Being a model church

What makes a model ministry? How can we be the church that God wants us to be? [Think about these questions for just a moment.] At Mobberly, we have a mission – people leading people into a life-changing, ever-growing relationship with Jesus Christ. In that, we are engaging our community for Christ. We have come a long way in this endeavor but we still have even further to go. Interestingly, our efforts to be a model church are addressed rather nicely in 1 Thess 2:1-12. In this passage, we will learn from Paul and his coworkers how to work toward a model ministry. We will see that a model ministry is dependent upon each and every individual doing his or her part. Paul tells us that this can happen when we serve Christ with pure and parental hearts. In these verses, Paul says, “A little example can have a big influence.”
1. Serve Christ with a pure heart (2:1-6).
In this section, we will see that Christian ministry can be fruitful when it is carried out with a pure heart that desires to please God. In 2:1-2, Paul explains that God blessed his ministry because of his willingness to preach Christ amidst persecution. He writes, “For you yourselves know, brethren that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.” The word “for” that begins 2:1 indicates that the material in this chapter is the basis for the preceding material in chapter 1. The main point of chapter 1 was Paul’s thanksgiving for the Thessalonians’ faith and dynamic witness. The ironic climax of 1:6-10 was that Paul and his coworkers did not need to preach Christ as much in the areas where the Thessalonians faith had spread (1:8). Consequently, his visit was “not in vain.” On the contrary, it was quite fruitful! Verse 2, then, gives the reason (not a contrast) for Paul’s claim in 2:1. Paul’s coworkers were fruitful because they proclaimed the gospel even in the face of persecution.
In 2:2, Paul states that they had “suffered and been mistreated” in Philippi. That is a bit of an understatement. In Philippi, Paul and Silas had been stripped, beaten, thrown into prison, and their feet fastened in stocks. It had not only been an extremely painful experience but humiliating as well, since they were flogged naked in public, without trial, and in spite of their Roman citizenship. After this, most of us would have taken a vacation or found an excuse not to minister ever again. But Paul and his coworkers headed to Thessalonica where they met up with more strong opposition. Yet, they didn’t say, “We better pull the punch in our preaching so that we don’t offend anyone.” Instead, they preached the Word with no-holds-barred! These guys were animals! In Thessalonica, the attacks were probably coming mostly from without. The Jews, who were jealous of Paul’s success and opposed to his message, stirred up a bunch of rabble rousers and the city authorities against Paul, so that he had to leave town. They even followed him to Berea, 50 miles away, to stir up opposition there.
Acts 17:4 reports that a number of leading women in the city had believed after hearing Paul preach. Perhaps the husbands of these women were saying, “Paul is just another religious huckster like we see come through here all the time. How could you be so dumb as to fall for what he said? He’s just out to make a buck or to con women into sleeping with him. Don’t be so gullible!” To answer these charges, Paul asserts and defends his own integrity with the aim of defending the gospel and of urging the new Christians to walk worthy of God. Steven J. Cole, “Becoming Men of Integrity” (1 Thess 2:1-12): 3-4.
But before we get too excited about Paul and his men, we must note that Paul declares they had boldness “in our God.” It was not their own boldness—it was “in God.” He gave them their boldness.
It is also worth noting that the term “opposition” is the Greek word agon—from which we derive our English word agony. Agon is an athletic term that suggests intense effort and strenuous exertion in the face of hostility and conflict. The Greek world was familiar with athletic contests, and Paul often used this idea to illustrate spiritual truths (see 1 Cor 9:27; Phil 3:13-14; 2 Tim 4:7). Paul used this same word in Phil 1:30 where he pictured the Christian life as an athletic contest that demanded dedication and energy. It had not been easy to start a church in Philippi, and it was not easy to start one in Thessalonica. Cf. Col 1:29 where the verb (agonizomai) is used in much the same way.
This reminds us that ministry to others, the work of leading people to Christ and helping them grow in Christ, is a contest, a spiritual struggle. It is not an easy job—it is physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually demanding and draining. Nevertheless, it has been said, “The door of opportunity swings on the hinges of opposition.” So what are we to do in the face of opposition or indifference?
(1) Refuse to be intimidated. One of the reasons Christianity is so ineffective in our culture is that we are easily intimidated. In other words, we are more scared of people than we are Jesus. Today, will you pray for “holy boldness?” Will you ask the Lord to help you to boldly proclaim at work or school this week?
(2) Rely on prayer. Persevere in prayer despite discouraging circumstances. Will you write down two names this week—one unsaved and one saved—and then begin praying for these two people?
(3) Stay the course. Don’t stop sharing Christ and living the Christian life because people reject you. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to keep on doing what you are already doing, whether anyone pays attention or not. If you keep serving with a pure heart long enough, sooner or later it will pay off. Our Christian lives and ministry are all about perseverance. A little example can have a big influence.
In 2:3-6, Paul details how to serve with a pure heart. Since Paul was being grouped in with religious charlatans and hucksters he responds to personal attacks against his own ministry. Interestingly, these attacks have continued to be levied against Christianity for the last 2,000 years….sometimes legitimately and other times illegitimately. He writes, “For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit” (2:3). In this verse, Paul debunks three accusations surrounding his ministry.
First, Paul’s ministry did not come from error; rather, it was grounded in God’s Word. This is how you can judge a ministry: is it grounded in the truth of God’s Word? An effective ministry is not based upon preferences, opinions, or musings…it is based on God’s truth. The one great advantage that Christians have is that our holy book is accurate. Even though people attempt to find contradictions and errors in the Bible, their attempts are always foiled. In fact, many of Christianity’s greatest detractors have become believers during their quest to disprove Christ or His resurrection.
Second, Paul’s ministry did not come from impurity for he was a man of purity. In this context, the word “impurity” is broader than sexual immorality (cf. 4:7). The NIV is probably right to render the word “impure motives,” alluding to such evils as “ambition, pride, greed, and popularity.” Paul is saying, “I am ‘above reproach’ in every area of my life and ministry.” We can measure the impact of God’s Word upon any group of people by the spiritual caliber of the spokesman. Water flows through pipes. If the pipe is rusty, the water may flow but there will be discoloration and sediment in the water. It will taste of the pipe. Often God’s Word will not taste right if the messenger is unclean.
Third, Paul’s ministry did not come from deceit for he was an honest man. The word “deceit” was originally used of a fisherman who deceives a fish with a lure. Secular Greek literature also used “deceit” for a tavern keeper of the ancient world who would water down the wine of an inebriated person. There are those who also water down the Word. Paul didn’t use trickery or slick salesmanship to sell the gospel, assuring people of things that the gospel never promises. Getz comments, “Here’s where we are dealing with a delicate balance. Jesus stated that we are to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matt 10:16). He also taught His followers how to be ‘fishers of men’ (Matt 4:19). But this in no way gives us license to be cunning, crafty, and tricky.” 51. Sometimes, in an effort to get people to receive Christ, we tell them how Christ will solve all their problems, but we don’t tell them the hardships and cost of following Christ. So they come to Christ under false pretenses. When their problems don’t go away, or grow even worse, they grow bitter and fall away.
Paul’s words in 2:4 mark a stark contrast: “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.” I like what Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” Paul and his coworkers have been “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.” Therefore, they are responsible to proclaim Christ to anyone and everyone who will listen, regardless of what others think or say. The contrast Paul makes is between pleasing men and pleasing God, who examines the heart. In making this claim, Paul is not saying that he did not care how he lived in front of people or what they thought about his way of life, but that he just answered to God. Sometimes you hear men say, “I don’t have to answer to people; I just answer to God” as an excuse for not being accountable. That’s not what Paul meant. In fact, he repeatedly appeals to their knowledge of his blameless life. He simply argues that the dominant goal in his life and preaching is pleasing God above all else.
Let’s suppose that you have been feeling sick lately. When you go to the doctor, he administers a test. The results are not good. The outlook is grim, but the disease is treatable if you get started now. What do you want the doctor to do? If he tells you truth, you’ll be devastated. If he doesn’t, you’ll be dead. Would you rather have him sugarcoat the truth or even lie to you? Or do you want to know the whole truth about your condition? I know the answer for me. When I go to the doctor I want to know the whole truth, even if it hurts. But what if he says, “I want to spare you pain?” I would tell him, “Doc, tell that to my wife and children at my funeral.”
When life and death issues are at stake only the truth will do. When it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Therefore, Christians must be people who hold to the highest possible standards of truth and integrity. A little example can have a big influence. When you and I live for Christ with our lives and our lips, the world can be changed.
In 2:5, Paul continues to detail how to serve with a pure heart. He writes, “For we never came with flattering speech.”
Dale Carnegie once said, “Flattery is telling the other person precisely what he thinks about himself.”
In preaching and ministry many leaders want to tell people what they want to hear. It is easy to say, “You’re a victor, a child of the king, and God wants you healthy, wealthy, and wise.” That’s a popular message and one that many people want to hear. But it is flattery and it is not the gospel.
Cubic zirconium is a mineral that is hard, optically flawless, and cheap. It resembles a diamond so closely that sometimes only a trained eye can tell the difference. But it isn’t a diamond—and that’s the point. A similar comparison exists between true compliments and flattering words. They may look alike, but one is sincere and precious; the other is insincere and cheap. We must ensure that we tell the truth when we minister in God’s name.
Paul also says in 2:5 that he never came with “pretext for greed—God is witness.” Always remember, if the apostle Paul was accused of greed we must expect that we will be as well. Have you ever been accused of greed?
Paul concludes this section in 2:6 with these powerful words: “nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.” For the second time in three verses, Paul brings up pleasing men. Here he says we did not “seek glory from men.”
Our aim must always be to glorify God and please Him. If people are pleased in this process, praise God! But this is not a criterion by which we are to judge our ministry (cf. Gal 1:10).
[Paul’s exhortation has been serving Christ with a pure heart. Why is this so important? Because only when we please God will we see lasting results.]
2. Serve Christ with a parental heart (2:7-12).
In this second section Paul explains effective ministry. To draw this out, he uses paternal metaphors. This is important because some believers have lost family relationships for believing in Christ. In this light, Paul’s extensive use of parental and family images is significant. Through the use of such language he essentially portrays the congregation as a new family, whose relationships substitute for those that have been broken or lost. In 2:7, he compares his pastoral work to that of a nursing mother. Paul writes, “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.” Instead of the common word for “mother” (meter), Paul employs a term with the specialized meaning of “wet nurse” (trophos), someone who suckles children. The use of wet nurses was widespread in the Greco-Roman world, and ancient writers typically portrayed the wet nurse as an important and beloved figure. Since the original text refers to this woman nursing her own children, Paul has in view here the natural mother rather than the hired wet nurse. Yet he uses the unusual term trophos because this metaphor of a nursing mother underscores his sincere love for the Thessalonian Christians. A hired nurse competently cares for the children in her charge, but she cherishes her own children even more.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of mothers is that they are gentle. This is a lovely image that goes against the grain of our mental picture of the apostle Paul. Of all the words we might use to describe him, somehow the word “gentle” doesn’t come to mind. Strong, determined, zealous, and impassioned—yes. But gentle? Nonetheless, there it is. Gentleness is not a quality often respected today. We tend to value tough, strong, assertive leaders. But none of us likes to be bullied; we’d all rather be loved. Thus, Paul illustrates his relationship with the Thessalonians by describing the bond between a nursing mother and her child. Just as a mother nourishes her child through her own body, so Paul as a spiritual parent nourishes his children in the faith with the Word of God.
In 2:8 Paul writes, “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” The word “affection” (homeiromai) is only used here in the NT; however, in Greek literature it was a strong term of affection related to parents longing for children who have passed away. We need to have a heart of compassion and tenderness for others. It takes the gospel, plus us. People will listen to our message when they know we care about them. The old axiom is that people do not care how much we know until they know how much we care.
For most people to believe in Christ for the first time, the personal touch is required. This means that we have folks into our home or take them out to a meal or talk to them in the foyer about a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the responsibility of the church. We all bear the privilege and responsibility to share Christ with others. We then share a responsibility to share our lives with new Christians.
Paul was not too shy or too proud to be an affectionate person. Although he had only recently got to know these Thessalonians he had taken them into his heart, and wanted them to know how much he loved them. They were foreigners to him. He was Jewish and they were Macedonians. But Paul did not let any kind of cultural differences bother him. He is a citizen of God’s worldwide church, and so are they. He loves them with the love of Jesus.
In 2:9 Paul writes, “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” If you read 1 Corinthians 9, Paul makes it clear in that passage that he doesn’t consider it wrong for a man to live off the preaching of the gospel. And in 1 Timothy 5 he says that an elder who both rules and teaches is worthy of “double honor,” which presumes that elders would in fact be paid for their work. But he himself apparently worked in secular jobs wherever he went so that he would be free of any accusations about his motives. His work ethic was exemplary.
Tragically, many Christians give Christianity a black-eye because of their poor work performance. This is a crying shame, since work is an expression of worship and it also serves as a powerful witness. This week, will you go to your cubicle or your classroom or home and work as unto the Lord? As you work your daily grind for the glory of God the mundane and monotonous nature of your work can become extraordinary in its kingdom impact. A little example can have a big influence.
In 2:10 Paul writes, “You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.” The word “devoutly” speaks of inward affections toward both God and man; the word “uprightly” refers to their outward behavior toward God and man; and the word “blamelessly” is the overarching result of being holy and righteous. Paul means to say that no one could make an accusation against him and make it stick. No one could say, “Aha! I gotcha!” To be “blameless” means to live in such a way that no one can successfully make a serious charge against you. It means living in such a way that anyone who finds fault with you would have to tell a lie to do it!
Paul continues his train of thought in 2:11 where he writes, “just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children.” Paul says that he behaved with the Thessalonians as a father with his children. “Exhorting” speaks of pressing upon God’s people the need to live a life of godliness. Often, this takes the form of a rebuke. “Encouraging” points to progress where a spiritual father might say, “I see your growth. I am watching your steps of faith beyond your comfort zone. You are moving toward your potential. I believe in you. I am proud of you.”
“Imploring” is the strongest of the three since it suggests the idea of insisting or requiring that a certain course of action be adopted. This is where we challenge people to cross the line of faith or press on in the faith. We urge people to make a decision once they have been exhorted and encouraged.
Not long ago, I read an interesting statement about the difference between mothers and fathers. Mothers tend to worry about their children’s safety and security; fathers focus on their children’s success. A mother frets over things like tender loving care while fathers push their children hard because they know we live in a world where failure is easy and success difficult. Both are absolutely necessary—in raising children and in serving the Lord.
The purpose of this entire section comes to a crescendo in 2:12b: “so that you would walkin a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (cf. 4:1). Paul exhorts the church to walk in a worthy manner. Spiritually speaking, this is putting one foot in front of the other and taking steps of forward progress. For this, Paul doesn’t give them a list of rules, rituals, and regulations. Instead, he urges them to become like Jesus in their character and conduct. This is simply responding to God’s call upon our lives.
Paul refers to “His own kingdom.” We must temper and tune our lives to this calling. We adjust ourselves to God; He does not adapt Himself to us. We could accept a call to many kingdoms. Those kingdoms would compete for our commitment and these false allegiances will lure us away from our ultimate purpose. Many philosophies will pander to our baser motives. God designed us for the highest calling. The chief end of Paul’s ministry is a church that is obeying God. Fascinatingly, the word translated “glory” (doxa) here is used in 2:6. In this way, the theme is repeated. If I know that it is God’s kingdom of glory I am being called into, then I will not be so worried about the praise of men. It is the eternal kingdom of the glory of God that I’m being called to, and therefore I want to live a life worthy of Him. This type of life is not a means of earning God’s favor. On the contrary, it is clearly a response to God who calls us to Himself. Paul’s prayer is that we would express our gratitude to God for who He is and all He has done, in the form of a thank you card.
Spiritually, you may be nursing, crawling, walking, or running. The important thing is that you’re moving forward in your maturity. If you are growing, God is pleased. He wants the best for you. He yearns for you to be conformed to the image of Jesus. He will not stop until He accomplishes this in you. Today, will you respond to Him? Will you take small steps that will help you grow as a spouse, a parent, a worker, a church member? You can be used by God to make an eternal difference in your home, work, and church.

