Concerning Worship
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Concerning Worship

Ecclesiastes 5:1–7  (ID: 2295)

Just as the family makes a house a home, so God’s gathered people create a special place for worship. Believers are to actively participate in the local church by attendance, tithing, and by adding their voices in worship. Alistair Begg teaches us that when we are awed by God’s mercy and forgiveness, it leads us to want to please God in all things, including genuine worship.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Ecclesiastes

Chasing the Wind Ecclesiastes 1:1–12:14 Series ID: 12101

What Is True Worship?

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 21601

Sermon Transcript: Print

O God our Father, with our Bibles open on our laps, we earnestly desire that you would be our teacher. We are in desperate need of your help in speaking and listening and in responding properly. And so to you we look. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Preacher, the Pundit, has been going down various avenues. And here in the opening section of chapter 5, it’s as though he has paused down some of these dead-end streets and cast his glance on the worshipping throngs. And as he observes the comings and goings of the crowds to the place of worship, and as he apparently sits in on some of their activities, it becomes apparent to him that all is not well—that unreality is not simply the precinct of the unbelieving population but that unreality can so easily and quickly pervade those who profess faith. And the people that he’s observing in their ins and outs and activities seem to have forgotten where they are and at the same time what they’re doing.

The target, I think, that he has in mind is the individual who comes fairly routinely to participate in worship—the kind of person who likes a number of the songs, taps along to the tunes, moans about the ones that he doesn’t like, listens with half an ear, never really remembers anything, and certainly never gets down to doing what he had felt he ought to do when, in a surge of emotion, there was something stirring in his heart concerning the Bible. The individual has largely not forgotten where he is and who he is but has completely misplaced any notion of who God is. And it is to this individual that the writer speaks.

Now, he’s dealing with the then, and we’re living in the now. And one of the questions when we study the Bible is: How do we make the then apply to the now? How do we understand the application of this?

Well, first we need to understand the then. The then is probably Solomon’s Temple—a magnificent structure, lavish in its decorations, awe-inspiring in its size, majestic in its grandeur. And as a result of that, the crowds coming to attendance in praise at that place would be dwarfed by the structure itself. And as a result of that, just in the sheer physicality of it, they would find that their gaze was turned from the earth upward to heaven, from time to eternity, and from themselves to God. And that is the picture that he has in mind as he writes these words.

“Well,” you say, “that’s obviously thousands of years away and thousands of miles away from where we sit now, or even from the average context of contemporary worship this morning.” Without doubt. Contemporary architecture—unlike the great cathedrals and massive buildings of an early era—contemporary architecture tends to be very horizontal. It tends to keep our gaze on this plane rather than lift our eyes upwards. Our own church building contributes in part to that, I don’t think by design, but certainly by default.

The reason that architecture has gone this way is largely because we want to think not of a God who is transcendent but of a God who is down here beside us; not of a God who holds us to account in the face of his law, but rather a God who has begun to see things the way we see things—a God who is not uncomfortable to behold, but a God who is actually very comfortable for us. And as a result of that, we turn praise and worship inside out. And our whole experience begins with ourselves—how I am feeling and what I am hoping for and what I desire to get out of this opportunity—and then ends with ourselves as we walk away giving points for content, for length, for humor, for a variety of other things, all directly related to who I am.

Now, that’s a tragic mistake. And to the extent that buildings contribute to that, we have also made a mistake. But, of course, buildings are not ultimately important. Where we gather is secondary to what is happening when we gather. And therefore, when we think of the application of Ecclesiastes 5, we should think of it in relationship to Ephesians chapter 2—not just Ephesians chapter 2, but certainly Ephesians 2:19 and following. And if you want to turn to it, then you can anchor this in your mind. But I’m going to read it for you in any case. We could turn to a number of verses, but we’re staying just here for point of application.

Ephesians 2:19: “Consequently,” he says, “you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” So notice immediately that the building that is being described here is spiritual rather than physical. In a physical building, there would be a cornerstone set in its rightful place. Here, says Paul, Jesus himself is the cornerstone, and “in him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.”

So, back in Ecclesiastes 5, in the days of the Solomon temple, in the days of the worship of Jerusalem and Zion, all of the emphasis was on this physical building. But now, he says, verse 22, “in him,” in Christ, “you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Okay? So, while architecture is not unimportant, it is not the most significant thing. Because what God has chosen to do now is to send his Spirit to dwell amongst his people, and it is the family which makes a house a home.

God has pledged to be with his people when they gather in worship.

