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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Preached At:Lynwood United Reformed Church
 Lynwood, IL
Title:Stand in Awe of God
Text:Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

Do not be quick with your mouth,
    do not be hasty in your heart
    to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
    and you are on earth,
    so let your words be few.
As a dream comes when there are many cares,
    so the speech of a fool when there are many words.

When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Stand in Awe of God

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

Preached by Rev. Keith Davis at Lynwood URC on 3-11-12 (Songs:  318,  250, 194,  324)


Beloved brothers and sister of our Lord Jesus Christ, how well do you prepare for worship?  When you entered the sanctuary today, was your heart and mind set on worship?  How much thought do we give to meeting with our holy God before we enter the front doors?     


I know how it is for young families.  Parents and children can wake up late and are a little sleepy.  Clashes break out over who gets to shower first, who gets it next, and who’s using all the hot water.  Children argue with mom over what they want to wear to church and what they will not wear to church.  Tempers flare at the breakfast table over who gets the last of the Fruit Loops.


Mom spends most of the morning getting people up, finding socks and shirts and belts and shoes that have mysteriously disappeared since last Sunday, as well as tying ties and doing hair and cleaning up the mess, so she has to put the last of her make-up in the car on the way to church, which is all fine until dad hits the brakes and mom smudges her makeup. 


Mom yells slow down, but dad says, If you had gotten up a half hour earlier…and so it goes.  Our hearts are filled with hostility and anger; yet, when the car pulls up at church, we greet everyone with a smile and a warm good morning! Minutes later we’re standing in the sanctuary singing, O Day of Rest and Gladness, or My Heart was glad to hear the welcome sound! 


Somehow that doesn’t seem right.  If that doesn’t describe you, then maybe this does.  Maybe you’re the kind of person who draws near to worship with good intentions, but then during the service, you can’t seem to pay attention. Your thoughts drift as the minister reads the law. 


You take a power nap while the minister prays; during the sermon, you pass the time thinking about work, or you doodle on your bulletin, or glance around the sanctuary checking the clock, looking for visitors, watching the cute baby two rows up, or catching someone sleeping. 


If this is true of you in anyway -- and I’m fairly certain that we’re all guilty of this -- then this passage is for you.  We all need to hear what God’s Word is telling us today.  For, this passage is all about drawing near to God for worship.  It’s about worshipping God with reverence and awe – worshipping Him in the beauty and glory and splendor of His holiness!  That is why the Preacher warns us to guard our steps when we go to the house of the Lord.  We are to be careful as we draw near to God for worship.  And to guard ourselves we are called to do 2 things.  To:  

1) Listen to God

2) Honor our Vows


1) Listen to God 

First we guard our steps by listening to God.  Verse one begins: guard your steps when you go to the house of God.  Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fool, who do not know they do wrong.  What this verse tells us (among other things), is that there is a right way to come before God in worship, and there is a wrong way.


And before I get into the details of exactly what this means, I think it’s necessary to emphasize that point, because many of us have friends, relatives and acquaintances who attend churches that have a more casual approach to worship.  These members are told by worship leaders that God doesn’t care how we come to church – all that is important is THAT they come to church.


This supposedly generates a more easy-going, laid-back, visitor-friendly atmosphere. Members come to worship in jeans and tennis and shorts, weather permitting.  And God is portrayed as our friend, and we’re just gathered together to hang out with Jesus, to chat with God, to connect with our divine Friend.


Just this past Christmas, one of my relatives told me that her minister invited his congregation to come to one of their special evening worship services wearing pajamas if they wanted.  And the relative who told me this she said that she wouldn’t be surprised if the minister himself showed up wearing pajamas -- that’s just how crazy he is.


And I think that example shows us the kind of absurdity and foolishness that goes on in churches today.  It ought to grieve our hearts!  For once we loose our sense of reverence and respect and awe in the presence of God, we make a mockery of him; we drag God down from heaven and we approach worship no differently than if we were walking down the hallway in our pajamas to watch TV for the night.  Surely our generation needs to repent, for we have made God so small!   


