip communicates the problem very well. All too often, I am afraid, we are like Private Judy Benjamin; we commit and then to our horror discover that the obligation requires more than we are willing to give. We don’t want to pay the cost of our words. We feel that we enlisted in a different army, we took a different job, we joined a different church, or we married a different man. The reality has turned out to be quite unlike our expectations; consequently, we want out. Surely, God wouldn’t expect us to remain true to the words of commitment that we spoke. Surely, he understands that we can’t possibly do this! The cost is too great!
This week we studied Jonathan, whose friendship with David likely made him feel that what he got was not what he signed up for! But Jonathan was faithful despite the cost.
Because God calls us to be equally as faithful, we have much to learn from Jonathan. What does he teach us about being faithful to our commitments?
First, Jonathan’s ultimate commitment was to God and his kingdom. He was faithful by seeking God’s kingdom above all else.
Let’s review the background of our story. I’m sure you remember that Jonathan was the heir to the throne of Israel, being King Saul’s son. However, because of Saul’s disobedience, God rejected him as king, saying in 1 Sam. 13 that he would replace Saul with a man after his own heart.
Saul knew this, and we can be sure that Jonathan did also. Then, David entered the story. He was anointed by the prophet Samuel as God’s choice as king. But it took years before he was brought to power. In the meantime he became part of Saul’s family. He served Saul faithfully as a warrior and as his son-in-law. But later events prove that at some point early in those intervening years, Saul and his household became aware that David was God’s choice. He would be the next king rather than Jonathan.
With that in mind, turn to 1 Sam. 18:1-4.
When David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan and David became bound together in close friendship. Jonathan loved David as much as he did his own life. Saul retained David on that day and did not allow him to return to his father’s house. Jonathan made a covenant with David, for he loved him as much as he did his own life. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with the rest of his gear, including his sword, his bow, and even his belt.
Covenants are solemn agreements sworn before God, and in this case it was a mutual agreement to care for and defend one another. Jonathan was the one who initiated this covenant. As the prince of Israel he was the superior, and he had to be the one to approach David, which he did because of his love for David.
But I think he was motivated by something else as well. He was prompted by his faith and led by his God. Because Jonathan knew that David was God’s chosen king, he committed to be loyal to him as the next ruler. Why do I say that?
The Bible Knowledge Commentary (p. 369-370) says this:
Sword, bow, belt: these were treasured items that would not have been casually surrendered. With these gifts Jonathan ratified his covenant with David. In retrospect, Jonathan’s action was symbolic of a transfer of royal power from Saul’s family to David. With David’s acceptance of the sword, he became who Jonathan was, the heir apparent to the throne of Israel. By his actions, Jonathan acknowledged God’s decision that David should rule, and he stepped aside.
Jonathan sought God’s kingdom first, even when that meant giving up his claim to be king. And as time went on, he proved faithful to his promised loyalty to David as God’s choice. He was faithful to his word no matter what!
I doubt that Jonathan knew how much pressure he would get to renege on his word to David. Maybe he believed that his father would trust and obey God and yield to his will, but it didn’t happen. Jonathan had to be faithful to his word in defiance of and in opposition to his own father.
Look at 1 Sam. 20. Here David had told Jonathan that Saul was trying to kill him, but Jonathan had a difficult time believing it. Look vv. 8-9. David said to him—
You must be loyal to your servant, for you have made a covenant with your servant in the Lord’s name. If I am guilty, you yourself kill me! Why bother taking me to your father?”
Jonathan said, “Far be it from you to suggest this! If I were at all aware that my father had decided to harm you, wouldn’t I tell you about it?”
Jonathan promised loyalty to David against all foes, even protecting David against his own father because of their covenant. That’s tough! Put yourself in his place. But Jonathan was faithful to his word despite the cost.
In order to fulfill his covenant to David, he not only had to oppose his own father, but he also had to act against his own self-interest.
Look at 1 Sam. 20:30-34:
Saul became angry with Jonathan and said to him, “You stupid traitor! Don’t I realize that to your own disgrace and to the disgrace of your mother’s nakedness you have chosen this son of Jesse? For as long as this son of Jesse is alive on the earth, you and your kingdom will not be established. Now, send some men and bring him to me. For he is as good as dead!”
