June 26, 2011
Watch Your Step – Part 5
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Ecclesiastes 5: 1-7

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Quest for the Best challenges us to live in fear of the Lord to find meaning, purpose, and fulfillment because our Creator alone holds the answers to our most profound questions about life and eternity.

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Well, let’s take our Bibles and turn to Ecclesiastes chapter five as we come to take a final look at verses one through seven as we continue to work our way through this book. If you’re here for the first time, we want to welcome you. It’s the custom of our church to just begin in a book in the Bible and work through it verse by verse. And we trust you’ll come back and join us on that journey as we work our way through this great Old Testament book.
“Walk prudently when you go to the house of God and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools for they do not know that they do evil. Do not be rush 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. For a dream comes through much activity and a fool’s voice is known by his many words. When you make a vow to God, do not delay the pay it for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed. Better not to vow than vow and not pay. Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands? For in the multitude of dreams in many words, there is also vanity, but fear God.”
Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer at one time the President of Dallas Theological Seminary referring to a friend who was devoting most of his time and energy in the pursuit of what Dr. Sperry Chafer deemed an insignificant matter said, “He reminds me of a bulldog chasing a train. What’s it going to do when it catches up?” Misplaced priorities and misdirected energies are some of the things we have to deal with in life. Those are the things that bedevil us. Such was the case with King Solomon. He tells us in this book that we’re studying together that for a time in his life he pursued a greater good outside of God. He sought to find what there was to find under the sun apart from God. And he said, “Here’s what you find. Nothing but a chasing of the wind, sexual pleasure, material wealth, political prowess, intellectual recognition. They all feel in the end to deliver on the promise of life.”
And so in this book we find Solomon exhausted and exasperated, having realized that his chase was futile and fruitless. God had so fixed it that man could never be satisfied with anything less than God himself. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Man was made by God and for God and therefore life must be lived in God and with God. That’s where this book is headed. Chapter 12 verse 13, “This is the conclusion of the matter. Fear God keep his commandments for in this man finds his whole duty and we might add his delight.” It is the chief end of man to glorify God and in doing so, he will enjoy God and the life forever. And that’s what makes the subject of worship and the experience of the worshiper such a vital and important subject. Let me connect the dots this way. Failure to worship is a failure to see God and a failure to see God is ultimately a missing of life itself. That’s the thesis of the book of Ecclesiastes.
And therefore we want to return to this passage where Solomon reminds us that the worship of God must become the defining center of our lives. Failure to worship God is an act of rebellion. Failure to worship God is ingratitude and failure to worship God ends up being a failure to seek your own highest good. Because we were made for God by God, therefore, life must be lived with God and in God. So Ecclesiastes five, Solomon here seeks to reform the worship of the children of Israel. Solomon visits the temple that he himself has built. He’s disturbed by the shallow and hollow nature of the people’s approach to God. God is being robbed of his glory and they’re being robbed of their own good. And so it’s time for a worship makeover. And so Solomon gives instruction here. We’ve been looking at this passage under a number of headings. We tried to sweep through this section and look at what we might call the vices of improper worship. Those things that Solomon encourages us to cease and desist from. Their worship lacked preparation, their worship lacked pause, their worship lacked perspective.
There’s one thing I want to add to that list that we didn’t get to the last time. Their worship lacked performance, this takes us to verses four through seven. “When you make a vow of God, do not delay the pay it, for he has no pleasure in fools pay what you vowed. Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.” Solomon turns the lands focuses a little closer on the worship of the people of Israel and he notes that their worship is lacking in obedience, in performance. They said one thing, they did another thing. The floor of the temple was littered with broken promises, discarded commitments. So the point presently for us is this. Their worship seemed to have been an isolated moment in the week, not an integral part of their life. They come into God’s house and they went to the messenger of God and they made their pledges and they made their promises, but they went out and failed to fulfill that.
