King Solomon penned a stunning line in the book of Ecclesiastes: “Guard your steps when you go the house of God.”
Watch your step! Look out! Be careful when you go to church! He posts a warning sign over our worship life like we might see at the door of a bus or at the top of a long winding staircase. Watch your step! Danger!
We might expect such a flashing, amber caution light to be posted near the gutters of life where skid row bums drink themselves into oblivion and ladies of the evening sell themselves. Certainly the law of God sets off a screaming siren at such gateways to hell.
But, “Watch your step” when you go to the house of God? What is Solomon’s point?
The 4th chapter of Genesis is a case in point. Two brothers take their gifts to the altar one day. The Bible says that the Lord is pleased with Abel and his offering, but with Cain and his offering He is not pleased. The New Testament book of Hebrews tells us why: “By faith Abel offered a better offering than Cain.”
This is what Cain simply can’t get a handle on – what countless sad and confused souls still can’t get a handle on – that the outward act itself is not the point. In fact, when the outward act becomes the point, something is terribly wrong. It is here, in connection with Cain’s worship life, in the precincts of the altar, amid prayers and offerings, that the first homicide is conceived.
The 5th chapter of Acts is another example. Ananias and Sapphira see others sell pieces of property and donate the proceeds for the poor. It is not obligatory. They don’t have to. But they see the praise that others receive. They crave a chunk of flattery for themselves.
Suddenly it is no longer about God. It is all about them. Thinking how impressed folks will be, they too sell a piece of property. Holding back part of the proceeds for themselves, they signal that they are giving the entire amount. It isn’t the gift itself – none of it, some of it, or all of it. That decision is theirs to make out of love for Christ.
It is the hypocrisy. The word in the language of the Bible refers to the mask worn by an actor. Hypocrisy is when we are only playing a role. Satan is the master of the imitation, the counterfeit, the pretense, the mere performance, the lie. If they keep a sizable chunk for themselves, they think, who will know? God knows. So Ananias and Sapphira walk down the aisle and drop dead in the Sunday service.
“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.” Here we pray with the psalmist: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Here, in the heart’s secret chamber, where pride and self threaten grace and joy, the Divine Physician shall lay His nailed-pierced hand upon our wayward, wounded hearts and heal them.