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.

 

 

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Life is hard…but God is Good

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

This real-life account makes me angry. I hate injustice.

I hate knowing that innocent men and women will go to prison.

I hate knowing that 85% of convicted murderers will be released.

I hate knowing that children are being forced into prostitution and slavery.

I hate knowing that women are being physically and verbally abused.

I hate abortion. I hate racism. I hate age discrimination.  I hate death.

Yet, tragically, our world is full of those things that you and I hate. Therefore, we need to talk about the unpopular topics of death, injustice, hopelessness, and judgment because they stare us in the face every day of our lives.

In Eccl 3:16-4:3, Solomon cries out for justice, yet his cry seems to fall on deaf ears. Therefore, he concludes life is harsh and then you die. Now you may be thinking, “Oh, great, another encouraging sermon from Mr. Bah Humbug! Maybe I should leave before I collapse in depression and pessimism.” I freely acknowledge that no teacher in his right mind would choose to teach this text. Yet, in this passage I actually find meaning and motivation to live life. In these ten verses, Solomon shares two important observations (cf. 1:3) with us that will help us to cope with injustice and oppression.

 

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

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

 

This hard truth is important for us to come to grips with. Sometimes bad guys win and good guys suffer. Johnny Christian doesn’t always score the touchdown and Paul Pagan doesn’t always fumble the ball. That’s a fact. Do you have a problem with that? Would you rather have a “perfect” universe? Wouldn’t it be great if, after a driver ran you off the road, his car would break down five minutes later?

Or if someone cheated you in business, he would go bankrupt the next month?

Or if someone got angry and yelled at you, her teeth would fall out that night? Wouldn’t that be wonderful? It certainly would be from a fleshly perspective, but unfortunately you’d have to live in that same “perfect” universe.

 

So if you gossiped about someone, your tongue would turn green.

Every time you lusted after another person, more of your hair would fall out.

Every time you spent money on something you didn’t need to, the food in your refrigerator would rot overnight.

Would you want to live in a world like that? None of us want that kind of instant justice from God. Yet, God’s patience with sin is an incredible blessing.

 

If God was not so patient all of us would come under His immediate judgment. We would be wiped out in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, God grants us His mercy and grace. This should lead us to want to be more merciful and gracious with others, to have compassion for those who are in the grips of sin and under the influence of the curse. If these reminders don’t work, then remind yourself that life is hard.

 

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

 

Unfortunately, that is not always very satisfying. We hate it when someone “gets away with it.” Solomon tells us that in truth, nobody gets away with it.

 

Paul Harvey once illustrated this point when he told about a man named Gary Tindle who was charged with robbery. While standing in the California courtroom of Judge Armando Rodriguez, Tindle asked permission to go to the bathroom. He was escorted upstairs to the bathroom and the door was guarded while he was inside. But Tindle, determined to escape, climbed up the plumbing, opened a panel on the ceiling, and started slithering through the crawl space, heading south. He had traveled some thirty feet when the ceiling panels broke under him, and he dropped to the floor—right back in Judge Rodriguez’s courtroom!

 

When the guilty seem to have escaped judgment, it’s only for a short moment and a short crawl. They will find themselves before the Judge once again in time. Sooner or later, the wheels of God righteousness will right every wrong, balance every scale, and correct every injustice in the world.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fortunately, in the closing verse of chapter 3, Solomon encourages us to enjoy life in spite of the world’s injustice. He observes, “I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him [his death]?” (3:22) I love this verse.

 

I’ve checked the Hebrew word “happy” in several lexicons. I’ve considered its Aramaic cognate and I’ve discovered that “happy” literally means – are you ready for this – “happy.” God wants us to be happy in the midst of this miserable life. The word “lot” or “portion” conveys the sense of the limitations of life. The portion is like an inherited plot of land that one has to work. Toil is inevitable, it is part of the heritage of your portion, but from that very same lot you may find enjoyment. Your lot in life may be a small family, a small-fry job, and a small-time neighborhood, yet when you are gone there is no portion to enjoy. So you need to enjoy your life NOW, despite its injustices and trials.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Many of us as Americans have no idea of what it really means to be oppressed. We can be sure though, that in other parts of the world many know all too well what Solomon is talking about. Nowhere is heartbreaking oppression more evident than in the communist nation of North Korea – the most dangerous place to be a Christian for 14 straight years (Christianity Today ranking). An estimated 100,000 Christians are being imprisoned and tortured. There are 400,000 Christians in North Korea and one out of four are prison camps. This is brutal!

