None of us is okay, okay?

Many years ago, The London Times had a correspondent who ended many of his articles with the words, “What is wrong with the world today?” Finally, in response, G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), the well-known Christian writer and apologist, wrote the following reply to the paper, “Dear Editor, What’s wrong with the world? I am. Faithfully Yours, G. K. Chesterton.” In those few words Chesterton beautifully summed up the Bible’s teaching concerning the central problem of the world. It’s people! More specifically, it’s what lies within us—our inner being or person. As the great theologian Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

 

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I’m not okay and neither are you. In short, we’re the problem in the world today. We’re our own worst enemy. As sinful as Satan is, our sin problem is so severe and all-encompassing that we’re in deep trouble all on our own. There’s no need to claim, “The Devil made me do it!” We sin quite well without him or anyone else tempting us to sin (cf. Jas 1:14). We’re disgustingly sinful in our own selves. In Romans 3:9-20, we’re faced squarely with the reality of our sin against God and other people. This text is a fitting climax to the entire section (1:18-3:20) and functions like a great baseball relief pitcher. In the eight or ninth inning, “the closer” comes in to replace whoever is pitching and promptly attempts to “put the game away” for his team. Well, Paul closes his argument here with the same kind of determination and authority. This text is the clincher, the closer, in this section of Romans. This passage, like no other, will tell us the truth about humankind. The bottom line is: I’m not okay, you’re not okay. Paul reveals three penetrating truths about humanity.

 

  1. We Are Universally Sinful (3:9)

Paul begins with a formal legal charge: All are under sin. He writes, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” In light of Paul’s previous remarks about the Jews (2:1-3:8), an objector asks whether he and his fellow Jews are better than Gentiles. Paul has affirmed that the Jew has certain “advantages” (3:2; cf. 9:4-5) that permit spiritual growth. However, here, Paul reiterates that there’s no difference between Jews and Gentiles—“all are under sin.” No one is exempt from judgment, not even God’s chosen people. Paul repeats his reason for this conclusion with the phrase, “we have already charged.” This is the ongoing message he has been giving, beginning with 1:18 and continuing up to this point (i.e., that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin).

 

It’s worth noting that the preposition “under” (hupo) is a military term that means to be under the authority of someone or something else. It was used for soldiers who were under the authority of a commanding officer. In this context, it means that the human race is dominated by sin. We’re under its power. The phrase “under sin” implies that we were born sinful and then began willfully committing sin as early as three to six months! A nursing infant who is told not to bite his mother may look her in the eye and bite even harder. A crawling infant may be told by his father to stop, and she may smile and crawl all the faster away from him. We’re sinful and we’re “under” sin’s power at a very young age.

 

Furthermore, the phrase “under sin” goes beyond “original sin” and our propensity to commit certain sins. Our problem is that we are enslaved to sin. In other words, we were born in sin, intentionally sinned as quickly as possible, and have exhibited sin during the course of our lives. Again, we’re under sin’s power. It will do no good to claim goodness. We are not good; only God is good (cf. Mark 10:18). As an ancient Chinese proverb observed, “There are two good men—one is dead and the other is not yet born.” Paul’s point is simple: I’m not okay, you’re not okay. On the contrary, we are universally sinful. Thus, if you and I want to overcome the junk in our lives, we must own our sin and recognize that God has provided a solution to our sin problem.

[Not only are we universally sinful, Paul will now demonstrate a second truth about us.]

  1. We Are Totally Depraved (3:10-18)

In these nine verses, Paul indicts all people as totally depraved. Total depravity means that there’s no spiritual good in humankind that is able to commend us to God. Many people have trouble with this concept. While not denying they are sinners, many people feel that their sin isn’t bad enough to condemn them. What they don’t understand is that any sin is wholly unacceptable to God. In this section it’s as if Paul says, “Are you still not convinced? Let me show you further proof from the Old Testament.” He uses a technique called “pearl stringing,” where he quotes verse after verse to prove his point. Interestingly, Paul carefully chooses a slew of Old Testament verses directly attributed to God. So the expert witness that Paul calls to the stand—God Himself. In 3:10-18, Paul reveals three categories of sin that demonstrate our depravity.

 

The first category is: Our character is depraved. In 3:10-12 Paul states: “as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.’” Paul uses words like “none,” “all,” and “not even one” no fewer than seven times in the first three verses in order to make his point. Paul summarizes the fate of humanity by stating that “there is none righteous, not even one” (3:10). Verse 10 is a summary statement and the following verses flesh this truth out more fully. Verses 11-12 indicate that our whole inner being is controlled by sin.

(1) Our mind is depraved (“none who understands”). We don’t spend our time trying to understand God’s thoughts or His ways. We’re more interested in football, our favorite TV show, going to a concert, shopping, or hanging out with friends. We wouldn’t choose to spend considerable time attempting to understand God’s purposes or His program. We don’t go away on personal retreats to understand God.

(2) Our heart is depraved (“none who seeks for God”). If left to our own devices, we would never seek God. While it may appear that there are some who are actually seeking hard after God people are actually running from God. No sinner seeks God; rather, God seeks sinners. If anyone seeks God, it’s only because the Holy Spirit is working in his or her heart.

(3) Our will is depraved (“none who does good”). Consequently, we don’t do good works that honor God. Rather, our works are “filthy rags” (Isa 64:6) before God. Perhaps you’re thinking about a neighbor, a coworker, or a classmate that does seemingly wonderful deeds. I would affirm that this is prevalent from a human perspective. These “good works” are beneficial to your neighborhood, your workplace, and your school. However, from a divine perspective, these works fall short of God’s standard because they haven’t been carried out by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our mind, heart, and will are totally depraved. We’re sinful to the core.

Paul even goes so far as to state that together we have all become “useless.” Ouch! The word translated “useless” (achreioo) means “to corrupt” or “to turn sour” as milk. (Take out a gallon jug with sour milk and invite class members to smell it. Explain that this type of stench is similar to the stench of our sin.) Since the Bible speaks figuratively about God’s nostrils, there’s some precedent to say that the stench of our sin stinks to high heaven and reaches God’s nostrils. Our sin is repulsive and repugnant to Him. Indeed, I’m not okay, you’re not okay.

 

In 3:13-14, Paul shares another category: Our conversation is depraved. We betray our character by our speech. The heart blazes the way, and the mouth follows. In these two verses it’s as though humanity is given an annual physical exam. As you know when you go to the doctor for some unknown ailment he generally wants to look into your mouth. He puts one of those overgrown Popsicle sticks on your tongue and says, “Say ahhh!” Well, here God looks into the mouth of the sinner, and when we say, “Ahhh,” God says, ‘Yuk!’ Paul writes in 3:13a: “Their throat is an open grave.”

During biblical times embalming wasn’t practiced like it is today. So it goes without saying that an open grave must have reeked! In the same way, Paul is saying that the stench of man’s throat is like a rotting corpse. Interestingly, the phrase “open grave” literally means a yawning grave. I guess that means we should be careful when we yawn so that people don’t see down our throats into our decaying hearts.

 

In 3:13b-14 Paul goes on to say: “with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” Our tongues are a constant source of deception. Notice the present tense: “they keep on deceiving” (3:13b). Our conversation is so totally depraved that our native language is deception. Paul states that the poison of asps is under our lips. The asp was probably the Egyptian cobra. Under its lips was a sac full of venom. When this snake was provoked pressure was placed on the poison sac, and the venom would surge through the fangs that devoured its victim. One can scarcely think of a more graphic way in which to express the pain and suffering caused by vindictive and unjust words.

How many times have you assassinated someone’s character or reputation?

How many times have you cut someone else down in order to build yourself up? How many times have you cursed or even used the Lord’s name in vain? Gulp. How many times have you expressed bitterness in your speech (3:14)?

We are all guilty.

Even as believers who’ve been given a new nature from God, we still struggle with our conversation, don’t we? I know I do. It’s easy to speak words of deception and bitterness. It’s easy to be critical. All of us are guilty of slander and gossip in some way, shape, or form. James put it well: The tongue is a “restless evil and full of deadly poison” (Jas 3:8b). Our worst enemy is our mouth! This is what makes Jesus’ words in Matt 12:36 so terrifying: “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the Day of Judgment.” I know when I stand before Jesus Christ, I will have two give an account for my speech. I’m not looking forward to this accounting one bit. It will be a sobering day indeed when I fully come to grips with how I have dishonored God in my conversation. I’m not okay, you’re not okay. I’m totally depraved.

 

The third and final category of our depravity is found in 3:15-18: Our conduct is depraved. What the mouth utters, the feet usually carry out. Paul writes, “Their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known” (3:15-17). These verses describe America to a tee. Life is so cheap in our country today, particularly in the major cities. People kill one another over a set of car keys or a verbal insult or even a sinister look.

 

Today, there is at least one murder every twenty minutes. Furthermore, every year upwards of 50,000 people die as the direct result of someone else’s abuse of alcohol. And all that pales into insignificance when compared to the 1.2 million babies murdered every year under “freedom of choice” laws related to abortion. And if you’re innocent so far, do you still claim innocence when confronted with Jesus’ claim that murder is committed when one hates another person (Matt 5:21-22)?

 

Rom 3:17 would be an appropriate slogan for the United Nations: “The path of peace have they not known.” Indeed, we’re a warring people who constantly seek evil. Back in 1968, Will Durant wrote a book entitled, Lessons from History. In this book Durant wrote, “In the past 3,421 years of recorded history, only 268 have seen no war.” The search for peace goes on unabated because we don’t know the way of peace. Tragically, we’ve failed to recognize that there will be no peace until we acknowledge our sin and trust in the Prince of Peace.

What is the cause of all this violent and sinful behavior? The answer is found in 3:18: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” As individuals and as a country, we have failed to fear God. Prov 1:7 states, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” yet we have opted for foolishness instead of wisdom. God is left out of our conversations, decisions, and life. He’s ignored. When God is ignored, the consequences of Rom 1 are set into motion: He gives us over (1:24, 26, 28). This leads to the problems that are facing our country and our world today. Once again, we are the problem. We need to point the finger at ourselves. I’m not okay, you’re not okay.

[Paul has indisputably argued that we are universally sinful and totally depraved. Now he decrees a final truth about us.]

  1. We Are Helplessly Lost (3:19-20)

Paul concludes this passage with a verdict: GUILTY! These two verses also summarize the entire section (1:18-3:20). Paul writes, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law so that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (3:19-20). The phrase, “Now we know that” indicates that what follows has already been established as fact. The Law has a message to those under the Law (i.e., Jews), which declares that the whole world is held accountable to God. Implied here is the responsibility of Jews to relay information from the Law to the world largely via their obedience. The Jews are to be an example to the world of how to carry out the standards of the Law.

The Jewish people of Paul’s day didn’t understand that they were condemned under the Law. They knew that they sinned, but they thought they had diplomatic immunity from God’s judgment because they were Jewish. The phrase “whatever the Law says,” refers back to the Old Testament passages that Paul quoted in 3:10-18. The word translated “closed” (phrasso) is literally translated “shut up,” that every mouth may be shut up! The Law brings us up short with God every time. So much so, that when we stand before Him, we’ll be silenced! This verb evokes the image of a defendant in court, who, when given the opportunity to speak in his own defense, remains silent, overwhelmed by the weight of the evidence against him.

 

Your brain is more incredible than the most vast computer system in the world. Every experience we have and every word we speak is recorded in our brains. Concerning the judgment day I think that in the last day God is going to take our brain out of our head, put it on a table there in his court room, plug in a recorder, and punch rewind. We are going to have to sit there and listen to our brain replay everything we’ve ever done, said, and thought. The prosecuting attorney doesn’t have to say a word. Indeed, when we receive a glorified mind and body and we stand before Christ, we will be shut up.

