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Uncommon Things We Believe Series #3 It Does Matter …what one believes, where one worships… I Cor. 1:10-15


 One of the main reasons that cults in our day have had such an impact on the world is their unity. Disharmony is not tolerated. Though misguided, misused, and often totalitarian, such unity is attractive to many people who are tired of religious uncertainty, ambiguity, and confusion.

Few of us who have attended church for a number of years have not been in or known of a congregation where there was a split or at least serious quarreling. The problem has existed in the church from New Testament times. The Corinthian believers fell short of the Lord’s standards in many ways, and the first thing for which Paul called them to task was quarreling.

Quarrels are a part of life. We grow up in them and around them. Infants are quick to express displeasure when they are not given something they want or when something they like is taken away. Little children cry, fight, and throw tantrums because they cannot have their own ways.

We argue and fight over a rattle, then a toy, then a football, then a position on the football team or in the cheerleading squad, then in business, the PTA, or politics. Friends fight, husbands and wives fight, businesses fight, cities fight, even nations fight—sometimes to the point of war. And the source of all the fighting is the same: man’s egotistic, selfish nature.

Scripture teaches nothing more clearly than the truth that man sinful, and that the heart of his sinfulness is self-will. From birth to death the natural inclination of every person is to look out for “number one”—to be, to do, and to have what he wants.

Even believers are continually tempted to fall back into lives of self-will, Self-interest, and general self-centeredness. At the heart of sin is the ego, the “I.” Even Christians are still sinners—justified, but still sinful in themselves. And when that sin is allowed to have its way in our flesh, conflict is inevitable.

When two or more people are bent on having their own ways, they will soon be quarreling and arguing, because their interests, concerns, and priorities sooner or later will conflict. There cannot possibly be harmony in a group, even a group of believers, whose desires, goals, purposes, and ideals are generated by their egos.

(James 4:1-2)  What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? {2} You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.).

What the Lord laments and opposes, Satan applauds and fosters. Few things demoralize, discourage, and weaken a church as much as bickering, backbiting, and fighting among its members. And few things so effectively undermine its testimony before the world.

One of the common features of the modern religious world is denominationalism. There are currently over 2000 generally recognized denominations and over 20,000 smaller, distinct divisions in the church.

The spirit of the age looks at such with acceptance as is evidenced by the often heard, “attend the church of your choice.” They proceed to statements like “…it really doesn’t matter…what you believe…how you worship…as long as you believe in God….we worship the same God.”

Nevertheless, and despite the many contemporary appearances of acceptability, Jesus did not intend for His church to be divided.

Some make an effort to discount the significance of religious division, suggesting…That the differences are not all that great; Or that religious division is good, for it enables people to find a church that suits them personally; But there are several reasons why I believe these answers are wrong and do a disservice to the cause of Christ.

Most denominational members would be surprised to discover that their chosen religious affiliation is less than 500+ years old. Many people assume that the church of which they are members is ancient in origin, divinely ordained, and a part of the church  revealed in the New Testament.

It has never occurred to them that there were no denominations in New Testament days. When the church was established in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, there was one church with Christ as the head and the apostles as pillars of faith as they did exactly what Jesus had trained them to do.

That church was planned (Eph. 3:10-11), prophesied (Isaiah 2:2-3), prepared (Matt. 3:1-2), and promised (Matt. 16:18) before it existence. The kingdom came with power (Mark 9:1) when the Holy Spirit came (Acts 1:8). The gospel was preached, sinners responded to that resurrected Savior, they repented, they were immersed in water for remission of sins, and they began the Christian walk.

How simple! And how tragic today that so many have changed that simple beginning with their own ideas and teachings. How thrilling it is to find people in the Ukraine (for instance) who were given Bibles in years past and began reading it and with little or no help from outside teachers, became New Testament Christian and began worshipping in ways God approved through the apostles and first century Christians.

At Pentecost, every person obeyed the same gospel, became members of the same body, and ultimately wore the same name.

THE BIBLE REJECTS THE CONCEPT OF DENOMINATIONALISM

Jesus prayed that His followers would be united (Jn. 17:21-23).

(John 17:20-23)  “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, {21} that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. {22} I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: {23} I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

The Bible teaches that division is contrary to God’s will (I Cor. 1:10-15).

Among the Corinthian church’s many sins and shortcomings, quarreling is the one that Paul chose to deal with first. In unity lies the joy of Christian ministry and the credibility of Christian testimony.

 (1 Corinthians 1:10-15)  I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. {11} My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. {12} What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas “; still another, “I follow Christ.” {13} Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? {14} I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, {15} so no one can say that you were baptized into my name.

The traditions of men have no biblical authority, they divide those who believe that Jesus is the Christ—they are vain (Matt. 15:7-9).

(Matthew 15:7-9)  You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: {8} “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. {9} They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”

Those who cause factions are to be rejected

(Titus 3:10)  Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.

Men who cause dissensions are to be avoided

(Romans 16:17)  I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.).

Neither can we just choose to ignore certain differences of belief and simply agree to disagree.

(Matthew 5:17-20)  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. {18} I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. {19} Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. {20} For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

(Matthew 23:23)  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

(1 Timothy 4:1-3)  The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. {2} Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. {3} They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.

OTHERS WHO VIEWED DENOMINATIONALISM AS WRONG…

  1. Martin Luther, the leader of the Reformation Movement:

“I ask that men make no reference to my name, and call themselves not Lutherans, but Christians. What is Luther? My doctrine, I am sure, is not mine, nor have I been crucified for any one. St. Paul, in 1 Cor. 3, would not allow Christians to call themselves Pauline or Petrine, but Christian. How then should I, poor, foul carcass that I am, come to have men give to the children of Christ a name derived from my worthless name? No, no, my dear friends; let us abolish all party names, and call ourselves Christians after Him Whose doctrine we have.” – Hugh Thomason Kerr, A Compend of Luther’s Theology (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1943, p. 135)

  1. John Wesley, another great reformation leader, among whose followers are Methodists, Wesleyans, etc.:

“Would to God that all party names, and unscriptural phrases and forms which have divided the Christian world, were forgot and that the very name [Methodist] might never be mentioned more, but be buried in eternal oblivion.” – John Wesley, Universal Knowledge, A Dictionary and Encyclopedia of Arts, Science, History, Biography, Law, Literature, Religions, Nations, Races, Customs, and Institutions, Vol. 9, Edward A. Pace, Editor (New York: Universal Knowledge Foundation, 1927, p. 540)

  1. Charles Spurgeon, one of the most recognized Baptist preachers who ever lived:

“I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a Baptist living! I hope that the Baptist name will soon perish, but let Christ’s name last forever.” – Spurgeon Memorial Library, Vol. I., p. 168

HOWEVER, THE BIBLE ALSO TEACHES THAT THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN LED ASTRAY ARE TO BE GIVEN KINDLY ASSISTANCE

God is much more desirous of people being saved, than of their being condemned

(Ezekiel 18:23)  Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

(John 3:17)  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

(1 Timothy 2:4)  who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

(2 Peter 3:9)  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Jesus feels compassion for those who wander astray (Matt. 9:36-38; 18:6-7).

(Matthew 9:36-38)  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. {37} Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. {38} Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

(Matthew 18:6-7)  But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. {7} “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!

We are to use wisdom and grace in building people up and bringing people into the “way of the Lord more perfectly” (Acts 18:24-28; Col. 4:5-6; Eph. 4:29).

(Acts 18:24-28)  Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. {25} He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. {26} He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. {27} When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. {28} For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

(Ephesians 4:29)  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

(Colossians 4:5-6)  Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. {6} Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Kindness, patience, and gentleness, are to be used in correcting the mistaken and misguided

(2 Timothy 2:24)  And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.).

Denominationalism presents us with a great challenge. We must both oppose without compromise its practice, yet assist with all compassion its sincerely mistaken practitioners.

Many of us here today are no longer within a denominational context because someone, without compromise, showed us kindness, patience, and compassion. The ways of the Lord are right, and consequently they also work!

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2021 in Article

 

Ecclesiastes: The Good Life #9 Wise Words for Wise Ones – Ecclesiastes 7:15-8:1


ecclesiastes 7-8

A young man loaned an acquaintance $500, but failed to get the borrower’s signature on a receipt. When the guy hadn’t paid him back a year later, he realized he had probably lost the money due to lack of proof. He asked his father what to do. “The answer is simple,” his father said. “Just write him and say you need the $1,000 you loaned him.” “You mean $500,” his son replied. “No, you need to say $1,000. He’ll immediately write back that he only owes you $500, and then you’ll have it in writing!”279

This father provided wise counsel and his son was able to receive profitable words in writing. Similarly, our heavenly Father provides wise counsel and we can read His profitable words in the writings of the Bible. And who can’t benefit from a bit more wisdom? In Eccl 7:15-29 Solomon says, “Wise up by going low.” By this he means biblical wisdom comes through humility. In this passage, Solomon offers three provisions of wisdom.

1. Wisdom provides humility (7:15-18).

In these first four verses, Solomon discusses one of the most prevalent questions of human history: Why do good people suffer and bad people prosper? In 7:15 he writes, “I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility;280 there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness.”281The phrase “I have seen everything” is akin to the contemporary expression of disgust, “Now, I’ve seen it all.” Solomon is a bit miffed that there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between one’s goodness and one’s lifespan.282 We see this principle alive and well today. We see righteous people die abruptly, and we see wicked fools living for what seems too long. Think about it…Jesus lived to be 33 and Hugh Heffner seems as if he’s going to outlive all of us. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it?

It’s easy to agonize over these hazy areas of the faith, like those spots on a sparkling car window that simply won’t come clean. Yet, these hazy areas tell me that God is real, dynamic, and too great for my conception. His ways are higher than mine.283 If there were no hazy areas, Christianity would be too neat, too trite. If I can fully understand God’s thoughts, He would be no more God than I am. Others approach this theological puzzle (and others) with an ultimatum: solve it or God is not real. This is like approaching a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle and saying, “If I can’t assemble this in five minutes, I will deny that it’s a picture.” That’s unfair, isn’t it? It’s also irrational.

Our inability to work out an answer reflects only on our limitations, not God’s.284 Therefore, it makes sense to trust our loving and powerful God even when He does not think and act like we might want Him to. After all, He sees the end from the beginning. With this in mind, today will you give the Lord whatever intellectual issues that you are struggling with? It’s as simple as saying, “God, I don’t understand what you are doing or why you are doing it, but you are God and I am not so I will trust You.”285Wise up by going low.

Since we can’t possibly understand God’s decisions, Solomon’s conclusion in 7:16-17 is, “Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise.286 Why should you ruin yourself? Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool.287 Why should you die before your time?” These verses have been terribly misunderstood. Some have dubbed these verses “the golden mean,” which suggests we should not be too righteous or too wicked. Rather, we should strike a balance and achieve a happy medium. Yet, if Solomon is telling us to be moderately godly, he is contradicting the Bible which clearly teaches us to seek righteousness and holiness with all that is within us.288 I believe, therefore, Solomon’s concern is not with godly character, but with godly character in one’s own eyes. His point is that we should not depend on our righteousness or wisdom to guarantee God’s blessing in our lives.289 In other words, if you are a particularly righteous person don’t be too confident that you will live to see your 120th birthday. The verb translated “ruin yourself” is better rendered to “be appalled, astounded.”290 Solomon is saying, “Don’t assume that God owes you anything for your righteousness.” If you do, you might be confounded or disappointed like the righteous person who dies at a young age.291

The truth is, no matter how righteous or wise we attempt to be we are still sinners in need of God’s mercy and grace. The apostle Paul understood this. Early in his ministry, he called himself the least of the apostles. Later on he said he was the least of all Christians. Then he said he was the chief of sinners. The older he got, the more he saw of God, the lower he became in his own estimation.292 In the same vein, John Newton, the former slave trader and author of “Amazing Grace,” said, “When I get to heaven, I will be amazed at three things. I will be amazed at those I thought would be there who are not there, those I did not think would be there who are there, and the fact that I am there at all.”293

The Chinese are reported to have a saying, “The shoot that grows tall is the first to be cut.”294 Biblically and practically, it makes sense to be humble. There is just too much we don’t understand. There are too many questions, too many tragedies, and too much sin. The only solution is to wise up by going low. But what does this look like practically? It means you take a close look at how you think, speak, and act. When you think of Christian self-righteousness, you most likely think of a person who sees the faults of others, but is oblivious to his or her own condition. Tragically, this may be the most frequently used reason for not becoming a Christian.

In the past, I used to dismiss this by saying, “There are hypocrites in every profession and sphere of life.” But now I agree with statements relating to hypocrisy among Christians. I will even acknowledge that I have been guilty of hypocrisy as well. I empathize with people who quote the common bumper sticker, “Jesus, save me from your followers.” Don’t get me wrong, we need to be authentically righteous, but we also need to be especially humble.

Not only is Solomon opposed to self-righteousness, he is also opposed to wickedness. Although we are sinful and will always have remains of hypocrisy and self-righteousness, we need to be careful not to use our sinfulness as an excuse to sin even more. The fact that we aren’t perfect should spur us on toward holiness, not toward moral compromise. It’s easy to see how this line of reasoning might work. “I’ve already told one lie. What difference will another make?” Or “I know I shouldn’t have used foul language, but why stop now?” All such reasoning is evil. Why compound your troubles by continuing to sin?

When you’re in a hole, stop digging. If you can’t make things better, at least make sure you don’t make them worse. This applies to all of us because everyone struggles with sin to one degree or another. You don’t have to take another drink, you don’t have to cheat a second time, you don’t have to keep on swearing, and you don’t have to lose your temper over and over again. By the power of God, and with the help of a few good friends, you can stop the patterns of sin and replace them with habits of holiness.295

If we choose to disregard God’s Word and play the fool we may die before our time. The truth is, God does sometimes punish the wicked in this life. There have been times over the course of my life when I have wondered what would happen if I attempted to steer off a cliff while driving my car. I have thought to myself, “Would God send an angel to steer my car away from imminent danger? Would God Himself slam on the brakes before I drove off the cliff?

Would He keep my steering wheel from turning in the direction of the cliff?” The answer to these questions is, “NO, NO, NO!” This is not to say that the Lord would not work a miracle, but the odds are against it. If I make a foolish decision, I may pay for it with my life. Young people, please don’t play the fool. One experiment with drugs could end your life. One sexual encounter could cost you dearly. One suicidal attempt could be your last. It’s not worth it. Live in light of eternity. Exercise wisdom and self-control. Wise up by going low.

The final verse of this section is rather interesting. Solomon writes in 7:18, “It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.” The “one thing” that you are to grasp is the teaching of 7:17. The “other thing” that you are not to let go of is the wisdom of 7:16. In other words, it is good in life to grasp 7:17—don’t be wicked and foolish and blow life; be holy and wise. But at the same time, remember 7:16—you are a finite sinner who can’t control God or even understand what He’s up to. Obey God and what you know. Trust Him in what you don’t.296 Wise up by going low.

[Wisdom provides humility. We will now see…]

2. Wisdom provides strength (7:19-22).

In this section, Solomon says,“Wisdom is a strong ally in this fallen world, but it cannot shield believers from pain, injustice, and bad circumstances.” In 7:19 Solomon writes, “Wisdom strengthens a wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.” The Hebrew word for “wisdom” (hokmah) refers to “the skill of living.” This involves both a godly perspective and a godly power to live life. Perspective and power are like the two wings on a bird, the two blades of a pair of scissors, or the two sides of a coin. The whole of wisdom doesn’t exist without both perspective and power.297

In 7:19, Solomon states that the wisdom of God is better than surrounding yourself with the ten best men you can find. It’s been said that a man with a Bible could stay in a cave for a year, and at the end of that time, he could know from his reading what everybody else in the world was doing. There is no greater blessing than wisdom. There is no greater activity than walking with God and revering Him. But watch out that you don’t let your good behavior go to your head.298

The reason for such humility is found in 7:20 where Solomon writes, “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.”299 In our fallen state, our entire wills are oriented against God. We are bent on our own ways of evil from the get-go. Augustine said the only reason you think a baby is good is that he hasn’t got the power enough to show you how evil he is. He said, “If a baby had the strength when he emerged from the mother’s womb, he would seize the mother by the throat and demand his milk.” The only way any of us can be saved is if God makes radical change in us from the inside out. So Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. Then the Spirit of God changes our nature by abiding with us, keeping us, sanctifying us, and raising us by His power.300

In 7:21-22 we come to some especially relevant and practical words. Solomon is going to tell us that sometimes it pays to be a little hard of hearing. He writes, “Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, so that you will not hear your servant cursing you. For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others.” Here Solomon says, “Don’t eavesdrop; don’t listen in on every conversation. Don’t go out of your way to listen to what is being said about you—sooner or later you’ll be disappointed. You’ll hear someone cursing you.” Of course, this is particularly distressing when you hear people in the church that you know and love cursing you. In my own pastoral ministry, I have been grieved and shocked by those who have intentionally or unintentionally sought to damage me. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience with other Christians. It hurts, doesn’t it? The truth is it doesn’t matter where you are, who you are, or what you do, people will fail you. Your best friends will fail you. Your coworkers will fail you. Your pastors will fail you. Your brothers and sisters will fail you. Your parents will fail you. Your spouse will fail you. Your children will fail you. If you live long enough, every one you count on in this life will fail you sooner or later.

How can you cope with the hurtful words that others have said about you? Solomon’s advice to the wise is not to listen to the gossip people say about you, because you know in your heart you have said unkind things about others as well. Let’s be honest. If we get upset when people talk about us, we are holding them to a higher standard than we hold ourselves to, because we are prone to do the same thing. With that said, sometimes a rebuke is in order if the comments are especially divisive. We need to be prepared to lovingly drill a fellow believer between the eyes and say, “Don’t talk about my brother or sister like that.” The reason that gossip and slander continue to go in most churches is that Christians tolerate it. No one ever wants to stick their neck out and call sin “SIN.”

My prayer is that you and I will stand up for others and sit down for ourselves. I am learning to take the destructive words of others toward me with a grain of salt.301 One man said, “I never worry about people who say evil things about me because I know a lot more stuff about me than they do, and it’s worse than what they are saying.”302 Seriously, the key to defusing gossip and slander is to humble yourself and not take yourself too seriously.303Wise up by going low.

[Wisdom provides humility and strength. Now we will see that…]

3. Wisdom provides insight (7:23-8:1).

In this final section, Solomon warns of the danger of foolishness. Yet, the implication is that wisdom can win the day through humility. In 7:23-24 Solomon writes, “I tested all this with wisdom, and I said, ‘I will be wise,’ but it was far from me. What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious. Who can discover it?” In these two verses, Solomon discovered that he could not discover. Although he sought after wisdom with all diligence, he acknowledged that true wisdom was far beyond him. He continued in 7:25 by writing, “I directed my mind to know, to investigate and to seek wisdom and an explanation, and to know the evil of folly and the foolishness of madness.” Literally this is, “I myself turned my heart.”304 The ancients thought “the heart” was the center of thinking, reasoning, and feeling. Maybe we would say “he got his mind around an issue.” The search was sincere, thorough, and intensive. God has put in our hearts the desire “to know,” but it is beyond our current fallen ability. The desire probably comes from our being made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27), but sin has damaged our ability (cf. Gen 3). Yet, we still seek, search, yearn, and strive! This is to be commended, but it must be acknowledged that we are incredibly limited. We desperately need the Lord to reveal His thoughts and ways to us. Today, will you ask the Lord for His mind and heart? Will you ask for His insight? Wise up by going low.

So did Solomon discover anything? In 7:26 he writes, “And I discovered more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are chains. One who is pleasing to God will escape from her, but the sinner will be captured by her.” There is some mystery surrounding the identity of this woman. Some understand this woman to be a prostitute or an adulterer.305 The application then is to avoid sexual sin. I believe, however, that this woman is the personification of that wickedness which is folly itself. She is the “strange woman” of Proverbs 1-9.306 The antecedent of “the woman” is folly (7:25), a Hebrew feminine noun that also has an article.

This conclusion seems corroborated by the allusions in 7:26 to the tactics of folly who tries to lure one away from wisdom’s embrace.307 The point is: Foolishness is like a seductive woman, so beware for she will lead you to your demise. Be like a wise person who refuses to be captured by her. Use discretion as you travel this life. Choose your friends wisely. Bad company corrupts good morals.308 Guard your intake of television and movies. Don’t watch programming that will tear you down in your walk with Christ.

The mysterious words continue in 7:27-29 where Solomon writes, “Behold, I have discovered this,’ says the Preacher, ‘adding one thing to another to find an explanation, which I am still seeking but have not found. I have found one man among a thousand, but I have not found a woman among all these. Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.’” These verses lead us to ask whether Solomon was a chauvinist or a misogynist. Yet, when we read Proverbs and the Song of Solomon, we know that this is not the case.309 In fact, in Proverbs, Solomon often personifies wisdom as a woman. So let’s get one thing out of the way immediately: Solomon isn’t making a relative comparison as to the worth of men and women in general. That wouldn’t be fair and his conclusion wouldn’t be right. Furthermore, remember that with 1,000 women Solomon was the consummate ladies man.310 He’s not going to jeopardize his relationship with women, right?

The “man” in view in 7:28 is the “one who is pleasing to God” in 7:26. The Hebrew word for “man” here (adam) is generic and refers to people rather than males in contrast to females. Solomon meant in 7:28b that a person who is pleasing to God is extremely rare (cf. Job 9:3; 33:23). The reference to “woman” (7:28c) is a way of expressing in parallelism (with “man”) that no one really pleases God completely. A paraphrase of 7:28b-c is, “I have found very few people who please God, no one at all really.”311 This interpretation is confirmed by 7:29 where Solomon demonstrates the scarcity—even nonexistence—of good people, whether man or woman. That the parallelism of man and woman in 7:28 describes all humankind is corroborated by 7:29—a probable reference to the creation and fall of “mankind.”312

Verse 29 asserts two truths from Genesis: Initially, all of God’s creation was good.313 Humans can understand and implement God’s will. Fallen humans are creative and energetic in the area of evil and rebellion.314 Though morally capable, humans turn from God’s will to self-will at every opportunity! Even though we seek righteousness, we need to remember that no matter how good we get, we are still sinful—every last one of us—men and women both.

We need to remember that no matter how good we get, the only reason people tolerate us is that we have learned how to tame our public evil as opposed to our private evil. Does that disturb you about yourself? Here it is again: The only reason that you’re a likable person is that you have learned to distinguish between your public and private obnoxiousness, and you are smart enough to keep your lustful, hateful, wicked thoughts contained in your brain. In your public treatment of people, you have remained basically hygienic and nonviolent.315 I know this is a hard word, but don’t get mad at me; I’m just the mailman. I just deliver the mail.

So who is responsible for the universal failure to please God? Solomon said people are, not God. God made us upright in the sense of being able to choose to please or not please God. Nevertheless, in 7:29 we have all gone our own way in pursuit of “many devices.”316 The point is not that people have turned aside to sin, but that they have sought out many explanations.317 They have sought many explanations of what? In the context Solomon was talking about God’s plan. Failing to understand fully God’s scheme of things, people have turned aside to their own explanations of these things.

Solomon closes out this section in 8:1 with a transitional verse: “Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter? A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam.” Wisdom provides insight. Wisdom will bring illumination and a smile to your face. How can you get wisdom? The primary way is by reading and heeding God’s Word. This morning, I was reading Proverbs 6. (I like to read one proverb for every day of the month.) This is what I read in 6:16-19: “There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.”

The first item that God hates is “haughty eyes.” God hates pride and self-righteousness. The fourth item is “a heart that devises wicked plans.” This summarizes the whole of foolishness and wickedness. The last item on this list is God hates it when “one spreads strife among brothers.” This ties back into Eccl 7:21-22. If you and I want to be wise ones, we will study God’s Word and then apply it to our lives. As Solomon said in Prov 1:7: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” May we heed these words and wise up by going low.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2021 in Ecclesiastes

 

Uncommon Things We Believe Series #2 A Christian Can Fall From Grace 2 Peter 2:18-22


A great many people within the religious world believe that a child of God cannot fall from grace.

This view is summed up by the words of Sam Morris, in a booklet published at the beginning of this century, “We take the position that a Christian’s sins do not damn his soul. The way a Christian lives, what he says, his character, his conduct, or his attitude toward other people have nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul.”

This is why those who follow the New Testament pattern for their work, worship, and doctrine must look at scripture. Why have we chosen to be so uncommon by rejecting this teaching?

Where Did It All Come From?

  • Plato had a view of God and His sovereignty that was taken to develop a philosophy holding matter to be evil and spirit to be good.
  • The epistles of John were written against the teachings of the Gnostics, who came to practice this entirely
  • Augustine, much influenced by Plato, disassociated works done in the flesh from having anything to do with salvation—how could that which was thought to be evil do any useful thing?
  • Calvin further developed Augustine’s theology to come up with a concept of God’s sovereignty that left no place for humanity to contribute anything, even secondary contributions—he believed any contribution man might make would compromise God’s exalted place over the creation.
  • Though not believing there were any conditions to salvation, he avoided universalism by having God simply pick some (1,400) to be saved and some to be lost.
  • Since man had nothing to do with the process, there were no conditions, the gift was only offered to those God willed to have it, it could not be rejected by the elect or embraced by the non-elect, and you could not lose it after you got it.

Salvation is a gift from God offered to all mankind. We are free to accept or reject salvation. Once we accept salvation, we are still free to make choices. We can become unfaithful and lose our salvation or we can remain faithful until death and receive a crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)

Most of the New Testament was written to Christians encouraging them to remain faithful and receive eternal life. If a man could not lose his salvation, why write all these letters encouraging him not to lose it?

It has long been my personal view that no one who has put their faith in Christ should fall from grace…they almost have to ‘want’ to be lost (based on their habitual choices) since God is so willing to forgive us!

In short, a view of man’s nature from Greek philosophy, rather than from the Bible, came to influence the way people viewed Christianity.

First, Some Clarification.

We do not mean that a Christian has no security. Faithful Christians do have security.

 

(1 John 5:13)  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

(John 10:27-28)  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. {28} I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

(1 Corinthians 10:13)  No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

(1 John 1:7)  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

However, we believe the Bible teaches that a faithful Christian can become habitually (it become the pattern of their life) unfaithful: (Hebrews 10:26-31)  If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, {27} but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. {28} Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. {29} How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? {30} For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” {31} It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Those verses explain themselves but they have a special significance due to the verses which preceded them: Hebrews 10:19-25 (ESV)
19  Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,
20  by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,
21  and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
22  let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
23  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
24  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
25  not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

We do not mean that the works of a Christian are the basis of his/her salvation. Works cannot save in the primary sense, only in the secondary sense.

In the primary sense, the sense that accounts for salvation and pays the price for it, we cannot be saved by works (Rom. 4:1-8). Only through Christ can we who are sinners be saved (Rom. 3:21-27).

Works relate to our salvation in the secondary sense, the accessing of the gift of salvation. Faith without works is dead (James 2:26).

  • In the sense of merit, our works have nothing to do with our initial or continued salvation. 
  • In the sense of faith in God, our works are a necessary expression of true faith.

We do what we do as Christians out of appreciation and due to maturity…not in order to earn salvation. It’s the idea of “bringing our salvation to maturity.”

The Bible Clearly Teaches That A Child Of God Can Fall From Grace.

Those who trust in law keeping can fall from grace.

(Galatians 5:4)  You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

Those who become partakers of the Holy Spirit can fall from grace.

(Hebrews 6:4-6)  For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, {5} and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, {6} if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

Those who escape the defilement’s of the world can fall from grace.

(2 Peter 2:18-22)  For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. {19} They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity–for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. {20} If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. {21} It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. {22} Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.”

But What About Ephesians 2:8-9?

(Ephesians 2:8-9)  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, {9} not of works, lest anyone should boast.

We are saved through faith, but not a dead, inactive faith. We are not saved by works that attempt to earn our salvation. Thus, salvation is of grace, even though we must respond to grace.

Conditional Grace.

The Bible teaches that grace is unearned, yet conditioned on responsive faith. Acts 2:36-38 shows there are conditions to be met before salvation can be received.

Acts 2:36-38 (ESV)
36  Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37  Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38  And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Colossians 1:22-23 demonstrates that there are conditions to be met to remain in salvation. Colossians 1:22-23 (ESV)
22  he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23  if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

If there were no conditions to grace, everyone would be saved, yet conditions are not necessarily associated with earning salvation.

  • If I offered ten dollars to everyone here unconditionally, would you think you should get ten dollars?
  • If I conditioned the ten dollars on you coming up and getting it, do you think you would accept a “gift” by coming forward?

If I agree to pay you five dollars an hour to stripe the parking lot and you worked two hours, would you think you had earned your ten dollars?

When we look at all of what the Bible has to say—The Big Picture—we see that a Christian can fall from grace, but not a faithful Christian. What we have commonly believed, though uncommon in the religious world, is in complete harmony with the Scriptures.

Our response?

Realize the worst situation a person can place their soul’s condition in—is to be an unfaithful Christian. There is no hope at all because they have rejected the one hope that is offered to the sinner!

(Galatians 6:1-2)  Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. {2} Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

The Greek word is “kartartizo” and is the same word used in:

(Matthew 4:21)  Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them,

(Hebrews 11:3)  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Imagine the picture of mature Christians working diligently to mend or form or restore the lives of individual brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling and “drifting” away.

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2021 in Church, Doctrine

 

Ecclesiastes: The Good Life #8 When Bad is Better Ecclesiastes 7:1-14


What Does Ecclesiastes 7:9 Mean?

Have you ever been engaged? Are you currently engaged? If so, you understand the importance of an engagement ring—a “rock!” Jewelers talk about “the four C’s”—cut, clarity, color, and carat. These four variables are used to calculate the value of a diamond. I have always found the first variable—cut—the most interesting.

Cut” refers to the proportions, finish, symmetry, and polish of the diamond. These factors determine the brilliance of a diamond. Well-cut diamonds sell at a premium and poorly cut diamonds sell at discounted prices. The premise behind this variable is the more a diamond is cut, the more it sparkles. And what woman doesn’t want an engagement ring that sparkles?

Like a beautiful diamond, character is formed by pressure and polished by friction. A person doesn’t wake up one morning as a man or woman of character. Character doesn’t evolve out of osmosis.

Character is developed by adversity or what many have called “the school of hard knocks.” Indeed, there is no education like adversity. Yet, adversity has the potential to create greatness in a person. Thus, Solomon says, “Adversity is better than prosperity.”235 How can this be? Why is adversity better than prosperity? In Eccl 7:1-14, Solomon gives two reasons.

1. Adversity stimulates an eternal perspective (7:1-4).

In this passage, we will discover that some of the medicine that tastes the worst has the best cure. Solomon answers the question he raised in 6:12, “For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life?”236 In doing so, he gives seven “better than” proverbs (i.e., proverbs of comparative value) to answer his own question.237 In fact, the word “good/better” appears eleven times in this chapter.238 Hence, the reason for the sermon title, “When Bad is Better.”

In the first four verses, Solomon suggests that there is much to be gained by sober reflection on sorrow and death. In 7:1a he writes, “A good239 name is better than a good ointment.” This section starts by establishing that a good name (i.e., reputation) is better than a good ointment (i.e., perfume or cologne).240 To make it more relevant, a good name is better than Euphoria or Giorgio. The point of this proverb is: The character of one’s reputation is more valuable and enduring than the scent of perfume. A good name can live beyond the grave,241 but the scent of perfume ceases to linger. We could say, “Who we are is more important than what we have or do not have!”

Many grew up watching Kyle Rote, Jr. play soccer. Kyle’s father is Kyle Rote, Sr., who was an all-pro NFL player in the 1950s. He was the captain of the New York Giants for ten years. What is so fascinating is after Rote’s death, Kyle Jr., said of all the compliments and awards his dad had received, one stood above the rest: fourteen of the elder Rote’s former teammates named their sons Kyle.242 The reputation of Kyle Rote, Sr. was so impressive that his teammates wanted to name their boys after him. The Rotes are a family that has a legacy that outlives their earthly lives.

What about you? As a husband and a father what is your reputation at work, in the neighborhood, in your church…or most importantly in your home? Are you a man of integrity? Are you seeking to be exemplary in every area of your life? Are you an inspiration to young men and your peers? Does your name mean something? I tell my boys, “You are Krell boys. Live up to your name. Do your mother and me proud. Most importantly, do your Savior proud and live up to your name ‘Christian.’”

Solomon concludes 7:1 by saying, “And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.”

There are two days in our lives when our name is prominent: the day we receive our name, at birth, and the day our name appears in the obituary column. What happens between those two days determines whether our name is a lovely ointment or a foul stench.243 Solomon is not buying into the philosophy of despair. If that were true, he wouldn’t tell us eight times in his book to enjoy life.244 Ecclesiastes says that we must neither be hesitant to talk about death, nor scoff at it. Rather, we should talk about it forthrightly, for it is the inevitable prospect we all face, and its effects are devastating if we are unprepared.

Have you ever noticed the way we mark a person’s life span? We will write a person’s name, and below it will put something like this: 1934–2008. We list the year of birth and a year of death. Between the two is what? A dash. Solomon might agree that this life is a quick dash between birth and death—just a vapor. All we will ever do on earth, all the influence we will ever garner, all the reputation we will ever build is summarized in a simple line between one year and another. It’s not much time to serve God, but plenty of time for making a huge mess of things.245 Adversity is better than prosperity.

Solomon continues his wise words in 7:2:“It is better to go to a house246 of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.” Solomon suggests that we would be better off going to a funeral than a party.247 The reason he gives is that death is “the end of every man.”248 I have some bad news for you. You are going to die. I have checked the death rate in Thurston County and it is a whopping 100%. You are going to die. Neither jogging, nor liposuction, nor all the brown rice in China can keep you young forever. Death is the destiny of every man. The wise person has come to terms with the brevity of life. He doesn’t live as though life on earth will last forever. Wise people go to funerals and pay attention. Wise people see the Tsunami horrors and watch and think carefully. Wise people study cancer victims. Wise people number their days and make the most of their time.249

If you were to visit old churches in New England, you would notice that many of them have a cemetery in the churchyard. The windows in the sanctuary are filled with clear rather than stained glass so that the pastor would see the graveyard as he preached. As he communicated his message to the congregation, a very serious message was being communicated to him. Two hundred fifty years ago, Christians believed that the central mission of the church was to bring men and women into a right relationship with God. That’s why they constructed their church buildings with see-through windows. They wanted their pastors to be continually reminded of the seriousness of their calling. Everyone who sat in the pews before them each Sunday would eventually fill a place in the cemetery and ultimately stand before God to be judged.250

This is why I have said for many years that I would rather do a funeral any day than a wedding. Now you may think I am morbid, and you’re probably right, but I see here in Ecclesiastes some biblical basis for my viewpoint. To be honest, one of the reasons I prefer funerals is a selfish one. As a preacher I appreciate it when people listen, and believe me, people listen much better at funerals than at weddings.251 But aside from that, funerals remind us that life is short and we need to think seriously about our lives.

In 7:3-4 Solomon writes, “Sorrow is better than laughter,252 for when a face is sad a heart may be happy. The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.” Although most of us would prefer laughter and pleasure, Solomon informs us that there are benefits to sorrow and mourning. This life is full of sadness and sorrow,253 yet life’s difficulties have the potential to awaken a spiritual dimension in us. Sorrow makes us think about life, its meaning, and our priorities. A party rarely does. Sorrow and suffering often brings one to God, while pleasure seldom does.254 Even these sad times give us hope, peace, and strength for there is a mellowing and maturing that takes place in affliction and sorrow that cannot be attained any other way.255 Solomon is not condemning happiness, just the opposite, he is advocating an appropriate peace and contentment that is not based on temporal circumstances alone. Adversity is better than prosperity.

Imagine reading your own obituary. Alfred Nobel had that opportunity. Around the turn of the 20th century, Nobel’s brother passed away. Alfred picked up his morning paper the next day to see what was written about his brother and was stunned to discover his own obituary! The paper mistakenly printed that Alfred had died, describing him as the inventor of dynamite. Nobel realized the legacy he was leaving was associated with death and destruction. Alfred had a second chance to rewrite his legacy. With input from friends, he decided to invest some of his wealth to honor those who furthered the cause of peace in the world. Today many know that Nobel invented dynamite, but he is better known for another of his creations—the Nobel Peace Prize.

You are going to leave a legacy. Your life will have a lasting impact. God has given you the capacity to think carefully about what will be left in the wake of your life and to live intentionally to leave behind something eternally worthwhile.256 I challenge you to create a eulogy you would like offered at your funeral. First, write up your present eulogy. At this point in my life, what would my wife say? My kids? My coworkers? My neighbors? God? Now write up your future eulogy. By God’s grace, what might my eulogy ideally say?257 Adversity is better than prosperity.

During World War II, the Japanese attacked allied forces using “kamikaze” pilots. These pilots, who believed in the Shinto philosophy of honorable death in battle, would commit suicide by flying their bomb-laden planes into allied sea targets. A television documentary showed the kamikaze pilots as they climbed into their planes. Once they were situated, workers would permanently seal the cockpits closed, prior to their departure. The planes were given only enough fuel for a one-way journey from the ship to the target. The fate of the kamikaze pilots was sealed before they left the ground. It’s hard not to wonder what must have been going through the minds of the young soldiers. Certainly they must have thought about what was going to happen to them, but I can imagine that they bravely shut out any inkling of death from their minds, choosing instead to focus on the mission at hand. How closely this seems to parallel our lives. We are, in a sense, kamikazes too. Our being has been permanently sealed inside of our bodies and we’ve only been given enough fuel to make it for a hundred or so years—if we’re blessed. Death awaits us all, but we—perhaps like kamikaze pilots—choose not to think about it, but rather the mission at hand: that big project at work…our vacation plans for next month…that term paper due on Tuesday. So many things on our minds, we really haven’t time to think about death—and besides, who wants to think about it anyway? But failing to think about death usually means failing to think about life.258

[Adversity stimulates an eternal perspective, but as we shall see…]

2. Adversity cultivates godly character (7:5-14).

This second section reminds us that God loves us too much to let us remain as we are. In 7:5-6 Solomon writes, “It is better to listen to the rebuke259 of a wise man than for one to listen to the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot, so is the laughter260 of the fool;261 and this too is futility.”262Solomon likens the meaningless praise and laughter of fools to “the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot.” This was a culturally relevant comparison that we don’t readily understand. Branches of a thorn bush thrown on a fire will flame up with rapid intensity, providing a short hot burn. If you needed to heat up something quickly instead of preparing a fire for slow cooking, you would throw thorn branches on the fire. Solomon uses his illustration to say that the praise of fools is quick, hot, showy—but gone quickly. It flames up, dies out, and you need something else to stoke the fire. The rebuke of a wise man, however, can change your life forever.263

In the past few months, my wife has been helping me work through some of my weaknesses. Lori has the gift of discernment so she has God-given insight into my life. Since she knows me better than anyone, she also has the ability to help me work through my weaknesses and sins. I can’t imagine not receiving her input. God has used her to speak into my life like no other person. Husbands, are you man enough to welcome a rebuke from your wife? Can you receive a rebuke from the person who loves you the most? If not, why not? If your wife has the courage to lovingly lay you out, why can’t you receive it? Is it your pride? God wants want you to hear from your wife because she may be the only person courageous enough to speak into your life. If you are unmarried, can you receive a loving rebuke from a parent or a friend? Are you teachable with your dad or mom? Remember, the ones who brought you into this life love you and want what’s best for you. But you may say, “They sure don’t show it!” That may be the case, but that is not your responsibility. You can’t change other people’s actions, but you can change your reaction. In the book of Proverbs, Solomon says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov 27:6b).264 Will you receive a rebuke from a parent or friend? If so, God will mold your character and make you into the man or woman that He wants you to be.

Famous New York Yankee Mickey Mantle tells how as a teenager playing in the minor leagues, he began playing poorly. Growing discouraged, he gave into homesickness and self-pity and tearfully called his father to come and take him home. But when Charles Mantle arrived, he didn’t give the expected sympathy and reassurance. Instead, he looked at his son and said, “Okay, if that’s all the guts you’ve got, you might as well come home with me right now and work in the mines.” It was a stinging slap in the face, but the young man got the message, stuck it out, and went on to make baseball history.265

In 7:7-10 Solomon writes, “For oppression makes a wise man mad [impatient], and a bribe266 corrupts the heart. The end of a matter is better than its beginning;267 patience268 of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit. Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools. Do not say, ‘Why is it that the former days were better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.” The injustice of life causes many people problems, even believers (cf. 4:1; 5:8), if we don’t allow God time to set it straight, and sometimes it is not until the afterlife. It is easy to be discouraged. Oppression rules and reigns in our country and throughout the world. I just heard a report on the news yesterday that young girls are being kidnapped from Washington State to work as prostitutes in other parts of the world—some as young as 12 years old. Business tycoons corrupt politicians and corrupted politicians seek even larger bribes. Government officials, politicians, and pastors sell out. That is the world we live in. This past week, a young man asked me a profound question: “Why do I get madder the more I read the Bible?” The answer is because he is seeing our world from God’s perspective and things aren’t as they are supposed to be. Yet, in these discouraging realities, we need to remember the One who will have the last word. The end of God’s work is even better than its beginning.

This is why Solomon emphasizes patience.269 Our Western society has lost its taste for the long haul. We want everything NOW. We crave instant coffee, fast food, immediate gratification, and instant entertainment. Our computers and our modems are faster and we chaff at the idea of waiting for anything. How many times have I allowed myself to become impatient at another drive or a red light? How many times have I been impatient with my wife or children? How many times have I been impatient with myself or our church? I can think of plenty of times. Yet, Richard Hendrix once said, “Second only to suffering, waiting may be the greatest teacher and trainer in godliness, maturity, and genuine spirituality most of us ever encounter.”270 God is interested in character development so He will test our patience to develop perseverance. He frequently does this because life is a marathon, not a sprint. God is building patience in us so that we will go the distance in our marriage, ministry, and Christian life.

However, humans without a sense of God’s presence and purpose in one’s daily life often seek peace, but reflect on positive circumstances in the past! Bruce Springsteen used to have a song called, “Glory Days.” Yet, the truth is the person who laments the passing of the “good old days” does not remember them very well.271 Instead, we should have the attitude, “I would not trade today for anything! These are the days God has given me. I want to live for today.”272Adversity is better than prosperity.

In 7:11-12 Solomon writes, “Wisdom along with an inheritance is good and an advantage to those who see the sun. For wisdom is protection just as money is protection, but the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors.” Prosperity can be a good thing if the prosperous person behaves wisely. Solomon states that both prosperity and wisdom are literally “shadows” that offer protection.273 The superiority of wisdom, however, is that it guides one through difficult times and thus preserves life. Money, to the contrary, often vanishes in hard times.274 So prioritize biblical wisdom, which Solomon says, elsewhere, is “the fear of God” (Prov 1:7).

Our passage concludes in 7:13-14 with these powerful words: “Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent? In the day of prosperity be happy, But in the day of adversity consider—God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him.”

Solomon explains that we cannot understand why God uses adversity and prosperity as He does.275 God “bends” certain things and there is nothing we can do about it. Affliction is the appointment of God.276 It is generally futile to try to figure such things out; we can’t straighten what God has made crooked. There are “crooked” things we cannot straighten, and we must learn to believe and say, “God, you are God. You are good and powerful. I trust you. I believe in you. And even though I don’t like some of the things that come from your hand, I think I accept them with joy.” God does not waste sorrow or adversity. He knows the purpose for which we go through tragedy and sorrow. It is for our good, and the good of His kingdom.

A man or woman of faith trusts God. Therefore, when times are good, be happy. Enjoy what you have. Don’t waste the opportunity by trying to accumulate more. Don’t wait for retirement. Enjoy now. One of the saddest things in life is the fact that when our children are young and most enjoyable we fathers tend to be busier than ever, establishing ourselves in business and preparing for the children’s future. Unfortunately, too often, by the time we have their college education secured they are gone and there’s little opportunity to enjoy them. When times are good, be happy. But when times are bad, be patient. Be patient because the same God who made the good times has allowed the bad. Neither situation is outside of His sovereignty and there is no sure way of knowing what’s coming next. Try as we might, we cannot prepare for all contingencies, and while God expects us to be prudent, He does not want us to play God. There are times when you just have to play the cards which you have been dealt. Remember that it is God who is the dealer. What you have has been given by Him. Adversity is better than prosperity.

You may be familiar with the story of Job—the man who lived out Murphy’s Law. He lost his health, his wealth, and his children. He had it so bad that his own wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). But Job said to her, “‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10). Adversity is better than prosperity.

A wise old Chinese woodcutter lived on the troubled Mongolian border. One day his favorite horse, a beautiful white mare, jumped the fence and was seized on the other side by the enemy. His friends came to comfort him. “We’re so sorry about your horse,” they said. “That’s bad news.” “How do you know it’s bad news?” he asked. “It might be good news.” A week later, the man looked out his window to see his mare returning at breakneck speed—beside a beautiful stallion. He put both horses into the enclosure, and his friends came to admire the new addition. “What a beautiful horse,” they said. “That’s good news.” “How do you know it’s good news?” replied the man. “It might be bad news.” The next day, the man’s only son decided to try the stallion. It threw him, and he landed painfully, breaking his leg. The friends made another visit, all of them sympathetic, saying, “We’re so sorry about this. It’s such bad news.” “How do you know it’s bad news?” replied the man. “It might be good news.” Within a month, war erupted between China and Mongolia. Chinese recruiters came through the area, pressing all the young men into the army. All of them perished, except for the woodcutter’s son, who couldn’t go off to war because of his broken leg. “You see,” said the woodcutter. “The things you considered good were actually bad, and the things that seemed bad were actually good.”277

“Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.” Thomas Gray wrote those oft-quoted words in his poem “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.” He pictured the students on the playing field and in the classroom, enjoying life because they were innocent of what lay ahead.

Alas, regardless of their doom,  The little victims play!

No sense have they of ills to come, Nor care beyond today.

His conclusion was logical: at that stage in life, it is better to be ignorant and happy, because there will be plenty of time later to experience the sorrows that knowledge may bring.

Yet ah! why should they know their fate? Since sorrow never comes too late,

And happiness too swiftly flies. Thought would destroy their paradise.

No more; where ignorance is bliss, ‘Tis folly to be wise.

Solomon had come to a similar conclusion when he argued in 1:12-18 that wisdom did not make life worth living. “For in much wisdom is much grief,” he wrote in 1:18, “and he that increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow.”

But then the king took a second look at the problem and modified his views. In Ecclesiastes 7 and 8, he discussed the importance of wisdom in life (“wisdom” is found fourteen times in these two chapters); and he answered the question asked in 6:12, “For who knoweth what is good for man in this life?”

The Preacher concluded that, though wisdom can’t explain all of life’s mysteries, it can make at least three positive contributions to our lives.

  1. Wisdom can make life better (ECCL. 7:1-10)

“Better” is a key word in this chapter; Solomon used it at least eleven times. His listeners must have been shocked when they heard Solomon describe the “better things” that come to the life of the person who follows God’s wisdom.

Sorrow is better than laughter (7:1-4).

If given the choice, most people would rather go to a birthday party than to a funeral; but Solomon advised against it. Why? Because sorrow can do more good for the heart than laughter can. (The word “heart” is used four times in these verses.) Solomon was certainly not a morose man with a gloomy lifestyle. After all, it was King Solomon who wrote Proverbs 15:13, 15; 17:22—and the Song of Solomon! Laughter can be like medicine that heals the broken heart, but sorrow can be like nourishing food that strengthens the inner person. It takes both for a balanced life, but few people realize this. There is “a time to laugh” (ECCL. 3:4).

Let’s begin with Solomon’s bizarre statement that the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth (v. 1). This generalization must not be divorced from his opening statement that a person’s good reputation (name) is like a fragrant perfume. (There is a play on words here: “name” is shem in the Hebrew and “ointment” is shemen.) He used the same image in 10:1 and also in Song of Solomon 1:3.

Solomon was not contrasting birth and death, nor was he suggesting that it is better to die than to be born, because you can’t die unless you have been born. He was contrasting two significant days in human experience: the day a person receives his or her name and the day when that name shows up in the obituary column. The life lived between those two events will determine whether that name leaves behind a lovely fragrance or a foul stench. “His name really stinks!” is an uncouth statement, but it gets the point across.

If a person dies with a good name, his or her reputation is sealed and the family need not worry. In that sense, the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth. The life is over and the reputation is settled. (Solomon assumed that there were no hidden scandals.) “Every man has three names,” says an ancient adage; “one his father and mother gave him, one others call him, and one he acquires himself.”

“The memory of the just is blessed, but the name of the wicked shall rot” (Prov. 10:7, and see Prov. 22:1). Mary of Bethany anointed the Lord Jesus with expensive perfume and its fragrance filled the house. Jesus told her that her name would be honored throughout the world, and it is. On the other hand, Judas sold the Lord Jesus into the hands of the enemy; and his name is generally despised (Mark 14:1-11). When Judas was born, he was given the good name “Judah,” which means “praise.” It belonged to the royal tribe in Israel. By the time Judas died, he had turned that honorable name into something shameful.

In verses 2-4, Solomon advised the people to look death in the face and learn from it. He did not say that we should be preoccupied with death, because that could be abnormal. But there is a danger that we might try to avoid confrontations with the reality of death and, as a result, not take life as seriously as we should. “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).

The Preacher is not presenting us with an either/or situation; he is asking for balance. The Hebrew word for “laughter” in verse 3 can mean “the laughter of derision or scorn.” While there is a place for healthy humor in life, we must beware of the frivolous laughter that is often found in “the house of mirth” (v. 4). When people jest about death, for example, it is usually evidence that they are afraid of it and not prepared to meet it. They are running away.

The late Dr. Ernest Becker wrote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Denial of Death: “… the idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity—activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man” (Free Press, 1975, p. ix). King Solomon knew this truth centuries ago!

Rebuke is better than praise (7:5-6).

King Solomon compared the praise of fools to the burning thorns in a campfire: you hear a lot of noise, but you don’t get much lasting good. (Again, Solomon used a play on words. In the Hebrew, “song” is shir, “pot” is sir, and “thorns” is sirim.) If we allow it, a wise person’s rebuke will accomplish far more in our lives than will the flattery of fools. Solomon may have learned this truth from his father (Ps. 141:5), and he certainly emphasized it when he wrote the Book of Proverbs (10:17; 12:1; 15:5; 17:10; 25:12; 27:5, 17; 29:1, 15).

The British literary giant Samuel Johnson was at the home of the famous actor David Garrick, and a “celebrated lady” persisted in showering Johnson with compliments. “Spare me, I beseech you, dear madam!” he replied; but, as his biographer Boswell put it, “She still laid it on.” Finally Johnson silenced her by saying, “Dearest lady, consider with yourself what your flattery is worth, before you bestow it so freely.”

The “long haul” is better than the shortcut (7:7-9).

Beware of “easy” routes; they often become expensive detours that are difficult and painful. In 1976, my wife and I were driving through Scotland, and a friend mapped out a “faster” route from Balmoral Castle to Inverness. It turned out to be a hazardous one-lane road that the local people called “The Devil’s Elbow,” and en route we met a bus and a cement truck! “Watch and pray” was our verse for that day.

Bribery appears to be a quick way to get things done (v. 7), but it only turns a wise man into a fool and encourages the corruption already in the human heart. Far better that we wait patiently and humbly for God to work out His will than that we get angry and demand our own way (v. 8). See also Proverbs 14:17, 16:32, and James 1:19.

“Better is the end of a thing than the beginning” applies when we are living according to God’s wisdom. The beginning of sin leads to a terrible end—death (James 1:13-15), but if God is at the beginning of what we do, He will see to it that we reach the ending successfully (Phil. 1:6; Heb. 12:2). The Christian believer can claim Romans 8:28 because he knows that God is at work in the world, accomplishing His purposes.

An Arab proverb says, “Watch your beginnings.” Good beginnings will usually mean good endings. The Prodigal Son started with happiness and wealth, but ended with suffering and poverty (Luke 15:11-24). Joseph began as a slave but ended up a sovereign! God always saves “the best wine” until the last (John 2:10), but Satan starts with his “best” and then leads the sinner into suffering and perhaps even death.

Today is better than yesterday (7:10).

When life is difficult and we are impatient for change, it is easy to long for “the good old days” when things were better. When the foundation was laid for the second temple, the old men wept for “the good old days” and the young men sang because the work had begun (Ezra 3:12-13). It has been said that “the good old days” are the combination of a bad memory and a good imagination, and often this is true.

Yesterday is past and cannot be changed, and tomorrow may not come; so make the most of today. “Carpe diem!” wrote the Roman poet Horace. “Seize the day!” This does not mean we shouldn’t learn from the past or prepare for the future, because both are important. It means that we must live today in the will of God and not be paralyzed by yesterday or hypnotized by tomorrow. The Victorian essayist Hilaire Belloc wrote, “While you are dreaming of the future or regretting the past, the present, which is all you have, slips from you and is gone.”

  1. Wisdom helps us see life clearly (ECCL. 7:11-18)

One of the marks of maturity is the ability to look at life in perspective and not get out of balance. When you have God’s wisdom, you will be able to accept and deal with the changing experiences of life.

Wealth (7:11-12).

Wisdom is better than a generous inheritance. Money can lose its value, or be stolen; but true wisdom keeps its value and cannot be lost, unless we become fools and abandon it deliberately. The person who has wealth but lacks wisdom will only waste his fortune, but the person who has wisdom will know how to get and use wealth. We should be grateful for the rich treasure of wisdom we have inherited from the past, and we should be ashamed of ourselves that we too often ignore it or disobey it. Wisdom is like a “shelter” to those who obey it; it gives greater protection than money.

Providence (7:13).

The rustic preacher who said to his people, “Learn to cooperate with the inevitable!” knew the meaning of this verse. The Living Bible paraphrases it, “See the way God does things and fall into line. Don’t fight the facts of nature.” This is not a summons to slavish fatalism; like Ecclesiastes 1:15, it is a sensible invitation to a life yielded to the will of God. If God makes something crooked, He is able to make it straight; and perhaps He will ask us to work with Him to get the job done. But if He wants it to stay crooked, we had better not argue with Him. We don’t fully understand all the works of God (11:5), but we do know that “He hath made everything beautiful in its time” (3:11). This includes the things we may think are twisted and ugly.

While I don’t agree with all of his theology, I do appreciate the “Serenity Prayer” written in 1934 by Reinhold Niebuhr. A version of it is used around the world by people in various support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous; and it fits the lesson Solomon teaches in verse 13: O God, give us Serenity to accept what cannot be changed, Courage to change what should be changed, And wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Adversity and prosperity (7:14).

Wisdom gives us perspective so that we aren’t discouraged when times are difficult or arrogant when things are going well. It takes a good deal of spirituality to be able to accept prosperity as well as adversity, for often prosperity does greater damage (Phil. 4:10-13). Job reminded his wife of this truth when she told him to curse God and die: “What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil [trouble]?” (2:10) Earlier, Job had said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21).

God balances our lives by giving us enough blessings to keep us happy and enough burdens to keep us humble. If all we had were blessings in our hands, we would fall right over, so the Lord balances the blessings in our hands with burdens on our backs. That helps to keep us steady, and as we yield to Him, He can even turn the burdens into blessings.

Why does God constitute our lives in this way? The answer is simple: to keep us from thinking we know it all and that we can manage our lives by ourselves. “Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future” (v. 14, niv). Just about the time we think we have an explanation for things, God changes the situation and we have to throw out our formula. This is where Job’s friends went wrong: they tried to use an old road map to guide Job on a brand new journey, and the map didn’t fit. No matter how much experience we have in the Christian life, or how many books we read, we must still walk by faith.

Righteousness and sin (7:15-18).

If there is one problem in life that demands a mature perspective, it is “Why do the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper?” The good die young while the wicked seem to enjoy long lives, and this seems contrary to the justice of God and the Word of God. Didn’t God tell the people that the obedient would live long (Ex. 20:12; Deut. 4:40) and the disobedient would perish? (Deut. 4:25-26; Ps. 55:23)

Two facts must be noted. Yes, God did promise to bless Israel in their land if they obeyed His law, but He has not given those same promises to believers today under the new covenant. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) wrote, “Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New.” Our Lord’s opening words in the Sermon on the Mount were not “Blessed are the rich in substance” but “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3, and see Luke 6:20).

Second, the wicked appear to prosper only if you take the short view of things. This was the lesson Asaph recorded in Psalm 73 and that Paul reinforced in Romans 8:18 and 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. “They have their reward” (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16), and that reward is all they will ever get. They may gain the whole world, but they lose their own souls. This is the fate of all who follow their example and sacrifice the eternal for the temporal.