 

Just recently we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. You cannot talk about MLK without becoming frustrated about the unrighteousness of mankind. To think that Americans have oppressed people over skin color is one of the most asinine things I have ever heard. It is an atrocity! What is worse is that many Christians were and are guilty of prejudicial behavior. Into the late 1960s, some Bible colleges and seminaries would not allow African-Americans to attend their schools. Today, various African-Americans are some of the greatest preachers on this planet. Tony Evans, Dr. E.V. Hill, Bishop TD Jakes

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

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

 

The official poverty rate in 2015 was 13.5 percent, down 1.2 percentage points from 14.8 percent in 2014. In 2015, there were 43.1 million people in poverty, 3.5 million less than in 2014. (US Hunger and Poverty Facts, Sep 13, 2016.) Many people work for a low wage and no benefits. And many of these people aren’t lazy. They are just working jobs that do not pay well. They may also have recovered from some difficult circumstances along the way. There are many recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, prisoners, abuse victims, etc. Many of these people are trying to start over; however, it is not an easy road.

 

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

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

 

Yes, we live in a world of injustice and oppression. Maybe you have been a victim of some form of abuse. Perhaps you were abuse, mistreated, or fired from your job. Some of greatest movements have come from those who were cheated or treated unfairly.

 

Candy Lightner founded MADD in 1980 after her daughter, Cari, was killed by a repeat drunk driving offender. Cindy Lamb whose daughter, Laura, became the nation’s youngest quadriplegic at the hands of a drunk driver soon joined Candy in her crusade to save lives. Consequently, thousands of lives have been saved.

 

John Walsh and his wife, Revé, suffered the most horrendous loss that any parents could endure: the abduction and murder of their beautiful six-year-old son, Adam. Since that day in 1981, the founder of Americas Most Wanted has dedicated himself to fighting on behalf of children and all crime victims. As a result, thousands of victims have found justice, and dozens of abducted children have been safely brought home.

 

You can make a difference in at least one person’s life. You can have a testimony, a ministry, an influence, and an impact. Our church’s mission statement is “people leading all people to a life-changing, ever growing relationship with Jesus Christ.” We do that by loving one lost person at a time toward Christ. Will you allow the injustices of this world to move you to action? Will you say, “Enough is enough! I want to make a difference in one person’s life?”

 

Live with the future in view

Do you like Star Trek? Are you a “Trekkie?” If so, you have probably seen Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. You may recall a conversation between Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) and an aspiring young Starship commander facing a difficult and dangerous test. Kirk uttered these powerful words: “How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.” Although no one would accuse Admiral Kirk of being a great theologian, he nailed it on this point! How we deal with the reality of our inevitable death radically affects how we deal with our lives in the present. We could say, “Live in the present with the future in view.”

In 1 Cor 15:50-58, Paul concludes his glorious resurrection chapter. These closing verses are a climactic song of victory, a kind of symphony. (A number of composers down through the ages have set this text to music. Brahms’ Requiem and Handel’s Messiah quote from it.) It’s a symphony in three movements. The first movement celebrates the future transformation of our bodies while the second movement celebrates the future termination of sin. The final movement celebrates the future compensation of our work.

  1. Celebrate the future transformation of your body(15:50-53). In these first four verses, Paul explains that an earth suit, a natural human body consisting of flesh and blood as we know it, is unsuitable for heaven. Hence, those believers still alive when Jesus returns at the rapture will receive their new bodies by transformation rather than by resurrection. Paul introduces this section in 15:50 like this: “Now I say this, brethren [believers], that flesh and blood [one’s physical nature] cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” Paul makes it clear that you and I can’t go to heaven just as we are today. No matter how healthy, strong, and beautiful we may be, we are unfit for heaven. You can’t have a decaying body in a permanent home. You have undoubtedly seen a restaurant sign in the front window that reads something like this: “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” This means that one’s appearance and attire has to meet certain standards, or he or she is not welcome. That is the way heaven is. Heaven is a place where there is no pain, no sorrow, no sickness, or death. These perishable bodies that we possess here on earth are not suited for heaven. The death and burial of our earthly bodies is not an unfortunate circumstance; it is a necessity. In order to go to heaven, we must receive “imperishable” or “ageless” bodies. They must be changed into a glorified state so that we can live in God’s presence before His perfection, holiness, and beauty.