Encouraging our leaders and others

Do you have a favorite sports team? If so, I want you to lock that team into your mind for just a moment. Perhaps you graduated from the TAMU or UT, so you are a die-hard Aggie or Longhorn. Maybe you live and breathe the Dallas Cowboys or the Rangers. If so, God bless you. What happens when your favorite team wins a big game? You respond like this: “WE DID IT! WE WON!” You may run around the living room high-fiving, chest-bumping, and doing a little jig. Now my question is: What role did you play in this victory? Maybe you bought a jersey or a cap, but the truth is you didn’t do anything that contributed to your team’s success. Yet, you feel intense ownership because this is YOUR team.

If you and I can feel this strongly about our favorite sports team, how much more intense should our feelings be for our local church? We need to think of the church as “we,” not “they.” Although churches are made up of individuals, when you and I speak of the church we must never say “they.” Instead we should say “we”…for we are the church!

 

In the book of 1 Thessalonians, we will learn about a church that we can get excited about. Although there are no “perfect” churches, the church in Thessalonica is a model church. As we study this church, we will learn how we can be a church that glorifies God and leads the world to Him. Specifically, in 1 Thess 1:1-10, we will see that God uses the church to encourage leaders. Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

 

  1. Leaders need encouragement in ministry (1:1-5).

In this first section, we discover that even godly and competent leaders need encouragement. Even though many leaders look confident and secure on the outside, on the inside they can be discouraged and insecure. God’s leaders are constantly under attack from Satan and need to be encouraged. In 1:1, Paul introduces his letter with these words: “Paul and Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.” Paul has written 13 New Testament books, yet this is the shortest of any of Paul’s greetings. He is obviously fond of this church and they are familiar with Paul and his traveling companions. Paul does not include his official title “apostle” in either 1 or 2 Thessalonians. This is also true of Philippians and Philemon. In Paul’s other nine epistles he uses his title, most likely because he is “under fire” from others. The reason for its omission in every case appears to have been the intimate and affectionate character of his relations with the parties addressed.

Paul includes “Silvanus and Timothy” because they were with him in Corinth when he wrote this letter, and these men had also assisted him in the building up of the Thessalonian church. More importantly, Paul seems to be affirming team leadership as the basic New Testament pattern. Paul was a team player that shared ministry and trained others to do ministry.

 

In your area of ministry, are you seeking to build a team? Have you sought to train others for ministry? Do you seek to train others so well that they surpass you in your ministry? Our MBC leaders have a team ministry philosophy. We are all co-equals who simply fulfill different responsibilities.

 

When Billy Graham received his Congressional Medal of Honor, the first thing he is reported to have said upon receiving the award is, “This has been a team effort from the very beginning,” and he proceeded to name the people who had ministered unto him through the years. In closing he said, “We did this together.” What a humble and God-honoring attitude!

