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Author Archives: Gary E. Davenport

About Gary E. Davenport

Christian man, husband, father, father-in-law, and granddaddy

‘Step out of the boat:’ entered full-time ministry May 13, 1979


On May 13, 1979, Terry and I ‘stepped out of the boat’ and entered full-time ministry. I had been a sports writer since graduating from MTSU for over seven years, but took the opportunity to return to our alma-mater to be the campus minister at the Middle Tennessee Christian Center.

Even though there have been many ‘ups and downs,’ it is a decision I have never regretted, and I now enter my 43rd year.

Certainly the blessings of ministry far outweigh the realities listed below, yet ministry is definitely not easy. That is why ministry must be a calling and not simply a “job”. If you can’t reconcile with these difficult realities and challenges concerning ministry, then perhaps you should avoid it all together (some apply, others not so much).

My dad told me plenty of things as we discussed this crucial decision, but both he and Mom were full of encouragement, though Mom acknowledged after a few years that she felt I should have followed my dad’s example and kept my “full-time job” and been a part-time minister/teacher.

He did say one thing that I have always laughed about: “Gary, Sundays come around really fast when you are preparing two lessons and two Bible class studies per week.”

I have learned much from some special people in my life, Lately, one of those dear friends asked me “why would you accept criticism from someone you would never go to for advise?” Amen!

And often people find it ‘convenient’ to agree with you only when you follow their advise, when, in actuality, they are accepting you only for what they see in you that duplicates/mirrors them. Impossible!

A most recent lesson? I try daily not to micro-manage someone else’s personality…wishing that others would follow that idea in regard to me.

I was both a preacher’s kid (PK) and an elder’s kid (EK), so I’ve felt ‘eyes on me’ throughout most of my life.

I also was (am) concerned that my five children (and seven grand children) must have ‘felt those eyes on them’ as well. It is a shame that has to be the case, and I understand some of the reasoning…but others should have no right to expect a higher standard for me or Terry and my children/grandchildren than the one they have for themselves. Jesus Christ puts a high standard on ALL of us.

On my desk are two statements: (1) To err is human; to blame it on the other guy is even more human. And, (2) thank you for not minding my business.

I am still negotiating this thing we call ‘ministry.’

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I find these timely reminders to be useful when one decides to enter ministry…wishing I had learned some of these sooner in my life (some haven’t applied to me, thankfully, but presented here as ‘food for thought’):

  1. You will probably begin by ministering to a church that is barely growing (if at all), is opposed to change, doesn’t pay well, has seen ministers come and go, doesn’t respect the position as Biblically as they should, doesn’t understand what the Bible says a minister’s or a church’s jobs are, and will only follow you when they agree with you (thus, they’ll really only follow themselves).
  2. You will feel very lonely on a consistent basis, feeling like no one truly knows you or cares how you feel, because you do not want to burden your family, and trust-worthy peers are few and far in-between. Because of the ”super-Christian” myth accredited to ministers literally, you will find it extremely difficult to disclose your deep thoughts and feelings to others. Thus, you will struggle with loneliness.
  3. You will be persecuted for preaching the truth, mostly from your brothers and sisters in the pews. You shouldn’t be surprised by the sight of your own blood. You’re a Christian, after all (Matt. 16:24).
  4. You will think about quitting yearly or monthly, if not weekly or even daily…do not make important decisions on Mondays, since they are a day with ‘let downs’ after the ‘high’ of Sunday worship.
  5. You will be criticized, rarely to your face, and frequently behind your back. This criticism will come from those that love you, those that obviously do not like you, and often from shepherds and Christians that barely know you.
  6. Not everyone will respond positively to your preaching, teaching, or leadership. You will bring people to tears with the same sermon: one in joy, another in anger (I have done this).
  7. You will fight legalism and liberalism, along with laziness, ignorance, tradition, and opposition. Yet, your greatest enemy will be your own heart (Jere. 17:9).
  8. You will feel like a failure often, and when you do appear to succeed, the fruit that is produced cannot be accredited to you. God alone gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:7). Thus, there is little “sense of accomplishment in ministry” that you may be accustomed to in other vocations. I have always mowing my yard, since it gives me ‘a beginning and an end.’
  9. You will make people angry regardless how godly you handle yourself; it comes with the position.
  10. Not everyone will like you.

I have discovered many of the 10 items to absolutely generally correct.

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I worked as a copy boy on weekends at the News-Free Press as a junior in high school and a sports writer during my senior year of high school and then was the sports editor of the MTSU Sidelines school newspaper seven semesters.

During my freshman year, I also wrote a weekly article on MTSU football for the Nashville Banner. After my freshman year, I worked during the summer in sports department at the Chattanooga Times.

I was the Christian Center student president my junior year…we got married on July 2, 1971 and worked our senior years before graduating (1972) and moving to Chattanooga to work with the Chattanooga News-Free Press for seven years.

 

 

 

 

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Eric and Tonia would often go over to the Main House on Friday/Saturday evenings and just see who was around before it was bedtime

 

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Board members with Dr. Wiser (front right) when we introduced a plaque honoring past leaders at an annual fund-raising banquet. To this day, I am the only person who was a student, student president, and director at the Christian Center.

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A picture of the Main House when they renovated it several years later (it is no longer there, being replaced with a new Christian Center)

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Gary King was the student president during my first year as director. The students were always so friendly/nice to our children…I think they enjoyed having a family around since they were away from home in college

 

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I did the publications while the director and we had some successful fund-raising efforts

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During my photography class, I super-imposed this shot of Terry over one of the campus buildings

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After a busy week, I would often sit under a shade tree in our front yard to read/enjoy the time (the backyard was usually muddy and not inviting at all)

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This was the ‘doll house,’ where Terry lived with other girls while we were students and we lived in it while there as director

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Terry was again a great model for me during my photography class

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This was taken in April 1980 when Gregory joined our happy family

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Ray Bevans enjoying time with Tonia (I think Ray was the first ‘crush’ she had on a boy)

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The students loved coming by our house on their way to/from classes to see Eric and Tonia ‘hanging out’

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Posted by on May 13, 2021 in Family

 

Mother’s Day 2021 “A Woman Worthy of Praise” – Prov 31:10-31


This is how Zimbabweans celebrated Mothers Day | Mbare Times

Mother’s Day has a very special place in the hearts of the majority of people in America. Hallmark estimates that 150 million Mother’s Day cards will be sent this year (but only 95 million Father’s Day cards), making Mother’s Day the third largest greeting card holiday of the year.

U.S. Americans spend an average of $105 on Mother’s Day gifts, $90 on Father’s Day gifts. The phone rings more often on Mother’s day than Father’s day. The busiest day of the year at car washes? The Saturday before Mother’s Day. What mom thinks still matters.

We’re calling upon a man whose name is mentioned only once in scripture, yet this choice portion of literature seems to last forever in our minds as we look for a godly woman.

His name was King Lemuel, and he had a good mother.

In verse 10, King Lemuel begins with both a question and a declaration:

Question: a wife of noble character, who can find? Answer: she is worth far more than rubies!

Verse 30 sums it all up: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

Many times these verses are presented in such a way that a great deal of guilt is brought forth on the part of the women and mothers listening. If you do not get up early and buy-and-sell land or provide your family with hand-sewn clothing…these verses are still for your encouragement.

Instead of listing items of activity which should be part of the Christian woman, it is listing characteristics which are then applied to the culture in which we walk and work. The idea: be this kind of woman in your character and your activities will be determined by the particular circumstances which do apply to your life.

  1. She is diligent (vs. 13, 17-18, 27)
    1. Proverbs 31:13: “She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.”
    2. Proverbs 31:17-18: “She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. {18} She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.”
    3. Proverbs 31:27: “She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.”
    4. This trait seems to be mixed with a pleasant spirit and a good attitude. She seems to possess pride in what she does…she’s not happy just to “get by” but in doing a good job. She looks for the best buys, she realizes a profit, and works even into the night.
  2. She’s industrious and efficient (vs. 14, 16, 24)
    1. Proverbs 31:14: “She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.”
    2. Proverbs 31:16: “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.”
    3. Proverbs 31:24: “She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.”
    4. She’s a thinking individual. In the investment of her time, she looks for dividends and returns. Instead of focusing on the grind, she looks to the benefits her work will bring.
  3. She’s compassionate (vs. 20, 26).
    1. Proverbs 31:20: “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.”
    2. Proverbs 31:26: “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”
    3. She has a soft heart that can be touched. And this makes her unique and distinct when contrasted to the man: an illustration….a child is hurt and the two responses:
    4. Mother: How are YOU doing? What can I do? (the caring one)
    5. Dad: Why were you running? You scratched the wall! Who’s fault was it? (the investigator).
  4. She has inner beauty (vs. 22, 25).

Proverbs 31:22: “She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.”

Proverbs 31:25: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.”

IF MARRIED: She’s a devoted wife:

  1. She maintains her husband’s confidence (vs. 11a)

Proverbs 31:11a: “Her husband has full confidence in her….”

He’s comfortable in being transparent with her. He can share his feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, and disappointment and know she will keep them to herself.

  1. She meets his needs (vs. 11b).

Proverbs 31:11b: “…and lacks nothing of value.”

She’s supportive and affectionate. She encourages his pursuits, and is committed to him and his efforts.

Remember when God looked at Adam and said: “It is not good that man should be alone.” He made a help-meet that would make him complete. Woman was a special creation of God but also a “corresponding part.”

  1. She seeks his good (vs. 12)

Proverbs 31:12: “She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”

  1. She aids his influence (vs. 23)

Proverbs 31:23: “Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.”

 IF A PARENT: she’s a dependable mother.

  1. She is disciplined (vs. 15, 18-19).

Proverbs 31:15: “She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.”

Proverbs 31:18-19: “She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. {19} In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.”

This is not a verse teaching you into hell if you don’t make homemade biscuits early in the morning, etc. But it is teaching a principle of taking charge of your time so you can meet the family needs. If the role of the husband or father in your house is for him to fix breakfast, then, obviously, the specifics would change.

  1. She’s organized (vs. 21).

Proverbs 31:21: “When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.”

This verse presents a sense of planning. She takes the challenge of a family as just that, a challenge, and seeks to meet it. It’s not just “a cross to bear.”

  1. She’s dedicated (vs. 27).

            Proverbs 31:27: “She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.”

What will be the results of this kind of woman (28-31).

Proverbs 31:28-31“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: {29} “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” {30} Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. {31} Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

* Her children will bless her! * Her husband will praise her!

* Her peers will be challenged by her! * Her works will bring their own praise!

* Her Lord will be honored by her life!

A husband’s relationship to his excellent wife: (vs. 11-12, 28-29)

Proverbs 31:11-12: “Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. {12} She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”

Proverbs 31:28-29: “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: {29} “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.””

  1. He trusts her (vs. 11). He has no cause for suspicion for her. Deep within, he holds confidence in her.
  2. He benefits from her (vs.11).
  3. He’s affirmed by her (vs. 12).
  4. He’s impressed with her and sings her praises (vs. 28-29).

Young men – look for this kind of woman! Young ladies – strive with God’s help to be this kind of woman! Fathers and married men – Thank God if you have this kind of woman!

An “Eight Cow” Woman/Wife/Mother

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Johnny Lingo, a man who lived in the South Pacific. The islanders all spoke highly of him. He was strong, good-looking, and very intelligent. But when it came time for him to find a wife, people shook their heads in disbelief. The woman Johnny chose was plain, skinny, and walked with her shoulders hunched and her head down. She was very hesitant and shy. She was also a bit older than the other married women in the village, which did nothing for her value.

But this man loved her. What surprised everyone most was Johnny’s offer. In order to obtain a wife, you paid for her by giving her father cows. Four to six cows was considered a high price. The other villagers thought he might pay two or even three cows at the most. But he gave eight cows for her!!

Everyone chuckled about it, since they believed his father-in-law put one over on him. Some thought it was a mistake.

Several months after the wedding, a visitor from the United States came to the Islands to trade, and heard the story of Johnny Lingo and his eight-cow wife. Upon meeting Johnny and his wife the visitor was totally taken aback, since this wasn’t a shy, plain, and hesitant woman, but one who was beautiful, poised, and confident.

The visitor asked about this transformation, and Johnny Lingo’s response was very simple. “I wanted an eight-cow woman, and when I paid that for her and treated her in that fashion, she began to believe that she was an eight-cow woman. She discovered she was worth more than any other woman in the islands. And what matters most is what a woman thinks of herself.

THE LAW OF LOYALTY AND SUPPORT

First, we see in this story the law of loyalty and support.

  • Jesus saw Peter for the first time and said, “Wishy-washy Peter, you are r”
  • He went by Matthew the publican and said, “You can pr”
  • He looked up in a sycamore tree and saw the wee little man, Zacchaeus, and said, “You can be an honest ”
  • Charles Hodge told the story of an congregation in Amarillo that was growing. He felt he knew at least one of the reasons. Those who spoke often of the congregation talked about how they had the best elders, the best deacons, the best singing, the best teens and the best teachers of any congregation around.’”

The law of loyalty and support says that leaders will become what their followers make them become. If you pray for, encourage, and push your leaders, minister, teachers, etc., they will become an eight cow person.

If you criticize them and run them down, you can reduce them to nothing. We will become what we expect them to become.

WE ACT AS WE ARE TREATED.

This principle is true of our spouses, our church members, and our children.

Don’t rear your children to believe they are worthless. The Bible says children are a heritage of the Lord.

If you rear your children to believe that they are a bunch of no-good bums, they will turn out to be a bunch of no-good bums. We don’t rear children that way. We tell them what they could be. We give them a dream of excellence. We tell them some things are beneath our dignity….some things we just aren’t going to do.

My mom often tells the story of members who moved into the Chattanooga area during a time when transitions were common in the congregation where she worshipped…and my dad served as an elder for some 31 years.

“How is this congregation?” The old man said, “Well,  how  was  the  congregation  where  you  came from?” “Oh,” he said, “it was the best congregation on earth.” “You will find this congregation to be like that.”

Another conversation was different when the response was, “That is the sorriest congregation there ever was.” He said, “You will find this congregation to be just about like that.” He is right, isn’t he?

If we want this church to be great, it will be great. If we want it to be bad, it will be bad. It will be what we make it. It can be an eight cow church!

MAKE THE MOST OF WHAT YOU HAVE.

All of life is a compromise. We can make it level enough, straight enough, and square enough, but it will never be perfect.

We have to take each other ’s weaknesses and liabilities along with each other ’s strengths and assets. We have to make do with what we have.

How many of you would like for your husband/children to treat you as if you were an eight cow woman? Wouldn’t that just tickle you to death? Wouldn’t you be nicer to him?

Would it be hard to love and respect a man who treats you like an eight cow woman?

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2021 in Marriage, Sermon

 

Ecclesiastes: The Good Life #14 What Life Is All About Ecclesiastes 11-12


“Is life worth living?”

That was the question the Preacher raised when he began the discourse that we call Ecclesiastes. After experimenting and investigating “life under the sun,” he concluded, “No, life is not worth living!” He gave four arguments to support his conclusion: the monotony of life, the vanity of wisdom, the futility of wealth, and the certainty of death.

Being a wise man, Solomon reviewed his arguments and this time brought God into the picture. What a difference it made. He realized that life was not monotonous but filled with challenging situations from God, each in its own time and each for its own purpose. He also learned that wealth could be enjoyed and employed to the glory of God. Though man’s wisdom couldn’t explain everything, Solomon concluded that it was better to follow God’s wisdom than to practice man’s folly. As for the certainty of death, there is no way to escape it; and it ought to motivate us to enjoy life now and make the most of the opportunities God gives us.

Now Solomon was ready for his conclusion and personal application. What he did was present four pictures of life and attach to each picture a practical admonition for his listeners (and readers) to heed. The development looks like this:

Life is an ADVENTURE—live by faith (11:1-6)

Life is a GIFT—enjoy it (11:7-12:8)

Life is a SCHOOL—learn your lessons (12:9-12)

Life is a STEWARDSHIP—fear God (12:13-14)

These four pictures parallel the four arguments that Solomon had wrestled with throughout the book. Life is not monotonous; rather, it is an adventure of faith that is anything but predictable or tedious. Yes, death is certain, but life is a gift from God and He wants us to enjoy it. Are there questions we can’t answer and problems we can’t solve? Don’t despair. God teaches us His truth as we advance in “the school of life,” and He will give us wisdom enough to make sensible decisions. Finally, as far as wealth is concerned, all of life is a stewardship from God; and one day He will call us to give an account. Therefore, “fear God, and keep His commandments” (12:13).

  1. Life is an adventure: live by faith (ECCL. 11:1-6)

When I was a boy, I practically lived in the public library during the summer months. I loved books, the building was cool, and the librarians gave me the run of the place since I was one of their best customers. One summer I read nothing but true adventure stories written by real heroes like Frank Buck and Martin Johnson. These men knew the African jungles better than I knew my hometown! I was fascinated by I Married Adventure, the autobiography of Martin Johnson’s wife Osa. When Clyde Beatty brought his circus to town, I was in the front row watching him “tame” the lions.

Since those boyhood days, life has become a lot calmer for me, but I trust I haven’t lost that sense of adventure. In fact, as I get older, I’m asking God to keep me from getting set in my ways in a life that is routine, boring, and predictable. “I don’t want my life to end in a swamp,” said British expositor F.B. Meyer. I agree with him. When I trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior through baptism for remission of sins, “I married adventure”; and that meant living by faith and expecting the unexpected.

Solomon used two activities to illustrate his point: the merchant sending out his ships (vv. 1-2) and the farmer sowing his seed (vv. 3-6). In both activities, a great deal of faith is required, because neither the merchant nor the farmer can control the circumstances. The ships might hit a reef, meet a storm, or be attacked by pirates and the cargo lost. Bad weather, blight, or insects might destroy the crop, and the farmer’s labor would be in vain. However, if the merchant and the farmer waited until the circumstances were ideal, they would never get anything done! Life has a certain amount of risk to it, and that’s where faith comes in.

The merchant (vv. 1-2).

“Cast thy bread upon the waters” may be paraphrased, “Send out your grain in ships.” Solomon himself was involved in various kinds of trade, so it was natural for him to use this illustration (1 Kings 10:15, 22). It would be months before the ships would return with their precious cargo; but when they did, the merchant’s faith and patience would be rewarded. Verse 2 suggests that he spread out his wealth and not put everything into one venture. After all, true faith is not presumption.

“For you do not know” is a key phrase in this section (vv. 2, 5, 6). Man is ignorant of the future, but he must not allow his ignorance to make him so fearful that he becomes either careless or paralyzed. On the contrary, not knowing the future should make us more careful in what we plan and what we do. Verse 2 can be interpreted, “Send cargo on seven or eight ships, because some of them are bound to bring back a good return on the investment.” In other words, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

The farmer (vv. 3-6).

Daniel Webster called farmers “the founders of civilization,” and Thomas Jefferson said they were “the chosen people of God.” Farming has never been easy work, and this was especially true in the Holy Land in Bible days. The Jews tilled a rocky soil, and they depended on the early and latter rains to nourish their seed. Nobody can predict the weather, let alone control it, and the farmer is at the mercy of nature.

Verse 3 contrasts the clouds with the tree. Clouds are always changing. They come and go, and the farmer hopes they will spill their precious water on his fields. Trees are somewhat permanent. They stand in the same place, unless a storm topples them; and then they lie there and rot. The past [the tree] cannot be changed, but the present [the clouds] is available to us, and we must seize each opportunity.

But don’t sit around waiting for ideal circumstances (v. 4). The wind is never right for the sower and the clouds are never right for the reaper. If you are looking for an excuse for doing nothing, you can find one. Billy Sunday said that an excuse was “the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.” Life is an adventure and often we must launch out by faith, even when the circumstances seem adverse.

Just as nobody knows “the way of the wind” (v. 5, nkjv, and see John 3:8) or how the fetus is formed in the womb (Ps. 139:14-15), so nobody knows the works of God in His creation. God has a time and a purpose for everything (3:1-11), and we must live by faith in His Word. Therefore, use each day wisely (v. 6). Get up early and sow your seed, and work hard until evening. Do the job at hand and “redeem the time” (Eph. 5:15-17), trusting God to bless at least some of the tasks you have accomplished. Just as the merchant sends out more than one ship, so the farmer works more than one crop.

Life is an adventure of faith, and each of us is like a merchant, investing today in that which will pay dividends tomorrow. We are like the farmer, sowing various kinds of seeds in different soils, trusting God for the harvest (Gal. 6:8-9; Ps. 126:5-6; Hos. 10:12). If we worried about the wind toppling a tree over on us, or the clouds drenching us with rain, we would never accomplish anything. “Of course, there is no formula for success,” said famous concert pianist Arthur Rubinstein, “except perhaps an unconditional acceptance of life and what it brings.”

  1. Life is a gift: enjoy it (ECCL. 11:7-12:8)

This is Solomon’s sixth and final admonition that we accept life as a gift and learn to enjoy all that God shares with us (see 2:24; 3:12-15, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-10). In order to do this, we must obey three instructions: rejoice (11:7-9), remove (11:10), and remember (12:1-8).

Rejoice (11:7-9).

What a joy it is to anticipate each new day and accept it as a fresh gift from God! I confess that I never realized what it meant to live a day at a time until I was nearly killed in an auto accident back in 1966. It was caused by a drunk driver careening around a curve at between 80 and 90 miles per hour. By the grace of God, I had no serious injuries; but my stay in the Intensive Care Ward, and my time of recuperation at home, made me a firm believer in Deut. 33:25, “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” Now when I awaken early each morning, I thank God for the new day; and I ask Him to help me use it wisely for His glory and to enjoy it as His gift.

Solomon especially instructed the young people to take advantage of the days of youth before the “days of darkness” would arrive. He was not suggesting that young people have no problems or that older people have no joys. He was simply making a generalization that youth is the time for enjoyment, before the problems of old age start to reveal themselves.

My middle name is Wendell; I’m named after Wendell P. Loveless, who was associated for many years with the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, especially radio station WMBI. He lived into his nineties and was alert to the very end. During one of our visits with him, he told me and my wife, “I don’t go out much now because my parents won’t let me—Mother Nature and Father Time!”

