Ecclesiastes | Life Under the Sun 5.20.18
Open your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 5. If you’re using one of our church Bibles, (which you’re free to take with you if you don’t own a Bible), you will find today’s text on page 357.
We’ve finished four chapters – let’s make sure we’re tracking with The Professor so far. Here is the driving message of the book – All of life is vanity, yet God enables his people to enjoy it.
All of life is vanity – It’s “full of weariness,” – It’s hard and full of sorrow, and so honest, deep, lasting joy is hard to come by. And yet God enables his people, his children, those who please him, to enjoy this life. That’s the driving message.
How? If life is vanity, how can we enjoy it? What have we learned? Two things so far:
- Joy is a gift of God to a believer. The power to enjoy this life is a gift of God to a believer. In other words – you need to be a Christian to truly enjoy this life.
2:26 – For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy…
So, go to God. Please God. Believe the gospel. Stop going your own way and go God’s way. Stop going to you, and go to God, because enjoyment of this life and in this life is for believers and believers alone.
- We have learned that Joy is rooted in an understanding of the exhaustive sovereignty of God. This is what Solomon had learned and then passed along to us in 3:1-15. He came to understand that everything is a part of God’s plan, and that God’s plan is good.
3:1 – For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven… And then 3:11 – He has made everything beautiful in its time. Everything according to God’s plan.
So, how do I enjoy this vain life? (in two weeks, why that’s so important) You need to believe the gospel and understand the sovereignty of God. You need to know God is good and great. You need to cement your feet into the greatness and goodness of God. Accept, and rejoice in, the lot that God has given you.
If you grasp all that, congratulations, you’ve tracked with the wisest man to ever live all the way through chapter 4. So now let’s follow him into chapter 5. And here’s where he’s taking us next:
You can’t find joy apart from God, so go to God. Approach God. Worship God. Meet with God. Draw near to God. That is where Solomon is sending you in the next seven verses.
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. See? “Go to the house of God.” That is where Solomon is sending us.
Go to God. In the Bible, the “house of God” may refer to any place where God reveals himself. For example, when Jacob wrestled with God and then passed out in Genesis 28, when he woke up he called the place “the house of God,” because God’s presence had been there.
While the Israelites wandered through the wilderness and were without a permanent home they built a moveable tabernacle and in Exodus 23:19 it was called the “house of the Lord your God” because God’s presence and glory dwelt there.
Later, King Solomon, the author of our book, had the first permanent tabernacle built, the temple, and it also was called the house of God.
That temple was destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again. Now, according to the New Testament (1 Corinthians 3:16), you are a sort of temple because the Holy Spirit dwells in you.
So the house of God is wherever you find God. By God’s grace through Christ, you can find God anywhere throughout the week. You can meet with God anywhere throughout the week. And you can meet with God in a special way here every Sunday. Ephesians 2:18-22.
He’s sending us to meet with God and he’s going to give us some direction, and here it is. He’s going to tell us to go to God fearfully. What did Solomon say in verse 1? “guard your steps.” That means, go fearfully. Go carefully. Consider the magnitude of what you’re doing. Don’t go to God carelessly, or flippantly, or unprepared.
Let’s keep reading. Let’s pick it up in the rest of verse 1: To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. 3 For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.
4 When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? 7 For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.
Okay. I wanted us to read the entire text so you could see where Solomon ends up. He ends up with some direction that will be an overarching instruction throughout the book. And it’s at the very end of verse 7. Look again with me.
For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but [here is the exhortation] God is the one you must fear.
Go to God fearfully. That’s a summary of the seven verses before. And this fear of God is an overarching instruction throughout the book. Flip with me to the very end of the book and let’s read the second to the last verse. It’s found in chapter 12, verse 13. Here it is:
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
See, that instruction is in our text today, and at the very end of the book – It is Solomon’s overarching instruction – Fear God.
Go to God; meet with God; approach God fearfully. That’s the first thing to see here.
You want to enjoy this life? You better fear God. Now, a lot of Christians don’t know what that means.
The fear of God
In November of 2016 we did a sermon series on the Fear of God which was prompted by my son Brady asking me at the dinner table what the fear of God is and me giving a very lame answer.
It’s all over the Bible – fear God, fear God, fear God – but do we know what that means? Do we know what Solomon is talking about? I think it would be helpful to summarize the main content of that sermon series and make sure we understand the fear of God as we head into Solomon’s very practical instruction.