They were one thing on a Saturday, another thing on a Sunday. Worship was something they did and had become something tangential, parallel to their ordinary everyday lives. And Solomon curses that, Solomon criticizes that, Solomon censors that. They acted differently inside and outside the temple and he says, “That must stop.” There was a kind of Jekyll and Hyde thing going on. They were coming in and out of a character. They seemed to be one thing with their hands raised high or kneeling before the altar or paying their vows before the priest. But you know what? 24 hours later they were something completely different. And that’s totally unacceptable. Worship is a total package deal. And I don’t want to make too much of this. In fact, we’re going to return to these verses in a few moments as we take a second sweep through these verses. But here’s what I want you just to get.
We must ever remember that worship fits us for life and all of life is worship. You must never view your week as a cabinet of seven drawers and God fits into the top drawer. And he really has nothing to do with the rest of the week. It’s not enough just to come on a Sunday and tip your hat in God’s direction. Worship is the offering of your whole self to God. In fact, he purchased your whole self in the redemption of Jesus Christ. We are not our own, we are bought with a price. It’s not like you’re doing God any favor when you give him yourself, he owns you. But it is a delight for him to see you recognize that and willingly, lovingly, enthusiastically give your whole self to his worship, not just in the gatherings of the church but in everything you do and everything you seek to be for his glory.
Worship is the offering of our whole selves to God and the finding of our true selves in God, and that’s a seven day a week thing. Worship is not something we do when we go to church. It’s something we do from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, Psalm 113 verse three. We’ll get to this in a moment, but let me just put you in this direction. See, these people went up to the temple. It was a structure, it was a edifice, it was a glorious building that Solomon had overseen the construction of. And they were to go up during times of prescribed festivals and feasts. But there is no temple now and the church isn’t called to worship in a temple. In fact, the church is called a temple. We’ll get to this in a moment, but the death of Jesus Christ has changed things. And our whole life is a temple experience. And in New Testament terms through the blood of Jesus Christ and his priesthood and his sacrifice, you and I never leave the precincts of the temple.
Wherever we stand is sanctified, separated, holy ground. And so we eat to his glory, we drink to his glory. Whatever we do, we do to his glory. One Corinthians 10:31, we mustn’t sectionalize our life. We can’t compartmentalize our faith. Okay? It’s not like you pull your faith out one day a week and then you put it away and then the next week you dust it down and you polish it and you go to church again. I hope that’s not you. That’s unbiblical. That’s much less than what God intends in your life. For me, to live is Christ. That’s it. Seven days a week. From the playground to the battleground, it’s all holy ground if it’s dedicated to Jesus Christ.
I may have told you the story of the man who would often go into a public house in Belfast on a Friday night and he would order three Guinnesses. And the bartender talked to him on particular night, he said, “You know what, you may want to order these one at a time, because you know what? Your beer goes flat.” He says, “Oh, I got to tell you why I do this.” He says, “I’ve got two brothers, one immigrated to Canada, one immigrated to Australia, and you know what? We promised each other every Friday night we would drink and toast in each other’s honor.” Bartender got the message left him alone. But after a few months, the man came in one night and ordered two drinks instead of three. And the bar [inaudible 00:11:33] concluded the worst that one of his brothers had passed away.
He didn’t know whether to say something, but after a while he decided to tread were angels to go. And he said, “You know what? I’m sorry. I assume that you’ve lost one of your brothers and I just want to pass on my condolences.” To which the man replied, “Oh no, it’s not that. It’s I’ve stopped drinking.” Now you laugh at that because you know that’s just illogical, isn’t it? He stopped drinking but he’s still drinking. There’s a contradiction in that. He has sectionalized, compartmentalize that whole thought. And while that’s funny, in one sense, it’s not funny that you and I do that with our faith. When we say we’ve stopped sinning, we’ve got to stop sinning. When we say we love God, we’ve got to love God. It’s got to be in every fiber and sinew of our being. The worship of God should die every aspect of our life, color every part of our existence. Their worship lacked performance, it lacked perspective, it lacked pause. It lacked preparation.