Verses 16-18 have been misunderstood by those who say that Solomon was teaching “moderation” in everyday life: don’t be too righteous, but don’t be too great a sinner. “Play it safe!” say these cautious philosophers, but this is not what Solomon wrote.

In the Hebrew text, the verbs in verse 16 carry the idea of reflexive action. Solomon said to the people, “Don’t claim to be righteous and don’t claim to be wise.” In other words, he was warning them against self-righteousness and the pride that comes when we think we havearrivedand know it all. Solomon made it clear in verse 20 that there are no righteous people, so he cannot be referring to true righteousness. He was condemning the self-righteousness of the hypocrite and the false wisdom of the proud, and he warned that these sins led to destruction and death.

Verse 18 balances the warning: we should take hold of true righteousness and should not withdraw from true wisdom, and the way to do it is to walk in the fear of God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10) and Jesus Christ is to the believer “wisdom and righteousness” (1 Cor. 1:30), so God’s people need not “manufacture” these blessings themselves.

  1. Wisdom helps us face life stronger (ECCL. 7:19-29)

“Wisdom makes one wise man more powerful than ten rulers in a city” (v. 19, niv). The wise person fears the Lord and therefore does not fear anyone or anything else (Ps. 112). He walks with the Lord and has the adequacy necessary to face the challenges of life, including war (see 9:13-18).

What are some of the problems in life that we must face and overcome? Number one on the list is sin, because nobody on earth is sinless (v. 20, and note 1 Kings 8:46). We are all guilty of both sins of omission (“doeth good”) and sins of commission (“sinneth not”). If we walk in the fear of God and follow His wisdom, we will be able to detect and defeat the wicked one when he comes to tempt us. Wisdom will guide us and guard us in our daily walk.

Another problem we face is what people say about us (vv. 21-22). The wise person pays no attention to the gossip of the day because he has more important matters which to attend. Charles Spurgeon told his pastoral students that the minister ought to have one blind eye and one deaf ear. “You cannot stop people’s tongues,” he said, “and therefore the best thing to do is to stop your own ears and never mind what is spoken. There is a world of idle chitchat abroad, and he who takes note of it will have enough to do” (Lectures To My Students; Marshall, Morgan, and Scott reprint edition, 1965; p. 321). Of course, if we are honest, we may have to confess that we have done our share of talking about others! See Psalm 38 and Matthew 7:1-3.

A third problem is our inability to grasp the meaning of all that God is doing in this world (vv. 23-25, and see 3:11 and 8:17). Even Solomon with all his God-given wisdom could not understand all that exists, how God manages it, and what purposes He has in mind. He searched for the “reason [scheme] of things” but found no final answers to all his questions. However, the wise man knows that he does not know, and this is what helps to make him wise!

Finally, the wise person must deal with the sinfulness of humanity in general (vv. 26-29). Solomon began with the sinful woman, the prostitute who traps men and leads them to death (v. 26, and see Prov. 2:16-19; 5:3-6; 6:24-26; and 7:5-27). Solomon himself had been snared by many foreign women who enticed him away from the Lord and into the worship of heathen gods (1 Kings 11:3-8). The way to escape this evil woman is to fear God and seek to please Him.

Solomon concluded that the whole human race was bound by sin and one man in a thousand was wise—and not one woman! (The number 1,000 is significant in the light of 1 Kings 11:3.) We must not think that Solomon rated women as less intelligent than men, because this is not the case. He spoke highly of women in Proverbs (12:4; 14:1; 18:22; 19:14; and 31:10ff), Ecclesiastes (9:9), and certainly in the Song of Solomon. In the Book of Proverbs, Solomon even pictured God’s wisdom as a beautiful woman (1:20ff; 8:1ff; 9:1ff). But keep in mind that women in that day had neither the freedom nor the status that they have today, and it would be unusual for a woman to have learning equal to that of a man. It was considered a judgment of God for women to rule over the land (Isa. 3:12, but remember Miriam and Deborah, two women who had great leadership ability).

God made man (Adam) upright, but Adam disobeyed God and fell and now all men are sinners who seek out many clever inventions. Created in the image of God, man has the ability to understand and harness the forces God put into nature, but he doesn’t always use this ability in constructive ways. Each forward step in science seems to open up a Pandora’s box of new problems for the world, until we now find ourselves with the problems of polluted air and water and depleated natural resources. And beside that, man has used his abilities to devise alluring forms of sin that are destroying individuals and nations.

Yes, there are many snares and temptations in this evil world, but the person with godly wisdom will have the power to overcome. Solomon has proved his point: wisdom can make our lives better and clearer and stronger. We may not fully understand all that God is doing, but we will have enough wisdom to live for the good of others and the glory of God.


235 Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Ecclesiastes: Total Life (Chicago: Moody, 1979), 80, 82.

236 The last two rhetorical questions of Eccl 6:12 are answered in 7:1-14 (6:12a is answered in 7:1-12 and 6:12b is linked to 7:13-14 by the phrase, “after him.”

237 It is important to remember that proverbs, by their very nature, are not intended to be absolute, unalterable principles but generalized observations on life.

238 The word “good,” often translated “better” links chapters 6 and 7 together (cf. 6:3, 9, 12 and 7:1[twice], 2, 3, 5, 8[twice], 10, 11, 14, 18, 20, 26.

239 Davis notes, “Of the 52 occurrences of the word tob (good, better, prosperity, happy, pleasing) in the Book of Ecclesiastes, 14 (i.e., approximately 27%) appear in chapter 7 (with 11 of those 14 being recorded in the verses 1 to 14). No other chapter in the Book of Ecclesiastes (or in the rest of Scripture) contains more than 7 occurrences of this word (cf. Genesis 1; Psalm 119; and Ecclesiastes 9, for the only other chapters in Scripture containing at least 7 occurrences of the word tob [good]).” Barry C. Davis, The Book of Ecclesiastes, Multnomah Biblical Seminary unpublished class notes.

240 Solomon utilizes a play on words with the Hebrew words for name (shem) and ointment (shemen).

241 Prov 22:1 says, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth.”

242 Preaching Today citation: Kansas City Star (8-16-02); submitted by Kirtes Calvery, Raytown, MO.

243 David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 163.

244 In Solomon’s book of Proverbs, there are at lease thirty verses emphasizing the goodness of enjoying life (e.g., Prov 15:13, 15; 17:22). Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 162.

245 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 164.

246 “House of…” is a Semitic idiom (cf. 7:4, i.e., Bethel, Bethlehem).

247 Jesus said something similar in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are they that mourn” (Matt 5:4).

248 The noun “end” (soph) is used only five times in the OT and three of them are in Ecclesiastes (3:11; 7:2; 12:13).

249 The Psalmist declares, “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).

250 Haddon W. Robinson, “Ecclesiastes 7:1-4: Funeral or Birthday?” Daily Bread:

http://preceptaustin.org/ecclesiastes_illustrations_ii.htm#7.

251 Michael P. Andrus, “The Tests of Adversity and Prosperity” (Ecclesiastes 7:1-29): unpublished sermon notes.

252 Here, as often in the Proverbs written by Solomon, the author stretches a point to make a point. Certainly sorrow is not always better than laughter, nor is a sad face always good for the heart. Solomon himself says the opposite in Prov 15:13: “A joyful heart makes a cheerful face” and in Prov 17:22 he wrote, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”

253 Job 5:7: “For man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward.”

254 Cf. Matt 5:1; 2 Cor 7:10.

255 God may have to break us in order to make us. Reproof is one proof of God’s love. Jesus, the perfect man, is described as “a man of sorrows,” intimately acquainted with grief (Isa 53:3). It is hard to fathom, but even the incarnate Son of God learned and grew through the heartaches He suffered (Heb 5:8). As we think about His sorrow and His concern for our sorrow, we gain a better appreciation for what God is trying to accomplish in us, through the grief we bear.

256 Wayne Schmidt, Soul Management (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 129.

257 Schmidt, Soul Management, 135.

258 Tim A. Krell, “Thoughts about Life” (Eccl 7),” Chasing the Wind: Philosophical Reflections on Life: an unpublished paper, 3/1/1996.

259 See Solomon’s words in Prov 15:31-32 and 17:10: “He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. He who neglects discipline despises himself, but he who listens to reproof acquires understanding…A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.”

260 The term “laughter” (sechoq) is used often in Ecclesiastes (cf. 2:2; 3:4; 7:3, 5, 6). It is used metaphorically of the person who seeks instant gratification. It denotes life that focuses on the pleasure of this life in an existential moment, but does not ponder the “lasting benefit.”

261 The simile portrays the fool as both worthless (like thorns) and about to be destroyed (burning under a pot). Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (NAC; Nashville: Broadman, 1993).

262 There is another play on the Hebrew words pot (shir) and thorns (sir).

263 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 172.

264 The Psalmist writes, “Let the righteous smite me in kindness and reprove me; it is oil upon the head” (Ps.141:5a).

265 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 173.

266 This is not the normal word for “bribe” (mattanah; cf. Exod 23:8; Deut 16:19), but is the word “gift,” used in a specialized sense (cf. Prov 15:27).

267 This may be a summary statement of Eccl 7:2 related to 7:1 about a good name which is acquired with time and must be maintained. Often we judge something or someone too quickly and are disappointed.

268 This is often used in Proverbs for a person slow to anger (cf. 14:29; 15:18; 16:21; 19:11). However, its most common usage describes Yahweh’s merciful character (cf. Exod 34:6; Num 14:18; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Nah 1:3).

269 There is also a correlation between impatience and a tendency toward anger. Impatient people are prone to anger. And an angry person is a foolish person. This brings us to the following progression:

Pride  Impatience  Anger  Foolishness

The opposite is also true. Humility leads ultimately to wisdom.

Humility  Patience  Peace Wisdom

See John Stevenson, “The Better and the Best” (Eccl 7:1-14): http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/eccl07-01.html.

270 Preaching Today citation: Richard Hendrix, Christian Reader, Vol. 31

271 Robert S. Ricker with Ron Pitkin, Soul Search: Hope for 21st Century Living from Ecclesiastes (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1985), 95.

272 The Psalmist said, “This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118:24).

273 This is the Hebrew word for “shadow,” which offers protection in the desert (e.g., Ps 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:1, 4). The term “shadow” was used in the sense of brevity in Eccl 6:12, but here in the sense of God’s personal presence and protection.

274 Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs.

275 Throughout the Scriptures God acknowledges that He sovereignly permits everything (good and bad) to occur. In the beginning, God created darkness and light and He continues to allow disaster as well as prosperity (Isa 45:7).

276 Eccl 7:13 harkens back to the insoluble problem of 1:15. Here, however, the point is that God is in control of the times, and nothing can be done to resist His will. Verse 14 clarifies that this is to be understood in an economic context. God brings both prosperity and recession. When times are good, one should enjoy the prosperity; when times are bad, one should reflect on the fact that this too is from God’s hand. God does not allow us to know whether tomorrow will bring unexpected wealth or sudden calamity, but we can find peace if we accept all as from God (see Lam 3:38).

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2021 in Ecclesiastes

 

Uncommon Things We Believe Series #1 A Proper View of Scripture 2 Peter 1:19-21  


Most people know they need guidance for their lives. Just over a thousand randomly selected persons were surveyed recently on behalf of a life insurance/financial services company. 75% said they believed they were created by God for a purpose, but only 45% of those said they understood what that purpose was.

The questions more people in that survey said they would like to ask God than any other?

  1. “What is my purpose on Earth?”
  2. “Will I have life after death?”
  3. “Why do bad things happen?”

To some of us, it would seem strange that anybody would want to ask such things of God. We’d likely reply that He has already answered them.

Christians believe that God does communicate with the men and women He has created in His image and that the primary vehicle through which He does so is the Bible.

The Barna Research Group discovered a few years back that 10 % of the 1,000 people in one of its polls thought Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, 16% were sure the New Testament contained a book written by Thomas the apostle, and 38% thought the Old and New Testaments were written a few years after the death of Jesus.

While it may be impractical and impossible for every Christian to be a genuine biblical scholar. It’s not unreasonable to expect that every Christian should be a regular reader and prayerful student of Scripture.

  • A goal for this  congregation in 2015 is to create an attitude toward the Word of God that will carry outside the walls of our classrooms and beyond the experience of a given worship assembly.
  • We want people to revere Scripture.
  • I will want to challenge us to dedicate more time to our 9:30 a.m. Bible classes here
  • We want to communicate both the importance, fun, and reward of Bible study.

Important Truth Concerning the Bible
Origin — The Bible is ultimately from God.

The psalmist declared, Psalm 119:11 (ESV) I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Our Lord himself announced that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4: 4).

Paul had words of praise for the Christians at Thessalonica in that they received the gospel message, not as the word of men, “but, as it is in truth, the word of God” (I Thess. 2: 13).

There is surely a sense in which we may say God speaks to us through both nature and persons or events in our lives. But ultimately he has communicated with us through select persons called “prophets” and through the written accounts of their God-supplied messages.

(2 Peter 1:19-21)  And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. {20} Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. {21} For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

In this text, Peter affirms the value and trustworthiness of the early church’s Bible — the writings of the Old Testament prophets. He was emphatic in urging his own readers to “pay attention” to the words of Scripture for themselves.

This parallels Paul’s text about the Word of God: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Inspiration

Can we be sure that the writers who penned the original manuscripts did so infallibly?

Yes we can, and the process by which God protected the integrity of his word is called “inspiration.”

The expression “inspired of God” (literally in the Greek Testament, “God-breathed”) suggests that the divine Author of the sacred writings breathed into the minds of his select writers the exact message he wanted conveyed to mankind. And the biblical writers happily acknowledged this; they did not claim originality for their productions.

It is true, of course, that God utilized the talents, backgrounds, personalities, etc. of the inspired writers to convey His divine message. Nonetheless, it is an indisputable fact that the Lord so guided the sacred writers that they expressed Heaven’s will with absolute precision.

God enabled certain specially chosen individuals to know the otherwise unknowable or interpret the otherwise merely puzzling and communicate those insights correctly.  We believe the Bible in inerrant (without error) and authoritative.

Transmission

The original writings, which collectively came to be called the “Bible,” have faded into oblivion. Not a single one of those original autographs remains – and doubtless for good reason. Men, had they access to those ancient scrolls, would likely worship them rather than their Author. And so, in the providence of God, they have long since vanished.

Does that suggest, though, that the copies we now possess are not reliable as depositories of divine truth? Not in the least. Sacred oversight has seen to it that the Scriptures have been remarkably and accurately preserved – and the biblical record bears testimony to this.

For instance, Paul states that Timothy, from his earliest years, had known the sacred writings which were able to make the young man wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:15). The “sacred writings” here referred to are the books of the Old Testament.

Timothy had perhaps been guided by his godly mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5) who doubtless took him to synagogue services whenever opportunity presented itself.

In the synagogue, the sacred text would be read. Obviously, however, those ancient synagogues possessed only copies of the original Old Testament autographs. The integrity of those narratives was so preserved, though, that Paul could affirm that their original design remained intact, that is, making men wise unto salvation.

Translation

The original text of the Bible was in three languages. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew (with some minor portions in Aramaic) and the New Testament was penned in Greek. Since most people do not read their Bibles in the original languages, they are dependent upon a translation.

The question is therefore appropriate: can one know that he is reading the genuine word of God even though he is employing a translation? Of course he can, and we need only to appeal to the New Testament itself to prove the point.

The most important version of the Old Testament was the Septuagint. In about 250 B.C., down in Alexandria, Egypt, the Hebrew Pentateuch was translated into Greek. The remainder of the Old Testament was done in piecemeal fashion, being completed by at least 117 B.C.

At the time Christ came to earth, this Greek translation had become the Bible of the Jewish people. This is doubtless why the writers of the New Testament, when appealing to the Old Testament, most often quoted from the Septuagint. In fact, of the three hundred or more quotations in the New Testament, the vast majority agree with the Septuagint.

The Lord Jesus himself frequently quoted from this version. Christ could even quote from the Greek translation and say:

(Matthew 22:31-32)  But about the resurrection of the dead–have you not read what God said to you, {32} ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ ? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”…demonstrating that the translation process did not destroy sacred truth.

Comprehension

But here is another question of great importance. What if one grants that the Scriptures have been faithfully transmitted and translated: is it not a fact that man’s mind is so hopelessly corrupt, and the Bible is a book so shrouded in mystery, that one cannot understand it without supernatural guidance?

No, that is not the truth (though it is commonly taught by both Catholic and Protestant theologians). Romanism alleges that the Bible “is but a dead letter calling for a divine interpreter” [Conway, The Question Box, 76], which is supposed to be the clergy of the Catholic Church.

And many sectarian groups contend that man is so depraved by sin that he cannot comprehend the teaching of the Bible; he is thus in “need of an inward supernatural teaching of the Spirit” [Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1, 671. Both of these views are quite erroneous.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus said that the good soil is “he that hears the word, and understands it” (Mt. 13:23).

(Ephesians 3:4)  In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,

(Ephesians 5:17)  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

It has never ceased to amaze me that a host of demoninational teachers can all claim to have a supernatural, illuminating guidance of the Holy Spirit, and yet teach a hundred contradictory doctrines.

Any person who has an honest heart and strong desire to understand the will of God, if he will but exercise enough discipline to study hard, applying sound principles of interpretation, can comprehend the plain and essential elements of the Scriptures.

Demonstration

A mere theoretical knowledge of the Bible is worthless. Christ declared: Luke 11:28 (ESV)  But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

We must allow the word of God to work in us: James 1:22 (ESV) But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

The Low View of Scripture Shared By Many

In general, the ungodly have a dangerously low view of Scripture. It is often so low that they reject it, hate it and in some cases try to destroy it and the person speaking it out. It can be like that even for the religiously ungodly:

I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. (John 8:37)

Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw and as dry grass sinks down in the flames, so their roots will decay and their flowers blow away like dust; for they have rejected the law of the LORD Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel. (Isa 5:24)

But to the wicked, God says: “What right have you to recite my laws or take my covenant on your lips? You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you.” (Psa 50:16,17)

For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king. (1 Sam 15:23)

But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (Rom 2:8)

Propositions to govern our thinking as we approach the subject of the authority of the Scriptures

  1. We have no right to hold a different view of Scripture than that held by Jesus himself.

There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. (John 12:48)

That is the first fact we must hold in mind as we come to this subject of the authority of the Word. To put it another way, the authority of the Bible rests squarely upon the authority of Jesus Christ himself.

To be a Christian at all means that we have fully accepted the authority of Jesus. It is an utter inconsistency to say that we accept what the Bible says about Christ and reject what He says about Scripture.

You see the utter inconsistency of that position? We cannot call him Lord, and say he has the right to choose our mates, and to pick our line of work, and to govern our life in all its attitudes and ways — even to trust our eternal destiny into his hands — but we cannot believe him when he speaks of the creation of man, or the sanctity of marriage, or the sinfulness of certain sexual acts.

  1. We have no right to views of Scripture which are different from the apostles’ view of Scripture.

The apostles, like our Lord, are our teachers. We are not theirs. It is Karl Barth who says, “We cannot stand and look over the apostles’ shoulders, correcting their work. It is they who stand looking over our shoulders, correcting our work.”

The apostles, in writing the New Testament, everywhere declare that their authority is simply the Lord’s authority. They, too, rest the authority of their words squarely upon the authority of the Lord Jesus.

These men who lived in the 1st century and associated with the Lord Jesus, who heard his words, and who so ministered in power throughout the world of their day as to transform the generation in which they lived, knew far more about what God thought and said than any man studying theology today.

  1. We can never discover the depths of Scripture’s insights into life without first accepting it as true and authoritative.

What I am saying is that we must first believe Scripture before we can understand it. As long as we keep asking, “Should this passage be here? Is it genuine, is it real? Has it been inserted? Is it a legend? Is it a fairy tale? Is it something that is merely the thinking of the apostles and was never in the mind of Christ?”

— if this is our constant approach then we can never get around to asking, “What does this say to me? What does it mean? Where is the wisdom hidden in this that I need so desperately in my life?”

Those students and pseudo-scholars who feel they are a final authority on what ought to be here, and what ought not to be here, never seem to be able to understand what is written. They never seem able to say anything about the depths of Scripture or the teaching of it, for they exclude themselves from understanding by their attitude of judgment over it.

  1. Scripture does not need to be defended, but simply declared.

No one today has access to divine truth by means of any personal interview with deity. God does not speak in dreams, visions, or by a supernatural illumination of the Holy Spirit.

Objective revelation has been made known through the completed Bible, and men will only be exposed to the message of the Scriptures as we distribute the sacred volume and proclaim its saving message.

Every single Christian must take seriously his obligation to teach the Bible consistent with his divinely appointed role, ability, and opportunity.

The whole testimony of this church is to the fact that it is the preaching and the exposition of the Bible that establishes its authority. We do not need to defend it, just declare it, proclaim it.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2021 in Church, Doctrine

 

Ecclesiastes: The Good Life #7 Is Life a Dead-End Street? Ecclesiastes 6


It’s interesting to read the different expressions people use to picture futility. Solomon compared the futility of life to a soap bubble (“vanity of vanities”) and to “chasing after the wind.” I have read statements like: “As futile as watering a post.” “As futile as plowing the rocks.” “As futile as singing songs to a dead horse” (or “singing twice to a deaf man”). “As futile as pounding water with a mortar” (or “carrying water in a sieve”).

In his poem The Task, the hymn writer William Cowper (“There Is A Fountain”) pictured futility this way: The toil of dropping buckets into empty wells, and growing old in drawing nothing up.

If Cowper were alive today, he might look at our “automobile society” and write: As futile as blind men driving cars down crowded dead-end streets.

Is life a dead-end street? Sometimes it seems to be, especially when we don’t reach our goals or when we reach our goals but don’t feel fulfilled in our achievement. More than one person in the Bible became so discouraged with life that he either wanted to die or wished he had never been born. This includes Moses (Num. 11:15), Elijah (1 Kings 19:4), Job (3:21; 7:15), Jeremiah (8:3; 15:10), and Jonah (4:3). Even the great apostle Paul despaired of life during a particularly tough time in his life (2 Cor. 1:8-11).

Perhaps the basic problem is that life confronts us with too many mysteries we can’t fathom and too many puzzles we can’t solve. For life to be truly satisfying, it has to make sense. When it doesn’t make sense, we get frustrated. If people can’t see a purpose in life, especially when they go through deep suffering, they start to question God and even wonder if life is worthwhile.

A man walks into a shoe store and asks for a pair of shoes, size eight. The well-trained salesman says, “But sir, you take an eleven or eleven-and-a-half.” “Just bring me a size eight.” The sales guy brings the shoes and the man crams his feet into them and stands up in obvious pain. He turns to the salesman and says, “I’ve lost my house to the I.R.S., I live with my mother-in-law, my daughter ran off with my best friend, and my business has filed Chapter 7. The only pleasure I have left is to come home at night and take my shoes off.”202

Can you relate to this man? Is your savings and checking account nearly depleted? Are you struggling to make ends meet? Are your cars and appliances ready to give up the ghost? Is your job tearing your innards apart? Is your marriage faltering? Are your kids making your life especially difficult? Are you sick and tried of being sick and tired? Are you lonely or depressed? Like Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, do you exclaim, “I can’t get no satisfaction?” Like Bono and U2, do you lament, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for?” If so, this passage from the Bible is tailor-made for you.

In Ecclesiastes 6, Solomon discussed three of life’s mysteries: riches without enjoyment (1-6), labor without satisfaction (7-9), and questions without answers (10-12).

  1. Riches without enjoyment (ECCL. 6:1-6)

What a seeming tragedy it is to have all the resources for a satisfying life and yet not be able to enjoy them for one reason or another. More than one person has worked hard and looked forward to a comfortable retirement only to have a heart attack and become either an invalid or a statistic. Or perhaps the peace of retirement is shattered by a crisis in the family that begins to drain both money and strength. Why do these things happen?

Solomon mentioned this subject in 5:19 and hinted at it in 3:13. To him, it was a basic principle that nobody can truly enjoy the gifts of God apart from the God who gives the gifts. To enjoy the gifts without the Giver is idolatry, and this can never satisfy the human heart. Enjoyment without God is merely entertainment, and it doesn’t satisfy. But enjoyment with God is enrichment and it brings true joy and satisfaction.

Verse 2 may describe a hypothetical situation, or it might have happened to somebody Solomon knew. The fact that God gave Solomon riches, wealth, and honor (2 Chron. 1:11) made the account even more meaningful to him. How fortunate a person would be to lack nothing, but how miserable if he or she could not enjoy the blessings of life.

What would prevent this person from enjoying life? Perhaps trouble in the home (Prov. 15:16-17; 17:1), or illness, or even death (Luke 12:20). The person described in verse 2 had no heir, so a stranger acquired the estate and enjoyed it. It all seems so futile.

What is Solomon saying to us? “Enjoy the blessings of God now and thank Him for all of them.” Don’t plan to live—start living now. Be satisfied with what He gives you and use it all for His glory.

Verses 3-6 surely deal with a hypothetical case, because nobody lives for two thousand years, and no monogamous marriage is likely to produce a hundred children. (Solomon’s son Rehoboam had eighty-eight children, but he had eighteen wives and sixty concubines—like father, like son. See 2 Chronicles 11:21.) The Preacher was obviously exaggerating here in order to make his point: no matter how much you possess, if you don’t possess the power to enjoy it, you might just as well never have been born.

Here is a man with abundant resources and a large family, both of which, to an Old Testament Jew, were marks of God’s special favor. But his family does not love him, for when he died, he was not lamented. That’s the meaning of “he has no burial” (see Jer. 22:18-19). His relatives stayed around him only to use his money (5:11), and they wondered when the old man would die. When he finally did die, his surviving relatives could hardly wait for the reading of the will.

The rich man was really poor. For some reason, perhaps sickness, he couldn’t enjoy his money. And he couldn’t enjoy his large family because there was no love in the home. They didn’t even weep when the man died. Solomon’s conclusion was that it were better for this man had he never been born, or that he had been stillborn (see Job 3).

Among the Jews at that time, a stillborn child was not always given a name. That way, it would not be remembered. It was felt that this would encourage the parents to get over their sorrow much faster. “It [the child] comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded” (v. 4, niv). In my pastoral ministry, broken-hearted parents and grandparents have sometimes asked, “Why did God even permit this child to be conceived if it wasn’t going to live?” Solomon asked, “Why did God permit this man to have wealth and a big family if the man couldn’t enjoy it?”

Some would argue that existence is better than nonexistence and a difficult life better than no life at all. Solomon might agree with them, for “a living dog is better than a dead lion” (9:4). But the problem Solomon faced was not whether existence is better than nonexistence, but whether there is any purpose behind the whole seemingly unbalanced scheme of things. As he examined life “under the sun,” he could find no reason why a person should be given riches and yet be deprived of the power to enjoy them.

The ability to enjoy life comes from within. It is a matter of character and not circumstances. “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content,” Paul wrote to the Philippians (4:11). The Greek word autarkes, translated “content,” carries the idea of “self-contained, adequate, needing nothing from the outside.” Paul carried within all the resources needed for facing life courageously and triumphing over difficulties. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13, nkjv).

The 2,000-year-old man and the stillborn baby both ended up in the same place—the grave. Once again, the Preacher confronted his listeners with the certainty of death and the futility of life without God. He was preparing them for “the conclusion of the matter” when he would wrap up the sermon and encourage them to trust God (11:9-12:14).

In this first section, Solomon discusses the three measuring sticks of success in Hebrew society: wealth, long life, and lots of children.203 As wonderful as these good gifts are, unless God is in the midst we cannot enjoy them. In 6:1-2, Solomon shares his basic premise: “There is an evil which I have seen under the sun and it is prevalent among men—a man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor so that his soul lacks nothing of all that he desires; yet God has not empowered him to eat from them, for a foreigner enjoys them. This is vanity and a severe affliction.” The “evil” that Solomon speaks of in 6:1 refers to the painful misfortune204 of not being able to enjoy God’s good gifts. Solomon says that this misfortune is “prevalent among men.” This means that many people who have lived down throughout time have struggled with contentment and enjoyment. I know this is hard to believe, but it is in the Bible so it must be true. In 6:2, the active presence of God is emphasized. Solomon writes that God is the one who has given “riches and wealth and honor” (cf. 5:19). But here the blessing of material possessions is not balanced with the wisdom to enjoy them!

