David Jeremiah - Taking Your Troubles to Church
As you know if you have been with us, Solomon has been researching life and he has been doing most of his search as if there were no God. He has taught us in the first two chapters that without God everything is empty and without meaning. And he's taught us in chapter 3 that even with God there are some presenting problems that we have to acknowledge. And we have learned that God has a plan that's good and that he has a purpose that's clear but his program is mysterious. Now we come to chapter 5 and Solomon is going to give us some instruction that is so pertinent to where we are in life today that it is almost eerie to read it. And in Ecclesiastes chapter 5 God gives us several things that we need to know when we face the incongruities and imponderables of life.
And I want to go through these with you as we go through this chapter. The first thing he says to us is, "Don't blame God for your situation". "Don't blame God for your situation". Notice what he says to us in verses 1 through 3: "Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil. Be not rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes through much activity, and a fool's voice is known by his many words".
Literally, in verse 1, Solomon tells us that we are to walk carefully before God. When we go through tragedy and difficulty, our first inclination even if we are believers is to point our fingers heavenward and to begin to blame God for everything that is wrong in our lives. Solomon warns us that we are to walk carefully in the presence of God. It says here: "Walk prudently when you go to the house of God". Literally, the text says: "Keep your foot". We get our expression, "Watch your step". Solomon says: "Watch your step when you go before God with any accusations about what he may have done that you don't agree with". He is talking here when he talks about going to the house of God, he's talking about the marvelous temple which he built, the temple of Solomon.
And he is telling those who are confused about life and frustrated about their situation, he is telling them, "Be careful when you go to the house of God how you deal with your problems before the Almighty". Don't be glib, don't be flippant, don't speak quickly. He is telling us that when we come to the house of God, we are to draw near to hear and to understand and to learn. We are not to come with our own agenda, with our own issues. We're to come to God's place which today is the place where he meets with his people and we are to have an attitude of reverence and worship and expectation. In God's priority system, our obedience and our reverence is more important than our outward expression. He tells us plainly that if we come with sacrifices and they do not represent an obedient heart, we are fools going through the motions of worship and actually sinning against God instead.
This is often a difficult lesson for us to learn. And many have thought that outward worship could cover sin and replace obedience. That was the problem that Saul ran into. Remember the story in the Old Testament when God told him to go and destroy the Amalekites and to leave nothing standing either of beast or of humans. Saul went and they destroyed the Amalekites except Saul brought the king back as a trophy. And his people went out and they collected all of the best of the animals that belonged to the enemy and they brought them back. And there's an interesting little humorous interchange between God and Saul when God says to Saul: "Why, what have you done"? And Saul says, "I've done everything you've asked me to do, God". And God said to Saul, "What then is the bleating of these sheep in my ears"?
And then Saul said, "Well, you know, I did do this. I edited your instructions just a little bit. I brought back the king and our people went and they found the best of all the animals that belonged to the enemy and we brought them back so that we could sacrifice them to you". God said to him, in 1 Samuel 15:22: "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than to sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams". What God is saying in this first little section is we are to walk carefully before God when we come to church. We are to be careful that we don't accuse him of that which we don't understand in our own life and we're to be very careful that when we worship him we do it in spirit and in truth, not in outward expression that is not related to inward reality.
In "The Pilgrim's Progress," John Bunyan wrote years ago: "In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than to have words without a heart". God is teaching us that when it comes to worship. But he not only tells us we're to walk carefully before him. He tells us we're to talk cautiously to him. Verses 2 and 3, he says, "Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes through much activity, and a fool's voice is known by his many words".
Now, Solomon tells us that we are to be careful how we accuse God. We are to approach him carefully and not be rash in what we say. We are not to have kneejerk responses to Almighty God because of what's going on in our life. Why is it that every time something happens, we always wanna blame God? Don't stand and point your finger and get your fist in God's face and say, "How could you do this"? Solomon says we are not to say anything in haste. Here the searcher is talking about our tendency to complain and to murmur about what has been handed to us in life. When we gripe and grouse about our circumstances, we're complaining against God. When we are reminded that God is in heaven and we are on earth, this is not to tell us that God is up there and we're down here and we can't touch him or that he's so high above us. We already know that.