That’s the vices. Those are the things that were happening that Solomon said, have got to stop happening. But let’s come through this passage now and take a second sweep. And we’ll ignore the negative this time and we’ll look for the positive. We’ll turn these things on their head and I want to come up with three virtues. We’ve looked at four vices now let’s look at three virtues. There were four vices of improper worship, now there are three virtues of proper worship. Solomon calls out their bad behavior so that they might make amends, so that they may reform. It’s not that they had failed to worship, okay? They were there on a Saturday. They were there on the temple precincts worshiping God. It’s not that they had failed to worship God, but they had failed in their worship of God.
Remember what we said? Worshiping the wrong God is bad, worshiping the right God the wrong way is just as bad. I think that’s important for you and I to remember. It’s worth remembering that God gave the commandment against other gods, not to pagan, but to Israel. The very people of God, which warns us about the fact that being saved never guarantees that your worship is true towards the true God. You and I have got to be cautious, prudent, walk prudently when you go to the house of God. And so Solomon wants a change here. They had lacked caution, reverence, moderation and sincerity. They needed to pay greater attention to their worship because God was paying greater attention to their worship.
Sadly, their worship had brought displeasure to God, rather than pleasure. It’s a very sad day when worship becomes a evil thing among the people of God, but it had there, hadn’t it? Look at the end of verse one, “Draw near to hear, rather than to give the sacrifice of fools for they do not know that they do evil.” You can do evil in a worship service. You can dishonor the Lord in seeking to honor him. It’s a bad thing when worship leaves God in a state of anger towards those who profess their love for him in worship. Look at verse six. “Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands?”
Worship can be bad for you. Because if we don’t approach God rightly and righteously, we anger him and he chases us out the door of the worship service and he follows us home and often he disciplines us and he withdraws his blessing. It’s a sad day when worship becomes an evil. It’s a bad thing when worship leaves God in a state of anger. These people were achieving the opposite of fact of worship’s intended goal. There was no profit on their end, there was no pleasure on God’s end. They were scoring an own goal. So let’s look at three virtues as quickly as we can. True worship requires heart, humility and honesty. Let me show you this in the text, heart, humility, honesty. Heart verse one, “Walk prudently when you go to the house of God and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil.” True worship ought to be a matter of heart, not habit.
Something you want to do, not something you have to do. “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go to the house of God,” Psalm 122 verse one. Something that’s meaningful, full of meaning to both God and the worshiper. That’s what we’re after, but that’s not what was going on here. As we noted, their worship was marred by empty platitudes, empty promises, empty prayers. Their offering in religious fervor to God was the worship of a fool who thought that a multiplicity of words would compensate for a lack of action. Who thought that a thin religious veneer could gloss over the glaring inconsistencies of their weekly behavior? That’s what Solomon calls the sacrifice of fools. You’re not going to get away with that. You’ve got to worship God with clean hands and a pure heart. What did we read in Psalm 51 verse 17? “The sacrifices of God are a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” That wasn’t happening here. There was a callousness, there was a casualness, there was a carelessness about their worship.
There was a triviality to what they were doing. There was a formality to what they were doing. It lacked heart, it lacked sincerity, it lacked enthusiasm. And you and I wanted to be challenged by that, true worship requires heart. Interestingly, Old Testament worship was marked by sacrifice. Which is Solomon’s chosen word here to describe their worship. Tithes, offerings and sacrifices were part and parcel of the spiritual experience under the old covenant in Israel. Which reminds us by the way of something very important. The purpose of worship is not primarily to receive a blessing but to make an offering. Is that why you’re here? And how is that being expressed in your life? How are you making your offering to God this morning? God’s waiting on your offering, your sacrifice. Don’t make it a foolish one. Make it a real one. Make it one that glorifies God.