Solomon is penning a very important principle: Every good gift that God gives205 can only be truly and ultimately enjoyed if God empowers us. Riches, wealth, and honor do not automatically bring happiness, contentment, satisfaction, or a lasting benefit! Rather, they can bring unhappiness, ingratitude, restlessness, and grief. A perfect example of this is Howard Hughes (1905-1976). At age 45, Hughes was one of the most glamorous men in America. He dated actresses, piloted exotic test aircraft, and worked on top-secret CIA contracts. He owned a string of hotels around the world, and even an airline—TWA—to carry him on global jaunts. Twenty years later, at age 65, Howard Hughes still had plenty of money—$2.3 billion to be exact. But the world’s richest man had become one of its most pathetic. He lived in small dark rooms atop his hotels, without sun and without joy. He was unkempt: a scraggly beard had grown waist-length, his hair fell down his back, and his fingernails were two inches long. His once powerful 6’4” frame had shrunk to about 100 pounds. This famous man spent most of his time watching movies over and over, with the same movie showing as many as 150 times. He lay naked in bed, deathly afraid of germs. Life held no meaning for him. Finally, wasting away and hooked on drugs, he died at age 67 for lack of a medical device his own company had helped to develop.206

The lesson of Howard Hughes is this: “Never judge a book by its cover.” Even though Hughes had it all, he did not have the supernatural ability to enjoy what he had been richly given. Some of the wealthiest people in the world are also some of the most miserable. This is what happens when God is left out of the equation. All that this world has to offer can be incredibly empty and unsatisfying. It can be vanity!

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) said it well, “There are two tragedies in life: one is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.”207 Truly, prosperity may be a greater test of character than poverty. A Romanian church leader who spent time in the West said, “95% of believers who face the test of persecution pass it; 95% who face the test of prosperity fail it.”208 How are you doing with the prosperity God has given you? Are you passing the test? If not, pray for the grace to find satisfaction in God’s good gifts.

I want you to imagine for just a moment that you absolutely love peaches. You have an insatiable appetite them. (Lord willing, this is not too far-fetched for you if you hate peaches.) Now imagine that God has given you countless cans of peaches. You are anxious to begin eating them, but then it dawns on you that you don’t have a can opener. Unless you are especially creative, you’re in trouble. You can’t enjoy all of these peaches without a can opener. If you are smart, you will ask God who gave you all these cans of peaches for a can opener. And then you will be able to enjoy your peaches. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many cans you might accumulate unless the Lord gives you a can opener to go with your cans of peaches. We need to enjoy daily life whatever it brings,209 trust in eternal life whenever and however physical life ceases,210 honor God,211 and obey God.212Satisfaction in life is found by enjoying God’s blessings.

In 6:3-6, Solomon uses two illustrations to drive home his point about the vanity of money and pleasure apart from God. He puts it like this: “If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, however many they be, but his soul is not satisfied with good things and he does not even have a proper burial, then I say, ‘Better the miscarriage than he, for it comes in futility and goes into obscurity; and its name is covered in obscurity. It never sees the sun and it never knows anything; it is better off than he. Even if the other man lives a thousand years twice and does not enjoy good things—do not all go to one place?’” Solomon offers us the eye-opening comparison of a stillborn child and a 2,000 year-old man who fathers 100 children. One enjoys the full rich feast of life and comes back for about 25 second helpings; the other doesn’t quite make it to the table.213 Solomon exaggerates to make his point. The longest lifespan recorded in Scripture is Methuselah, and he lived to be “only” 969 years old (Gen 5:27). Imagine a man who lives more than twice that long—to be 2,000 years old—and has a hundred children in the process. Solomon’s point here is obvious: You could live twice as long as anyone else and have more children than anyone else, but if God is not involved and He is not granting you His satisfaction, it’s all worthless.

In fact, Solomon says that a miscarriage is better than such a person! Now we need to be careful not to misread Solomon at this point. He does not in any way argue that a literal “miscarriage of a child” is a good thing.214 His concerns here are more philosophical than literal. Obviously, it is tempting to kind of dance around the reality of a miscarriage being a part of this text. We all know people who have suffered through the tragedy of miscarriage. It’s absolutely gut-wrenching. My heart breaks for those parents who have suffered this ordeal. If you have experienced a miscarriage, I want you to know how sorry I am. Please know that I hurt for you and your church family hurts for you. Yet, in spite of your great pain and loss, I want us to hear and feel the weight of Solomon’s point: “It is more tragic for someone to be given life and possessions and honor and riches and not enjoy life’s good things than the tragedy of miscarriage.” You see for Solomon, he recognizes both of them as tragic. He’s just saying that it is more tragic for life to be granted and a person not to enjoy the good things in life than it is for a baby to not come to term. Do you feel his emphasis? You see, for all of us, we are on this side of life. We are on this side of life where we have been given opportunity to enjoy it, and Solomon is saying this, “If your life is not marked by the enjoyment of life’s good things, then it is better off that you were not even born at all.” In a nutshell his point is: “Better to miscarry at birth than to miscarry throughout life.”215 Satisfaction in life is found by enjoying God’s blessings. Will you join me in praying that the Lord will increase your level of satisfaction with the many good gifts that He has given you? If so, I can assure you that God will grant you a greater spirit of contentment.216

Now if we are to properly understand 6:3-6, we must step outside of our western mindsets. First, in ancient Israel, children were not an inconvenience; rather, they were considered a great blessing from God. Furthermore, children were not a financial burden; they were an economic asset to their family.217 Hence, the goal was to have a lot of kids. Second, a proper burial was also of utmost importance because it served as a statement about the significance of your life.218 Although this is not evident in our English versions, it is more likely that the “proper burial” does not refer to the rich man, but to the miscarried child. So the phrase would read: “Even if it does not have a proper burial, I say that the stillborn is better off than he.”219 Either way, the day of one’s death was important. Third, growing old was not looked down upon. In the book of Proverbs, Solomon says that “the honor of old men is their gray hair” and a “gray head is a crown of glory.”220 Long life was a great blessing from the Father.221 Yet, all of these good gifts cannot provide a lasting benefit (cf. 1:3; 2:18).

If Solomon were alive today I think he would urge us to stop worshiping our kids and our health. All too often life revolves around family. So many people seek a release from materialistic culture by making family a god in our own day. They get married and think that marriage is going to be the place where they find ultimate satisfaction. Then suddenly, you find out that she recognizes all your weaknesses, and you’re not as nice as her dad, and its hard work, and its rough going. Suddenly, the thing that was going to provide you satisfaction is the source of your greatest heartbreak. That’s what Solomon is saying.

Family, children, grandchildren, as great a blessing as these can be, are not the source of satisfaction. Similarly, many of us want to live long and prosperous lives. We try to eat right, work out, and make sure we look good. Yet, the truth is, many people who have been given long life do not use their years wisely for the Lord. So the issue is not long life per se, but rather how you live the life you have. It has been said, “It’s not the years in life but the life in the years.”222 Our health, children, and grandchildren can all be taken away so quickly. Sickness, bacteria, or an accident can rob us of long life and our children and grandchildren. Therefore, we need to enjoy what God has given us while we can. There is no guarantee that we will have our health and loved ones tomorrow. Therefore, live your life with enjoyment today! And remember satisfaction in life is found by enjoying God’s blessings.

[Solomon says, “Enjoy the blessings of this life.” Yet, he also wants you and me to…]

2. Accept the limitations of this life (6:7-12).

In this second section, Solomon reminds us that life has its challenges and we need to accept this reality. In 6:7-9, he provides three proverbial summaries of the futility of life: “All a man’s labor is for his mouth and yet the appetite is not satisfied. For what advantage does the wise man have over the fool? What advantage does the poor man have, knowing how to walk before the living? What the eyes see is better than what the soul desires. This too is futility and a striving after wind.”223 In 6:7, Solomon says that we all work so that we can eat. When you boil it down, whether you’re a high-profile CEO of a Fortune 500 company or you’re a college student working part-time for Burger King, you essentially work for food. You just work for your next meal. It’s sad but true. Think about it: Have you ever developed a hunger for a particularly appetizing dish? And then you ate it. And by the next day, no matter how good the meal was, you were hungry again. There is a curious repetition of hunger. It doesn’t matter how well you ate yesterday, tomorrow you will be hungry again. A man works and works to buy food, but it’s never enough. He has to keep working because he continually gets hungry and needs to eat. Wealth will never satisfy you. It will never scratch your itch deep enough.224

While the immediate reference is to food, Solomon’s intention seems to speak to anything material (Prov 16:26). Whatever it is that you pick to attempt to satisfy your soul will eventually be found to be lacking. Or to put it another way, stuff doesn’t satisfy. Why not? Because physical things can only satisfy physical needs, and that for which you hunger on the inside is a hunger of the soul. This is seen vividly in the Hebrew text of this verse. The word translated “appetite” (nephesh) in 6:7 is the same word translated “soul” in 6:2 and 3. Satisfaction in life is found by enjoying God’s blessings.

In 6:8 Solomon states, regardless of who you are (wise or poor) there is no ultimate satisfaction in this life unless you enjoy it. This leads to 6:9 which suggests, use what is available instead of yearning for that which is beyond you. Solomon’s proverb is similar to the more familiar, “A bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush” (Prov 17:24). A roving appetite is not satisfied with what is at hand; it impatiently looks for something new, something better. Generally speaking, actually having something that you want (and is good for you) is better than merely wishing you had that same thing.225 What do your eyes see when they look at your life? Are your eyes satisfied or is your life lived around what the soul desires? Always more, always what you do not have; living for the future potential of filet mignon, and not enjoying the spam burger you have on you plate today.

When we take our children to the shrine of the Golden Arches, they always lust for the meal that comes with a cheap little prize, a combination christened in a moment of marketing genius—the Happy Meal. You’re not just buying fries, McNuggets, and a dinosaur stamp; you’re buying happiness. Their advertisements have convinced my children they have a little McDonald-shaped vacuum in their souls: “Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in a happy meal.” I try to buy off the kids sometimes. I tell them to order only the food and I’ll give them a quarter to buy a little toy on their own. But the cry goes up, “I want a Happy Meal.” All over the restaurant, people crane their necks to look at the tight-fisted, penny-pinching cheapskate of a parent who would deny a child the meal of great joy. The problem with the Happy Meal is that the happy wears off, and they need a new fix. No child discovers lasting happiness in just one: “Remember that Happy Meal? What great joy I found there!” Happy Meals bring happiness only to McDonalds. Have you ever wondered why Ronald McDonald wears that grin? Twenty billion Happy Meals, that’s why. When you get older, you don’t get any smarter; your happy meals just get more expensive.226 Yet, we must always remember satisfaction in life is found by enjoying God’s blessings.

Solomon closes out this chapter in 6:10-12 with some sobering words: “Whatever exists has already been named, and it is known what man is; for he cannot dispute with him who is stronger than he is. For there are many words which increase futility. What then is the advantage to a man? For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life? He will spend them like a shadow. For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun?” Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, there are numerous allusions to Genesis. Solomon loved to draw upon the book of beginnings. This text is held together by the fourfold use of the catchword “man” (adam), here used not merely as a generic for human beings but as a term that points back to Genesis 2-3. Ecclesiates 6:10 (“Whatever exists has already been named”) does not refer to the divine naming of all things at creation; it is a literary allusion to Adam’s naming of all living things in Gen 2:19. The noun adam looks back to the substance from which humanity came, the adama (“soil”), and so draws attention to human mortality. The participle “known” alludes to the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the place at which Adam discovered that he could not contend with God and win. Adam contended with one “stronger” than he in an attempt to become “like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). Adam was in effect the first “Teacher.” He sought an encyclopedic mastery of knowledge (cf. Eccl 1:13) and even experimented with firsthand experience in good and evil (cf. Eccl 1:17). What he discovered was his own mortality and weakness before God. That is, he discovered the real meaning of his own name.

No sage, however brilliant or daring, has substantially added to Adam’s discovery. Indeed, more exhaustive attempts at explaining the human situation only confound the facts and are of no benefit to humanity (6:11). Adam has already shown us what we are. The question in 6:12: “For who knows what is good” for adam, plays on the situation of Adam prior to the fall. The trees had “good” fruit, and the land had “good” gold (Gen 2:9, 12). It also plays on the name of the tree of his demise, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam’s days, though they numbered 930 years (Gen 5:5), passed like a shadow and no one could tell him what was to follow him. What is true of him is equally true of all who bear his name. We are but weak mortals before an omnipotent God.227

Therefore, we need to learn to be submissive to our great God, for He alone knows the end from the beginning. He is the only sovereign. God is the potter; we are the clay. More arguing only results in more futility for man (6:11). Man does not know what is best for him or what his future holds completely (6:12). We are ignorant of our place in God’s all-inclusive plan. Human life is fleeting, it is like a shadow.228 It is futile to fight with God; He always wins. James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) said it well, “Your arms are too short to box with God.”229 Or as C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) said, “To argue with God is to argue with the very power that makes it possible to argue at all.” Disputing is a waste of time and effort. So long as I fight the hand of God, I do not learn the lessons He is attempting to place before me. When I find myself getting anxious about my life, it is usually because the horizontal has overshadowed the vertical. I have momentarily lost sight of who is still on the throne.230

What if a person visited your house and started to criticize things? She doesn’t like the colorful wallpaper, she doesn’t like the decorations, she doesn’t like the picture that hangs over the kitchen table. Once she is finished with her criticism, only one comment is appropriate. “Whose name is on the title deed of this house? When you start paying the bills around here, you get a vote on the decorating. Until then, feel free to keep your opinions to yourself.”231

This does not mean that we can never ask God a “why” question; however, I would strongly caution you to remember who it is you are talking to! Notice there are two questions introduced with “who” in 6:11 and 12. Solomon is implying that there is a “who” who holds the universe and its philosophical questions. He is leading us to the conclusion that satisfaction in life is found by enjoying God’s blessings.

Ray Charles was once baited by a 60 Minutes interviewer with a question about the inequity between his earnings and those of white entertainers. The question had overtones of racism and would’ve tugged at the heart of any man who was greedy. Ray’s answer was disarming: “I make a good living. I can only ride in one car at a time, I live in one house at a time, sleep with one woman at a time.” (I trust it was his wife.) Ray was right, and he was also content.232

My three children like certain types of food. If I am scooping them a bowl of ice cream or cutting them a piece of cake, they always ask for more before they have even begun to consume what I have served. My response is always the same: “Before I give you more, you need to eat what you have.” In the same way, before we can expect God to give us more gifts, we must enjoy what we have.

Do you enjoy your life? Are you satisfied with your life? Do you enjoy your spouse, your kids, your work, and your church? If not, pray to God that He will change your perspective. Tragically, you may have believed a lie that you can be and do whatever you want. Is that true? Can you do whatever you want? I can’t. Can I play in the NBA at 5’10’ with a 2-inch vertical leap? Nope. Can I make myself into a worship leader? Nope. Can I be a supermodel? Well maybe. Okay, nope! There are certain things that I simply cannot do. I am limited by God in some areas and blessed by Him in other areas. Yet, here’s what I can do: I can be satisfied with my wife, my kids, my ministry, because God has enabled me to be satisfied with all those things. Without His enabling me to be satisfied, I would never fully enjoy anything. But when I look beyond this world to the God who knows me and loves me, I find true and lasting satisfaction.

  1. Labor without satisfaction (ECCL. 6:7-9)

Solomon had spoken about the rich man; now he discusses the situation of the poor man. Rich and poor alike labor to stay alive. We must either produce food or earn money to buy it. The rich man can let his money work for him, but the poor man has to use his muscles if he and his family are going to eat. But even after all this labor, the appetite of neither one is fully satisfied.

Why does a person eat? So that he can add years to his life. But what good is it for me to add years to my life if I don’t add life to my years? I’m like the birds that I watch in the backyard. They spend all their waking hours either looking for food or escaping from enemies. (We have cats in our neighborhood.) These birds are not really living; they are only existing. Yet they are fulfilling the purposes for which the Creator made them—and they even sing about it!

Solomon is not suggesting that it’s wrong either to work or to eat. Many people enjoy doing both. But if life consists only in working and eating, then we are being controlled by our appetites and that almost puts us on the same level as animals. As far as nature is concerned, self-preservation may be the first law of life, but we who are made in the image of God must live for something higher (John 12:20-28). In the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), self-preservation may well be the first law of death (Mark 8:34-38).

Both questions in verse 8 are answered by “None!” If all you do is live to satisfy your appetite, then the wise man has no advantage over the fool, nor does the poor man have any advantage trying to better his situation and learning to get along with the rich. Solomon is not belittling either education or self-improvement. He is only saying that these things of themselves cannot make life richer. We must have something greater for which to live.

A century ago, when the United States was starting to experience prosperity and expansion, the American naturalist Henry David Thoreau warned that men were devising “improved means to unimproved ends.” He should see our world today. We can send messages around the world in seconds, but do we have anything significant to say? We can transmit pictures even from the moon, but our TV screens are stained with violence, sex, cheap advertising, and even cheaper entertainment.

Verse 9 is Solomon’s version of the familiar saying, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” This proverb has been around for a long time. The Greek biographer Plutarch (46-120) wrote, “He is a fool who lets slip a bird in the hand for a bird in the bush.” Solomon is saying, “It’s better to have little and really enjoy it than to dream about much and never attain it.” Dreams have a way of becoming nightmares if we don’t come to grips with reality.

Is Solomon telling us that it’s wrong to dream great dreams or have a burning ambition to accomplish something in life? Of course not, but we must take care that our ambition is motivated by the glory of God and not the praise of men. We must want to serve others and not promote ourselves. If we think our achievements will automatically bring satisfaction, we are wrong. True satisfaction comes when we do the will of God from the heart (Eph. 6:6). “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34, nasb).

Yes, in the will of God there can be riches with enjoyment and labor with satisfaction. But we must accept His plan for our lives, receive His gifts gratefully, and enjoy each day as He enables us. “Thou wilt show me the path of life. In thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11).

  1. Questions without answers (ECCL. 6:10-12)

Thus far, Solomon has said that life is a dead-end street for two kinds of people: those who have riches but no enjoyment and those who labor but have no satisfaction. But he has tried to point out that true happiness is not the automatic result of making a good living; it is the blessed by-product of making a good life. If you devote your life only to the pursuit of happiness, you will be miserable; however, if you devote your life to doing God’s will, you will find happiness as well.

The British essayist and poet Joseph Addison (1672-1718) wrote, “The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.” Addison probably didn’t have Christianity in mind when he wrote that, but we have all three in Jesus Christ!

The Preacher was not finished. He knew that life was also a dead-end street for a third kind of person—the person who required answers to all of life’s questions. Solomon was not condemning honest inquiry, because Ecclesiastes is the record of his own investigation into the meaning of life. Rather, Solomon was saying, “There are some questions about life that nobody can answer. But our ignorance must not be used as an excuse for skepticism or unbelief. Instead, our ignorance should encourage us to have faith in God. After all, we don’t live on explanations; we live on promises.”

It’s been my experience in pastoral ministry that most explanations don’t solve personal problems or make people feel better. When the physician explains an X-ray to a patient, his explanation doesn’t bring healing, although it is certainly an essential step toward recovery. Suffering Job kept arguing with God and demanding an explanation for his plight. God never did answer his questions, because knowledge in the mind does not guarantee healing for the heart. That comes only when we put faith in the promises of God.

Without going into great detail, in verses 10-12 Solomon touches on five questions that people often ask.

Since “what’s going to be is going to be,” why bother to make decisions? Isn’t it all predestined anyway?

“Whatever exists has already been named, and what man is has been known” (v. 10a, niv). To the Jewish mind, giving a name to something is the same as fixing its character and stating what the thing really is. During the time of creation, God named the things that He made; and nobody changed those designations. “Light” is “light” and not “darkness”; “day” is “day” and not “night.” (See Isa. 5:20.)

Our name is “man”—Adam, “from the earth” (Gen. 2:7). Nobody can change that: we came from the earth and we will return to the earth (Gen. 3:19). “Man” by any other name would still be “man,” made from the dust and eventually returning to the dust.

The fact that God has named everything does not mean that our world is a prison and we have no freedom to act. Certainly God can accomplish His divine purposes with or without our cooperation, but He invites us to work with Him. We cooperate with God as we accept the “names” He has given to things: sin is sin; obedience is obedience; truth is truth. If we alter these names, we move into a world of illusion and lose touch with reality. This is where many people are living today.

We are free to decide and choose our world, but we are not free to change the consequences. If we choose a world of illusion, we start living on substitutes, and there can be no satisfaction in a world of substitutes. “And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3, nasb). “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20, nasb).

Why disagree with God? We can’t oppose Him and win, can we?

“… neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he” (v. 10b). The word translated “contend” also means “dispute.” Solomon seems to say, “It just doesn’t pay to argue with God or to fight God. This is the way life is, so just accept it and let God have His way. You can’t win, and even if you do think you win, you ultimately lose.”

But this is a negative view of the will of God. It gives the impression that God’s will is a difficult and painful thing that should be avoided at all cost. Jesus said that God’s will was the food that nourished and satisfied Him (John 4:32-34). It was meat, not medicine. The will of God comes from the heart of God and is an expression of the love of God. (See Ps. 33:11.) What God wills for us is best for us, because He knows far more about us than we do.

Why would anyone want to have his or her “own way” just for the privilege of exercising “freedom”? Insisting on having our own way isn’t freedom at all; it’s the worst kind of bondage. In fact, the most terrible judgment we could experience in this life would be to have God “give us up” and let us have our own way (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28).

God is free to act as He sees best. He is not a prisoner of His attributes, His creation, or His eternal purposes. You and I may not understand how God exercises His freedom, but it isn’t necessary for us to know all. Our greatest freedom comes when we are lovingly lost in the will of God. Our Father in heaven doesn’t feel threatened when we question Him, debate with Him, or even wrestle with Him, so long as we love His will and want to please Him.

What do we accomplish with all these words? Does talking about it solve the problem? (v. 11).

In fact, there are times when it seems like the more we discuss a subject, the less we really understand it. Words don’t always bring light; sometimes they produce clouds and even darkness. “The more the words, the less the meaning”(v. 11, niv). But this is where we need the Word of God and the wisdom He alone can give us. If some discussions appear useless and produce “vanity,” there are other times when conversation leads us closer to the truth and to the Lord.

Who knows what is good for us? (v. 12).

God does! And wise is the person who takes time to listen to what God has to say. Yes, life may seem to be fleeting and illusive, like a soap bubble (“vain”) or a shadow, but “he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17, nkjv).

Does anybody know what’s coming next? (v. 12b).

In spite of what the astrologers, prophets, and fortune tellers claim, nobody knows the future except God. It is futile to speculate. God gives us enough information to encourage us, but He does not cater to idle curiosity. One thing is sure: death is coming, and we had better make the best use of our present opportunities. That is one of the major themes in Ecclesiastes.

Solomon has discussed two of his arguments that life is not worth living: the monotony of life (3:1-5:9) and the futility of wealth (5:10-6:12). He has discovered that life “under the sun” can indeed be monotonous and empty, but it need not be if we include God in our lives. Life is God’s gift to us, and we must accept what He gives us and enjoy it while we can (3:12-15, 22; 5:18-20).

Solomon will next take up his third argument, the vanity of man’s wisdom (7:1-8:17), and discuss whether or not wisdom can make life any better. Though wisdom can’t explain all the problems or answer all the questions, it is still a valuable ally on the journey of life.


202 Preaching Now (5-2-06) Vol. 5 No. 16.

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

204 For the most part, as is the case here, the author records raah to indicate adversity, calamity, distress, trouble, misfortune, or the like (Eccl 2:21; 5:12 [twice], 15; 7:14, 15; 8:6, 11; 9:12 [twice]; 10:5, 13; 11:2, 10; 12:1, 11). If we understand this word to be pointing to a moral or spiritual deficiency, then we are suggesting that God’s work (in 6:2)—and thus He Himself—is in some way “sinful.” This is heresy! Rather, there seems to be some continuity with what Solomon has expressed in Eccl 2:18; 4:8; and 5:13-17.

205 Jas 1:17 tells us that “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

206 For more information on Hughes see http://www.famoustexans.com/howardhughes.htm.

207 Humorous Quotes attributed to G.B. Shaw: http://workinghumor.com/quotes/gb_shaw.shtml.

208 Bing, “Be Wise with Your Wealth.”

209 See Eccl 2:24-26; 3:12, 13, 22; 5:18-20; 7:7-9.

210 See Eccl 1:3; 3:9; 5:16; 6:11.

211 See Eccl 3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12.

212 See Eccl 12:13.

213 David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 138.

214 Job 3:16 and Psalm 58:8 also refer to instances where it would have been better off to have been stillborn; this was a figurative way to express evil, experienced at its worst.

215 Michael A. Eaton, Ecclesiastes: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament; Leicester, Eng., and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1983), 106.

216 Paul writes, “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment” (1 Tim 6:6).

217 See Pss 127 and 128.

218 See Isa 14:18-19 and Jer 22:18-19.

219 Roland Murphy, Ecclesiastes (WBC Vol. 23a; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992); Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs.

220 Prov 16:31a and 20:29b.

221 See Prov 3:16.

222 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 139.

223 Constable suggests, “This is the last of nine times the phrase ‘striving after wind’ occurs (cf. 1:14, 17; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 6, 16). It opened and closes the section of the book dealing with the ultimate futility of human achievement (1:12-6:9).” Dr. Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on Ecclesiastes”; 2007 edition: http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/ecclesiastes.pdf.

224 Tommy Nelson, The Problem of Life with God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 87.

225 Barry C. Davis, The Book of Ecclesiastes, Multnomah Biblical Seminary unpublished class notes.

226 John Ortberg, Dangers, Toils & Snares: Resisting the Hidden Temptations of Ministry (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1994), 99-100.

227 Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs,

228 See Eccl 8:13; 1 Chron 29:15; Job 9:9; 14:2; Pss 102:11; 109:23; 144:4.

229 Ray Pritchard, Something New Under the Sun: Ancient Wisdom for Contemporary Living (Chicago: Moody, 1998), 164.

230 Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge: Coming to Terms with Reality (Waco, TX: Word, 1985), 183.

231 Pritchard, Something New Under the Sun, 164-165.

232 Schmidt, Soul Management,115-116.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2021 in Ecclesiastes

 

“God’s Person in an Upside-Down World” — The Be-attitudes Series #8 “Happiness Through Harassment”


“‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'”

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'”

Robert Schuller wrote a commentary on them. He calls them the “Be Happy Attitudes”. And my point is, they’re not physical traits. They’re not inborn parts of our personality. They are attitudes that we choose. And the point is, happiness is a choice. You and I can apply each and every one of these if we choose, too.

Today, we’re going to look at the last beatitude, and it may be the toughest of all. It addresses the myth that in order to be happy, I must be liked by everyone. Jesus explodes that myth and at the same time, he’s very honest about the consequences of following him. He says, folks, if you follow me, there are going to be a lot of people who don’t like that decision. And if you really are committed to being characterized by these first seven beatitudes, you’re going to sail some turbulent waters.

Look at verse 10 in Matthew 5. “‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'” Wow! Jesus makes a statement there that is so shocking that he repeats it. Look at verse 11, “‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'”

I find this last beatitude tremendously interesting for a number of reasons. Number one, Jesus gives more space to it than any other. Number two, this is the only one that he personalizes. He doesn’t make this generic, “‘Blessed are they,'” “‘Blessed is he.'” Look what he says, “‘Blessed are you when men persecute you,'” “‘Blessed are you when men insult you.'” And this one is fascinating because in the other seven, Jesus addresses the character of the Christian, but in this one he addresses the character of the world and how it will treat the Christian life that is characterized by the seven beatitudes we’ve studied up until this point.

What Jesus basically says is, happy and healthy are those who can handle rejection. Happy and healthy are those who can withstand any attacks on their faith. Now in a few moments, we’re going to look at how you respond to persecution, how you respond to harassment in our world. But first let’s consider the reality of persecution.

Notice Jesus said, “Blessed are you when men insult you and when they persecute you. He doesn’t say, if, he says, when. It’s a given. It’s a reality. Folks, as this world gets more and more secular, it is becoming more and more hostile to Christianity. Would you agree with that? Yes, I see it, we all see it. But you say, “Gary, we’re not being persecuted, I mean not like Paul and Peter and James, not like those folks in Hebrews 11.” When you get to the end of Hebrews 11, it said some of them were beaten, some were stoned, some were even sawed into. That’s not happening to us. You’re right, even in the secular nature of our current culture, we are not, in this country, suffering overt persecution. What you may not know is that hundreds of people worldwide are dying for the cause of Christ, especially in radical Muslim countries. But worldwide, people are dying for the name of Christ.