Paul has explained that our earth suits are unsuitable for heaven. That’s the problem! What’s the solution?

In 15:51, Paul grabs the reader’s attention with the word “behold.” It is a dramatic word, for it is like pulling a curtain aside to reveal a new truth. In our contemporary vernacular, we could translate this Greek word “look” or “listen.” Paul continues “…I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.” This verse “we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed” is often posted as a motto in church nurseries; however, I do not think that Paul has in mind diapers. On the contrary, he has physical bodies in mind. Paul speaks of a “mystery,” however, he does not have in mind a Sherlock Holmes tale. Rather, in the Bible the term “mystery” refers to a truth not revealed until it was disclosed by the apostles. The Old Testament predicted the bodily resurrection and the second coming of the Messiah, so Paul is not referring to either of these events. The “mystery” is what is called the rapture of the church. The rapture is a newly revealed truth. Paul informs us that there will be a generation of Christians that will inherit their glorified bodies without having to “sleep” or die. This is the great hope of the Christian. That all Christians will not die was a new revelation. Whether we as believers die and are resurrected, or whether we are caught up to meet the Lord without dying, we shall all be changed!

 

It was Benjamin Franklin who famously said, “There are two certainties in life—taxes and death.” While taxes are certain, death is not certain for the believer. The last chapter in life for the believer is not the cemetery, the casket, or the grave. No, the last chapter is transformation.

 

A little boy asked his mother what death was like. She said to him, “Do you remember when you fell asleep in the living room? Your father picked you up in his big strong arms and took you to your bedroom. When you woke up, you found yourself in another room. Death for the Christian is like that. You go to sleep in one room and wake up in another.” Thus we do not need to ever fear death, whether we sleep or take part in the rapture. We can have supreme confidence that we will be with Christ.

Paul continues his description of the rapture in 15:52a and explains that the transformation of our bodies will take place “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet.” This transformation will not be a gradual process but instantaneous. The word translated “moment” is the Greek word atomos, from which we get our English word “atom.” The Greeks believed the atom was the smallest particle of nature, completely indivisible. The “twinkling of an eye” is at least as fast as a blink. It takes only a fraction of a second. So Paul is saying that this change will occur in an indivisible moment of time, as fast as an eye can twinkle, in an atomic second. It will not be an evolutionary process and it will not occur by gradual osmosis. In other words, what happened to The Incredible Hulk on TV is not the pattern for the transformation of raptured saints.

 

The reason that the rapture will take place so quickly is given in 15:52b-53: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable [eternal], and we will be changed. For this perishable [temporal] must put on the imperishable [eternal], and this mortal[temporal] must put on immortality [eternal].” Some (i.e., posttribulationists) equate this “last trumpet” with the seventh or last trumpet of Rev 11:15-18. This does not seem valid. Other trumpets will sound announcing various other events in the future. However, believers living in the church age will not be on the earth, and those trumpets will not affect us. The fact that Paul included himself in the group (“we”) living at the time of the rapture shows he believed the event could take place in his lifetime. If he had believed the tribulation precedes the rapture, it would have been natural for him to mention that here. In these verses, Paul insists that one day we will be given new bodies that will be indestructible. These bodies will never fail us. They will be immortal and fit for the eternal state. In light of this reality, Paul calls us to live in the present with the future in view. One great way of doing this is to expect Christ’s return in your lifetime, but plan as if it is centuries away. This allows us to be expectant for Christ’s return, yet also accomplish His will for us while we still have time.

[Paul has challenged us to celebrate the future transformation of our body. Now he says…]

  1. Celebrate the future termination of sin(15:54-57). The resurrection of dead believers and the transformation of living believers signal the death of death. In 15:54-57, Paul writes, “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP[Isa 25:8] in victory. ‘O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING [Hos 13:14]?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” These verses emphasize a sting operation. I don’t know about you, but I love a good “sting.” You may recall the movie The Sting where Robert Redford and Paul Newman conned a con man. Everyone likes to see justice served.

 

The great New England preacher of the 19th century, Henry Ward Beecher, once pulled off a pretty slick sting in the pulpit. He entered Plymouth Church one Sunday and found several letters awaiting him. He opened one and found that it contained a single word in large letters, “FOOL.” In the worship service that morning, quietly and with great dignity, he announced the incident to his congregation with these words: “I have known many an instance of a man writing a letter and forgetting to sign his name, but this is the only instance I have ever known of a man signing his name and forgetting to write the letter.” That was a burn—a royal sting!