Young people have to watch their hearts and their eyes, because either or both can lead them into sin (Num. 15:39; Prov. 4:23; Matt. 5:27-30). “Walk in the ways of your heart” (nkjv) is not an encouragement to go on a youthful fling and satisfy the sinful desires within (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:20-23). It is rather a reminder for young people to enjoy the special pleasures that belong to youth and can never be experienced again in quite the same way. Those of us who are older need to remember that God expects young people to act like young people. The tragedy is that too many older people are trying to act like young people!

Solomon’s warning is evidence that he doesn’t have sinful pleasures in mind: “God will bring you into judgment.”

God does give us “all things richly to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17), but it is always wrong to enjoy the pleasures of sin. The young person who enjoys life in the will of God will have nothing to worry about when the Lord returns.

Remove (v. 10).

Privileges must be balanced by personal responsibilities. Young people must put anxiety out of their hearts (Matt. 6:24-34) and evil away from their flesh (2 Cor. 7:1). The word translated “sorrow” means “vexation, inner pain, anxiety.” If we are living in the will of God, we will have the peace of God in our hearts (Phil. 4:6-9). The sins of the flesh only destroy the body and can bring eternal judgment to the soul.

The phrase “childhood and youth are vanity” does not mean that these stages in life are unimportant and a waste of time. Quite the opposite is true! The best way to have a happy adult life and a contented old age is to get a good start early in life and avoid the things that will bring trouble later on. Young people who take care of their minds and bodies, avoid the destructive sins of the flesh, and build good habits of health and holiness, have a better chance for happy adult years than those who “sow their wild oats” and pray for a crop failure.

The phrase means “childhood and youth are transient.” These precious years go by so quickly, and we must not waste our opportunities for preparing for the future. The Hebrew word translated “youth” can mean “the dawning” or “blackness of hair” (as opposed to gray hair). Youth is indeed the time of “dawning”; and before we know it, the sun will start to set. Therefore, make the most of those “dawning years,” because you will never see them again. “Youthful sins lay a foundation for aged sorrows,” said Charles Spurgeon; and he was right.

Remember (12:1-8).

This third instruction means more than “think about God.” It means “pay attention to, consider with the intention of obeying.” It is Solomon’s version of Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (nkjv). How easy it is to neglect the Lord when you are caught up in the enjoyments and opportunities of youth. We know that dark days (11:8) and difficult [evil] days (12:1) are coming, so we had better lay a good spiritual foundation as early in life as possible. During our youthful years, the sky is bright (11:7); but the time will come when there will be darkness and one storm after another.

Verses 3-7 give us one of the most imaginative descriptions of old age and death found anywhere in literature. Students don’t agree on all the details of interpretation, but most of them do see here a picture of a house that is falling apart and finally turns to dust. A dwelling place is one biblical metaphor for the human body (Job 4:19; 2 Cor. 5:1-2 [a tent]; 2 Peter 1:13 [a tent]), and taking down a house or tent is a picture of death. The meaning may be:

keepers of the house—Your arms and hands tremble.

strong men—Your legs, knees, and shoulders weaken and you walk bent over.

grinders—You start to lose your teeth.

windows—Your vision begins to deteriorate.

doors—Either your hearing starts to fail, or you close your mouth because you’ve lost your teeth.

grinding—You can’t chew your food, or your ears can’t pick up the sounds outdoors.

rise up—You wake up with the birds early each morning, and wish you could sleep longer.

music—Your voice starts to quaver and weaken.

afraid—You are terrified of heights and afraid of falling while you walk down the street.

almond tree—If you have any hair left, it turns white, like almond blossoms.

grasshopper—You just drag yourself along, like a grasshopper at the close of the summer season.

desire—You lose your appetite, or perhaps your sexual desire.

long home—You go to your eternal [long] home and people mourn your death.

Verse 6 describes a golden bowl—a lamp—hanging from the ceiling on a silver chain. The chain breaks and the bowl breaks. The fragile “cord of life” is snapped and the light of life goes out. Only wealthy people could have such costly lamps, so Solomon may be hinting that death is no respecter of persons.

The verse also pictures a well with a windlass for bringing up a pitcher filled with water. One day the wheel breaks, the pitcher is shattered, and the end comes. The fountain of water was an ancient image for life (Ps. 36:8-9; Rev. 21:6). When the machinery of life stops working, the water of life stops flowing. The heart stops pumping, the blood stops circulating, and death has come. The spirit leaves the body (James 2:26; Luke 23:46; Acts 7:59), the body begins to decay, and eventually it turns to dust.

For the last time in his discourse, the Preacher said, “Vanity of vanities … all is vanity.” The book closes where it began (1:2), emphasizing the emptiness of life without God. When you look at life “under the sun,” everything does seem vain; but when you know Jesus Christ as your Saviour, “your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).

  1. Life is a school: learn your lessons (ECCL. 12:9-12)

Someone has said that life is like a school, except that sometimes you don’t know what the lessons are until you have failed the examination. God teaches us primarily from His Word; but He also teaches us through creation, history, and the various experiences of life. Solomon explained the characteristics of his own work as a teacher of God’s truth.

To begin with, his teaching was wise (v. 9); for Solomon was the wisest of men (1 Kings 3:3-28). The king studied and explored many subjects, and some of his conclusions he wrote down in proverbs.

His teaching was also orderly (v. 9). After studying a matter, he weighed his conclusions carefully, and then arranged them in an orderly fashion. His whole approach was certainly scientific. We may not always see the pattern behind his arrangement, but it is there just the same.

Solomon sought to be careful in his teaching, so he used “acceptable words.” This means “pleasing” or “gracious” words (10:12) that would win the attention of his listeners and readers. However, at no time did he dilute his message or flatter his congregation. He always used upright words of truth. (See Prov. 8:6-11.) Like our Lord Jesus Christ, the king was able to combine “grace and truth” (John 1:17; Luke 4:16-32).

The Preacher claimed that his words were inspired, given by God, the One Shepherd (v. 11). Inspiration was the special miracle ministry of the Holy Spirit that enabled men of God to write the Word of God as God wanted it written, complete and without error (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

He compared his words to “goads” and “nails” (v. 11), both of which are necessary if people are to learn God’s truth. The “goads” prod the people to pay attention and to pursue truth, while the “nails” give them something on which to hang what they have learned. Good teaching requires both: the students must be motivated to study and the instructors must be able to “nail things down” so that the lessons make sense.

On the surface, verse 12 seems to be a negative view of learning; but such is not the case. The statement is a warning to the student not to go beyond what God has written in His Word. Indeed, there are many books; and studying them can be a wearisome chore. But don’t permit man’s books to rob you of God’s wisdom. “Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them [the words of the wise]” (v. 12, niv). These “nails” are sure and you can depend on them. Don’t test God’s truth by the “many books” written by men; test men’s books by the truth of God’s Word.

Yes, life is a school; and we must humble ourselves and learn all we can. Our textbook is the Bible, and the Holy Spirit is our Teacher (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:12-15). The Spirit can use gifted human teachers to instruct us, but He longs to teach us personally from His Word (Ps. 119:97-104). There are always new lessons to learn and new examinations to face as we seek to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Saviour (2 Peter 3:18).

  1. Life is a stewardship: fear God (ECCL. 12:13-14)

We don’t own our lives, because life is the gift of God (Acts 17:24-28). We are stewards of our lives, and one day we must give an account to God of what we have done with His gift. Some people are only spending their lives; others are wasting their lives; a few are investing their lives. Corrie ten Boom said, “The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration but its donation.” If our lives are to count, we must fulfill three obligations.

Fear God (v. 13).

Ecclesiastes ends where the Book of Proverbs begins (Prov. 1:7), with an admonition for us to fear the Lord. (See 3:14; 5:7; 7:18; and 8:12-13.) The “fear of the Lord” is that attitude of reverence and awe that His people show to Him because they love Him and respect His power and His greatness. The person who fears the Lord will pay attention to His Word and obey it. He or she will not tempt the Lord by deliberately disobeying or by “playing with sin.” An unholy fear makes people run away from God, but a holy fear brings them to their knees in loving submission to God.

“The remarkable thing about fearing God,” wrote Oswald Chambers, “is that, when you fear God, you fear nothing else; whereas, if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.” The prophet Isaiah says it perfectly in Isaiah 8:13, and the psalmist describes such a man in Psalm 112.

Keep His commandments (v. 13).

God created life and He alone knows how it should be managed. He wrote the “manual of instructions” and wise is the person who reads and obeys. “When all else fails, read the instructions!”

The fear of the Lord must result in obedient living, otherwise that “fear” is only a sham. The dedicated believer will want to spend time daily in Scripture, getting to know the Father better and discovering His will. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7).

The last phrase in verse 13 can be translated “this is the end of man” (i.e., his purpose in life), or “this is for all men.” Campbell Morgan suggests “this is the whole of man.” He writes in The Unfolding Message of the Bible, “Man, in his entirety, must begin with God; the whole of man, the fear of God” (p. 228). When Solomon looked at life “under the sun,” everything was fragmented and he could see no pattern. But when he looked at life from God’s point of view, everything came together into one whole. If man wants to have wholeness, he must begin with God.

Prepare for final judgment (v. 14).

“God shall judge the righteous and the wicked” (3:17). “But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment” (11:9, nkjv). Man may seem to get away with sin (8:11), but their sins will eventually be exposed and judged righteously. Those who have not trusted the Lord Jesus Christ will be doomed forever.

“The eternity of punishment is a thought which crushes the heart,” said Charles Spurgeon. “The Lord God is slow to anger, but when he is once aroused to it, as he will be against those who finally reject his Son, he will put forth all his omnipotence to crush his enemies.”

Six times in his discourse, Solomon told us to enjoy life while we can; but at no time did he advise us to enjoy sin. The joys of the present depend on the security of the future. If you know Jesus Christ as your Saviour, then your sins have already been judged on the cross; and “there is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1 and see John 5:24). But if you die having never trusted Christ, you will face judgment at His throne and be lost forever (Rev. 20:11-15).

Is life worth living? Yes, if you are truly alive through faith in Jesus Christ. Then you can be satisfied, no matter what God may permit to come to your life.

“He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12, nkjv).

You can receive life in Christ and—be satisfied.

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2021 in Ecclesiastes

 

Uncommon Things We Believe Series #6 We Believe We Should Partake Of Lord’s Supper Each 1st Day of the Week: Sunday I Corinthians 11:23-26


southern orders: NON CATHOLIC CHRISTIANS OFFENDED THAT ...

Communion is monthly, quarterly, and annually practiced as a memorial celebration in our religious world.  Even the day of the week has become optional to many. We Believe We Should Take Communion every Week on First Day of the Week

Wouldn’t Communion be more special if we only observed it occasionally?  It has always surprised me when the idea is presented that doing something weekly makes it less important or makes it a ritual.

Imagine that we are walking along a busy street when suddenly we realize a family member has walked into the way of an approaching car. We are in shock and find that we have difficulty in literally ‘moving,’ to be able to do something about what is about to happen.

But someone else who is walking with us sees the identical thing and rushes into the street, grabs hold of the person and pushes them to safety…but stumbles in their ability to get away from the car and are hit and killed on contact.

Do any of us think there is a single moment, much less a day, when we do not think of that person’s heroic effort and the realization that their life was given for the one of our loved one! Does thinking of it often diminish the gratitude and take away the act of that occasion?

But that is not a real issue, the real question is what does God want us to do? What about worship in general: giving, praying, singing, hearing the Word, should we only do them infrequently?

It is wrong to do something at one time if God reveals another time. Could the Jews have observed Passover at any time?

There is no express statement in the Bible commanding that the only time to take of the Lord’s Supper is on the first day of the week or that we should partake every first day. However, the evidence of example is strong and complete that this is the time God intended for us to partake and that His intent is for us to partake every first day.

When we remember the things which are to happen in the communion, the reasons become all the more obvious that we should commune on a regular basis.

God has always given people memorials to remind them of important events regarding their relationship with Him. He put a rainbow in the sky to remind Noah, those who were saved in the ark with him, and the generations to come of His promise not to destroy the world again by water (Genesis 9:11–15).

He instructed Israel to set up stones beside the Jordan River when they passed through to the Promised Land. These stones were to remind the generations that followed of His care and keeping of His people (Joshua 4:1–7).

WHAT IS IT?  One of the words used about this memorial is “communion,” which means “fellowship” or “sharing”: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16; KJV).

When we take of the bread and the fruit of the vine in memory of Christ’s death for us, we are in fellowship, or communion, with the Lord and with each other. The bond of fellowship tied to taking the communion together should keep Christians close together in unity.

The many are to be one because of the bond of communion. When we come together to worship God and take the Lord’s Supper together, our minds and hearts should go back to the cross where Jesus died for us.

As we share this experience, it ought to do away with petty differences and draw us close together as a body of people. When people commune together one moment and fuss and fight with each other the next, something is wrong with their worship. In

1 Corinthians 11:17–22, Paul told this same group that their coming together as a church was not for the better, but for the worse. He gave these reasons:
(1) Divisions were prevalent among them;
(2) factions existed among them;
(3) when they came together, it was not to take of the Lord’s Supper.

They had changed the worship into a time of feasting. The purpose of their gathering had evolved from communing with God and worshiping Him to reveling in their own pleasure. Remember, when worship becomes people-centered rather than God-centered, it has ceased to be what God intended.

When we focus mostly on what we like and what makes us feel good, it will not be long before factions and divisions arise all about us.

WHY IS IT DONE?
The Lord’s Supper is about remembering. When the church comes together on the first day of the week to take of the Lord’s Supper, we are to remember personally and individually what Jesus did for us on the cross. Our thoughts are to be of Him. In truth, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” ( 1 Corinthians 11:26).

We are preaching to all who look on as we take of the simple elements of bread and fruit of the vine, “We believe that Jesus died for us.” Also, we proclaim, “We believe that He is coming again.” This is a sermon all Christians can preach every Lord’s Day as they worship with the body of Christ.

When we take of the bread and the fruit of the vine, it is vital for us to give concern to what we are doing.

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly ( 1 Corinthians 11:27–29).

Please understand, Paul did not say that we must be worthy to take of the communion. None are worthy! We are all guilty of sin, and our hearts are stained.

It is the manner which must be worthy. We are to partake of the communion with our minds focused on the dying Lord. We are to examine ourselves to see if we are following Him as we should.

Some Clarification.
Down through the centuries since the establishment of the church, the Lord’s Supper has been a most controversial issue. During the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic church had already come to dominate the entire religious scene.

By that time, the doctrine of transubstantiation had evolved. Also, the Lord’s Supper had come to be referred to as a sacrament.

A sacrament was an avenue through which God channeled His grace into the world, and man could not partake of the blessings of God unless he had the Lord’s Supper.

The doctrine of transubstantiation taught that a miracle automatically took place at the time of the blessing of the communion by the priest of a Catholic church. That miracle caused the bread to become the literal body of Jesus, and the fruit of the vine miraculously became the actual blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Because the fruit of the vine supposedly became Jesus’ blood, it was taken only by the priests. The doctrine of transubstantiation dominated the church until the time of Martin Luther.

During the Protestant Reformation, Luther taught a different concept of the Lord’s Supper known as consubstantiation. This doctrine was very similar to that of transubstantiation, but it taught that in a mysterious way, the blood and body of Christ were to be found in the elements.

However, one would discover that the elements would actually taste like the fruit of the vine and the bread.

Later, during the Protestant Reformation, Ulrich Zwingli of Switzerland promoted the idea that the Lord’s Supper was intended primarily to be a memorial. The Supper was a matter of remembering the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross.

When Zwingli and Luther met in the Marburg colloquy, in which each of them vehemently discussed their different points of view, Luther took off the table a sword that was in a sheath. Taking the sword out of the sheath, and putting it back in a rather vehement manner, he would say, This is my body, as a quotation of the words of Christ.

Both Zwingli’s and Luther’s ideas are predominant in the religious world today. We need to understand what the Lord’s Supper really is and what God intended the elements to be.

We do not consider the Lord’s Supper in a sacramental way. A sacramental view would mean that the ceremony itself has a certain power to impart a blessing apart from the heart of a participant. In this view, the emblems of Communion are felt to have intrinsic power.

However, the Bible teaches that the emblems offer no blessing unless the heart of a participant is right with God

We simply eat bread and drink grape juice when we do not partake biblically: (1 Corinthians 11:20 (ESV) When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.

Therefore, we do not believe that the Lord’s Supper actually becomes the body and blood of Christ.

Toward the close of the ministry of Jesus, as the feast of the Passover drew near, Jesus’ disciples came to Him and said, Wilt thou that we prepare for the observance of the Passover?

Our Lord told them yes, and that they were to go to a certain man and tell him that they would meet in his house that evening for the Passover.

The Passover was a time when the children of Israel recalled the day that God passed over and spared the firstborn in Egypt because blood had been placed on their doorposts. Because the Egyptians did not believe in God and would not carry out His instructions, they did not put blood on their doorposts, and the firstborn died in each of their households.

This was a grim reminder that the God of the Jews was the one true God.

During the period of the New Testament, as the time approached for the observance of the Passover, the Jews began methodically to prepare for the Passover. They made sure that all leaven was taken out of their homes and nothing suggesting the idea of corruption was allowed anywhere in their family residence.

According to Edersheim, a town-crier would go down the streets of every village in Palestine to remind the people that the time was drawing nigh for the Passover to come. The Jews were admonished to get ready for the Passover by eliminating all corrupting elements from their homes.

When they participated in the feast, they partook of the meal with only unleavened bread, and the fruit of the vine was to be uncorrupted. The Jews partook of the Passover together with their families.

Solemnly, they would kill the Passover lamb and observe this great memorial. It was on such an occasion as this that our Lord met with His own disciples.

As they were eating the Passover, Jesus took the bread and gave thanks. He gave it to His disciples, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. He took the fruit of the vine saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood even that which is poured out for you (Luke 22:19, 20).

He gave His disciples the grim reminder that He would not participate again with them until He did so in His coming kingdom.

At least four different religious ideas are connected with our observance of the Lord’s Supper. All of these have a very deep significance.

First of all, the communion service is always associated with prayer. Our Lord set the example. Jesus gave thanks for each of the elements of the communion service. Prayer involves both thanksgiving and petition. God wants our prayers to be serious.

When we break bread, the most important aspect of prayer is thanksgiving. It is good for Christians to be thankful so that they can forget all of the problems they face in their lives.

It is good to be thankful because we tend to focus our attention on all the bad things that go on, failing to think about the good things that God has done for us.

We should be thankful for the love of God which He so dramatically displayed when He gave Jesus to die on the cross for us. We should be thankful that we have an opportunity to come together in worship.

We should be thankful for all that God has done for us, but more particularly for what Jesus did when He died on the cross for us.

The second important element to remember in the communion service is the element of fellowship.

The third element of the communion service is that it is a memorial.

The final element of the communion service is that it is a declaration. When we partake of the communion service, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 11, we declare our faith that Jesus will come again. The communion service was observed in the early times with a spirit of hope. It was observed with an attitude of optimism, although there was persecution and opposition to the cause of Christ.

In the hearts of all of these early Christians, a flame of hope burned fiercely and grew with the passing of time. We find ourselves remembering what God did for us, and we are proclaiming so vividly our confidence in the future that the Lord is still at the helm of things, and that someday we shall all join Him when He comes the second time.

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2021 in Church, Doctrine

 

Ecclesiastes: The Good Life #13 No Risks, No Rewards – Ecclesiastes 11:1-6


There was once an elderly gentleman who loved playing golf. But he was almost eighty, and his vision was not very good anymore. He always had partners with him when he went out to play so they could watch his ball and tell him where it went.

One day his buddies did not show up. It was a beautiful day for golf, and as he waited at the clubhouse he got more and more upset that he wasn’t going to get to play his round. Another elderly man in the clubhouse saw him and asked, “What’s wrong?” The man explained his predicament: “I was really looking forward to playing golf today. But I don’t see very well anymore, so I need someone to watch the ball after I hit.”

The second man was even older than he was, but he said, “That’s no problem. I’ll be glad to ride around with you. I’ve got 20/20 vision. I can see like a hawk. You just hit the ball, and I’ll watch it fly right down the fairway.” So they went out on the first tee, and the old man hit the ball right down the center. He turned to his spotter. “Did you see it?” The man replied, “I saw it all the way until it stopped rolling.” “Well, where did it go?” The older man paused for a moment and then said, “I forgot.”

Even the best-laid plans don’t always work out—that’s a reality we all have to face every day. So how should you live when you’re not sure how things are going to turn out? Solomon says, “Don’t play it safe—take risks.” In other words, you have to live confidently. You can’t hide just because life won’t cooperate. Don’t avoid blessings because of the concerns that come with them. Don’t say, “I can’t get married. What if difficult struggles come up between me and my mate?” Or, “I can’t have children. How will I know they won’t be born with a birth defect?” Or, “I can’t start a business. What if it folds?” Or I can’t join the military. I might get deployed.”422 God wants you to step out in faith and take risks. He yearns for us to stop playing it safe. In Eccl 11:1-6, Solomon will pass on two insider tips that will help us to take some risks and avoid playing it safe.

1. Diversify your investments (11:1-2).423

It may surprise you that Solomon offers financial counsel as he nears the end of Ecclesiastes. Yet, this book is down and dirty, nitty-gritty relevant to our earthly lives. Thus, in these first two verses Solomon says, “Since life is so uncertain, spread your financial investments out.” In 11:1 he writes, “Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.” What in the world does this peculiar verse mean? Perhaps you’re like me and in your mind a number of thoughts arise. Cast your bread on the surface of the waters…and it will return to you soggy or moldy…and the seagulls will eat it…and your mother will be mad at you for playing with your food.424 These bizarre notions should cause us to ask the question, “What is Solomon’s point?” I would suggest that the word “cast”425 is better rendered “send” (NRSV).426 This verb refers to the commercial enterprises of sea trade.427 Furthermore, the term “bread” refers to grain and wheat from which bread is produced.428

Solomon was deeply involved in international trade with countless merchants.429 Then as now, one of the main trade commodities was grain. The merchants of Solomon’s day would load their grain ships and send them off. The Israelites were “casting [their] bread upon the water.” But notice that with Solomon, the word is plural: “cast your bread on the waters.” In other words, don’t put all your grain in one ship. Put your wheat in several ships, and send it out in a diversified way so that if one of the ships should sink, you’ll not be ruined.430 In others words, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Diversify your portfolio.