To all those friends, acquaintances and family members who claim that does not God care how we come before Him, please take a moment and share with them this verse.  Tell them what Ecclesiastes 5:1 says about those who draw near to God for worship.  Tell them that the Bible commands us to Guard our steps when we go to the house of God. 


You can even cite an example from Scripture to back this up.  I was reading this past week in Exodus 3, where the Lord called out to Moses from the midst of the burning bush.  But what I found so fascinating is that after the Lord called Moses’ name, and Moses responded and drew near to the bush, what was the first thing the Lord said to Him?


Was the Lord just happy that Moses bothered to walk over and see what he wanted?  Was the Lord just happy Moses showed up?  Did the Lord tell him what he wanted right away?   No!  Boys and girls, before the Lord said anything else, or did anything else, He told Moses to take off his sandals, for the ground upon which he was standing was holy ground


Taking off sandals was a sign of respect and humility – God wanted Moses to know that he was in the very presence of almighty God; He was standing in the sanctuary of God!  And this God is majestic and mighty, enshrouded by heavenly glory and light unapproachable – so much so that none on earth may look upon Him and live! 


This is the same majestic and mighty and awesome God who calls us to worship Him in the splendor of His holiness!  So contrary to what men might say, God is extremely concerned about how we approach him.  And what do you think God would have done to Moses if he replied:  Hey God, lighten up a bit!  Don’t be so stuffy. I’m here aren’t I, and that’s the important thing!  Anyone here wonder what God would have done had Moses dared to say that?  He would have struck him dead where he stood.    


And if someone happens to argue and says: Hey that was the Old Testament, and God was really mean back then.  We live in the New Testament age and we have Jesus as our Mediator between us and God so God isn’t nearly as strict now, just point them to Hebrews 12: 28-29 which says: Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.


God always cares how we come before Him; and we must never ever lose our sense of awe and reverence and holy fear when we come before Him.  For He is in heaven and we are on earth!  He is Almighty God and we are but grasshoppers before Him! 


So there is a right way and a wrong way to approach God.  But this verse also teaches us something else in terms of listening to God.  Verse one says that it is better to listen to God than to offer the sacrifice of fools.  The house of God in Solomon’s day was the temple. And Solomon says that the wise way to approach God was to do so with our mouths closed and our ears open.


One commentator wrote this about being silent in the temple: “When the sacrifices were offered up to God by the priests, ‘silence reigned, fostering a sense of the divine presence and human receptivity.’  Then the priest would read from God’s law and explain what was read.  He would offer prayers, and the people would respond with songs.  Finally, the priest would place God’s blessing on his people (S. Greidanus, p. 131).”


In other words, when God’s people go up to God’s house, we do so to hear God’s Word.  That should be the logical expectation of any worshipper.  We don’t go to God’s house to hear man speak, to listen to the clamor and noise that we make.  We hear that all week long.  No.  When we go to the house of God, it is time for us to fall silent, to close our mouths, to quiet our minds, to still our anxious hearts and let god be God.  Let God’s Word, His voice fill our soul.


I’m reminded of Habakkuk 2: 20 which says:  But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.  When we go to church to worship God, our hearts, our minds, our souls should be filled with a sense of reverence and awe, with a holy anticipation of God filling us with His grace and goodness and peace.

Besides that, we should also be filled with a sense of urgency, knowing that when we draw near to worship, we’re bringing to God the worship He desires and deserves.  Worship is what we owe to God.  Worship is our obligation.  Sometimes we get that backwards and we think that God owes us for going to worship.  God should reward us for going to church so faithfully.


But those are the thoughts of a fool!  God calls us to worship because this is what we have been created to do!  And while the praises and prayers which we bring before God are an important element of our worship, the most important aspect of worship is listening to what God tells us. 


