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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:The Reformed Church of Oamaru
 Oamaru, New Zealand
Title:Why Worship Must Be Serious
Text:Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Scripture Reading:  Hebrews 12:12-29

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.



Why Worship Must Be Serious



Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ…


     There are two completely different viewpoints which Solomon presents in this book of Ecclesiastes. One of these many in this world would know about. It says that life is just useless - meaningless! In those immortal words of verse 2 in the opening chapter, “Vanity of vanities’ says the Preacher, “vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’”

     When you read those passages with this viewpoint you could easily become quite down. There’s no hope in those verses. All that he can say at the end of each of those sections is how absolutely futile it all is.

     Which goes to show exactly how wise Solomon was! He can picture for us so well what it’s like for the natural man. He sees then through the eyes of an unconverted person. That man is the person who doesn’t know God and who shows that. He hasn’t got a hope!

     But Solomon also lets us see through someone else’s eyes. They’re the eyes of a man to whom God has revealed himself. And doesn’t the light shine out of those eyes, and from that face!

     So right throughout this incredible book there’s this interplay of dark and light - of unbelieving and believing - of lost and of found! And you’ll see which is which by where God’s name appears, or doesn’t appear.

     This is the general background to Ecclesiastes. And now let’s get specific in the passage which is the text. Because it’s quite clear that Solomon here is looking at life from our angle.

     Solomon the Preacher, or ‘The Teacher’ as some translations say, here preaches to those who are saved. But he’s not preaching from the pulpit. He’s in the pew looking at God’s people coming into church. And he’s also seeing them before and after church, and during the rest of the week.


     So, first, together with Solomon, let’s consider … THE WAY WE COME TO MEET GOD. This is what verse 1 is focused on here.

     But before we turn to look at this verse, and in fact before we look at this whole passage, we must note the conclusion Solomon makes at the end of this passage. For in verse 7 he concludes, “…but God is the one you must fear.”

     You see, this is what it is all about. When you come down to it we have to have this response. Without it we can forget about learning anything at all from these verses.

     So what is this “fear”, or “awe” as other translations put it? Well, it’s not the kind of fear this world knows. That is being afraid of someone or something. That keeps us away.

     Neither is this the “awe” so many people talk about today. You know, as in “What an awesome ice cream!” or something like that. They use it like someone might use the word “cool”.

     But this fear or awe ought to do the exact opposite. Because it is “holy fear”. This is what God lays on us so that we reverence his authority, obey his commandments, and hate and avoid every kind of evil. It was this “fear of God” that John Calvin believed was one of the two pillars of the Reformation.

     Now, I’m sure we would all agree on what is the one definite thing to come out of the Reformation. What could that be but justification by faith alone through grace alone?

     While Calvin certainly acknowledged that as one of the two pillars, he also said that any reformation had to be about God’s people turning to look to him. So he wrote, “We proclaim the glory of God in terms far loftier than it was customary to be proclaimed before, and we earnestly labour to make the perfections in which his glory shines better and better known. His benefits towards us we extol as eloquently as we can, while we call upon others to reverence his majesty, render due homage to his greatness, feel due gratitude for his mercies, and unite in showing forth his praise.”

     This is precisely the spirit of Hebrews 12 verse 28. For since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken we need to be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.

     The way verse 1 of our text begins is about this very worship. And it’s about the right way we worship.

     So, how do we come to worship in the right way? Well, you come thinking about what you’re doing.

     That’s how we have to imagine Solomon here. He’s looking at God’s people coming to his House. And he’s wondering about their hearts. In fact, he can even see what is on their hearts. That’s what he’s telling us about here. In the verses 1 till 3 he points out what is wrong about many who are going up to worship. And that applies equally in his time as it does now, in 2022.

     Because what is the sacrifice of fools in verse 1 but when fools reckon their sacrifice is enough? And the trouble is that they are often the last ones to realise their sacrifice isn’t the right way! But you should know!