But we understand that from our own families, don’t we? Or from visiting famous homes of famous historical families—for example, the Vanderbilts, is it, in Asheville, North Carolina? Magnificent structure! You go around it, you put the earphones on, and the voice tells you, “And in this room, this is where Mr. Vanderbilt did this, and he did that, and this was his study,” and so on. And it’s quite fascinating, but it’s lifeless! And I found myself walking around saying, “If only Vanderbilt was here. If only we could actually see it happen.” Sure, it is a magnificent structure, but it is the family that makes the house a home.

Now, that is how you need to understand, loved ones, what happens when we come together in worship. This is not a holy space. This is not a special structure in and of itself. Any holiness that attaches to the place comes and leaves with the presence of the holy ones—namely, those who’ve been set apart in God’s service. So the family is what makes this place what it is. That is why the place would become special to us in our reflection and in our anticipation: not because of the special nature of the structure but because of the unique nature of what takes place within the structure—in the same way that a home eventually becomes simply an address. We can drive past the end of the street. We used to live there. It was very important to us while we were there, but it has no significance to us at all now. It is possessed by someone else, it is indwelt by someone else, and so we move away from it, actually, quite thankfully and happily.

And in the same, we find ourselves in this building. This building means nothing to me as a building, except I’m thankful that it provides shelter. It doesn’t ring my bell, float my boat, or do anything for me at all. The only significance that attaches to this place is because you’re here, and because we’re here together. Take all of you away from here, I wouldn’t come here. It’s the family that makes the house a home.

So, Ecclesiastes 5, the picture of the Solomon temple. Ephesians chapter 2 allows us to get a grasp of what we’re dealing with today.

Guard Your Steps

Now, in light of that, we can then observe the instruction carefully. Four words, four statements will help us get through this little section of the text. The first one is the opening phrase of the chapter, “Guard your steps.” “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.” For the Preacher, he’s thinking of Solomon’s Temple. For us, we’re thinking in particular terms—those of us who are the Parkside family—about our gathering here, not only in this room, but definitely in this room, regularly and purposefully, in this space.

And to guard our steps demands a certain perspective in our approach to the occasion. And I’m going to give you just a number of verses here. I don’t want you to turn them up. I’ll give you the reference in case you wish to note them for further study.

The first is Nehemiah 10:39, where the people in that day said, “We will not neglect the house of our God.” They made a promise: “We’re not going to neglect the house of our God.” And what that meant for them was their giving, that the house of God would be sustained; their participation in worship, that they may have a testimony within that place; the gathering of their families, that they may hear the voice of God through the Word of God and so on. They said, “We’re not going to neglect the house of God.”

And when you or I come to the perspective where that is a hallmark for us—where that is, if you like, a foundational principle—then we will work everything in relationship to time, finance, and future in light of that principle. “Good morning. It is the Lord’s Day. What have we decided as a family? ‘We will not neglect the house of God.’” That means our participation in worship, that means our involvement with the family, that means our offerings of praise, and so on—if we have determined that that is a fixed point. Until we come to that fixed point, then we awaken on the Lord’s Day, Sunday, and we say to ourself, “Now, I wonder what I shall do today? There is an opportunity for me to do this and to do that. I have a friend calling me. I have the responsibilities and so on. What will I do?” Unless you have as a fixed point “And whatever else I do, I’m not neglecting my place in the house of God,” then, of course, your whole life will be up for grabs.

Secondly, from Psalm 27:4: “One thing I ask of the Lord, [and] this is what I seek,” says the psalmist: “that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” He says, “I want to be here. I want to be where the action is. I want to be where God is. I want to be where God’s people are.” And this is his perspective. And, of course, it is a unique perspective, because the perspective of the average person is “I don’t want to go there. You couldn’t drag me there with chains!” The people who are unchanged by the power of Christ feel very much the same way—constantly looking at their watch, constantly checking when the ordeal will be over, constantly making plans in their minds for how they can get out and get on. It’s a different perspective, this, isn’t it? “If I could only ask one thing of the Lord,” he says, “this is what I would ask: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”

Psalm 84, he says the same thing:

How lovely is your dwelling place,
 O Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
 for the courts of the Lord;
my [flesh] and my [heart] cry out
 for the living God.[1]

Now, you notice the point. Why does he crave the courts of the living God? Because in the courts, he meets the living God! You see, that’s the significance of gathering together in worship: because God has pledged to be with his people when they gather in worship. Therefore, we can sing, “I love thy place, O God, wherein thy glory dwells”[2]—not uniquely here, but expressly here!