Jonathan responded to his father Saul, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Then Saul threw his spear at Jonathan in order to strike him down. So Jonathan was convinced that his father had decided to kill David. Jonathan got up from the table enraged. He did not eat any food on that second day of the new moon, for he was upset that his father had humiliated David.
Saul reminded Jonathan that his covenant to David meant that he had prioritized David over his father and over his own claims to the throne. Clearly, Saul knew what had happened with the transfer of the royal insignia from Jonathan to David and that David was God’s chosen king. Saul was fighting God’s will and God’s kingdom while Jonathan had embraced it over his father and his ability to be king himself.
The bottom line here is that Jonathan was faithful to his words despite the cost of alienation from his own father, because he trusted God with the outcome.
Turn to 1 Sam. 20:42:
Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for the two of us have sworn together in the name of the Lord saying, ‘The Lord will be between me and you and between my descendants and your descendants forever.’”
Jonathan knew that God, as the witness between the two of them when they made their covenantal promises, expected faithfulness Jonathan had to trust him with whatever happened.
Look ahead at 1 Sam. 23:16-18. At this point David was running for his life from Saul. Years had likely passed since David and Jonathan parted, but Jonathan still loved David and remained committed to his word.
Then Jonathan son of Saul left and went to David at Horesh. He encouraged him through God. He said to him, “Don’t be afraid! For the hand of my father Saul cannot find you. You will rule over Israel, and I will be your second in command. Even my father Saul realizes this.”
Why did Jonathan believe that Saul would fail to find David? Because he knew that God was faithful to his word and his promises to make David king. God was in control; therefore, Jonathan trusted him with the future.
Jonathan was a man who spoke his word and stuck by it. God calls us to do the same. When we face a situation where we might say, “This is not what I signed up for,” we must remain faithful to our commitments despite the cost.
Just as Jonathan’s word was based on God’s will and his kingdom purposes, so we should speak words that align with God’s kingdom. We remain faithful despite the cost because we seek God’s kingdom in all we say and do.
This point has two aspects. First, we shouldn’t agree to anything that doesn’t align itself with God’s will. We shouldn’t commit unless we are sure that God is leading in that direction. And second, we should fulfill what we commit to do because God calls us to do so; it is his will for us, even when we have spoken without consulting him. We seek his kingdom by faithfully standing by what we say and thereby giving forth glimpses of his faithfulness to the world.
In the Lord’s prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10).
It is easier to trust God when things go wrong when we have sought his kingdom and are following him. To do that we must be careful with what we say by avoiding rash words.
Proverbs is full of wisdom about our words, and avoiding rash words is a key theme in that book. I have picked out a couple of the verses to read.
Prov. 13:3 The one who guards his words guards his life,
but whoever is talkative will come to ruin.
Prov. 29:20: Do you see someone who is hasty in his words?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Look also at James 1:19:
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.
Good general principles in any situation.
There is a warning here to those of us who quickly agree to things as well as those of us who just talk too much. Don’t speak without thinking through what you should say. Don’t rush to comment to others. Consult God first.
I know a woman, not someone here at our church, who has backed out of commitments to ministry more than once. She told me that she just hadn’t really prayed about what she said she would do. And so that was her excuse to be unfaithful to her word. It wasn’t what she had signed up for! But God expects us to be faithful to our words, even when we don’t consult him. So be sure it’s what God would have you do for his kingdom before you commit. In our culture we can be so busy with really positive good things that we miss what God has called us to do for his kingdom. That must be our priority. Doing good things that are not in God’s will aren’t the best things for us to do.
Several weeks ago I put something on my calendar for last week that I believed God would have me do. However, as the event neared, other things began to press on my time. I realized that my week would be crazy and stressful. I wished that I didn’t have to do what I had said I would do. How I wanted to call someone and bail out! I didn’t sign up for such a busy week! But I knew I had to do it. First, because God wanted me to do it even if I didn’t want to do it (besides I was teaching this lesson this week); and second because I said I would! So I simply told God that he had to give me the energy and strength to do everything on my plate because it was about his kingdom and about showing his faithfulness. And as you can see, I lived to tell about it!