 

But the greatest sting in all of history, and I say it reverently, is one pulled off by Jesus Christ. When Jesus died on Calvary’s cross, I’m sure Satan felt he had finally whipped his mortal enemy. All the opposition he had stirred up from the attempt of King Herod to kill Jesus as an infant, to the hatred of the Sadducees and Pharisees, to the kangaroo court He endured in Jerusalem culminated in Jesus’ execution on the cross. Satan had finally won, or so he thought. But in fact, in that very event, His crucifixion, Jesus purchased our salvation, redeeming us from sin and the Law. By His resurrection on the third day, He demonstrated His own power over death. And at His second coming, when He resurrects the dead and transforms the living, His victory will be complete. That will be the ultimate sting in all of human history. Jesus will STING the STINGER. He will REAP the GRIM REAPER. He will turn the tables on death by causing death itself to die.

 

A boy and his father were out for a ride when a queen bee flew in the car window. The little boy, who was allergic to bee stings, was petrified. The father quickly reached out, grabbed the bee, squeezed it in his hand, and then released it. The boy grew frantic as it buzzed by him. Once again the father reached out his hand, but this time he pointed to his palm. There stuck in his skin was the stinger of the bee. “Do you see this?” he asked. “You don’t need to be afraid anymore. I’ve taken the sting for you.” In a similar way, we all suffer under the curse of sin like the little boy from the first sting and the next sting from death would mean our ultimate demise. But we have a Savior that came to our rescue and took the sting for us and we no longer have to fear death. Though death may buzz over us and land on us it can do no harm and one day death itself will die. As Peter Joshua said, “When death stung Jesus Christ, it stung itself to death.”

 

We must always remember that only on this side of the curtain is death our enemy. Just beyond the curtain the monster turns out to be our friend. The label “Death” is still on the bottle, but the contents are “Life Eternal.” Death is our friend because it reminds us that heaven is near. How near? As near as a heartbeat; as near as an auto accident; as near as a stray bullet; as near as a plane crash. If our eyes could see the spirit world, we might find that we are already at its gates. Death is not the end of the road; it is only a bend in the road. The road winds only through the pass through which Christ Himself has gone. This Travel Agent does not expect us to discover the trail for ourselves. Often we say that Christ will meet us on the other side. That is true, of course, but misleading. Let us never forget that He walks with us on this side of the curtain and then guides us through the opening. We will meet Him there, because we have met Him here.

 

This reality ought to cause us to break out in thanksgiving, as Paul does in 15:57. Again, Paul exclaims, “but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The verb “gives” is in the present tense. Literally, God keeps on giving us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. What that means is that every morning when we wake up, it’s Easter morning. It means that we can continually lay hold of the resources of Christ. We can go to Him for forgiveness when we fail. We can trust Him to meet our needs. He is available to us as our risen Lord. He is not a long-gone historical figure who died and then was purported to have been raised from the dead. We celebrate a risen, living, victorious Lord! We have the “victory” through our Lord Jesus Christ! Robert Louis Stevenson once said“The person who has stopped being thankful has fallen asleep in life.” May you and I be filled with gratitude today for all that the Lord Jesus has accomplished for us. Live in the present with the future in view.

[What an appropriate place to end this beautiful resurrection chapter, and indeed, the entire theological portion of this epistle! But Paul is not quite through. He’s never through when he has only provided the doctrinal facts, even such profound and far-reaching facts as these we have seen today. He is never satisfied until he has written, “THEREFORE.” Paul is intent on telling us how these truths relate to our daily lives. And so we come finally to…]

 

  1. Celebrate the future compensation of your work(15:58). Paul concludes his discussion of the resurrection with an exhortation to be faithful in the present. In 15:58, he answers the concerns expressed in 15:1-2 with these motivating words: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” The word “therefore” wraps up this entire passage. The phrase “my beloved brethren” demonstrates Paul’s love for the Corinthians, despite the deficiencies in their theology and their behavior. This ought to compel us to love one another despite our theological differences. Paul was dealing with Christians that were waffling on their own bodily resurrection. This is a fairly significant doctrine, to say the least. Yet, despite their erroneous theology Paul continued to love his people. My prayer is that the Lord continues to give me this type of love for you and vice versa. Together, we are “beloved brethren!” Even when we are misled in our theology, if we have believed in Christ for salvation we will spend eternity together.