And then he makes the staggering statement: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.”[3] That’s a staggering statistic, isn’t it? It’s a great proportion: one to a thousand! “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of … wicked[ness].”[4] What a statement! “I would rather open and close the doors, I’d rather be the janitor in the place where God’s glory dwells, than set up my stall in the arena of godlessness.”

Why? He answers the question:

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
 the Lord bestows [honor] and [favor];
no good thing does he withhold
 from those whose walk is blameless.[5]

“Out here, there’s only dishonor and blame. In here, there is honor. Out there, there is only darkness. In here,” he says, “there is light. That’s why I’d rather be opening and closing the doors in the church building than spend a thousand days in the tents of wickedness.” It’s quite a perspective, isn’t it? I’m challenged by it.

Now, perspective is crucial in guarding your steps. If our perspective is wrong, then everything else is wrong. To guard our steps involves us making preparation for that involvement. Making preparation for that involvement. And I make no apology for going down some well-worn paths with you, because we need this word of reminder.

And the first word of reminder is this: that dead ladies don’t sing. Dead ladies don’t sing—and neither do dead men! And you know that if you’ve been around them. Some of you are involved in the funeral business, and you know this! When those people are set within those little places, the one thing you can be assured of is that you won’t come in there and hear them all singing, because they’re dead. And dead people don’t sing.

And people who are spiritually dead don’t sing, because they’ve nothing to sing about. I’m talking about singing the praise of God. Dead people don’t sing, “My God, how wonderful thou art, thy majesty how bright.”[6] Dead people don’t actually think about his love, think about his goodness, think about his grace. Dead people think about themselves, think about their love, think about how they’re doing, think about how they manage to get on and get through. But when the Spirit of God comes and makes a person new and when they become spiritually alive, then they sing.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 34, I think. It can’t be my favorite verse if I just forgot the reference! I get mixed up between Psalm 37:4 and Psalm 34. Yeah, it’s Psalm 34. Psalm 37:4 is “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 34:3 is “Glorify the Lord with me; [and] let us exalt his name together.” “Glorify the Lord with me; [and] let us exalt his name together.” So when we come into the context of worship, that’s essentially what we’re saying to one another: “Here we are! Glorify the Lord with me, and let’s exalt his name together.”

What are we doing? This is what we’re doing, and this is what we’ve been preparing to do. We need to be spiritually alive. We need to be spiritually assisted, not full of wine but full of the Spirit of God. And then, when “filled with the Spirit of God,” he says in Ephesians 5:18, then we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and we make melody in our hearts.[7] So the preparation is actually the preparation of God within us: number one, to make us spiritually alive (he’ll do that for you today); number two, to spiritually assist you (he promises that to you in his Word); and number three, to be spiritually active, to be committed to it. Colossians 3: letting “the word of Christ dwell in [me] richly,”[8] so that we are making preparation for the event thoughtfully, cautiously, thankfully, expectantly, and more than anything else, perhaps, joyfully. “I was glad when they said [to] me, Let us go [to] the house of the Lord.”[9]

It’s not as important that you’re decked out as it is that you’re tuned in. In other words, make sure that when you waken up in the morning, you get tuned in, whether you get decked out or not—whatever decked out is, okay? So, whether you shaved or whether you primped or crimped or whatever you did—any of those verbs—the real issue is, have you tuned in, have you fessed up, and have you bowed down? Have you tuned in, fessed up, and bowed down?

Do you think that you can spend all of Saturday on yourself and idle pursuits, go to bed late with your head full of nonsense, waken up slovenly, drag yourself finally into this building, and discover that as a result of somebody reading two verses from the book of Psalms, hey, presto, you just became a Spirit-filled worshipper? If you think that, you need to think again. Preparation is absolutely crucial in the process. And the way we spend our waking moments on the Lord’s Day sets the stall for the day.

I know that people think I’m weird. I know they write it off as culture. But I want as best as I can to begin my day on a Sunday differently from any other day. What does that mean for me? Well, it means that I don’t read the New York Times. “Oh,” you say, “well, he reads the Plain Dealer.” No, I don’t read that either. I’ve got six days of that coming at me, reacting to all of that New York Times journalism and getting tense, and reading book reviews and everything. But when I begin the Lord’s Day, I don’t need that. In fact, it doesn’t help me!