This is how we’re to worship God. Psalm 96 and verse eight, “Give to the Lord the glory due his name. Bring an offering, come into his courts to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” You can offer him your best thoughts. You can offer him your penitence over sin. You can offer him your material wealth for the use of his kingdom. You can offer him thanksgiving as you reflect on his goodness and his mercy that this week has continued to follow you. All the days of your life. You can offer to him yourself. Are you involved in some ministry at Kindred? Are you involved in children’s ministry, women’s ministry, man’s ministry? Are you involved in the choir, the worship team? Could you be an usher?
Have you got some practical skills that Jim Slazas could use during the week to keep this property as beautiful as it is every single weekend? What are you offering to God? Or is it give me, give me, give me? Is that why you’re here? Remember sacrifice is the word that marks worship. Now what does that look like for us? Because for them, in many ways it was very physical and that was one of the dangers. They get lost on the outside of things and they forgot to deal with the most important things, the heart and the motive. Israeli worship was very material and physical, not for us. We don’t go to a physical temple at one location. We don’t offer blood sacrifices. We don’t bring in the first fruits of our harvest. Why? Because things have changed. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was a game changer.
Let me touch on this. This deserves a sermon in of itself. You see, in Jesus Christ, we have God tabernacling among us. In John one, verse 14, “The word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” a Greek word which means tabernacle. What you have in Christ is the very temple and tabernacle of God, God himself in human form present among us. That’s a glorious thing. And Jesus Christ came to be the great high priest over the people of God. Read the book of Hebrews, and he came as a great high priest who offered a sacrifice to God himself. He was most priest and sacrifice and on the cross he offered up himself. Hebrews nine tells us, “He came at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” And then his death, the temple curtain was ripped from top to bottom. And there was signifying a new access to God. Hebrews 10, “He opened up a new and living way.”
There is no physical temple. There is no Levitical priesthood. There isn’t the smell of the slaughter of animals and a river of blood that was marked the worship of God in Jerusalem. Jesus Christ has become our great high priest. Jesus Christ offered that one final forever sacrifice and now the people of God have been made his temple and the people of God have indeed been taken up into his priesthood. That’s what you and I need to be mindful of. There is equal access through the sacrifice of Christ for each of us and there is one priesthood and as priests before God, we offer up what Peter calls spiritual sacrifices. Not animals, not goats, not pigeons or doves. We don’t follow the Levitical code. Christ has brought an end to that. He once had a temple for his people, now God has a people for his temple.
And as priests within that temple, through the one priesthood of Jesus Christ, we have access to God and we come according to the New Testament to offer him up spiritual sacrifices which include ourselves. Hebrews 12 verses one to two, people, we have won to Jesus Christ. Paul talks about the offering of the sacrifice of the Gentiles before God, those he has won to faith in Christ. In Romans 15:16, we can offer God our material wealth. Epaphroditus brings a gift to Paul in Rome from the church at Philippi. In the Philippines chapter four verse 18, Paul says, it’s a sweet smelling sacrifice to God. And then according to Hebrews 13:15 through 16, our prayers and our good works are other expressions of spiritual gifts.
That’s what we’re here to do this morning and the rest of this week, to offer to God’s spiritual sacrifices. To give him our body, our lives, to dedicate ourselves to become a vehicle for his glory among the nations to win people to Jesus Christ, to use our material wealth, not to further our ownness, but to build his kingdom, to praise him and do good works that they might see our good works and glorify our father in heaven. That’s our worship and it’s around the clock. It doesn’t have set times. It doesn’t have forms and formulas and deadlines to meet like the Old Testament did. Isn’t there one implication from this? Mind you, these sacrifices ought to be offered at cost. Given that they were offered out of love for Christ. We offer to God what he has asked, our bodies, our material wealth, our prayers, our service, people we win to Jesus Christ. We do that out of love for Christ. Through the love of Christ constraining us.
And therefore our sacrifices ought to be marked by sacrifice because of his sacrifice. What I’m saying is this, that our worship of God ought to be abandoned, it ought to be earnest, it ought to be costly. David talks about that, doesn’t he? Back in two Samuel 24:24 where he seeks to buy a piece of ground, he wants to offer a burnt offering to God. The man who has the piece of ground says, “David, take it.” And David says, “I can’t. I’m going to give you a price for it because I’m not going to offer anything to God that doesn’t cost me something.”
What does it costing you to be a Christian? What is it costing you to be a member of Kindred Community Church? What is it costing you on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis to help advance the kingdom of God through the ministry of this local church? I hope it’s costing you something. Because to get you where you are cost God everything. That’s in fact the premise of Paul, isn’t it? Romans 12, “I beseech you by the mercies of God.” I’m not trying, God doesn’t beat us over the head to get us to serve, he just points to the cross. That should be enough.
The blood stand battered naked body of the Lord Jesus given for us. God in the flesh, being mocked and beaten by wicked hands. What sacrifice? When I survey that wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died, my richest gain and I count but loss. That’s what it’s all about. Our worship ought to be abandoned, earnest and costly when it comes to our worship, calculators aren’t needed. Restraint is inappropriate. Actions of others irrelevant. Extravagance is the child of devotion. There ought to be no limits or measurements on our part as to what we’re willing to do for God before God.
Catherine Booth, granddaughter of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, was once interviewed on television. She recalled how she had come back from an open air meeting and her grandfather had asked her how she had done, to which she replied, “We did our best.” Her grandfather narrowed his eyebrows and responded, “Catherine, you can do better than your best in Christ.” Better than your best in Christ through Christ for Christ. That’s what’s being asked of us this morning. In the light of the fact that heaven gave its best for earth’s worst. Our worship of God ought to be marked by sacrifice. It’s based on sacrifice and it ought to be marked by sacrifice. I could leave this, but I’ve got one thought, I want to turn this idea of making a foolish sacrifice to God. I want to turn it to those who may be listening this morning who don’t know Christ. But they’ve been conditioned by this thought that you get to heaven by good works, by sacrificing, by giving things up. That’s how you win God’s favor. That’s how you merit God’s love.
Can I say to you graciously? As unoffensively as I can, although you may take this as an offense, that’s the sacrifice of a fool. To try and win God’s favor through works is the sacrifice of a fool. And I’ll tell you why. Because it ignores the one true sacrifice for sin that’s already been made. Jesus Christ appeared at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. According to Hebrews one, verse three, after he had purged our sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, which signals that it’s a completed work. The Levitical priest never sat down. It was one sacrifice after another, one service after another. But John said, “Behold the lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world,” and he took that sin away in the sacrifice of himself on the cross. My friend, it is the sacrifice of fools to try and work their way to heaven because the sacrifice has been made for sin, which is holy, satisfactory to God and is the ground of your acceptance before him. Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished.”
There’s nothing to add to what Christ has done. For by grace are we saved not by works. “It’s not by works of righteousness, which we do, but by his mercy he saves us,” Titus 3:5. Would you not agree? Think about this. It’s a foolish thing to try to offer to God something less for your salvation than he himself offered for your salvation. He delivered up his son. You can’t rival the Lord Jesus Christ in obedience. You can’t rival the Lord Jesus Christ in sacrifice. My friend Jesus Christ was offered for you. Salvation is a gift to be received, it’s not a work which God will reward.
Jesus work cannot be improved upon and his work puts an end to your work. Grace leaves you in God’s debt. Work leaves God in your debt. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” Do you know what that means? If you’re given something for free, don’t find fault with it. Don’t examine it. The picture of, you go back to the beginning of this phrase goes back to the habit of checking a horse’s teeth to determine its health, it’s gums. If the teeth were long, the horse was old. Now, if someone gives you a horse, the last thing you want to do is look that gift horse in the mouth. How offensive. What an affront to try and measure the kindness and grace of someone.