Boys and girls, there’s nothing more important than listening to God’s Word in worship; we listen to what God tells us as the law is read, and as the Gospel is preached.  We listen as God tell us again and again that He is our God, and we are His people, and how (through Jesus Christ) God loves us and cares for us and saves us from sin and Satan. 


We listen because God knows what’s best for us; God knows that this is the message we need to hear every time we come into His presence.  This is the message that gives life!  But fools draw near to God with many words on their lips, but they aren’t listening to what God has to say.   


Look at verse 2-3.  What comes to mind is what Jesus says about the babbling pagans who pray, thinking they will be heard because of their many words (Matthew 7:7).  But boys and girls, if we are always busy talking, what are we NOT doing?  If our mouth is open, and we’re always saying something, it means that our ears are closed and we’re not listening.     


And you and I also know those people, who, even though they might stop talking for a moment to give us a chance to speak, they’re not really listening to what we say.  Before we’re finished speaking, they interrupt us and start talking again, and totally ignore what we said.


I think it’s a neat little coincidence (maybe a helpful reminder to us) that the words listen and silent are spelled with the same letters.  It reminds us that one has to be truly silent to listen sincerely.  And that’s what God commands of us when we draw near to Him for worship. 


We are to silence our mouths, silence our minds, silence our objections, our excuses, and open our ears and hearts that we might listen to what God is saying.  Recall what Jesus said: He who has ears to hear, let him hear! And Romans 10:17 says – faith comes from hearing the message; and the message is heard though the Word of Christ!  And listen to what James says – each of us should be quick to listen and slow to speak.    


In addition to not listening, the Bible makes it clear that fools are also those who offer unacceptable sacrifices to God.  Fools ignore the instruction of God’s Word.  The prophet Malachi spoke of how God’s people dishonored God with their sacrifices.  Instead of bringing to the priests the firstborn of their flocks and herds, the very best, they brought their blind, lame, and sick animals for sacrifice. 


Likewise, fools present their offerings to the priests, but they give no heed to the call of repentance.  In other words, in their hearts they think they have fulfilled their commitment to God by jumping through the hoops, by performing their religious obligations.  Isaiah 29:13 puts it this way: These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.


I think that verse should terrify us; it should put the fear and terror of God into the heart of every sincere worshiper.  Who among us hasn’t done this?  How often don’t we come to church and just go through the motions, we sing the songs with no regard for the words; we don’t pray with the minister but daydream instead; we look like we’re listening to the message, but thirty minutes after the service we can’t even remember what the sermon was about.


And worst of all, we go back to work the next day and our lives are completely unaffected, completely unchanged.  We forget that when we draw near to God for worship, when we come to hear His Word, we should never, ever leave this house of worship unchanged!  If we truly listen when God speaks to us, it is impossible not to change, not to be transformed.


It is only a fool, it is only a hypocrite, it is only a liar and pretender that can come into the presence of God, and can leave unchanged, unmoved, and unconverted!  I close this first point with this thought: when we stop to consider how zealous God is for right and pure worship, and how unholy and unworthy and insincere we are in worship, it’s really a wonder that God doesn’t strike us dead where we stand!  It’s a wonder the Lord doesn’t treat us like Eli’s foolish sons, like Nabad and Abihu whom the Lord struck dead for offering up unlawful incense to the Lord! 


But thanks be to God for His Son Jesus Christ, and for His Holy Spirit who perfects and purifies our worship; who intercedes for us so that we are not consumed by our holy God.  Thanks be to God that by his Spirit and grace, He gives us humble hearts, and open minds, and submissive will to truly listen to what God says in His Word; and apply that Word to our lives!


2) Honor our Vows

So that is first. We are to listen to God.  Secondly, we are to honor our vows.  I turn your attention to verses 4-6a:  When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin.


