Summary: 10th in a series from Ecclesiastes. Wise worship of God is focused on him, not on us.
In the last couple of weeks, I have run across a couple of news articles that reflect some disturbing trends in worship here in the United States.
Earlier this week, many of you may have seen some of the results from a study performed by The Program on Public Values at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., regarding religion in America. That survey found that those who identify themselves as Christians have decreased from 86% of Americans in 1990 to only 76% in 2008. During that same period, those who say that they have no religion have risen from 8.2% to 15% of the population.
A February 27 article from the website “Slate” titled, “Why American churchgoers like to shop around” also caught my attention. That article cited statistics from a Barna Group survey that revealed that one in seven adults changes churches each year, and another one in six attends a handful of churches on a rotating basis. Another survey by the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life last year indicated that 44 percent of American adults have left their first religious affiliation for another. But what was most disturbing to me is that the article actually viewed this as a good thing:
Even if the American mania for shopping extends to our spiritual lives, church shopping still doesn’t get much respect. But while it may be frequently derided as an example of rampant spiritual consumerism, shopping around can be one of the good things about the way religion is practiced in America.
But apparently this trend toward worshipping God on our own terms isn’t anything new as we’ll see as we continue our journey through Ecclesiastes.
1 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. 2 Do not be rash 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. 3 For a dream comes through much activity, And a fool’s voice is known by his many words. 4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed -- 5 Better not to vow than to vow and not pay. 6 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? 7 For in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity. But fear God.
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 (NKJV)
This is really a whole new focus for Qoheleth. He now turns his focus from life “under the sun” to the worship of God. And as he does so, he draws a very sharp distinction between those who worship God on their own terms and those who worship God on His terms.
He begins this section with a stern warning – we are to “walk prudently” when we go to the house of God. Other translations render that phrase “guard your steps” or “watch your step”. In other words, we need to be very careful with our worship. And then Qoheleth goes on to describe the contrast between those who he identifies as “fools” and those who are wise and guard their steps.
We’ve already seen Qoheleth use the term “fool” throughout this book, but we haven’t really stopped to consider what he means when he uses that term. In the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, the term “fool” has a much different meaning than what it has in our English language today. We typically think of a fool as a person a person with little or no judgment, common sense, or wisdom. But the Biblical definition of a fool is given to us in this passage.
The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.
Psalm 14:1 (NIV)
From a biblical perspective a fool is someone who says in his heart that there is no God and who then lives his life in a way that is consistent with that belief. What is really interesting to me is that Qoheleth points out that it is possible for those who are fools, for those who do not believe in God, to actually enter the house of God and attempt to worship. But, not surprisingly, that so-called worship is in vain.
The Bible is quite clear that worship is much more than just what we do here together on Sunday morning. Worship is a lifestyle. So the principles that I’m going to share with you this morning, while they certainly should guide what we do as we gather together for corporate worship, also need to be applied by all of us individually as we live out our lives before God on a day-to-day basis. In this passage, there are five contrasts that demonstrate…