So this morning, as I drove here earlier this morning, I was listening to my friend from Scotland reading Philippians chapter 3, as it turned out, and beginning to preach on Philippians 3. Why? So that I might prepare. So that I might prepare. I can’t press a button any more than you. If I am carrying a glass full of water and you bump into me, what spills out is water, right? If it’s a glass of Coke and you bump into me, what spills out is Coke. And when you and I bump into one another, what spills out is what’s in. It’s about preparation. It’s about guarding our steps. In golfing terms, it’s about alignment. It’s about setup. It’s about how you approach what you’re about to do.

Now, let me read from another bible, Dave Pelz’s Short Game Bible, for those of you who doubt this. Listen to what he says about alignment. He says, “In … golf vocabulary, [in my] terms setup, alignment, aim, body alignment, and address … are all related to the same thing. … In every game of golf, if you align your body improperly your instincts will subconsciously make swing compensations intended to hit the shot in the desired direction.”[10] Okay? So if you stand up to it wrongly, your brain knows that. And then your brain says, “You don’t want to go down that line,” and it sends messages to the other parts of your body, trying to fix the fact that you are set up incorrectly. “Aim correctly,” he says, “and it’s easier to make good swings, because from a good position, good swings cause good results; aim poorly and a good swing will hit a bad shot, so you’ll have to make compensations to produce the desired results.”[11]

So, when you and I don’t guard our steps, when we don’t take the proper address, when we don’t stand up to the thing properly, then we will be forced to make compensations all the way down the swing plane in order to effect the desired results. So in other words, it’s very, very important to guard your steps.

Watch Your Mouth

Secondly, and more briefly, “Watch your mouth.” “Watch your mouth.” Isn’t that what verse two says? “Do not be quick with your mouth.” Mentally and verbally, each of us is at the center of our universe, filtering everything through how it affects us. That’s selfish! So the writer says, “Remember this: God’s in heaven, and you’re on earth. So you might want to just not talk as much as you’ve been doing. You might not want to try and dribble out with all your verbal, evangelical clichés to try and impress your friends and neighbors: ‘Oh blessings, and Almighty, and thy kindness, and so of thy goodness, and abides…’” So the people say, “What in the world are these people on about with all this stuff? Oh, she must be very holy. Did you hear the way she said, ‘O, the Almighty, blessing of thy kindness, and superf…’”

You might want to watch your mouth. You might want to consider the infinite, qualitative distinction between God and us. The infinite, qualitative distinction. It is as far removed as anything we could conceive. God is infinite; we are finite. He’s immortal; we’re mortal. He is invisible; we’re visible. He’s Spirit; we’re flesh. He’s almighty; we’re weak. He’s holy; we’re sinful. He’s pure; we’re impure. He’s omniscient; we’re ignorant. He’s unchangeable; we’re fickle. He’s faithful; we are unfaithful. He is love in all of its fullness, and we’re at best partial in our love.

And what the writer is warning against here is the meaninglessness of mechanical worship. The meaninglessness of mechanical worship. Excess of talk is virtually bound to throw up folly. I think that’s the whole point of verse 3: “As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.” And verse 7: “Much dreaming and many words,” they’re “meaningless.”

So he says, “You should beware, because God sees the invisible, and he hears the inaudible.” God does not listen to this exercise in praise and study and application through the speakers. He doesn’t listen to our prayers, as it were, through the microphone. He listens to what’s going on through a stethoscope that he places on our chests or on our backs and through which he hears what’s really happening on the inside, irrespective of all the ambient noise, irrespective of everything that we have may want to present to the outside.

When the physician takes you and he says, “Breathe in, breathe out—aha, aha, aha, aha,” what is that? Presumably, he’s getting information that makes him say, “Aha!” And when God looks upon us as worshippers, he doesn’t listen to us through the speakers; he listens to us through the stethoscope. And therefore, it is vitally important that in the way in which we use words, we’re not using words in quantity to cover up the quality of our desire to praise him.

God sees the invisible, and he hears the inaudible.

One of the most classic illustrations of verbal doodling that I have found ever, and have noted in my files, came out of a period in the British-Irish conflict of some years ago, when there was a great discussion taking place as to whether it was legitimate for talks to take place between the paramilitary organization represented in the Irish Republican Army and the British government itself. And a great political furor erupted about whether the British government was actually having talks. “Oh no,” said the government, “we’re not having talks. We may be having discussions, but we’re not having talks.”