Hopefully I can put it in a way that doesn’t demean the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, but in Christ God has given you a gift. Don’t look that gift horse in the mouth. Don’t try and measure God’s grace, examine it, think about it and receive it gladly. Don’t try and compete with it. True worship requires heart. True worship requires humility. True worship is a study in contrast. We saw that, didn’t we? This is verse two, and it results in a greater humility in our part because when we recognize God’s greatness, holiness, power and his exalted position over and against our smallness, inequity, weakness, and ground level existence, we understand our place is a place of humility. Worship requires humility and worship results in humility. “Blessed of the poor in spirit, for they shall see the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 5:3. James four tells us that God resists the pride but gives grace to the humble, that’s our place. Where we recognize that we are the work of his hands, the objects of his care, the recipients of his grace and the subjects of his rule.
God thinks the most of the man who thinks himself least. Because what do we have that we didn’t receive? It’s all owed to God and yet that lowly place, that recognition of God’s greatness and one’s smallness, God’s holiness and one’s iniquity that was missing. And Solomon has to remind them here, that God’s in heaven and you’re on the earth, don’t be quick to speak in God’s presence. Their worship lacked the decorum distinction and therefore lacked restraint. God had become so small in their thinking that they thought he was so impressed by their extravagant claims and commitments. God was a bit of a pushover. They would just go waltzing into his presence, say a few prayers, make a few promises without heart, meaning, sincerity walks back out again and believe that’s good with God. Solomon says that’s evil and you’re making God angry. Because your worship lacks heart and it lacks humility. And it seems that when Solomon says here, “Let your words be few,” he may well be speaking about prayer. And he may be reminding them that prayer must never be used as a means of manipulation.
I like what David Hubbard says in his commentary on Ecclesiastes, “The wise man’s second criticism followed closely his first. Not only is listening to God better than sacrifice, but brevity in prayer is better than extravagance.” What’s he saying? He’s saying a few well-meant words that pour from a sincere heart is better than some religious exhibitionism and emotionalism. That’s all froth, no substance, all talk and no action. So they are challenged here to let their words be few. And I think that’s a good reminder, isn’t it? When it comes to worship and especially when it comes to prayer. Prayer must never be a Christian filibuster in the councils of Almighty God. Prayer must be simple, it must be sincere, it must be brief, it must be believable. That’s how prayer ought to be. In fact, Jesus teaches that, doesn’t He? Go over quickly to Matthew.
Matthew chapter six. Matthew chapter six, Jesus is about to teach his disciples what to do with regards to prayer. He’s about to give them a model, a template. But before he tells them what to do, he tells them what not to do. Go back to verse five, “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues on the corners of the streets. They love to be seen by men.” That’s exactly what was going on in Ecclesiastes five. They go in, they make all these pledges, all these prayers, all these promises. But it was detached from obedience. It was divorced from sincerity. It was all a religious show. Solomon saw through it, Christ saw through it in his day. And so he tells his disciples, “No, you don’t do that. You go into a quiet place, you pray to your Father.”
“And when you pray verse seven, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore, do not be like them for your father knows the things you have need of before you ask them.” Brevity and prayer rather than extravagance should be the mark of Christian intercession. Jesus teaches his disciples here that their words ought to be few and their words ought to be true. They ought not to be like the babbling prayers of the pagans, who just kept multiplying their words. Prattling on with mindless chance like the prophets of Baal, back in one kings 18. No, we’re not to be like that. Our words are to be sincere and simple, brief and believable. In fact, the model prayer that Jesus presents before us is 57 words in the Greek text and can be prayed in less than 30 seconds.
