Revealing the message of Ecclesiastes 5, this article shows how this chapter instructs the believer in approaching God.

Source: The Evangelical Presbyterian, 2003. 3 pages.

Religion (Ecclesiastes Chapter 5)

When it comes to playing the piano, I’m a self confessed bluffer. Not that I have no skills at all, I did gain Grade 5, but also having achieved a grade B at A level Music, one gains the know-how to improvise, and good musicians can see through my improvisation as bluff! Bluffing (sorry, improvising), can be attractive, but accuracy is really much better. When it comes to our religious life God does not want bluffing. He wants accuracy, or more accurately, truth in the inner parts.

In Ecclesiastes Solomon brings us to consider various things in an attempt to find meaning and purpose. In an earlier chapter we read of the pursuit of wisdom, and while good, yet we learn that wisdom only reveals the situation – remaining impotent to do anything about it (Chapter 1:15).

Pursuing wisdom may be a noble thing, but if thoroughly pursued, according to Solomon, it brings a head-ache. Thus the regular practice of rational thought gives way to hedonistic pleasure (Chapter 2). But pleasure doesn’t satisfy – so Solomon tries further trivial pursuits as identified in our previous article in the last issue of this magazine. So where is the next port of call? According to Solomon – Religion.

Do you remember the Beatles? (Surely this writer is too young for that!) Well, (I’m told that) from pursuing musical prowess they went in for pleasure, before taking an obsessive interest in power. But that wasn’t enough, so they ended up following some guru into Transcendental Meditation. Yes, they did the same as Solomon 3,000 years earlier – truly there is nothing new under the sun.

Religion is right to be pursued, but as we well see around us, there is a false, man-made religion; and there is real religion. Solomon directs us to the latter, giving wise counsel concerning the correct practice of (real) religion.

1. The Right Approach🔗

“Walk prudently when you go to the house of God...” (v. 1)

We must first ask – How do you come to church? What is your spiritual state? What is the nature of your spiritual preparation?

You will go about all manner of normal preparation. There will be the usual Sunday morning rush to get dressed and look your best. There may yet be some things to get organised for the Sunday dinner. But what about Sunday morning prayer? – “Well, only if I can fit it in”.

What time do you arrive? You may have good intentions. Of course, time goes so quickly on a Sunday morning. We never leave when we plan to leave. I know the problems. The preacher’s house is not immune from such. But there is really no excuse for not being adequately prepared spiritually, in prayer beforehand; and in quiet meditation when you arrive, in good time.

These are simple things to consider. Take care in your approach. Take as much care about inner attitude, as outer appearance. Take as much care over inner beauty, as outer. How much time do you spend in the bathroom? How much time getting dressed; grooming? Consider how you come to church.

There’s a story of one of the covenanting ministers of Kiltearn in the Scottish Highlands. After a powerful and sacrificial ministry and life in the turbulent latter half of the 17th century he was buried across the doorway of the church. His gravestone bore this inscription – “This stone shall bear witness against the parishioners of Kiltearn if they bring ane ungodly minister in here”.

And would they dare? Every minister that would follow would have to walk across this grave, and every member. It was therefore a sobering thing, for preachers and people alike. Would they not “walk prudently...”?

If they buried me in the doorway of my church some might be happy to walk on my grave – but at least it would make people think as they approached!

Consider also how does an unconverted person approach? Do they come to bring their good deeds; to get a warm feeling; to get brownie points before the Almighty?

How does a backslider approach? Is there a real recognition of sin and misery, a real sense of unworthiness, and a seeking grace and mercy?

How does a hard-hearted person approach? Is there a bitterness and callousness that hinders all manner of approach to God; you come in cold, and leave cold?

How does a hypocrite approach – that bluffer? Is there a formal veneer of religiosity, but the hands are unclean? Wash, you double-minded!

We are summoned to approach God with reverence and fear, for our God is a consuming fire. Walk prudently!