We are to seek God’s will above all else, even when it is costly. And for many believers that cost is far beyond having too many things to do in one week. Those who trust in Jesus join God’s army, and sometimes they pay with prison and martyrdom. Sometimes we pay by losing friends or jobs when we can’t go along with what they are asking us to do.
We may think that the army we signed up for was one where we walk with God through a life of bliss and joy where everything goes well. We may think that being in God’s army means our lives will always go well, he’ll answer our prayers as we want them answered, and we’ll never face real hardship. But the real army is not so easy! In this army it’s not okay if we don’t follow through with our commitments because it becomes hard. Seeking God’s kingdom means we are to be faithful to our words even when they hurt and require sacrifice. Sometimes it means that even when God clearly directs us in a particular way, we face difficulty and hardship. Loyalty often requires sacrifice. Faithfulness means that we have a loyalty and commitment that show forth glimpses of godliness.
When we are true to our marriage vows in the midst of unhappiness, when we are faithful to the promises we make to others; when we work to the best of our abilities because we committed to a job; when we faithfully pay off our homes even when it means we keep paying the bank after we have sold a house at a deficit; when we do all of these things, we show forth something of Jesus to the world, and we further his kingdom on earth as others see something unusual and different about us.
We are also faithful to what we say because we recognize God is the witness to our words, just as he was to Jonathan’s promises.
God hears what we say and expects us to follow through. Look at Mt. 12:36-37:
“I tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
God takes our words seriously and will someday bring them to light. Of course, that includes more than promises we make, but not less than promises we make. The day will come when he will ask us why we didn’t keep our promises. I don’t want to disappoint him in that day.
Finally, we remain faithful despite the cost because we are able to trust God with the future.
Look at Rom. 8:28-29:
And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
We trust that God is at work for his kingdom through our faithfulness.
I have some friends who have a youth pastor in their family. He and his wife have been faithfully trying to serve and follow what God has shown them to do. When he left his last church, they lost thousands of dollars on their home. Two weeks ago, he was laid off because his new church faces financial challenges in our present economy. Within days his wife was laid off from her job as well. They are in a mess. They own a home and have no savings with the first loss. We may think that somewhere along the way they failed to hear what God was telling them about their home purchases, but we don’t know that. I do know that they are struggling; and he is considering leaving ministry. They are disheartened with what has happened, and I totally understand why. But perhaps their feelings have been made worse because they don’t think this is what they signed up for. They may think that there was some unspoken promise that all would go well because they were serving God; they expected the house to sell quickly; they expected not to lose jobs; they expected God to protect them from these kinds of real life problems.
If God has truly called them into ministry and they have heard and responded to that call, all they can do is move forward and find another place to serve. In the end they have to trust God with the future. They have to trust that he loves them, that he is a good God, and that his kingdom purposes are greater than a job or a mortgage or a recession. This could be the experience that catapults them into a deeper and greater ministry because they will have learned to follow and trust God even when what they face is not what they signed up for.
God blesses obedience, but blessing doesn’t mean all goes well. Jonathan lost his life fighting with his father Saul. Both were killed in their final battle, and Jonathan was never able to be David’s second in command as he expected. But I know that he was blessed by God. He was blessed by knowing that he had sought God’s kingdom above all else, that he had been loyal to help his friend as God desired. And I am sure that he was blessed with rich reward when he entered heaven because he sought God’s kingdom by faithfully standing by his promises.
Will you be faithful to what you have said to God and to others even when the cost is more than you signed up for? Will you be faithful to your husband who turned out to be someone you didn’t bargain for? Will you be faithful to the ministry God has given you? Will you be a faithful employee even when the demands of the job are more than you are paid to do? Will you be faithful to whatever words you rashly spoke even if it costs you? I pray that we become women of our words so that we give forth glimpses of godliness that are so unusual people take notice.