You see the pagan’s god was unmoved and removed from life. They tended to be capricious deities, distant and detached. But Jesus said, “No.” That’s not the God of the Christian. The God of the Christian is a loving father, a well-informed father. Your father knows the things that you have need of, talk to your father. And I think that’s just good to be reminded of, isn’t it? When it comes to prayer. I think we all want to do better in prayer. Why don’t you begin with some simple, short, sincere prayers. Prayers that are brief as long as those prayers are believable. Remember that God doesn’t need to be impressed. You don’t have to sweat and wrestle for three hours to show how sincere you are. You don’t have to do that to win him. To get him to g let his guard down or to unlock his closed heart. He’s already opened that heart full in Jesus Christ. He bids you come as a child to your father and you don’t need to inform him of what he needs to know because he already knows what you’re about to say before you say it.
You have a loving father, a well-informed father. It’s the blood of Jesus Christ, not the sweat that makes our prayers efficacious. It’s the omniscience of God, not our prayers that makes heaven aware of our needs. When it comes to our prayers, our words ought to be few and they ought to be true. I like the story of DL Moody. And he was asked, He a man to close one of his missionary meetings in prayer, but the guy got up and he droned on going from one country to another country, one continent to another continent. Moody had enough, he stood up and he said, “While our brother is coming back from his travels, we’ll close the meeting to the singing of a hymn.” Can you imagine that? Moody elsewhere said that a lot of prayers need to be cut short at both ends and set on fire in the middle. It’s not the length of our prayers, it’s the depth of our prayers. Our worship and our prayers need to be with heart and humility. And finally, true worship requires honesty. This brings us back to verses four through seven.
One of the things that Solomon notices about their worship is their broken promises, which to him was a form of lying. Which was a failure of covenant with God. You see, a part of the Old Testament regiment was the pledging and the pain of vows. And the breaching of those promises was serious business. I think Solomon actually has Deuteronomy 23 in mind when he tells those in his day, “Hey, if you’re going to vow a vow you better pay it. Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.” That’s exactly what we read in Deuteronomy 23:21, “When you make a void to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it for the Lord your God will require it of you and it would be sin to you. But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin to you.”
Solomon tells us here in Ecclesiastes five verse six, that their mouth had caused their flesh to sin. They had promised that which they had not fulfilled. And that had brought about a staining of their character and a damaging of their worship. They had lost standing before God and before man. And we’ll just take this for a couple of brief moments and apply it. We’ve got to be men and women of integrity. Holiness should involve wholeness. The psalmist encourages us, doesn’t he? I read it at the beginning of this service that we are to keep our promises even if it hurts us. That’s the kind of man who can go to the sanctuary of God, Psalm 15 verse four. And the psalmist encourages us to keep our promises even to our own hurt because the hurt that comes from not keeping them is worse than the hurt that comes from keeping them. In fact, not to keep them invites God’s anger and judgment. That’s the whole point here, verses six and seven. Why should you anger God with your excuses and tempt him to destroy your works?
It seems to be an implication here. You know what? You might be keeping something back from God that you promised to give to God. Well, maybe God will just take that from you, which you’ve kept back from him. Doesn’t pay to disobey God. Doesn’t pay to not keep your promises to God. That tragically was going on in that day. Some of them had entered a religious dream world according to verse seven. “In a multitude of dreams and many words, there is also vanity.” They were in a religious dream world where warm feelings and surging emotions moved them to say certain things, but their will never brought them to do those things. Maybe some had made a promise in a foxhole, “Lord, if you get me out of this fix, get me off this sinking ship and onto dry land I’ll do this, I’ll be this.” And they’ve never fulfilled those vows.
Was it a religious dream world that caused them to be disobedient? Was it a foxhole prayer that they never meant in the first place? Regardless, they were going back on their promises, they were making all kinds of excuses and it didn’t [inaudible 00:44:11] with God. You see, it’s better to keep your promises for God. For God may not allow you to keep that what you’re keeping back from him in not keeping your promise. Just as God keeps his promises, so we must keep our promises. I’m glad he’s faithful. And I want to be faithful. May you and I keep our wedding vows until death does us part. May you and I keep our baptismal vows that we’re going to live each and every day under the lordship and leadership of Jesus Christ. May you and I keep our business vows and not cheat on our contracts or welsh on our promises.