 

In 3:20, Paul explains that the Law was given for condemnation, not justification (i.e., “to declare not guilty,” see 3:24). The Jews had distorted the purpose of the Law. It was never intended to commend a man before God, but to condemn him. Like the blood-alcohol test is designed to prove men are drunk, so the Law is designed to prove men are sinners, under the wrath of God. The Law provided a standard of righteousness, not that men could ever attain such human righteousness, but to demonstrate they’re incapable of doing so and must find a source of righteousness outside themselves. That’s the point of all the sacrifices of the Old Testament. When the Law revealed man’s sin, God provided a way of sacrifice so that a man wouldn’t need to bear the condemnation of God. The Law was never given to save us, but to show us that we need a Savior.

 

The Law has been likened to a mirror. The purpose of a mirror is to reveal what is wrong with my face (e.g., gunk in the eyes, food in the teeth, messy hair, blemishes, etc.) As I carry on the activities of my day, I may somehow get dirt on my face and not even realize it. A mirror serves a wonderful purpose of showing me that I have a dirty face. It shows me that I have a problem. But the mirror cannot wash away the dirt! It makes a very poor washcloth. Likewise, God’s Law can show me that I am a guilty sinner (incapable of keeping God’s holy commandments), but it can never save me. It can only condemn me and show me that I need a Savior.

It is tempting to conclude my lesson on this negative note. However, you would be left with a sense of hopelessness and despair. While this may be Paul’s aim in 1:18-3:20, it is not the end of the story. Hence, I think it’s fitting for me to whet your appetite for the next section in Romans. In 3:21, Paul opens with the conjunction “but” (de). This three letter word that we often overlook may be the most important word in the Bible. The word “but” informs us that sin does not win the day. In a similar passage, Paul exclaims: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us…” (Eph 2:4). He utters these words after laying out total depravity (2:1-3). In both of these texts, the word “but” reminds us that God’s grace is greater than all our sin! Now that’s good news.

 

Like Paul, I have attempted to level you under the weight of your sin. I want you to feel the full brunt of your depravity. I desire for you to sense that you are hopelessly lost. If you’ve arrived at the end of yourself, there will be nowhere to turn but to Jesus Christ. Today, Jesus offers you His righteousness in exchange for your unrighteousness. If you will simply bring your sin to Jesus, He will offer you His perfection. Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sin and the sin of the entire world. He rose from the dead to demonstrate that He is God. He simply asks you to believe in His person and in His work. The decision is yours. Will you be pardoned or punished? I urge you: Believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and cross over from death to life (John 5:24).

 

 

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A church on mission – part 2

  1. A Church On Mission Is Focused (1:11-13).

Paul’s mission is focused on building up people. In other words, he is others-focused. Paul expresses his heart in this way: “For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.” In 1:11, Paul writes that he “longs” to see the believers in Rome. The verb “long” (epipotho) literally means “to strain.” Compelled by Christ, Paul longed to visit the Roman church and he had three good reasons for such a visit.

 

First, Paul sought to impart spiritual benefit. In this context, the word translated “spiritual gift” (charisma) means “blessing or benefit.” Paul is speaking in a very wide and generic sense, not attempting to refer to the “spiritual gifts” discussed elsewhere in the New Testament. Are you on mission to bless and benefit your church family? What steps are you presently taking to bring this about?

 

The second reason that Paul longed to visit Rome was to establish believers. The verb translated “established” (sterizo) in 1:11 simply means “to strengthen.” This term was originally used of buildings, where it means “to be firmly fixed in place.” A building with a strong foundation that is made of solid materials can stand up under pressure. Similarly, a person who has spiritual stability spends most of his time standing up spiritually. The world may knock him down, but he doesn’t stay down. He isn’t easily moved. People who are spiritually stable don’t change their theology to conform to what they want. They know what they believe and stay with those beliefs regardless of what happens in their lives. Paul wasn’t just the greatest evangelist and church planter of all time; he was also a discipler. He understood the need for believers to be established.

