“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.” Ecclesiastes 5:1-3 (ESV)
The teacher of Ecclesiastes cares about how we worship, especially in terms of what we say in worship. When this was written, “the House of God” would have been the temple in Jerusalem, newly completed within Solomon’s lifetime. He cautions us to take great care every time we worship God!
The teacher describes Tom the Fool as going to a church gathering. Tom goes to worship carelessly, simply out of habit or to see his friends. He joins the worship gathering, singing every song without thinking about the words. After the service, he speculates on the Bible passage or the sermon. He might teach children, but his teaching is based on his speculation about what scripture might mean. Sometimes he speaks up in an adult class just to get a good discussion going, but knowing that he’s completely unsure of what he is suggesting. In essence, Tom the Fool brings God a sacrificial offering of Tom’s own thoughtless words.
I’ve been Mark the Fool; I’ve strayed into speculation, answering questions without fully thinking them through. I’ve sung songs and prayed prayers without using my focused attention to consider them. And I regret it. The teacher is warning me and warning you: the God of Heaven and Earth is present in worship! And when we speak of Him, we are to be cautious because of the significant difference between God and man. The Word taught and read speaks of Christ who is enthroned in the heavenlies with His Father, full of power and might! And God has, for this time, chosen to keep us (His people and His holy nation) in this lowly body living on earth, God’s footstool. Origen of Alexandria, the early Christian writer, wrote that this passage is here to show the enormous gap that separates us from God.
How do we obey? The teacher’s instructions are clear: “Draw near to listen.” Join in worship to hear God. Listen to His Word as it is read and explained. Listen to prayers spoken and sung. And when you choose to sing, worship, and discuss, be gravely careful not to distort God’s Word. When you can communicate God’s Word, pray for wisdom before you speak: He wants His Word to be clear and loves to help you make it so!
Forgive me for rushing into worship simply because it was time
Forgive me for singing songs I didn’t mean
Forgive me for speaking my best guesses
You are the LORD, the great God,
Full of mercy and abounding in steadfast love!
Teach me to worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
Teach us to guard our steps as we enter worship
Prepare my mind to worship in song
Enable me to listen to know your precepts!
Your testimonies are righteous forever;
give me understanding that I might live.