This has been a month of surprises. Chicago fans were gratified to see their team come to a World Series victory after a 108 year drought. Some of the nation celebrated a stunning upset at the polls in the election. Newsmen and pundits have desperately tried to explain the results in ways that maintain their own particular biases. In the end, all of us can agree this has been a time of surprise more than a “run of the mill” fulfillment cycle. For some, surprises are thrilling. For others, surprise of any kind shakes stability. It is with a special comfort, then, we approach our series called “The Search is Over” because Solomon uncovers some of life’s hidden problems – and they strip away surprising outcomes with God-planted sense.
For a few moments, we want to focus on the beginning of Ecclesiastes 5 and Psalm 15, because these passages uncover a tendency we all have to mishandle reverence and “use” God. Even more mature believers need to be reminded not to use God and their relationship with Him to justify behaviors God has no part in. Let me unpack that idea:
Perhaps during this last election season more than any other, we observed the widely varied ways people used God to justify their political positions. Many claimed God’s sanction for their view and on behalf of their candidate. Was the issue which candidate had more praying for them? Was God somehow confused by the posturing? Had God left us with confusing and contradictory principles in His Word? Instinctively, any Bible student would reject all of these possibilities. What is the answer, then? Is it possible the real problem was we didn’t listen to His Word carefully? Perhaps the real issues are how I prepare to meet Him, how I learn to listen to Him, and how I carry the message of His will to the world. In essence, how do I reverently observe my relationship with God and His Word? Solomon made clear the root problem…
Key Principle: The greatest sin committed regularly by God’s people is handling Him casually. All our other sin stems from this single transgression.
As believers and Jesus followers, some of us tend to add “God words” into sentences of mere preference. We say “I don’t think the Lord would be honored by….” in place of “I really don’t like…” Some of us have learned to routinely supplement explanations of “life moments” with words that muddy the waters of God’s true involvement and agenda. We say His name in a way that shows we don’t treat God with the care and reverence due Him – and we may not even be aware of it. That is a symptom of a larger problem – that of irreverence.
Don’t forget that in the core principles of both the Civil Code (found in Exodus and Numbers) of the Torah Law (the Law of Moses) and the Constitution Code (found in Deuteronomy), God told His people to revere Him. He cautioned them about evoking Him or using His name in a casual way! Is it possible these cautions were given because it would be easy for believers to irreverently treat God? Solomon suggests that is a root issue, and it can be identified in our walk. In fact, he argued there were a number of mistakes we make in our daily life that end up “using God” instead of helping us live for God.
Am I too casual with God? There are four great mistakes that indicate times when I am too casual with the Holy One. (1:1-7).
The first of these mistakes has to do with times I am about to seek the Lord for something. This isn’t just about Sunday morning – it is about any time I am about to come to the Lord in prayer and worship. The king said…
Mistake #1: I don’t get ready. Before I come, I need to prepare to meet with God by learning to listen much and speak little.
Reverence begins with an attitude of solemnity and careful preparation before meeting God. The write began:
Ecclesiastes 5:1 “Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil.”
He observed: “People who make promises lightly don’t recognize that God takes our word seriously.” Some make the mistake of coming to God haplessly and unprepared – and that is foolishness.
Essentially, fools are arrogant people. They tend to have simple and quick answers to complex questions, but ignore many of the unintended consequences involved in implementing their ideas. They draw conclusions by taking small pieces of information and combine them with much emotion to end up with an answer that satisfies them – even if it is wholly illogical and completely untrue. Solomon speaks heartily on behalf of learning to listen well before concluding God’s direction on a matter.
Turn, if you will, to Psalm 15 and look at the words found there. A generation before him, his father King David wrote a song about, “What kind of friends have you chosen, Lord?” This incredible song defines the kind of person God enjoys, the kind He desires us to become. These character traits are given in the frame of “preparation to spend time with God.” Take a moment and look at the preparation steps in Psalm 15. David wrote it this way:
Psalm 15:1 Master, who may dwell in your tent? Who can live on the place of your holy mountain?
When we studied that Psalm in earlier lessons, we noted that it was likely David saw some people change their clothing, and their behavior based on being in the presence of a powerful figure like their king.
• If they wanted the king’s attention to their matter, there was an expected pattern of behavior.
• If they expected to bring their matter to the king, there was an expected selection of dress.
• If they wanted to be treated with care before the king, there was an expected etiquette in their presentation.
As moderns, we don’t often see the need for pomp or exacting etiquette. We are a casual society, stopping only briefly for the royal wedding or choreographed presentation in matters of state. We still like a good inauguration on occasion, an elaborate wedding of grand graduation ceremony. We still dress up – but much more rarely than at other times in history. In any case, because King David confronted the tendency people have to change their behavior radically in order to gain access to his presence, he took that observation in a different direction than most of us would have.
