“Choose your next words, carefully,” were the words of the king to his disgruntled general, the parent to her grumbling teenager, the teacher to his defiant student. While authority brings sobering responsibility for those who wield it, it also demands respect from those who are under it. Words are never more meaningful than when spoken to one with authority and power. Flippancy is vanity in the presence of a king.
In Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, the Preacher is perhaps more clearly theocentric than he has been thus far in the book. So far in Ecclesiastes, he has been walking us through the various vanities in the world as it is. “Do you see what life is like under the sun?” he asks. Most of what he has helped us see is brutal and downright depressing. In chapter 5, the Preacher continues walking with us, but now he points toward heaven.
Vanity under the sun is as sure as the death that ends our time here. Vanity is perpetuated and tolerated under the sun. It is more a reality to recognize than an attitude for which to repent. But, vanity before the face of God is different. God is the sovereign creator and king of everything. He alone is before and beyond everything under the sun. There is no vanity with him. Nothing is fleeting. No mere breaths. Everything is meaningful. We walk on thin ice when we bring our vanities before him.
The Preacher warns his readers to approach God carefully. He is righteous, glorious, holy, and pure. He is the essence of power and authority. Vain words and actions before God will not be tolerated. We must guard our steps when we go to God’s presence. It is better that we sit in silence before him than try to flatter him with our words.
Going through the motions of worship is the height of blasphemy. It presumes God can’t tell the difference between real and hypocritical worship. It presumes God isn’t worthy of real worship, or maybe that he doesn’t care. Phony worship mocks God’s knowledge and holiness. It’s vanity. But such vanity isn’t something to merely recognize. Vain worshipers should fear for their lives and repent before a holy God.
I fear we approach God far too flippantly. We approach a ferocious lion as if he were a fluffy kitten. God is in heaven. We are on earth. God is sovereign. We are subjects. God is creator. We are creatures. We must approach him accordingly. Flippancy in worship is the result of failing to properly see who God is and who we are. John Calvin famously wrote, “Wisdom consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
When we forget God is far beyond us, we will take for granted that he speaks to us. We won’t listen. We will forget that without God revealing himself we can’t respond in worship. Likewise, when we forget that we are mere humans, we will presume to have the authority to worship God however we please. We will forget that we are sinful. We will forget how dangerous the presence of God is to the unrighteous. So, how should we approach God?
First, be guarded. Consider God’s holiness and your sin. Be thoughtful before you approach him. Read his Word with a listening, rather than a certain spirit. Pray with a contrite, rather than a demanding heart. Second, be grateful. You can approach God because he first approached you. You can worship a holy God and because he provided for your sin in Jesus. You can dwell in the presence of God because Jesus was cast off for your sin.
Don’t waste your time by uttering vain and flippant words before God. Instead, rejoice that you can live your life before the face of God in pleasure.
Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their three boys, Jude, Jack, and John.