 

After affirming his readers, Paul launches into one command (“be steadfast, immovable”) with two participles (“abounding” and “knowing”) used as imperatives. This grammar leads to a simple three point conclusion: what we should be, what we should do, and what we should know.

 

  1. What we should be. Paul commands us to “be steadfast, immovable.” Like the Corinthians we are prone to be impatient, easily discouraged, and lazy. We let the circumstances of life blow us out of the water. We allow financial setbacks or job problems to depress us. Yet, Paul says, “Get a grip on the resurrection and on God’s final plan for believers, and you will not be so readily shaken.” We will be firmly rooted in what we know to be true about life and death because we have confidence in the resurrection. It gives solid footing. We won’t be swayed by every idea that comes along about this life and the afterlife. We can stand firm. We know who we are, why we’re here on earth, and where we’re headed in the future.

 

  1. What we should do. Paul urges us to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” The verb “abounding” pictures something flowing over the edges on all sides. No one gets to the Olympics, much less walks away with a medal, who did not give himself or herself fully to their sport. The commitment of those athletes is phenomenal. They give up privileges, educational goals, relationships, sleep, favorite foods, anything, because of the goal that is before them of securing a place on the victor’s stand. So also no one will hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” if he does not give himself fully to the work of the Lord.

 

  1. My own heart is blessed when I see individuals in this church giving themselves fully to the work of the Lord. I’m not talking about our pastors; they get paid for being good; I’m talking about people who are good for nothing. Such members serve God out of the love and gratitude of their hearts. I’m literally amazed sometimes when I see men and women who work fifty plus hours a week then devoting hours to working in Kids Blast, kid’s choir, or teaching a children’s small group class. I’m likewise amazed when I see a mother with three or four children keeping house, serving as a taxi driver, holding down a part-time job, and then, on top of all that, volunteering in Women’s Ministries, prayer ministry or serving in other areas. That’s something of what it means to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord.”
  2. What we should know. Someone once said, “I’m learning more and more about less and less. Now I know everything about nothing.” Paul urges us to “know[ing] that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”The word “toil” used here means “working to the point of exhaustion.” One summer, I worked as an apprentice to a handyman. It was back-breaking work. And the exhaustion actually felt good. I learned a lot that summer and it has not been in vain the rest of my life!

 

  1. That’s the way it is when you’ve exhausted yourself in meaningful work for Christ. Have you ever been worn out because of your work for the Lord? I’m afraid many Christians would have to say they have never been. And too many look forward to retirement as an opportunity to do even less, though in reality it’s a fantastic time to do more ministry than ever before. Reasonable rest is important and necessary, but if we err Paul is saying it should be on the side of doing more work for the Lord, not less.

Have you ever heard of Epaphroditus? Paul mentions him in Philippians 2, calling him a “dear brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier,” but a few verses later Paul adds that he “almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life” (Phil 2:25, 30). Epaphroditus is not the patron saint of many in the church today. Many more voices are calling out, “Pace yourself, take care of your family, abandon the rat race, smell the flowers.” You know, there’s nothing wrong with any of that advice, and every one of us needs balance in our lives, but time has a way of getting away from us and we may one day end up wondering, “What difference did I make?” Of all the work a person can throw himself into, work for the Lord is the one kind that we are assured is not in vain, because the resurrection and the transformation lie ahead for all believers.

 

Because of the certainty of the resurrection, we’re confident that our lives will count. The hope of the resurrection keeps us from despair and feeling useless. We know that the things we invest our time, energy, and resources in, if they’re done for the Lord’s glory, will accomplish something. Nothing will be wasted. That is tremendously motivating.

 

Let me challenge you with this truth: you cannot grow spiritually unless you are serving the Lord and others. It is absolutely impossible. You might say to me, “I attend church, I am reading my Bible, I am praying.” That is all wonderful! But that does not suggest that you are growing spiritually. Spiritual growth takes place when the Bible changes us and we begin to bless others. The Bible teaches that servanthood makes a man or woman more like Jesus. Additionally, the Bible promises us great eternal reward for serving Christ in this life. It has been said, “The highest reward for man’s toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it.”