2. The Right Attention🔗

“draw near to hear rather than give the sacrifice of fools...” (v. 1)

This second matter follows on from the first. It concerns what we do when we are at worship – Attention.

People obviously come to church for various reasons. Some are sincere but they fail to receive because of lack of preparation. Then perhaps there are some who have prepared but fail to benefit by not giving suitable attention. Then further there are some others who haven’t prepared and have no intention of truly listening at all.

When I was a student minister one of my college friends went to a small church on pulpit supply. At the time of the sermon a middle aged man settled himself beside a pillar and shut his eyes! My friend stopped the service and promptly told him to wake up!

There are fools at worship. And when Scripture speaks of a fool it doesn’t mean someone who is completely ignorant, but someone who has some wisdom, should know better, but rather chooses the false and futile.

Some people do not draw near to hear. They have already told themselves they know it all. When the preacher speaks certain unsavoury things about God, the fool says, “No, this is how I like to think about God. God is pleased with me. I lead a religious life...” This is the sacrifice of fools. He comes to church to get a pat on the head.

Further verses in this chapter show us the speech of fools. Solomon comments on the multitude of words that man thinks are pleasing to God. But he has no time to listen to what God is saying. If the first piece of advice is, “Walk prudently”, the second is summed up as, “Think carefully”.

We’ve all been guilty of being distracted or being pre-occupied. Something from your work comes to mind, and your mind is off at a tangent. You have an appointment this week, and you begin to do some planning in the service! Maybe you’re one of those persons who doodles? Have you ever been guilty of mental doodling?

I was once privileged to be in the congregation of Trinity Baptist Church, New Jersey. Al Martin was preaching some fairly heavy stuff from Colossians Chapter 1. He had been going for about an hour. It was good material. But some were drifting, and he knew it. So, he called them to order. “I’ve spent hours preparing for this. And now in delivery, I’m working hard up here, and some of you are falling asleep”!

Was he right? “Draw near to hear”, says Solomon.

You cannot expect to grow in the knowledge of God without mental hard work. The preacher has been set apart for the ministry of the Word and prayer, and he must do that. He must work hard to bring a substantial message and you must give it the right attention.

Scripture speaks of inclining the ear and, of course, that doesn’t simply mean listening; but listening with a view to obeying. It also implies an inclining the heart; and engaging a renewed will to do those things whatsoever the Lord our God has commanded us.

3. The Right Awe🔗

“God is in heaven, and you on earth ... Fear God.” (v. 2, 7)

Consider how you would approach a meeting with the Queen. Consider how carefully you would listen to her words. Consider the respect you would give her, according to her office. Now multiply that a million-fold, and you are still a long way off. God is in heaven; you are on earth, and this demands awe. But isn’t this the missing jewel of much of today’s worship?

We expect the preacher to work on the emotions, or expect the preacher to be entertaining. But surely we’ve got it all wrong. As you and I approach, and as we give attention to the Word, and as we enter into that highest duty and privilege given to fallen man – the worship of God – surely we must, like Moses, take off our shoes, for the place is holy ground. God is in heaven. He hasn’t come down to play games with us! We must approach reverently; listen attentively; and worship with holy awe.

The ministry must foster that awe. The church must foster that awe. We need to relearn what “church” is all about. Our witness is to this thrice holy God; not to enhance the neighbourhood feel-good factor.

People are searching for many things in a church. The church should do this, they say, and should do that. The church is failing here, and there. Perhaps it is. But I don’t hear greater cries for the church to foster a greater awe. That doesn’t seem to come high on people’s agenda of what’s lacking. Yet in Solomon’s wisdom on right religion it is.

Ezekiel was a powerful prophet; a lively preacher and a holy watchman. Some people didn’t like him. Others were impressed but only by his performance and they would tell others “Come and hear this great preacher”.

You are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them.Ezekiel 33:32

Is it a fancy performer the pulpit needs or someone instilling the fear of God?

The right approach, the right attention, and the right awe – are these not some of the missing jewels of our religion?

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