What Solomon is saying here is remember, God is in heaven and he sees everything. You are on earth and your vision is very limited. If you could see what God sees, you wouldn't be saying what you're saying. That's what Solomon is teaching us. He is reminding us that God is in the realm of the invisible where he sees everything that goes on, and he knows what we cannot know because of our limited humanity. In other words, if you knew what God knew, you would respond in a different way. He then reminds us of something that's good for all of us, no matter what we're going through or what time of life or season of life we may be in. He says, "Let your words be few," instead of many. Filled with integrity instead of pretense; marked by reality instead of superficiality.
In verse 3 which is a difficult verse to translate, he seems to be saying that a fool babbles on relentlessly like a man who has had a busy day and experiences dream after dream all night long. It would be easy in our situation, as we look out at all of the devastation and destruction and hurt, to point our finger at God and blame him for what's wrong in our life. And Solomon warns us against doing that. You say, "Pastor, that's pretty harsh for you to be saying when there are so many people hurting". No, no, it's the best thing I can say to you because it's in the Bible and, number two, it will save you from further hurt if you hear what Solomon is saying. Blaming God for what's wrong in your life is a dead-end street. It will take you nowhere except it will increase the spirit of despair and bitterness in your heart.
So the first thing Solomon says to us is, "Don't blame God". Say that out loud. "Don't blame God". All right, here's number two: "Don't bribe God with a vow". Verses 4 through 7: "When you make a vow to God," Solomon says, "do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed: better not to vow than to vow and not to pay". Now, isn't that so timely? What do we normally do when we get in a tough situation? We sometimes call this foxhole Christianity. Here, Solomon warns us against that practice. He is saying that if you do make a vow, be serious about it and don't forget to keep it. And he tells us that it is better for us not to make any vows at all than to make them and not keep them. God doesn't play games with us, that's what Solomon is telling us. He does not expect us to play games with him.
We should never promise God that we will do this or that if he will do just this or that for us. Solomon gives us a little bit of commentary on that in the next verse. He says, "Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands? For in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity. But fear God". What are we to do in the midst of all the things we can't understand? Have we not learned this? In the midst of what we can't understand, we fear God. We reverence God. We say, "God is greater than we can comprehend. His ways are higher than our ways. His thoughts than our thoughts".
Rather than accuse God or blame God or bargain with God or bribe God, we believe God and we fear him. When you don't know what else to do and you can't make two and two add up to four, you step back and you believe God, and you reverence him, and you fear him, amen? That's what you do. Now, Solomon challenges us to think clearly and not allow our mouths to get us into trouble. When you're going through trouble, let me encourage you: watch your mouth. And you know what? What comes out of your mouth you can't stuff back in. You can't go catch those words and rephrase them and say them in a different way, so when you're going through difficulty and going through trouble, watch your mouth.
He says, "Don't go to the messenger of God and say, 'But you don't understand. I know what I told God but I didn't really mean it.' The fact is you're not dealing with God's messenger. You're dealing with God himself, and God takes you at your word so don't play games with God. I love what David said in the Psalms as he thought about a vow he had made. Psalm 66:13-14: "I will go into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows, which my lips have uttered and my mouth has spoken when I was in trouble". Isn't that an interesting thought? David said, "When I was in trouble I made a vow to you but I want you to know I'm gonna go into your house, I'm gonna keep that vow that I made when I was in difficulty".
All right, now we've learned two things: don't blame God, don't bribe God. Don't go to God and say, "Well, God, if you'll straighten my situation out, I'll do this". If you do it, really mean it and follow through on it or you're gonna be in a worse mess than you're in right now. The third thing Solomon tells us is, "Don't be surprised at the government's response". You say, "Pastor Jeremiah, you're making this up". No, I'm not. It's right here in the Bible. Notice what Solomon says in verses 8 and 9: "If you see the oppression of the poor, and the violent perversion of justice and righteousness in a province, do not marvel at the matter; for high official watches over high official, and higher officials are over them. Moreover the profit of the land is for all; even the king is served in the field".
Can you believe that's in the Bible? He is saying, "When you see injustice and inequity in government, don't be astonished". Solomon says don't marvel at this. A sign on the desk in a Pentagon office reads: "The secrecy of my job does not permit me to know what I am doing". Have you ever felt like that when you're dealing with the government? Solomon, thousands of years ago, wrote these words in the Word of God and he says when the government messes up, don't be surprised; the government's the government. It's human. What is the government? It's not an institution, it's not a building. It's flawed human beings who make good decisions sometimes and bad decisions sometimes. It's always been like that. It will always be like that.