 

It is worth noting that the phrase “in God” is as unusual as the phrase “in Christ” is familiar. The Thessalonians needed to be reminded that their sphere of protection and provision was “in God.” In the midst of tribulation and suffering it is easy to forget this. Still, in the greeting, Paul accords Jesus Christ equality with God the Father. Furthermore, he uses the full title of our Savior: “Lord Jesus Christ.” “Lord” refers to Yahweh—the God of the Old Testament. As “Lord,” Christ is God and the supreme Creator and Sustainer of the universe. “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.” This is His earthly name and points to His humanity. Yet, Jesus is not just an exalted man but the eternal God who became man that He might die for our sin. “Christ” refers to the long promised Messiah who is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

 

The final words of Paul’s greeting are “grace and peace.” “Grace” was a common Greek salutation that meant “greeting” or “rejoice.” “Peace” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew shalom meaning “favor,” “well-being,” and “prosperity in the widest sense,” especially prosperity in spiritual matters. Paul used both words when he greeted the recipients of his epistles. God’s grace is the basis for and leads to our peace. When you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, He gives you grace that leads to peace with God.

 

Paul now launches into the longest thanksgiving section in the entire New Testament. He is pumped about this church! Although Paul is quite pleased with this church, there is another reason he spends so much time expressing thanks. It is fairly certain that this congregation lacks confidence in their salvation. Consequently, Paul spends time affirming them. In 1:2-3 he writes, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father.”

 

It’s been said, “You can tell a man’s values by what he appreciates.” In these verses, Paul expresses his deep appreciation for the spiritual maturity of the Thessalonians. The words “always” and “constantly” don’t indicate an uninterrupted task of incessant praying, but rather a faithful, regular pattern of prayer and thanksgiving. Nevertheless, these verses are challenging. They call you and me to pray for our church, specifically. Not just a generic, “Lord, bless our church,” but specific expressions of gratitude for individuals in our church. Start with your small group. Cry out to God for individuals in your ministry. Paul had a prayer list. Do you? Use a prayer list, a prayer diary, a prayer card. Stick a photo on the fridge, on the bathroom mirror, or on the steering wheel of your car. Whatever it takes!

 

In 1:3, Paul shares three characteristics he appreciates about the Thessalonian believers. First, he mentions their “work of faith.” Salvation is God’s gift. Faith rests upon the work of God, not our work. Yet, when we rest on God’s work, God produces His work in us. Paul blesses these believers because of the works that followed their faith. Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

 

Second, Paul refers to their “labor of love.” The word “labor” denotes wearying toil involving sweat and fatigue to the point of exhaustion. It is a love of blood, sweat, and tears. I remember one summer when I worked as a handyman’s apprentice. It was hard work. I labored because I had to, but I also labored because I wanted to. You see, I was working to learn things I have used ever since. This was a valuable time for me, but it was some of the hardest work I have ever done.

 

I know many individuals in our church who work their tails off. Like most people, these folks have a spouse, children, and work responsibilities. Nevertheless, they refuse to say, “I don’t have time to serve the Lord. I have family responsibilities, I have work responsibilities, and I need my free time.” These choice people are concerned about all of these responsibilities, but they are equally concerned about their obligation to their Lord. Interestingly, it is those people in our church who serve the most that also tend to have the best marriages and families. They are also the most successful in their careers. God is no man’s debtor. If you labor for Him, He will multiply your time and bless you to boot!

 

Lastly, Paul refers to their “steadfastness of hope.” Our English word “steadfastness” seems soft and passive. Yet, the Greek term behind this translation is tenacious and aggressive. Similarly, the English word “hope” transmits the idea of wishful thinking. We say, “I hope it is sunny tomorrow.” We mean by that, “I wish for another warm day tomorrow.” Biblical hope, however, is not wishful thinking. No, hope has the idea that we have assurance in the future because of who God is. Hope helps us claim the promises of God. In other words, the problems we currently face do not daunt us because we see beyond the moment. We possess a holy stick-to-it-iveness that enables us to remain steadfast in the midst of trials and difficulties.

 

Our dog, Maggie can hold onto a toy longer than any dog we have ever had. Do you have this type of tenacity? If God calls you to a task, do you refuse to let go? Those who want to advance the cause of Christ in the world cannot give up.

These three characteristics can only be lived out by noting the last phrase of 1:3: “in the Lord Jesus Christ.” When we abide in Christ and live in Him, supernatural living occurs. This is what is really exciting!

 

“What do I give thanks for?” Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

Paul continues his thought in 1:4 and explains why the Thessalonians are able to live such godly lives. The short and sweet phrase he pens is: “knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you.” With the word “choice,” we are confronted with the doctrine of election, a doctrine that has different effects on various people. It can be a frightening, confusing, and maddening doctrine, for in election man’s finite mind meets head-on with the infinite mind of God.

 

But this issue doesn’t have to be as hard as we like to make it. Scripture teaches both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. How does all this work together? I’m not sure. But I know this: We will never understand the total concept of election this side of heaven. But we should not ignore this important doctrine that is taught throughout the Bible. In the end, we must recognize that the doctrine of election includes these two irreconcilable truths that are nonetheless true.

 

It is sufficient to ask this question: Do you understand how a brown cow can eat green grass and give white milk and yellow butter? Of course not! Yet, we enjoy the products. In the same way, even though we can’t completely understand or explain election, we should still enjoy it because the Bible teaches it.

 

Since Paul doesn’t elaborate on the doctrine of election neither will I. I will just quickly break down this phrase. First of all, Paul is confident that the Thessalonians are elect so he uses the word “know.” There are no doubts, no ifs, no maybes, and no buts. We can know that we are elect, if we have believed in Christ. Works give further human or visible confirmation of one’s election (James 2:14-26). Paul affirms the Thessalonians in three expressions: (1) brethren, (2) beloved by God, and (3) chosen of God.

 

When it comes to election, all you need to know is this:

(1) Salvation begins with God.

(2) Salvation involves God’s love.

(3) Salvation requires faith. God chose you to be saved. If He had not chosen you, you would not be saved today.

 

Election and evangelism go together. The person who says, “God will save those He wants to save and He doesn’t need my help!” understands neither election nor evangelism. In the Bible, election always involves responsibility. God chose Israel and made them an elect nation so that they might witness to the Gentiles.

 

Sometimes we speak of “finding” the Lord, but if He had not found us first, we would never have found Him at all. Salvation begins with God, not with us. He chooses us and then we believe. Salvation is all by grace, all of God, all the time. If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, this should give you incredible confidence. The assurance of your salvation does not depend upon you; it rests on God’s choice of you.

 

Many godly people try to explain away election and in doing so remove one of the strongest arguments for assurance and the security of the believer. The truth is: Nothing gives security to salvation like the concept of election. God is the creator, sustainer, and preserver of your salvation. Even if you are faithless, He remains faithful (2 Tim 2:13) because He has chosen you and adopted you into His family. You may choose to fall away from God, yet He will not choose to cast you out of His family (John 6:37-40). He loves you and will remain loyal in His commitment to you.

 

Paul is confident of the Thessalonians’ election because of the evidence of God’s grace at work in them and the gospel that he delivered. He concludes this section in 1:5 with a “triple whammy:” “for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know that kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”

 

(1) God’s election is effective because it is the Word of God. The gospel is based upon the promise of God who says, “Whosoever will believe in Christ can have eternal life.”

(2) God’s election is effective because it comes in the power of the Holy Spirit. Even when we have done our best as preachers, it will count for nothing without the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the hearers. God must prepare hearts and make them receptive to His Word.

(3) God’s election is effective because it produces deep conviction in the hearts of the hearers. This means people are so deeply convicted of their sin and their need for a savior that they run to the cross and embrace Jesus as their only hope of heaven. The phrase “full conviction” also means that the preacher and the hearers can be confident that the Word of God has been preached.

 

Paul closes this section by saying, “The gospel is not word only, for talk is cheap. We proved to be godly men among you.” The gospel will be most effective when Christians live a life worthy of their calling. This means cultivating the fruit of the Spirit and godly character.

John Wooden, the former basketball coach at UCLA said, “Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.” Will you work on your character this week? Will you strive to become a contagious Christian? Will you become a person of faith, love, and hope? Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

[Leaders need encouragement in ministry because it is easy to become discouraged. In our next section we will clearly see that…]

  1. Our lives can provide much needed encouragement (1:6-10).

In this section, Paul shares the specific reasons why he is so excited about the Thessalonians. Before we jump into these reasons, we must remember that this church is not typical of many churches today. It was not even typical of churches in Paul’s day. (Think Corinth) Nevertheless, the church at Thessalonica is God’s ideal—it is the type of church that He wants every church to become. Sometimes you see a label on a bottle of powerful cleaner (antifreeze, car window cleaner, etc.) that says, “Do not use at full strength. Dilute with water first,” because the liquid is too strong in its undiluted form. In this section we see Christianity in its earliest, undiluted form. No wonder the first Christians turned the world upside down. We need to work through this section and pray for undiluted Christianity. In the paragraphs that follow, Paul provides several reasons why he is particularly excited about the faith of the Thessalonian believers.

 

  1. The church followed their spiritual leaders (1:6a).Paul writes, “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord.”The word translated “imitators” comes from the word mimos meaning “a mimic.” Throughout his letters, Paul urges believers to “mimic” him as he mimics Christ. It is important that young Christians respect spiritual leadership and learn from mature believers. Just as a newborn baby needs a family, so a newborn Christian needs the local church and the leaders there. It is equally important that leaders give believers something to look up to and mimic. Fortunately, many of you are worthy of imitation. You are an inspiration to me in every area of your lives.

 

  1. The church received the Word (1:6b).The Thessalonian Christians “received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.”Paul does not use the typical word for “received,” instead he uses an unusual word that refers to the warm welcome of a guest (as in Luke 10:8, 10; Heb 11:31). The Thessalonians seized the gospel with joy even in the midst of suffering. They received the Word with gladness. They could not get enough of it. What a congregation! A dream for every preacher! They were hungry for the Word; they were drinking in every word that was spoken; they were sitting on the edge of their seat. And they kept coming back for more. Does this describe you? Do you look forward to coming to church to hear God’s Word? Do you look for opportunities throughout the week to get into the Word?

 

Please note that the Thessalonian believers received the Word “in much tribulation.” The word “tribulation” means “to press.” Do you ever feel like the world, your flesh, and Satan are pressing in on you? Trusting in Christ does not guarantee a life free from tension. These believers experienced rejection from family members, loss of employment, and social disgust. Today, many believers experience physical persecution and even martyrdom. Yet, we must recognize that God may bring suffering for the sake of an effective corporate witness. Persecution can be the fastest way to grow a church in health and number. I know some of you willingly suffer for Christ. You’re willing to be an outcast at work. You don’t always fit in with your family and friends because of your faith. But you continue to persevere in Christ. I can assure you that God will honor you in the life to come.

 

  1. The church encouraged other churches (1:7). By following their leaders and receiving the Word in much tribulation, yet with joy, the Thessalonians “became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” This verse is the only place in the New Testament where a whole congregation is viewed as an example for other churches. And notice the word “example” is singular. Paul is referring to the whole church, not just a few standout members. The word “example” refers not merely to being an example which others are to follow, but also a pattern which influences them.

 

It’s not enough to passively live our lives before other Christians. Sometimes we must be more direct in our influence. Perhaps you have seen star- shaped cookies. Those cookies were prepared using a mold. But it isn’t enough to show off the mold, one must press the dough into the mold and onto the baking sheet. This is what Paul is talking about—intentionally influencing Christians for Christ. When we do this, we will be able to lead the world.

  1. The church spread the Word (1:8).The Thessalonian believers were both “receivers” (1:5) and “transmitters”—the Word went out from them. Paul writes, “For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.”The verb “sounded out” is not used anywhere else in the New Testament. Outside of the NT, it is used of a clap of thunder or the sound of a trumpet. It means “to reverberate like an echo.” Wherever Paul went, the people told him about the faith of the Thessalonian believers.

 

It is interesting to note that the town of Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia. We may not have our church in Austin, but if we showcase godly lives and sound forth the Word, we are capable of impacting our entire state. But this must involve you. That is why we are trying to engage our community.

 

For most people to believe in Christ for the first time, the personal touch is required. This means that we have folks into our home or take them out to a meal or talk to them at work about a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. Most people require a personal invitation in a one-on-one context. This is the responsibility of the church. We all bear the privilege and responsibility to share Christ with others. The Word must sound forth from YOU!

 

When I was in 7th grade, I tried to play the guitar. I took lessons because I wanted to lead music in our youth group. I was interested in 70s music and wanted to really rock the house. Unfortunately, I gave up the guitar after just a few months of unsuccessful lessons. I never did learn how to rock. I believe there are some Christians out there who want to rock. They want to “sound forth” God’s Word but have never learned how and have struggled to be faithful in this task. God doesn’t want you to give up; He wants you to persist until He makes our church what He wants it to be. Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

 

  1. The church turned to God (1:9). Paul writes, “For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God.”

The people throughout Thessalonica and Macedonia saw a change in the Thessalonian saints and they talked up the church. This is the best form of advertising there is! What made this church “the talk of the town?” They turned to God from idols and immediately began serving the Lord. Note the order of words here. We would normally think in terms of turning from idols to God but here Paul’s argument is that they first turned to God and then away from idols. The Thessalonians didn’t leave their idols and then go out to find God. They turned to God and then left their idols. Conversion is not only turning from something but it is a turning to Someone. Don’t worry about cleaning yourself up first. Let God do this. Now not everyone turns immediately or sufficiently, but this is God’s business. He is more interested in the growth and health of His children than we are. Let Him work in His time and in His way.

 

  1. The church waited for Jesus’ return(1:10).Paul writes that these believers who converted to Christ responded by “wait[ing] for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” The word “wait” is only used here in the New Testament, but it is used in the Greek Old Testament to describe a servant’s eager waiting for his wages (Job 7:2). It is also used to describe the longing of an afflicted person for his deliverance (Isa 59:11). The word means literally, to wait up. The Thessalonians were waiting up for the Lord’s return.

 

The “coming wrath” could refer to a couple of significant events.

(1) It could speak of the frightening eternal judgment of God.

(2) It could refer to the tribulation period when God pours out His wrath on earth for a period of seven years.

It seems to me that “the coming wrath” of 1:10 is best understood to refer to a particular wrath, the wrath of the Tribulation.

 

Chronologically, the next great expression of God’s wrath is the Tribulation, which is a time of God’s wrath poured out on a Christ-rejecting world. The judgment of the Great White Throne (see Rev 20:11-15)—a judgment of all the unbelieving of all generations—does not occur until after the millennial reign of Christ, which occurs after the Tribulation and the events of Revelation 6-19. In this book, the resurrection of believers and the deliverance of believers are closely related or tied together (see 1 Thess 4:13f). Thus, the implication is that deliverance comes through the rapture.

 

When you schedule a family vacation, likely you count down the days until you can “take off.” If someone is engaged, they count down to the wedding day! If someone has a spouse in the military and they go away for a year, does the family s count the days until they return? Looking for the Lord to return at any moment will change our lives. It will transform our way of doing things. It will change the way we deal with temptations. It will alter our priorities. It will lead us to do something about broken relationships. Many of you are living this type of life and I thank God for you. Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

Life’s final exam

The end of the school year is nearly upon us. What does this mean? Two words: summer vacation. But before you enjoy your summer vacation, I have two more words for you: final exams. That’s right! GULP! Final exams are a part of life. No student can escape them; they are inevitable. Yet, most people assume that final exams only belong in school. Today, however, we will discover that there are final exams in God’s Word.
As we prepare to conclude our course in Ecclesiastes, we are going to be given a final exam. I want you to picture King Solomon at the front of the classroom, passing everyone a copy of the test. “Let’s test your wisdom,” he declares. “Use a number two pencil, and keep your eyes on your own scroll. The test is going to cover all twelve chapters of Ecclesiastes. You’ll be asked about life, death, pleasure, suffering, food, work, money, poverty, wisdom, foolishness—pretty much everything ‘under the sun.’” “That’s a lot of material,” you whisper in panic to the fellow in the next seat. “What if I don’t have a clue?” “Whenever you don’t know one, the probable answer is ‘vanity,’” your friend whispers back. “This works every time. When I’m stumped I just write, ‘Life is filled with such questions that can’t be answered. This too is vanity.’ Teacher likes that one.” You mutter, “I hope he was serious when he said that true wisdom is realizing how much we don’t know. If he sticks to that one, I’ll get an A.”
Interestingly, in Solomon’s final exam, he reverses the expected formula. For Solomon it is exam first, lessons later. In school, we study and then take an exam. Solomon claims that in the real world we face the exam, and then we study. In Eccl 12:9-14, the final six verses of the book, Solomon gives us two homework assignments to pass life’s exam.
1. Take God’s Word seriously (12:9-12).
In this first section, we will be reminded of the awesome power of God’s Word. Specifically, in 12:9-10 we discover the time, energy, and skill that went into the writing of Ecclesiastes. Solomon writes, “In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly.” Some scholars believe that 12:9-14 are the words of an editor that came along after Solomon penned this great book. Yet, it is more likely that in these verses Solomon speaks in the third person. Practically speaking, this is a simple way of boasting in God’s Word without coming across in an arrogant fashion. In 12:9-10, Solomon describes four activities of a wise sage. These activities are not just true of Solomon, but should be true of all Christian teachers and leaders. As you read through these activities, ask yourself how you can improve in each of these areas.
o A wise person faithfully teaches people knowledge. Solomon “taught people knowledge.” He could do so because he was a “wise man.” He became “wise” by growing old and learning from his experiences. Nothing teaches like life. This is why we say to wise and mature twenty and thirty year olds, “You are wise beyond your years.” It’s because you can read all the books that you want, but life is the ultimate teacher. Solomon says that those who have lived long and experienced life now have a duty to impart the wisdom learned to the next generation. The goal ought to be to keep future generations from making mistakes. So why is it that these groups never seem to cohabitate? Both parties can be guilty of pride and arrogance. The youth love to pretend that they don’t need help, despite the fact that their world is falling apart at the seams. The wise assume that the youth are just supposed to know how to do life. Furthermore, there are natural apprehensions and fears that keep the wise and young separate. Many young folks are scared to approach an older, wiser person. Many older, wiser folks do not feel like they have anything to offer anyone. Today, these trends must change. If you are an older, wiser person, will you commit to be a mentor? If you are a young person, will you seek out those who can help you?
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of a young pastor who rose to preach on Psalm 23. He gave it his best effort but never connected with the audience. Afterward, an old man got up to speak. He bowed his head, his hands quivering, and his body worn from years of hard work. Gripping the podium, he began to recite, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” As he finished the audience sat in deep silence, profoundly moved. When the young pastor asked the old man why his words had made such a difference, the old man said simply, “You know the psalm, I know the Shepherd.” The truth is some things are learned only through experience.
Is there a man or woman in your life who you respect who can take you to the next level? Perhaps, like Solomon, it is an author you can read, or a preacher you can listen to, or it may even be a person you can meet with on a regular basis. Do so today!
o A wise person carefully studies God’s Word. Solomon “pondered, searched out many proverbs, and arranged many proverbs.” 1 Kgs 4:32 informs us that Solomon wrote thousands of proverbs. A proverb is an earthly saying containing heavenly truth. The word’s basic meaning is “to be straight” (cf. 1:15; 7:13). It’s distilled wisdom, a practical word for a complicated world. Proverbs are God’s “sound bites.” The term “proverbs” refers to the entire book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon did not merely share with people the first thing that came into his head. He thought before he spoke. He spent time searching out what he was going to teach. This activity is part of the editing/compiling process, which took place over many years. This implies a labor of study. Solomon’s work is similar to a description of a scribe’s work in Ezra 7:10: study, practice, teach. If you are a leader or teacher, does this describe you? Do you take God’s Word seriously? Even if you don’t consider yourself a teacher or leader, as a Christian we are all to understand God’s Word for ourselves (Acts 17:11). How are you presently fulfilling your responsibility?
o A wise person effectively communicates. Solomon “sought to find delightful words.” He had a sense of God’s presence and power, using them to communicate His will to others. Furthermore, he was on a quest to articulate God’s Word to others. It was not enough to have knowledge. It was not even enough to have it arranged intelligently. The Preacher also labored to speak in a pleasing manner. The NIV says that he picked “just the right words.” He gave thought and effort to communicating in a way that would capture the attention of his readers. In your class or small group, do you seek to craft your words in a way that people can hear? Do you work hard at perfecting your speech and content? Or are you currently satisfied with your abilities? It has been said, “A teacher is someone who talks in other people’s sleep.” My prayer is that this is not true of any teacher or leader in our church. Even if you are not a formal teacher or leader, in your conversations do you seek to be an effective communicator? Is your speech gracious and seasoned with salt (Col 4:6)?
Is it filled with grace and truth (John 1:14)?
o A wise person correctly presents truth. Solomon “sought to write words of truth correctly.” He had a sense of God’s presence and power, using them to communicate His will to others. Furthermore, he was on a quest to communicate truth. We live in a relativistic age. People have bought into the idea that truth is relative. We hear that something might be “true” to one person but not true to another. The Bible knows nothing of such a concept. Truth IS. A style of teaching means nothing without truth. A lie all dressed up in eloquence is still a lie. This tells me something important about the book of Ecclesiastes. In spite of its often dark and gloomy view, it is a book that teaches truth. It is written to give us a realistic view of life that, as a result, we might live for the Lord.
Think about it. Most cults do not outwardly reject God’s Word, but they offer new revelations that add to God’s Word. Most cults are begun by founders disenchanted with the existing church and its beliefs, so they formulate distinctive doctrines to give them a new identity. Individuals do the same. More than ever, people are viewing God’s Word like a buffet line in a restaurant, taking what they like—maybe a little bit of what is good for them—and leaving the rest for someone else. In effect, the diet a person receives is more a matter of what is palatable to them than what will truly nourish them.
Yet, Vance Havner said, “The Word of God is either absolute or obsolete.” Will you proclaim the truth regardless of the consequences? Will you refuse to compromise?
In 12:11-12, Solomon continues to describe how Ecclesiastes can be used in people’s lives. In 12:11 he writes, “The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd.” Solomon states that the words of Ecclesiastes are powerful. He uses two memorable metaphors that refer to how Ecclesiastes stimulates us to action. “Goads” are long wooden rods with an iron point used for driving oxen and other animals. A goad is poked at the animal to make him move in the desired direction. It represents moral guidance and stimulus in human affairs. Nails were used by shepherds to fasten their tents. They are hammered to keep something in place. Goads are designed to motivate the sluggish and nails are intended to secure the drifting.
The book of Ecclesiastes (and the whole of Scripture) accomplishes both of these purposes. It “afflicts the comfortable and it comforts the afflicted.” If you are comfortable with your life, God’s Word acts as a goad to move you out of your comfort zone. It pushes you to do those things you ought to do. If you are burdened and tossed to and fro by the winds of life, it provides a haven of stability.
Ecclesiastes has this type of power because the book is “given by one Shepherd.” In the Old Testament, the title “shepherd” is often used of God. Solomon is saying that his words are given straight from God. This is a very strong argument for the inspiration of Ecclesiastes. It seems clear that Solomon went out of his way to emphasize this doctrine because he figured many would have problems with his book. Boy, was he ever right!
Some have felt that this book should not have been canonized because of some of the seemingly contradictory verses that appear. But Solomon is clear that this book is from God and it can be trusted in its entirety. I have found this to be true in my own personal experience. This book has impacted me more than any other book I’ve studied. It has taught me more about contentment, the brevity of life, and priorities than any other book of the Bible.
Solomon concludes this section in 12:12 with these words: “But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.” This is a favorite verse for high school and college students who are weary of study. But Solomon isn’t telling us not to love and appreciate books. If he was, I would be in deep trouble. The contrast is not between the study of canonical versus noncanonical wisdom but between failure to appreciate wisdom on the one hand and excessive zeal for study on the other. Solomon is warning us that we shouldn’t study other books to the exclusion of Scripture. Other books were given for our information, but the Bible was given for our transformation.
I don’t read many secular works. It’s not that they’re bad; it’s that they’re just eye candy to me. Every time I start reading something outside the Bible, I think about what I am missing: words of eternal life. It’s like that commercial tagline: “I could’ve had a V8.” I could’ve been reading Ecclesiastes. I challenge you to make sure that you are consistently reading God’s Word and prioritizing God’s Word over other reading. Do you read the newspaper before you read the Bible? Do you check your email or your favorite web page instead of reading the Bible? We need to be careful not to put human writings above the divine Word of God.
[Why should we take God’s Word seriously? Because God’s Word is powerful and can make an eternal difference in the lives of people. The second homework assignment that Solomon gives is…]
2. Consider God’s judgment appropriately (12:13-14).
In the final two verses, Solomon urges us to prepare for judgment day by fearing God and keeping His commands. These two verses summarize the book of Ecclesiastes and ultimately the whole of Scripture. In 12:13, the teacher writes these pointed words: “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.” To “fear God and keep His commands” are not suggestions or options—they are commands! Solomon commands you and me to fear Him and obey His commands. In other words, take God seriously and do what He says. But we need to look at this a little more carefully.
First, the phrase “fear God” is terribly misunderstood and rarely proclaimed; however, it is paramount throughout the Scriptures. The Bible speaks of our love to God, His name, His law, and His Word, a total of 88 times. This breaks down to 45 references in the Old and 43 references in the New Testament. The Bible speaks of our trusting in God, His name, and His Word, 91 times. This breaks down to 82 times in the Old and 9 times in the New Testament.
When we come to the subject of the fear of God, the Bible speaks of it 278 times! I am referring to all of the places in Scripture where it speaks of men fearing God, His name, His Law, or His Word. In the Old Testament there are 235 references to the fear of God. In the New Testament there are 43 references to the fear of God, which, by the way, is the same number of references as man’s love to God. So whatever the phrase “fear God” means, it is everywhere throughout the Bible, therefore, it is critical for us to understand.
Typically, the “fear of God” is defined as “reverential awe.” There is truth to this definition as it pertains to God as Creator. I have been to the Grand Canyon, the mountains of Alaska and the volcanos of Hawaii. On each of these occasions when I have gazed on God’s majestic handiwork, I felt small, fearful, and awestruck.
God wants us to stand in awe of who He is and all that He is. But our definition of the fear of God must also encompass His judgment (see 12:14). This leads us to also include in our definition downright fear or terror. If you and I understand that our God is a consuming fire that is able to destroy both body and soul in hell and that as believers we will give an account of our lives to Jesus Christ, we will have some holy fear. But many of us do not fear God. What do we fear? Among the top ten fears of parents are saving for retirement, dying before the children are grown, gas prices, the threat of terrorism, and traffic. It seems that we fear everything and everyone but God. This is sheer insanity! Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) once said, “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that, when you fear God, you fear nothing else; whereas, if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.” This is the way the believer should live.
In Prov 1:7 Solomon writes, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” In Isa 66:2b the Lord declares, “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” The man or woman that God uses most powerfully is the one who expresses both awe and obedience. God longs for you and me to humble our hearts and prostrate our souls before Him. If you and I are to fear God properly, we must have a high view of God. Many years ago, A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
Second, to “keep His commandments” is to obey the Law. Fortunately for us, Jesus summed up the commandments into one central, basic command: “To love the Lord your God” and “your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:34-40). This is the chief end of humankind. This phrase literally reads, “Because this is all of man” or “because this is the all of man.” The implication is that “this is the whole duty of man.”
I am always so impressed with men who can just toss the directions and dive right into a project. Yet, I have seen such men confound themselves and have to return to the discarded directions. Similarly, God created life and He alone knows how it should be managed. He wrote the “instruction manual” and wise is the person who reads and obeys. “When all else fails, read the instructions!”
So why are we called to fear God and obey His commands? In 12:14 Solomon states, “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” Winston Churchill’s (1874-1965) epitaph reads, “I am ready to meet my maker. Whether my maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” Apparently, Churchill did not understand the fear of God and the judgment that is awaiting him.
The Bible teaches that there is an appointed day of judgment where we will have to give an account of our lives. Through the Lord Jesus Christ, God will hold us accountable for our thoughts, motives, words, and deeds. Everyone is answerable to God for everything, whether obvious or concealed, good or evil. I find it mildly horrifying that even the hidden things will be judged. The implication is that the glory and reward we enjoy on earth and in eternity will depend on the lives we live here on earth. The natural and inevitable conclusion is that you and I had better live our lives appropriately in light of God’s judgment.
I know many people who struggle with questions of right and wrong—especially in those areas for which we have no explicit guidance in the Bible. They truly want to please the Lord, but worry about their daily decisions. Here’s a simple question that will replace many of the dos and don’ts: Can I do this to God’s glory? That is, if I do this, will it enhance God’s reputation in the world? Will those who watch me know that I know God, from my behavior? Or will I simply have to explain this away or apologize for it later.
God is always watching everything we do. His eyes are always on us, nothing escapes His notice, and all of life must be lived for His approval.
For years, the opening of ABC’s The Wide World of Sports illustrated “the agony of defeat” through the painful ending of an attempted ski jump. The skier appeared in good form as he headed down the slope, but then, for no apparent reason, he tumbled head-over-heels off the side of the jump and bounced off the supporting structure. What viewers didn’t know was that he chose to fall. Why? As he explained later, the jump surface had become too fast, and midway down the ramp he realized that if he completed the jump, he would land on the level ground, beyond the safe landing zone, which could have been fatal. As it was, the skier suffered no more than a headache from the tumble. The fear of the slope, the fear of flying too high, and the fear of the fall led him to change course.
In the same manner, a proper fear of God ought to lead to a course correction. For this passage and the entire book of Ecclesiastes teaches that the fear of God leads to life. A biblical fear of God will lead to life in this world and the world to come. If you think you have been enjoying life, but haven’t been fearing God, think again. The fear of God leads to life…and only the fear of God will lead to life. Today, is there an area of your life that the Lord wants to correct? Will you respond to His goads and nails? Will you rest in your Shepherd and trust that He alone can satisfy you?

Make the most of every day

Like many of you, I have been in a car accident or two.  I have also been in several near misses and a few spins on the ice.  Each time something like this happens, I get another reminder that God is not finished with me yet. I have also had my share of loved ones dying throughout my life, and particularly in the last 15 years.  God reminds me each time that I am confronted with my own mortality or that of someone else that I need to invest well in the relationships that matter most.

Since that time, Eccl 11:7-12:8 has taken on great meaning. In this passage, I believe Solomon says, “Live while you are dying.” If you know country music, this may sound a lot like Tim McGraw’s song, “Live Like You Were Dying.” The notable revisions are the words “while” and “are”—live while you are dying. By modifying this statement, I have chosen to focus on the biblical truth that all people are appointed to die. Thus, you don’t have to live like you were dying because your body is actually dying at this very moment. It is, therefore, more accurate to say you need to “live while you are dying.” In this memorable passage, Solomon shares two exhortations that will enable us to live while we’re dying.

 

  1. Rejoice now while you can (11:7-10).

In this first section, Solomon focuses on the importance of living our lives to the fullest before we grow too old. In 11:7 he writes, “The light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun.” In Scripture, “light” is often a synonym for “life” and the word translated “pleasant” is often used in reference to honey. I may not necessarily be a fan of honey, but I do enjoy it on occasion. The point is that life is “sweet” and should be savored like honey. Thus, the phrase “light is pleasant/sweet” means “it’s good to be alive.” So feel free right now to rock your head back and say, “Ahhh.”

 

In 11:7, Solomon continues and makes use of a truism of life—that seeing the sun typically brings delight. We often say things like, “What a beautiful day it is!” “Don’t you just love these sunny days?” Solomon references those days when you wake up and everything works. You know, those days when you wake up five minutes before your alarm goes off and you can breathe through both of your nostrils. Your bum back is not hurting, your legs aren’t hurting, and your relationships are working. We’ve all had days when the music sounded better and we just wanted to roll down our car windows and enjoy life because everything worked. Solomon says, “Enjoy life because there are some amazing days.” Feel free to let out a big, “YES!” Or maybe a little James Brown, “I feel good.”

Now before we get too carried away, we will see why Solomon is not a guy most people would choose to have over for Sunday lunch. He moves from “Life is sweet” to “I will ramble on about death for the rest of my time with you.” In 11:8 he puts it like this: “Indeed, if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything that is to come will be futility.”

 

Solomon exhorts us to “rejoice” in all of the days that we are fortunate to live. Notice that three letter word “all.” Even if we live to be a ripe old age, we are to rejoice in all of our years. Yep, that’s right…even the seventies, eighties, and nineties. A simple way we can do this is by enjoying the ordinary nature of life. A great deal of what we do every day may seem mundane and even trivial, but that is where the will of God begins for you and me. Blessed is that man who enjoys the routine, blessed is that woman who delights in the mundane, for they shall discover that God is in the details of life.

 

As we age, we need to learn to be thankful just to be alive. The older we get the more thankful and content we should become. As it turns out, the golden years may really be golden after all. Recent research suggests that older Americans are not only the happiest Americans, but they are also much more socially active than expected. Although many older individuals face health problems, they are generally more content with what they have than younger Americans. The research found that the odds of being happy increased by five percent for every ten years of age. Ilse, an 84-year-old retired nurse says, ‘Contentment as far as I’m concerned comes with old age … because you accept things the way they are. You know that nothing is perfect.’ Although aging is often looked at negatively in our society, age brings many benefits, including a greater likelihood of contentment. Christians can also look at aging as bringing us one step closer to heaven and eternity with God.

 

With that said, it is critical for us to recognize that when it comes to years of life, it is still a matter of quality over quantity. It is better to add life to your years than to add years to your life. We need to live life fully every day.

 

In the movie Braveheart, William Wallace (as portrayed by Mel Gibson) said, “Every man dies but not every man really lives.” This is a rather biblical assessment of life. The Bible declares that we will all die, yet many of us miss out on the abundant life that God offers us. Don’t let that happen to you. Live while you are dying.

At this point in the context, Solomon begins to talk about the different opportunities and problems that regularly occur during the different stages of life: childhood, youth, young adult, and old age. In 11:9 Solomon writes, “Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment466for all these things.” Here Solomon writes specifically to young people and commands young men and women to rejoice during their childhood and teenage years. Now this doesn’t mean party-hearty and sow your wild oats. This advice refers to the natural human instincts of young people: be with friends, enjoy life at social events, see the world, find one’s vocation, and desire a family and children. Enjoy your life. Don’t put tremendous pressure upon yourself when making significant decisions.

 

Remember the words of Ps 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” If you are delighting yourself in the Lord, His desires will naturally become your desires. This means you don’t have to find God’s will, you just need to find God. Or, as Augustine and Luther have said, “Love God and do whatever you please.” Christians ought to have more fun that anyone, but we should be pure and blameless before our on-looking world. The reason for this is that we are responsible for our acts (cf. 12:14). God will judge us for what we do even in our youth.

 

The Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), once said, “Youth is such a wonderful thing. It’s a shame to waste it on young people.” Shaw was right. Young people are typically either driven to a fault or lazy to a fault. It is rare to find a balance in children and teens. Consequently, it is easy for young people to squander their youth and fail to rejoice during their formative years. When I was in middle school, I wanted to be in high school. When I was in high school, I wanted to be in college. When I was single, I wanted to be married. And so on and so forth. One of the most difficult issues in life is contentment. Young people, enjoy your life. I command you, the Bible commands you, “REJOICE!” Rejoice now while you can.

In 11:10, Solomon exhorts young people with these words: “So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting.”

Young people, you are commanded to actively and intentionally “remove” three entities from your life: grief, anger, and pain. Practically speaking this means: As far as possible the problems that beset heart and mind are to be resisted. Quit being a worrywart. Guard yourself from being stressed out by school, sports, and relationships. There will be plenty of time to really worry when you get older. Just kidding! Worry is a sin, so avoid it at all times. Don’t develop a root of bitterness. If your parents have divorced, forgive them. If your best friend gossiped about you, let it go. Don’t bring pain upon your body through alcohol, drugs, and sex. It’s just not worth it.

I have to also wonder if the phrase “put away pain from your body” has the application: Stop complaining about your health problems. Here is a principle for young people: If you want to avoid being an older crabby person…don’t be a young crabby person. I have a hunch the adults that I know who never complain about their cancer, migraines, and general health issues are those who learned to not complain as young people. And always remember this: “When we complain, 90 percent of the people don’t care and don’t want to hear it; the other 10 percent probably feel a secret satisfaction that we are getting what we deserve.” So it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to complain.

 

Solomon says we are to remove grief, anger, and pain because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting. The phrase “the prime of life” literally refers to “blackness” of hair as opposed to grey hair. This has great meaning to me. When you have black hair, a grey hair really stands out. I started noticing grey hair at 39 years young. At first, I was like, “What is this?” I thought I had a few more years before greydom. Initially, it was disappointing to me. But now I find this a helpful motivation. What’s left of my black hair is going to quickly turn into grey. This should not discourage me; rather it ought to remind me that my time is short. Youth is “fleeting” (hebel) just like our “breath.” We need to enjoy life now. We need to live for Christ now.

 

In the movie Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams plays a poetry teacher for an old, established all-boys school. On the first day of class, he takes his students downstairs to a hall filled with old photos of past classes. Some of the photographs are fifty to seventy-five years old. Most of the men in the photos have lived and died. They are nothing but worm food and daisy fertilizer. The pictures portray them in their youth and vitality, but that was in the past and now they are dead. As the boys gaze on these long-forgotten portraits of youth, they hear the words Carpe Deim—“Seize the Day!” Life is short. All too soon they will be nothing more than a faded photograph on a wall. So seize the day—make each day count. Live purposefully and meaningfully. Do great things while there is time for greatness. Don’t put happiness on hold. Enjoy what you have. Live while you are dying.

 

It takes a break in life to gain a greater appreciation for this section. When was the last time you took a vacation? I mean one that you were refreshed and renewed. The kind that make it hard to come back to “the real world.” Compare that to the last time you had the flu or a really bad cold. The week of vacation represents the joys of youth; the week of the flu represents old age.

[Why should we rejoice now while we can? Because old age is coming. Thus, we should live life to the glory of God. Solomon also exhorts us to…]

  1. Remember now while you can (12:1-8).

Three times in this section (12:1, 2, 6) Solomon uses the word “before.” His call is for you and me to live life to the fullest before old age and death comes. In 12:1, Solomon summarizes what he will say in 12:2-7, namely that we will have no delight in old age and death. He writes, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no delight in them.’”

 

To “remember” doesn’t mean to jog one’s memory. Rather, the verb “to remember” (zakar) is a command that involves a wholehearted commitment to love, serve, and fear God. God’s expectation is that “remembering” Him translates into action. We must live as stewards who will give an account to our Creator. The phrase “evil days” refers to sickness, sorrow, senility, and eventually dying. God commands us to remember Him in our youth because He wants the best days of our lives.

