Watch Your Step


“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2).

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes brings to our attention the attitude that we ought to have whenever we approach the presence of God. The principle underlying his advice in this passage is a sense of reverential fear before God. “God is the one you must fear.” Additionally, there is an emphasis on such an attitude demonstrating wisdom, as opposed to the meaningless worship described as a “sacrifice of fools” and “vanity” (Eccl. 5:1-7).

For these reasons, the worshipper should tread carefully when going to the house of God, remembering who and where he is, and who God is. This respectful attitude will manifest itself in several ways. It involves a readiness to listen carefully, take it to heart, and obey it. It reminds us of Samuel’s familiar statement, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.” The counterpart to being a receptive and obedient listener is the injunction to “let your words be few.” A few words spoken thoughtfully and reverently before God are better than many words spoken carelessly and insincerely. Furthermore, the worshipper will take care not to make rash vows, and to fulfill those he makes. “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow” (Eccl. 5:4-6). To make promises to God and then not fulfill them is impious and foolish.

The same principles are found in some of the teachings of James in the New Testament. He teaches us that being “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” is the better part of wisdom, as is a readiness to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (Jas. 1:19f). There is an old adage that says, “We have two ears and two eyes, but one mouth; therefore, we are to listen and look twice as much as we are to speak.” Good advice! It is inconsistent to speak words of praise and devotion to God, and then to speak careless and destructive words against our brother. “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing” (Jas. 3:9-10). And there is an echo of the Lord’s teaching about fulfilling our vows: "do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no” (Jas. 5:12).

All of this should remind us of the harmony that ought to exist between our worship and our daily walk as the Lord’s disciples. We honor God by living sacrificially as much as when we approach him in worship (Rom. 12:2). Doing justice and loving kindness are part of walking humbly with God (Mic. 6:8). An attitude of respect for God is as important in the marketplace as it is in God’s house. There should be no contradiction between the two.

“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1 Pet. 1:17). “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, make the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:15-17).

Dan Petty