God in His goodness will give a special grace to His people to compensate for their lack of knowledge and understanding, but when revelation comes there comes with it a responsibility to respond rightly. This special grace is given to sustain us as we find our way lest He leave us to our own devices for our willful ignorance. This is true in many areas of our lives. In our times God is bringing revelation in understanding of how Jesus Christ functions within the churches as our Great High Priest according to the New Covenant. This revelation stands in contrast to the Old Covenant forms of assembly and worship.
The New Covenant brought with it an entirely different mode of worship. Jesus Christ has said that where any two or three are gathered together in His name- there He is in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20) This is God’s working. He has told us that ‘He will build His Church’ and the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it. God deals with individuals and begins moving in their midst as they assemble. As this becomes a local church (no matter how seemingly small, for who has despised the day of small things) Jesus Christ our Great High Priest takes over leading that group if they will consciously acknowledge His presence and determine to hear His voice. This means that as His presence is near He is walking in the midst of the candlestick that the assembly in His name has brought about. This is extremely important to understand. In Revelation chapters 2-3 we are told no less than 7 times, “He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” The Old Testament was a series of stories designed to teach us about God’s ways and are written for our learning. Solomon, that dedicated the Temple understood this reality on a certain level. What we are told 7X in Revelation 2-3 agrees with our passage in Ecclesiastes.
The Greek word for ‘hear’ is used over 400 times in the New Testament. The Hebrew word for ‘hear’ is shema and it is used over 1100 times in the Old Testament. Taken together that is over 1500 times the word hear is used in the Bible. Typically the people would come to the House of God to worship. The word for worship is the Hebrew shachah and it means to prostrate or bow down in submission. In a sense it means to kiss the hand. This submission also agrees with our text in Ecclesiastes and Revelation 2-3. The act of total submission is an inclination to ‘hear’ and ‘respond’.
The book of Romans asks an important question concerning those Jews that had rejected God throughout history and then Jesus Christ when He came unto them; “Have they not heard?” Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you. But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people. (Romans 10:18-21) God tells us that the Jews did in fact ‘hear’ and that He had been speaking to them in divers manors by the prophets and then finally in these last days through His Son. (Hebrews 1:1-3) He was speaking but the people were not ‘hearkening.’
Romans 10:18-21 gives us an example of how people ‘hear’ but they do not ‘hearken.’ That is to say, they hear the words but the hearer refuses to mix those words those words with faith when they are heard. As it is written, For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. (Hebrews 4:2) The word did not profit some who heard it because they did not respond to that word in faith. They did not hearken, so the word did not help or benefit them. James is careful to point this out when he states:
Knowledge implies responsibility. We are accountable to God for what we know and what we should have known. To know to do good and do it not is sin. (James 4:18) In fact, Romans 1:18-21 tells us, For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Romans 1:18-21) This passage adds additional insight into our text. The foolish is one that knows God’s will and purposes and yet they did not glorify Him as God. That is to say, they did not obey the truth that they knew. They did not walk in the light of understanding that God has personally shown them. They were ‘hearing’ and were accountable, but yet they still treasuring up wrath against themselves because they were holding the truth in unrighteousness.
The late G.W. North once stated that, “Obedience is better esteemed with God than acquired knowledge, it is the most important lesson of all and fundamental to the gaining of all spiritual knowledge from God.” This is utterly true. God does not give knowledge of Himself for academic purposes. Revelation implies responsibility. When God reveals something to us about His will and His character we have a responsibility to respond rightly to what He has revealed. We have to ‘mix with faith’ what we have heard. God is pleased with His people when they stop what they are doing and LISTEN to what He is saying to them that they might do His will. Jesus said it, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that is proceeding from the mouth of God. Obeying what God is saying is fundamental to our going on with God.
I have quoted a large passage, but it is essential to the point I wish to make. God told Israel in no uncertain terms that they were completely out of step with Him in bringing all these things as ‘sacrifices’ that He was not asking for. They needed to come with an attitude of ‘hearing’ and obeying, but instead they came heaping all these things towards Him that He had not required at their hands and yet were expecting Him to receive them. God had actually come to detest the very things that He Himself had ordained because the peoples hearts were not right towards Him – nor were they in step with His concerns. Behold, to obey is better than to sacrifice. If they would have come together more prepared to listen than to speak they would not have given such an abundant sacrifice of fools. God was trying to break through and the people were ignoring Him. They were going through a religious exercise that satisfied their need for religious things, but they were totally ignoring God. They had gone in the way of Cain and Saul. They were bringing things to God He did not ask for as a substitute for obedience.
One of the more misunderstood passages of the New Testament is in Hebrews 13:15, By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. The word here for ‘giving thanks’ is homologeo and it means to ‘say the same thing.’ This is a picture of Christ our Great High Priest functioning in that capacity in the assembly speaking to the church and then we adding our agreement (amen). That is to say, we come together ready to hear what Christ is saying to us so we can then agree with Him and do it. This is the first step. Can two walk together if they are not agreed? (Amos 3:3) Then the second follows… Do not neglect to do good and to be generous, for God is pleased with such sacrifices. (Hebrews 13:16 ISV) So we see then that the sacrifices God accepts as ‘well pleasing’ to Him are our responses to His will that are made manifest in the meeting. God makes something known to us, we add our amen and then not being a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work we obtain the blessing of doing that which is well pleasing to God.
Solomon reveals to us the attitude and disposition of heart that we need as we come together in Christ’s name. We need to come prepared to receive the word of God. We need to be prepared to hear what He is saying to us on an individual and church level. God never designed that New Testament church life would consist of people coming in and doing all the speaking and no listening. In our singing we should be listening. In the teaching we should be listening. In the testimonies we should be listening. In the preaching and prayers we should be listening. We must have a readiness to ‘hear’ what the Spirit is saying and then do what He is saying to do. There is no other sacrifice more acceptable to God than these. He is looking for obedience. He desires a God centered gathering where He is in control and He is directing. This is a revolutionary concept to some, but indeed it is God’s design from the beginning. It is the great lesson of Cain and Abel. We have to hearken to what God is saying is His will and what He wants and mix faith with it- that it will be said of us that as Abel “we offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” It begins with keeping our foot in the gathering and ‘hearing’ rather than rushing to offer to God something His soul detests; that is, a sacrifice that is substituted for hearing and obeying what HE is saying and doing rather than what we would like to offer Him. The Father seeks such to worship Him. This is total submission and offering of ourselves unto Him in obedience as a living sacrifice. This right attitude towards God and His word will cultivate thankfulness, unlike Cain who rejected God’s word and got angry when his offering was rejected. As then as now, if we do well we will be accepted, but if we do not, behold sin is crouching at the door.
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