Boys and girls, a vow is a promise we make to God.  In Bible times, people often made vows as part of their worship, as part of the sacrifices they would bring to God.  We think of Hannah who vowed that if God gave her a son, she would commit him to the Lord.  And when her son Samuel was born, that is exactly what she did. She fulfilled her vow before the Lord.


The Psalmist also speaks of vows made to the Lord.  Psalm 50.14 says: Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High.  Or Psalm 116:12-14 which says, How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me?  I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD. I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.


And these vows were not foolish or sinful.  In fact, God’s people were encouraged to take vows before the Lord.  Psalm 76 says: Make vows to the LORD your God and fulfill them; let all the neighboring lands bring gifts to the One to be feared.


The vows of God’s people were basically their sincere and loving response to God’s goodness, to His grace and forgiveness.  Their vow was essentially their way of expressing their commitment to God in every aspect of their life. 


The problem Solomon exposes here in Ecclesiastes 5 is that very often God’s people would draw near to God, asking Him for His blessings, expecting God to do great things for them, and in exchange, they would make these promises to God, vowing to change, vowing to turn over a new leaf, promising that if God gave them riches, they’d dedicate fifty percent to him, for example.


But in the end, they don’t keep their vow.  And later they have to argue with temple messenger, saying My vow was a mistake!  We can hear someone say:  “I meant well.  I meant what I said!  My heart was in the right place!


But Solomon correctly notes: much dreaming and many words are meaningless.  If it turns out that the promises, the vows, the words we utter in worship are as empty and meaningless as a dream, then it means that our worship is without substance and sincerity. 


Today in the church we still make vows to God.  We make vows and promises before God when we marry (to love, to cherish); when we present our children for baptism (to instruct our children in the knowledge and fear of the Lord); when we make profession of faith (to continue to walk with the Lord faithfully); when we are ordained to office (to faithfully discharge our duties).


And there are times when we make private vows to God.  We promise God that if he will bless us financially, we will bring before him the full tithe.  If God heals our child, we will dedicate our selves to God more fully.  And it might surprise us a bit, but in many of the hymns we sing, we make vows to God as well.  


There’s #480: O Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end.  There’s #462: Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold!  And # 240 teach me O Lord Thy way of truth, and from it I will not depart!  # 324 Like the holy angels who behold thy glory, may I ceaselessly adore thee.  And in all, great and small, seek to do most nearly. what Thou lovest dearly!

How many times haven’t we taken those very words upon our lips without giving thought to the substance of what we’re saying?  How many times have we, like fools, sung those words thoughtlessly, mindlessly, and heartlessly, with no intention of doing what we said? 


Sadly, we break our vows before God time and time again.  We break our vows as husbands and wives, as parents to our children, as young people making profession of faith, as office bearers serving the church.  In this way, we are all like fools who make promises to God that we break time and time again. 


And the thing is, the only way we can escape this foolishness and get back to worshipping God as we ought, the way He commands – (in reverence and fear and awe; in spirit and in truth!!) is by being honest about our hypocrisy, by confessing our foolishness, by recognizing and admitting that we are not as engaged in worship as we should be, that we are prone to distraction and boredom, we tend to come to church and go through the motions and go home unchanged.


A fool, you see, would deny that; a fool you see, would be content to make excuses; a fool you see, would just go on worshipping God the same way, every day, without giving thought to his own sins and inadequacies.  And that is why a fool will never ever please God.


But the wise man is the one who considers his sins, who sees the foolishness in his own heart and mind, who seeks the forgiveness of God through His Son Jesus Christ. (Wise man realizes that only Jesus Christ could sing those Psalms and make/keep those vows!  He sang them and kept them for us).  


And a wise man is one who prays to God each day, asking God to reveal to him (in ever increasing measure) the greatness of His glory, the untainted purity of His holiness so that he might stand in awe of God, and worship him with fear and trembling.   This is how we are to guard our steps before God.  In closing, remember this:  If we draw near to worship God with a true sense of awe, then God will make our worship truly awesome. Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2012, Pastor Keith Davis

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