 

One of the worst moves a young person can make is to forget their Creator in the days of their youth. This leads to bad choices that can forever affect their life. If you don’t walk with God in your high school and college years, the choices you make in a college, a spouse, and a vocation may not be the ones God wants you to make. If you don’t believe me, ask Solomon. Initially, Solomon loved God. He was the son of David and the builder of the temple. He asked for wisdom above any other gift. He started well but got off track. He eventually refused to remember his Creator in the days of his youth. Gradually, over the course of time, he made little compromises that resulted in disaster. He cultivated relationships with ungodly women and these ungodly women led him into idolatry. Even though he had everything this world has to offer (i.e., wine, wealth, wisdom, women, and work), he was miserable. It was all hebel.

 

But if you “remember your Creator in the days of your youth” you will be set up for decades to come and into eternity. You will abstain from sexual immorality and marry a godly spouse. You will select the right college for you to attend. You will choose the vocation that God has created for you to do. You will make the right financial decisions. You will not have to overcome various vices and addictions. You will have a love and a commitment to the local church.

Some people have insinuated that our church focuses too much on children and youth. Whenever I hear this, I strive to tell folks that this is indeed what we are attempting to do. We prioritize children and young adults because we want to be preventative. We believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s not that we don’t love adults, but many adults are set in their ways. They have the broken marriages, addictions, and bad attitudes. Our goal is to keep these things from happening to our young people. We are thinking of the church of the 21st century.

 

However, you may be saying, “I have wasted my youth. Is there any hope for me?” The answer is, “YES…if you begin to remember the Lord TODAY!” It is a grave mistake to say, “I’m going to wait until I get older to begin serving the Lord.” Relatively few people turn to the Lord in their old age. I understand there’s a sign on the Trans-Alaska Highway that says, “Choose your rut carefully; you’ll be in it for the next 200 miles!” So today you must choose whether or not you’re going to remain in your rut. God will give you a new lease on life if you say, “I want to remember you.” Of course, you can’t turn back the hands of time, but you can live while you are dying.

 

In 12:2-7, Solomon describes the advance of old age in the imagery of a decaying house. He is not saying that all of these things happen to everybody. But it is an allegory that fittingly describes what we can expect in old age; and it should motivate us to serve God in our youth, whether our “youth” means our teens and twenties, or the “youth” of whatever years are left. But before I launch in I must remind you that I’m just the mailman, not the writer of the mail. So please don’t be offended by what you are about to read. Solomon is an old man who is living out the waning years of his life. He is likely a little crotchety. So he is going to tell things the way they are. When you are an old man sometimes you don’t hold back and watch your p’s and q’s. You just speak things the way they are. You could say that is one of the privileges that comes with age.

 

In 12:2 Solomon says that we are to remember God “before the sun and the light, the moon and the stars are darkened, and clouds return after the rain.” This refers to the fading capacity for joy and excitement. It also points to the repetitive gloom faced by the elderly.

 

In 12:3 Solomon says that the “the watchmen of the house tremble.” This means that the arms and hands shake and become feeble. When he says that the “mighty men stoop,” he is referring to the shoulders, legs, and back slumping and becoming feeble. Your knees buckle when your belt won’t!

 

Your back goes out more than you. “The grinding ones stand idle because they are few” speaks to the scarcity of teeth. You sink your teeth into a steak and they stay there. The phrase “those who look through windows grow dim” means vision suffers. Or if you prefer, your arms aren’t long enough to hold reading material.

 

In 12:4 Solomon says, “and the doors on the street are shut as the sound of the grinding mill is low.” This refers to the loss of hearing. To make matters worse, Solomon writes, “and one will arise at the sound of the bird, and all the daughters of song will sing softly.” These two phrases mean that as we age we will struggle to sleep and we will wake up early. Furthermore, our voices will quiver and weaken. We will be hard to hear.

 

In 12:5 Solomon says, “Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road.” This refers to fear of injury due to frailty. The following phrases are rather picturesque: “the almond tree blossoms” refers to our hair turning white. The phrase “the grasshopper drags himself along” speaks of the halting walk of the elderly (“grasslimpers”). The phrase “the caperberry [desire] is ineffective” refers to a decrease in the appetites of life (e.g., food and sex). In other words, you turn out the light for economic rather than romantic reasons. And tragically, even though you eat less and less you tend to gain more and more as you age. This begins in your twenties. The final phrase in 12:5 is, “For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street.” The point being, man dies and life goes on.

 

In 12:6 Solomon writes, “Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed.” All of the items mentioned in 12:6 are associated with a well. Throughout Scripture, a well is a metaphor for life. But this one is no longer being used for drawing water. Someday your body is going to wear out. You will be nothing but a dry shell of your former self. The four verbs emphasize the finality of life. You and I are going to die! As bad as this sounds, remember, Art Linkletter once said that it’s better to be over the hill than under it. Whatever life is for us, wherever we find ourselves in age or stage, every moment is a gift of God—brightly wrapped, waiting to be opened, admired, and delighted in. The bittersweet nature of loss makes the present more precious; knowing that the silver cord will one day slip away, we cherish it all the more while it is in our hands.

 

It has been said, “Growing old is not for sissies.” These verses prove it! Yet, the humbling thing is I am sprinting headlong into old age. It’s been said that our body begins to suffer the negative effects of aging in our teenage years. We could say, “Its downhill from there,” so to speak.

According to an old fable, a man made an unusual agreement with Death. He told the Grim Reaper that he would willingly accompany him when it came time to die, but only on one condition—that Death would send a messenger well in advance to warn him. Weeks winged away into months, and months into years. Then one bitter winter evening, as the man sat thinking about all his possessions, Death suddenly entered the room and tapped him on the shoulder. Startled, the man cried out, “You’re here so soon and without warning! I thought we had an agreement.” Death replied, “I’ve more than kept my part. I’ve sent you many messengers. Look in the mirror and you’ll see some of them.”

As the man complied, Death whispered, “Notice your hair! Once it was full and black, now it is thin and white. Look at the way you cock your head to listen to me because you can’t hear very well. Observe how close to the mirror you must stand to see yourself clearly. Yes, I’ve sent many messengers through the years. I’m sorry you’re not ready, but the time has come to leave.” May we learn to pay attention to the messengers.

 

In 12:7, Solomon abandons imagery and states, “then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” Death is the returning of the body to the dust. This verse is very similar to what God said to Adam, “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). The spirit’s returning “to God who gave it” reminds us of the source of our life (Gen 2:7). Solomon’s point throughout all his allegorizing is crystal clear: Old age will not be a time of strenuous service for the Lord. Does that mean old age cannot be glorious? Of course not! If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ on your way to your “eternal home,” you can be ecstatic! You can spend your time drawing near to God, knowing that your life has counted for Him. We will all face the above realties unless we die young or Christ returns. Therefore, it is critical that we set goals and live while we are dying. We can live the rest of our life “young at heart.” We must recognize that we are not really old until we abandon our purpose and mission in life. A perfect example is Caleb. Ask God for a mountain. You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Settle eternal issues and throw yourself into life.

This passage concludes in 12:8 with familiar words: “‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘all is vanity!’” The book of Ecclesiastes is characterized by two phrases: “vanity of vanities” (1:2) and “under the sun” (1:3). By utilizing these phrases Solomon uses satire, irony, and tongue-in-cheek statements as a way to force fallen humanity to come to grips with the fleeting frailty and hopelessness of life without God. Yet, in spite of the brevity of life and its disappointing nature apart from God, life is good and is meant to be enjoyed with God.

 

 

Wise beyond words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Although there are probably many legitimate applications of this proverb, there are two I’d like to zero in on. First, the fly may be a person. One person who is out of sorts with God can lead a whole group into sin. One person who is negative can put a wet blanket on everyone’s hope. One person who is

super-critical can create single-handedly an atmosphere of discouragement. Are you a fly in the ointment at your home, at work, or at church? Second, the fly may be a flaw in character. One fault unchecked or one secret sin cherished can poison a person’s entire character. May I suggest that you choose to swat one fly before it lands in your perfume. Perhaps it is a bad attitude; maybe a bad habit; perhaps a tendency toward being irresponsible or unreliable; maybe an omission of something we should be doing that if not corrected could lead to spiritual deterioration. It’s easy to think, “It’s just a little thing:” a “little” relationship, a “little” flirtation at the office,” a “little” edge in a tone of voice, a “little” padding on the expense account,” a “little” experimentation in the wrong area—just a little thing. But we must remember that a little thing can ruin everything. Wisdom helps make a life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living confidently

There was once an elderly gentleman who loved playing golf. But he was almost eighty, and his vision was not very good anymore. He always had partners with him when he went out to play so they could watch his ball and tell him where it went. One day his buddies did not show up. It was a beautiful day for golf, and as he waited at the clubhouse he got more and more upset that he wasn’t going to get to play his round. Another elderly man in the clubhouse saw him and asked, “What’s wrong?” The man explained his predicament: “I was really looking forward to playing golf today. But I don’t see very well anymore, so I need someone to watch the ball after I hit.” The second man was even older than he was, but he said, “That’s no problem. I’ll be glad to ride around with you. I’ve got 20/20 vision. I can see like a hawk. You just hit the ball, and I’ll watch it fly right down the fairway.” So they went out on the first tee, and the old man hit the ball right down the center. He turned to his spotter. “Did you see it?” The man replied, “I saw it all the way until it stopped rolling.” “Well, where did it go?” The older man paused for a moment and then said, “I forgot.”

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

In others words, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Diversify your portfolio.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

There is no time better than the present to step out in faith. So stop procrastinating! Be diligent constantly. If we wait until we “have time” to do something we never will. The “perfect opportunity” begins now—while we still can. Don’t put what God has placed in your heart off another day. There is no perfect time to have kids. We never have enough money, energy, or patience.

Once you have children, don’t wait for the right time to spend time with them. Before you know it, your kids will be all grown up.

Don’t wait for your husband or wife to be all that you want. Begin pouring your life into your spouse now.

Don’t wait until you have spare time, more money, or better health.