He decided that if people changed themselves to be acceptable in his presence to show honor, he should carefully examine his life and decide if he had sufficiently prepared himself to enter the presence of his Holy King.
Note that David already concluded that the changes were WORTH THE SACRIFICE. He began with the words: “Who can?” He promptly devised, under the influence of the Spirit, a preparatory inspection checklist he could use to gear himself up for intense and prolonged worship and intimacy with God.
He argued that approaching God requires forethought. Many commentators seem to miss that the passage is about our approach to God, not about the EFFECTS OF WORSHIP. This ancient song offers us a checklist David used to get ready for worship and prayer.
In the question: “Master, who may dwell in your tent? Who can live on the place of your holy mountain?” are two implications:
• First, he wanted to come into the presence of God, and dwell there – or prolong the time they shared together.
• Second, he presumed that NOT EVERYONE was ready simply because they wanted time with God.
The mountain of God was HOLY (kodesh) or distinct from any other place. The question revealed that David understood that we cannot be casual with the holy. We must prepare. We must acknowledge its supreme difference from the normal.
I hear far too little about preparation for worship, and far too much about how people want worship to change us. I do not dispute the notion that worship should and will change us – I argue that preparation was also part of the plan of God. We need to take responsibility for preparation – and not spiritualize our laziness and undue familiarity by making right choices to prepare our hearts to meet God.
Keep reading the Psalm. Each verse contains specific attributes of a checklist beginning in verse 2.
Psalm 15:2 includes the first three phrases that appear to deal primarily with inner attitudes that set the stage for all the others. “הולך תמים ופעל צדק ודבר אמת בלבבו׃“
Psalm 15:2 “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart”.
Attentive to Sin
David opened with a reminder that self-examination is needed, particularly in the area of sinful practices that have been left unattended, and have left marks on our life. He calls one who would seek God to first be attentive to sin. He calls the seeker: “One whose goings are unblemished (tawmim).”
When I was a kid, my mother told us what time we needed to be ready for church. We appeared, like a whole team (I come from a large family) at the front sidewalk before we climbed into the panel van to go to church. We were to be clean. We were to have church clothes. We were to be 100% ready. Mud on the clothing, dirt on the hands, grease in the hair – were all wholly unacceptable. Trying to cover dirt was unacceptable. That is David’s point.
Active in Doing Right
The second phrase is “and works righteousness.” David claims the one who is prepared to meet with God has been active in seeking right acts (“v’pual tsedek”), that is, he accomplishes what is right and just (15:2b).
To meet God we must be one who is busy DOING SOMETHING to help. I have to ask myself: “Am I actively working with my energies to accomplish positive tasks in the lives of others?” It is one thing to focus on walking in a way that is unblemished, but a whole different matter to be positively producing right acts with my time, talent and treasure – all received from my God to live this life.
Look back at your week. Are you able to draw a line back to specific things that helped another that didn’t also somehow make YOUR LIFE better – so that you know you weren’t really just doing it to help yourself? Have you been a DELIBERATELY POSITIVE PART of someone’s week? David urged: “Don’t just be AGAINST EVIL in life, be helping someone in a GOOD way.”
In days of 24 hour whining of what has been called “social media” – don’t forget there is no substitute for “doing.” Complaining about something isn’t the same as positively helping someone through a struggle. Your pithy sayings are remembered for a moment. Your help to another isn’t soon forgotten.
Authentic in Lifestyle
Look at the phrase in last part of Psalm 15:2 where David wrote: “And speaks truth in his heart.” The words reflect one who is authentic; one who declares in words (debar) truth (ehmeth) from his heart (layvawv).
Essentially, the verse reminds the worshipper to be intentional and clean – and not to cover sin. This evokes the old idea of “sincere.” The term comes from two Latin words, sine ceres – meaning ‘without wax’. Potters during the days of the Roman Empire, would often fill a crack, fissure, or chip in their fired pottery with wax before painting it, thus giving the impression of perfection where there was actually a deep flaw. David suggested that before coming to the Lord, you and I should dismiss our tendency, knowingly or unknowingly, to give a better impression than we warrant. A pot with no wax was a “sincere” pot. It really was consistent with its appearance.
There is no wax in the one who would become a true worshipper. He is not like the Pharisee, saying on the outside what he is not on the inside. Neither is he like the modern Evangelical Christian, who loudly proclaims his heartfelt love for Jesus, but cannot bring himself to keep the commandments. He is a cup washed inside and out who speaks the truth in his heart, and lives out the same. He doesn’t come dirty and he doesn’t come haughty.
Here is the truth: I must constantly check my heart, with God’s Word and the piercing light of God’s convicting Spirit. I must face the fact that I can be self-deceived.
If I regard lies in my heart, God’s Word will be torqued to produce hardened justifications and self-affirming feelings, rather than challenge my knees to buckle to His holy distinctiveness.