But this beatitude is not just about physical martyrdom. Look at verse 11 again, read it carefully, “‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.'” Do you see there, Jesus specifies three things that the world loves to do to Christians in any generation.

The first one is they just love to insult us. People try to dishonor, to discredit you, you know say derogatory things about you. Second, they like to persecute us. Now that means mistreatment. And that mistreatment may be physical, it may be psychological, it may be emotional, it may be social isolation. And then the third thing, if the insulting doesn’t work, and the mistreatment doesn’t work, then the last option is, they’ll tell lies. They’ll just make up stuff about us. You know the world loves to find fault with Christians. Let me ask you a question, if a preacher in this town were to run off with some woman in parts unknown, or an elder were to embezzle $10,000 out of the church treasury; do you think that would make the paper if reporters find out about it? You could bet your life it would make the papers. If a bartender down the street did either of those two things, would it be in the paper? No.

The world loves to find fault with Christians. And if you walk with integrity, and if you walk blamelessly, they’ll just make stuff up. That’s what they did with Jesus. Do you realize they called Jesus a glutton and a drunk? Remember? They called him an illegitimate son. The rumor on the street was he was an illegitimate son of a Roman soldier. LIES! But they made those things up to persecute Him.

Folks, there is a reality of persecution and harassment for the person who is faithful to Christ. What’s the reason for it. Why are we persecuted? Why are we harassed, and for goodness sakes, why on earth should we be happy about it? Well, the first thing I want you to notice are the reasons for persecution that are not covered by this wonderful promise. Jesus does not say, “Happy are those who are persecuted for being irritated.” Or, “Happy are those who are persecuted for being obnoxious.”

There are some people in this world who set themselves up for emotional martyrdom by being irritating, stubborn, loud, nosy, no wonder they’re put down. They’re just obnoxious. Jesus did not say, “Happy are those who are persecuted for being a jerk.” That’s not the beatitudes. Neither did he make the promise to those who are harassed for self-righteousness. Now let’s face it. I think over life, all of us have run into the guy or to the gal who come off as some kind of Holy Joe, and very smug, and when they talk to you, they give you that condescending look and they’re offensive in sharing their faith. I mean they’re first words are turn or burn, you know. And they look at it like, I’ve got all the answers about the Bible, and you’re an idiot. You don’t know anything. God DOES NOT commend that kind of faith. People like that will go out into the world and they’ll come back spurned and they’ll say something like, “Oh, I’m being persecuted for my faith.” No, you’re being persecuted for being a Pharisee. And even Jesus persecuted Pharisees. Self-righteousness is not commended here. No, that’s not what Jesus is talking about.

In this last beatitude, our Lord is talking about the right reason for being harassed….it’s for being like Him. He said, “Blessed are you if you’re persecuted because of following me.” Look at John 15:20, our Lord said, “‘No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.'” There is a right reason for being harassed, and the bottom line is for being like Jesus.

I’m sure you’ve noticed as I have that our world tends to be merciless on Christians, particularly the media. Constantly putting down, attacking, making fun of, when is the last time you’ve seen a Christian portrayed positively in a television drama, or a television sitcom? Frankly, if they had their way, it’s almost like Christianity does not exist. Everybody spends all their time in a bar or some other place. But remember, the world crucified Jesus, and it would still do it to Him today.

Our sin-conquered world is uncomfortable around goodness. And if you and I are really going to be the light of the world, you will, and I mean now without any self-righteousness, without any obnoxiousness, if you’re the light of the world, you will reveal darkness in other people’s lives. And when bright light pierces darkness, in that darkness there is a natural re-coil. That’s just the way it is.

I hope by now you have discovered this basic law of life, surely you have. The more positive you are, the more negative people will hate you. Have you learned that? The more positive you are, the more negative people will hate you.

Look at II Timothy 3:12, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” circle the word “will”. See it, if you’re a team and you want to be persecuted, just humbly say if there are a group of kids at school and all of a sudden one of them starts talking about sex and starts bragging about some things he or she may or may not have done, just humbly say, “I’m a Christian, and and I’ll tell you I’m just committed to being a virgin until I’m married.” You just say that and see what happens. Or in business, if there is a group around the coffee pot talking about what they are going to go out and do that night and they want you to come along. And you’re not smart-alecky about it, you say, “No, you guys know about my faith, and I just don’t think that would please the Lord.” What kind of snide remarks do you think are going to come as you walk away?

Some of you are here this morning and you were persecuted before you came because you’ve got a spouse or family member who ridicules you for getting up and making your way to worship your God this morning. Do you know what Jesus said? He said, “I’ll never ask you to go where I’ve not been. The world hated me before it ever hated you.”

Now you say, “Wait a minute, Gary, I don’t really need this message this morning. Nobody hassles me about living for Christ.” What does that tell you? What does that tell you? It tells you one or two things. You are either insulated and isolated from the world like some type of Tibetan monk, or you are no different than anybody else. Paul said in II Timothy 3:12, all who live godly lives will be persecuted. You will be harassed. It’s a given, and the given is because we’re like Jesus.

How do we respond to that kind of harassment? How do we respond to persecution? Jesus said, “Happy are you if you’re persecuted for my sake.” Now frankly, that sounds bizarre even to a mature believer, but it’s true. I’m genuinely happy when I’m harassed, if, IF NOW, I follow biblical principles for dealing with it. I’ve got five…these are not comprehensive, but they sure are a good start.

Number one is this, remember the source.

Remember the source of the persecution. Look at Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world…” Folks, the enemy is who? The enemy is the devil, right? Now when somebody comes up and persecutes me at school or at work or on the street or in daily life, when they persecute me, they’re not the enemy, they’re just a pawn. They’re just people like you and me, the difference is, they have been deceived by Satan. And they’re just tools in the hands of the devil, he’s the enemy.

Let me ask you a question here, those of you who are parents out there. If I wanted to hurt you, how could I most hurt you? That’s a terrible question, but just imagine that. I know I could do some things directly to you, but if I were as low and conniving and despicable as a human being could be, the way that I could hurt you the most is to hurt your kids, isn’t that right? I’ve had people try to persecute me and most of the time it’s no big deal. But if they get on the kids, and all of a sudden we turn into wolverines, don’t we? Listen, the devil cannot get at God, so he does what in his mind is the next best thing, he attacks His (God’s) children. Revelation 12:10 says, “Satan is the accuser of the brethren. He is the enemy.” Remember that when you are persecuted.

The second thing you do is refuse to retaliate.
Remember, the person doing the persecuting, they’re just a tool of Satan. I don’t need to retaliate, it would just intensify it. Look at Romans 12, two verses there, beginning at verse 19, Paul says, “Do not take revenge my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘it is mine to avenge; I will repay says the Lord.'” And then drop down two verses later to verse 21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Jesus said in Matthew 5, you turn the other cheek when you are insulted. You don’t retaliate. Now the natural state is to do what? “Hey, I’m going to get even. I’m going to get that guy back.” God says, “Wrong!” God says you never get ahead by trying to get even. You never get ahead by trying to get even. And besides, if you try to retaliate, if you try to get revenge, all you do is end up playing into the persecutor’s hands.

When I was a child, I hate to admit this, but I am the second oldest of nine, and I had three younger sisters, and on rare occasions, I would tease my younger sisters. Quit imagining stuff here, just on RARE occasions, I would tease my sisters. Do you know what I learned when I did that? I learned that once they started to react, I was in control. Once I got them, and they began to squeal, I had them right where I wanted them, you know. I was in control. See, that’s not what you do Christians, you don’t retaliate, you respond, positively, in a way they wouldn’t expect.

Look at Matthew 5:44. Here’s what Jesus said, “‘But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'” Have you got somebody giving you a hard time, harassing you, you don’t yell back at them, you don’t slap them, you don’t manipulate them, you just go home and pray for them. Now is that easy? No. Is that unusual? Yes. Is that what Jesus said do? Yes. Hear me, if you do it, you’ll find happiness. If you try to get even, you let them control you by their persecution, you will get more and more and more miserable. But if you can pray for them, you’ll start loving them. And there is not a thing that they can do to you to keep you in misery.

Now people I will admit to you that this is the height of Christian maturity. This is the reason it’s the last beatitude. If Jesus had started with this one, everybody would have read that and said, “Well, that’s crazy,” closed the book and walked on. Only when I have grown those first seven beatitudes in my life, can I really have the maturity to where I say, “Man, if people can persecute me, I can even be happy through that.”

Following this chain of beatitudes, you learn one of the greatest principles of life, you can control your reaction. There are a lot of things in life you can’t control, you can’t control what happens to you, you can’t control what people say about you. You can’t control the hassles you might receive, but you can control how you respond.

And now the third principle, and this is the one people really stumble over, they don’t understand—Rejoice over it. Rejoice over it.
Remember who the real enemy is, refuse to retaliate, and now rejoice over it. Say what? Rejoice over the persecution? You say, Gary, isn’t that being a masochist? You know saying, “Hurt me, hurt me, come on please, hurt me.” No, Jesus is not saying, rejoice in the pain, but he says, when people put you down for your faith, not for being obnoxious or haughty, but if people put you down for being like Jesus, don’t complain, celebrate.

I’ve given you three great reasons from the Bible that we can do that. I hope you learn these well, because this is the key.
Number one, I can rejoice over persecution because when I’m harassed for my faith, it means the Spirit of Christ can be seen in my life.
When I’m harassed for my faith, IT MEANS THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST CAN BE SEEN IN MY LIFE. If it couldn’t be, nobody would be hassling us. Look at I Peter 4:14, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”

Do you see what Peter said? He said when people put you down for being a Christian, it just means they see Jesus in you. It means that God’s Spirit is bearing its fruit in your life. It means the light of Christ is shining brightly enough in you that people are noticing. It means that you’re not a Lady Clairol Christian. Do you know what a Lady Clairol Christian is? You know, “Only God knows for sure.”

That’s funny, but I want to tell you the truth, we need more persecuted Christians. That’s a bold statement, but we need a lot more persecuted Christians. And we need fewer secret agent Christians and believers. We need audio/visual Christians that you can see and you can hear. We need show and tell Christians. They show it in the way they live and they tell it in their talk. And it takes both. If you don’t show it, you’re a hypocrite. If you don’t tell it, you’re not an ambassador.

One of the cop-outs I hear all the time is, “Well, my life is my witness to other people.” Have you ever thought about how arrogant a statement that is? I never say a word about Jesus, but my life is a testimony to people about Christ. You know that is saying that you’re so good that people just come in your presence and bow down and say, “I repent. I repent because here is somebody so Christ-like.” Has anybody ever done that in your life? Maybe your life is not quite the witness you think it is. Maybe we need to show and to tell. Even Jesus had to tell them, didn’t he? Even Jesus had to tell them! Speak a good word for Jesus. If I am persecuted and harassed, it shows that I’m walking the talk, and the Spirit of God is on me.

The second reason I can rejoice when I’m persecuted is I’m in good company.
Look at Matthew 5:12, our original beatitude paragraph. Jesus said, “‘Rejoice and be glad, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'” Hebrews 11 is that great chapter of faith, the stories of the heroes and the heroines who went on before us. And you know one of the things that I read about Able, Noah, and Moses, and David, and Joshua, and all those listed, there was not a one of them who did not suffer for their faith. And the verse that follows that chapter, Hebrews 12:1, Paul says, “Since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders…and run the race with perseverance…”

I don’t know how you like to picture that, but every time I see one of those big white cumulus clouds, I like to pretend that’s my cloud of witnesses. I like to pretend that Moses and Abraham and Joseph are sitting on top of that cloud, and they’re looking down at me, and they’re cheering me on. They’re saying, “Come on, Gary, come on buddy, you can make it through life. You can be faithful, we did.”

Listen to Acts 5:41, it says, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” If I am persecuted, it’s a badge of honor. Again, not for self-righteousness, not for obnoxiousness, counted WORTHY to follow the footsteps of my Lord. He suffered for me.

And the third reason I have for rejoicing even in persecution is: It’s only temporary.
It’s only temporary. In II Corinthians 4:17, Paul said, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Would you agree with me when I say that nobody I ever knew anything about was persecuted like Paul. The man was beaten and beaten, he was stoned two different times. He was imprisoned we know of four times, he was shipwrecked, he was maligned, he was finally beheaded. But he rejoiced through all that because he kept an eternal perspective. In fact, he was the one who wrote these words, he said, “Our light and momentary troubles…” Think about that. This guy has been beaten, stoned, imprisoned, and shipwrecked, he says, “…light and momentary…” If his were light and momentary, what are ours, ridiculous and ludicrous? I mean what would we call ours?

I love the story of the fellow who was asked what his favorite verse in the Bible was, and he looked back and he said, “And it came to pass…” Somebody says, “What do you mean? Why is that your favorite verse?” He said, “Because anytime I get harassed, anytime I have a difficult time, I know it didn’t come to stay, it came to pass.” And it does, it always passes. Rejoice, not over the hurt, not over the embarrassment, but because it confirms your moving toward your goal of being like Jesus.

Remember my reward. Our beatitude Matthew 5:12 says, “‘Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven.'” I circled the word, “great”, not little, not average, but great is your reward in heaven. Did you know that Scripture teaches that there are degrees of reward in heaven? It does, you really can’t deny it, all the way through. You say, “Gary, do you understand all that?” No, I really don’t. I’ll have to get there before I really understand it. But we’re told right here that there are special honors, special glory for those who experience persecution. Great is your reward if you are persecuted for my sake.

Look at Romans 8:17, wonderful verse, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ,” look at the last part of the verse, “if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” We share His sufferings, we share His glory.

Matthew 19:29, Jesus said, “‘Whatever you give us for the Lord’s sake will be given back to you a hundred-fold.” Do you know what a hundred-fold is? That’s 10,000 percent interest. Anybody got a mutual fund doing that well? Ten thousand percent interest.

And finally, remain faithful. I don’t know what else to say. After looking at all we’ve looked at, just remain faithful. I Peter 4:19, Peter said, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” I like those two words, commit and continue. Commit and continue, that’s what we do as long as God let’s us live.

I want to ask you a couple of tough questions as we close, and I’m not picking on you, I’m picking on me. I’m asking them to me before I ever ask them to you. What is your faith costing you? That’s a pretty hard question to answer. We’ve got it so easy in America, and we thank God for that blessing, but we pay a price for it. I’m not so sure but what apathy and complacency aren’t the worst of all sins. What’s your faith costing you?

The second question I would ask, at what cost would you stay faithful to Christ? I could have told you stories today about missionaries who had guns put to their heads or to their children’s heads in places like China years ago, and demanded that they renounce the name of Jesus so their family would be shot. And those families most of the time were shot.

At what cost would you be faithful? You know persecution is really out of our vocabulary. We just talk about convenience. I heard one preacher get up and say to people, “I thank you for braving the rain to be here today.” I tell you our folks on our cloud of witnesses like David and Samson are going, “Braving the RAIN?” “Braving the RAIN? Leaving your warm house and walking 20 feet with an umbrella and coming into an air-conditioned/heated auditorium? Braving the RAIN?” You don’t brave rain, it’s just minor inconvenience.

I really, folks, think we all need to kind of re-grip who we’re called to be, and the commitment we’re called to have. Because if you don’t, you won’t be happy. See we’re all going to die one of these days, and the only way you’ll be happy is if you die for something, not just die. That’s really what the beatitudes are all about. The capstone is you will be happy if you are committed. You will be happy if your heart is singular and pure and devoted. And nobody can take that away from you, even people who would persecute you.

(5:10-12) Persecuted: to endure suffering for Christ; to be mocked, ridiculed, criticized, ostracized; to be treated with hostility; to be martyred. Note several significant points.

1.   There are three major kinds of persecution mentioned by Christ in this passage:
·          Being reviled: verbally abused, insulted, scolded, mocked (cruel mockings, Hebrews 11:36).
·          Persecuted: hurt, ostracized, attacked, tortured, martyred, and treated hostily.
·          Having all manner of evil spoken against: slandered, cursed, and lied about (cp. Psalm 35:11; Acts 17:6-7; cp. “hard speeches,” that is, harsh, defiant words, Jude 15).

2.    Who are the persecuted?
a.   The person who lives and speaks for righteousness and is reacted against.
b.   The person who lives and speaks for Christ and is reviled, persecuted, and spoken against.

3.   Persecution is a paradox. It reveals that the true nature of the world is evil. Think about it: the person who lives and speaks for righteousness is opposed and persecuted. The person who cares and works for the true love, justice, and salvation of the world is actually fought against. How deceived is the world and its humanity, to rush onward in madness for nothing but to return to dust, to seek life only for some seventy years (if nothing happens before then)!

4.   Believers are forewarned, they shall suffer persecution.
a.   Believers shall suffer persecution because they are not of this world. They are called out of the world. They are in the world, but they are not of the world. They are separated from the behavior of the world. Therefore, the world reacts against them.

5.   Persecutions can erupt from the most devilish imaginations of men (see Deeper Study #1—1 Peter 4:12 for a description of some of the sufferings of God’s dear people).

6.   What is to be the believer’s attitude toward persecution?
a.   It is not to be retaliation, pride, spiritual superiority.
b.   It is to be joy and gladness (Matthew 5:12; 2 Cor. 12:10; 1 Peter 4:12-13).

7.   The persecuted are promised great rewards.
a.   The Kingdom of Heaven—now.
·          They experience a special honor (Acts 5:41).
·          They experience a special consolation (2 Cor. 1:5).
·          They are given a very special closeness, a glow of the Lord’s presence (see note—§1 Peter 4:14).
They become a greater witness for Christ (2 Cor. 1:4-6)

“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19).

b.   They shall suffer persecution because believers strip away the world’s cloak of sin. They live and demonstrate a life of righteousness. They do not compromise with the world and its sinful behavior. They live pure and godly lives, having nothing to do with the sinful pleasures of a corruptible world. Such living exposes the sins of people.

“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you….If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin” (John 15:18, 22).

“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).

c.   They shall suffer persecution because the world does not know God nor Christ. The ungodly of the world want no God other than themselves and their own imaginations. They want to do just what they want—to fulfill their own desires, not what God wishes and demands. However, the godly believer dedicates his life to God, to His worship and service. The ungodly want no part of God; therefore, they oppose those who talk about God and man’s duty to honor and worship God.

“But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me” (John 15:21).

“And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me” (John 16:3).

d.   They shall suffer persecution because the world is deceived in its concept and belief of God. The world conceives God to be the One who fulfills their earthly desires and lusts (John 16:2-3). Man’s idea of God is that of a Supreme Grandfather. They think that God protects, provides, and gives no matter what a person’s behavior is, just so the behavior is not too far out, that God will accept and work all things out in the final analysis. However, the true believer teaches against this. God is love, but He is also just and demands righteousness. The world rebels against this concept of God.

“They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me” (John 16:2-3).

“Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also” (John 15:20).

“These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not know the Father, nor me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you” (John 16:1-4).

“That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto” (1 Thes. 3:3).

“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29).

“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).

“Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you” (1 John 3:13).

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified” (1 Peter 4:12-14).

It is hard for us to realize what the first Christians had to suffer. Every department of their life was disrupted.

(i) Their Christianity might well disrupt their work. Suppose a man was a stone-mason. That seems a harmless enough occupation. But suppose his firm received a contract to build a temple to one of the heathen gods, what was that man to do? Suppose a man was a tailor, and suppose his firm was asked to  produce robes for the heathen priests, what was that man to do? In a situation such as that in which the early Christians found themselves there was hardly any job in which a man might not find a conflict between his business interests and his loyalty to Jesus Christ.

The Church was in no doubt where a man’s duty lay. More than a hundred years after this a man came to Tertullian with this very problem. He told of his business difficulties. He ended by saying, “What can I do? I must live!” “Must you?” said Tertullian. If it came to a choice between a loyalty and a living, the real Christian never hesitated to choose loyalty.

(ii) Their Christianity would certainly disrupt their social life. In the ancient world most feasts were held in the temple of some god. In very few sacrifices was the whole animal burned upon the altar. It might be that only a few hairs from the forehead of the beast were burned as a symbolic sacrifice.  Part of the meat went to the priests as their perquisite; and part of the meat was returned to the worshipper. With his share he made a feast for his friends and his relations. One of the gods most commonly worshipped was Serapis. And when the invitations to the feast went out, they would read:

“I invite you to dine with me at the table of our Lord Serapis.”

Could a Christian share in a feast held in the temple of a heathen god? Even an ordinary meal in an ordinary house began with a libation, a cup of wine, poured out in honor of the gods. It was like grace before meat. Could a Christian become a sharer in a heathen act of worship like that? Again the Christian answer was clear. The Christian must cut himself off from his fellows rather than by his presence give approval to such a thing. A man had to be prepared to be lonely in order to be a Christian.

(iii) Worst of all, their Christianity was liable to disrupt their home life. It happened again and again that one member of a family became a Christian while the others did not. A wife might become a Christian while her husband did not. A son or a daughter might become a Christian while the rest of the family did not. Immediately there was a split in the family. Often the door was shut for ever in the face of the one who had accepted Christ.

Christianity often came to send, not peace, but a sword which divided families in two. It was literally true that a man might have to love Christ more than he loved father or mother, wife, or brother or sister. Christianity often involved in those days a choice between a man’s nearest and dearest and Jesus Christ.

Still further, the penalties which a Christian had to suffer were terrible beyond description. All the world knows of the Christians who were flung to the lions or burned at the stake; but these were kindly deaths. Nero wrapped the Christians in pitch and set them alight, and used them as living torches to light his gardens. He sewed them in the skins of wild animals and set his hunting dogs upon them to tear them to death. They were tortured on the rack; they were scraped with pincers; molten lead was poured hissing upon them; red hot brass plates were affixed to the tenderest parts of their bodies; eyes were torn out; parts of their bodies were cut off and roasted before their eyes;  their hands and feet were burned while cold water was poured over them to lengthen the agony. These things are not pleasant to think about, but these are the things a man had to be prepared for, if he took his stand with Christ.

We may well ask why the Romans persecuted the Christians. It seems an extraordinary thing that anyone living a Christian life should seem a fit victim for persecution and death. There were two reasons.

(i) There were certain slanders which were spread abroad about the Christians, slanders for which the Jews were in no small measure responsible.

(a) The Christians were accused of cannibalism. The words of the Last Supper—“This is my body.”: “this cup is the New Testament in my blood”—were taken and twisted into a story that the Christians sacrificed a child and ate the flesh.

(b) The Christians were accused of immoral practices, and their meetings were said to be orgies of lust. The Christian weekly meeting was called the Agape, the Love Feast; and the name was grossly misinterpreted. Christians greeted each other with the kiss of peace; and the kiss of peace became a ground on which to build the slanderous accusations.

(c) The Christians were accused of being incendiaries. It is true that they spoke of the coming end of the world, and they clothed their message in the apocalyptic pictures of the end of the world in flames. Their slanderers took these words and twisted them into threats of political and revolutionary incendiarism.

(d) The Christians were accused of tampering with family relationships. Christianity did in fact split families as we have seen; and so Christianity was represented as something which divided man and wife, and disrupted the home. There were slanders enough waiting to be invented by malicious-minded men.

(ii) But the great ground of persecution was in fact political. Let us think of the situation. The Roman Empire included almost the whole known world, from Britain to the Euphrates, and from Germany to North Africa. How could that vast amalgam of peoples be somehow welded into one? Where could a unifying principle be found? At first it was found in the worship of the goddess Roma, the spirit of Rome. This was a worship which the provincial peoples were happy to give, for Rome had brought them peace and good government, and civil order and justice. The roads were cleared of brigands and the seas of pirates; the despots and tyrants had been banished by impartial Roman justice. The provincial was very willing to sacrifice to the spirit of the Empire which had done so much for him.

But this worship of Roma took a further step. There was one man who personified the Empire, one man in whom Roma might be felt to be incarnated, and that was the Emperor; and so the Emperor came to be regarded as a god, and divine honors came to be paid to him, and temples were raised to his divinity. The Roman government did not begin this worship; at first, in fact, it did all it could to discourage it. Claudius, the Emperor, said that he deprecated divine honors being paid to any human being. But as the years went on the Roman government saw in this Emperor-worship the one thing which could unify the vast Empire of Rome; here was the one center on which they all could come together. So, in the end, the worship of the Emperor became, not voluntary, but compulsory. Once a year a man had to go and burn a pinch of incense to the godhead of Caesar and say, “Caesar is Lord.” And that is precisely what the Christians refused to do. For them Jesus Christ was the Lord, and to no man would they give that title which belonged to Christ.

It can be seen at once that Caesar-worship was far more a test of political loyalty than anything else. In actual fact when a man had burned his pinch of incense he received a certificate, a libellus, to say that he had done so, and then he could go and worship any god he liked, so long as his worship did not interfere with public order and decency. The Christians refused to conform. Confronted with the choice, “Caesar or Christ?” they uncompromisingly chose Christ. They utterly refused to compromise. The result was that, however good a man, however fine a citizen a Christian was, he was automatically an outlaw. In the vast Empire Rome could not afford pockets of disloyalty, and that is exactly what every Christian congregation appeared to the Roman authorities to be. A poet has spoken of “The panting, huddled flock whose crime was Christ.”

The only crime of the Christian was that he set Christ above Caesar; and for that supreme loyalty the Christians died in their thousands, and faced torture for the sake of the lonely supremacy of Jesus Christ.

THE BLISS OF THE BLOOD-STAINED WAY
When we see how persecution arose, we are in a position to see the real glory of the martyr’s way. It may seem an extraordinary thing to talk about the bliss of the persecuted; but for him who had eyes to see beyond the immediate present, and a mind to understand the greatness of the issues involved, there must have been a glory in that blood-stained way.

(i) To have to suffer persecution was an opportunity to show one’s loyalty to Jesus Christ. One of the most famous of all the martyrs was Polycarp, the aged bishop of Smyrna. The mob dragged him to the tribunal of the Roman magistrate. He was given the inevitable choice—sacrifice to the godhead of Caesar or die. “Eighty and six years,” came the immortal reply, “have I served Christ, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” So they brought him to the stake, and he prayed his last prayer: “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of thy well-beloved and ever-blessed son, by whom we have received the knowledge of thee…I thank thee that thou hast graciously thought me worthy of this day and of this hour.” Here was the supreme opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to Jesus Christ.

In the First World War Rupert Brooke, the poet, was one of those who died too young. Before he went out to the battle he wrote: “Now God be thanked who has matched us with his hour.”

There are so many of us who have never in our lives made anything like a real sacrifice for Jesus Christ. The moment when Christianity seems likely to cost us something is the moment when it is open to us to demonstrate our loyalty to Jesus Christ in a way that all the world can see.

(ii) To have to suffer persecution is, as Jesus himself said, the way to walk the same road as the prophets, and the saints, and the martyrs have walked. To suffer for the right is to gain a share in a great succession. The man who has to suffer something for his faith can throw back his head and say, “Brothers, we are treading where saints have trod.”

(iii) To have to suffer persecution is to share in the great occasion. There is always something thrilling in even being present on the great occasion, in being there when something memorable and crucial is happening. There is an even greater thrill in having a share, however, small, in the actual action. That is the feeling about which Shakespeare wrote so unforgettably in Henry the Fifth in the words he put into Henry’s mouth before the battle of Agincourt: “He that shall live this day and see old age, Will yearly on the vigil feast his friends, And say, ‘Tomorrow is Saint Crispian;”  Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, And say, ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’ And gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here , And hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”

When a man is called on to suffer something for his Christianity that is always a crucial moment; it is the great occasion; it is the clash between the world and Christ; it is a moment in the drama of eternity. To have a share in such a moment is not a penalty but a glory. “Rejoice at such a moment,” says Jesus, “and be glad.” The word for be glad  is from the verb agalliasthai which has been derived from two Greek words which mean to leap exceedingly. It is the joy which leaps for joy. As it has been put, it is the joy of the climber who has reached the summit, and who leaps for joy that the mountain path is conquered.

(iv) To suffer persecution is to make things easier for those who are to follow. Today we enjoy the blessing of liberty because men in the past were willing to buy it for us at the cost of blood, and sweat, and tears. They made it easier for us, and by a steadfast and immovable witness for Christ we may make it easier for others who are still to come.

In the great Boulder Dam scheme in America men lost their lives in that project which was to turn a dust-bowl into fertile land. When the scheme was completed, the names of those who had died were put on a tablet and the tablet was put into the great wall of the dam, and on it there was the inscription: “These died that the desert might rejoice and blossom as the rose.”

The man who fights his battle for Christ will always make things easier for those who follow after. For them there will be one less struggle to be encountered on the way.