Don’t settle for settled-for Christianity. If you are not currently ministering, get involved today. If we wait until we’re less busy, until we feel right, until just the right moment, we will never witness, never serve, and never see results. Don’t play it safe—take risks.

In 11:5 Solomon continues with two more analogies: “Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.” Life is unpredictable and mysterious. Solomon says life is just like the wind. The wind operates sovereignly. Humankind cannot create or control it, for the wind is unseen and unknowable. We perceive its presence by its effects. Likewise, we cannot understand how God forms bones in the womb. This is far beyond our comprehension, so we have to take this by faith. Yet, in doing so, we adhere to the most intelligent option available to us.

 

It is clear that the creation of the human body couldn’t have happened by itself. Scientist Fred Hoyle says this would be akin to a tornado in a junkyard taking all the pieces of metal lying there and turning them into a Boeing 747. So, of course, since we cannot know God’s activities, we take it in faith that He is the one who makes all things.

 

There are many times when we look at things that go on in the world and we don’t have a clue as to what God is doing. But we have to trust Him because He is the one who makes and sustains all things. Too many Christians freeze because they don’t know what God wants them to do. They suffer from a paralysis of analysis. When facing a decision in their lives, they want God to tell them exactly what their choices should be. Does God have to tell you what to do? Will God tell you what to do?

 

There is a difference between right or wrong decisions and right or left decisions. In the Bible, the will of God always refers to moral choices—decisions where one path leads to sin and the other to righteousness. For these right or wrong decisions, we can know the will of God. It’s found in the Bible. We need to pray and pursue the path of righteousness. For right or left decisions, God is under no obligation to reveal His plan to us. More than likely, He will not. That’s why in Ecclesiastes Solomon says you just have to be bold and act. Too often, Christians are looking for a no-fault deal. We try to do insider-trading with God to get some information that will show us which choice is best for us. But God doesn’t do insider-trading. He does not reveal His plan to men. In the Bible, there are men who wanted someone to tell them the future. Basically, they wanted someone to be their fortune-teller. God won’t tell you your fortune; He has already told you your duty. Don’t get your Tarot cards read or read your horoscope to find God’s will. Don’t turn everything into a mystical decision about what you “feel” God wants you to do. If it’s a right or left decision, pray about it and then boldly follow your heart.

 

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

 

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

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

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

Embracing Authority

One day, a bus driver was driving along his usual route. He didn’t encounter any problems for the first few stops; a few people got on, a few got off, and things went generally well. At one stop, however, a big hulk of a man got on. He was 6’ 8”, built like a bodybuilder, and his arms hung down to the ground. He glared at the driver and told him, “Big John doesn’t pay!” Then he sat down at the back of the bus. The driver was 5’ 3”, thin, and very meek, so he didn’t argue with Big John. But he wasn’t happy about it. The next day, the same thing happened. Big John got on again, made a big show of refusing to pay, and sat down. It happened the next day, and again the day after that. The bus driver began to lose sleep over the way Big John was taking advantage of him. Finally, he could stand it no longer. He signed up for bodybuilding courses, karate, judo, and a class on finding your self-esteem. By the end of the summer, the bus driver had become quite strong and felt really good about himself. The next Monday, Big John entered the bus and again declared, “Big John doesn’t pay!” Enraged, the driver stood up, glared back at Big John, and bellowed, “And why not?!” With a surprised look on his face, Big John replied, “Big John has a bus pass.”

 

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

 

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

In this section, Solomon urges us to respect human authorities. Ironically, Solomon writes these words as the King of Israel. He is a king writing about how to get along with the king. In 8:1a Solomon poses an insightful question: “Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter?” This rhetorical question requires the answer, “No one!” No one is like the wise person who studies the Bible and knows God’s will. Solomon continues in 8:1b by stating: “A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam.” Solomon says the wise person is illumined and has so much joy that you can see it on his face. He is not telling us to be wise and fake it; he is saying that we should be joyful, no matter what the circumstances are.

 

What do others see when they look at you? Do you have joy? If not, perhaps it’s because you aren’t soaking in the wisdom of God’s Word. It’s not being integrated into your life and giving you joy. Wisdom brings joy because a person who has biblical wisdom is assured of what is right. There is no greater privilege than understanding where we came from, who we are, where we are going, how sin is removed, and what the will of God is. There is no greater blessing and there is no other place to find these answers than from God in His Word. Solomon begins this chapter by saying that in a world full of questions, it’s wonderful to know the absolutes of life. Some things in life we can’t understand but some things we can understand—what the moral will of God is, who He is, and who we are in Him.

 

In 8:2-4, Solomon explains our responsibility to government. Now this may remove the smile from your face; however, God wants us to exercise wisdom and behave appropriately in the presence of our king. In 8:2 Solomon writes, “I say, ‘Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God.” Solomon begins this section with a command: “Keep the command of the king.” Notice that this obedience is not for the sake of the king. It is for the sake of the One who placed the king on the throne.  It is “because of the oath before God.” It was the practice in the ancient world that when a king came to the throne, the people of his kingdom were required to swear an oath of obedience to that king.

 

Today we do not enter into these kinds of oaths. But we do make commitments to authorities. We pledge allegiance to the country of our citizenship. When we work for an employer, we are bound to obey him until such a time that we leave his employment. At our church, members promise to worship, serve, give, and submit to the leadership. We all make commitments (“oaths”) to various authorities.

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

 

Of course, it is not always easy to obey a king. There are times when kings don’t do what we want or expect them to do. This leads Solomon to write in 8:3-4: “Do not be in a hurry to leave him. Do not join in an evil matter, for he will do whatever he pleases.’  Since the word of the king is authoritative, who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’” The idea here is of abandoning support for a leader just because he does not do what you wanted or expected him to do.

 

Earlier in Eccl 4:13-16, Solomon discussed how a king’s popularity can quickly evaporate. Someone new comes along and the people throng to his side abandoning the present leader. Solomon says that wisdom should slow this down and will use caution in leaving a leader. This is also relevant in other areas of our lives. It is easy to become disenchanted with your spouse and assume that if you leave your current spouse you can be happier with a new spouse. It is easy to become disillusioned at church by pastors or those in leadership. Most people immediately threaten to leave, assuming that they will not have these types of frustrations at other churches. This principle also applies to our jobs. The greener grass syndrome is very deceptive. In our attempt to escape our troubles, we may find further grief and pain.

 

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

 

In 8:5-7, Solomon brings up the theme of timing when he writes, “He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble, for a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every delight, though a man’s trouble is heavy upon him. If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen?” The wise person knows the right time to act (8:5), because there is a right time for every action (8:6). Yet, no one can fully predict when that right time will be, because no one (other than God) knows the future (8:7). Not only are you to obey human authority because God said to do it, you are also to do so because it makes life a lot easier.

 

Generally speaking, when you obey the king’s commands, you don’t get into any trouble with the king.  This principle has many modern-day corollaries. When you drive the speed limit, you don’t have to worry about speed traps. When you pay your taxes, you aren’t particularly worried about an IRS audit. When you do your work faithfully on the job, it doesn’t concern you that the boss is watching. So save yourself some grief and obey the laws of the land. Not only will you be pleasing the Lord, but you will avoid trouble. It’s easier to be humble when you submit to authority.

 

This first section closes in 8:8-9. Solomon writes, “No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death; and there is no discharge in the time of war, and evil will not deliver those who practice it. All this I have seen and applied my mind to every deed that has been done under the sun wherein a man has exercised authority over another man to his hurt.” This is a general summation of the human situation. Solomon reminds us that we have no control over some of the most important elements in our lives. We have no control over the weather that affects us daily. You’ve probably taken a trip to the coast hoping for sunshine, but instead you are greeted with rain and wind. We have no control of the weather. We have little or no control over what may be considered the most significant day of our earthly lives—the day of our death. We can eat healthy, take vitamins, exercise, and still die unexpectedly.

 

A doctor told his patient, “I’m afraid you only have three weeks to live,” “Okay then,” the patient replied, “I’ll take the last two weeks of July and the week between Christmas and New Year’s.”  That’s not how it works. We have no control over our death day. We also have little or no control over events that might hasten the day of our death (i.e., being discharged from war).

 

Sadly, Solomon informs us that when we do have authority (8:9), we tend to use it to hurt others. In all of this uncertainty and frustration we must trust the Lord as we go through life. It’s easier to be humble when you submit to authority.

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

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

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

 

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

 

In spite of the fact that the wicked seem to prosper, Solomon argues that it is still better to fear God. In 8:12-14 he writes, “Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God. There is futility which is done on the earth, that is, there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility.” Solomon acknowledges that sometimes justice is backwards. The righteous receive what the wicked deserve and vice versa.

 

A criminal gets shot and sues the city. A Christian family is killed by a drunk driver. Missionaries are martyred. Babies are aborted. These are depressing mysteries in life that cannot be resolved “under the sun.” Yet, these mysteries may have been generated intentionally by God so that humans would have to trust Him to guide them.

 

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

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

So what is Solomon’s solution to this wretched life? He shares his pearls of wisdom in 8:15: “So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun.” Solomon says, “Life is to be enjoyed.”  The formal refrain: “to eat and to drink and to be merry” is Solomon’s way of saying: “Life is a gift from God, make the most of it.” Carpe Diem: “Seize the Day!”

Even though life doesn’t always make sense, even though we don’t always understand what God is doing, we can trust in His sovereignty and let Him worry about all that is going on around us. So go out and enjoy your favorite meal! Do you like Chinese, Mexican, Italian, or a good steak or burger? Whatever your preference, eat and enjoy yourself. Solomon also tells us to drink. He means just what he says, “Drink,” but be sure to do so in moderation. Finally, he encourages us to be merry. Since you can’t change the present, the past, or the future, you might as well trust God and be content…even downright merry. Life is short and then you die. Why make this life miserable? Enjoy it.

 

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

 

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

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

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