My hunger for His presence must press me to search deeply into the recesses of my heart before I can dwell in intimacy with Him. Isn’t that why David called upon God to “try his thoughts”…
An Uncompromising Tongue
Psalm 15:3 says: “He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend.” Note these three specifics relate to SPEECH and the use of the tongue. David called for speech that is guarded and gracious (the term “does not slander” is lo rawgal al-lishanu – 15:3a): He who has no hidden words that speak from behind others (i.e. rawgal: to go on foot as if to spy from rehgel: foot – 15:3).
I cannot allow poor speech about other if I am to be prepared for a prolonged intimacy with God. I exclude myself from His inner confidences and hold myself outside the chamber if I casually treat the use of my words concerning others. I must guard my mouth. James could not have been clearer (see James 1) about the devastating nature of the “tongues fire” damage.
David also called for positive speech that is not deliberately provocative. The second phrase reminds me that I must not devise inequity or trouble for my neighbor (15:3b). Though the grammar does not exclusively include only the tongue, the context demands that I address verbal traps I may have set for people. I dare not become casual with another man’s heart, another man’s reputation – I must treasure others and their care if I am prepared to stand in the presence of the Master.
A Loyal Defender
The idea continues profoundly in the next phrase, “Nor does evil to his neighbor”, where David called for my speech to be loyal. One who will not allow (lo nasa: does not take in) his neighbor to be ashamed (Charpaph is reproach from charpaw: upbraid or blaspheme) or taunted (15:3b). The idea is that this one will not accept upbraiding of his neighbor, but loyally comes to his defense.
One who desires to become a true worshipper makes every effort to defend his neighbor’s good name.
I will not only cease from casually speaking badly of another, I will refuse to be in the place where such speech occurs. I will stop it, because it will blemish my heart and make me as unusable as a dropped scalpel in an operating room. I must check my tongue for loyalty, and behind disloyal speech I will find a hunger to be affirmed by others that is both unhealthy and unholy. My value comes from my Master – not my friends. The hunger to be seen as important is a manifestation of immaturity and ungodliness. It must be tamed and quieted inside, and then sacrificed on a holy altar before God.
A Man or Woman of Choice Companions
The next verse speaks of choices I make. David wrote: (Psalm 15:4) “In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the LORD…”
The first two phrases pose a simple choice: “Do I spend my time surrounded by people that understand His Holiness and draw me toward Him, or do I casually encamp with those who have declared themselves to be His enemies, and than walk into His presence?” The first phrases are both selective ideals:
As I grow to maturity, I must learn “selective rejection” express in the idea “in whose eyes a reprobate is despised. This is not an excuse to learn to be “judgy” and “mean” as some may portray it. In order to be prepared to spend time with God, I must deliberately set aside a rejector of God and His ways. I dare not choose to pitch my tent in the camp of the scornful and agnostic men and then walk from that place into the tent of God on the Holy Hill. If I am not uncomfortable with the work of evil men, my heart is not right and ready. If I am not broken by their hardness, and wounded by their careless pride, I am not ready to worship. I don’t learn to HATE them, but I also don’t learn to TOLERATE evil. I am broken for them, but not partners with them.
At the same time, I learn selective affirmation, where David says I learn to place weight (kawbad) on those who revere the Lord! (15:4b).
Let me say it clearly: Who you hang out with affects your worship of God. What you laugh at in the world affects your worship. Where you were last night, and the night before has much more to do with what will happen today than you may believe!
A Reliable Friend
Writing on the subject of the use of the mouth, David continued in Psalm 15:4b “…He swears to his own hurt and does not change.”
He offered the idea of one who has an unwavering commitment: His word is his bond. He who keeps his word when he covenants to do something, refusing to exchange it when the things shows itself to be more difficult than anticipated (15:4b). It is easy for me to want the benefits of a relationship without the work in the relationship. It is easy for me to make promises but walk away from them when my attention is pulled elsewhere. In a day awash in broken promises, contracts, mortgages, marriages – believers must stand apart from the culture of casual commitment.
A Careful Steward
David finished his short list of traits in the Psalm with the words: Psalm 15:5 “He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.”
David revealed an attitude that can be uncovered in looking carefully at the use of money. When I offer help, is it for others or for myself? Am I Generous? If I give to another of my substance without an angle to personally gain from it, I don’t use what God has entrusted to be against another. (Note the term “neshek” is today a “weapon” but from the word “to bite” nawshak – 5:5a). Do I use money to “bite” another? Is this about THEM or about MY GAIN?
Using money as a weapon is wrong. All that I have has come from God’s good hand. If I want to be in His presence and walk in intimacy with Him, can I treat things as more important than the people of my life? If I am “flexible” and lenient on myself for the sake of business, I allow a blemish in my heart to grow.