When they make good decisions we cheer them on. When they make bad decisions, we go on the news and on the radio and we vent our spleen about their stupidity. And you know what? It doesn't do any good. And Solomon says it's not gonna make any difference. What Solomon is saying here is the officials you're angry with report to the other officials who are over them who report to officials over them and, as bad as government is, his point is it's still better than not having any. And if you don't believe that, go to some of the places where anarchy reigns. Bad government's better than no government.
You say, "That can't be true". Oh yes, it is true. And we, as believers, ought to do everything we can to take the government that we have and upgrade it through the power of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ but don't get stuck with false impressions about what government can do. It is a flawed human device that will ultimately disappoint you if not today, it'll be tomorrow. So don't be bitter about the government. Is this for today or what? My, oh my. I just wanna say, "Lord God, how did you know"? Don't blame God for your situation. Don't bribe God with a vow. Don't be surprised at the government's response.
And number four, don't believe the lie about riches. We are prone to reason like this: if I just had more money, if I were better off financially, these things wouldn't happen to me, and if they did, I would be so much better able to handle them. Solomon warns us against such illogical thinking and he pulls together several reasons why this is not a good way to think. Listen to me, friends, money is not the answer. Now what Solomon's gonna do here and I'm gonna go through this really quickly 'cause I really don't need to make much commentary on it, the Word of God is its own commentary. He's gonna give us five things we should know about money.
Five things. This may be one of the best passages on financial integrity that you'll find in the Bible and most of you have never read it before 'cause it's locked up in this Old Testament book that most of us can't even pronounce, all right? Five things you need to know about money. First of all, and I think you will all agree: the more you have, the more you want. Is that true? Oh, c'mon. Verse 10: "He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity," Solomon says.
The more you have, the more you want. You look at the person that you think is the richest person you know and if I could interview him with you in the room you would find out he's trying to get more. True? It doesn't matter what level you are or how much you have or don't have. The more you have, the more you want. In the book of Luke, we are told we are to "take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses". One of the really difficult issues to deal with as far as money is concerned is that you never have enough. The more you have, the more you want.
Here's the second thing Solomon says: the more you have, the more you spend. Listen to Solomon's words: "When your goods increase, they increase who eat them; so what profit have the owners except to see this with their eyes"? Solomon says, you know, you get more and all that happens when you get more is more people come to eat what you've gotten. When a man's possessions increase, it seems there's a corresponding increase in the number of parasites who live off of him. Management consultants, tax advisors, accountants, lawyers, household employees, and sponging relatives.
Now are you catching Solomon's counsel here? The more you have, the more you want. The more you have, the more you, what? Spend, all right? Here's an interesting one: thirdly, the more you have, the more you worry. The more you have, the more you worry. "The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep". At the age of 53, John D. Rockefeller was the world's only billionaire at that time. He earned $1 million a week. But he was a sick man and he lived on crackers and milk and could not sleep because he worried so much about his money. When he started giving his money away, his health changed radically and he lived to celebrate his 98th birthday.
Money is not the answer to your anxiety. Money might be the cause of your anxiety because Solomon says, "The more you have, the more you worry". Don't believe the lie about riches that if you just had more, you would be okay. The more you have, the more you want. The more you have, the more you spend. The more you have, the more you worry. Now here's one that's very contemporary: The more you have, the more you lose. Notice what he says: "There is a severe evil which I have seen under the sun: Riches kept for the owner to his hurt. But those riches perish through misfortune".
I'm not saying you shouldn't have stuff, you shouldn't have things, but Solomon's just making the point: you can't lose what you don't have. And the more you have, the more you lose. And here's the last thought: the more you have, the more you leave. Verses 14 through 17: "When he begets a son, there's nothing in his hand. As he came from his mother's womb, naked shall he return, to go as he came; and he shall take nothing from his labor which he may carry away in this hand. And this also is a severe evil, just exactly as he came, shall he go. And what profit has he who has labored for the wind? All his days he also eats in darkness, and he has much sorrow and sickness and anger".
Solomon is saying, the more you have, the more you're gonna leave. Somebody asked about a rich man, "How much did he leave"? And the answer was, "He left it all". He left it all. There aren't any pockets in a shroud. And U-Haul-Its aren't pulled by hearses. Whatever you have, you will leave. You say, "Oh, no, I'm not", yes, you are. When you die, you will leave everything you have for somebody else. Solomon's talked about that already. So you've got five things he tells us about money and they're easy to remember: the more you have, the more you want; the more you have, the more you spend; the more you have, the more you worry; the more you have, the more you lose; the more you have, the more you leave.