Instead of putting your grain in a boat and sending it off, you could keep it and make bread. That would be a safe bet since you would retain control of your grain and your bread. But that’s all you would have. Obviously, when you send grain that you own across the sea you are taking a risk. You may never see it or any return again. There are various risks like pirates, shipwrecks, and unscrupulous traders. Yet, there are also prospects of receiving back a dividend. It has been said, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”431 The truth is, any kind of investing requires faith. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. No risk, no reward. So Solomon says, “Don’t play it safe—take risks.”

The thought of 11:1 is repeated and unfolded in 11:2. As is often done in the Scriptures, the case is first stated in a figure to grab our attention, and then a plain literal statement is given to avoid all possibility of misunderstanding. So 11:2 is a commentary on 11:1. Solomon puts it like this: “Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.” Here Solomon clearly encourages us to diversity our investments. The phrase “to seven or even to eight” is the Old Testament pattern of x + 1.432 Solomon speaks of trying every avenue there is and then adding one more. The reason for dividing your portion is “you do not know what misfortune433 may occur on the earth.” The stock market could drop, the value of your house could plummet, Social Security could run out, and Medicare may be insufficient. Any number of financial misfortunes could, and most likely will, occur. In light of this, you and I must prepare to the best of our abilities. The phrase “you do not know” is found four times in 11:2-6. This has been a common theme throughout Ecclesiastes (cf. 1:13; 3:10, 11; 8:17). God and His works and ways cannot be completely known by fallen mankind, but we can trust Him because of what we do know!

God’s expectation is that we will invest our money wisely. Perhaps all of your money has been in the bank and you are barely drawing interest. You may need to consider purchasing stocks or a rental home. You may need to enroll your kids in the GET program (Guaranteed Education Tuition).434 Do not commit all of one’s possessions to a single venture. Look for the best means of investing the money that the Lord has entrusted to you. But don’t fall for any get-rich-quick schemes or multi-level marketing businesses. Before you know it, you’ve spent all of your money.

The biblical view comes down to this: Since God alone knows the future, we ought to make our plans, use our brains, study the situation, take all factors into consideration, seek wise counsel, do the best we can, and then leave the results to God. Don’t be reckless—that’s the path of certain ruin; but don’t sit on your hands either. Invest your money, take your chances, sleep like a baby, and let God take care of the future.435 Don’t play it safe—take risks.

[Why should you diversify your investments? Because you don’t know what will happen in the future. This reality will be especially drawn out in the following section where Solomon says…]

2. Seize your opportunities (11:3-6).

In this section,Solomon says that we cannot delay our course of action. We must “seize the day”—Carpe Deim. In 11:3-5, Solomon gives observations concerning the way things are, while in 11:6 he gives the practical application—the “so what” of the passage. In 11:3 Solomon writes, “If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies.” Humans experience, but cannot predict or control, the events of their lives (a recurrent theme in Ecclesiastes). We need to distinguish between those things about which we can do nothing and those about which we can. Since we cannot stop nature’s patterns (when it rains or where a tree falls), we had better work on finding something else to do.436 The point is simple: Don’t waste your time with God’s affairs! “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Ps 24:1 KJV). Let God be God; He can concern Himself with His responsibilities. When we do that, we will realize all that we have to concern ourselves with.

In 11:4 Solomon writes, “He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.” This proverb criticizes those who are overly cautious. The farmer who waits for the most opportune moment to plant, when there is no wind to blow away the seed, and to reap, when there is no rain to ruin a ripe harvest, will never do anything but sit around waiting for the right moment. And so, the seed stays in the barn. Solomon exhorts us not to be like this farmer. Don’t wait for conditions to be perfect, because that will never happen. It is true that the wind and rain might come and destroy the harvest. Today’s work might be ruined and you might have to do it over again tomorrow. But that’s okay. Today’s work might succeed as well as tomorrow’s. And if so, then you will be able to reap the rewards for both. Don’t play it safe—take risks.

There is no time better than the present to step out in faith. So stop procrastinating! Be diligent constantly.437 If we wait until we “have time” to do something we never will. The “perfect opportunity” begins now—while we still can.438 Don’t put what God has placed in your heart off another day. There is no perfect time to have kids. We never have enough money, energy, or patience. Once you have children, don’t wait for the right time to spend time with them. Before you know it, your kids will be all grown up. If you are married, don’t wait for your husband or wife to be all that you want. Begin pouring your life into your spouse now. Don’t wait until you have spare time, more money, or better health. If you are a student, seek to accomplish all of your dreams today. Don’t settle for settled-for Christianity. If you are not currently ministering, get involved today. If we wait until we’re less busy, until we feel right, until just the right moment, we will never witness, never serve, and never see results. Don’t play it safe—take risks.

In 11:5 Solomon continues with two more analogies: “Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman,439 so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.”440Life is unpredictable and mysterious. Solomon says life is just like the wind. The wind operates sovereignly. Humankind cannot create or control it, for the wind is unseen and unknowable. We perceive its presence by its effects.441 Likewise, we cannot understand how God forms bones in the womb. This is far beyond our comprehension, so we have to take this by faith. Yet, in doing so, we adhere to the most intelligent option available to us. It is clear that the creation of the human body couldn’t have happened by itself. Scientist Fred Hoyle says this would be akin to a tornado in a junkyard taking all the pieces of metal lying there and turning them into a Boeing 747.442 So, of course, since we cannot know God’s activities, we take it in faith that He is the one who makes all things.

There are many times when we look at things that go on in the world and we don’t have a clue as to what God is doing. But we have to trust Him because He is the one who makes and sustains all things. Too many Christians freeze because they don’t know what God wants them to do. They suffer from a paralysis of analysis. When facing a decision in their lives, they want God to tell them exactly what their choices should be. Does God have to tell you what to do? Will God tell you what to do? There is a difference between right or wrong decisions and right or left decisions. In the Bible, the will of God always refers to moral choices—decisions where one path leads to sin and the other to righteousness. For these right or wrong decisions, we can know the will of God. It’s found in the Bible. We need to pray and pursue the path of righteousness. For right or left decisions, God is under no obligation to reveal His plan to us. More than likely, He will not. That’s why in Ecclesiastes Solomon says you just have to be bold and act. Too often, Christians are looking for a no-fault deal. We try to do insider-trading with God to get some information that will show us which choice is best for us. But God doesn’t do insider-trading. He does not reveal His plan to men. In the Bible, there are men who wanted someone to tell them the future. Basically, they wanted someone to be their fortune-teller.443 God won’t tell you your fortune; He has already told you your duty. Don’t call a 900 number to find God’s will. Don’t turn everything into a mystical decision about what you “feel” God wants you to do. If it’s a right or left decision, pray about it and then boldly follow your heart.444

Our passage closes in 11:6 with the “so what:” “Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle445 in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed,446 or whether both of them alike will be good.” Solomon issues a command: “sow your seed,” which is used metaphorically of giving (cf. 2 Cor 9:6). He wants us to have confidence and leave the results to God. The key to this passage is found in 11:6, “do not be idle.”447 The terms “morning” and “evening” form a merism (a figure of speech using two polar extremes to include everything in between) that connotes “from morning until evening.” The point is not that the farmer should plant at two times in the day (morning and evening), but that he should plant all day long (i.e., from morning until evening).448 That is what Solomon would have for us. To represent God in all that we do, with all that we have. Don’t play it safe—take risks.

What types of risks can you take? There are many possibilities. One of my best friends left Portland and planted a church in Charlotte, NC, because the Lord led him to do so. Similarly, Lori’s cousin gave up a great forestry job in Alaska to move to North Carolina. Is the Lord leading you to a move of some kind? Theo and Myra Yu have two brilliant daughters, Apphia and Avonlea, who have opted to leave the security of their home to go to college halfway across the United States. Two families in our church recently adopted children from other parts of the world. Several of our young people have decided to go into military service. Some of our young couples are stepping out in faith and choosing a one-income home. Some of the busiest people in our church have committed themselves to ministry when there is no time available in their schedule. Some of our people are sharing their faith with others. They risk persecution, loneliness, and demotion.

Actor John Wayne (1907–1979) once said, “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.”449 So how will you step out in faith today? What will you do in an attempt to stop playing it safe? Will you take some risks for the kingdom of God?

Danny Cox, a former jet pilot turned business leader, tells his readers in Seize the Day that when jet fighters were first invented, they “flew much faster than their propeller predecessors.” So pilot ejection became a more sophisticated process. Theoretically, of course, all a pilot needed to do was push a button, clear the plane, then roll forward out of the seat so the parachute would open.

But there was a problem that popped up during testing. Some pilots, instead of letting go, would keep a grip on the seat. The parachute would remain trapped between the seat and the pilot’s back. The engineers went back to the drawing board and came up with a solution. The new design called for a two-inch webbed strap. One end attached to the front edge of the seat, under the pilot. The other end attached to an electronic take-up reel behind the headrest. Two seconds after ejection, the electronic take-up reel would immediately take up the slack and force the pilot forward out of his seat, thus freeing the parachute. Bottom line? Jet fighter pilots needed that device to launch them out of their chairs. The question is, “What will it take to launch us out of ours?”450

 

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2021 in Ecclesiastes

 

Ecclesiastes: The Good Life #12 Wise Beyond Words (Ecclesiastes 9:13-10:20)


Ecclesiastes 7:10 - Bible verse of the day - DailyVerses.net

Have you ever heard of Ed Faubert? Faubert is what you call a “cupper.” In layman’s terms, he’s a coffee-taster. The man is so gifted that his astute taste buds are actually certified by the state of New York! So refined is Faubert’s sense of taste for coffee that even while blindfolded, he can take one sip of coffee and tell you not just that it is from Guatemala, but from what state it comes, at what altitude it was grown, and on what mountain.383

If you’re like me and you enjoy a good cup of coffee, you’re impressed with this man’s uncanny taste buds. His coffee wisdom is incomparable. But I have to ask this question: Why is it that so many Americans know so much about so many things that don’t really matter? Take me for example: I know a lot about sports. I know various athlete’s height, weight, strength, 40-yard dash times, and alma maters. I also know quite a bit about music. Growing up in the 1980s, I could tell you a few things about glam, metal bands, boy bands, and country acts. I even know many of their lyrics. But I ask you this: Who really cares about my pearls of wisdom? I know I don’t. I want to be wise where it really matters.

The legendary Mister Rogers once said, “Life is deep and simple, and what our society gives us is shallow and complicated.”384 Fred Rogers was right. In Eccl 9:13-10:20, we will see that life may indeed be deep, but it is also rather simple. Yet, in order to experience life as God intends, we need to follow His Word. In this passage, Solomon tells us that “wisdom helps make a life.” He then gives three challenges for us to implement as we navigate through life.

1. Appreciate wisdom in others (9:13-18).

Solomon emphasizes the worth of wisdom. In 9:13-15, he begins with an intriguing parable. He writes, “Also this I came to see as wisdom under the sun, and it impressed385 me. There was a small city with few men in it and a great king came to it, surrounded it and constructed large siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor wise man and he delivered the city by his wisdom. Yet no one remembered that poor man.”386 In this parable, a poor, wise man outsmarts a great king. He saves the day, yet he is unrewarded with wealth or social esteem. Whether the poor man delivered the city by diplomacy or military strategy is not the issue. The point is that the city owed its survival to him, but he received no reward or lasting respect.387 The sad truth is: wisdom is sought out only in desperate times; otherwise, only those who have wealth or power are in a position to demand public attention.388 Although the wise man failed to personally profit from his labors, his wisdom was not profitless for others or for his world. In fact, this poor man’s wisdom impressed Solomon (9:13) so much that he draws three conclusions from this parable (9:16-18):

  • Godly wisdom is greater than strength. In 9:16a Solomon writes, “Wisdom is better than strength.” If you want to understand the truth of these words, go to your high school reunion. The students who were boring nerds look great and are successful. The cool party-animal jocks are all burned out. You see, even though our society glorifies strength it is short-lived. We lose strength as we advance in years, but the wonderful truth is that we can gain wisdom as we grow older. Wisdom works. It is based on eternal principles. Plug into wisdom and your life will be a success.
  • A strong young man at a construction site was bragging that he could outdo anyone in a feat of strength. He made a special case of making fun of one of the older workmen. After several minutes, the older worker had had enough. “Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is?” he said. “I’ll bet a week’s wages that I can haul something in a wheelbarrow over to that building that you won’t be able to wheel back.” “You’re on, old man,” the young worker replied. The old man reached out and grabbed the wheelbarrow by the handles. Then he turned to the young man and said, “All right. Get in.”389
  • This older man outsmarted the younger, stronger man with his wisdom. Wisdom may not bring accolades and popularity, but it tends to win the day. This is especially true in the church. Although our church has outstanding ministries for children and teens led by many younger adults, we need to continue to appreciate those who are older and wiser and who have laid the foundation for these ministries. The prayers and faithful service of many older and wiser saints who have remained committed to our church have made our present ministries possible. We must never forget the debt that we owe those who have served behind the scenes for many years and in many ways. We need to express appreciation for the wisdom that God has placed in our midst.
  • Godly wisdom is not always heeded. In 9:16b-17 Solomon said, “But the wisdom of the poor man is despised and his words are not heeded. The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.” Sadly, wisdom frequently goes unrewarded. We have all heard the expression, “Give credit where credit is due.” Well, unfortunately, in our fallen world this does not always happen. Often, godly wisdom and counsel falls upon deaf ears, or at best, goes in one ear and out the other. Therefore, when people do heed godly wisdom we ought to get excited. When a husband/father says, “I will not take that promotion because my family and church will suffer,” we should express our appreciation. When a spouse says, “I will not file for divorce even though I may have biblical grounds,” we ought to express our appreciation. When a high school student walks with God and is obedient to his or her parents, we ought to express our appreciation.
  • Godly wisdom can be overcome by sheer folly. In 9:18 Solomon writes, “Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.” As effective as godly wisdom is, a single person—“one sinner”—can cancel much good. This phrase “one sinner destroys much good” is like our, “one rotten apple ruins the whole barrel” or “one bad egg spoils the omelette.” Throughout the Bible, there is an abiding principle: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” (1 Cor 5:6). We must guard ourselves from being contaminated by sin which will destroy godly wisdom. Television is not wicked in and of itself. But I know this: Many of us are being influenced by sinners through the tube. Moreover, our children are being influenced by sinners. The average American watches 1,680 minutes of television per week. The average parent spends 38.5 minutes per week in good conversation with their kids.390 Who do you think has more influence on our kids? The answer is obvious. May we not be overcome by foolishness.

[Solomon states that we should appreciate wisdom in others. Why is this so important? The answer is: God’s wisdom is greater than man’s strength. Solomon now goes on to exhort you and me to…]

2. Avoid foolishness at any expense (10:1-7).

In the midst of a passage praising wisdom, Solomon warns us of the dangers of foolish behavior. In Ecclesiastes 10, he uses the word “fool” nine times. In Solomon’s three books (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon), he uses the words “fool, fools, foolish, and folly” a staggering total of 128 times.391 We could call him a “fool buster.” Consequently, he writes an entire chapter replete with proverbs that will help us to behave with wisdom instead of foolishness. In 10:1 he shares a most unusual proverb: “Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier392 than wisdom and honor.” This particular proverb may not be a terribly pleasant thought, especially if you are wearing perfume. It is Solomon’s vivid way of illustrating how a tiny bit of foolishness can destroy the powerful fragrance of a person’s dignity and reputation.393 This is the source of the well-known phrase “a fly in the ointment.” Notice, this comes right after the statement in 9:18 that “one sinner destroys much good.” The point being made is that it takes far less effort to ruin something than it does to create it. Or perhaps another way to put it is that it’s easier to make a stink than to create sweetness. Flies are insignificant creatures in the overall scheme of things. A perfumer’s oil, on the other hand, is a very costly substance created with care and skill. Still the insignificant can spoil the valuable. We must always remember that wisdom helps make a life.

Although there are probably many legitimate applications of this proverb, there are two I’d like to zero in on. First, the fly may be a person. One person who is out of sorts with God can lead a whole group into sin. One person who is negative can put a wet blanket on everyone’s hope. One person who is super-critical can create single-handedly an atmosphere of discouragement. Are you a fly in the ointment at your home, at work, or at church? Second, the fly may be a flaw in character. One fault unchecked or one secret sin cherished can poison a person’s entire character. May I suggest that you choose to swat one fly before it lands in your perfume. Perhaps it is a bad attitude; maybe a bad habit; perhaps a tendency toward being irresponsible or unreliable; maybe an omission of something we should be doing that if not corrected could lead to spiritual deterioration.394 It’s easy to think, “It’s just a little thing:” a “little” relationship, a “little” flirtation at the office,” a “little” edge in a tone of voice, a “little” padding on the expense account,” a “little” experimentation in the wrong area—just a little thing.395 But we must remember that a little thing can ruin everything. Wisdom helps make a life.

In 10:2 Solomon writes, “A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left.” First of all, this is not a political statement! God is not a Republican or a Democrat. He is a Theocrat—He alone rules His kingdom. We could call Him a benevolent dictator. Even though it is a campaign season, I will leave this alone. In Israel the right hand was the place of strength, skill, favor, and blessing.396 The left hand was considered the place of weakness. That’s why you hear people say, “I can beat you left-handed.” It means I can beat you with my unskilled hand.397 Solomon is saying that a wise man typically does the “right” thing while the fool does the “left” or wrong thing. My condolences to you if you are a lefty and you find this offensive.

In 10:3, Solomon continues his theme of foolishness with another proverb: “Even when the fool walks along the road, his sense is lacking398 and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool.” The “road” is not a literal highway but the fool’s metaphorical way of life. The Scriptures are portrayed as a well-worn, clearly marked path.399 Deviation from the path (in any direction) meant sin and rebellion.400 The fool doesn’t have to do a lot to demonstrate his foolishness. It is easily manifested in how he lives his life.

In 10:4-7, Solomon discusses our response to various leaders. In 10:4 he writes, “If the ruler’s temper rises against you,401 do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses.”402This is an extremely practical verse. Solomon says, “When your boss gets angry at you, let it go. Never let another person’s actions determine your reaction. Just hang in there and deal with the person. Keep your cool and maintain your composure. In doing so, you may one day gain a hearing with your superior.403 It is important to note the phrase “do not abandon your position.” I have worked for difficult people before, and my tendency has always been to want to quit. Yet, what I have learned is that difficult people are everywhere. This is why Solomon says, “Calm down. Breathe. Don’t quit and run to a new place trying to run away from a broken world.” We must all recognize that there will always be some people that we just can’t stand. These individuals may be in your family, work, school, neighborhood, or church. It’s easy to get angry and frustrated with these people. It’s natural to wish they weren’t a part of our life. Life without them would be so much easier but we would be spiritually flabby. Because of them, we are forced to grow in areas that would otherwise remain undeveloped for God.404

Solomon closes out this section in 10:5-7 by saying, “There is an evil I have seen under the sun, like an error which goes forth from the ruler—folly is set in many exalted places while rich men sit in humble places. I have seen slaves riding on horses and princes walking like slaves on the land.” In life, role reversal occurs.405 Often those who work hard or are successful lose their positions to less competent and qualified people. This is especially true in our society. A hundred years ago, the famous people were doctors and scientists. I know it may be hard to believe but even lawyers and pastors were respected. And now, you can’t turn on the TV without finding out what’s new with Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton. With all due respect to these ladies, I have no idea how they keep getting on television. It baffles my mind. These ladies need to recognize that wisdom helps make a life.

[Solomon urges us to avoid foolishness at any expense. Why does he harp on this? Ultimately, because he knows that foolishness can destroy our lives. Solomon now goes on to exhort us to…]

3. Apply wisdom to life (10:8-20).

In this final section, we will clearly see that wisdom is “skill for living.” Solomon provides four concrete ways that we can make wisdom work for us.

First, apply wisdom in getting a job done (10:8-10). Solomon writes, “He who digs a pit may fall into it, and a serpent may bite him who breaks through a wall. He who quarries stones may be hurt by them, and he who splits logs may be endangered by them. If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success.” These five illustrations make the point: Think before you act. You can have incredible energy, gusto, and perseverance. You can go out and dig a massive pit. But stay away from the edge or you might fall in and break your neck. Avoid the perils of your own work. Be wise as well as energetic. If you are clearing the stones from an old wall, be careful. All your strength could get you killed if there is a copperhead on the other side of that wall.406 It’s not enough to have energy; you better have wisdom to go with it. If you are an excavator, be careful when you cut out a piece of rock because it has to fall somewhere. Don’t let it hit you on the head. Be smart with your energy, diligence, and talent. If you’re cutting trees the same advice holds true. The tree has to fall somewhere, so be careful. And if you don’t have enough wisdom to sharpen your axe you are going to make your work a lot harder. Stop and sharpen that edge. If it’s dull you will have to strike harder and harder until you get out of control, miss the log, and hit yourself.407 It’s typically better to work smart instead of harder. If you exercise wisdom, you will have success.

Second, apply wisdom in controlling your words (10:11-15). In 10:11 Solomon writes,“If the serpent bites before being charmed, there is no profit for the charmer.” This verse first looks like a random thought, but actually is the key to this entire section. You’ve probably seen a snake charmer on television. It’s quite a talent to be able to charm a snake, isn’t it? But if the charmer gets bitten, his talent didn’t do him any good. The charmer had the skill but he didn’t use it. Solomon’s point is that you need to use the wisdom you have. Otherwise, you may as well not have that sense, for it is of no service to you. It’s not enough to know how to charm the serpent; you have to actually apply your knowledge before you’re bitten. Let’s apply this idea to life. You probably have many areas in life where you know the right things to do. You could give a list of wonderful principles for marriage, parenting, money management, sexuality, friendships, and work. You know all the right answers in your head. But that’s not the most important part, is it? If the serpent bites, the person who knows how to charm a snake is no better off than one who doesn’t. So the important thing is not just that you have the knowledge but that you actually use it in marriage, parenting, and so on. You have to use your wisdom. Our churches are filled with Bible-believing people who have mangled their lives because they were bitten by the snake. They didn’t put their wisdom to use. What about you? Are there areas of your life where you know the right thing to do but just aren’t doing it? Are you praying with your spouse? Are you reading the Bible with your kids? Are you out of debt and using your money wisely to fulfill the Lord’s calling on your life? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you need to put your wisdom into practice.408Wisdom helps make a life.