And one poor soul was asked to represent the government’s position in relationship to this very subtle distinction. And this is a direct quote from him speaking on the radio, and then they put it in the London Times. He says,

We believe that it should be possible to have discussions to see whether it is possible to have talks. But during this period in which we see whether such discussions can be held, to see whether there is a basis on which talks can go forward, these talks are being entered into by either side with no precondition, and that is quite clearly understood by either side. We’re not talking about talks; we’re talking about quite separate discussion, probably conducted at a lower level—exploratory discussion to see if a basis exists on which talks might then be held.

People are going, “What was that?” And God looks down on our worship and he says, “What was that?”

Keep Your Vows

“Guard your steps.” “Watch your mouths.” “Keep your vows.” Verse 4: “When you make a vow to God, do[n’t] delay in fulfilling it.” See, there’s a danger in worship. You come to worship, and the Word of God speaks to you, and as a result of that, you tell God something about yourself: “This is what I’m going to do, God, in response to what I’ve heard today.” You don’t have to; it’s something entirely voluntary. And so you tell him about your life or your finance or your future or your career, or that “I’m willing to ditch this girl” or “have this girl ditch me, because she’s unhelpful to me, this friendship is unhelpful, this place is unwise,” and so on. “And I’m telling you today, Lord, as I sing this final song, that I am done with this or I am committed to that. I make my vow to you.”

“Well then,” says the Preacher, “make sure two things don’t happen. One,” verse 4, “make sure you don’t delay in fulfilling it; and number two, make sure you don’t deny the fact that you made it”—verse 6. And I don’t have time to pause here, but some of you have made vows to God in the past—“This is what I’m going to do, and this is what I plan to do,” and so on—and weeks and months and perhaps even years have elapsed, and somehow or another, you find yourself grinding in the process of seeking to follow him, up against it, as it were, all the time: the wall is too high, the track is too long, the challenge is too great. And you wonder why it is. Check just to see whether somewhere in your journey you didn’t say to God, “Listen, I promise my life to you. I promise this to you.” You’ve delayed on it. And now, when pressed, you say, “Well, that was actually a mistake. I didn’t mean to say what I said.” Well, today is another opportunity—another opportunity to make good on your promises. Always keep your promises, especially when you make them to God.

Stand in Awe

Finally, our opening phrase was the opening phrase; our closing phrase is the closing phrase: “Guard your steps,” “Watch your mouth,” “Keep your vows,” and “Stand in awe.” “Stand in awe.” A-w-e. Remember that word for the next time you’re playing Scrabble. It’s very useful. And then go and look it up in a dictionary—a good dictionary. You’ll discover that it is a synonym for reverential fear. It’s not a synonym for terror. Terror is the reaction of guilt in the face of God’s holiness. It’s the desire only to run away from God in despair.

And what the writer is urging upon those who are involved in the gathered worship here is not some kind of terror that drives them away from God. No, he wants them to stand in the fear of God. He’s going to make that clear before he finishes his book. To fear God, for these individuals, to stand in awe of God would be to be filled with a sense of breathtaking awe at the character of God; to realize with shame that although we had been created to live in his image, that by our sin we have forfeited that privilege, we have forfeited our destiny. It is to recognize that we have suddenly begun to discover the costly way in which the image of God would then be restored in the life of his creation—that because the image of God has been marred by sin, God, as a remedy, sends his Son to die on the cross in order that we, entering into the benefits of his death, may now be made into the perfect picture of all that God desires for us to be—intermittently and falteringly, but eventually coming to glorious fruition when we stand before God.

This kind of awe results from the discovery that God knows me through and through, and he knows the sin in my life, and he means to destroy it. And the reason he means to destroy it… And sometimes it’s mighty sore as he does. It’s mighty painful as he comes to us like a surgeon with a scalpel, but he does it because loves us with an intensely faithful love. And this is the weird, extreme paradox of God: that he detests sin in us more than we are ever prepared to admit, and yet he loves us in Christ more than we can ever imagine.

And so the psalmist is able to grapple with it, and he says, “With you there is forgiveness; therefore you are [to be] feared.”[12] “With you there is forgiveness; therefore you are [to be] feared.” You say, “Isn’t that a misprint in the Bible? Shouldn’t it be ‘With you there is forgiveness; therefore, you don’t have to be feared’?” No, “With you there is forgiveness; therefore, I stand in awe of you.”

We began there, did we not? “If you, O Lord, should keep a record of our sins, which of us would stand?”[13] None of us! So does God just wink at sin? Does he just overlook it? No! Because he is a just God, it must be punished. And there, in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, all of God’s justice is brought to bear, and all of God’s love is made manifest. And when my soul begins to grapple with this—that you see to the very core of me, that you know all that needs to be sorted in me, and yet you love me… “With you there is forgiveness; therefore, God, I stand in awe of you. ‘My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross.’[14] I stand in awe of you! I don’t run out and sin like a crazy person. I don’t run out and abuse your name. I don’t play short and fast and loose with the promises and laws of God. Because I’m in awe of you!”