     Do you see what Solomon’s doing? He’s pointing us to what we know about worshipping God. And what we ought to know is that there is only one way to go - God’s way. THE WAY WE COME TO MEET GOD is to realise that we are actually meeting him.

     Here we have, in a nutshell, the difference between reformed and other churches today. And a difference also between many reformed-presbyterian churches themselves.


     You see, in much of public worship God is present there basically to listen. As Robert Godfrey points out, to them “he is not far away; rather he is intimately and lovingly present to observe and hear the worship of his people. He listens to their praise and their prayers. He sees their obedient observance of the sacraments. He hears their testimonies and sharing. He attends to the teaching of his Word, listening to be sure that the teaching is faithful and accurate.”

     Notice - who’s listening there? And in verse 1 who is listening here?

     The reformed faith says that first of all God is present to speak. The Lord isn’t just looking on. He has to be very active. And we have to be very passive.

     Congregation, the vital importance of any act of worship is not its value for the inspiration of the people. It’s not most of all about how moved we are. Rather, it is has to about faithfulness to God’s revelation of his will for worship. We should be in no doubt when leaving church that God has spoken!


     So what happens if churches do start to have more of the fellowship type of service? Could there be any danger in opening up emotionally?

     Well, verse 2 goes on to address this. And so we come to a second aspect to our text. This is where we note, THE WAY WE DO NOT MEET GOD.

     Here Solomon observes that many coming into worship have got a lot to say. Their words are not just a few.

     And it’s not as if you can categorise these types of people. They aren’t from a certain ethnic group, or come out of a particular kind of family. They are simply people behaving a certain way.

     Now, that can be from a learned way. Or it could be that they themselves don’t or won’t clearly follow God’s way. Whatever the reason, it comes out in an unthinking way.

     Solomon describes them as those “who do not know”; those who are “rash with” their “mouth”; and those whose speech has “many words”. If they weren’t talking about the things they do in church we might be tempted to say they are full of themselves. The trouble is – they are!

     It’s these Proverbs 10 verse 19 picture. For there it says, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”

     Congregation, those people take God for granted. And when you have that “holy fear” for God that’s the last thing you want to do. Because then you’re always thinking about what you’re doing.

     You “guard your steps” because you realise you’re not coming here to meet friends, or even to get motivated out of being together. Your business is with the High and Holy One! As Psalm 89 verse 7 says, “In the council of the holy one God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him.” And in the words of Habakkuk 2 verse 20, “the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”

     With that perspective of looking up because we know his greatness and our humbleness, we join all the great saints of the past. There we find Abraham and Isaiah. And as he reflected on those men, Calvin comments, “It’s certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinise himself.”

     This is exactly what Samuel told Saul. You see, Saul tried to make his excuses as to why he had not obeyed the Lord’s command to completely destroy the Amalekites. He even made a point of how much of the spoils were going to the Lord as a sacrifice.

     But Samuel told him in 1st Samuel 15 verse 22, “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

     Saul hadn’t thought about what he was doing. For he wasn’t doing it according to God’s Word. And that’s precisely what the word “listen” in verse 1 means. It has a double force in the Hebrew. It means to pay attention and to obey.

     Dear friend, is that what you plan to do when you prepare for church? Are you coming to sit at the feet of the Master and take it all in?

     Or have you got your own filter at work? If it sounds alright, if it comes across well, if you’re awake enough, if you’re really in the mood, then you might be open to it. But not too much! And, anyway, if something you do gets in the way, God always forgives you!

     Then you have no “fear of God”! Because he’s playing for keeps! He’s absolutely serious about what he’s doing!

     Reading your Bible will prove that. But that’s just the problem, isn’t it? How many of us really don’t know this God because we aren’t listening to him in his Word?


     And so we move on from THE WAY WE COME TO MEET GOD, in the first place, and THE WAY WE DO NOT MEET GOD, in the second place, to realising, in the third place, THE WAY WE GO OUT SHOWING GOD. You see, you are what you eat. And that’s not just a word from Jenny Craig - that’s the word in the Word!