In 10:12-15, it becomes clearer that Solomon’s focus is on controlling our words. He writes, “Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him; the beginning of his talking is folly and the end of it is wicked madness. Yet the fool multiplies words. No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him?409 The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city.”410It is sad to say but both the foolish and wise alike can multiply their words. Yet, consider the following benefits to silence or at least to talking less: (1) you can listen carefully to what others say; (2) you have time to frame your thoughts; (3) your companions will value your words because you have listened to them; and (4) you run a much lower risk of saying something foolish.411 A wise person once remarked that it’s better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Third, apply wisdom in leading others (10:16-19). In 10:16-17Solomon writes, “Woe to you, O land, whose king is a lad and whose princes feast in the morning. Blessed are you, O land, whose king is of nobility412 and whose princes eat at the appropriate time413—for strength and not for drunkenness.” In these verses, Solomon informs us that some leaders try to solve problems with pleasure—food and drink. Food is for activity, not for inactivity. We eat to live; we do not live to eat!! One who controls the base appetite to eat probably can control other areas where self takes control. Self discipline is crucial in a leader! We are affected by the tone set by those at the top of any organization. This is true of both good and bad leaders. Laziness, incompetence, or moral failure in any organization will cause it to collapse. This is true from the White House all the way to your house. So Solomon gives us some guidance. An image of bad rulers is compared to good ones. The first priority for bad rulers is to fulfill their own appetites and desires. Good rulers, on the other hand, are disciplined. They enjoy good things in moderation, so they can concentrate on governing well.

In 10:18, Solomon shares another memorable proverb: “Through indolence the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks.” Picture a guy sitting at home with a bottle of beer in his hand, watching television. He’s supposed to be doing work, taking care of things, providing for those for whom he is responsible. He’s supposed to be a steward of the tasks entrusted to him. But the house is falling down. The roof is leaking. The bills are stacking up. The beer belly is growing larger.414 Solomon says that this is not an appropriate response. While effort alone will not guarantee success, lack of effort will almost certainly guarantee failure.

What is it that you know you need to do this week that is not done in your life? It will take you less than three seconds to answer that question. I already know what it is in my life. Now that you know what it is, name it. Plan it. Schedule it. Do it. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; because in the grave where you are going there is no planning, no foresight, and no work. You want to rest? You will have plenty of time to rest in the grave. Until then, stay busy doing what needs to be done.415

In 10:19 he writes, “Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry, and money is the answer to everything.” There may be a hint of sarcasm in Solomon’s voice. Throughout this book, he has taught that there is no answer for anything. On the other hand, lots of money would help anyone searching for pleasure in an attempt to escape life’s harsh realities. Yet, only wisdom matters.

Lastly, apply wisdom in withholding criticism (10:20). Solomon states that the wise person should not even criticize someone in the privacy of their bedroom. Listen to these words: “Furthermore, in your bedchamber do not curse a king, and in your sleeping rooms do not curse a rich man, for a bird of the heavens will carry the sound and the winged creature will make the matter known.” Many will ask the question, “What shall I do when those in authority over me are fools?” Solomon says, “Be careful what you say about those in authority over you. Loose lips sink ships. They also sink careers and friendships.” Of course, it is hard to keep reckless words a secret, but we must realize that words can travel like the speed of light.416 Those who hear juicy gossip and slander often use them for self interest (i.e., tell the king in order to gain favor). This is the origin of the little expression: “A little bird told me.” Birds don’t talk, of course, but Solomon is reminding us with this illustration that a wise person doesn’t say something in private that he wouldn’t want someone to hear in public.417 We should watch what we say because we never know who is listening. Remember, “The walls have ears!” We should always utilize discretion, caution, and control. Sam Rayburn (1882-1961), democratic politician from Texas, said, “Among my most prized possessions are words that I have never spoken.”418 Today, will you recommit yourself to holding your tongue? Will you strive to believe the best about people? Will you refuse to participate in gossip? If someone wants to talk to you about another person, will you shut him or her down? The truth is: gossip and slander can destroy churches. May you and I see gossip and slander in the same repulsive light as we do child molestation. We would never want to be party to this because it is sinful and we know the damage that it does. The same is true with gossip. It is utter foolishness.419

A man walked into a convenience store, put a $20 bill on the counter, and asked for change. When the clerk opened the drawer, the man pulled a gun and asked for all the cash in the register. The man took the cash from the clerk and fled, leaving his $20 bill on the counter. So how much did he get from the drawer? Fifteen bucks. Go figure.420 We read this story and we think, “What a fool!” Yet, we often exchange God’s wisdom for man’s foolishness and don’t think anything of it.

How should you respond to God’s Word today? I would suggest memorizing James 1:5: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” If you and I humbly come to the Lord and ask to exchange our foolishness for His wisdom, He will grant this prayer every time. He will also change your life in the process. Wisdom helps make a life.

A Little Folly Is Dangerous Ecclesiastes 10

Before he concluded his message, Solomon thought it wise to remind his congregation once again of the importance of wisdom and the danger of folly. (The word “folly” is used nine times in this chapter.) In verse 1, he laid down the basic principle that folly creates problems for those who commit it. He had already compared a good name to fragrant perfume (7:1), so he used the image again. What dead flies are to perfume, folly is to the reputation of the wise person. The conclusion is logical: Wise people will stay away from folly!

Why is one person foolish and another wise? It all depends on the inclinations of the heart (v. 2). Solomon was not referring to the physical organ in the body, because everybody’s heart is in the same place, except for those who might have some birth defect. Furthermore, the physical organ has nothing to do with wisdom or folly. Solomon was referring to the center of one’s life, the “master control” within us that governs “the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23).

In the ancient world, the right hand was the place of power and honor, while the left hand represented weakness and rejection (Matt. 25:33, 41). Many people considered the left side to be “unlucky.” (The English word “sinister” comes from a Latin word that means “on the left hand.”) Since the fool doesn’t have wisdom in his heart, he gravitates toward that which is wrong (the left) and gets into trouble (see 2:14). People try to correct him, but he refuses to listen, and this tells everybody that he is a fool (v. 3).

Having laid down the principle, Solomon then applied it to four different “fools.”

  1. The foolish ruler (ECCL. 10:4-7)

If there is one person who needs wisdom, it is the ruler of a nation. When God asked Solomon what gift he especially wanted, the king asked for wisdom (1 Kings 3:3-28). Lyndon B. Johnson said, “A president’s hardest task is not to do what’s right, but to know what’s right.” That requires wisdom.

If a ruler is proud, he may say and do foolish things that cause him to lose the respect of his associates (v. 4). The picture here is of a proud ruler who easily becomes angry and takes out his anger on the attendants around him. Of course, if a man has no control over himself, how can he hope to have control over his people? “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Prov. 16:32, nkjv). “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls” (Prov. 25:28, nkjv).

However, it isn’t necessary for his servants to act like fools! In fact, that’s the worse thing they can do (8:3). Far better that they control themselves, stay right where they are and seek to bring peace. “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone” (Prov. 25:15, niv). “A king’s wrath is a messenger of death, but a wise man will appease it” (Prov. 16:14, niv).

To be sure, there is a righteous anger that sometimes needs to be displayed (Eph. 4:26), but not everything we call “righteous indignation” is really “righteous.” It is so easy to give vent to jealousy and malice by disguising them as holy zeal for God. Not every religious crusader is motivated by love for God or obedience to the Word. His or her zeal could be a mask that is covering hidden anger or jealousy.

But if a ruler is too pliable, he is also a fool (vv. 5-7). If he lacks character and courage, he will put fools in the high offices and qualified people in the low offices. The servants will ride on horses while the noblemen will walk (see Prov. 19:10 and 30:21-22). If a ruler has incompetent people advising him, he is almost certain to govern the nation unwisely.

Solomon’s son Rehoboam was proud and unyielding, and this led to the division of the kingdom (1 Kings 12:1-24). Instead of following the advice of the wise counselors, he listened to his youthful friends. He made the elders walk and he put the young men on the horses. On the other hand, more than one king in Jewish history has been so pliable that he turned out to be nothing but a figurehead. The best rulers (and leaders) are men and women who are tough-minded but tenderhearted, who put the best people on the horses and don’t apologize for it.

  1. Foolish workers (ECCL. 10:8-11)

Students are not agreed on what Solomon’s point is in this graphic section. Was he saying that every job has its occupational hazards? If so, what lesson was he teaching, and why did he take so much space to illustrate the obvious? His theme is folly, and he certainly was not teaching that hard work is foolish because you might get injured! Throughout the book, Solomon emphasized the importance of honest labor and the joys it can bring. Why would he contradict that message?

I believe Solomon was describing people who attempted to do their work and suffered because they were foolish. One man dug a pit, perhaps a well or a place for storing grain, but fell into the pit himself. Why? Because he lacked wisdom and failed to take proper precautions. Frequently Scripture uses this as a picture of just retribution, but that doesn’t seem to be the lesson here. (See Ps. 7:15; 9:15-16; 10:2; 35:8; 57:6; Prov. 26:27; 28:10.)

Another man broke through a hedge [wall, fence], perhaps while remodeling his house, and a serpent bit him. Serpents often found their way into hidden crevices and corners, and the man should have been more careful. He was overconfident and did not look ahead.

Verse 9 takes us to the quarries and the forests, where careless workers are injured cutting stones and splitting logs. Verse 10 pictures a foolish worker par excellence: a man who tried to split wood with a dull ax. The wise worker will pause in his labors and sharpen it. As the popular slogan says, “Don’t work harder—work smarter!”

Snake charmers were common as entertainers in that day (v. 11, and see Ps. 58:4-5 and Jer. 8:17). Snakes have no external ears; they pick up sound waves primarily through the bone structure of the head. More than the music played by the charmer, it is the man’s disciplined actions (swaying and “staring”) that hold the snake’s attention and keep the serpent under control. It is indeed an art.

Solomon described a performer who was bitten by the snake before the man had opportunity to “charm” it. Beside risking his life, the charmer could not collect any money from the spectators (see v. 11, niv). They would only laugh at him. He was a fool because he rushed and acted as though the snake were charmed. He wanted to collect his money in a hurry and move to another location. The more “shows” he put on, the bigger his income. Instead, he made no money at all.

Some charmers had a mongoose available that “caught” the snake just at the right time and “saved” the man from being bitten. If for some reason the mongoose missed his cue, the serpent might attack the charmer, and that would be the end of the show. Either way, the man was foolish.

The common denominator among these “foolish workers” seems to be presumption. They were overconfident and ended up either hurting themselves or making their job harder.

  1. Foolish talkers (ECCL. 10:12-15)

In the Book of Proverbs, Solomon had much to say about the speech of fools. In this paragraph, he pointed out four characteristics of their words.

First, they are destructive words (v. 12). The wise person will speak gracious words that are suited to the listeners and the occasion (Prov. 10:32; 25:11). Whether in personal conversation or public ministry, our Lord always knew the right thing to say at the right time (Isa. 50:4). We should try to emulate Him. But the fool blurts out whatever is on his mind and doesn’t stop to consider who might be hurt by it. In the end, it is the fool himself who is hurt the most: “a fool is consumed by his own lips” (ECCL. 10:12, niv).

In Scripture, destructive words are compared to weapons of war (Prov. 25:18), a fire (James 3:5-6), and a poisonous beast (James 3:7-8). We may try to hurt others with our lies, slander, and angry words, but we are really hurting ourselves the most. “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction” (Prov. 13:3, nkjv). “Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles” (Prov. 21:23, nkjv).

They are also unreasonable words (v. 13). What he says doesn’t make sense. And the longer he talks, the crazier it becomes. “The beginning of his talking is folly, and the end of it is wicked madness” (nasb). He would be better off to keep quiet, because all that he says only lets everybody know that he is a fool (5:3). Paul called these people “unruly and vain talkers” (Titus 1:10), which J.B. Phillips translates “who will not recognize authority, who talk nonsense” (ph).

Occasionally in my travels, I meet people who will talk about anything anybody brings up, as though they were the greatest living experts on that subject. When the Bible or religion comes into the conversation, I quietly wait for them to hang themselves; and they rarely disappoint me. The Jewish writer Shalom Aleichem said, “You can tell when a fool speaks: he grinds much and produces little.”

Third, they are uncontrolled words (v. 14a). The fool is “full of words” without realizing that he is saying nothing. “In the multitude of words, sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Prov. 10:19, nkjv). The person who can control his or her tongue is able to discipline the entire body (James 3:1-2). Jesus said, “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No.’ For whatever is more than this is from the evil one” (Matt. 5:37, nkjv).

Finally, they are boastful words (14b-15). Foolish people talk about the future as though they either know all about it or are in control of what will happen. “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Prov. 27:1, nkjv). Several times before, Solomon has emphasized man’s ignorance of the future (3:22; 6:12; 8:7; 9:12), a truth that wise people receive but fools reject. (See James 4:13-17.)

There is a bit of humor here. The fool boasts about his future plans and wearies people with his talk, but he can’t even find the way to the city. In Bible times, the roads to the cities were well-marked so that any traveler could find his way, but the fool is so busy talking about the future that he loses his way in the present. “He can’t find his way to the city” was probably an ancient proverb about stupidity, not unlike our “He’s so dumb, he couldn’t learn the route to run an elevator.”

  1. Foolish officers (ECCL. 10:16-20)

Solomon has already described foolish rulers. Now he exposes the folly of the officers who work under those rulers, the bureaucrats who were a part of the machinery of the kingdom. He gave four characteristics of these foolish men.

Indulgence (vv. 16-17).

If the king is immature, the people he gathers around him will reflect that immaturity and take advantage of it. But if he is a true nobleman, he will surround himself with noble officers who will put the good of the country first. Real leaders use their authority to build the nation, while mere officeholders use the nation to build their authority. They use public funds for their own selfish purposes, throwing parties and having a good time.

It is a judgment of God when a people are given immature leaders (Isa. 3:1-5). This can happen to a nation or to a local church. The term “elder” (Titus 1:5ff) implies maturity and experience in the Christian life, and it is wrong for a believer to be thrust into leadership too soon (1 Tim. 3:6). Age is no guarantee of maturity (1 Cor. 3:1-4; Heb. 5:11-14), and youth sometimes outstrips its elders in spiritual zeal. Oswald Chambers said, “Spiritual maturity is not reached by the passing of the years, but by obedience to the will of God.” The important thing is maturity, not just age.

The New International Version translates verse 16, “Woe to you, O land whose king was a servant.” The suggestion is that this servant became king with the help of his friends (cf. 4:13-14). Now he was obligated to give them all jobs so he could remain on the throne. In spite of their selfish and expensive indulgence, these hirelings could not be dismissed, because the king’s security depended on them. To the victor belong the spoils!

Incompetence (v. 18).

These foolish officers are so busy with enjoyment that they have no time for employment, and both the buildings and the organization start to fall apart. “He also who is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster” (Prov. 18:9). There is a difference between those who use an office and those who merely hold an office (1 Tim. 3:10). Immature people enjoy the privileges and ignore the responsibilities, while mature people see the responsibilities as privileges and use them to help others.

Woodrow Wilson wrote, “A friend of mine says that every man who takes office in Washington either grows or swells; when I give a man an office, I watch him carefully to see whether he is swelling or growing.”

Indifference (v. 19).

This verse declares the personal philosophy of the foolish officers: Eat all you can, enjoy all you can, and get all you can. They are totally indifferent to the responsibilities of their office or the needs of the people. In recent years, various developing nations have seen how easy it is for unscrupulous leaders to steal government funds in order to build their own kingdoms. Unfortunately, it has also happened recently to some religious organizations.

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10, nkjv). The prophet Amos cried out against the wicked rulers of his day who trampled on the heads of the poor and treated them like the dust of the earth (Amos 2:7, and see 4:1; 5:11-12). The courts might not catch up with all the unscrupulous politicians, but God will eventually judge them, and His judgment will be just.

Indiscretion (v. 20).

The familiar saying “A little bird told me” probably originated from this verse. You can imagine a group of these officers having a party in one of their private rooms and, instead of toasting the king, they are cursing [“making light of”] him. Of course, they wouldn’t do this if any of the king’s friends were present, but they were sure that the company would faithfully keep the secret. Alas, somebody told the king what was said, and this gave him reason to punish them or dismiss them from their offices.

Even if we can’t respect the person in the office, we must respect the office (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people” (Ex. 22:28).

These hirelings were certainly indiscreet when they cursed the king, for they should have known that one of their number would use this event either to intimidate his friends or to ingratiate himself with the ruler. A statesman asks, “What is best for my country?” A politician asks, “What is best for my party?” But a mere officeholder, a hireling, asks, “What is safest and most profitable for me?”

This completes Solomon’s review of his fourth argument that life is not worth living, “the certainty of death” (2:12-23). He has concluded that life is indeed worth living, even though death is unavoidable (9:1-10) and life is unpredictable (9:11-18). What we must do is avoid folly (ch. 10) and live by the wisdom of God.

This also concludes the second part of his discourse. He has reviewed the four arguments presented in chapters 1 and 2, and has decided that life was really worth living after all. The best thing we can do is to trust God, do our work, accept what God sends us, and enjoy each day of our lives to the glory of God (3:12-15, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-10). All that remains for the Preacher is to conclude his discourse with a practical application, and this he does in chapters 11 and 12. He will bring together all the various strands of truth that he has woven into his sermon, and he will show us what God expects us to do if we are to be satisfied.


385 The word translated “impressed” is the Hebrew adjective gadol, meaning “great.” Gadol is only translated “impressed” in Eccl 9:13. Solomon uses this word twice in the very next verse (9:14) where it is rendered “great” or “large” in most English versions.

386 Cf. Eccl 4:13-15. In both 4:13-15 and 9:13-15 Solomon seems to draw from real life situations. This is supported by the verbs in Eccl 9:13-15 which function either as past definite actions (describing a past situation) or as hypothetical past actions (describing an imaginary hypothetical situation for the sake of illustration). The LXX uses subjunctives throughout 9:14-15 to depict the scenario as a hypothetical situation. See NET Study Notes.

387 In 2 Sam 20:15-22, a wise woman delivered the city by having the men of the city cut off Sheba’s head and throw it over the wall. But even in the historical account, we are not given her name. And when we add this to what Solomon says we can assume that she was soon forgotten.

388 Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (NAC; Nashville: Broadman, 1993).

389 Preaching Today Citation: Submitted by John Beukema, Chambersburg, PA.

390 Church Leaders Intelligence Report Enclosed: 04.30.08.

391 See Eccl 10: 2, 3, 12, 13, 14, and 15. David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 249.

392 The terms “weightier” and “honor” are parallel. “Weightier” (yaqar) is from the same root as “precious,” “prized.” It is a play on the Hebrew concept of that which is heavier (i.e., metals) is more valuable. The word “honor” (kabod) is also a word play on “heavy” (e.g., Eccl 6:2; Ps 62:7; 84:11; Prov 3:16, 35; 22:4; 25:2). This term is often translated “glory” (e.g., Ps 3:3; 4:2; 19:1; 24:7, 8, 9, 10 [2x]). See Bob Utley, “Ecclesiastes”: unpublished sermon notes.

393 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 250.

394 Michael P. Andrus, “Sharp Goads and Hard Nails”(Ecclesiastes 7-11): unpublished sermon notes.

395 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 252.

396 E.g., Gen 48:18; Ps 16:8; Isa 41:10.

397 Tommy Nelson, The Problem of Life with God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 159-160.

398 It is interesting that the phrase “his sense is lacking” is literally, “the fool has not heart” (i.e., he cannot think clearly, he lacks judgment, cf. Prov 6:32; 7:7; 9:4,16; 10:13, 21; 11:12; 24:30). This is just a clever way of saying that folly affects every area of one’s life. Utley, “Ecclesiastes.”

399 E.g., Ps 119:105.

400 E.g., Deut 9:12, 16; 31:29.

401 The Hebrew says “rising, his spirit rises.” The double use of the word “rise” (alah) is given to intensify the meaning of the word (“it soars”).

402 This is advice for those who serve the king (or other leaders). It links up with Eccl 8:1-4 and 10:16-7, 20.

403 In Proverbs we read, “By forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue breaks the bone” and “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (25:15; 15:1).

404 Ray Pritchard, Something New Under the Sun: Ancient Wisdom for Contemporary Living (Chicago: Moody, 1998), 251-252.

405 Cf. Eccl 9:13-18; Prov 29:2.

406 The comment about the serpent biting the one who leans against wall (Amos 5:19) would be humorous in that culture. Since the walls were made of stones and everyone knew that snakes enjoy the cool shade and crevices that go with a stone wall, only a fool would causally lean against one without first checking it for snakes.

407 Nelson, The Problem of Life with God, 163.

408 Nelson, The Problem of Life with God, 164-165.

409 This is a recurrent theme (cf. Eccl 3:22; 6:12; 7:14; 8:7; 10:14). The future is hidden, even from wisdom. Wisdom is far better than foolishness (cf. 10:15), but it is limited by this fallen period of human history.

410 Hundreds of years later, James likens the tongue to a horse’s bit and a ship’s rudder (Jas 3:3-4). The point is: The discretion (or lack thereof) we use in our speech dictates the direction of our lives. This is repeated throughout God’s Word. If only we could grasp its significance.

411 Pritchard, Something New Under the Sun, 261. See also Prov 10:19.

412 According to Solomon, a noble ruler should be a descendant of rulers who are disciplined in the course of their life (10:16-17). Though this seems to be elitist to us, Solomon’s point is that rulers should have a healthy upbringing, have adequate resources, and be well-trained and prepared and equipped for the responsibilities of leadership.

413 This concept of a divinely appropriate time was first introduced in Eccl 3:1-11, 17; 7:17; 8:5, 6, 9; 9:8, 11, 12 (2x); 10:17 (esp. 3:11).

414 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 265.

415 Pritchard, Something New Under the Sun, 266.

416 See Jesus’ words in Luke 12:3: “Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops.”

417 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 276.

418 “Sam Rayburn”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Rayburn.