First, there was a day when you did not fear God. Human beings, by nature, do not fear God. They are not interested in God; They are not concerned with God. They deny Him, or hate Him. You, (at one time, Romans 8:7 says), were “hostile to God and did not want to submit to him.” You did not want to submit to Him because He was (to say it lightly) unsupportive of your self-centered life. Psalm 10:4 says: “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
Then one day, by God’s grace, you faced your soul in the mirror and you couldn’t escape what you saw; you couldn’t ‘unsee’ it – You were a sinner, one of the bad guys, on the wrong team with everyone else, dishonoring God from the inside out.
And you saw this in light of God’s holiness; your sins against his perfections; your wrong against his right; and when you did – you FEARED God. You feared his judgment and wrath. You felt (or experienced) Job 37:24:
The Almighty—we cannot find him;
he is great in power;
justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.
24 Therefore men fear him;
Some of you were terrified, and that terror was setting you up to understand and receive mercy. John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote this in the 17th century: “No fears, no grace. Though there is not always grace where there is the fear of hell, yet to be sure there is no grace where there is no fear of God.”
But God’s work was not done. By his grace, you came to know his forgiveness. “But with you there is forgiveness that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:4). You came to know that the God who stood ready to judge was willing to save. The lion would rather pardon than punish you. You came to know his mercy, and when you did, your fear of God became another kind of fear – a new fear that drove you to God, not away from Him.
And you’ve been fearing him ever since. Your fear of God today is not like those early days when you first faced truth, when you were terrified like a criminal before an executioner, but now it is a deep reverence for God that leads to a desire to please him in all things. You are like a child before his loving father – looking to please the one who is (in God’s case) your ultimate source of love and security.
Okay, that is what it means to fear God. He is your father and you love him and out of a deep reverence for Him you and so you have a desire to obey him and please him in all things.
So go to God fearfully. That’s number one.
That is how you should meet with God. That is how you should go to God. Fearfully. . It was a problem then. It’s a problem now – casual Christianity. (Here’s what casual means – relaxed and unconcerned). That should not summarize your approach to God.
How to go to God fearfully? James 1:19. (quick to listen, slow to speak).
V1: Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.
The Teacher’s strong advice for us, above all else, is to “go to the house of God” (5:1), but we are to go with a receptive attitude and a readiness to listen rather than lecture God on what He ought to do or how things should be run. Kaiser Jr., Walter C.
Don’t be quick to speak. Let your words be few. God is not impressed by a word count. Many are guilty of what Derek Kidner calls “verbal doodling.”
When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion.
Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue
keeps himself out of trouble.
Then Job answered the Lord and said:
4 “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
5 I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.”
John Bunyan, wrote: “In prayer, it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart.”[i]
Consider what Jesus said in Matthew 6:7: 7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. And the prayer that followed was very short.
V4-5: When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.
A vow is a promises or oath or commitment. Could be physical, spiritual, financial. Vows, promises, or commitments are not required by God. But they’re certainly permissible, and sometimes a good idea. Make a vow, and make sure you fulfill it. Keep it. Follow through. It’s a big deal.
21 “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. 22 But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. 23 You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth.
It is a snare to say rashly, “It is holy,”
and to reflect only after making vows.
Don’t have your vows be low-cost intentions. Summer camp? Fools love thoughtless vows as well. Talking about what you will do is a good, low-cost way to enhance your reputation down at the church.[ii]
who swears to his own hurt and does not change
V6: Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.
If you decide you don’t want to keep your vow, don’t deny ever making it. Don’t make excuses (“It was a mistake.”) The messenger is a witness – a friend, a spouse, a church, a pastor, a child.
People make empty vows because they live in a religious “dream world”; they think that words are the same as deeds (v. 7). Their worship is not serious, so their words are not dependable. They enjoy the “good feelings” that come when they make their promises to God, but they do themselves more harm than good. They like to “dream” about fulfilling their vows, but they never get around to doing it. They practice a make-believe religion that neither glorifies God nor builds Christian character[iii]
Are you going to God?
How are you going to God?
[ii] Douglas Wilson, Joy at the End of the Tether: The Inscrutable Wisdom of Ecclesiastes (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1999), 67.
[iii] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Satisfied, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 66.