May those of us in the ministry keep our ordination vows to preach the word in season and out of season. I don’t know what that promise is that is before your mind and heart this morning, and it may be difficult to keep it. You may be in a bad marriage. Your business may be in a fix. I don’t know what that situation is, but if you vow a vow to God and others, keep it. Because you really think about it, at the end of the day, it’s the keeping of our promises that keep us. Keep us true, keep us whole, keep us faithful.
Someone said this about a promise. It’s in Sir Thomas Moore. See in the Robert Bolts play a man for all seasons, when a man swears an oath, he’s holding his own self in his own hands and like water, if he opens his fingers, he needn’t hope to find himself again. As the team comes forward, I’ll tell you a closing story that relates to John Wooden who had a storied career at UCLA basketball program. I finished the book a few months ago and was interested to learn of how John Wooden came to UCLA. He had come back from the war and he was discouraged, in fact, Nelly and him had lost their home in Indiana. Things weren’t looking that good, but he was holding out for a coaching job. He was offered a few high schools, but he held out and was offered a decent job at Indiana State University. And so he started to coach the basketball program there with the hope that if he did a good job there within a few seasons, he might be offered a big 10 coaching post, that was his desire.
In fact, he had one school in mind, Purdue, his alma mater. He did well, and in a couple of years he was approached by a big 10 team, but it wasn’t Purdue, it was Minnesota. And he was also approached simultaneously by UCLA. And he lent towards going to Minnesota because he wanted to stay in the heartland and near the family and he just felt that would be a better fit for him. But the negotiations got hung up on one matter that needed to be sorted out. UCLA liked him and offered him the job, and so an hour before UCLA called him to offer the final contract, he was waiting on a call from Minnesota. They said they’d call him with an answer to the thing that needed to be ironed out. That call never came. What Wooden didn’t know was there’d been a storm front that had come in and the lines were down in Minnesota. So UCLA called him, offered him the job, and he took it.
One hour later, after accepting the job at UCLA, his second choice, he got a call from Minnesota saying, “Hey, our lines were down, but we sorted that thing out, here’s the offer.” And it was the offer he would’ve wanted, but he refused it. He didn’t welsh in his promised he didn’t go back on his contract. He’ll tell you that it was his second choice, but he wasn’t going to second guess it. And in his own words, he says, “I went to UCLA because I had to keep my word.” And all the bruin fans were thankful that he kept his word. And led that program to so many great achievements. I think you could paint the scenario, couldn’t you? Where he could have revisited that. Only an hour or two within it, and then you know what? Hey, they were trying to get through but couldn’t get through, but that’s irrelevant. His word was his bond. Because John Wooden realizes, when you keep your promise, your promise keeps you. He didn’t want to lose standing before God or before man. Let’s pray.
Lord, we thank you for our sweep through Ecclesiastes five. I thank you for what we have learned about the heart of worship. I thank you, you have set before us new goals to reach for. Lord, help us indeed to guard ourselves against the vices of improper worship. Help us to embrace the virtues of proper worship. Lord, may our worship of you be sincere, uncomplicated, lacking in exhibition. But that simple, sincere desire to give glory to the one who delivered up his son for us all and freely with him has given us all things. Lord, we thank you that you’re a covenant keeping God, help us to keep our promises. To our wives, to our children, to our church, to our country. Most of all, to you and your kingdom.
Lord, if there’s someone here this morning who’s offering a sacrifice of a fool and seeking to win your favor through their own works and sacrifices, may they see your favor towards them in that one work, that final sacrifice for sin in the Lord Jesus and may they put their faith where you put their sin. May they reach out their hand and say, “Thank you, Lord for saving my soul. Thank you Lord for making me whole. Thank you Lord for giving to me your great salvation. So rich and so free.” For these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.