419 For an excellent discussion on gossip see Daniel Hill, “Ecclesiastes”: http://www.gracenotes.info/.

420 Preaching Today Citation: “Strange World,” Campus Life, Vol. 56, no. 2.

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2021 in Ecclesiastes

 

Uncommon Things We Believe Series #5 Miraculous Gifts Have Ceased


 

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One of the most emotionally charged issues in contemporary expressions of religion has to do with the subject of miracles. Most every television or radio program that has a religious emphasis will teach that miracles are an active part of today’s Christianity.

When something amazing happens, we often say, “It’s a miracle!” But more than likely that is not technically correct. It was not a true miracle. It was amazing, it was abnormal, etc., but was it a miracle?

The Jews of our Lord’s day did not challenge the actual events, but rather the power by which these miracles were performed (cf. Mark 3:22ff.). They associated his power to Beelzebub…evil….and Jesus clearly taught them (to their shame) that a “kingdom divided against itself will not stand.”

Nicodemus stated the belief that most of us here today would understand:

(John 3:1-5)  Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. {2} He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

(Luke 7:18-23)  John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, {19} he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” {20} When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'” {21} At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. {22} So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. {23} Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

What is a miracle?

If we look at the words the New Testament uses for miracles we see the following:

(1) It is an act of a supernatural being. The word dunamis has the idea of a supernatural power. It speaks primarily of the agent of the act. That power may be delegated to a human agent.The question is where did Jesus’ power to do the miracle come from. There are two options – either from God or from Satan. Obviously, Jesus’ power came from God.

(2) A miracle is an unusual event. Another word – terasa – speaks of the effect.  Terasa speaks of the wonderment of the event – as in signs and wonders. As a matter of fact, terasa is always used with semeion.

(3) A miracle is a significant event. The Greek word semeion means sign. It has purpose. Matthew, Mark and Luke uses the first two more. John uses the word semion, because he is focused on the purpose of Jesus in performing the miracles.  The concept of semeion is to point to something greater…such as a miracle in John points the participants or viewer to God.

Definition: A miracle is an unusual and significant event (terasa) which requires the working of a supernatural agent (dunamis) and is performed for the purpose of authenticating the message or the messenger (semeion).

I don’t want to imply that God can’t do a miracle without a miracle worker or that He can only do miracles when He needs to authenticate His message. But, examination of Old Testament and New Testament miracles shows that when a human is the agent performing a miracle, the purpose is authentication of the person and his message.

For example: Moses, Elijah, Jesus, Apostles… That is the norm. It is a little oxymoronic to use the words norm and miracles in the same sentence, but I think it is important to establish what the norm is if possible because of what various people teach concerning miracles.

We commonly call God’s work that stays within the recognized laws of nature, “providence.” Consequently we do pray, believing that God hears and will answer providentially.

Therefore, when someone calls something a “miracle,” we should understand that they may simply mean what we mean by the word “providence.” We need to not debate with those with whom we merely differ semantically.

Nevertheless, in a theological manner, we do believe that there is a work of God that is above our common understanding of how nature functions, and we call this kind of work a “miracle.” We commonly believe in this sense of the word that miracles have ceased.

Our basis for this belief is rooted in the Holy Spirit’s teaching in the Scriptures relative to a special kind of work that would cease at the close of the Apostolic Age of the first century. We do not believe that God is incapable of working miracles, but that He has revealed that He would not do so in Post Apostolic times.

Miraculous Gifts: their purpose and method of reception

What was the purpose of miracles in the ministry of Christ, or in the apostolic age? As noted above, their design must be consistent with the lofty theme of redemption.

Of the early disciples who were endowed with spiritual gifts, Mark declares:

“And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed” (Mk. 16:20).

The function of the signs was to confirm the revelatory process, i.e., the word of truth being communicated from God to man.

The writer of Hebrews argues similarly. He declares that the message regarding the “great salvation,” which at the first had been  “spoken through the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard; God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will” (Heb. 2:3-4).

Of special interest in these passages is the term “confirm” (Grk. bebaioo). The word denotes evidence that establishes the validity of the divinely-given word (Brown, I.658). The supernatural gifts of the primitive age, therefore, had as their design the establishment of the credibility of Christ and His spokesmen, and so ultimately, the validation of their message, namely, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world!

Now observe this very important point. If it can be established that those early miracles do corroborate the testimony of Christ, and those commissioned by Him; and further, that the recording of these events in the New Testament was designed to perpetually accomplish that function, then it stands as demonstrated that the repetition of such signs is not needed today.

The fact is, that is exactly what is affirmed by the apostle John. He declares that the “signs” of Christ, which he records in his gospel account, “are written [gegraptai – perfect tense, abiding effect] that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God . . .” (Jn. 20:31).

It ought to be abundantly clear, therefore, that since the miracles of the Bible continue to accomplish their original purpose, there is no need for a repetition of them today. They are not being replicated in this age!

Next, we should explore the method of gift reception, as that concept is set forth in the New Testament. Christ, of course, was empowered directly by God to work miracles. Such signs demonstrated that He was a “man approved of God” (Acts 2:22).

So far as New Testament information goes, there were only two ways by which others received spiritual gifts in the apostolic era. The first was by means of Holy Spirit baptism, i.e., an overwhelming direct endowment of the Spirit’s power. Second, miraculous gifts were bestowed by the imposition of the apostles’ hands. Let us consider the biblical facts regarding these two matters.

Holy Spirit baptism was demonstrated in only two New Testament situations. It was given to the apostles of Christ (Acts 1:5; 2:4), and then, as a very special case, it was received by the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-47; 11:15-17). Is Holy Spirit baptism available today? We can show that it is not by the following logical arguement.

First, when Paul wrote to the Ephesians (c. A.D. 62), he affirmed that there was but “one baptism” at that time (Eph. 4:5). It is generally conceded that this baptism must be either Holy Spirit baptism, or water baptism. If it can be established that the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5 is water baptism, then it is obvious that “Spirit baptism” was no longer available.

That water baptism is age-lasting is demonstrated by the fact that it is the baptism of the great commission (cf. Mt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:16). In Matthew’s account, the Lord promised that as long as his people were making disciples, baptizing, teaching, etc., He would accompany them always, even to the end of the age. Whatever the baptism of this passage is, therefore, it continues in force until the end.

This baptism, however, must be water baptism, as evidenced by the fact that it is administered by human beings: “Go . . . make disciples . . . baptizing . . . .” On the other hand, Holy Spirit baptism had no human administrator; it was bestowed directly by Christ (Mt. 3:11).

It must be concluded, therefore, that the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5 was water baptism; consequently, Holy Spirit baptism had become obsolete. Such being the case, spiritual gifts are not received via Holy Spirit baptism today.

The Evidence For Our “Uncommon” Belief.

Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would lead the Apostles into “all things,” and “all truth” (Jn.14:16-18, 26; 16:13).

(John 14:16-18)  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– {17} the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. {18} I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

(John 14:26)  But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

(John 16:13)  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

It is important that we understand to whom Jesus intended the words of the Scriptures just cited. We must “rightly divide” or “accurately handle” the Bible to determine to whom words are spoken (2 Tim. 2:15).

The words of John 14:16-18, 26; 16:13 were for the Apostles.

The promise included that the Apostles would not forget what Jesus had said to them—we were not alive during Jesus’ ministry and thus He said nothing to us directly. Therefore “all things” and “all truth” came in the lifetime of the Apostles.

The Apostles’ ministry contributed to the “foundation” or initial work of the Church Age (Eph. 2:20).

(Ephesians 2:20)  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

They were told to wait for the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem and then preach the gospel throughout the world—they received the Spirit and then began to preach (Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:5, 8; 2:1-4).

(Luke 24:49)  I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

(Acts 1:5)  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

(Acts 1:8)  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

(Acts 2:1-4)  When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. {2} Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. {3} They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. {4} All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Through them “the faith” was “once for all delivered” (Jude 3). Miracles were a special sign to confirm the work of the Apostolic Age.

The miracles confirmed the commission of the Apostles and were given through their hands (2 Cor. 12:12; cf. Rom. 15:18-19; Mk. 16:20; Heb. 2:3-4).  Only the Apostles could impart miraculous gifts.

(Mark 16:20)  Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

(Romans 15:18-19)  I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done– {19} by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.

(2 Corinthians 12:12)  The things that mark an apostle–signs, wonders and miracles–were done among you with great perseverance.

(Hebrews 2:3-4)  how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. {4} God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

For a time they were the only ones performing miracles (Acts 2:43; 3:1-10; 5:33).

(Acts 2:43)  Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.

(Acts 3:1-10)  One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer–at three in the afternoon. {2} Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. {3} When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. {4} Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” {5} So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. {6} Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” {7} Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. {8} He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. {9} When all the people saw him walking and praising God, {10} they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

(Acts 5:33)  When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.

Other than by Holy Spirit baptism, miraculous gifts could be conveyed only by an apostle of Christ. Note the evidence:

  1. Philip, the evangelist (not an apostle), could perform miracles, but he could not pass that gift along to others. Accordingly, apostles, namely Peter and John, were sent to Samaria, where Philip had been preaching, so that the church there might be furnished with certain divine gifts (cf. Acts 8:5-6; 14-17).
  2. In connection with the foregoing circumstances, Simon the sorcerer “saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given” (8:18). He wanted to purchase that privilege for himself, but he was informed that he had neither part nor lot in that matter, i.e., the impartation of spiritual gifts.
  3. At Ephesus, Paul laid his hands on twelve converts and “they spake with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).
  4. There was an unruly element within the church at Corinth that denied Paul’s apostleship. Such, however, was a very illogical position, for that church possessed spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12-14), and they had received them from none other than Paul. The “signs of an apostle” had been wrought among them (2 Cor. 12:12), so Paul forcefully could say:

“If to others I am not an apostle, yet at least I am to you; for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord” (1 Cor. 9:2).

The Corinthian church (with its spiritual gifts) was, therefore a “seal” (divine documentation of Paul’s apostleship), and accordingly, indirect evidence that such gifts were received only from an apostle!

  1. Paul urged Timothy to “stir up the gift of God,” which, says he, “is in you through [dia – denoting the instrument or agency by means of which the gift was imparted (Arndt, 179)] the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:6).

Since, therefore, there is no Holy Spirit baptism today; and further, since there are no apostles (or successors to them) in this age, it should be quite clear that men are not in possession of supernatural gifts of the Spirit in this post-apostolic era of the Christian dispensation.

The miraculous gifts were to cease when their purpose was complete (I Cor. 13:8-13; Eph. 4:11-16).

(1 Corinthians 13:8-13)  Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. {9} For we know in part and we prophesy in part, {10} but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. {11} When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. {12} Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. {13} And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

(Ephesians 4:11-16)  It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, {12} to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up {13} until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. {14} Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. {15} Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. {16} From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Prophecy (miraculous pronouncements, Acts 2:17), tongues (languages given miraculously, Acts 2:5-12), knowledge (miraculous knowledge, I Cor. 12:8), would all cease when they completed their work (I Cor. 13:9-10).

These gifts would cease, but faith hope and love would abide (I Cor. 13:13). The gifts, therefore, were designed to cease before Jesus returned, since faith and hope would end at Jesus’ Second Coming.

The “perfect” was simply the completion of Jesus’ promise to His disciples in John 14:26; 16:13. The gifts were part of a process that went from a partial knowledge to the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

When the “unity of the faith” (the faith as a unit) was realized, the miraculous work of the Apostolic Age would cease (Eph. 4:13). This must be referring to a first century event since the church was to be given no additional instruction beyond the “all things” and “all truth” given the Apostles.

To go beyond Apostolic teaching was to be “accursed” (Gal. 1:8-9).

(Galatians 1:8-9)  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! {9} As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

The Scriptures supply everything we need to do every good work (II Tim. 3:16-17). The Bible has long since been complete—since the first century.

The miracles of the Apostolic Age both revealed and confirmed the truth God had promised to give (Heb. 2:3-4).

Cessation of miracles: two contexts considered

Were miraculous gifts to abide with the church until the end of time, or, due to their specific design, were they only a temporary phenomena? This matter is discussed rather comprehensively in two New Testament contexts. We will consider each of these.

In 1 Corinthians 13, the inspired apostle addresses the duration of spiritual gifts in the Lord’s church. He commences by showing that these gifts must be exercised in love, for miraculous powers, void of love, were worthless. This theme was quite appropriate in view of the disposition of rivalry which threatened the unity of the Corinthian congregation (some exalting certain gifts above others, etc.).

From this initial instruction there is a very natural transition into the character and permanence of love, in contrast to the transitory function of spiritual gifts.

Of the nine gifts mentioned in chapter 12:8-10, Paul selects three to illustrate his argument. Significantly, all three were related directly to the revealing of God’s will to man. The apostle affirms that prophecies shall be done away; tongues shall cease; knowledge, i.e., supernatural knowledge, shall be done away. It is wonderfully clear, therefore, that these three gifts (and by implication all miraculous gifts) were not designed to be a permanent fixture within the church.

In 1 Corinthians 13:9, Paul contends that God’s will, by means of these spiritual gifts (knowledge, prophecy, etc.) was made known gradually, i.e., “in part.” The expression “in part” translates the Greek to ek merous, literally, “the things in part.” It denotes “a part as opposed to the whole” (Abbott-Smith, 284).

And so, we make the following argument;

  1. The “in part” things shall be done away.
  2. But, the “in part” things are the supernatural gifts by which the will of God was revealed.
  3. Thus, the supernatural gifts, by which the will of God was made known, were to be terminated.

But the question is: when were these gifts to pass away?

The answer is: “when that which is perfect is come.” In the Greek Testament, the expression literally reads, to teleion, “the complete thing.” The term “perfect,” when used of quantity, is better rendered “complete” or “whole.”

So, we may reason as follows:

  1. Whatever the “in part” things are partially, the “whole” is, in completed form.
  2. But, the “in part” things were the spiritual gifts employed in the revealing of God’s will (word).
  3. Therefore, the “whole” was God’s will (word) – as conveyed through the gifts – completely revealed.

Within this context, therefore, the apostle actually is saying this:

God’s revelation is being made known part-by-part, through the use of spiritual gifts; when that revelation is completed, these gifts will be needed no longer, hence, will pass away from the church’s possession.

As noted scholar W. E. Vine observed: “With the completion of Apostolic testimony and the completion of the Scriptures of truth (‘the faith once for all delivered to the saints’, Jude 3. R.V.), ‘that which is perfect’ had come, and the temporary gifts were done away” (184).

Remember this vital point. Spiritual gifts and the revelatory process were to be co-extensive. If men are performing miracles today, their messages are as binding as the New Testament record! If such is the case, the New Testament is not the final word.

This theme is similarly dealt with in Ephesians 4, where it is affirmed that when Christ “ascended on High” He “gave gifts unto men” (8ff). The gifts were miraculously endowed functions in the church (e.g., apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers). The design of these capacities was “for the perfecting [katartismos] of the saints.”

The original word denotes “complete qualification for a specific purpose” (Analytical Greek Lexicon, 220). Or, as Arndt & Gingrich render it, “to equip the saints for service” (419).

Moreover, the duration of these supernatural governments was specified. They were to continue “till we all attain unto the unity of the faith” (4:13). “Till” is from mechri, and it suggests a “specification of time up to which this spiritual constitution was designed to last” (Ellicott, 95).

The word “unity” (henotes) basically means “oneness” (Analytical, 119). It derives from the term hen, the neuter of heis, and it emphasizes oneness “in contrast to the parts, of which a whole is made up” (Arndt, 230).

Finally, the expression “the faith” refers to the revealed gospel system (cf. Gal. 1:23; 1 Tim. 5:8).

And so, to sum up: the apostle contends that spiritual gifts would continue until the gospel system, in its individual parts (as portrayed in 1st Corinthians 13) came together in oneness, i.e., the completed or whole revelation (New Testament record) (see MacKnight, 335). Ephesians 4 and 1st Corinthians 13 are wonderfully complimentary.

Two common objections considered

We will now consider a couple of arguments that frequently are employed in an attempt to prove that miracles did not cease with the apostolic age.

First, some contend Paul taught that spiritual gifts would continue to the very end, i.e., unto the coming of Christ. 1st Corinthians 1:6-8 is cited to establish this. We offer the following points:

  1. It is not certain that miraculous gifts are even in view within this context. Meyer argues that spiritual blessings in general are under consideration, not miraculous gifts (I.19).
  2. Even if miraculous gifts are in view, the text no more asserts that they will be operative until the Lord’s return, than it does that the Corinthians themselves would remain alive until that event.
  3. The word “end” can mean “to the uttermost” (cf. Jn. 13:1), and thus the reference may not be to the end of “time.”
  4. One may be confirmed (sustained) through the message of the inspired Word (2 Tim. 3:16,17), hence, be unreprovable in the day of Christ, without needing to possess supernatural gifts.

Second, it is claimed that the Lord is as powerful today as He was in the first century; and so, He can perform signs today.

But the question is not one of God’s power; it is a matter of His will. Does He will to perform miracles today? He does not will to create men directly from the dust of the earth. He does not will to feed us with manna from heaven, etc., though He is powerful enough to do such feats. The “He-has-the-power” quibble proves nothing.

The scholarly T. H. Horne presented a remarkable summary statement of this matter that is worthy of consideration.

“Why are not miracles now wrought? – we remark that, the design of miracles being to confirm and authorize the Christian religion, there is no longer any occasion for them, now that it is established in the world, and is daily extending its triumphs in the heathen lands by the divine blessing of the preached gospel. Besides, if they were continued, they would be of no use, because their force and influence would be lost by the frequency of them; for, miracles being a sensible suspension or controlment of – or deviation from – the established course or laws of nature, if they were repeated on every occasion, all distinctions of natural and supernatural would vanish, and we should be at a loss to say, which were the ordinary and which the extraordinary works of Providence. Moreover, it is probable that, if they were continued, they would be of no use, because those persons who refuse to be convinced by the miracles recorded in the New Testament, would not be convinced by any new ones: for it is not from want of evidence, but from want of sincerity, and out of passion and prejudice, that any man rejects the miracles related in the Scriptures; and the same want of sincerity, the same passions and prejudices, would make him resist any proof, any miracle whatever. Lastly, a perpetual power of working of miracles would in all ages give occasion to continual impostures, while it would rescind and reverse all the settled laws and constitutions of Providence. Frequent miracles would be taught to proceed more from some defect in nature than from the particular interposition of the Deity; and men would become atheists by means of them, rather than Christians” (I.117).

What about modern “miracles”?

How does one deal with the alleged “miracles” of this modern age? In the first place, we really are not obligated to defend, as divine, a modern event simply because it may have certain elements that are difficult to explain.

There are many illusions that modern magicians perform which the average person cannot explain; they do have natural explanations though. They are not miracles.

That aside, there are several possible bases for so-called modern miracles. As an example, let us focus upon alleged “faith healings.”

  1. Some instances of “faith healings” are pure fakery. Consider the case of Peter Popoff, miracle-working cleric of Upland, California. Popoff, who claimed the supernatural ability to provide secret information about people in his audiences (in conjunction with “healing” them), was receiving such data through a tiny hearing aid, the messages being transmitted by his wife from backstage.

Prominent magician James Randi exposed the entire affair on nation-wide television (139-181). Randi also demonstrated that Popoff was providing rented wheelchairs for people who could actually walk; then, at his services, he was pronouncing them healed.

  1. Some “miracle cures” are claimed by people who honestly believe that God has healed them. The fact is, however, they had nothing organically wrong with them. Their ailment was psychosomatic. This means that though some bodily feature was actually affected, the real root of the problem was mental or emotional; hence, by suggestion a cure might be effected.

It has been estimated that some 55% (or more) of the patients applying for medical treatment in the United States suffer from psychosomatic illnesses. In fact, Dr. William S. Sadler has written:

“It is generally believed by experienced physicians that at least two-thirds of the ordinary cases of sickness which doctors are called upon to treat would, if left entirely alone, recover without the aid of the doctor or his medicine” (15).

Taking advantage of this type of sickness, the faith-healer, in an atmosphere of hysteria and feverish emotionalism, produces some phenomenal “cures.” But there is nothing miraculous about such cases.

A physician in Toronto, Canada investigated thirty cases in which Oral Roberts claimed miraculous healing was effected; he “found not one case that could not be attributed to psychological shock or hysteria” (Randi, 288). Dr. William S. Sadler affirmed that after twenty-five years of sympathetic research into faith-healing, he had not observed a solitary case of an organic disease being healed.

It is commonly known that an African witch-doctor can literally command a believer in voodoo to die, and within the prescribed time, the victim will expire. This evidences the powerful control of the mind over the body. Surely no one will claim, though, that a witch-doctor has “the Spirit of God.”

  1. Another explanation for some so-called faith cures is a phenomenon known as spontaneous remission. Spontaneous remission is an unexpected withdrawal of disease symptoms, and an inexplicable disappearance of the ailment. It occurs in about one out of every 80,000 cancer patients.

Joseph Mayerle of Bremerton, Washington had exploratory surgery; it was discovered that he was consumed with cancer. His physicians gave him only a few months to live. Months sped by and his disease utterly vanished. There was nothing miraculous about it. According to newspaper accounts, Mr. Mayerle, a bartender, made no claim to faith, prayer, or a miracle-cure. Wouldn’t a faith-healer have delighted in taking credit for that case?

Conclusion

There is one final point of this presentation that needs to be pressed with great vigor. There is no alleged miracle being performed today by Pentecostals, or those of a similar “Christian” persuasion, that cannot be duplicated by various cults and “non-Christian” sects.

Those who practice Christian Science, Mormonism, Catholicism, Transcendental Meditation, Yoga, Psychic Healing, Scientology, New Age Crystal Healing, etc., claim the same type of “signs” as the Pentecostals. In fact, more than 20 million Americans annually report mystic experiences (including healing) in their lives (Psychology Today, 64).

Since the Scriptures clearly teach that the purpose of miracles, as evidenced in biblical days, was to confirm the message proclaimed, hence, to validate the Christian system, do the multiple alleged examples of miracle-workings indicate that the Lord has authenticated all of these woefully contradictory systems? Think of the implications of that – especially in light of Paul’s affirmation that God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33).

There is abundant evidence that genuine miracles were performed by divinely appointed persons in the first century, but there is no proof whatever that such wonders are being replicated in this modern age.

Practical considerations.