(v) Still further, no man ever suffers persecution alone; if a man is called upon to bear material loss, the failure of friends, slander, loneliness, even the death of love, for his principles, he will not be left alone. Christ will be nearer to him than at any other time.

The old story in Daniel tells how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the furnace heated seven times hot because of their refusal to move from their loyalty to God. The courtiers watched. “Did we not cast three men, bound, into the fire?” they asked. The reply was that it was indeed so. Then came the astonished answer, “but I see four men, loose, walking in the midst of the fire and they are not hurt; and the appearnace of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:19-25).

When a man has to suffer something for his faith, that is the way to the closest possible companionship with Christ.

There remains only one question to ask—why is this persecution so inevitable? It is inevitable because the Church, when it really is the Church, is bound to be the conscience of the nation and the conscience of society. Where there is good the Church must praise; where there is evil the Church must condemn—and inevitably men will try to silence the troublesome voice of conscience. It is not the duty of the individual Christian habitually to find fault, to criticize, to condemn, but it may well be that his every action is a silent condemnation of the unchristian lives of others, and he will not escape their hatred.

It is not likely that death awaits us because of our loyalty to the Christian faith. But insult awaits the man who insists on Christian honor. Mockery awaits the man who practices Christian love and Christian forgiveness. Actual persecution may well await the Christian in industry who insists on doing an honest days’ work. Christ still needs his witnesses; he needs those who are prepared, not so much to die for him, as to live for him. The Christian struggle and the Christian glory still exist.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2021 in Be-Attitudes

 

Ecclesiastes: The Good Life #6 Stop, Thief! – Ecclesiastes 5


The magazine cartoon showed a dismal looking man walking out of a bank manager’s office with the manager saying to his secretary, “He suffers from back problems: back taxes, back rent, and back alimony.”

Many people today suffer from similar “back problems.” They refuse to heed the warning Bill Earle gave many years ago: “When your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep will be your downfall.”

The wealthy King Solomon knew something about money. Some of this wisdom he shared in the Book of Proverbs, and some he included here in Ecclesiastes. After all, he couldn’t discuss “life under the sun” and ignore money!

But he goes beyond the subject of mere money and deals with the values of life, the things that really count. After all, there is more than one way to be rich and more than one way to be poor. In this chapter, Solomon issues three warnings that relate to the values of life.

  1. Don’t rob the Lord (ECCL. 5:1-7)

(Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 NIV)  “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. {2} Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. {3} As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words. {4} When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. {5} It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. {6} Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? {7} Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.”

Solomon had visited the courtroom, the marketplace, the highway, and the palace. Now he paid a visit to the temple, that magnificent building whose construction he had supervised. He watched the worshipers come and go, praising God, praying, sacrificing, and making vows. He noted that many of them were not at all sincere in their worship, and they left the sacred precincts in worse spiritual condition than when they had entered. What was their sin? They were robbing God of the reverence and honor that He deserved. Their acts of worship were perfunctory, insincere, and hypocritical.

In today’s language, “Keep thy foot!” means “Watch your step!” Even though God’s glorious presence doesn’t dwell in our church buildings as it did in the temple, believers today still need to heed this warning. The worship of God is the highest ministry of the church and must come from devoted hearts and yielded wills. For God’s people to participate in public worship while harboring unconfessed sin is to ask for God’s rebuke and judgment (Isa. 1:10-20; Amos 5; Ps. 50).

Solomon touched on several aspects of worship, the first of which was the offering of sacrifices (v. 1). God’s people today don’t offer animals to the Lord as in Old Testament times, because Jesus Christ has fulfilled all the sacrifices in His death on the cross (Heb. 10:1-14). But as the priests of God, believers today offer up spiritual sacrifices through Him: our bodies (Rom. 12:1-2); people won to the Saviour (Rom. 15:16); money (Phil. 4:18); praise and good works (Heb. 13:15-16); a broken heart (Ps. 51:17); and our prayers of faith (Ps. 141:1-2).

The important thing is that the worshiper “be more ready to hear,” that is, to obey the Word of God. Sacrifices are not substitutes for obedience, as King Saul found out when he tried to cover up his disobedience with pious promises (1 Sam. 15:12-23). Offerings in the hands without obedient faith in the heart become “the sacrifice of fools,” because only a fool thinks he can deceive God. The fool thinks he is doing good, but he or she is only doing evil. And God knows it.

Then Solomon issued a warning about careless praying (vv. 2-3). Prayer is serious business. Like marriage, “it must not be entered into lightly or carelessly, but soberly and in the fear of God.” If you and I were privileged to bring our needs and requests to the White House or to Buckingham Palace, we would prepare our words carefully and exhibit proper behavior. How much more important it is when we come to the throne of Almighty God. Yet, there is so much flippant praying done by people who seem to know nothing about the fear of the Lord.

When you pray, watch out for both hasty words and too many words (Matt. 6:7). The secret of acceptable praying is a prepared heart (Ps. 141:1-2), because the mouth speaks what the heart contains (Matt. 12:34-37). If we pray only to impress people, we will not get through to God. The author of Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan, wrote: “In prayer, it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart.”

Verse 3 presents an analogy: Just as many dreams show that the person sleeping is a hard worker, so many words show that the person praying is a fool (Prov. 29:20). I recall a church prayer meeting during which a young man prayed eloquently and at great length, but nobody sensed the power of God at work. When an uneducated immigrant stood up and stammered out her brief prayer in broken English, we all said a fervent “Amen!” We sensed that God had heard her requests. Spurgeon said, “It is not the length of our prayers, but the strength of our prayers, that makes the difference.”

Solomon’s third admonition had to do with making vows to the Lord (vv. 4-7). God did not require His people to make vows in order to be accepted by Him, but the opportunity was there for them to express their devotion if they felt led to do so (see Num. 30; Deut. 23:21-23; Acts 18:18).

The Preacher warned about two sins. The first was that of making the vow with no intention of keeping it, in other words, lying to God. The second sin was making the vow but delaying to keep it, hoping you could get out of it. When the priest [“angel” = messenger] came to collect the promised sacrifice or gift, the person would say, “Please forget about my vow! It was a mistake!”

God hears what we say and holds us to our promises, unless they were so foolish that He could only dismiss them. If providence prevents us from fulfilling what we promised, God understands and will release us. If we made our vows only to impress others, or perhaps to “bribe” the Lord (“If God answers my prayer, I will give $500 to missions!”), then we will pay for our careless words. Many times in my pastoral ministry I have heard sick people make promises to God as they asked for healing, only to see those promises forgotten when they recovered.

People make empty vows because they live in a religious “dream world”; they think that words are the same as deeds (v. 7). Their worship is not serious, so their words are not dependable. They enjoy the “good feelings” that come when they make their promises to God, but they do themselves more harm than good. They like to “dream” about fulfilling their vows, but they never get around to doing it. They practice a make-believe religion that neither glorifies God nor builds Christian character.

“I will go into thy house with burnt offerings; I will pay thee my vows, which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble” (Ps. 66:13-14). When we rob the Lord of the worship and honor due to Him, we are also robbing ourselves of the spiritual blessings He bestows on those who “worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

  1. Don’t rob others (ECCL. 5:8-9)

(Ecclesiastes 5:8-9 NIV)  “If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. {9} The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.”

Solomon left the temple and went to the city hall where he again witnessed corrupt politicians oppressing the poor (3:16-17; 4:1-3). The government officials violated the law by using their authority to help themselves and not to serve others, a practice condemned by Moses (Lev. 19:15; Deut. 24:17).

The remarkable thing is that Solomon wrote, “Don’t be surprised at this!” He certainly did not approve of their unlawful practices, but he knew too much about the human heart to expect anything different from the complicated bureaucracy in Israel.

The niv translation of verse 8 gives a vivid description of the situation: “One official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still.” Instead of the poor man getting a fair hearing, “the matter is lost in red tape and bureaucracy” (v. 8, tlb), and the various officials pocket the money that should have gone to the innocent poor man.

Verse 9 is difficult and major translations do not agree. The general idea seems to be that in spite of corruption in the bureaucracy, it is better to have organized government, and a king over the land, than to have anarchy. A few dishonest people may profit from corrupt practices, but everybody benefits from organized authority. Of course, the ideal is to have a government that is both honest and efficient, but man’s heart being what it is, the temptation to dishonest gain is always there. Lord Acton wrote to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Solomon’s investigation bears this out.

  1. Don’t rob yourself (ECCL. 5:10-20)

(Ecclesiastes 5:10-20 NIV)  “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. {11} As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? {12} The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep. {13} I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, {14} or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him. {15} Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand. {16} This too is a grievous evil: As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind? {17} All his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger. {18} Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him–for this is his lot. {19} Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work–this is a gift of God. {20} He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.”

Solomon had already discussed “the futility of wealth” in 2:1-11, and some of those ideas are repeated here. What he did in this section was demolish several of the myths that people hold about wealth. Because they hold to these illusions, they rob themselves of the blessings God has for them.

Wealth brings satisfaction (v. 10).

Some people treat money as though it were a god. They love it, make sacrifices for it, and think that it can do anything. Their minds are filled with thoughts about it; their lives are controlled by getting it and guarding it; and when they have it, they experience a great sense of security. What faith in the Lord does for the Christian, money does for many unbelievers. How often we hear people say, “Well, money may not be the number one thing in life, but it’s way ahead of whatever is number two!”

The person who loves money cannot be satisfied no matter how much is in the bank account—because the human heart was made to be satisfied only by God (3:11). “Take heed and beware of covetousness,” warned Jesus, “for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses” (Luke 12:15, nkjv). First the person loves money, and then he loves more money, and the disappointing pursuit has begun that can lead to all sorts of problems. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10, nkjv).

Money solves every problem (v. 11).

There is no escaping the fact that we need a certain amount of money in order to live in this world, but money of itself is not the magic “cure-all” for every problem. In fact, an increase in wealth usually creates new problems that we never even knew existed before. Solomon mentioned one: relatives and friends start showing up and enjoying our hospitality. All we can do is watch them eat up our wealth. Or perhaps it is the tax agent who visits us and decides that we owe the government more money.

John Wesley, cofounder of the Methodist Church, told his people, “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” Wesley himself could have been a very wealthy man, but he chose to live simply and give generously.

Wealth brings peace of mind (v. 12).

The late Joe Louis, world heavyweight boxing champion, used to say, “I don’t like money actually, but it quiets my nerves.” But Solomon said that possessing wealth is no guarantee that your nerves will be calm and your sleep sound. According to him, the common laborer sleeps better than the rich man. The suggestion seems to be that the rich man ate too much and was kept awake all night by an upset stomach. But surely Solomon had something greater in mind than that. The Living Bible expresses verse 12 perfectly: “The man who works hard sleeps well whether he eats little or much, but the rich must worry and suffer insomnia.”

More than one preacher has mentioned John D. Rockefeller in his sermons as an example of a man whose life was almost ruined by wealth. At the age of fifty-three, Rockefeller was the world’s only billionaire, earning about a million dollars a week. But he was a sick man who lived on crackers and milk and could not sleep because of worry. When he started giving his money away, his health changed radically and he lived to celebrate his ninety-eighth birthday!

Yes, it’s good to have the things that money can buy, provided you don’t lose the things that money can’t buy.

Wealth provides security (vv. 13-17).

The picture here is of two rich men. One hoarded all his wealth and ruined himself by becoming a miser. The other man made some unsound investments and lost his wealth. He was right back where he started from and had no estate to leave to his son. He spent the rest of his days in the darkness of discouragement and defeat, and he did not enjoy life. Like all of us, he brought nothing into the world at birth, and he took nothing out of the world at death (see Job 1:21; Ps. 49:17; 1 Tim. 6:7).

This account makes us think of our Lord’s parable about the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21). The man thought all his problems were solved when he became rich, but immediately he was faced with providing bigger barns for his wealth. He thought he was safe and secure for years to come, but that night he died! His money provided no security whatsoever.

Keep in mind that Solomon was advocating neither poverty nor riches, because both have their problems (Prov. 30:7-9).

The Preacher was warning his listeners against the love of money and the delusions that wealth can bring. In the closing verses of the chapter (vv. 18-20), he affirmed once again the importance of accepting our station in life and enjoying the blessings that God gives to us.

The thing that is “good and fitting” (v. 18, nkjv) is to labor faithfully, enjoy the good things of life, and accept it all as the gracious gift of God. Solomon gave us this wise counsel before in 2:24, 3:12-13, and 3:22, and he will repeat it at least three more times before he ends his “sermon.”

There are three ways to get wealth: we can work for it, we can steal it, or we can receive it as a gift (see Eph. 4:28). Solomon saw the blessings of life as God’s gift to those who work and who accept that work as the favor of God. “To enjoy your work and to accept your lot in life—that is indeed a gift from God” (v. 19, tlb).

Solomon added another important thought: the ability to enjoy life’s blessings is also a gift from God. Solomon will expand on this thought in the next chapter and point out the unhappiness of people who possess wealth but are not able to enjoy it. We thank God for food, but we should also thank Him for healthy taste buds and a digestive system that functions correctly. A wealthy friend, now in heaven, often took me and my wife to expensive restaurants, but he was unable to enjoy the food because he couldn’t taste it. All of his wealth could not purchase healing for his taste buds.

Verse 20 may mean that the person who rejoices in God’s daily blessings will never have regrets. “The person who does that will not need to look back with sorrow on his past, for God gives him joy” (tlb). The time to start storing up happy memories is now. “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).

It may also mean that the believer who gratefully accepts God’s gifts today will not fret and worry about how long he or she will live. It is an established fact that the people who have the most birthdays live the longest, but if they keep complaining about “getting old” they will have very little to enjoy. People who are thankful to God “will not dwell overmuch upon the passing years,” as the New English Bible translates verse 20. They will take each day as it comes and use it to serve the Lord.

In chapter 6, Solomon will conclude his discussion of “the futility of wealth.” He might well have chosen Matthew 6:33 as the text for his message, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (nkjv). The important thing is that we love the Lord, accept the lot He assigns us, and enjoy the blessings He graciously bestows.

If we focus more on the gifts than on the Giver, we are guilty of idolatry. If we accept His gifts, but complain about them, we are guilty of ingratitude. If we hoard His gifts and will not share them with others, we are guilty of indulgence. But if we yield to His will and use what He gives us for His glory, then we can enjoy life and be satisfied.

Whenever I go to the airport to pick someone up, I park outside of the arrival terminal. My goal is always the same: to avoid paying to park my car. So I wait as long as I can near the curb of the airline pickup area. While waiting I will often hear a recording over the loudspeaker, “The white zone is for loading and unloading only. No parking.” Now, mind you, I am waiting to load up; however, if my passengers are delayed and I am waiting at the curb too long, a police officer usually approaches my car and asks me to move on. Being the law-abiding citizen that I am, I oblige him. However, I must confess that I have been known to make the loop at Seattle-Tacoma Airport and begin this vicious cycle all over again.

Can I be honest? I wish there were some way to announce over a loudspeaker system outside every church, “The worship zone is for learning, listening, and changing only. No parking! Be alert! Listen carefully. Truth will be deposited in your head that is designed to change your life.” But chances are good that even if a loudspeaker made such an announcement, the same thing would occur—folks would still “park” and turn a deaf ear to the recording and give pastoral police officers the runaround.157

In Eccl 5:1-9, Solomon pens some convicting words.158 He is going to sober us up. He may even make us feel badly. Now, I hope that you don’t come to church to be made to feel happy. The Bible isn’t a book about happiness; it is a book about holiness. This means sometimes the Bible will say things that you and I don’t like. Yet, if our goal is to become progressively holy, we will welcome the hard words of Scripture. For hard words make soft people and soft words make hard people.159 In these nine verses, Solomon shares two prohibitions that will enable us to exercise holiness and worship the right God in the right way. He wants us to see that God seeks an open heart and a closed mouth.

1. Don’t be rash with your words (5:1-3).

In these first three verses, Solomon challenges his readers to prepare their hearts, minds, and mouths for worship. The idea is: before we worship, we must check our mental attitude and motive. In 5:1 Solomon writes, “Guard your steps160 as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil.” This verse is rather meaty because it encapsulates two important issues: our preparation for worship and our participation in worship. The first emphasis is upon our preparation for worship. Since Solomon built the Old Testament temple, he was an expert on how to approach God. It took him seven years and 153,000 men to build the temple, so he knows a thing or two.161 In 5:1, Solomon’s first words are a command to “guard your steps.”162 This is a common expression in our culture. When you exit a bus, the bus driver will say, “Please watch your step.” When you are getting off a plan, a flight attendant will generally stand at the cockpit door and tell you, “Thank you for flying with us and please watch your step.” When someone tells you to watch your step they are warning you of a potential danger just ahead that you had better pay very close attention to. When you were growing up, was there ever a time when you became angry and spoke rash and disrespectful words to your parents? What was their response? If your parents were like my parents, you probably heard these words: “Watch your step, young man (or young woman).”163

Solomon warns you to “guard your step as you go to the house of God.” This seems out of the ordinary to our modern culture. We have warnings about sin, temptation, and unbelief, but a warning about how to worship seems unusual to our ears. Our problem is that we do not take worship seriously enough. We tend to think that as long as we are worshiping the Lord, it does not really matter how we worship. But the Scriptures teach otherwise. So sacred was God’s house that the Lord said to Moses in Lev 15:31: “Thus you shall keep the sons of Israel separated from their uncleanness, so that they will not die in their uncleanness by their defiling My tabernacle that is among them.” God at times actually took the lives of those who failed to come to His house in the right way, as a warning to the whole nation that they were dealing with a holy God.

My mom spent the first twenty years of her life in the Roman Catholic Church. When she became a Christian at twenty and began attending an evangelical church, she marveled at how lax evangelicals seemed to be in the church worship service. My mom saw people eating and drinking in church. She noticed people talking during the worship service, coming in late, and going in and out during worship. Initially, my mom didn’t know what to think. It seemed so irreverent. It took her years to understand the evangelical culture. So which worship culture is correct—the formal Catholic or Orthodox Church or the informal Protestant church? The answer is both can be right! Now please don’t misunderstand what I am trying to say. I recognize that in the church age there is nothing hallowed about a building. The Bible tells us that you and I are temples of the Holy Spirit.164 However, when the church gathers for the purpose of worship, there ought to be a sense of God’s holiness and abiding presence.

This past week, Lori and I discussed with our children why it can be a good idea to fold our hands and close our eyes when we pray. The principle is to show respect for God and be free from distraction. We can’t put away some of the distractions that are in front of us so it can be helpful to close our eyes in prayer and in worship. Likewise, God wants us to enter into worship prepared and focused. Men are good at preparing. They’ll stay up late Friday night getting ready for Saturday’s fishing trip. They’ll spend hours organizing a basement workshop before beginning a project. They’ll devote a week preparing for a tailgate party at the football stadium. And they’ll study catalogs all summer looking for the perfect fall hunting jacket. The men of the Old Testament were charged by God with certain preparations as well—preparations for worship. At the first Passover, men were to select a perfect lamb, slaughter it, put its blood on the doorpost, roast the meat, and make sure the house was cleansed of leaven. Do men—or women—spend as much time preparing for worship today?165 What kinds of preparation should be made? Go to bed early and wake up early. Meditate on Scripture. Pray with your kids before church. Teach them the importance of service. Talk about the Lord on your way to the church. This Saturday, try to keep Sunday in mind. Try to give it the kind of preparation that will make it a day to remember. God seeks an open heart and a closed mouth.

The famous researcher, George Barna, recently said, “Having devoted more than two decades of my life and all of my professional skills to studying and working with ministries of all types, I am now convinced that the greatest hope for the local church lies in raising godly children.”166 Barna is exactly right! If the family breaks down, the core of society is demolished. It has been said again and again that the church is one generation from extinction. Therefore, it is imperative that we train our children how to worship God and love and serve the church.

5:1b alludes to participation in worship. Solomon says, “Draw near to listen…” Solomon has just indicted “Back Row Baptists.” It is so interesting to me that some Christians have to get to church early to make sure that they get that back row or near that back row. Instead of the front rows filling up first and moving backward, we start in the back and move forward. It is like we want to get in the church building but just barely in it. Solomon says draw near to listen. It is not draw near to sing louder. It is not draw near so that you can pray longer. It is not draw near so you can be closer to your friends so you can talk throughout the service together. No, it is draw near so that you can listen.

The “sacrifice of fools” refers to speaking foolishly.167 Solomon warns us of hearing too little and talking too much. The word “listen” carries double force: “listening with the intention of obeying.” God wants us to hear from Him. He seeks an open heart and a closed mouth. Thus, if you have walked out of church not hearing from God then you have not worshiped. You have attended church but you have not worshiped. You can check off your obligation card “I did it” but you did not worship. Worship can only occur when you hear from God. Today, will you make every effort to hear from God? Will you open up your heart and close your mouth?

Now that we’ve walked the walk, we have to talk the talk. We must talk cautiously to the Lord as well as walk cautiously before Him.168 In 5:2 Solomon writes, “Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.” When I was growing up, my parents would say, “Watch your tone of voice!” They wanted to remind me that they were in authority over me and I needed to respect them. Likewise, God is saying, “Believer, you need to remember who your Father is.” It is unwise to hastily and impulsively give God a piece of your mind. First of all, you will be giving God a piece of your mind that you can ill afford to lose. Second, Solomon declares that “God is in heaven and you are on the earth.” Many people assume Solomon is saying that God is way up there in heaven and we are way down here on earth, so we’d better listen well. In actuality, this is a statement of perspective, not distance. God is in the realm of the infinite. He alone hears the inaudible. He alone sees the invisible. That’s the reason we are to be calm and quiet.169 What a putdown; what a blow to our egos! In five simple words—“you are on the earth”—the author shoots down any chance for us to think “more highly of [ourselves] than [we] ought to think” (Rom 12:3). What we consider to be great (i.e., “the earth”) Solomon and God conceive as being not merely small, but insignificant (in comparison to heaven). We are merely on earth—an average-sized planet in our relatively small solar system, but a planet that few humans have circumnavigated and even fewer have been able to leave for brief ventures into (near, not deep) space.170

Solomon wants you and me to understand that God is not your “buddy next door,” He’s not the “big man upstairs.” He’s the infinite, eternal, unchangeable God who is full of wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. Yes, He’s also a faithful friend and a caring Father, but He’s always more than that too. He expects us to take Him seriously as the chief authority in our lives.

Since we can’t understand everything, we should be careful about what we say to God. Do you know why? In 5:3 Solomon writes, “For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words.” Just as hard work produces sleep and dreams, so a fool produces many words and much pontificating. In contrast, Solomon says that men of effort are known for their dreams. They work hard and they are silent. Can you say to God that you are mixed up and need some answers? Certainly. God wants us to be honest with Him. But He also wants us to be careful how we approach Him. You have to watch your tone of voice. We may ask why but not with anger or disrespect. There can be no accusations as though God were not in control or bitterness as though we sit in judgment over Him.171 God is free to do what He wants, whenever He wants. Remember, He is God. God seeks an open heart and a closed mouth.

[Why should you not be rash with your words? Because God is God and you are not. Solomon now shares a second prohibition.]

2. Don’t be foolish with your words (5:4-9).

Solomon warns us against foolish speech and making foolish commitments. In 5:4 he writes, “When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow!” Solomon says that if you make a vow to God, then you’d better do what you said you would do. He begins with the assumption that at some point or another most people will make a vow to God (“when you…”). Yet, he follows up this assumption with a prohibition: “do not be late in paying it.” He then concludes 5:4 with a short, direct command: “Pay what you vow!” This short sentence is literally translated, “WHAT YOU VOWED, pay [it]!” The emphasis is upon the vow. Solomon, in essence, labels the person “a fool” who fails to pay his vow on time.172 Think about this. People make vows all the time. People are baptized. People become members of a church. Parents dedicate their children. Spouses commit their lives to one another. People make commitments to read God’s Word and to maintain their purity. Yet, all of us have broken vows that we have made before God and others. Maybe you have even said, “God, if you get me out of this mess I promise that I am going to stop this or start that or serve you with my life. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but God remembers these vows and holds us to them.

Therefore, Solomon’s suggestion in 5:5-6 is, “It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands?” Solomon says, “It would be better for us to keep quiet and not utter anything rash or foolish.” This is why I challenge people who are contemplating marriage and church membership. I want to make sure they understand what they are committing to. Please listen carefully: I believe that there are many Christians today who are experiencing God’s judgment in their lives because of their refusal to follow through with their commitments to Him. That judgment may not come in the form of physical ailments and death, though it certainly can.173 It may instead come by means of God destroying the work of our hands. That is, God may take our goals and aspirations and efforts to succeed and just turn those things into dust. Or He may allow us to prosper but make us miserable in our prosperity.174

In 5:7 Solomon writes, “For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God.”175Solomon returns to the idea of dreams. His conclusion is that dreams and words can be nothing but emptiness—hebel. Thus, he tells us to fear God. To fear God is to stand in awe of Him. It is not to quake into oblivion or to become comatose. It is to acknowledge His worth. It is to respond to Him with obedience and gratitude. God seeks an open heart and a closed mouth.

Solomon closes out this section in 5:8-9 with an exhortation for us to watch what we think in reference to humans. “If you see oppression of the poor and denial176 of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them. After all, a king who cultivates the field is an advantage to the land.” These are peculiar verses that don’t seem to fit in this chapter. Yet, it seems best to place these verses with 5:1-7 instead of with 5:10-20. What, if any, connections are there between the two sets of verses? In what way(s) are we to compare our relationship to earthly rulers with how we are to act in the presence of God? It seems that Solomon is suggesting that we would not be so foolish as to chatter boldly before imperfect but powerful government leaders about problems we encounter. If not, then why do we chatter incessantly before the all-powerful God?177 He is sovereign and is in complete control.

While we search for excellence in many areas of living, let us not forget to pursue it also in our worship by paying attention, paying our vows, and paying respect. It might be easy to conclude from this message that a Christian should pray silent and short prayers, should never make public commitments, and should cower in absolute fear of God. But to come to that conclusion would be to miss the whole point. Rather, what we should do is to be sincere when we speak, to think through our commitments before we make them, and to never lose our reverence and awe for God.


158 This passage seems to be an interlude in the book of Ecclesiastes. So far in the book, Solomon has been focused on the horizontal, but now he focuses in on the vertical. This chapter presents something of an interlude. Up to this point, Solomon has been merely giving his observations. But now he gives a series of exhortations. So far, he has only showed us the way the world IS. Now he tells us what we are to DO on the basis of how the world is. (1) Before worship (5:1a); (2) during worship (5:1b-3); and (3) after worship (5:4-9).

159 I first heard this quote from Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Ballard, WA.

160 The commands of Eccl 5:1 and that of 5:7 together form an inclusio around this section, emphasizing the point that God is God and we are not. Barry C. Davis, The Book of Ecclesiastes, Multnomah Biblical Seminary unpublished class notes.

161 See 1 Kgs 6:38 and 7:1.

162 This is an idiom for “be careful what you do.” The NET Study Notes write, “This is a compound figure: ‘foot’ is a metonymy for ‘step,’ and ‘step’ is a metonymy for ‘action’ (e.g., Job 12:5; 23:11; 31:5; Pss 119:59, 101, 105; Prov 1:16; 3:23; 4:26-27; 6:18; 19:2; Isa 58:13; 59:7; Jer 14:10).

163 David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 108.

164 See Paul’s words in 1 Cor 6:19: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” Cf. 1 Cor 3:16 and 2 Cor 6:16 where Paul speaks of the local church as God’s temple.

165 David Jeremiah, “Turning Point,” 1/18/2008.

166 David Jeremiah, “They Walked with Him: The Little Children,” Today’s Turning Point 2/9-10/2008.

167 Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Ecclesiastes: Total Life (Chicago: Moody, 1979), 74. See Hos 14:2; Heb 13:15.

168 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 109.

169 Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 152-153.

170 Davis, The Book of Ecclesiastes.

171 Tommy Nelson, The Problem of Life with God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 74-75.

172 Davis, The Book of Ecclesiastes. The content of 5:4 (Heb. 5:3) is similar in meaning and intent to that of Num 30:2 and Deut 23:21, as the following chart reveals:

Eccl. 5:4 (NASB) “When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it, for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow!” Num. 30:2 (NASB) “If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” Deut. 23:21 (NASB) “When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the LORD your God will surely require it of you.”

