Human beings play games with each other. I’m not talking about games like baseball or golf. I am thinking instead of those generally called “mind games.”
You have either played them, have had them played on you, or (most likely) a little of both. We leave an impression designed to work to our advantage. Perhaps use an outright lie. Promises are made with no intention of keeping them. These are games by which we sometimes try to get through difficult situations without facing them forthrightly. Games like this, when they are the modus operandi of interpersonal relationships, will ultimately cause the dissolution of those relationships. Arenas within which these games are played include romance, politics, friendship, the workplace, and sports.
As important as it is to avoid such games, it is vastly more important that we never attempt to finesse God in this (or any other) fashion. One might say, “No one could be so foolish as to try that!” Read this excerpt from Ecclesiastes 5: “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 you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it, for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed “better not to vow than to vow and not pay” (Ecclesiastes 5:2, Ecclesiastes 5:4). The idea here is that if you say to God that you will do something (the sense in which “vow” is used) you had better do it (the sense in which “pay”) is used.
How does this apply to the New Testament Christian? Let’s start with a simple thing.
Attending services is a duty for every child of God. We all know that there are times when we have to work, deal with illness, or attend to very pressing matters, and these things preclude our worship and class attendance. The biblical warrant for attendance is easy to establish. The Lord’s church met on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2) and so must we. To do so is to be in accord with the pattern revealed in Scripture. We ought not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). Periods of Bible study have been established under the leadership of the elders ordained to oversee our spiritual development (Hebrews 13:17), and we ought to attend and take part in these study opportunities also. We know these things. At some point in our spiritual development we decided to come to all the services we could. We said we would. If we don’t are we playing games with God?
What about personal Bible study and prayer? We know we should be faithful in these things and have told God that we would be so. Now, if we don’t do what we’ve said we would do, are we playing games with God? What about faithfulness in other matters, such as the way we speak, or the way we conduct our daily lives? We make promises to God and we must do our best to keep them.
An understandable objection is that we mean the promises when we make them, but things happen and we can’t always hold up our end. And the response is just as understandable: God knows our frailties and will provide help in dealing with temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13) and forgiveness of sins when we repent. This He does continually for the faithful child of God (1 John 1:5-10). I cannot reach sinless perfection, but I can reach faithfulness. As an example of this principle, read Philippians 3:12-16 in which those who are mature (the meaning of “perfect”) are encouraged to be like Paul and press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. It is an example of playing games with God to set out on a course of faithfulness and then sin with a mind either to enjoy the sin for a while and repent later or to plead that “I am just weak” when we knew all along exactly what we were doing.
God is too good to us to be the object of mind games. We should make our promise of faithfulness to Him and do our best to keep it. What we are really talking about is honesty in a relationship of the most private kind, that between the Christian and God. When we falter, don’t try to make excuses-this is playing games. Just repent and go forward to faithfulness.-Bill Irby