The miracles of Jesus and the Apostles would fully heal large crowds instantly (Matt. 4:23-24; 8:16; 14:14; Acts 5:16; 8:7). Do people go into hospitals today and heal everyone?

Even Jesus’ strongest critics could not dispute His healings—where is the indisputable evidence today?

Additionally,…Where are the dead being raised? Where are thousands being fed from a few scraps of food.  Who is walking on water?

Can God heal us? Certainly, and we should pray for that if it is His will, but we must also seek His wisdom in finding other solutions (diet, medical help, etc.) and have the faith to rest in what He wants to do in and through us in the process.

Above all, we know He wants to mature us spiritually regardless of whether He suddenly or gradually heals us or not. Our need is to seek help, pray for wisdom, removal if it’s His will, but above all to rest in His fatherly grace and plan.

God is still at work on earth and in the church, but we are convinced that what we have defined as miracle is no longer a part of the Father’s plan.

 

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2021 in Church, Doctrine

 

Ecclesiastes: The Good Life #11 Living While You Live – Ecclesiastes 9:1-12


Ecclesiastes 9:10 | Scripture Pictures by Verse | Amazing ...

“DEATH!” There I said it—the infamous “d” word. Death is one of those subjects we don’t like to discuss. That’s why it’s a subject of so many euphemisms. Instead of using the word dead, we say, “passed away,” “returned home,” “gone to a better place,” “sleeping in Jesus,” or “went to be with the Lord.” At least we use those terms around the church and the funeral home. In less guarded moments, we speak of “taking a dirt nap,” “kicking the bucket,” “buying the farm,” “cashing in the chips,” “biting the dust,” or the ever-popular “croaked.” Whether we lean to the reverent right or the flippant left, we shy away from speaking directly of the ultimate enemy.343

It seems that we are hesitant to come to grips with our impending death. We would rather avoid any discussion about it. After all, death is a depressing subject. And who wants to be depressed? Yet, I would argue that we are not prepared to live until we are prepared to die. Solomon tackles the subject of death head-on. Instead of denying death, he discusses its reality and our response. In Eccl 9:1-12, Solomon provides two reminders that will enable us to make the most of our few days on earth.344

  1. Death is certain (9:1-6). In this first section, Solomon explains that death is the “Great Equalizer.” Death plays no favorites and overlooks no one. Regardless of your strength and wealth, you are going to die. In 9:1 Solomon writes, “For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds345 are in the hand346 of God. Man does not know347 whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him.” After much reflection, Solomon acknowledges that God is sovereign over everything and everyone. Here he states that nothing befalls the children of God that doesn’t first pass through the hands of God. Yet, with this, Solomon reminds us that we may experience “love or hatred.” The terms “love” and “hate” refer respectively to divine favor or disfavor. Solomon’s point is this: There are no guarantees as to what life will bring, but the certainty of life is that God is involved in the lives of those who trust Him. No one by even righteous deeds can gain control over God and coerce blessing from Him. One must acknowledge that all is in God’s hands.348 I’m reminded of this by the words of Bob Hope, after receiving a major award. He responded, “I don’t deserve this, but then I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either.” Although I appreciate the humor of this remark, it is bad theology. Like Job, we are to receive both good and bad because both can come from the hand of God.

In 9:2-3, you’re going to find out why Solomon is not coming over for dinner. He writes, “It is [i.e., death] the same for all. There is one fate349 for the righteous and for the wicked;350 for the good, for the clean and for the unclean; for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice. As the good man is, so is the sinner; as the swearer is, so is the one who is afraid to swear. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate351 for all men. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.” Solomon could summarize verses 2-3 with these words: “Under the sun, you’re done.” If he were living today, he would say, “We’re all going to ‘take a dirt nap.’” Ultimately, every man who has ever lived or will ever live will die. Solomon was right; the same destiny overtakes us all. You and I can work out, take our vitamins, drink bottled water, stay away from McDonalds, and swear off Krispy Kreme, but even with the best of care for this flesh, it is one day going to give out and we will die.

In 9:3, death is labeled “the evil,” not simply a natural phenomenon.352 Death is an intrusion, it’s an enemy. This means we shouldn’t go to funerals and sing The Lion King song, “The Circle of Life.” The most ridiculous and pathetic advice you could give someone is: “Death is just part of life.” No it isn’t, it is death! It’s the wages of our rebellion and sin against God. It’s cosmic treason and it is punished by death.353 We were created by a living God, to be a living people, who live forever with this living God. The only way to get rid of death is to get rid of sin. That is why Jesus died for our sin, so we could live.354 Today, will you believe in Jesus Christ as you Savior from sin? He offers you eternal and abundant life.355

Despite the inequities of life, Solomon argues that life is better than death. In 9:4-6 he explains: “For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun.”356Solomon is focused on “life under the sun,” he is not talking about “life in the Son.” The person who lives “in the Son” can leave a godly legacy and attain eternal rewards. But that is not under discussion here. Instead, Solomon is speaking of life-and-death matters. We won’t get all we should out of these verses until we recognize that in Solomon’s day, dogs were diseased mongrels that ran in packs through city streets, not pampered pets.357 People feared and loathed them. Nevertheless, Solomon says that a live dog is better than the king of the jungle who’s dead. Why? Because the living know they will die! The living may yet reckon with the reality of death and in so doing embrace the joy life has to offer, but no such possibility exists for those who have already died. Their time has passed. There is no second chance, there is no purgatory, there is no reincarnation, and there is no eternal recurrence of life. You and I are going to die. We’re going to be painted up like a circus clown. We’re going to be filled full of preservatives. We’re going to be shut in a box, thrown into a six-foot hole, and become food for worms. This is painful, but it is true.358

This is one of the best passages in the Bible to offer to one who is contemplating suicide. Life may be a terrible drudgery for you right now. Relationships may have soured, finances may be non-existent, and spiritually you may feel far from God, but if you are breathing, there is hope that things may get better. Many people have built success out of the ashes of failure.359 Relationships can be healed; sickness can be cured; work can improve. It never makes sense to take your life. If you are feeling suicidal today, please tell someone.

Solomon has pulled no punches in his death-dealing exposé. The fact that our days are numbered ought to motivate us to live earnestly for God. In light of the brevity of life, we must live with seriousness, recognizing the importance of a life well invested. Twice a week for the rest of our lives, we ought to begin the day by looking in the mirror and saying, “I am going to die someday—maybe today.” What a difference that would make in our lives. The fact that we will die should affect the way we live.

[Solomon is clear that death is certain. Now he reminds us that…]

  1. Life is uncertain (9:7-12). In this section, Solomon urges us to make the most of our lives because time and chance can overtake us. In 9:7-10, Solomon unveils five imperatives that advocate living life to the fullest (“go,” “eat,” “drink,” “enjoy,” and “do”). These five imperatives are located in the central part of this chapter and are recorded there to present the central thrust of the chapter: life is short; death is certain; so live in the most meaningful way that you can.360
  • Party while you can (9:7-8). In 9:7 Solomon writes, “Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.” Solomon says, “Party on down with family and friends, for life is short and then you die.” Throughout the Scriptures, wine and bread are frequently representative of that which God gives us to comfort and cheer us.361 Even today they are symbols of the joy of the Lord and His goodness and blessing. Thus, we are to enjoy God’s good gifts and celebrate life with others. So slow down and enjoy a meal with your family and friends. The reason Solomon gives is that “God has already approved your works.” This means such enjoyment is God’s will for us. This encouraging word does not contradict the fact that we are the stewards of all God entrusts to us. However, it should help us realize that it is not sinful to take pleasure in what God has given us—even luxuries. We need to balance gratefulness and generosity, retaining some things and giving away others. This balance is not easy, but it is important.
  • Solomon continues in 9:8 by saying, “Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head.” In the Old Testament, births, weddings, and harvest festivals were special occasions and required one to dress up and be fresh. In Solomon’s day, black clothes and ashes on the head were a sign of mourning. Conversely, white clothes and oil362 on the head were a sign of rejoicing. “Oil on your head” is the ancient equivalent of deodorant and perfume and cologne, so do yourself and others a favor and use it. Solomon tells us to dress every day as if we’re on the way to a celebration of life.363 Some would say, “What do I have to rejoice about? I could die any time.” Exactly! That’s a great reason to let every waking moment be a celebration of God’s gift of life. Get dressed. Eat out with a friend. Why? Because you can and because God enjoys your enjoyment.364 Therefore, “have a blast while you last.”365
  • Enjoy your spouse while you can (9:9). Solomon writes, “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.” Solomon had many honeys and many honeymoons—to the demise of his kingdom. He treated himself to hundreds of wives and concubines. Now, at the end of his life, he wishes he had lavished all his love on the wife of his youth. A man who had a thousand women now speaks in the singular rather than the plural. One partner, one heart.366 Husbands, love your wife with every fiber of your being, for this may be your last day on earth. Listen to her, talk with her, spend time with her, make love to her no matter how many times she resists, tell her she is beautiful. Wives, we know this works both ways. Are you easy to enjoy? I will tell you that if you want your husband to enjoy you, be easy to enjoy. If you want your husband to desire your company, make your company pleasant to be around. You might say, “This is hard, she needs to show me first” or “He needs to demonstrate leadership.” But guess what…you’re going to die! What are you waiting for? Don’t waste your time; enjoy your life. Enjoy it now! Have a blast while you last.
  • Glynn Wolfe died alone in Los Angeles at the age of 88. No one came to claim his body; the city paid to have him buried in an unmarked grave. This is sad, but not unusual. It happens all too often in large cities where people tend to live disenfranchised lives. Glynn’s situation was unique, however, because he was no ordinary man. He held a world record. The Guinness Book listed him as the Most Married Man, with 29 marriages to his credit. This means 29 times he was asked, “Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife…forsaking all others, do you pledge yourself only to her, so long as you both shall live?” Twenty-nine times Glynn Wolf said, “I do,” but it never quite worked out that way. He left behind several children, grand-children, great grand-children, a number of living ex-wives, and innumerable ex-in-laws—and still, he died alone. He spent his entire adult life looking for something he apparently never found—and he died alone.367
  • How different this man’s life and death would have been if he invested all his love and energy into one woman. There is an ancient quote from The Talmud—a commentary on Jewish law—that states, “A man should eat and drink beneath his means, clothe himself within his means, and honor his wife above his means.”368 This summarizes well the last three verses.
  • Do your work while you can (9:10). Solomon writes, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.”369 The word “hand” suggests ability, “find” suggests opportunity, and “might” suggests intensity. Solomon wants us to know that we have only one life to make our contribution, “for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.” The Hebrew word Sheol refers to the abode of the dead.370 Solomon is saying: When death overtakes us, our time to plan, be active, and execute wisdom will have come to a screeching halt. Sheol kills earthly work! That is why we must work while we can.371

Work is a privilege that we will not have after we die. Probably, toil connected with the curse on nature is in view here. We will be active in service in heaven, for example, but this will not be work as we know it now (Rev 22:3). If you think work is not a blessing, spend some time talking with someone who has been out of work for a long time.372 Throw yourself into something besides bed! You only get one shot at it. Do something worthwhile. Make a contribution.

I’ve read that a man or woman of fifty, having worked consistently since school, will have put in 56,000 hours of work. Imagine if you will, 56,000 hours of boredom and resentment. Who would come through such an ordeal with a sound mind? Yet a poor attitude towards one’s job creates that environment. Now imagine someone rising in the morning to say, “Thank You, Lord! Another day to use the gifts and the strength and the mind You have given me. What a gift You have given me that I may work and serve.” That mind-set will add years to your life and life to your years. It will also bring you success, promotions, and glory for God.373

Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, often worked eighteen hours a day. Famous explorer and missionary, David Livingstone, once asked him, “How do you manage to do two men’s work in a single day?” Spurgeon replied, “You have forgotten that there are two of us.”374 Surgeon was right. We have the Holy Spirit working in and through us. He can and should make work a pleasure not a pain. So have a blast while you last.

Tragically, many Christians live as if it is a sin to enjoy life.375 Yet, God created man and woman to live in a place called Eden, which means “delight.” The Bible teaches that one day we will live on a new earth that will be like Eden once again.376 So we are to prepare now by living a life of joy. The Hebrews knew joy perhaps better than any culture. In the Old Testament, there are no less than ten different words for “joy.”377 What is the level of joy in your life?

Every year I teach a class called “Eschatology” (i.e., the study of last things) at Ecola Bible School. One of the homework questions I ask my students is, “How would you live today if you knew it would be your last?” Some students give what they think are spiritual responses such as, “I would read my Bible all day and share Jesus with my loved ones.” However, many of the students say, “I would have a good meal with my family and friends. I would tell others how much I love them. I would go skydiving.” They figure if I haven’t read my Bible or shared Christ like I should, why bother doing so in my last day? People and enjoyment are what is meaningful to them. So have a blast while you last.

The last two verses of this section could serve as a summary for the entire book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon writes, “I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all.” But just in case we are confident in our strengths and gifts to help us make our mark, Solomon lists five desirable assets: the “swift,” the “strong,” the “wise,” the “discerning,” and “to men of ability.” He then informs us that these talented individuals do not always win and find great success. Wisdom, skill, and hard work can promote but not guarantee success. This is true because “time and chance overtake them all.”378 First, time limits us. This is an echo of the teaching throughout Ecclesiastes that the seasons of our life are in the hand of God. This is a warrant for faith but also a death-blow for self-confidence. Second, chance is the unexpected event which may throw the most accomplished off course, despite the most thoroughly prepared schemes. Time and chance overtakes humankind just like death itself.379 So have a blast while you last.

Solomon concludes in 9:12 with these powerful words: “Moreover, man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil380 time when it suddenly falls on them.” Unfortunately, man does not often recognize this truth. We live as if we are the master of our own fate, the captain of our soul. How foolish we are! Rather than the master of our fate, we are more like little fish. We swim along, minding our own business, and suddenly we are snatched up by a net…and there is absolutely nothing that we can do about it! Time, chance, and death catch one unexpectedly, like a trap, and there is no escape. When the trap has closed, any opportunity to enjoy life is over. Just stop for a moment and think about it: What will we do if our heart or lungs fails us? What can we do if we contract a fatal disease? What can we do if we lose our job or our business? What will we do if a child dies or if a spouse leaves us? Sooner or later, we will all find out that our present existence and future destiny belong to the Lord alone. So have a blast while you last.

In a sense, this verse is a microcosm of the whole book of Ecclesiastes. So much of life is enigmatic and fails to conform to the rules we have learned. We’ve been taught that if you want to succeed you have to compete and be aggressive, get up earlier, go to bed later, put in more hours, do unto them before they do unto you. But, says Solomon, it doesn’t always work that way. Nothing is guaranteed. This is how life is, but we shouldn’t despair nor should we quit aiming to be swift, strong, wise, brilliant and learned. We should, however, quit thinking that life owes us anything, or, for that matter, that God owes us anything under the sun. Now if you talk about the long run, that’s a different story. Even Solomon says in 8:12: “Although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God.” But in the meantime, often it will seem that time and chance play a bigger part in our lives than God’s providence.

You play the board game Monopoly. You buy railroads and place hotels on Park Place and Boardwalk. You pass “Go” and collect $200. Everyone has fun. Then the game ends, and all the hotels, all the colorful tokens, and all the funny money go back into the box. Solomon, who held an empire much less plastic, would tell us that whether you build in plastic or gold it’s all the same. Build the temple, extend a dynasty, even write three God-inspired books—in the end, it all goes back in the box.381 Likewise, life is short. You and I are going to die. Stop and ask yourself, “What really matters? How do I want to be remembered? What do I want others to say about me?” And then make a commitment to have a blast while you last.

“Oh why do people waste their breath Inventing dainty names for death?”

John Betjeman, the late Poet Laureate of England, wrote those words in his poem “Graveyards.” Every honest person can answer the question, as Betjeman did in his poem: we invent “dainty names” because we don’t want to face up to the reality of death. Sociologist Ernest Becker claimed “that of all things that move men, one of the principal ones is his terror of death” (The Denial of Death, p. 11).

During many years of pastoral ministry, I have seen this denial in action. When visiting bereaved families, I have noticed how often people deliberately avoid the word “death” and substitute phrases like “left us,” “went home,” “went to sleep,” or “passed on.” Of course, when a Christian dies, he or she does “go to sleep” and “go home,” but this assurance should not make death any less real in our thinking or our feeling. The person who treats death lightly may fear death the most. If we take life seriously—and we should—then we can’t treat death flippantly.

This is not the first time the subject of death has come into Solomon’s discourse, nor will it be the last. (See 1:4; 2:14-17; 3:18-20; 4:8; 5:15-16; 6:6; 8:8; 12:1-7.) After all, the only way to be prepared to live is to be prepared to die. Death is a fact of life, and Solomon examined many facets of life so that he might understand God’s pattern for satisfied living. Robert E. Lee’s last words were, “Let the tent be struck!” Unless Jesus Christ returns and takes us to heaven, we will one day “strike our tent” (2 Cor. 5:1-8) and leave the battlefield for a better land. We must be ready.

In this chapter, Solomon drew two conclusions: death is unavoidable (1-10) and life is unpredictable (11-18). That being the case, the best thing we can do is trust God, live by faith, and enjoy whatever blessings God gives us.

  1. Death is unavoidable (ECCL. 9:1-10)

“I’m not afraid to die;” quipped Woody Allen, “I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” But he will be there when it happens, as must every human being, because there is no escaping death when your time has come. Death is not an accident, it’s an appointment (Heb. 9:27), a destiny that nobody but God can cancel or change.

Life and death are “in the hand of God” (v. 1), and only He knows our future, whether it will bring blessing (“love”) or sorrow (“hatred”). Solomon was not suggesting that we are passive actors in a cosmic drama, following an unchangeable script handed to us by an uncaring director. Throughout this book, Solomon has emphasized our freedom of discernment and decision. But only God knows what the future hold for us and what will happen tomorrow because of the decisions we make today.

“As it is with the good man, so with the sinner.” (v. 2, niv). If so, why bother to live a godly life?” someone may ask. “After all, whether we obey the Law or disobey, bring sacrifices or neglect them, make or break promises, we will die just the same.” Yes, we share a common destiny on earth—death and the grave—but we do not share a common destiny in eternity. For that reason, everybody must honestly face “the last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26) and decide how to deal with it. Christians have trusted Jesus Christ to save them from sin and death; so, as far as they are concerned, “the last enemy” has been defeated (Rom. 6:23; John 11:25-26; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-58). Unbelievers don’t have that confidence and are unprepared to die.

How people deal with the reality of death reveals itself in the way they deal with the realities of life. Solomon pointed out three possible responses that people make to the ever-present fear of death.

Escape (v. 3).

The fact of death and the fear of death will either bring out the best in people or the worst in people; and too often it is the worst. When death comes to a family, it doesn’t create problems; it reveals them. Many ministers and funeral directors have witnessed the “X-ray” power of death and bereavement as it reveals the hearts of people. In facing the death of others, we are confronted with our own death, and many people just can’t handle it.

“The heart of the sons of men is full of evil,” and that evil is bound to come out. People will do almost anything but repent in order to escape the reality of death. They will get drunk, fight with their relatives, drive recklessly, spend large amounts of money on useless things, and plunge into one senseless pleasure after another, all to keep the Grim Reaper at arm’s length. But their costly endeavors only distract them from the battle; they don’t end the war, because “the last enemy” is still there.

Those of us who were privileged to have the late Joseph Bayly as our friend know what a positive attitude he had toward death. He and his wife had been through the valley many times and God used them to bring comfort and hope to other sorrowing pilgrims. His book The Last Thing We Talk About (David C. Cook Pub. Co.) is a beautiful testimony of how Jesus Christ can heal the brokenhearted. “Death is the great adventure,” said Joe, “beside which moon landings and space trips pale into insignificance.”

You don’t get that kind of confidence by trying to run away from the reality of death. You get it by facing “the last enemy” honestly, turning from sin and trusting Jesus Christ to save you. Have you done that?

Endurance (vv. 4-6).

When confronted by the stern fact of death, not everybody dives into an escape hatch and shouts, “Let’s eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” Many people just grit their teeth, square their shoulders and endure. They hold on to that ancient motto, “Where there’s life, there’s hope!” (That’s a good paraphrase of v. 4.)

That motto goes as far back as the third century B.C. It’s part of a conversation between two farmers who are featured in a poem by the Greek poet Theokritos. “Console yourself, dear Battos,” says Korydon. “Things may be better tomorrow. While there’s life there’s hope. Only the dead have none.” Shades of Ecclesiastes!

Solomon would be the last person to discourage anybody from hoping for the best. Better to be a living dog (and dogs were despised in that day) than a dead lion. All that the Preacher asked was that we have some common sense along with our hope, lest too late we find ourselves grasping a false hope.

To begin with, let’s keep in mind that one day we shall die (v. 5). The Christian believer has “a living hope,” not a “dead” hope, because the Saviour is alive and has conquered death (1 Peter 1:3-5; 2 Tim. 1:10). A hope that can be destroyed by death is a false hope and must be abandoned.

What Solomon wrote about the dead can be “reversed” and applied to the living. The dead do not know what is happening on earth, but the living know and can respond to it. The dead cannot add anything to their reward or their reputation, but the living can. The dead cannot relate to people on earth by loving, hating, or envying, but the living can. Solomon was emphasizing the importance of seizing opportunities while we live, rather than blindly hoping for something better in the future, because death will end our opportunities on this earth.

“The human body experiences a powerful gravitational pull in the direction of hope,” wrote journalist Norman Cousins, who himself survived a near-fatal illness and a massive heart attack. “That is why the patient’s hopes are the physician’s secret weapon. They are the hidden ingredients in any prescription.”

We endure because we hope, but “hope in hope” (like “faith in faith”) is too often only a kind of self-hypnosis that keeps us from facing life honestly. While a patient may be better off with an optimistic attitude, it is dangerous for him to follow a false hope that may keep him from preparing for death. That kind of hope is hopeless. When the end comes, the patient’s outlook may be cheerful, but the outcome will be tragic.

Life is not easy, but there is more to life than simply enduring. There is a third response to the fact of death, a response that can be made only by those who have trusted Jesus Christ as their Saviour.

Enjoyment (vv. 7-10).

