In a recent conversation with a coach, we each lamented the lack of commitment that faces many organizations today. Many of my fellow pastors could provide a multitude of incidents (including empty seats in worship services) of members who have shirked their promise to be faithful in working for the Lord. I mention the church because it is there that I want to direct our attention.
Early in Scripture we see a switch of basic commitment within man’s heart. At creation, God commanded commitment to him alone. He had provided for every need. Under him, man were to have dominion over all earthly things. Adam and Eve were to live by his every word. Flowing out of their commitment to him was their commitment to one another. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall be one flesh" (Gen. 2:24).
With the Fall, Adam and Eve heeded Satan’s temptation to be committed to themselves and their desires. If they would but eat of the forbidden fruit, they would be like God. At least that is what Satan wanted them to believe. However, that eating led to blame shifting as Adam blamed Eve and ultimately God ("The woman whom you gave to be with me. . ." Genesis 3:12). Eve blamed the serpent. They denied their commitment to God and to each other.
Some years later Abel, himself committed to God, exemplified that commitment by worshiping God in a manner that pleased his Lord. His brother, Cain, showed his lack of commitment to God and to Abel by putting Abel to death. Scripture is full of examples of man’s lack of commitment to anyone but himself.
By nature, man loves himself. Thus, man will often be committed to whatever advances his interests. He may be committed to his job because he finds self-fulfillment or is given a paycheck every two weeks. Family members may be committed to one another because other family members meet needs, or parents can live out their dreams in their children. Perhaps it is less expensive to live under one roof than go one’s separate way. Commitment may exist for many other reasons. However, when those reasons begin to evaporate, the commitment often does also.
The same is true with man’s word. In former days, a man’s word was all that was needed to expect a promise to be fulfilled. This is no longer the case. Because man has too frequently gone back on his word, a large number of lawyers have found work securing signatures on documents in the presence of witnesses verifying that said parties will do what they committed in word to doing.
Commitment is rapidly disappearing from our society because Christian ethics, for so many years interwoven into our culture, has come unwoven from societal life. Commitment begins with God’s covenant with sinful man. God promises to be a God to his people (Gen. 17:1ff). Those who call upon him are to walk blameless before him. This is an impossible command for man to obey in himself. It is of interest to note that Abraham is given this command shortly after he sleeps with Hagar and she conceives a child (Gen. 16:1ff). Thus, Abraham was not blameless before God.
Earlier, when God gave Abraham a visible expression of his covenant promise, "a burning torch" (Gen. 15:17) took man’s place and walked with God the Father between the dead animals. A Substitute, Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, would perfectly keep God’s law and take on himself man’s sin and God’s wrath for that sin on the cross. What a picture of commitment!
The inspired Paul expressed this commitment as follows: "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:6-8).
Those who repent of their sins and look in faith to Christ’s finished work are committed to him. Christ described Christians in these words, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (Jn. 10:27). The Triune God is true to his word. We are to be obedient followers of his word.
Christ described himself as the Truth (Jn. 14:6). His followers are to evidence truth in word and deed. The preacher in Ecclesiastes 5:2 reminded his readers: "Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven and you on earth: therefore let your words be few." When we make a commitment, unless we find it to be a sinful one, we are to carry out that commitment. Again, it is important to remember the great example we have in the Triune God’s commitment to sinners.
Christ reminded his hearers in the Sermon on the Mount that our "Yes" is to be Yes and our "No," No. When we say something we can be expected to carry out our words. God does this on our behalf. Not only does he save us; he preserves us. In the passage mentioned earlier referring to his sheep, Christ says, "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand" (Jn. 10:28, 29). We can neither save nor keep ourselves. God is committed to doing both. He carries out his commitment.
Primarily, Christians are committed to God. As lovers of God with all our heart, soul, and mind, we are also to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mt. 22:37-39). We have a responsibility to keep our commitments to each other, as well as to God. This responsibility extends to every aspect of life—family, church, vocation, etc.
Without an understanding of a commitment to God, there cannot be an expectation of man’s carrying out commitments made to others. It is in the Triune God that true commitment is exemplified. Our commitment to one another flows out of our commitment to follow God, even through life’s tribulations.
The church must once again take the lead in teaching true commitment to its members. This means, among other things, 1) a commitment to teach the whole counsel of God, 2) an explanation to members as to what commitment to church membership means, and 3) elders who will shepherd the flock, even holding them accountable to their membership vows.
Parents, by their example and word, are to show their children evidence of commitment. It is hard for single parents who are not divorced Biblically, to explain to or expect commitment from their children. It is hard for parents who break their promises to their children, and do not repent for so doing, to teach their children commitment.
I believe that the day of true commitment will return, even stronger than in previous years. That day will not come, however, until men love God more than themselves. The church must lead the way by example and in its instruction. May each of us be committed in our prayers and in our local churches, as well as in our families, toward this goal.
- Byron Snapp
Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia. He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina. He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren.