Church Ain’t A Soul Car Wash: Ecclesiastes 5:1-7
When was the last time you met with God? When is the last time you gathered with God’s people for corporate worship? What was the attitude in your heart and mind? Did you come prepared to meet with God, or just roll in and roll out to be entertained as if the point of a worship service was the same as a concert or movie – to put on a good performance for you?
This is the heart of Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, as Solomon asks us to check our own motives and heart for meeting with God. Roughly 3000 years ago this was a problem. Today, things have arguably only gotten worse with consumer Christianity where the church is perceived as a place where the customer is king and the church exists to provide religious goods and services. The result is people thinking that living like hell 167 hours a week can be made up for with a nice dress or suit and going through the motions for 1 hour on Sunday morning. I understand this myself, as someone who had no real consideration for God and lived however I pleased as a Catholic teenage boy. I would roll in to Mass thinking it was a soul car wash and little more.
Solomon begins this unit of thought by speaking to worshippers (5:1a). The truth is, everyone, everywhere, is continuously worshipping. Who do you live for? Who inspires you? Who’s approval do you live for? What do you live for? What motivates you? What defines you?
Understand biblically, worship is not limited to a time, place, or style of music. The worshippers of the Old Testament god Molech sacrificed their children, not unlike abortion in our day. The worshippers in the New Testament city of Corinth had a spirituality that included venturing to their pagan temple to sleep with prostitutes, not unlike the adult web sites and adult clubs in our day.
The God of the Bible cares a lot about worship. As our Creator, He rightly deserves to be the sole object of our worship, because created things are unworthy of such glory. We were made by God. We were made for God. Worship is to be to the right God, in the right way, with the right heart.
The purpose of the Temple to which Solomon refers was the 2nd Temple, constructed by Solomon who was also the author of Ecclesiastes and King of Israel. God was the architect who designed the Temple, and it took 153,000 workers seven years to construct it.
The Temple was not needed by God, but rather needed by God’s people. The God who created the heavens and the earth does not need a home built by us, rather we need a home in which to meet with him. There were five primary purposes for the Temple:
- Place. The Temple was the place of connection between God’s home in heaven and our home on earth.
- Presence. The Temple was the place where God’s presence dwelt on the earth in the Holy of Holies in its center.
- People. The Temple was the place where God’s people could gather together in God’s presence.
- Priest. The priests oversaw the ministry at the Temple, and the High Priest was the mediator and intercessor between God and His people.
- Propitiation. In the place of the sinful people, the priest would offer a sacrifice for their sins.
Solomon admonished that the first responsibility of a worshipper coming to meet with God is to “not be rash with your mouth” or quick to speak, and to “draw near to listen.” He says a fool uses many words. The language is strong because the issue is important. Practically, this means that when we sit in silence to see if the Holy Spirit might speak a word to us we are worshipping. For this reason, the worship time is not solely when we sing songs to the Lord, but also when we sit in silence to listen to God’s Word read and preached. Because worship is responding to God, we need to listen before we speak.
Learning to begin our time with God by listening helps us avoid two common errors in worship. One, some people come to meet with God as if they were going to impress him. Two, some people come to meet with God as if they were meeting with an employee who needed a long list of orders from their boss. God loves us, and God serves us, but God does not take orders from us or follow us.
According to Maslow, our highest need is self-actualization which leads to self-love, self-help, and self esteem. In such thinking, nothing is above the self. If there is a God/god/gods/goddesses then he/they/she exist to in effect worship the human self, so we can be all we can be. Conversely, according to the Bible, our highest need is not self-actualization but rather God glorification which leads to God-love, God-help, and God-esteem.
Having established that God is the center of worship, (not us), and that worship begins with listening and not speaking, Solomon has given us a biblical pattern of worship. He goes on to speak about thoughtless worship of a “mindless” “fool” (5:1b-3). As a Father who is good, when we meet with God we assume he will bless us and then speak to us, the pattern that begins with our first parents. There, we read in Genesis 1:28, “God blessed them and said…” Furthermore, because God is sovereign he cannot be controlled, manipulated, or forced in any way because he is free.
Conversely, in paganism people are at the center of worship, and god comes to submit to our demands. In pagan thinking, god is not a good and loving sovereign Father, but instead can be manipulated into doing what the worshipper wants. This explains why rituals, spells, incantations, and other things are common in pagan worship – because they are wrongly viewed as ways to make the spirit world do what people want in the physical world.
Sometimes, even God’s people worship in ways that are pagan. This includes rash promises and vows that are usually uttered when someone is under pressure and wanting to cut a deal with God. One common example would include someone who wants God to do something and so they “swear to God” or “swear on a stack of Bibles” that they will do something if he comes through. Sadly, once the crisis passes they do not follow up on their vow because they did not really mean it in the first place.
Continuing to stress the importance to not make rash, foolish, or empty promises to God, Solomon reminds us that such things “make God angry” (5:4-6). To make this very practical, I want to look at inner vows we make between us and God, and outer vows we make with someone else to God.
Inner vows are pledges and promises we make internally to guide our future life decisions. Matthew 5:33-37 warns about vows saying, “I say, do not make any vows!” Often, an inner vow is made from our pain and intended to keep us from being hurt ever again. When we are hurting and in pain, we can make rash decisions and make vows that seem to protect us in the short term but only harm us in the long term. The problem with an inner vow is that it takes an area of our life and removes Jesus as Lord over it. Rather than allowing him to speak into and rule over that area of our life, we take matters into own hands which is sinful, foolish, and dangerous. If we have made inner vows we need to repent of them as sin and break the stronghold they have over our life.
Outer vows are pledges and promises we make to God with another person or persons. Perhaps the most common example is marriage. In most wedding ceremonies, the couple stands together in the presence of God to make vows to one another and God in the presence of witnesses. Sadly, many times these vows are not taken seriously by the bride or groom. Instead of vows, they are sometimes little more than wishful thinking intended to impress the friends and family, but not guide their life together with God. Promises to love, forgive, honor, serve, along with pledges to fidelity sometimes don’t stick even through the honeymoon. The tragic result is broken hearts and broken families that could have been prevented if the husband and wife meant and kept the vows they made.
Behind vows and worship is the fear of the Lord. The Bible speaks a great deal about fearing God. Solomon does the same in 5:7 driving us to live life in the face of God, or what older theologians called “coram Deo”. When we die, we will all stand and give an account and it will not be to a mirror. We come from God, we belong to God, and one day we will stand before God.
For the non-Christian, fearing God means considering your eternal fate when you stand for judgment before a holy and righteous God, who sees all and punishes sinners who have rejected the salvation offered through Jesus Christ. This kind of fear is sobering and should give people a sense of urgency to get right with God in Christ.
For the Christian, fearing God means living a God-centered life that honors, respects, and considers God in all things. This kind of fear is not akin to terror, but rather the kind of response a child should have to a godly father who loves them.
This kind of thinking is completely counter-cultural in an age when men no longer stand when a woman enters the room, and having issues with authority is no longer considered an issue. Rebellion against God and godly authority is not just tolerated, but in fact celebrated. This includes a cultural expectation that children can disobey and defy the parents that God gave them.
Coming to meet with God in worship is to invite the kingdom of God to rule and reign in our lives. This causes us to focus on our King, the Lord Jesus, and begin by listening to him so that we might become more like him.
Today, the Temple that Solomon mentions as their place of worship no longer exists as a place where we must go to worship God. When the Lord Jesus died on the cross, the curtain in the Temple was torn from top to bottom – from God to us as his presence released from one place so that we have the ability to meet with him in any place. By 70 A.D. that Temple was destroyed, just as Jesus promised it would be. I have been there, and today it is rubble. As Christians, we do not need to go there to meet with God physically, instead we meet with Jesus Christ spiritually wherever we may be physically.
This is because the Temple was a foreshadowing of the forthcoming of Jesus. Jesus fulfills the five functions of the Temple:
- Place. Jesus is God become a man and the connecting point between heaven and earth.
- Presence. Jesus is the presence of God on the earth.
- People. Jesus is where the people of God go to meet together spiritually in worship.
- Priest. Jesus is our High Priest and mediator between God and man as the God-man.
- Propitiation. Jesus is the One who laid down his life to atone for our sin.
The Bible teaches that because of Jesus, our bodies are now the Temple where God dwells by his Spirit. Practically, this means that we do not have to go to one place to meet with God, but rather God has come to meet with us in any and every place. For these reasons, all of life is worship and lived in the presence of God who speaks to us about all of life and welcomes us to listen to him and walk with him. As a result, every moment of every day is an opportunity to worship God by the power of the Holy Spirit!
Questions For Personal and Group Study Ecclesiastes 5:17
- How good are you at being quiet and listening?
- What things could help you improve your mindset and heart condition when you come to meet with God?
- How have you tried to manipulate God into doing what you want?
- Are there any inner vows you have made, especially out of a hurt, that you need to repent of?
- Looking back, are there any outer vows you have made with God and someone else that you are not fulfilling?
- What difference does it make practically if you see God as the center of worship rather than yourself?