The text for the sermon today is Ecclesiastes 5-6. These are the words of God:
5 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. 3 For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.
4 When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? 7 For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.
REVIEW OF ECCLESIASTES
This is our 4th week in Ecclesiastes. We’re moving through at a break-neck pace so, a quick review is in order.
Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon, the son of King David. David delivered Israel from enemies. Solomon brought prosperity. His reign was the economic high-water mark. But Solomon turned from the Lord and gave decades of his life to self-gratifying, nation-destroying behavior. And Ecclesiastes was written in his old as a repentant statement on his youthful apostasy.
There are two major themes running through the book. First, is the repetitive frustrations of everything under the sun. All is vanity. (1:2; 1:14; 2:15; 11:8 et. al)
But Ecclesiastes isn’t a pessimistic book. Solomon points out the futility, but the other major theme is divine sovereignty. Over and over again we are reminded that God is the one who gifts everything we have. (5:18-19; 8:15; 3:12-13)
The blessings of life are like cans of peaches. To his children, God gives both the can and the can opener. To others, he gives just the can.
Chapters 5 & 6 repeat many of these ideas about futility and God’s gifts, but our focus today will be the opening verses of chapter 5.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
As we seek to understand who God is, what this world is and what is our place in this world, Solomon warns of some practical barriers which impede our understanding. Surprisingly, the first potential barrier to understanding God is worship—if you are not worshipping rightly.
Coming to worship need not be somber, but it should always be sober. The first warning is against the careless, or thoughtless observance of worship. (v. 1) Fools rush into worship blathering and babbling. They mistakenly believe God is just waiting to hear what we have to say, and not the other way around. But God isn’t interested in word count. Instead, as mother taught us, we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen as much as we talk. (v. 2-3)
Talking about how you will serve the Lord is a great way to boost your public profile at church, but delivering on your commitments is what God delights in. Verses 4-6 describe a common scenario in which someone has made a financial pledge, but when the temple messenger comes to get it, the one who made the pledge has found a way out.
So, how do we guard our steps? How do we cultivate the right approach? God is the one you must fear. (v. 7)
GUARD YOUR STEPS
In today’s church culture, the sign that you’re really getting close to God is that you’re unleashed and speaking in tongues so that everyone can hear you. But Solomon says the way you know someone is approaching worship rightly is by their restraint. Guard your steps.
And this admonition runs all the way through the Scriptures: Moses was instructed to remove his shepherd’s sandals when he stood before the burning bush. (Ex. 3:5) When Moses met with God on Sinai, the people and their livestock were barred from coming up the mountain lest they be put to death. (Ex. 19:10-13) The list goes on: Nadab & Abihu (Lev. 10), Uzzah & the Ark (2 Samuel 6) Isaiah (Is. 6) & Ananias & Saphira (Acts 5).
40 But all things should be done decently and in order. (1 Corinthians 14:40)
Restraint demonstrates a proper appreciation for how high and holy the Lord is, and in contrast, how low and sinful we are. We come to him on his terms, not ours.
The fact that God deals with us according to grace does not mean he deals with us in a casual manner. His grace is free to us, but it was costly to him. And, as Bonhoeffer said, what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.
LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY
We guard our steps by limiting our words in worship. “Let your words be few.” (5:2) God isn’t interested in word count. And we are warned not to heap up vain repetitions as the pagans pray. We are not heard from our many words. (Matt. 6)
“But,” you say, “didn’t Jesus spend hours in prayer?” Yes, he did. 12 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. (Luke 6:12) It’s also true that Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing,” (1 Thess. 5:17) Clearly, God does not ban long prayers, but when Christ gave us our first lesson in prayer, he gave us 5 sentences (Matt. 6:9-13)
Matthew Henry gave a wonderful preparation to pray. Slow down. Take a moment to gather up your thoughts. Set the Lord before you. See his eye upon you. Set yourself in his presence and know that you are a living sacrifice to him. Then, pray.
John Bunyan said it’s better to have the heart of prayer and no words than to have the words of prayer and no heart. The goal isn’t length, it’s love.
THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM
Three times Solomon warns us not to be fools. (v. 1, 3, & 4) And how do we guard our steps against foolish living? Solomon’s answer here is the same as it was in another book he wrote fear God. (v. 7)
But what is the fear of the Lord? J.C. Ryle the fear of God is not “the fear of a slave, who only works because they are afraid of punishment, and would be idle if they did not dread discovery.” We are not orcs and God is not Sauron. Orcs don’t love Sauron, they only fear his whip.
If somebody says, “When all my fear of punishment is gone, that means I’ll have no incentive to live a holy life,” that means the only incentive you ever had was fear.
Rather, we fear God like children who know their father’s eye is ever on them and we desire that he might be pleased. We fear because we love him. And we love him because he first loved us. And what is the guarantee that he loves us? He sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)