So Solomon says if you wanna put your hope in that, well, go for it. But that's pretty sick. Don't put your hope in riches. It's not wrong to have 'em. It's wrong to put your hope in 'em. And now he tells us two things we need to know about God as he closes out this passage. Five things we need to know about money, two things we need to know about God. First thing you need to know about God is that, your ability to earn money is God's gift to you. Did you know that? You say, "Well, I'm a self-made man". Oh no, you're not. If God wants to shut off your air, you are over. You are not a self-made man or a woman.
Notice what he says in verse 18: "Here's what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for this is his heritage". Solomon is saying, "I'm not telling you don't be interested in money or a good living; just remember whatever you've got, it's from God," right? And let's face it, if what we have is God's, if he wants to burn it up, it's his business. He will give it back to us in his own way. Whatever we have, whatever we earn, God gives that ability to us. We ought to be grateful for our jobs. We ought to be thankful for our work. In this day when there are so many who are out of work and many of our congregation who are out of work, if you have a job you should be thankful to God that he gave it to you. It's your gift from God, it's your heritage. God gave you the ability to earn. It's from him. It's a gift.
It says it right in the text. But notice the second thing about God that's even more important: your ability to enjoy money is a gift from God. Verses 19 and 20: "As to every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor, this is the gift of God. For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him so busy with the joy of his heart". Listen to what Solomon is saying. He gives you the ability to earn it and then he gives you the ability to enjoy it. And he gives you such ability to enjoy it, you don't even think about how many days you have left on this earth, you don't worry about how old you are, you just every day you enjoy the joy that God has given you.
And you go through life because you realize God's given you the ability to earn it and it's from him that you have the ability to enjoy it, you don't sit around worrying, "Well, I'm almost 60 now. Let's see, I've lived two-thirds". You know, you don't go there. You live every day in the joy of what God has given to you. It's his gift to you. It's his heritage to you. "It is better," wrote one man, "to receive wealth as a gift from God along with the God-given ability to enjoy it than to see wealth as an end in itself". Listen to this. "How sad," listen to this. "How sad that men can spend all their days working and sweating to receive the enjoyment that God offers as a gift if they will just seek it in the manner that he in his excellent and beautiful plan has chosen to give it".
Do you hear what he said? Some people sweat and work and anxiety and pressure all through their lives to get something that Almighty God just wants to give you if you'll just let him. If you will just say, "Lord God, you gave me the ability to earn what I have. Now give me the same ability to enjoy it," he will do it if you put him first. The Bible says: "Seek first the kingdom of God and he will give you all these things". But if you invert the process and you live as money was your goal, you will miss not only the joy of what you have, you will miss the sense of God's blessing on your life. So Solomon really had a word for us today: don't blame God; don't bribe God; don't be disappointed in what the government does; and don't believe the lie that money is the answer. You know who the answer is? I do. It's Almighty God.
When you're going through the fire, when you're going through the storm, when you're going through the difficult times, hang on to God like you never have before. And then remember this. Someday you will give an account to him. I believe that this particular moment in our history is just another wake-up call for some of you. The Bible says that those who reject God in their life will spend eternity in a place called hell. Nobody ever talks about it anymore. It's in the Bible. In fact, there's more in the Bible about hell than there is about heaven. Did you know that? And the Bible says that hell is a place where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched. That means where you can't die. Die would be a wonderful relief. You cannot die and the fire will never go out. Fire is an awful thing when it's in a destructive mood. You cannot count on any one day of your life. One of these days you're gonna stand before God.
You say, "Pastor, I don't believe that". That doesn't make any difference. It's gonna happen anyway. Some people think because they don't believe something, it isn't true. Just because you don't believe it's true, doesn't make it untrue. The fact is, it is true. Every man will stand before God and give an account of his life. And my question to you today is if this were that moment, are you ready to meet God? Can you say with assurance in your heart, "I have received Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. He has forgiven my sin. If I were to die this moment, I would go to be with him immediately".
You say, "Pastor, nobody can know that". Oh yes, you can. "These things are written that ye may know that ye have eternal life," that's what the Scripture says. And frankly, I'm not being arrogant when I say it. I know that I have eternal life because Jesus Christ is in my heart. If you've never trusted Christ, you can believe in him today. If you have any doubts, Mister, get those doubts resolved. You have been promised by Almighty God that you can know here and now that you are a Christian and that you're on your way to heaven.