173 See the cases of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) and the Corinthian church (1 Cor 11:27-34).

174 See also Michael P. Andrus, “In Search of Excellence in Worship” (Eccl 5:1-7): unpublished sermon notes.

175 The phrase “fear God” also occurs in Eccl 3:14; 7:18; 8:12, 13; and 12:13.

176 Davis, The Book of Ecclesiastes, writes, “The word translated by the NASB here as ‘denial’ (gazel) is consistently translated by the NASB as ‘robbery’ (or the like) in each of the five other occurrences of this noun in Scripture (Lev 6:2; Isa 61:8; Ezek. 18:18; Ezek 22:29; Ps 62:1). The verb form of this noun (gazel) is variously translated as ‘to seize,’ ‘to take by force,’ ‘to tear away,’ and ‘to rob.’ Thus, the word here translated as ‘denial’ should be understood to convey a sense of forcefulness with it. In other words, by using this noun, the author graphically portrays a situation in which “justice and righteousness” have been ripped away from people against their will.

177 Davis, The Book of Ecclesiastes.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2021 in Ecclesiastes

 

God’s Person in an Upside-Down World: The Be-attitudes Series #7 “Happiness Through Making Peace”


Regardless of when this passage is studied, strangers will be killing strangers, neighbors will be killing neighbors, brothers will be killing brothers, religious factions will be trying to destroy each other, and nations will be trying to eradicate other nations.

In the midst of hatred and strife, this beatitude comes as a refreshing breeze: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

It has not always been readily apparent how some of the Beatitudes relate to happiness, but we have little trouble with this one. It is difficult to be happy in an atmosphere of animosity and turmoil, but happy are those who work at promoting peace.

Think about it. Are happy people irritable, always ready to take offense, or eager to stir up strife? People such as these are miserable, and the only “enjoyment” they get is in making others miserable also.

What about the gentle, the kindly, the affectionate, those who love peace, and those who do all they can to promote peace in their homes, in the church, and among their neighbors and friends? You know which group is happier. In the fruit of the Spirit, joy and peace are joined together—and both are preceded by love (Galatians 5:22).

5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”NRSV Jesus came as “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6-7) and gave the ultimate sacrifice to bring peace between God and humanity (Ephesians 2:14-18; Colossians 1:20). God calls his children to be peacemakers. This involves action, not just passive compliance.

Peacemakers do more than just live peaceful lives; they actively seek to “make peace,” to cause reconciliation, to end bitterness and strife. This peace is not appeasement but dealing with and solving problems to maintain peace.

Arrogant, selfish people do not concern themselves with peacemaking. Peacemakers will be called children of God because they reflect their Father’s character. This has a royal sense—they will share the glories of the Messiah’s kingdom.

 

MAKING PEACE
How do you resolve conflict? Most people use different means for different settings.
·       Making peace with your children includes defining the boundaries between right and wrong, enforcing discipline, and affirming each child with love and affection.
·       Making peace with friends includes broadening your mind to include the possibility that someone else’s ideas make sense. It means accepting your friend’s explanation at face value and applying the least hurtful meaning to the offensive words you heard. It means taking a step toward trust, away from anger, and onto an unmarked playing field called vulnerability. That’s the risky price of friendship.
·       Making peace with your spouse can be the most difficult of all. Sometimes it requires outside help, often a lot of listening, mutual confession, and rebuilding of love that’s been burned. Too often today, the alternative is to quit.

We must investigate certain matters of meaning in it.

(i) First, there is the word peace. In Greek, the word is eirene), and in Hebrew it is shalom). In Hebrew peace is never only a negative state; it never means only the absence of trouble; in Hebrew peace always means everything which makes for a man’s highest good. In the east when one man says to another, Salaam—which is the same word—he does not mean that he wishes for the other man only the absence of evil things; he wishes for him tile presence of all good things. In the Bible peace means not only freedom from all trouble; it means enjoyment of all good.

(ii) Second, it must carefully be noted what the beatitude is saying. The blessing is on the peace-makers, not necessarily on the peace-lovers. The peace calls blessed does not come from the evasion of issues; it comes from facing them, dealing with them, and conquering them. What this beatitude demands is not the passive acceptance of things because we are afraid of the trouble of doing anything about them, but the active facing of things, and the making of peace, even when the way to peace is through struggle.

(iii) The King James Version says that the peace-makers shall be called the children of God; the Greek more literally is that the peace-makers will be called the sons (huioi, of God. This is a typical Hebrew way of expression. Hebrew is not rich in adjectives, and often when Hebrew wishes to describe something, it uses, not an adjective, but the phrase son of… plus an abstract noun. Hence a man may be called a son of peace instead of a peaceful man. Barnabas is called a son of consolation instead of a consoling and comforting man. This beatitude says: Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the sons of God; what it means is: Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be doing a God-like work. The man who makes peace is engaged on the very work which the God of peace is doing (Rom 15:33; 2 Cor 13:11; 1 Th 5:23; Heb 13:20).

The meaning of this beatitude has been sought along three main lines.

(i) It has been suggested that, since shalom  means everything which makes for a man’s highest good, this beatitude means: Blessed are those who make this world a better place for all men to live in. Abraham Lincoln once said: “Die when I may, I would like it to be said of me, that I always pulled up a weed and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.” This then would be the beatitude of those who have lifted the world a little further on.

ch took this beatitude in a purely spiritual sense, and held that it meant: Blessed is the man who makes peace in his own heart and in his own soul. In every one of us there is an inner conflict between good and evil; we are always tugged in two directions at once; every man is at least to some extent a walking civil war. Happy indeed is the man who has won through to inner peace, in which the inner warfare is over, and his whole heart is given to God.

(iii) But there is another meaning for this word peace. It is a meaning on which the Jewish Rabbis loved to dwell, and it is almost certainly the meaning which Jesus had in his mind. The Jewish Rabbis held that the highest task which a man can perform is to establish right relationships between man and man. That is what Jesus means.

There are people who are always storm-centers of trouble and bitterness and strife. Wherever they are they are either involved in quarrels themselves or the cause of quarrels between others. They are trouble-makers. There are people like that in almost every society and every Church, and such people are doing the devil’s own work. On the other hand—thank God—there are people in whose presence bitterness cannot live, people who bridge the gulfs, and heal the breaches, and sweeten the bitternesses. Such people are doing a godlike work, for it is the great purpose of God to bring peace between men and himself, and between man and man. The man who divides men is doing the devil’s work; the man who unites men is doing God’s work.

So, then, this beatitude might read: O the bliss of those who produce right relationships between man and man, for they are doing a godlike work!

 The Meaning. God is the God of peace; His whole plan of redemption is to provide peace with God for those who were formerly alienated from God, and ultimately bring peace to the whole world (Isa. 9:6,7). This is the goal of the work of the Messiah.

But in the human race, however, there is strife and conflict with little hope for peace and unity. The peace that God brings is not a cessation of hostilities, tolerance, or the readiness to give way. True peace that the world needs calls for a complete change of nature. And only God can give this kind of peace. It is a peace that the world does not understand (John 14:27). It begins with reconciliation with God and extends to reconciliation with other people.

Those who are peacemakers are then first and foremost people who understand what true peace is. Their effort is to strive to establish a peace that embraces God’s provision of peace, so that people will be in harmony with one another because they are at peace with God. In other words, the true peacemakers are they who promote the kingdom of God. Their lives are given to working for promoting the kingdom of God, reconciling adversaries, quenching hatred, uniting those who are divided, promoting true understanding and spiritual love. And they do this because they know what true peace is. So the quality described here is one that is spiritual and not simply a political seeking of peace.

And the promise is that they shall be called the sons of God. That means they will be true children of God. This adds to what life will be like in the kingdom–possession of land, stilling of hunger, vision of God, and now sonship. And all these begin when people enter the kingdom by faith, but will be fulfilled completely when the kingdom finally comes.

In the New Testament sonship is a powerful expression for salvation. It means that believers have been born into the family of God by the Holy Spirit, and that those so designated have a personal relationship with the Father through Christ the Son, that they are joint heirs with Him, that they have a place in their heavenly home by birthright. Not yet in the full sense, but truly in the certainty of the promise can believers say, “We are called the children of God” (see John 1:12,13 and 1 John 3:1).

 The Application. So the disciples of Jesus should be promoting peace. They do this by spreading the Gospel of peace to the world, and by promoting reconciliation within the household of faith as well. In short, they should be doing the work of the Messiah.

Several questions about our text need to be answered. What is involved in being a peacemaker, and what does the term “sons of God” imply? In our study of the seventh beatitude, we will approach the text a little differently than we did with the previous beatitudes. We will first talk about the end of the verse (the promise): “They shall be called sons of God.” Then we will discuss the beginning of the verse (the requirement): “Blessed are the peacemakers.” This will allow us to conclude with an application of Matthew 5:9 to our day.

“. . . FO THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF GOD.”

As has been the case in all the Beatitudes, the primary source of the blessedness or happiness of peacemakers is found in the promise: “For they shall be called sons of God.” The KJV has “for they shall be called the children of God,” but the word translated “children” is the plural of the Greek word for “son” (ui˚o/ß,  huios).  The term is used here in a generic sense to refer to both males and females, both sons and daughters of God.3  What a wonderful promise this is: to be called sons and daughters of God, to be sons and daughters of the King, to be sons and daughters of the Creator of the universe!

The phrases “daughter of God” and “daughters of God” are not found in the Bible. Perhaps the emphasis is on “sons” because, in ancient times, usually only sons were heirs.

derstand the implications in the phrase “sons of God.” “Son of ” was a Hebrew expression mean- ing “partaking of the nature of.” Barnabas was called the “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36) because it was his nature to encourage others. “Sons of God” implies those who partake of the nature of God. We have an expression: “Like father, like son.” That is our challenge as children of God (see Matthew 5:48). In our text the phrase “sons of God” specifically refers to those who partake of God’s nature to be a peacemaker.

The Divine Peacemaker

According to Proverbs 6:16–19, “there are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him.” The seventh is “one who spreads strife among brothers.” God hates strife and loves peace. He is called “the God of peace” (Romans 15:33).

He created a world which was filled with peace until sin brought disharmony and death. To restore peace, He sent His Son, “His only begotten Son,” into this sin-sick, turbulent world (see John 3:16).

To appreciate how much God loves peace, we need only look at His Son, Jesus (see John 14:9). It was prophesied that Christ would be the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). His birth was heralded with the phrase “on earth peace among men” (Luke 2:14). Shortly before He died, He told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you” (John 14:27a). Through His death He brought peace both to Jews (those near) and to Gentiles (those far away) (Ephesians 2:16, 17;see Colossians 1:20).

Imitating Our Father

You and I are challenged to be like God and Jesus. “Pursue peace with all men” (Hebrews 12:14; see 2 Timothy 2:22); “. . . pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Romans 14:19).

 

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2021 in Be-Attitudes

 

Ecclesiastes: The Good Life #5 Life Just Isn’t Fair -Ecclesiastes 4


When Solomon first examined life “under the sun,” his viewpoint was detached and philosophical (1:4-11); his conclusion was that life was meaningless and monotonous. But when he examined the question again, he went to where people really lived and discovered that life was not that simple. As he observed real people in real situations, the king had to deal with some painful facts, like life and death, time and eternity, and the final judgment.

Phillips Brooks, Anglican Bishop of Massachusetts a century ago, told ministerial students to read three “books”: the Book of Books, the Bible; the book of nature; and the book of mankind. The ivory tower investigator will never have a balanced view of his subject if he remains in his ivory tower. Learning and living must be brought together.

In this chapter, Solomon recorded his observations from visiting four different places and watching several people go through a variety of experiences. His conclusion was that life is anything but monotonous, for we have no idea what problems may come to us on any given day. No wonder he wrote, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Prov. 27:1, nkjv).

On June 17, 1966, two men strode into the Lafayette Grill in Paterson, NJ and shot three people to death. Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, a celebrated boxer, and an acquaintance, were falsely charged and wrongly convicted of the murders in a highly publicized and racially charged trial. The fiercely outspoken boxer maintained his claim of innocence and became his own jailhouse lawyer. After serving nineteen years, Carter was released. Nevertheless, Carter lost the most productive years of his life, between the ages of twenty-nine and fifty. He was deprived of his career, his wife, and seeing his children grow up.109

This real-life account makes me angry. I hate injustice. I hate knowing that innocent men and women will go to prison. I hate knowing that 85% of convicted murderers will be released. I hate knowing that children are being forced into prostitution and slavery. I hate abortion. I hate knowing that women are being physically and verbally abused. I hate racism. I hate age discrimination. I hate death. Yet, tragically, our world is full of those things that you and I hate. Therefore, we need to talk about the unpopular topics of death, injustice, hopelessness, and judgment because they stare us in the face every day of our lives.

In Eccl 3:16-4:3,110 Solomon cries out for justice, yet his cry seems to fall on deaf ears. Therefore, he concludes life is harsh and then you die. Now you may be thinking, “Oh, great, another encouraging sermon from Pastor Bah Humbug! Maybe I should stop reading before I collapse in depression and pessimism.” I freely acknowledge that no pastor in his right mind would choose to preach this text. Yet, in this passage I actually find meaning and motivation to live life

1. Injustice should move us to humility (3:16-22).

In these seven verses, Solomon tells us that life’s injustices should break us and then shape us so that we are humble before God and others.111 In 3:16 he writes, “Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness.” The word “furthermore” connects this passage with 3:1-15, where Solomon stated that God’s timing is everything. “Furthermore” also marks a change in emphasis, for now Solomon is going to air a few grievances. Solomon’s observations are rather discouraging. He declares that life “under the sun” is filled with “wickedness.” The “place of justice” refers to the law courts.112 However, there Solomon sees injustice and oppression where the rights of the poor ought to be protected. Instead, the innocent are declared guilty and the guilty innocent. This is an application of Murphy’s Law: Although we may long for justice and righteousness, we inevitably end up with wickedness instead.

This hard truth is important for us to come to grips with. Sometimes bad guys win and good guys suffer. Johnny Christian doesn’t always score the touchdown and Paul Pagan doesn’t always fumble the ball. That’s a fact. Do you have a problem with that? Would you rather have a “perfect” universe? Wouldn’t it be great if, after a driver ran you off the road, his car would break down five minutes later? Or if someone cheated you in business, he would go bankrupt the next month? Or if someone got angry and yelled at you, her teeth would fall out that night? Wouldn’t that be wonderful? It certainly would be from a fleshly perspective, but unfortunately you’d have to live in that same “perfect” universe. So if you gossiped about someone, your tongue would turn green. Every time you lusted after another person, more of your hair would fall out. Every time you spent money on something you didn’t need to, the food in your refrigerator would rot overnight. Would you want to live in a world like that? None of us want that kind of instant justice from God. Yet, God’s patience with sin is an incredible blessing. If God was not so patient all of us would come under His immediate judgment.113 We would be wiped out in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, God grants us His mercy and grace. This should lead us to want to be more merciful and gracious with others, to have compassion for those who are in the grips of sin and under the influence of the curse. If these reminders don’t work, then remind yourself that life is harsh and then you die.

While wickedness seems to have run the score up on righteousness 105-0, ultimately, God gets His due because He is in control of the affairs of men. In 3:17 Solomon writes, “I said to myself, ‘God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,’ for a time for every matter and for every deed is there” (The word “there” is shorthand for God’s eternal judgment.114) Solomon informs us that God will judge. Sometimes He judges people in this life; sometimes He does not. But payday is coming someday! Wrong will not go unpunished, and right will not go unrewarded, forever. In the end, Jesus Christ will judge all people. Psalm 37:12-13 tells us, “The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for He knows their day is coming” (NIV). God gets the last laugh. While we may not see it in time, justice will be carried out in eternity.

Unfortunately, that is not always very satisfying. We hate it when someone “gets away with it.” Solomon tells us that in truth, nobody gets away with it. Paul Harvey illustrated this point when he told about a man named Gary Tindle who was charged with robbery. While standing in the California courtroom of Judge Armando Rodriguez, Tindle asked permission to go to the bathroom. He was escorted upstairs to the bathroom and the door was guarded while he was inside. But Tindle, determined to escape, climbed up the plumbing, opened a panel on the ceiling, and started slithering through the crawl space, heading south. He had traveled some thirty feet when the ceiling panels broke under him, and he dropped to the floor—right back in Judge Rodriguez’s courtroom! When the guilty seem to have escaped judgment, it’s only for a short moment and a short crawl. They will find themselves before the Judge once again in time. Sooner or later, the wheels of God righteousness will right every wrong, balance every scale, and correct every injustice in the world.115

Turning his eyes back toward earth, Solomon imparts a principle: Injustice reminds us that we are mortal. In 3:18-20 he writes, “I said to myself concerning the sons of men, ‘God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts.’ For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.” As you can imagine, these verses have been used to support the evolutionary theory. While some of us may think, look, and act like monkeys, that is not the point of these verses. Solomon is not making a blanket comparison between humans and animals. He is merely saying that we both die.116 A better translation of the word “tested” is “make clear.”117 The point is that God allows human injustice to exist in the world in order to make it clear to us that we are just like animals in the sense that we are going to die. Life is harsh and then you die.

When I was growing up, I had a soft spot for animals. My whole family has always loved animals. In fact, the year I was born, my dad was voted the best amateur nature photographer in the world.118 Consequently, I could never get myself to hunt and kill any animal. Now, don’t get me wrong or call me late for dinner; I am glad to eat the meat of hunters, I just don’t want to be the one to pull the trigger. Believe it or not, while I was growing up I also had a soft spot for insects. I found it hard to kill bugs with my bare hands and feet, so I just sucked them up with our vacuum cleaner. I recognize that I am walking contradiction: I am particularly fond of football, boxing, and mixed marital arts, yet I don’t want to kill any insects. Go figure! But I will tell you this: Today, whenever I accidentally squish an insect, I can’t help but think that my life is every bit as fragile. Life is harsh and then you die.

In 3:21 Solomon postulates, “Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?” Solomon here considers this question empirically, with only his senses and his three-pound brain to guide him. And with the brute facts before him and us, we can’t prove a thing. At best, it is a guess. If we are only to consider what we can see, taste, touch, hear, and smell, your guess is as good as mine. From Solomon’s perspective, maybe all dogs do go to heaven and all people go to be meat on a shishkabob. Who knows? Everyone has their own guess when left to their own finite brains.119

The point of 3:21 is this: Most of us behave as though we had endless time and close our eyes to the fact of death. God wants us to face that fact (3:18). Even in our Christian service of God there may be the underlying idea that there is still plenty of time tomorrow, and what we fail to do here can be made up in our service in paradise. So Solomon challenges those who live as though they are immortal and are never to be accountable to God (3:16-17).120

So “who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?” Who can know the truth about the resurrection? The answer is “No one can!” No one can “under heaven” or “under the sun.” So who knows? GOD KNOWS…So the question then becomes: do you know the one who knows? Today, the God of heaven and earth offers you a relationship with Himself through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. If you desire such a relationship, trust in Christ as your Savior from sin.

Just to summarize: You may be successful, powerful, wealthy, talented, and personable, and when all is said and done, you’re going to die just like Bootsie the dog or Gilbert the hamster—whatever pet your kids talked you into that you currently regret. Okay, so who cares what you do, because in the end there’s no difference between you and the animal. You both die. Remember, life is harsh and then you die.

Fortunately, in the closing verse of chapter 3, Solomon encourages us to enjoy life in spite of the world’s injustice. He observes, “I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him [his death]?” (3:22) I love this verse. I’ve checked the Hebrew word “happy” in several lexicons. I’ve considered its Aramaic cognate and I’ve discovered that “happy” literally means “happy.” God wants us to be happy in the midst of this miserable life. The word “lot” or “portion” conveys the sense of the limitations of life. The portion is like an inherited plot of land that one has to work. Toil is inevitable, it is part of the heritage of your portion, but from that very same lot you may find enjoyment.121 Your lot in life may be a small family, a small-fry job, and a small-time neighborhood, yet when you are gone there is no portion to enjoy. So you need to enjoy your life NOW, despite its injustices and trials.

In 2004, The Nation magazine profiled an Alabama woman who works as a nursing assistant at a nursing home for $700 a month. She works the night shift, emptying bedpans, tending the bedridden, mopping floors, and doing other tasks beyond her job description because the place is understaffed. She can’t afford a car, so she pays someone else to drive her thirteen miles to work. If that person doesn’t show up, she walks. Better to walk than to call in sick and probably lose her job, she says. She lives alone with her three children in a shack. There is no phone. The toilet is in the floor. The heater is broken. But she likes her work. She likes to make the residents smile.122

This story convicts me. It breaks me and humbles me to dust! It motivates me to ensure that I enjoy my life. After all, I have nothing to complain about.

  • What is your unjust disadvantage? Don’t answer with a list of petty irritations, but think in terms of major handicaps in your life that you feel have been inflicted upon you unfairly.
  • When do you plan to replace passive self-pity with active courage? If you have not already begun to turn from a destructive, woe-is-me attitude, to a constructive, enjoy-life now posture, then start today. The Lord will give you the power to make the change, but you must avail yourself of it through prayer and action.
  • Have you ever considered the impact your distinctive message could have on the world around you? The Lord can use your disadvantage—be it physical, emotional, mental, financial, or anything else—to positively impact the lives of others. The only thing that stands in the way is your attitude. Will you change it today?123

[Solomon has informed us that injustice should move us to humility. Now, in 4:1-3, he gives us another one of his favorite buckets of cold water…oppression.]

2. Oppression should move us to action (4:1-3).

(Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 NIV)  “Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed– and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors– and they have no comforter. {2} And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. {3} But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun.”

Men and women are oppressed in every area of life: business, marriage, family, relationships, and church. Wherever there is power, there is the potential and likelihood that it will be abused. In 4:1-3 Solomon observes, “Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living. But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun.” These three verses are depressing. Nevertheless, we must recognize that Solomon is using hyperbole (i.e., a deliberate exaggeration) to shake us to the core of our being. He uses forms of the word “oppressed” three times in three verses. He is deeply grieved by what he observes. This is the reason for his extreme language. These verses are not a call to suicide or abortion. They are simply the journal of a man expressing pain and devastation over all of the oppression in the world. Life is harsh and then you die. These words reverberate through my mind and soul.

Many of us as Americans have no idea of what it really means to be oppressed. We can be sure though, that in other parts of the world many know all too well what Solomon is talking about. Nowhere is heartbreaking oppression more evident than in the communist nation of North Korea. An estimated 100,000 Christians are being imprisoned and tortured at the hands of the ruthless Kim Jung II.124 There are 400,000 Christians in North Korea and one out of four are prison camps. This is brutal!

This past Monday, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Lori and I spent some time explaining to our kids who Dr. King was and why he was murdered. After sharing his life with our children, I was filled with frustration over the unrighteousness of mankind. To think that Americans have oppressed people over skin color is one of the most asinine things I have ever heard. It is an atrocity! What is worse is that many Christians were and are guilty of prejudicial behavior. Into the late 1960s, some Bible colleges and seminaries would not allow African-Americans to attend their schools. Today, various African-Americans are some of the greatest preachers on this planet.

Not only is there persecution and racism, there is also poverty. The Anchor Bible Dictionary catalogs six categories of the poor in the Old Testament and counts the number of references for each:

  • Peasant farmers, mentioned forty-eight times
  • Beggars, mentioned sixty-one times
  • The “lazy poor,” cited thirteen times, mostly in the book of Proverbs
  • Low-income laborers, mentioned twenty-two times
  • The politically exploited and oppressed, mentioned eighty times, the most in the Old Testament.125

In our country, 35% of individuals make less than $25,000. This is also true for 28% of households.126 Many people work for a low wage and no benefits. And many of these people aren’t lazy. They are just working jobs that do not pay well. They may also have recovered from some difficult circumstances along the way. There are many recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, prisoners, abuse victims, etc. Many of these people are trying to start over; however, it is not an easy road.

The above realities can prove to be overwhelming. Our temptation is to say, “Where do we even start?” It seems like we can’t make a dent into these oppressive problems. Indeed, it certainly does seem that way, doesn’t it? Even so, we are not responsible to do away with all the oppression of the world—only God can do that. We are merely responsible to do our little part.

One of my favorite cartoons shows two turtles in the midst of a conversation. One says, “Sometimes I’d like to ask God why He allows poverty, famine, and injustice when He could do something about it.” The other turtle says, “I’m afraid God might ask me the same question.”127

Ten years ago, a friend of mine and a former Green Beret gave me his beret pin, which in Latin reads:

De Oppresso Liber. This phrase means, “To free the oppressed.” Since he gave me this pin, I have kept it in my office to the left of my computer. I want to be reminded of the responsibility I bear.

Yes, we live in a world of injustice and oppression. Maybe you have been a victim of some form of abuse. Perhaps you were raped, molested, or fired from your job. Some of greatest movements have come from those who were cheated or treated unfairly. Candy Lightner founded MADD in 1980 after her daughter, Cari, was killed by a repeat drunk driving offender. Cindy Lamb whose daughter, Laura, became the nation’s youngest quadriplegic at the hands of a drunk driver soon joined Candy in her crusade to save lives. Consequently, thousands of lives have been saved.128 John Walsh and his wife, Revé, suffered the most horrendous loss that any parents could endure: the abduction and murder of their beautiful six-year-old son, Adam. Since that day in 1981, the founder of Americas Most Wanted has dedicated himself to fighting on behalf of children and all crime victims. As a result, thousands of victims have found justice, and dozens of abducted children have been safely brought home.129

You can make a difference in at least one person’s life. You can have a testimony, a ministry, an influence, and an impact. One of our church’s mission strategies is to “lead the world.” We do that by loving one lost person at a time toward Christ. Will you allow the injustices of this world to move you to action? Will you say, “Enough is enough! I want to make a difference in one person’s life?”

In the movie The Last Emperor, the young child anointed as the last emperor of China lives a life of luxury with 1,000 servants at his command. “What happens when you do wrong?” his brother asks. “When I do wrong, someone else is punished,” the boy emperor replies. To demonstrate, he breaks a jar, and one of the servants is beaten. In Christianity, Jesus reversed that ancient pattern: when the servants erred, the King was punished.130

In the courtroom (ECCL. 4:1-3)

“Politics” has been defined as “the conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” The nation of Israel had an adequate judicial system (Ex. 18:13-27; Deut. 17; 19), based on divine Law; but the system could be corrupted just like anything else (5:8). Moses warned officials to judge honestly and fairly (Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:17), and both the prophet and the psalmist lashed out against social injustice (Ps. 82; Isa. 56:1; 59:1ff; Amos 1-2). Solomon had been a wise and just king (1 Kings 3:16-28), but it was impossible for him to guarantee the integrity of every officer in his government.

Solomon went into a courtroom to watch a trial, and there he saw innocent people being oppressed by power-hungry officials. The victims wept, but their tears did no good. Nobody stood with them to comfort or assist them. The oppressors had all the power and their victims were helpless to protest or ask for redress.

The American orator Daniel Webster once called justice “the ligament which holds civilized beings and … nations together.” The “body politic” in Solomon’s day had many a torn ligament!

The king witnessed three tragedies: (1) oppression and exploitation in the halls of justice; (2) pain and sorrow in the lives of innocent people; and (3) unconcern on the part of those who could have brought comfort. So devastated was Solomon by what he saw that he decided it was better to be dead than to be alive and oppressed. In fact, one was better off if never having been born at all. Then one would never have to see the evil works of sinful man.

Why didn’t Solomon do something about this injustice? After all, he was the king. Alas, even the king couldn’t do a great deal to solve the problem. For once Solomon started to interfere with his government and reorganize things, he would only create new problems and reveal more corruption. This is not to suggest that we today should despair of cleaning out political corruption. As Christian citizens, we must pray for all in authority (1 Tim. 2:1-6) and do what we can to see that just laws are passed and fairly enforced. But it’s doubtful that a huge administrative body like the one in Israel would ever be free of corruption, or that a “crusader” could improve the situation.

Edward Gibbon, celebrated author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, said that political corruption was “the most infallible symptom of constitutional liberty.” Perhaps he was right; for where there is freedom to obey, there is also freedom to disobey. Some of Solomon’s officials decided they were above the law, and the innocent suffered.

  1. In the marketplace (ECCL. 4:4-8)

(Ecclesiastes 4:4-8 NIV)  “And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. {5} The fool folds his hands and ruins himself. {6} Better one handful with tranquillity than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind. {7} Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: {8} There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless– a miserable business!”

Disgusted with what he saw in the “halls of justice,” the king went down to the marketplace to watch the various laborers at work. Surely he would not be disappointed there, for honest toil is a gift from God. Even Adam had work to do in the Garden (Gen. 2:15), and our Lord was a carpenter when He was here on earth (Mark 6:3). Solomon considered four different kinds of men.

