The better part of our lives is filled with conversations. Whether talking about work, school, family, homes, technology, travel, shopping, food, movies, athletes, or music—words fill our experience as God’s image-bearers in this world. A seemingly endless amount of communication steadily streams across our computers and televisions; we cannot imagine a world without speech. Yet Ecclesiastes has much to say about how our words reflect what we think in our hearts. As Jesus taught, our mouths speak “from the overflow of the heart” (Luke 6:45). Both the wise man and the fool are revealed by what they say. Today’s reading gives three warnings around our speech.
First, we need to prioritize listening to God’s Word over our own words and understanding: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Better to approach in obedience than to offer the sacrifice as fools do, for they ignorantly do wrong” (Ecclesiastes 5:1). God is not impressed by big sacrifices; He desires humility and obedience. Our worship of God reflects what we understand about who He is; therefore, we should be quick to listen to what God has spoken in His Word.
Second, “Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few” (v.2). The author is not calling us to merely reduce the number of our words. Rather, he is charging us to consider whether we are speaking sincere words before and about God. In the same way that God isn’t moved by flashy sacrifices, He isn’t fooled by bold speeches or public declarations that don’t reflect the reality of our hearts. As pastor and theologian Charles Bridges explained, “The fewness of the words is not the main concern; but whether they be the words of the heart.”
Three, we should approach vows with the utmost sobriety. Many treat vows as formalistic rituals without regards to the meaning of the words. We are told to be slow to vow and quick to follow through on what we vow before and to God. We must take our promises seriously because God does. Jesus said, “Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).
Jesus always listened to His Father, spoke truth from the heart, and followed through on His vows. Jesus atoned for the sins of our mouths, by keeping the promise He made to the Father that He would lay down His life for His sheep. When we return to God in brokenness over the many ways we have been slow to listen, quick to speak, and unfaithful to our vows, we find Him to be the source of forgiveness and cleansing, making a people from whose mouths wisdom proceeds.
Written by Nick Batzig