Vain Worship – Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

 

With what we know about his father, we might assume that if Solomon were alive today, he would have been raised in church. David had his spiritual ups and downs like every other human being, but he was essentially a man of God. He was often on the road, even living among the Philistines and other unbelievers, so there weren’t churches, synagogues or the tabernacle to attend three times a week. Even after he became king, he didn’t have the opportunity to drive a couple miles to be greeted by a few good brethren at the Baptist Church. But if he had the same opportunity you and I have, he would have been here just as often as we try to be. And Solomon would have been raised in the same way as your children have been raised.

But second generation Christians have a much harder time serving the Lord than the first generation. Their commitment is different – or at least it comes from a different direction. Usually, they were not at the ground floor in building the congregation and calling the pastor. And their faithfulness and loyalty is different from that of their parents. Solomon, as a child of God, was a man after God’s own heart as David had been. But being of a different temperament and nature, his tastes, outlook and life-style were different from his father’s.

And so we have heard Solomon suggest some dissatisfaction with his life. “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” “I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.” He has used the word “vanity” fifteen times in the first four chapters. He has used the word “vexation” as in “vexation of spirit” nine times. “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” “And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.”

How serious was Solomon when he said, “Vanity of vanities ALL is vanity”? “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, ALL is vanity and vexation of spirit”? Does Solomon mean “all” as in everything? What about Ecclesiastes 2:11 – “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” I can’t prove it, but I am reasonably sure that among the works of his hands by this time was the Temple. Does Solomon mean that one of the greatest buildings ever built – one of the most glorious – one of the most important buildings ever erected – was nothing but vanity and a vexation to his spirit? Perhaps not nothing but vanity,” but, yes, even the temple of God can be empty and without profit.

No matter what is done in life, if it is without Jehovah, it is meaningless even when it comes to religion. In the first seven verses of this chapter the Preacher expresses some sound instruction in regard to religion and the worship of the Lord. Many of the things done for God in the house of God are nothing but the “sacrifice of fools.” And, sometimes what is good and proper in one person is wretched sinfulness in another. We all need to be careful when we come into the House of God, and Ecclesiasticus explains some of the dangers.

As I read these verses over and over again, asking the Lord for an outline, the Holy Spirit gave me three. Since I couldn’t decide which is the most appropriate, I’ve decided to use them all. Thus, I have a three point message, using each of my outline options as one of the points.

Practically speaking, in the house of God there are only three persons present at any one time.

If it is indeed the house of God, then Elohim is there. The word “God” throughout this paragraph is “Elohim,” not “Jehovah” or simply “El.” This is the plural name of God – the Trinity in His power. We are talking about the “Almighty.” When Solomon and his workmen finished construction of the Temple, the Lord filled the house and even the priests were temporarily driven away. Elohim placed His approval upon that building, and once the dedication was complete the Lord made Himself available to the people of God.

Similarly, the church of the living God belongs to the God-head through the Lord Jesus Christ. Both pastors and members tend to call the place where they assemble – “my church.” “My church is on the corner of 12th and Spokane Street in Post Falls.” I don’t expect the Lord to strike us down with lightning for saying such a thing, but it is not exactly true. And it tends toward a dangerous evil – the thought that we own or govern this ecclesia. No, it is “the Church of Christ,” and He is its Head. Attendance and membership is a privilege which grants to us.

The second person in this house of God is described by Solomon as “the angel” in verse 6. The commentaries interpret that “angel” in several ways. Some think that it refers to angels in general, and others say it speaks of the worshiper’s particular “guardian angel.” Slightly more common, some apply the term to Christ, who in the Old Testament is sometimes described as “the angel of the Lord.” The Hebrew word parallels the New Testament “angelos” and means literally speaks of “a messenger.” And for this reason most commentaries apply it to the preacher, or in the case of the Temple, to the officiating priests. In the house of God, the Lord has placed His messenger, and it is before him, many attendees utter their vows and promises. “Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that (what you promised earlier) was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and (judge you)?”

Besides the Lord and His angel, Solomon mentions only one other person – you. There may be a hundred or a thousand others in the auditorium of the house of God, but the worship of the Lord is between only you and God. You may not like the way that other person is dressed; the Lord knows I dislike the way some of you dress when you come to worship the holy God – but that is between you and Him. Some people refuse to sing or to close their eyes during prayer. Some pay little attention to the preaching of the Word; some deliberately refuse to support the church. These things should be a concern to the guilty, but they should not be a concern to you. There are only three in this service this afternoon – Jehovah, you and me.