This has been one of Solomon’s recurring themes (2:24; 3:12-15, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15), and he will bring it up again (11:9-10). His admonition “Go thy way!” means: “Don’t sit around and brood! Get up and live!” Yes, death is coming, but God gives us good gifts to enjoy so enjoy them!

Solomon didn’t urge us to join the “jet set” and start searching for exotic pleasures in far away places. Instead, he listed some of the common experiences of home life: happy leisurely meals (v. 7), joyful family celebrations (v. 8), a faithful, loving marriage (v. 9), and hard work (v. 10). What a contrast to modern society’s formula for happiness: fast food and a full schedule, the addictive pursuit of everything new, “live-in marriages,” and shortcuts guaranteed to help you avoid work but still get rich quick.

In recent years, many voices have united to call us back to the traditional values of life. Some people are getting tired of the emptiness of living on substitutes. They want something more substantial than the “right” labels on their clothes and the “right” names to drop at the “right” places. Like the younger brother in our Lord’s parable (Luke 15:11-24), they have discovered that everything that’s really important is back home at the Father’s house.

Enjoy your meals (v. 7).

The average Jewish family began the day with an early snack and then had a light meal (“brunch”) sometime between 10:00 and noon. They didn’t eat together again until after sunset. When their work was done they gathered for the main meal of the day. It consisted largely of bread and wine, perhaps milk and cheese, with a few vegetables and fruit in season, and sometimes fish. Meat was expensive and was served only on special occasions. It was a simple meal that was designed to nourish both the body and the soul, for eating together (“breaking bread”) was a communal act of friendship and commitment.

King Solomon sat down to a daily feast (1 Kings 4:22-23), but there is evidence that he didn’t always enjoy it. “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred” (Prov. 15:17, niv). “Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife” (Prov. 17:1, niv). The most important thing on any menu is family love, for love turns an ordinary meal into a banquet. When the children would rather eat at a friend’s house than bring their friends home to enjoy their mother’s cooking, it’s time to take inventory of what goes on around the table.

Enjoy every occasion (v. 8).

Life was difficult in the average home, but every family knew how to enjoy special occasions such as weddings and reunions. That’s when they wore their white garments (a symbol of joy) and anointed themselves with expensive perfumes instead of the usual olive oil. These occasions were few, so everybody made the most of them.

But Solomon advised the people to wear white garments always and to anoint themselves always with special perfume. Of course, his congregation didn’t take his words literally, because they knew what he was saying: make every occasion a special occasion, even if it’s ordinary or routine. We must not express our thanksgiving and joy only when we are celebrating special events. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4, nkjv).

Among other things, this may be what Jesus had in mind when He told His disciples to become like little children (Matt. 18:1-6). An unspoiled child delights in the simple activities of life, even the routine activities, while a pampered child must be entertained by a variety of expensive amusements. It’s not by searching for special things that we find joy, but by making the everyday things special.

Enjoy your marriage (v. 9).

Solomon knew nothing about “live-in couples” or “trial marriages.” He saw a wife as a gift from God (Prov. 18:22; 19:14) and marriage as a loving commitment that lasts a lifetime. No matter how difficult life may be, there is great joy in the home of the man and woman who love each other and are faithful to their marriage vows. Solomon would agree with psychiatrist M. Scott Peck who calls commitment “the foundation, the bedrock of any genuinely loving relationship” (The Road Less Traveled, p. 140).

It’s too bad Solomon didn’t live up to his own ideals. He forsook God’s pattern for marriage and then allowed his many wives to seduce him from the Lord (1 Kings 11:1-8). If he wrote Ecclesiastes later in life, as I believe he did, then verse 9 is his confession, “Now I know better!”

Enjoy your work (v. 10).

The Jewish people looked upon work, not as a curse, but as a stewardship from God. Even their rabbis learned a trade (Paul was a tent maker) and reminded them, “He who does not teach a son to work, teaches him to steal.” Paul wrote, “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thes. 3:10).

“Do it with all your might” (nasb) suggests two things: Do your very best, and do it while you still have strength. The day may come when you will have to lay down your tools and make way for a younger and stronger worker. Colossians 3:17 applies this principle to the New Testament Christian.

The things that make up employment in this life will not be present in the grave (sheol, the realm of the dead), so make the most of your opportunities now. One day our works will be judged, and we want to receive a reward for His glory (1 Cor. 3:10ff; Col. 3:23-25).

If we fear God and walk by faith we will not try to escape or merely endure life. We will enjoy life and receive it happily as a gift from the Lord.

  1. Life is unpredictable (ECCL. 9:11-18)

Anticipating the response of his listeners (and his readers), Solomon turned from his discussion of death and began to discuss life. “If death is unavoidable,” somebody would argue, “then the smartest thing we can do is major on our strengths and concentrate on life. When death comes, at least we’ll have the satisfaction of knowing we worked hard and achieved some success.”

“Don’t be too sure of that!” was Solomon’s reply. “You can’t guarantee what will happen in life, because life is unpredictable.”

To begin with, our abilities are no guarantee of success (vv. 11-12). While it is generally true that the fastest runners win the races, the strongest soldiers win the battles, and the smartest and most skillful workers win the best jobs, it is also true that these same gifted people can fail miserably because of factors out of their control. The successful person knows how to make the most of “time and procedure” (8:5), but only the Lord can control “time and chance” (v. 11).

Solomon already affirmed that God has a time for everything (3:1-8), a purpose to be fulfilled in that time (8:6), and “something beautiful” to come out of it in the end (3:11). The word “chance” simply means occurrence or event. It has nothing to do with gambling. We might say, “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and I got the job. Ability had very little to do with it!”

Of course, Christians don’t depend on such things as “luck” or “chance,” because their confidence is in the loving providence of God. A dedicated Christian doesn’t carry a rabbit’s foot or trust in lucky days or numbers. Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock said, “I’m a great believer in luck. I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it.” Christians trust God to guide them and help them in making decisions, and they believe that His will is best. They leave “time and chance” in His capable hands.

Who knows when trouble will arrive on the scene and wreck all our great plans (v. 12)? When they least expect it, fish are caught in the net and birds are caught in the trap. So men are snared in “evil times,” sudden events that are beyond their control. That’s why we should take to heart the admonition against boasting (James 4:13-17).

Second, our opportunities are no guarantee of success (vv. 13-18). It is not clear whether the wise man actually delivered the city, or whether he could have saved it, and was asked but did not heed. I lean toward the second explanation because it fits in better with verses 16-18. (The Hebrew allows for the translation “could have”; see the verse 15 footnote in the nasb). The little city was besieged and the wise man could have delivered it, but nobody paid any attention to him. Verse 17 suggests that a ruler with a loud mouth got all of the attention and led the people into defeat. The wise man spoke quietly and was ignored. He had the opportunity for greatness but was frustrated by one loud ignorant man.

“One sinner [the loud ruler] destroys much good” (v. 18, nkjv) is a truth that is illustrated throughout the whole of Scripture, starting with Adam and his disobedience to God (Gen. 3; Rom. 5). Achan sinned and brought defeat on the army of Israel (Joshua 7). David’s sin brought trouble to Israel (2 Sam. 24), and the revolt of Absalom led the nation into a civil war (2 Sam. 15ff).

Since death is unavoidable and life is unpredictable, the only course we can safely take is to yield ourselves into the hands of God and walk by faith in His Word. We don’t live by explanations; we live by promises. We don’t depend on luck but on the providential working of our loving Father as we trust His promises and obey His will.

As we walk by faith, we need not fear our “last enemy,” because Jesus Christ has conquered death. “Fear not; I am the first and the last; I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore” (Rev. 1:17-18). Because He is alive, and we live in Him, we don’t look at life and say, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!”

Instead, we echo the confidence expressed by the Apostle Paul: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:57-58, nkjv).


345 This is the only place in the OT where this word, which normally is used of “service God,” is used as a noun.

346 “Hand” = “power,” cf. Eccl 2:24; Job 19:21; 27:11; Ps 10:12; 17:7.

347 The subsections that follow begin “no one knows” or the equivalent (Eccl 9:1, 12; 11:2; cf. 9:5; 10:14, 15; 11:5 [twice], 6).

348 Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (NAC; Nashville: Broadman, 1993),

349 The word translated “fate” (miqreh) should be translated “event” instead. Solomon refers only to that which “meets men at the end of their lives, an “event,” a “happening,” or “outcome.”

350 The “wicked” and “righteous” both refer to covenant people (not people of the world) because this follows the theology of Deut 31:29 and Jdgs 2:19.

351 The word translated as “fate” (miqreh) appears only rarely outside of the Book of Ecclesiastes, one time each in 1 Sam 6:9 (“chance” – NASB), in 1 Sam 20:26 (“accident” – NASB), and in Ruth 2:3 (not translated, but is subsumed by the verb “happened” – NASB). Within the Book of Ecclesiastes, the author consistently (all seven times) uses this word to reference the ultimate end (“under the sun”) of all animate beings – that ultimate end being “death” (Eccl 2:14, 15; 3:19 [3x]; 9:2, 3). Barry C. Davis, The Book of Ecclesiastes, Multnomah Biblical Seminary unpublished class notes.

352 This too is a meditation on the fall; humanity has been cut off from the tree of life (Gen 3:8-24).

353 Paul writes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…For the wages of sin is death” (Rom 3:23; 6:23a).

354 David Fairchild, “Living While Dying” (Eccl 9:1-12).

355 Jesus Himself said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have itabundantly” (John 10:10).

356 Verses 4-6 do not contradict 4:2-3 where Solomon said the dead are better off than the living. A person who is suffering oppression may feel it is preferable to be dead (4:1), but when a person is dead his opportunities for earthly enjoyment are non-existent (9:4-6). Dr. Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on Ecclesiastes”; 2007 edition: http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/ecclesiastes.pdf, 24.

357 See 1 Sam 17:43; 24:14.

358 Fairchild, “Living While Dying.”

359 Michael P. Andrus, “Sharp Goads and Hard Nails” (Eccl 7-11): unpublished sermon notes.

360 Davis, The Book of Ecclesiastes.

361 Eccl 2:24; 3:13; 5:18; 8:15; cf. Gen. 14:18; 1 Sam 16:20; 25:18; Neh 5:15; Lam 2:12.

362 Putting oil on the face and arms was a sign of gladness (cf. Ps 23:5; 45:7; 104:15; Isa 61:3).

363 Paul joins the chorus: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil 4:4) And “rejoice always” (1 Thess 5:16).

364 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 233.

365 This clever title/slogan comes from Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge: Coming to Terms with Reality, Bible Study Guide (Fullerton, CA: Insight for Living, 1986), 250.

366 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 234.

367 Preaching Today citation: Steve May, Sermonnotes.com.

368 Preaching Today citation: The Talmud; submitted by Aaron Goerner, Utica, NY.

369 It is quite possible that the Apostle Paul had Eccl 9:10 in mind when he wrote Col 3:23, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” His point is: Life must be lived to the fullest in all that you do. Elsewhere, Paul wrote, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). A helpful maxim here is, “Doing a little thing for God makes it a big thing.” The reason being, our God is not a little god…He is a colossal God! Anything that is done for the Lord and His glory is an enormously significant work!

370Sheol occurs sixty-five times in the OT and is translated “grave” in approximately half of those instances. The word sheol encompasses the region of departed spirits who are conscious, either in bliss or torment. Since the writers of the OT believed in an afterlife, sheol never means just the grave.

371 Jesus said, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4).

372 Constable, “Notes on Ecclesiastes,” 25.

373 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 234.

374 Preaching Today citation: “Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” Christian History, no. 29.

375 Lest we think that only the ancient Hebrew readers to whom the author of Ecclesiastes was writing are those who should heed Solomon’s advice (commands), the authors of the NT concur. See Matt 5:16; 1 Cor 10:31; Eph 5:28, 33; Phil 4:4; Col 3:17, 23; 1 Thess 5:18; 1 Tim 6:17.

376 See Rev 21-22.

377 See Neh 8:10; Ps 104:31; Zeph 3:17.

378 Five accomplishments are listed, none of which guarantees success or prosperity: (1) the swift-footed may find himself a loser (cf. 2 Sam 2:18); (2) military strength is no guarantee of success in battle (cf. Isa 36-37); (3) wisdom similarly is no guarantee of a livelihood (cf. Eccl 9:13-16; 10:1); (4) understanding may be accompanied by poverty (cf. Eccl 9:15); and (5) favor may be delayed for innocent Joseph (Gen 37-41) and not come at all for others (Eccl 9:13-16). Michael A. Eaton, Ecclesiastes: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 16. The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, ed. by D. J. Wiseman (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1983), 130.

379 The prophet Jeremiah explained why these apparent “upsets’ in the natural order of things happen: “It is not for man to direct his steps” (Jer 10:23). Ultimately God is sovereign and in complete control.

380 Nowhere in Scripture, here or in its seven other occurrences (Jer 2:27, 28; 11:12; 15:11; Amos 5:13; Mic 2:3; and Ps 37:19)—with the possible exception of Amos 5:13—do the authors of Scripture use the phrase to indicate a condition of sinfulness. Instead, those writers use this phrase to denote a time of disaster, trouble, or calamity. Davis, The Book of Ecclesiastes.

381 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 227.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2021 in Ecclesiastes

 

Uncommon Things We Believe #4 Autonomous Church Government Acts 14:19-23


Uncommon Things We Believe Series #3aThe church of our Lord is a wonderful institution, built according to a Divine pattern and purpose.

(Ephesians 3:10-11)  His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, {11} according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 As we look around the religious world, we find that there are a number of  kinds of church government.  One question that comes to mind in seeing this considerable diversity is, “Does the Bible have anything to say on the subject?”

In churches of Christ, we commonly believe that the Scriptures supply us with the form of church government that God desires. We believe that this biblical pattern includes: local autonomy, heavenly rather than earthly headquarters, qualifications and responsibilities for elders and deacons, and a style of leadership that is very different from that of the world.

The Local Autonomy Of The Church

(Acts 14:23)  Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

 (Titus 1:5)  The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

The New Testament shows no government beyond that of the local congregation. Each congregation was to develop its own autonomous government overseen by a plurality of elders.

(Ephesians 4:11-12)  It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, {12} to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

The church of the New Testament is an absolute Monarchy (with Christ as the head) but is granted democratic self-government power, exercised indirectly through the elders who are the official representatives, rulers, and overseers of the people. It is limited to matters of opinion and expediency.

The wrong kind of leadership: (Luke 22:25)  Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.

THE MEANING OF CONGREGATIONAL AUTONOMY

1. Congregational autonomy means equality before God. Each congregation stands before God on equal ground. No church can exercise authority over another church “in the name of” Christ or “ by faith.”

2. It means to be self-governing. Each congregation has equal authority to plan, manage and do its own work, to discipline its own members, within its divinely ordained framework, without interference, coercion, or dictation from regional presbyters, district superintendent, general overseer, pope, or any human authority.

3. It means proper respect for the jurisdiction of elders. The Bible teaching concerning the jurisdiction of elders helps to clarify how congregations are to function under their leadership.

(1 Thessalonians 5:1-28 (ESV) We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you…

“Over you in the Lord” (defines the realm and nature of their leadership) and admonish you,

It is spiritual (“in the Lord), not political or worldly.

Elders are over (not under) the entire congregation in which the Holy Spirit made them bishops.

Acts 20:28 (ESV)  Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood..)

The nature of their authority is not legislative, but administrative. They cannot authorize what God has not, or forbid what he commands and allows.

It is not arbitrary authority, but loving leadership motivated, tempered and governed by the will and purpose of God.

It is not individual or a pyramid-like authority, but a collective, group, shared authority of equals who stand on the same ground.

It is not the absolute, high-handed rule of domineering commanders, but the work of loving pastors who follow the meek and lowly Son of Man in feeding, leading and living among the flock of God-men who rule well by example in a faithful and humble way that inspires imitation.

1 Peter 5:1-4 (ESV)

1  So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed:
2  shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;
3  not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
4  And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Hebrews 13:7 (ESV)

7  Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

It means to be independent but not isolationist. Each congregation is truly independent, without being isolationist. When a congregation adopts an unfeeling, unconcerned, isolationist attitude, it departs from the Lord’s teaching.

It means to be mutually free and mutually helpful. Each congregation is obligated to assist sister congregations. They must share the material and spiritual blessings of life with the needy. (Acts 11: 22-24; 11:27-30; Phil. 4: 15-17)

Leo Boles wrote in Feb., 1940: “The wisdom of God is seen in such an arrangement for His church. If one became corrupted in doctrine or affected by evil practices, the other churches would not be so affected. If dissension arose in one, it would not spread to the others; if one perished, the others would not be dragged down. If a window is made of one large pane, a break injures the entire pane; but if it can be made of several panes, it is not so bad to break one. The independence of the churches is a protection for each other.”

Even the Apostles worked within the context of local congregations (Acts 13:1-3).

(Acts 13:1-3)  In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. {2} While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” {3} So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

The Apostles gave doctrine to the churches and settled matters of dispute:

(1 Corinthians 11:1.)  In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.

 The Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 does not violate this principle of local independence. This was a miraculously endowed gathering (15:28), and thus the resolution adopted was clearly with the help of a direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. No such revelation is available today.

The New Testament in its complete form is the standard that thoroughly furnishes us today. No council of men has any authority over groups of churches.

The Heavenly Headquarters Of The Church (Eph. 1:19-23).

(Ephesians 1:19-23)  and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, {20} which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, {21} far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. {22} And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, {23} which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

The church Jesus built has no earthly headquarters, simply because the Head of the church is quartered in Heaven (Acts 2:33; Col. 3:1-3). Even Jerusalem in the early days of the church was not the headquarters for the church (Gal. 2:1-10).

Paul took his orders from Christ, not from Jerusalem (vv. 7-10).  Those in Jerusalem were not above others in the church (v. 6).  Again, we are reminded that the local congregation was the highest expression of earthly church government.

Extra Material–The Qualifications And Work Of Elders And Deacons (I Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9).

As we might expect, if God gave offices for the local church (Phil. 1:1), then He gave qualifications for the offices. Elders or presbyters, overseers or bishops, pastors or shepherds (the KJV uses six English words to translate three Greek words) are designations all referring to the same office (Acts 20:17, 28; I Pet. 5:1-4).

Today, contrary to New Testament revelation, a “pastor” is commonly seen to be a preacher with nothing to do with work within an eldership. It is very uncommon to find the common New Testament pattern of local church government present today.

The work of elders was primarily that of shepherding and overseeing the local church in a mature manner—as the biblical designations for the work imply.

Deacons served under elders in the church of the New Testament (Phil. 1:1). The name “deacon” is but the common term for a servant or minister.  In the special work that also used this name, there were qualification relating both to character and life situation.

Unlike today, when the place of deacons often replaces that of elders, in New Testament times deacons were not congregational decision makers. Acts 6:1-6 demonstrates the role of deacons in relationship to church leadership (as the church was developing toward maturity, Apostles, at first, functioned somewhat as elders in a local congregation).

The leadership of the local congregation, though authoritative (Heb. 13:17), is not exercised as in secular institutions (Matt. 20:20-28). Serving, not lording over, is a distinctive feature of biblical leadership.

In fact, no one elder has any more authority than any other member of the church, that is why “elder(s)” were appointed in all the churches.  An elder’s authority is exercised in pursuing the decisions of an eldership, as these decisions reflect the will of Christ (Eph. 2:20).

There is no “one man” rule in the church, except as it is in the Man Jesus Christ. Elders, therefore, must be careful not to speak unilaterally for the eldership.

Shepherds are to know the congregation and be willing to serve the best interests of the brethren with their very lives (cf. Jn. 10:11-15). It might well be said of shepherds that they should “smell like sheep.”

Though “uncommon” in this world, the pattern for the church’s government is nevertheless easy to see. If God had wanted it another way, He would have given it another way.       We were promised all things in Christ (Jn. 14:26; 16:13; II Pet. 1:2-3).  Let us “contend earnestly” for what we were “once for all given” (Jude 3).

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2021 in Church, Doctrine

 

Ecclesiastes: The Good Life #10 Living Under the Thumb Ecclesiastes 8:1-17


Devoted To You

One day, a bus driver was driving along his usual route. He didn’t encounter any problems for the first few stops; a few people got on, a few got off, and things went generally well. At one stop, however, a big hulk of a man got on. He was 6’ 8”, built like a bodybuilder, and his arms hung down to the ground. He glared at the driver and told him, “Big John doesn’t pay!” Then he sat down at the back of the bus. The driver was 5’ 3”, thin, and very meek, so he didn’t argue with Big John.

But he wasn’t happy about it. The next day, the same thing happened. Big John got on again, made a big show of refusing to pay, and sat down. It happened the next day, and again the day after that. The bus driver began to lose sleep over the way Big John was taking advantage of him.

Finally, he could stand it no longer. He signed up for bodybuilding courses, karate, judo, and a class on finding your self-esteem. By the end of the summer, the bus driver had become quite strong and felt really good about himself. The next Monday, Big John entered the bus and again declared, “Big John doesn’t pay!” Enraged, the driver stood up, glared back at Big John, and bellowed, “And why not?!” With a surprised look on his face, Big John replied, “Big John has a bus pass.”320

This poor bus driver learned a valuable lesson: Things are not always as they appear.

In Eccl 8:1-17, Solomon shares that in the midst of life we must trust that God is in control of those things we don’t understand. This requires humility and wisdom. I am reminded of an old country song by Mac Davis, “It’s Hard to Be Humble.” I would suggest, “It’s easier to be humble when you submit to authority.” In this chapter, Solomon gives two simple tips for living with humility (and wisdom).