The part about a bribe regards our honesty (“nor does he take a bribe”). One prepared to worship God cannot be bought to say something against innocent ones for personal gain (15:5B). This is logical next step when people are less important than money and gain in my life.
David closed the Psalm with the incredible benefit of preparation – a stable gate as I walk into God’s presence and seek His face. He wrote:
Psalm 15:5b “…He who does these things will never be shaken. Stability: לא ימוט לעולם׃ (lo yimot: won’t totter or collapse + l’olam: forever).
We’ve spent some time on the first point, but it is a neglected and important one: It is a terrible mistake to fail to prepare and enter before God with a loose tongue. As we look back into Ecclesiastes 5, Solomon isn’t finished. He continued with…
Mistake #2: I don’t give reverence. As I come, I must carefully measure my words. Any promises must be made carefully.
Ecclesiastes 5:2 Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.
The truth is that when we aren’t ready, we speak too quickly. We also make the mistake of thoughtlessly demoting God to “our friend upstairs, or our friendly genie in the sky.” Note how Solomon made clear the difference between you and I and the Creator of all – we are on one little rock in the cosmos – God is over it all.
I want every believer to become comfortable spending deep and rich times with God. At the same time, I offer Solomon’s warning: God isn’t your buddy – He is your Creator. Don’t get flippant with the One Who holds life together. Speak honestly, but thoughtfully.
Solomon continued with a third mistake he observed about how people handle God and sometimes “use Him.”
Mistake #3: I don’t remain active. As I persist before Him, I must recognize the need for personal investment.
Look at the third verse carefully, because it a proverbial statement that can be hard to grasp on a quick pass:
Ecclesiastes 5:3 For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words.
Here is the idea: We can easily make the mistake of thinking anything we desire is a simple matter of asking God. Yet, any dream we pursue must be matched by sincere work toward that goal. We cannot drop our request in God’s lap and make it His problem while we offer none of our efforts.
Long and loud prayers aren’t a justification for inaction in things we are able to do.
If you want a job – pray. At the same time, get some applications filled out. If you want a spouse – pray. At the same time, take the time to be where godly people are and see who you can meet there.
I have noticed that often, believers use sovereignty to push off responsibility. That isn’t right.
Solomon offered one last mistake…
Mistake #4: I don’t remember commitments.
We ask God for things. We make promises to God. We don’t take seriously that God has a fantastic memory. He wrote:
Ecclesiastes 5:4 When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands?
We make a mistake when we think God will endlessly excuse our carelessness. If our word EVER matters, it matters when offered to God. The proverb in these verses is clear: Better to never promise than promise and not deliver (5). I must say less and do more (6-7). Overstated promises are not reverent promises!
The greatest sin committed regularly by God’s people is handling God casually. All of our other sin, directly or indirectly stems from this single transgression.
Solomon closed with a simple injunction:
Ecclesiastes 5:7 For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God.
Don’t talk about a walk with God. Get one. Don’t kick the opportunity down the road.
I want to end this lesson in an unusual place. Walk in your mind’s eye into a casino. Weird, huh? I confess I am far too cheap to gamble. I don’t think that is proper stewardship, but my real underlying objection is that I am miserably cheap about throwing away money. In any case, I am told if you go into a casino, you will see color, sound and excitement. What you WON’T see is a clock. At 8:00 AM there are people eating, drinking at the bar and gambling. The people don’t know what time it is, and the casino has no interest in them knowing the time. This is one of the enemy of our soul’s greatest ploys – hiding the limitations of time.
You have an opportunity to stop a pattern that is hindering your walk badly right now. You can turn to God and tell Him that you want to begin a NEW DAY of revering Him. You can also put if off… but that is a very bad idea. One sin is infecting many other areas of your life. Like the pipe leaching dangerous checmicals into your drinking water, lack of reverence is bringing poison to your soul. Every day you get weaker.
We have just celebrated Veteran’s Day. I thought it may be helpful to understand quiet reverence for God by reckoning how we honor even other men and women in our world for their sacrifice. I hope this helps to set the tone for honor and
“Reportedly, it all began in 1862 during the Civil War when Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land. During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moans of a soldier who lay severely wounded on the field. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention. Crawling on his stomach, the captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment. When the captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was actually a Confederate soldier, but the soldier was dead. The captain lit a lantern and suddenly caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light, he saw the face of the soldier. It was his own son. The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out. Without telling his father, the boy enlisted in the Confederate Army. The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial despite his enemy status. His request was only partially granted. The captain had asked if he could have a group of army band members play a funeral dirge for his son at the funeral. The request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate. But, out of respect for the father, they did say he could have one musician play. The captain chose a bugler, and he asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of the dead youth’s uniform. This wish was granted, The haunting melody we now know as “Taps,” used at military funerals, was born. Source: Pulpit Helps (July 2001) article written by: Diane O. Sides, Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, MO.