Outline #2 involves those things which make you – you.

“Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God.” Some say this is a reference to taking one’s shoes off when they approach the burning bush of God. I won’t throw that idea away, but I think it is more general than that. Enter the house of God with deliberation and consideration, recognizing that it is indeed God’s house. Children, of course, should have no choice in the matter. Parents should take their children with them when they go to worship the Lord or to hear His word. And certainly everyone SHOULD worship the Lord. But make sure that it doesn’t become a frivolous, vain act – some sort of entertainment or ritual. Enter the house of the Lord with the intent of giving the King of kings the honor to which He is due.

“And be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools.” One of our purposes in attending the house of God is to hear His voice. That can come through the singing of Godly hymns, simply reading the Bible, or through our fellowship before or after the service, but more appropriately, it is through the preaching or declaring of His Word. Paul told Timothy, one of God’s human angels, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” Once inside the temple of God, the ear is more important than the hand. And that difference and importance is magnified if that hand is offering the sacrifice of fools.

And “be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.” One of the problems with dynamic orators and high pressure invitations used in many churches, lays in the promises the preacher often wants his people to make. It is important that the words which leave our lips come from hearts over which the Holy Spirit has control. “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.”

“For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool’s voice is known by multitude of words. In the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities.” How many times have you been so occupied with something during your day that the following night you dream about it in some way? “For a dream cometh through the multitude of business.” And how often do dreams or the cares of life come with you into the house of the Lord? You want that new job, that new car, that particular person to become a friend, and you carry these things in your heart to church. In God’s house, God wants our thoughts and dreams to be about Him alone. Solomon even suggests that people will offer vows and even sacrifices based on God-less dreams. But he says, don’t let your heart or your mind become sin before the Lord – the house of God doesn’t sanctify such things. “Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin.”

I hear Solomon referring to feet, ears, hands, mouths, hearts, minds and to the flesh generally. And the only thing he says about the flesh is tied to sin. Put on the whole armour of God so that every part of your being can participate in the Lord’s worship.

My third outline is made up of the preacher’s exhortations.

You are in the car headed toward Calvary Independent Baptist Church. You are walking in the door; perhaps you are late; maybe you are a little grumpy. Consider, once again, Solomon’s exhortations.

CAUTION “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God.” This is not Wal-mart; this building is not the Civic Auditorium , a sports arena or a political rally. You might glide through those automatic sliding doors at the grocery store in a way entirely different than coming into this place. We will never have an automatic door in this building, because, for one reason, we would like everyone to enter deliberately – on purpose. I choose to open this door, even though it is heavy. Come to the house of God circumspect, reverent and worshipful.

“And be more ready to HEAR than to do anything else. Remember, those are not my words; they are God’s through Solomon. How many people come to the church service actually expecting to hear the Lord’s voice? How many have spent any time praying for the message or preparing their hearts to hear God?

If I had to summarize some of Solomon’s thoughts, I would say that he is reminding us to have RESTRAINT. “Be not rash with thy mouth.” Should I thrust myself into the spot-light? Who should be the center of attention in the Lord’s house? “Let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God. for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.”

Do the references to dreams suggest that we should be ALERT and FOCUSED? I don’t think Solomon is referring to the sleepy manner that many have as they settle into their pew, but it is a problem nevertheless. It was not a problem for Moses when he stood before the burning bush, but it is for us. He totally forgot about sheep, Egypt and the Pharaoh who hated him. He was focused upon Jehovah.

Do the references to vows remind us to be HONEST with ourselves when we stand before God? The house of God may be half empty, but it is never so empty as to leave room for pride. Honesty demands humility, and humility demands a repentant heart. There is no place on earth where repentance is more appropriate than the house of God.

“Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin.” Suffer not thy hand to sin – or thy foot – or thy imagination. “Wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?” We know that sinlessness is impossible as long as we live in this world in this flesh. But does that mean we cannot go for an hour without committing some offence against God? If there is an hour this Sunday afternoon, when we sin not, it ought to be the hour we spend before the Lord and His Word.

And what is the motivation for all this? How about Solomon’s last exhortation – FEAR thou God.” There is nothing special about that word “fear.” There are no hidden meanings and it leaves no excuses for our neglect. FEAR thou God.” Yes, even the Christian has reason to fear God. Our regenerated state does not in any way change the nature of the Holy One.

The house of God can be a dangerous place, if we do not bring every part of our being into control applying the exhortations which Solomon gives to us.