To fear God is to be filled with a sense of breathtaking awe at the character of God.

And such filial fear—because that’s what it is, not servile fear. The Reformers distinguished between servile fear, which is the terror in confronting guilt and running away in despair, with filial fear. And if you don’t understand filial fear, let me tell you what filial fear means. Filial fear induced in our lives always asks one essential question of any decision, any activity—one question: “Will Father approve?” That’s the question.

That’s when I know I fear God. That’s when I know that I want so much to live under his smile and I dread to live under his frown: that when I’m making decisions about my life and about opportunities, about the way I spend my weekends and the way I spend my money and with whom I spend my time, if I will simply pause and ask this question, “Will Father approve?” and then make a decision on the basis of that; then all will be changed.

Because this same Father is the Father who accepts whatever we do out of love for him, however crummy it is. This Father accepts whatever we do out of love for him, however crummy it is. He’s not looking for worshippers that are perfect. He’s looking for worshippers that are humble and honest. He’s not looking for servants that are just the best. He’s just looking for humble servants. He treats our crummy contributions the way in which we as earthly fathers treat our own children’s faltering, crummy contributions.

Isn’t that why you have a box somewhere, or boxes somewhere, with little scribbles in them, and little drawings in them, and little things that were done during the church services when you were trying to get them to listen, and they wouldn’t listen, and they were drawing pictures of whoever they drawing? My kids were drawing pictures of me and the lady up the pew. But anyway, I have them in the box. And I take them out and look at them as if they were drawings by Rembrandt. They mean that much to me! Why? Because although they were faltering and they’re not particularly good, they were offered to me in love by those who are the objects of my affection.

And yet some of you are here this morning saying, “Well, I don’t like this kind of Christianity, this fear stuff. Isn’t that the Old Testament: the fear of God, you know? I thought we were in the New Testament now.” Listen, listen! Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid of the people that can kill your body. Be afraid of him who can cast your soul down into hell.”[15] That was not some raging word from the fires of Sinai. That was the word from the lips of Jesus, the gentle, loving Shepherd. He issues a word of warning: “Fear God in this way, and you will have nothing else to fear. Neglect to fear God in this way, and you’ll fear everything else”—the uncertainty of the future, the reality of death, the decisions of life. All of these things then become the occasion for manifold fear. But still people say, “No, I don’t want to have a God like that.”

What kind of god do you want to have? Do you want to have a little god you can put on the dashboard of your car? A little shrine that can move around with you, put in your Bible, put in your bedroom? A manageable god of non-fearable proportions? Such a God is useless! Who’s going to worship that which we’re not in awe of? We only worship that which is majestic and fantastic, not some little god, manageable little god, that we carry around with us. No, no. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”[16]

“Guard your steps.” “Watch your mouth.” “Keep your promises.” “Stand in awe.”

Father, we thank you this morning for guiding our steps to this place, and we thank you for your Word, which is clear. Grant that anything that I have said which is unclear or untrue or unhelpful may be banished from our recollection, and all that is of yourself, that we will be unable to evade it and that we will be able to enjoy it. And grant that these simple principles may increasingly become the hallmark of our lives. Help us, Lord, to understand what it means to stand in awe of you.

[1] Psalm 84:1–2 (NIV 1984).

[2] William Bullock, “We Love the Place, O God” (1854). Lyrics lightly altered.

[3] Psalm 84:10 (NIV 1984).

[4] Psalm 84:10 (NIV 1984).

[5] Psalm 84:11 (NIV 1984).

[6] Frederick W. Faber, “My God, How Wonderful Thou Art” (1849).

[7] See Ephesians 5:18–19.

[8] Colossians 3:16 (NIV 1984).

[9] Psalm 122:1 (KJV).

[10] Dave Pelz’s Short Game Bible: Master the Finesse Swing and Lower Your Score, with James A. Frank (New York: Broadway, 1999), 46.

[11] Pelz, 46.

[12] Psalm 130:4 (NIV 1984).

[13] Psalm 130:3 (paraphrased).

[14] Horatio G. Spafford, “It Is Well with My Soul” (1873).

[15] Matthew 10:28 (paraphrased).

[16] Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10 (NIV 1984).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.