     For if you have honestly met God now in worship, you will go away from here showing that in everything you do, too. Solomon proves it in the verses 4 till 6. There he follows the different people out of church and lets us know how they’re showing whether or not they have actually met God!

     He does this by illustrating the use of the vow. We make vows to God when we promise him something which his law doesn’t require of us. So it’s voluntary.

     But that doesn’t mean we don’t take them seriously. In a vow you’re supposed to be putting into practice your thankfulness for all that God has done first of all! And if you don’t, well, then you’ve lied to his face!

     After all, it was before the face of God that this vow is made. There in public worship that person has apparently responded in all sincerity by this special commitment.

     Perhaps it was in your profession of faith. Maybe it was in your marriage vows. Or it was those promises you made when your children were baptised.

     God holds you to those promises. When you sing about giving your all to God he expects you to put your money where your mouth is! You can’t say later, “Oh, it was all a mistake!” “I didn’t mean it!”

     But that’s exactly what’s happening amongst Christian churches today - isn’t it? The divorce rates are becoming as high in the church as they are in the community. Parents aren’t raising their children in the way of the Lord. You can’t tell many believers apart from the unbelievers in our society! And those who have made vows publicly before God are dismissing them by claiming that God will forgive them.

     How many so-called Christians haven’t come out with that excuse after they have broken their marriage vows? “Oh, God will forgive me.” “I’m right with him.”

     If you think like that you’re not thinking about what it is to fear God. So while we know our sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ, and that we’re perfectly righteous in him, we must not forget that we can’t fool around with God. He treats sin very seriously. As 1st Peter 1 verse 17 says, “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”

     If you don’t treat sin seriously, if you aren’t fighting against it every day, and in every way, how can you show you respect Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life? As Jerry Bridges says, “to evangelise people and disciple them, so that they receive salvation, is to bring people under the authority of Jesus Christ.”

     Isn’t that what The Great Commission at the end of Matthew chapter 28 is all about? So “unless a person fear the Lord, how can he possibly lead another to salvation when salvation itself can only be received by placing yourself under the authority of Jesus Christ?”

     Dear believer, verse 6 speaks about God becoming angry because of what we say. This means the Lord sees that we are not showing him in our lives. We are treating him, and especially the public worship of him, as a slap-in-the-face for him! You’re not meant to insult anyone that way. And especially you don’t abuse the Lord God that way!

     Congregation, we worship seriously like we do because this is about all eternity! And if we want to see any reason for the powerlessness of the Church in the world today you don’t need to go any further than this. Because the Church is certainly full of people saying lots of things. There hasn’t been a time in church history where Christians have said and written and taped and filmed as much as they have nowadays. And there’s no end of dreaming by many of the church’s leaders!

     But looking at the lives of those so-called ‘anointed’ men and women, and you see an angry God. He is destroying the work of their hands. For all their proud boasts about their mega-churches look at what they actually shatter!

     Congregation, if we are to recover that vital spirituality in the Church, we have to start where this text ends: “…God is the one you must fear.”

     It was Isaiah who, in a time of personal and national crisis, received a fearful vision of God in his holiness. He was never the same man again. He was utterly broken by the sense of dread that he experienced then in God’s presence.

     May we have that encounter right now! Because then, dear friend, you will have God’s comfort right now. His grace and pardon will be truly yours. And you will be completely his!






Let’s pray…


     O Great and unsearchable God, you who knows our hearts, and who tests all our ways; we yield ourselves before you with a humble dependence upon your Holy Spirit. As the people you died for we give back to you your own.

     And now we want to be forever, unreservedly and perpetually, yours - and yours alone! While we are on this earth stir us to serve you; and so may we enjoy and praise you forever. In the name of the One who perfectly showed us how, your Son and our Saviour, Jesus Christ, we pray.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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