The industrious man (v. 4).

It was natural for Solomon first to find a laborer who was working hard. For, after all, had not the king extolled the virtues of hard work in the Book of Proverbs? The man was not only busy, but he was skillful in his work and competent in all he did. He had mastered the techniques of his trade.

So much for the worker’s hands; what about his heart? It was here that Solomon had his next disappointment. The only reason these people perfected their skills and worked hard at their jobs was to compete with others and make more money than their neighbors. The purpose of their work was not to produce beautiful or useful products, or to help people, but to stay ahead of the competition and survive in the battle for bread.

God did not put this “selfishness factor” into human labor; it’s the result of sin in the human heart. We covet what others have; we not only want to have those things, but we want to go beyond and have even more. Covetousness, competition, and envy often go together. Competition is not sinful of itself, but when “being first” is more important than being honest, there will be trouble. Traditional rivalry between teams or schools can be a helpful thing, but when rivalry turns into riots, sin has entered the scene.

The idle man (vv. 5-6).

Solomon moved from one extreme to the other and began to study a man who had no ambition at all. Perhaps the king could learn about life by examining the antithesis, the way scientists study cold to better understand heat. It must have been difficult for him to watch an idle man, because Solomon had no sympathy for lazy people who sat all day with folded hands and did nothing. (See Prov. 18:9, 19:15, 24:30-34.)

Solomon learned nothing he didn’t already know: laziness is a slow comfortable path toward self-destruction. It may be pleasant to sleep late every morning and not have to go to work, but it’s unpleasant not to have money to buy the necessities of life. “‘Let me sleep a little longer!’ Sure, just a little more! And as you sleep, poverty creeps upon you like a robber and destroys you; want attacks you in full armor” (Prov. 6:10-11, tlb). Paul stated it bluntly: “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thes. 3:10).

The industrious man was motivated by competition and caught in the rat race of life. He had no leisure time. The idle man was motivated by pleasure and was headed for ruin. He had no productive time. Is there no middle way between these two extremes? Yes, there is.

The integrated man (v. 6).

Here was a man whose life was balanced: he was productive in his work, but he was also careful to take time for quietness. He did not run in the rat race, but neither did he try to run away from the normal responsibilities of life. A 1989 Harris survey revealed that the amount of leisure time enjoyed by the average American had shrunk 37 percent from 1973. This suggests that fewer people know how to keep life in balance. They are caught in the rat race and don’t know how to escape.

Why have both hands full of profit if that profit costs you your peace of mind and possibly your health? Better to have gain in one hand and quietness in the other. When a heart is controlled by envy and rivalry, life becomes one battle after another (James 3:13-4:4, and see Prov. 15:16). Paul’s instructions about money in 1 Timothy 6 is applicable here, especially verse 6, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”

The industrious man thinks that money will bring him peace, but he has no time to enjoy it. The idle man thinks that doing nothing will bring him peace, but his life-style only destroys him. The integrated man enjoys both his labor and the fruit of his labor and balances toil with rest. You can take what you want from life, but you must pay for it.

The independent man (vv. 7-8).

Then Solomon noticed a solitary man, very hard at work, so he went to question him. The king discovered that the man had no relatives or partners to help him in his business, nor did he desire any help. He wanted all the profit for himself. But he was so busy, he had no time to enjoy his profits. And, if he died, he had no family to inherit his wealth. In other words, all his labor was in vain.

The Greek philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” But the independent man never stopped long enough to ask himself: “For whom am I working so hard? Why am I robbing myself of the enjoyments of life just to amass more and more money?” The industrious man was at least providing employment for people, and the idle man was enjoying some leisure, but the independent man was helping neither the economy nor himself.

Solomon’s conclusion was, “This too is meaningless—a miserable business!” (v. 8, niv) God wants us to labor, but to labor in the right spirit and for the right reasons. Blessed are the balanced!

  1. On the highway (ECCL. 4:9-12)

(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NIV)  “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: {10} If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! {11} Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? {12} Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Solomon’s experience with the independent man caused him to consider the importance of friendship and the value of people doing things together. He may have recalled the Jewish proverb, “A friendless man is like a left hand bereft of the right.” Perhaps he watched some pilgrims on the highway and drew the conclusion, “Two are better than one.”

Two are certainly better than one when it comes to working (v. 9) because two workers can get more done. Even when they divide the profits, they still get a better return for their efforts than if they had worked alone. Also, it’s much easier to do difficult jobs together because one can be an encouragement to the other.

Two are better when it comes to walking (v. 10). Roads and paths in Palestine were not paved or even leveled, and there were many hidden rocks in the fields. It was not uncommon for even the most experienced traveler to stumble and fall, perhaps break a bone, or even fall into a hidden pit (Ex. 21:33-34). How wonderful to have a friend who can help you up (or out). But if this applies to our physical falls, how much more does it apply to those times when we stumble in our spiritual walk and need restoration (Gal. 6:1-2)? How grateful we should be for Christian friends who help us walk straight.

Two are better than one when it comes to warmth (v. 11). Two travelers camping out, or even staying in the courtyard of a public inn, would feel the cold of the Palestinian night and need one another’s warmth for comfort. The only way to be “warm alone” is to carry extra blankets and add to your load.

Finally, two are better than one when it comes to their watchcare, especially at night (v. 12). “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves” (v. 12, niv). It was dangerous for anyone to travel alone, day or night; most people traveled in groups for fellowship and for safety. Even David was grateful for a friend who stepped in and saved the king’s life (2 Sam. 21:15-17).

Solomon started with the number one (v. 8), then moved to two (v. 9), and then closed with three (v. 12). This is typical of Hebrew literature (Prov. 6:16; Amos 1:3, 6, 9, etc.). One cord could be broken easily; two cords would require more strength; but three cords woven together could not be easily broken. If two travelers are better than one, then three would fare even better. Solomon had more than numbers in mind; he was also thinking of the unity involved in three cords woven together—what a beautiful picture of friendship!

  1. In the palace (ECCL. 4:13-16)

(Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 NIV)  “Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to take warning. {14} The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. {15} I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king’s successor. {16} There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

This is Solomon’s fourth “better” statement (4:3, 6, 9), introducing a story that teaches two truths: the instability of political power and the fickleness of popularity. The king in the story had at one time heeded his counselors’ advice and ruled wisely, but when he got old, he refused to listen to them. The problem was more than pride and senility. He was probably surrounded by a collection of “parasites” who flattered him, isolated him from reality, and took from him all they could get. This often happens to weak leaders who are more concerned about themselves than about their people.

There is a hero in the story, a wise youth who is in prison. Perhaps he was there because he tried to help the king and the king resented it. Or maybe somebody in the court lied about the youth. (That’s what happened to Joseph. See Gen. 39.) At any rate, the youth got out of prison and became king. Everybody cheered the underdog and rejoiced that the nation at last had wise leadership.

Consider now what this story says. The young man was born poor, but he became rich. The old king was rich but it didn’t make him any wiser, so he might just as well have been poor. The young man was in prison, but he got out and took the throne. The old king was imprisoned in his stupidity (and within his circle of sycophants) and lost his throne. So far, the moral of the story is: Wealth and position are no guarantee of success, and poverty and seeming failure are no barriers to achievement. The key is wisdom.

But the story goes on. Apparently the young man got out of prison and took the throne because of popular demand. “I have seen all the living under the sun throng to the side of the second lad who replaces him” [the old king] (v. 15, nasb). It looked like the new young king had it made, but alas, his popularity didn’t last. “He can become the leader of millions of people, and be very popular. But, then, the younger generation grows up around him and rejects him!” (v. 16, tlb) The new crowd deposed the king and appointed somebody else.

Oliver Cromwell, who took the British throne away from Charles I and established the Commonwealth, said to a friend, “Do not trust to the cheering, for those persons would shout as much if you and I were going to be hanged.” Cromwell understood crowd psychology!

Once again, Solomon drew the same conclusion: it is all “vanity and vexation of spirit” (see vv. 4 and 8).

No matter where Solomon went, no matter what aspect of life he studied, he learned an important lesson from the Lord. When he looked up, he saw that God was in control of life and balanced its varied experiences (3:1-8). When he looked within, he saw that man was made for eternity and that God would make all things beautiful in their time (3:9-14). When he looked ahead, he saw the last enemy, death. Then as he looked around (4:1-16), he understood that life is complex, difficult, and not easy to explain. One thing is sure: No matter where you look, you see trials and problems and people who could use some encouragement.

However, Solomon was not cynical about life. Nowhere does he tell us to get out of the race and retreat to some safe and comfortable corner of the world where nothing can bother us. Life does not stand still. Life comes at us full speed, without warning, and we must stand up and take it and, with God’s help, make the most of it.

If this chapter teaches us anything, it is that we need one another because “two are better than one.” Yes, there are some advantages to an independent life, but there are also disadvantages, and we discover them painfully as we get older.

The chapter also emphasizes balance in life. “Better is a handful with quietness than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind” (v. 6, nkjv). It’s good to have the things that money can buy, provided you don’t lose the things that money can’t buy. What is it really costing you in terms of life to get the things that are important to you? How much of the permanent are you sacrificing to get your hands on the temporary?

Or, to quote the words of Jesus: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37).

Alone at the Top (Ecclesiastes 4:4-16)

Karoshi is a Japanese word which means “death from overwork.” The syndrome is now so common in Japan that it claims as many as 30,000 victims each year. Its increase has caused such concern that since 1990, the Japanese government has been forced to provide restitution to karoshi widows.132 As Americans, we hear this and we think to ourselves, “That’s crazy! What are these poor people thinking?” Yet, all the while many of us are working ourselves to death, either literally or figuratively. The question is, “Why?” What is driving us to work so hard and so long? Our natural temptation may be to claim, “I work hard and long to glorify God.” This may be true, but I would suggest for most of us it is only partially true. If the truth be known, many of us are working hard to climb the corporate ladder, to impress our boss, to meet our own expectations, and to make more money. However, working long and hard for these reasons can lead to bitter disappointment and possibly even a premature death. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Japanese people.

Fortunately, Solomon has a solution for us. In Eccl 4:4-16, he encourages us to work smarter not harder and longer. How do we work smarter not harder? We work smarter not harder by making three specific choices.

1. Choose contentment over achievement (4:4-6).

When I was growing, up my dad would always tell me, “Moderation in everything.” Solomon imparts this same truth in these first three verses. He discusses the workaholic, the lazy sluggard, and then strikes the biblical balance between these two extremes. In 4:4 he writes, “I have seen that every labor and every skill133 which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind.”134Solomon once again observes life. He is a student of human nature and activity. In his “people watching,” Solomon discovers that people compete with one another in everything. The twofold use of the word “every” undoubtedly means every type of labor and achievement rather than every individual instance of these things. The point is: much achievement is the result of a desire to be superior over others. We live in a constant state of competition. Research indicates that nine out of ten office workers suffer from “professional envy” of colleagues they perceive to have more glamorous or better paid jobs.135 What drives many people is to climb the corporate ladder and outdo others.

This quest to get ahead is also true in other areas of our lives. We want to be more successful than our neighbors and friends. The clothes that you’re wearing right now, you’re not wearing because you needed them but because you wanted others to see you in them. You didn’t purchase that new car because you needed a car; you purchased that car because you wanted to be seen in that vehicle. Solomon is saying that we all want to be noticed and we want to be the focus of attention. Therefore, we envy one another and compete with one another. Whether we care to admit it or not rivalry is a driving force in all of us.

Some of us realize the evils of envy and rivalry and determine that we will be different. We don’t want to be the kind of people who step on everyone else on our climb to the top so we drop out of any competitive endeavor. Yet, this is a dangerous extreme as well.136 In 4:5, Solomon shares a proverb:137“The fool folds his hands and consumes [lit. “eats”] his own flesh.” The language of this verse means lazy people eventually make cannibals of themselves.138 They will kill themselves with starvation. Of course, Solomon is being sarcastic and he is using hyperbole. He mocks the lazy! Since they do not raise any crops, they must eat their own flesh.139

In the 1960s, one generation got sick of the affluence of the 1950s. So this group bailed out and claimed the title of “flower children.” Everybody gave up ambition and the drive for financial success. They let their hair grow long, quit bathing, and just sat on the grass and hummed.140 Obviously, this is not the way to accomplish God’s purposes in the world. I would dare say this is sheer laziness and foolishness.

Reflecting on foolishness, please give careful attention to the word “fool” in 4:5. When we read the word “fool” in the Bible, it is natural to assume that the term means “idiot” or “buffoon.” After all, this is what our English word “fool” means. Yet, the biblical meaning of this word means something far worse. A fool is someone who denies God, scoffs at wisdom, and laughs at eternity. Foolishness is a theological stance, a show of contempt for God’s laws.141

God intends for mankind to work, particularly the church. This is why our church emphasizes the importance of a godly work ethic. We believe that everyone who is physically, mentally, and emotionally able should work. Paul said it best when he wrote to the church at Thessalonica, “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thess 3:10). Elsewhere, Paul said, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col 3:23). The Bible is clear that we are to represent Christ in our work.

One day a mother walked in on her six-year-old son and found him sobbing. What’s the matter?” she asks. The boy replied, “I’ve just figured out how to tie my shoes.” “Well, honey, that’s wonderful. You’re growing up, but why are you crying?” “Because,” he says, “Now I’ll have to do it every day for the rest of my life.”142 Maybe you feel like this six-year-old boy. You’re a stay-at-home mom and you’ve recognized that you’re going to be doing the same tasks for what may seem the rest of your life. Perhaps you work a monotonous job, day in and day out, and it kills you to know that you may be working this job for the rest of your life. God wants you to know that there is glory in the grind. Shrug off laziness. Work like today is your last day of work, for it just might be. Work smarter not harder.

Solomon now strikes a balance between workaholism and laziness. His solution in 4:6 is: “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind.” At first glance, it seems 4:6 contradicts 4:5; however, we must recognize that 4:6 like 4:5 is a proverb.143 The comparison is between anything with rest and anything with work.144 This is not an argument in favor of laziness but a call for balanced living.145 Blessed are the balanced! The wise person realizes that some things matter more than other things, that your career is not the measure of your self-worth, that having more money can’t replace the joy of spending time with people you love. Contentment means that you have everything you need right now. If you needed more, God would give it to you.146 Solomon is saying, “Rather than grasping for so much that you have to be a workaholic to get it, be content with less. It is better to have less and enjoy it more.” Our problem is not the high cost of living; it is the cost of high living. We want far too much. The cure is contentment, being willing to settle for less materially if it means we can have some “rest.”

A new store opened at Minnesota’s Mall of America, called MinneNAPolis. It rents comfy spots where weary shoppers can take naps for seventy cents a minute. The new store includes themed rooms such as Asian Mist, Tropical Isle, and Deep Space, and the walls are thick enough to drown out the sounds of squealing children outside. The company’s website says, “Escape the pressures of the real world into the pleasures of an ideal one.” Some guests will want to listen to music, put their feet up, watch the water trickling in the beautiful stone waterfall, breathe in the positive-ionization-filtered air, enjoy the full-body massager, and just take an enjoyable escape from the fast-paced lifestyle.147

Do you ever get tired of running in the rat race where only the rats win? A sign by the roadside carried this message: “I’m getting sick of the rat race. The rats keep getting bigger and faster.” How much more could we enjoy life if we were content with what the Lord has given us? How many families would cease to be divided and destroyed if parents stopped breaking their necks to give their kids a better life than they had? Let me close this section by giving you 4:6 in the Keith Krell Translation: “Rather than putting two hands in for eighty hours a week, why don’t you put in forty hours with one hand and with the other eat some bubble gum ice cream?”148 Work smarter not harder.

[Not only must we choose contentment over achievement, we must also…]

2. Choose relationships over riches (4:7-12).

These verses remind us that people should be our priority. If you are too busy for the people in your life that matter most, you are too busy. In 4:7-8 Solomon writes, “Then I looked again at vanity under the sun. There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked, ‘And for whom am I laboring and depriving myself of pleasure?’ This too is vanity and it is a grievous task.” Do you know anyone like this? Of course you do! With that person in mind, I’d like to describe this person. This man believes in the value of hard work and the inherent dignity of a job well done. He’s probably married and has at least three children whose picture he carries in his wallet. He loves his wife and thinks about her more than she knows. It’s true he works long hours—often he’s gone by six in the morning and doesn’t come home until after seven at night. The pressures at work are so enormous that it takes him an hour or two to unwind, so he doesn’t spend much time talking in the evening. He’s so tired that it’s all he can do to read the paper, watch a little television, and then go wearily to bed. His blood pressure is too high, he knows he needs to exercise, his diet isn’t the best, and sometimes he’s irritable and snaps at his family—and regrets it later. It’s true that he works seventy hours a week, but he doesn’t think of himself as a workaholic. He simply loves his job—and he’s good at it. And thankfully, he is able to bring home a nice paycheck and provide good things for his family. One of these days he plans to slow down and smell the coffee—but not today. He gulps his coffee and heads for the door before his family knows he’s gone. One evening he comes home and his family is not there. While he was at work, the kids grew up, his wife went back to college and found a career of her own, his children moved out, and now the house is empty. He can’t believe it. The Board of Directors just named him CEO. Now there’s no one to share the good news with. He made it to the top—alone.149

Even if you are not a successful, high-powered CEO, you can probably relate to this man. It is so easy to become consumed with work. We all tend to suffer from the hurry syndrome. We are busy people…so busy that sometimes we miss the significant people right in front of us. How many mothers and fathers have shortchanged their children for $10,000 or $20,000 extra a year? How many young consultants make great money but don’t have friends because they travel every week? How many wealthy people have accumulated huge nest eggs but no friends?150 Do you have anyone to enjoy life with? Are you taking the time to smell the coffee? Are you truly enjoying your children? Do you have any trusted friends?

The need to have someone to enjoy life with prompts Solomon to touch on friendship and community. In 4:9-12, he lists several benefits of friendship.

  • Friends bring about good results in labor (4:9). Solomon writes, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.” Relationships grow out of shared work whether it is yard work, mission trips, service projects, or local church ministry. Two human souls combine their strength, creativity, talent, and ambition. There is something special about working together with at least one other person. There is a bond that takes place when people work or serve together. Who are you currently working with or serving with? Work smarter not harder.
  • Friends pick up one another in trouble (4:10). Solomon writes, “For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” America is the land of the lonely. We cultivate loneliness in our culture. We take pride in being independent and alone. We even have a Declaration of Independence. Men especially are raised with this sort of macho attitude. Yet, even men need other men. This is why I meet with two weekly men’s groups. In these two groups we have learned a number of truths about community: (1) relationships are valuable, (2) we need to trust one another, (3) real men share their feelings, (4) real men need accountability, and (5) real men need to learn from one another. Who are you currently encouraging and investing in? Work smarter not harder.
  • Friends warm one another in a cold world (4:11). Solomon writes, “Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?” If you are married, does your spouse have cold feet? My wife, Lori, has polar feet. One of my most difficult acts of service is to allow her to warm her feet on me. This is sheer unconditional agape love on my part. Of course, you may not be the sacrificial servant that I am, so you adjust the temperature on your waterbed or electric blanket. However, in Solomon’s time, cold was a much more serious issue. When forced to sleep in the open, or even in a tent, the more bodies that huddled together, the warmer all would be. So Solomon says that two are better than one in staying warm.151 Take two coals, heat them up and then separate them and what happens. Their heat will be extinguished. They cannot generate sufficient heat when they are alone. That is why it is so important for the church to meet together. We come together to create a bonfire of fellowship that we might set one another aflame with a zeal for serving the Lord. So who are you currently showing Christian love to? Work smarter not harder.
  • Friends hold up one another in adversity (4:12). Solomon closes his thoughts in this section with these words: “And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” We need other people to give us strength in the midst of persecution and hardship. “A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart” was a proverbial way of saying “there is strength in numbers.”152 We all face trials and tests of our faith. If you have no one to walk through these dark times with you, life will seem utterly impossible. Again, this is why involvement in a local church is so important. Are you currently bearing someone else’s burdens? Work smarter not harder.

[We must choose contentment over achievement and relationships over riches. Solomon now concludes by urging us to…]

3. Choose influence over popularity (4:13-16).

In this four verse parable, Solomon reminds us that popularity is fleeting; therefore, we are better to choose influence over popularity. The story goes like this: “A poor yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction. For he has come out of prison to become king, even though he was born poor in his kingdom. I have seen all the living under the sun throng to the side of the second lad who replaces him. There is no end to all the people, to all who were before them, and even the ones who will come later will not be happy with him, for this too is vanity and striving after wind” (4:13-16). What is in view in this parable is a succession of kings, none of whom fully satisfies the populace. The point is that even though a young man may rise from the bottom of society to the top, not everyone will accept or appreciate him. Therefore, since it is impossible to achieve full acceptance it is foolish to spend one’s life seeking advancement and popularity. It is better to stay poor and wise. From this unimpressive position, it may be possible to influence more people than you ever thought possible. Influence must always trump popularity because popularity is temporal.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that life at the top is fleeting. Our attention span is short, our memories nonexistent, and our only question is, “What have you done for me lately?” Presidents and prime ministers may have extremely high approval ratings for a while, but they don’t last. Just ask President Bush. If the 18-0 Patriots lose today, their quarterback, Tom Brady, who is one of the greatest players in NFL history, will be a goat. Former Dallas Cowboy quarterback, Don Meredith, used to say about quarterbacks, “Today you are in the penthouse. Tomorrow you’re in the outhouse.”153 What is true of quarterbacks is also true of pastors, state workers, teachers, and small business owners. Popularity doesn’t last. Today’s heroes are tomorrow bums. Become president of the Rotary Club or PTA. Get elected chairman of your Homeowners Association. You’ll be doing great if more than half the people still like you when you’re done.

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. Winning the Super Bowl is the professional dream of every NFL player. It isn’t the money they make; a winner’s earnings from a Super Bowl appearance amount to less than a full game’s check for the average NFL player. It isn’t the Vince Lombardi trophy, which they don’t get to take home. It’s the fame, the respect, that moment of supreme glory. The players do receive a ring, and the Super Bowl ring is perhaps the most coveted prize of the world of sports—on par with an Olympic gold medal. But even such a ring may not last. Charlie Waters of the Dallas Cowboys found that out when his five Super Bowl rings were stolen from the closet in his home. Joe Gilliam won two Super Bowl rings as a member of the 1974 and 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers, but he pawned them off for a few dollars after being caught in a vicious cycle of drug addiction and homelessness. Another former Steeler, Rocky Bleier, sold his four rings to cover divorce and bankruptcy proceedings. The Cowboys’ Thomas Henderson had his Super Bowl XII ring seized to pay back taxes. Former Raiders All-Pro cornerback Lester Hayes sold his to pay for dental work. Mercury Morris of the Miami Dolphins sold his ring to raise money to clear his name during a drug-trafficking case.

That ring, symbolic of months and years of hard work crowned by a season at the top, is as fleeting as the glory it supposedly stands for. The hype may be spectacular, the TV ratings may be the biggest of the year, the commercial time a cost of millions…but the glory is fool’s gold. Its luster is quickly tarnished. As Houston sports writer Steve Campbell puts it, “One of the dirty secrets about the Super Bowl is that the winner’s high often has less of a shelf life than a container of cottage cheese.”154

Achievement, riches, and popularity can all expire on us like cottage cheese. These three pursuits are so temporary. In the end they are hebel—breath, vapor, mist, and utter futility. So work smarter not harder. Just trust God, love people, and enjoy life.


110 This precise passage breakdown is adopted by R.B.Y. Scott, Proverbs Ecclesiastes (Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 1995), 222-223.

111 Solomon returns to the theme of injustice in Eccl 5:8f.; 8:10-15; 9:13-16; 10:5-7; 10:16f.

112 Tremper Longman III, The Book of Ecclesiastes (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 125.

113 Tommy Nelson, The Problem of Life with God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 61.

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

See also the NET: “I thought to myself, ‘God will judge both the righteous and the wicked; for there is an appropriate time for every activity, and there is a time of judgment for every deed.’” See also Ps 14:5; Zeph 1:14.

115 David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 76.

116 Longman, The Book of Ecclesiastes, 127.

117 Michael A. Eaton, Ecclesiastes: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament; Leicester, Eng., and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1983), 85-86. See also the NET: “I also thought to myself, ‘It is for the sake of people, so God can clearly show them that they are like animals.’”

118 The PSA (Photographic Society of America) awarded my dad, Richard Krell, for having the most pictures accepted for exhibition in international nature exhibitions throughout the world.

119 David Fairchild, “Justice Departed” (Eccl 3:16-4:3).

120 J. Stafford. Wright, “Ecclesiastes,” in Psalms-Song of Songs vol. 5 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), Electronic ed.

121 Choon Leon Seow, Ecclesiastes: A New Translation with Introduction (Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 1997), 176.

122 Ray Waddle, Against The Grain: Unconventional Wisdom From Ecclesiastes (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2005). 65.

123 Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge: Coming to Terms with Reality, Bible Study Guide (Fullerton, CA: Insight for Living, 1986), 35.

124 Open Doors, “North Korean Christians Being Tortured by the Thousands,” 24 January 2008.

125 Quoted in Waddle, Against The Grain, 64.

126 “Household Income in the United States”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_income_in_the_United_States.

127 Peter John Kreeft quoted in Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 50.

128 “The History of MADD”: http://www.madd.org/About-us/About-us/History.aspx.

129 “About John Walsh”: http://www.amw.com/about_amw/john_walsh.cfm.

130 Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997),

132 Donald S. Whitney, “Rest for your Souls”: http://www.biblicalspirituality.org/weary.html.

133 Longman suggests the translation, “success or achievement.” Tremper Longman III, The Book of Ecclesiastes (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 136. The use of the Hebrew term kishron in Eccl 5:11 supports the translation “success.” See also NIV: “achievement.”

134 The phrase “vanity and striving after wind” (Eccl 4:4, 16) brackets this section.

135 Quoted in David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 87. See “Professional Jealousy Grips the Nation” 2 February 2004:

http://www.personneltoday.com/articles/2004/02/02/22184/professional-jealousy-grips-the-nation.html.

136 Solomon’s words in 4:5 seems to be the opposite of 4:4. Thus, Eaton writes, “We pass from the rat-race with its hectic scramble for status symbols to the drop-out with his total indifference.” Michael A. Eaton, Ecclesiastes: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament; Leicester, Eng., and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1983), 93.

137 The phrase “folding of the hands” is used in Prov 6:10; 24:33.

138 Seow confirms the link to cannibalism and cites Lev 26:29; Deut 29:53; Jer 19:9; Ezek 39:28; Mic 3:3. Choon Leon Seow, Ecclesiastes: A New Translation with Introduction (Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 1997), 179.

139 See Prov 6:9-11; 10:4; 12:24; 19:15; 20:13; 24:30-34. Longman, The Book of Ecclesiastes, 137.

140 Tommy Nelson, The Problem of Life with God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 65.

141 Ray Waddle, Against The Grain: Unconventional Wisdom From Ecclesiastes (Nashville: Upper Room, 2005). 68.

142 Preaching Today citation: John Ortberg, Leadership, Vol. 14, no. 3.

143 Longman, The Book of Ecclesiastes, 138.

144 Seow, Ecclesiastes, 180.

145 If Solomon has to choose between the two options of workaholism and laziness, he would choose working hard with a contented heart. Elsewhere Solomon writes, “Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife” (Prov 17:1).

146 Ray Pritchard, Something New Under the Sun: Ancient Wisdom for Contemporary Living (Chicago: Moody, 1998), 123-124.

147 Sermon News: http://www.sermonnews.com/MembersOnlyStory.asp?ID=35.

148 Revised from Nelson, The Problem of Life with God, 66.

149 Pritchard, Something New Under the Sun, 125-126.

150 Nelson, The Problem of Life with God,67.

151 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 97.

152 Eccl 4:12 is often read at weddings with the threefold cord in marriage being understood as the bride, the groom, and Christ. However, jumping to such conclusions violates sound hermeneutical principles. The context of 4:9-12a (the value of “two” people in contrast to “one” and in climactic parallelism with “three”), correlated with similar teaching about two or three gathered together in Jesus’ name (Matt. 18:20), might legitimately suggest applying Eccl 4:12 to the importance of cooperation in the body of Christ. A careful distinction needs to be made between the primary interpretation and possible secondary applications today. William P. Brown, Ecclesiastes: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Interpretation; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000), 52-53.

153 Nelson, The Problem of Life with God, 69.

154 Quoted in Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 101.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2021 in Ecclesiastes

 
 
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