Ecclesiastes Lesson Ten: Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 – Authentic Religion

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Better to draw near in obedience than to offer the sacrifice as fools do, for they ignorantly do wrong. 2  Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. For dreams result from much work and a fool’s voice from many words. When you make a vow to God, don’t delay fulfilling it, because He does not delight in fools. Fulfill what you vow. Better that you do not vow than that you vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth bring guilt on you, and do not say in the presence of the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry with your words and destroy the work of your hands? For many dreams bring futility, so do many words.  Therefore, fear God. (HCSB)

In the previous sections, the teacher made observations about the courtroom, the marketplace, the highway, and the palace. Now, in chapter five, he visits the temple.

As we move into chapter five, the teacher addresses the issue of our tongue. As we look through Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments, we see numerous times where the tongue and its use are addressed. As we review these examples, keep in mind the tongue can both tear down as well as build up others. The tongue can inflame a situation, or it can calm a situation. The question to ask is, do we control our tongue, or does our tongue control us?

Proverbs 10:20  The tongue of the righteous is pure silver; the heart of the wicked is of little value.

Proverbs 12:18  There is one who speaks rashly, like a piercing sword; but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 12:19  Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue, only a moment.

Proverbs 15:2  The tongue of the wise makes knowledge attractive, but the mouth of fools blurts out foolishness.

Proverbs 15:4  The tongue that heals is a tree of life, but a devious tongue breaks the spirit. 

Proverbs 18:21  Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Psalm 19:14  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 34:13  Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from deceitful speech.

Matthew 12:36  I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak.

James 1:26  If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself.

James 3:6  And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell. 

1 Peter 3:10  For the one who wants to love life and to see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the passage.