1. Respect human authority (8:1-9).

In this section, Solomon urges us to respect human authorities. Ironically, Solomon writes these words as the King of Israel. He is a king writing about how to get along with the king. In 8:1a Solomon poses an insightful question: “Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter?” This rhetorical question requires the answer, “No one!” No one is like the wise person who studies the Bible and knows God’s will. Solomon continues in 8:1b by stating: “A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam.” Solomon says the wise person is illumined and has so much joy that you can see it on his face. He is not telling us to be wise and fake it; he is saying that we should be joyful, no matter what the circumstances are.321 What do others see when they look at you? Do you have joy? If not, perhaps it’s because you aren’t soaking in the wisdom of God’s Word. It’s not being integrated into your life and giving you joy. Wisdom brings joy because a person who has biblical wisdom is assured of what is right. There is no greater privilege than understanding where we came from, who we are, where we are going, how sin is removed, and what the will of God is. There is no greater blessing and there is no other place to find these answers than from God in His Word. Solomon begins this chapter by saying that in a world full of questions, it’s wonderful to know the absolutes of life. Some things in life we can’t understand but some things we can understand—what the moral will of God is, who He is, and who we are in Him.322

In 8:2-4, Solomon explains our responsibility to government. Now this may remove the smile from your face; however, God wants us to exercise wisdom and behave appropriately in the presence of our king. In 8:2 Solomon writes, “I say, ‘Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God.” Solomon begins this section with a command: “Keep the command of the king.”323Notice that this obedience is not for the sake of the king. It is for the sake of the One who placed the king on the throne.324 It is “because of the oath before God.” It was the practice in the ancient world that when a king came to the throne, the people of his kingdom were required to swear an oath of obedience to that king.325 Today we do not enter into these kinds of oaths. But we do make commitments to authorities. We pledge allegiance to the country of our citizenship. When we work for an employer, we are bound to obey him until such a time that we leave his employment. At our church, members promise to worship, serve, give, and submit to the leadership. We all make commitments (“oaths”) to various authorities.

Unfortunately, we have a tendency to make commitments or oaths prematurely and then find ourselves unable to fulfill them. God sees this as breaking our oath to Him, not to the king. How you obligate yourself to work, marriage, and church, is a great indication of your character. If you were hasty to get married and now find that you aren’t as motivated to keep your vows as you were in the beginning, realize that God is who you are breaking your oath to. If you make promises to your work in order to get the job, and now you find that you can’t manage to fulfill these promises, remember that God is the One you are offending. If you promise that you will serve at the church and use your gifts for God’s glory, then falter in your promises, remember it is God whom you are breaking your commitment to. Does this mean you should never make vows or promises? No. It means you should be cautious who you obligate yourself to and ensure that when you make obligations, even small ones, God is behind all of it. We ought to remember that any authority under which we find ourselves is a God-ordained authority and should be obeyed. The only exception to this rule is when such an authority commands us to do something that is in opposition to God’s Word. Only then are we to disobey, and then only in that single area.326

Of course, it is not always easy to obey a king. There are times when kings don’t do what we want or expect them to do. This leads Solomon to write in 8:3-4: “Do not be in a hurry to leave him. Do not join in an evil matter, for he will do whatever he pleases.’327 Since the word of the king is authoritative, who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’”328The idea here is of abandoning support for a leader just because he does not do what you wanted or expected him to do. Earlier in Eccl 4:13-16, Solomon discussed how a king’s popularity can quickly evaporate. Someone new comes along and the people throng to his side abandoning the present leader. Solomon says that wisdom should slow this down and will use caution in leaving a leader. This is also relevant in other areas of our lives. It is easy to become disenchanted with your spouse and assume that if you leave your current spouse you can be happier with a new spouse. It is easy to become disillusioned at church by pastors or those in leadership. Most people immediately threaten to leave, assuming that they will not have these types of frustrations at other churches. This principle also applies to our jobs. The greener grass syndrome is very deceptive. In our attempt to escape our troubles, we may find further grief and pain.

The NIV’s translation of the second clause of 8:3 (“Do not stand up for a bad cause”) captures Solomon’s intent better than does the NASB’s rendering (“Do not join in an evil matter”). The NASB’s interpretation potentially leaves the reader wondering what exactly the “evil matter” is, or perhaps even if the author is urging the reader not to participate together with the king in some jointly executed evil act. By contrast, the NIV’s interpretation of the second clause helps the reader to understand that the prohibited action is one in which an individual joins together with others in an attempt to thwart or contradict some action of the king (or perhaps even to participate in a plot to overthrow the king).329 Solomon warns against acting in opposition to a king because a king does whatever he wants. Furthermore, a king has the right to rule and you do not. It’s easier to be humble when you submit to authority.

In 8:5-7, Solomon brings up the theme of timing when he writes, “He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble, for a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every delight,330 though a man’s trouble331 is heavy upon him. If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen?” The wise person knows the right time to act (8:5), because there is a right time for every action (8:6). Yet, no one can fully predict when that right time will be, because no one (other than God) knows the future (8:7). Not only are you to obey human authority because God said to do it, you are also to do so because it makes life a lot easier. Generally speaking, when you obey the king’s commands, you don’t get into any trouble with the king.332 This principle has many modern-day corollaries. When you drive the speed limit, you don’t have to worry about speed traps. When you pay your taxes, you aren’t particularly worried about an IRS audit. When you do your work faithfully on the job, it doesn’t concern you that the boss is watching. So save yourself some grief and obey the laws of the land. Not only will you be pleasing the Lord, but you will avoid trouble. It’s easier to be humble when you submit to authority.

This first section closes in 8:8-9. Solomon writes, “No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death; and there is no discharge in the time of war, and evil will not deliver those who practice it. All this I have seen and applied my mind to every deed that has been done under the sun wherein a man has exercised authority over another man to his hurt.” This is a general summation of the human situation. Solomon reminds us that we have no control over some of the most important elements in our lives. We have no control over the weather that affects us daily. You’ve probably taken a trip to the coast hoping for sunshine, but instead you are greeted with rain and wind. We have no control of the weather. We have little or no control over what may be considered the most significant day of our earthly lives—the day of our death. We can eat healthy, take vitamins, exercise, and still die unexpectedly. A doctor told his patient, “I’m afraid you only have three weeks to live,” “Okay then,” the patient replied, “I’ll take the last two weeks of July and the week between Christmas and New Year’s.”333 That’s not how it works. We have no control over our death day. We also have little or no control over events that might hasten the day of our death (i.e., being discharged from war). Sadly, Solomon informs us that when we do have authority (8:9), we tend to use it to hurt others. In all of this uncertainty and frustration we must trust the Lord as we go through life. It’s easier to be humble when you submit to authority.

[God is clear that we are to respect human authority. In our second section, He will say…]

2. Respect divine authority (8:10-17).

In this section, Solomon urges us to fear God and submit to Him. In 8:10 he writes, “So then, I have seen the wicked buried, those who used to go in and out from the holy place, and they are soon forgotten in the city where they did thus. This too is futility.” In this verse, “the wicked” are unbelievers who go through the motions of attending “the holy place” (i.e., the Temple) on a regular basis. The phrase translated “they are soon forgotten” or “they received praise” is better rendered “they boasted” (NET).334 These hypocrites assume that they can disrespect God and His authority over their lives. But God wants the wicked to know that He has the last laugh.

In 8:11, Solomon explains that one of the primary reasons the wicked continue in their wickedness is delayed justice. He puts it like this: “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.” God’s mercy in not executing judgment immediately against those who sin is interpreted by those who do not openly fear God as being either a sign of weakness or impotence on God’s part, or a sign of a laissez-faire attitude on God’s part. The sinner then assumes (incorrectly, of course) that God does not really care whether people sin or not and/or that there are no negative consequences for sinning. Thus, the sinner feels secure in a self-oriented life, doing whatever he or she desires to do with no worries about what God may think or do. This is also true in government and paternal discipline. We slough off if there are no consequences.335

In spite of the fact that the wicked seem to prosper, Solomon argues that it is still better to fear God. In 8:12-14 he writes, “Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God. There is futility which is done on the earth, that is, there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility.” Solomon acknowledges that sometimes justice is backwards. The righteous receive what the wicked deserve and vice versa. A criminal gets shot and sues the city. A Christian family is killed by a drunk driver. Missionaries are martyred. Babies are aborted. These are depressing mysteries in life that cannot be resolved “under the sun.” Yet, these mysteries may have been generated intentionally by God so that humans would have to trust Him to guide them.336

In the end, the wicked will come and go. Their end will come quickly for their lives are likened to a shadow that passes by. Solomon emphasizes the “fear” of God three times in 8:12-13. The inevitable conclusion is that this is the only way to live one’s life.

In Psalm 73, Asaph contrasts the end of the wicked with that of the righteous. He reminds us that although it appears that the wicked are defying God, ultimately, the Lord will judge them in righteousness and truth. Asaph did not come to this realization by looking at the circumstances around him, he had to enter into the sanctuary of God; then he perceived their end! (Ps 73:17) The truth is, apart from the Scripture and fellowship with other believers, we will not find any peace in this life. We need God and each other.

So what is Solomon’s solution to this wretched life? He shares his pearls of wisdom in 8:15: “So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life337 which God has given him under the sun.” Solomon says, “Life is to be enjoyed.”338 The formal refrain: “to eat and to drink and to be merry” is Solomon’s way of saying: “Life is a gift from God, make the most of it.” Carpe Diem: “Seize the Day!” Even though life doesn’t always make sense, even though we don’t always understand what God is doing, we can trust in His sovereignty and let Him worry about all that is going on around us. So go out and enjoy your favorite meal! Do you like Chinese, Mexican, Italian, or a good steak or burger? Whatever your preference, eat and enjoy yourself. Solomon also tells us to drink. He means just what he says, “Drink,” but be sure to do so in moderation. Finally, he encourages us to be merry. Since you can’t change the present, the past, or the future, you might as well trust God and be content…even downright merry. Life is short and then you die. Why make this life miserable? Enjoy it.

Chapter 8 closes in 8:16-17 with these words: “When I gave my heart to know wisdom and to see the task which has been done on the earth (even though one should never sleep day or night), and I saw every work of God, I concluded that man cannot discover the work which has been done under the sun. Even though man should seek laboriously, he will not discover; and though the wise man should say, ‘I know,’ he cannot discover.”339Solomon discovered that he could not discover. God’s great knowledge and immensity overwhelmed him. Solomon is not alone. The more we work and think through various quandaries, the more we ought to recognize that we are humble peons that can’t discover a thing. What we really need is to stop striving and straining and to return to simple faith in God.

An advanced student asked the legendary Bruce Lee if Lee would teach him everything he knew about martial arts. In response, Lee held up two cups, both filled with water: “This cup represents all I know, and the second cup represents all you know,” Lee said. “If you want to fill your cup with my knowledge, you must first empty your cup of your knowledge.”340

Harry Houdini made a name for himself by escaping from every imaginable confinement—from straightjackets to multiple pairs of handcuffs clamped to his arms. He boasted that no jail cell could hold him. Time and again, he would be locked in a cell only to reappear minutes later. It worked every time—but one. He accepted another invitation to demonstrate his skill. He entered the cell, wearing his street clothes, and the jail cell door shut. Once alone, he pulled a thin but strong piece of metal from his belt and began working the lock. But something was wrong. No matter how hard Houdini worked, he couldn’t unlock the lock. For two hours he applied skill and experience to the lock but failed time and time again. Two hours later he gave up in frustration. The problem? The cell had never been locked. Houdini worked himself to near exhaustion trying to achieve what could be accomplished by simply pushing the door open. The only place the door was locked was in his mind.

Faith is not a complex process. It is not the result of years of education, pilgrimages, or flashy supernatural experiences. The door to belief is ready to open and is locked only in the minds of those who choose to believe it is.341 God wants you and me to stop trying to figure this life out. He just wants us to humble ourselves and submit to Him. Will you trust God in the midst of this unstable and uncertain life? Will you choose to believe that He is bigger and wiser than you are?

 

What About the Wicked? Ecclesiastes 8

As King Solomon continued to investigate the value of wisdom, he came face to face with the problem of evil in the world, a problem that no thinking person can honestly avoid. It is not unbelief that creates this problem, but faith. If there is no God, then we have nobody to blame but ourselves (or fate) for what happens in the world. But if we believe in a good and loving God, we must face the difficult question of why there is so much suffering in the world. Does God know about it and yet not care? Or does He know and care but lack the power to do anything about it?

Some people ponder this question and end up becoming either agnostics or atheists, but in so doing, they create a whole new problem: “Where does all the good come from in the world?” It’s difficult to believe that matter alone produced the beautiful and enjoyable things we have in our world, even in the midst of so much evil.

Other people solve the problem by saying that evil is only an illusion and we shouldn’t worry about it, or that God is in the process of “evolving” and can’t do much about the tragedies of life. They assure us that God will get stronger and things will improve as the process of evolution goes on.

Solomon didn’t deny the existence of God or the reality of evil, nor did he limit the power of God. Solomon solved the problem of evil by affirming these factors and seeing them in their proper perspective. We must not forget that one major source of evil in this world is fallen man and his “many devices,” both good and evil, that have helped to create problems of one kind or another (7:29, nasb). God certainly can’t be blamed for that!

During the darkest days of World War II, somebody asked a friend of mine, “Why doesn’t God stop the war?” My friend wisely replied, “Because He didn’t start it in the first place.” Solomon would have agreed with that answer.

The Preacher explored the problem of evil in the world by examining three key areas of life.

  1. Authority (ECCL. 8:1-9)

Beginning with Nimrod (Gen. 10:8-9) and continuing over the centuries through Pharaoh, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, the Caesars, and the latest petty dictator, millions of good people have been oppressed in one way or another by bad rulers. The Jews often suffered at the hands of foreign oppressors, and Solomon himself had been guilty of putting his own people under a heavy yoke of bondage (1 Kings 4:7-28; 12:1ff).

Keep in mind that Eastern rulers in that day held the power of life and death in their hands and often used that power capriciously. They were not elected by the people nor were they answerable to them. Some leaders ruled as benevolent dictators, but for the most part rulers in the ancient East were tyrannical despots who permitted nothing to stand in the way of fulfilling their desires.

Solomon described an officer in the royal court, a man who had to carry out the orders of a despotic ruler. The officer had wisdom; in fact, it showed on his face (v. 1, and see Neh. 2:1ff and Prov. 15:13). Suppose the king commanded the servant to do something evil, something that the servant did not want to do? What should the servant do? Here is where wisdom comes to his aid. His wisdom told him that there were four possible approaches he could take to this problem.

Disobedience.

But Solomon’s admonition was, “Keep the king’s commandment” (v. 2). Why? To begin with, the officer must be true to his oath of allegiance to the king and to God, who is the source of all authority in this world (Rom. 13). To disobey orders would mean breaking his promise to the ruler and to God, and that has serious consequences.

The king’s word would have more power than the word of his servant (v. 4) and was bound to prevail, even if the king had to eliminate the opposition. Nobody could safely question the ruler’s decisions because “the king can do no wrong.” There was no law that could find the king guilty.

Third, the officer should obey orders so that he might avoid punishment (v. 5a). After all, his disobedience could lead to his death (see Dan. 4). Paul used a similar argument in Romans 13:3-4. We all have enough misery, so why add to it (v. 7)? Furthermore, since nobody can predict the future, we don’t know how the king will respond to our decisions.

One thing is sure: a day is coming when wickedness will be judged (v. 8b), and even kings will not escape. Nobody can control the wind or prevent the day of his death (“wind” and “spirit” are the same word in the Hebrew), and nobody can get discharged from the army when a war is on. Likewise, nobody can stop the inexorable working of God’s law, “Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7, nkjv). “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23).

But suppose the servant simply cannot obey his master? Then the servant must consider the other possibilities.

Desertion (v. 3a).

You can just see the officer leaving the king’s presence in disgust and giving up his position in court.

Even this action may not be safe since the king might be offended and punish the man anyway. But more than one person has quit a job or resigned from office in order to maintain his or her integrity. I recall chatting with a Christian press operator who left a fine job with a large printing firm because the company had decided to start printing pornographic magazines. He lost some income, but he kept his character.

Defiance (v. 3b).

“Do not stand up for a bad cause” (niv) can mean “Don’t promote the king’s evil plan” or “Don’t get involved in a plan to overthrow the king.” I prefer the second interpretation because it goes right along with the first admonition in verse 3. The officer rushes from the king’s presence, finds others who are opposed to the king’s plans, and with them begins to plot against the crown. Solomon did not approve of this approach.

Is there ever a place for “civil disobedience” in the life of the believer? Do law-abiding citizens have the right to resist authority when they feel the law is not just? Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.” Was he right?

When it comes to matters of conscience and the law, devoted believers have pretty much agreed with Peter: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Christian prisoners and martyrs down through the ages testify to the courage of conscience and the importance of standing up for what is right. This doesn’t mean we can resist the law on every minor matter that disturbs us, but it does mean we have the obligation to obey our conscience. How we express our disagreement with the authorities demands wisdom and grace; this is where the fourth possibility comes in.

Discernment (vv. 5b-6).

The wise servant understands that “time and judgment [procedure, nasb]” must be considered in everything we do, because it takes discernment to know the right procedure for the right time. The impulsive person who overreacts and storms out of the room (v. 3) is probably only making the problem worse. Wisdom helps us understand people and situations and to figure out the right thing to do at the right time. “The wise heart will know the proper time and procedure” (v. 5b, niv).

This is illustrated beautifully in the lives of several Old Testament believers. Joseph didn’t impulsively reveal to his brothers who he was, because he wanted to be sure their hearts were right with their father and their God. Once he heard them confess their sins, Joseph knew it was the right time to identify himself. His handling of this delicate matter was a masterpiece of wisdom (see Gen. 43-45).

Nehemiah was burdened to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, but he was not sure the king would release him for the task (Neh. 1-2). He waited and watched and prayed, knowing that God would one day open the way for him. When the opportune hour came, Nehemiah was ready and the king granted him his request. Nehemiah knew how to discern “time and procedure.”

A prisoner of war in a Gentile land, Daniel refused to eat the unclean food set before him, but he didn’t make a big scene about it. Instead, he exercised gentleness and wisdom by suggesting that the guards permit the Jews to experiment with a different diet. The plan worked and Daniel and his friends not only kept themselves ceremonially clean, but they were promoted in the king’s court (see Dan. 1).

The apostles exercised spiritual discernment when they were arrested and persecuted (Acts 4-5). They showed respect toward those in authority even though the religious leaders were prejudiced and acted illegally. The apostles were even willing to suffer for their faith and the Lord honored them.

We have the options of disobeying, running away, defying orders, and even fighting back. But before we act, we must first exercise wisdom and seek to discern the right “time and procedure.” It’s not easy to be a consistent Christian in this complicated evil world, but we can ask for the wisdom of God and receive it by faith (James 1:5; 3:17-18).

  1. Inequity (ECCL. 8:10-14)

Solomon summarized his concern in verse 14: “righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve” (niv). In spite of good laws and fine people who seek to enforce them, there is more injustice in this world than we care to admit. A Spanish proverb says, “Laws, like the spider’s web, catch the fly and let the hawks go free.” According to famous trial lawyer F. Lee Bailey, “In America, an acquittal doesn’t mean you’re innocent; it means you beat the rap.” His definition is a bit cynical, but poet Robert Frost defined a jury as “twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.”

In verse 10, Solomon reported on a funeral he had attended. The deceased was a man who had frequented the temple (“the place of the holy”) and had received much praise from the people, but he had not lived a godly life. Yet he was given a magnificent funeral, with an eloquent eulogy, while the truly godly people of the city were ignored and forgotten.

As he reflected on the matter, Solomon realized that the deceased man had continued in his sin because he thought he was getting away with it (v. 11). God is indeed longsuffering toward sinners and doesn’t always judge sin immediately (2 Peter 3:1-12). However, God’s mercy must not be used as an excuse for man’s rebellion.

The Preacher concluded that the wicked will eventually be judged and the righteous will be rewarded (vv. 12-13), so it is better to fear the Lord and live a godly life. The evil man may live longer than the godly man. He may appear to get away with sin after sin, but the day of judgment will come and the wicked man will not escape. It is wisdom that points the way; for “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10).

No matter how long or full the wicked man’s life may seem to be, it is only prolonged like a shadow and has no substance (v. 13). In fact, the shadows get longer as the sun is setting. Solomon may be suggesting that the long life of the wicked man is but a prelude to eternal darkness. What good is a long life if it is only a shadow going into the blackness of darkness forever (Jude 13)?

How should the wise person respond to the inequities and injustices in this world? Certainly we should do all we can to encourage the passing of good laws and the enforcement of them by capable people, but even this will not completely solve the problem. Until Jesus Christ sets up His righteous kingdom, there will always be injustices in our world. It is one of the “vanities” of life, and we must accept it without becoming pessimistic or cynical.

  1. Mystery (ECCL. 8:15-17)

The person who has to know everything, or who thinks he knows everything, is destined for disappointment in this world. Through many difficult days and sleepless nights, the Preacher applied himself diligently to the mysteries of life. He came to the conclusion that “man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun” (v. 17; see 3:11; 7:14, 24, 27-28). Perhaps we can solve a puzzle here and there, but no man or woman can comprehend the totality of things or explain all that God is doing.

Historian Will Durant surveyed human history in his multivolume Story of Civilization and came to the conclusion that “our knowledge is a receding mirage in an expanding desert of ignorance.” Of course, this fact must not be used as an excuse for stupidity. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). God doesn’t expect us to know the unknowable, but He does expect us to learn all that we can and obey what He teaches us. In fact, the more we obey, the more He will teach us (John 7:17).

A confession of ignorance is the first step toward true knowledge. “And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:2, nkjv). The person who wants to learn God’s truth must possess honesty and humility. Harvard philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, “Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance, is the death of knowledge.”

The French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in his famous Pensees (#446): “If there were no obscurity, man would not feel his corruption; if there were no light, man could not hope for a cure. Thus it is not only right but useful for us that God should be partly concealed and partly revealed, since it is equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness as to know his wretchedness without knowing God.”

For the fourth time, Solomon told his congregation to enjoy life and delight in the fruit of their labors (v. 15; see 2:24; 3:12-15; and 5:18-20). Remember, this admonition is not the foolish “eat, drink, and be merry” philosophy of the unbelieving hedonist. Rather, it is the positive “faith outlook” of God’s children who accept life as God’s special gift and know that He gives us “all things richly to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Instead of complaining about what we don’t have, we give thanks for what we do have and enjoy it.

This ends Solomon’s re-examination of “the vanity of wisdom” (1:12-18). Instead of rejecting wisdom, the king concluded that wisdom is important to the person who wants to get the most out of life. While wisdom can’t explain every mystery or solve every problem, it can help us exercise discernment in our decisions. “Yes, there is a time and a way for everything” (8:6, tlb), and the wise person knows what to do at just the right time.

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2021 in Ecclesiastes

 
 
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