  • In a macro sense, the teacher observed many who were not sincere in their worship.
    • They were robbing God of the reverence and honor He deserved.
    • Their acts of worship were fleeting, insincere, and hypocritical.
    • The phrase “Guard your steps” should be interpreted as “proceed with reverence.”
  • In the context of the worshippers in Jerusalem at this time, God’s presence dwelt in the temple.
    • For worshippers during this period in Israel’s history, coming into the temple should have been a reverent act.
    • For worshippers today, even though God doesn’t “dwell” in the church building, gathering together as believers and worshipping God should be done with a proper heart attitude.
    • Isaiah 1:10-20  Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11 “What are all your sacrifices to Me?” asks the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings and rams and the fat of well-fed cattle; I have no desire for the blood of bulls, lambs, or male goats. 12 When you come to appear before Me, who requires this from you—this trampling of My courts? 13 Stop bringing useless offerings. Your incense is detestable to Me. New Moons and Sabbaths, and the calling of solemn assemblies — I cannot stand iniquity with a festival. 14 I hate your New Moons and prescribed festivals. They have become a burden to Me; I am tired of putting up with them. 15 When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look at you; even if you offer countless prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. 16 “Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from My sight. Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Seek justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause. 18 “Come, let us discuss this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land. 20 But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken
    • During the temple period, animals were sacrificed to atone for sins. When Jesus went to the cross and sacrificed His life for us, animal sacrifices were no longer required. However, every believer has a priestly identity; we do, in a manner of speaking, offer sacrifices to God.
      • Our bodies – Romans 12:1-2  Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you  to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
      • Witness to others – Romans 15:6  so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice.
      • Our money – Philippians 4:18  But I have received everything in full, and I have an abundance. I am fully supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you provided—a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.
      • Our praise and good works – Hebrews 13:15-16  Therefore, through Him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name. 16 Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.
      • Psalm 51:17  The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart.
      • Psalm 141:1-2  Lord, I call on You; hurry to help me. Listen to my voice when I call on You. May my prayer be set before You as incense, the raising of my hands as the evening offering.
    • Sacrifices are not a substitute for obedience. We only need to consider the example of King Saul in 1 Samuel 15:12-23.
    • As we consider this first verse, let’s consider two attributes about God that anyone who goes to worship should remember.
      • God is holy. Worshipping God should be considered holy.
        • The day of worship – Exodus 16:23  He told them, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Tomorrow is a day of complete rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. Bake what you want to bake, and boil what you want to boil, and set aside everything left over to be kept until morning.’ ”
        • The place of worship – Exodus 26:33-34  Hang the veil under the clasps and bring the ark of the testimony there behind the veil, so the veil will make a separation for you between the holy place and the most holy place. 34 Put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the most holy place.
        • The offering – Leviticus 6:25-27  Tell Aaron and his sons: This is the law of the sin offering. The sin offering is most holy and must be slaughtered before the Lord at the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered. 26 The priest who offers it as a sin offering is to eat it. It must be eaten in a holy place, in the courtyard of the tent of meeting. 27 Anything that touches its flesh will become holy, and if any of its blood spatters on a garment, then you must wash that garment in a holy place.
        • The priests – Leviticus 21:7  They are not to marry a woman defiled by prostitution. They are not to marry one divorced by her husband, for the priest is holy to his God
        • The worshippers – 2 Chronicles 20:21  Then he consulted with the people and appointed some to sing for the Lord and some to praise the splendor of His holiness. When they went out in front of the armed forces, they kept singing: Give thanks to the Lord, for His faithful love endures forever.
      • Holiness is not just an Old Testament theme.
        • Jesus drove the money changers from the temple – Matthew 21:12-13  Jesus went into the temple complex and drove out all those buying and selling in the temple. He overturned the money changers’ tables and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 And He said to them, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you are making it a den of thieves!”
        • Reflection before taking communion – 1 Corinthians 11:27-28  Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 So a man should examine himself; in this way he should eat the bread and drink from the cup.
        • Act in a manner reflecting reverence and godly fear – Hebrews 12:28-29  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us hold on to grace. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
      • Holiness has three dimensions.
        • Reverence towards the one we worship.
        • It means to be “set apart for God.”
        • The worshipper and worship need to be pure and sinless.
    • The authority of God.
      • Our understanding of God’s authority comes from Scripture.
        • John 4:24  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.
        • Worshipping in truth, means to understand and know truth, which is Scripture.
      • Too often, God’s people are concerned about how the message is produced and given instead of the content of the message.
      • You may have heard the phrase “Form over substance” before. However, that’s backward. We should be more concerned about substance and not pay so much attention to form.
    • When we have the right attitude regarding worship, the rest of the observations the teacher makes in the remaining verses of this passage will no longer be a concern.
  • Verses two and three address the issue of speaking too quickly or saying too much. Both of these represent cases where our tongue gets us in trouble. In these verses, the teacher is addressing prayers to God.
    • Prayers should never be spoken in a flippant or casual manner.
    • Most of us have been given opportunities to present some type of speech or presentation before others, maybe even during a very important event. When those occasions arise, do we just “wing it,” or do we diligently prepare our words and take them seriously?
    • We should have the same attitude when we speak to God.
      • It’s true that sometimes we may not know what to say, but the Holy Spirit will lead us.
      • What we should have is a reverent attitude towards God as we enter into prayer.
      • Our heart condition is the most important aspect of our prayer life. Enter into prayer with a humble and repentant heart.
    • Don’t pray rashly or ramble, trying to make an eloquent petition. God doesn’t need either or honor either one.
      • Psalm 141:1-2  Lord, I call on You; hurry to help me. Listen to my voice when I call on You. May my prayer be set before You as incense, the raising of my hands as the evening offering.
      • Matthew 12:34-37  Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. 35 A good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil. 36 I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account  for every careless word they speak. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
      • Spurgeon was once quoted saying, “It is not the length of our prayers, but the strength of our prayers, that makes the difference.”
  • Verses four through seven address the issue of making vows to God.
    • God doesn’t require us to make vows, but if we do make one, we must be sure to honor the vow.
      • Deuteronomy 23:21-23  If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to keep it, because He will require it of you, and it will be counted against you as sin. 22 But if you refrain from making a vow, it will not be counted against you as sin. 23 Be careful to do whatever comes from your lips, because you have freely vowed what you promised to the Lord your God.
      • Acts 18:18  So Paul, having stayed on for many days, said good-bye to the brothers and sailed away to Syria. Priscilla and Aquila were with him. He shaved his head at Cenchreae because he had taken a vow.
    • However, vows were an integral part of Jewish worship.
    • The teacher is implying that many vows made to God are not necessary, but once made, they must be kept. The most tragic is the story of Jephthah and his daughter in Judges 11:29-40.
    • The teacher addressed two sins when making vows.
      • Making a vow with no intention of keeping it. In essence, people who do this are lying to God.
      • Making a vow but not honoring it in a timely manner. In some cases, the person who made the vow may be looking for a way to get out of it.
    • God hears what we say and will hold us to our promises. The only exception would be those vows which are completely foolish.
    • If circumstances prevent us from completing it or it’s delayed, God understands and won’t hold the vow against us.
    • We shouldn’t make vows in an effort to impress others. 
    • At times, believers live in a religious dream world.
      • They believe that words are as good as deeds.
      • Their worship is not serious, which makes their words not dependable.
      • They practice a make-believe religion that neither glorifies God nor builds Christian character.
    • Psalm 66:13-14  I will enter Your house with burnt offerings; I will pay You my vows 14 that my lips promised and my mouth spoke during my distress.
    • When we rob God of the worship and honor He is due, we rob ourselves of the spiritual blessings He gives to those who worship Him in spirit and in truth.
    • The identity of the “messenger” in verse six needs to be broached. Who was the messenger?
      • God.
      • An angel, possibly the angel of death.
      • A prophet.
      • A priest.
      • A messenger from the temple.
    • The most likely identity is the last one, a messenger from the temple. This person was sent by the priest to collect unfulfilled vows.


  • Prepare your heart as you enter into worship. This applies to corporate worship at the various church services during the week. It also applies to small group meetings and your personal prayer time with God. Each of these, as well as our daily lives, is an act of worship. We must enter it with the proper heart condition.
  • Before you make any promise to God, take time to count the cost. God would rather have you reflect on your potential vow and even change it if you can’t keep it, rather than make a vow and then fail to stay true to your word. Once you do make a vow, fulfill it in full and in a timely manner.
  • In all our actions, words, and deeds, we should have a reverent fear of God. When we walk in that manner, our lives will be filled with joy, and we’ll experience the blessings and protection of God.

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