 

Within the past few years, I have had trouble running. As a result I haven’t been able to run in 5K races like I used to in the spring. But after a long layoff, my endurance has undoubtedly diminished. I am likely as weak as a baby if I tried to run today. Spiritually speaking, many believers assume that yesterdays spiritual workouts are enough to sustain today’s spiritual strength. Nothing could be further from the truth. You can’t stay strong unless you continue to workout. Likewise, we must continue to spiritually work out and challenge other believers to do the same. How will you establish someone today?

 

One of the ways you can establish yourself and other believers is through encouragement. In 1:12, Paul uses a very unusual word for “mutual encouragement” (sumparakaleo), one that is used nowhere else in the New Testament. This verb ought to motivate you to verbally comfort and encourage other believers. One of our top goals as believers is to encourage one another as Christ’s return draws near (see Heb 10:25). Notice too that “faith” is to be the stimulus of encouragement.

 

My faith should encourage others, and their faith should encourage me. I need encouragement, and so do you. I like to say, “Every preacher needs a preacher.” One of the reasons I repeat this phrase is to remind myself of this great truth. No believer can make it alone; we need each other. Regardless of how long we have been a Christian or how active in church we have been, we will never be so mature that we can’t benefit from the spiritual input of other believers. Leaders must be humble enough to learn from others. We must learn not only to give, but also to receive.

 

Typically, the best place for mutual encouragement to occur is in small groups. When we come together for a corporate worship gathering there are certain things we can do well: We can sing worship songs to the Lord, we can listen to the Scriptures expounded, we can greet scores of believers, and we can reach out to unchurched people who come through our doors. But mutual encouragement from each other’s faith happens best in smaller groups. In a small group context, we can intimately share our faith struggles and successes. We can comfort one another and bear each other’s burdens. We can encourage each other to press on, and in doing so find inspiration in one another’s faith. If you’re not currently involved in a small group with other believers, please consider joining one today.

A third reason that Paul longed to visit Rome is found in 1:13—to bear fruit. If the church at Rome was already so fruitful, why was Paul on a quest for “fruit?” An answer to that question can be found in the fact that Paul never used the word “fruit” (karpos) to refer to new converts. “Fruit” is a broad term that points to the work of God in the believer. Thus, Paul was saying that he wanted to go to Rome to be used by God to see something supernatural occur in the lives of fellow believers who lived there. This is fundamental Christianity—living life in such a way that the fruit of spiritual maturity spills over into the lives of others. Indeed, the thrust of the book of Romans is a presentation of the process of discipleship, a virtual manual on how to be “established” in the faith. When we meet with other believers, the purpose is to obtain fruit.

 

Sadly, one of the reasons that many individuals and churches are unfruitful is because we don’t expect God to grant “much fruit” (cf. John 15:5, 8). But if (when) we expect God to bless our meager efforts, He often shows Himself in a mighty way. We must, therefore, be people of great expectation. We must have confidence that whenever we meet as a church family, God desires to pour out His Spirit and accomplish far more than we can ask or think (Eph 3:20-21). May we move forward as a church of faith-filled believers, for God seeks ordinary believers to join an extraordinary mission.

[Paul has shared two evidences of a church on mission: A church on mission is thankful and focused. Now he shares a third and final evidence.]

  1. A Church On Mission Is Eager (1:14-15)

Individual believers and churches must be thankful and focused, but it is especially critical to be eager. Apart from a passionate zeal, our mission falls flat. Paul puts it like this: “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (1:14-15). The phrase “I am under obligation” is placed at the very end of the sentence for emphasis; the entire sentence builds up to this startling statement. The word translated “obligation” (opheiletes) refers to someone who is a debtor. Paul recognized that he had been bought with a price; therefore, he wanted to glorify God in his body (1 Cor 6:20). Later in 9:16b, he exclaims, “…for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” Why is Paul “under obligation?” The metaphor of a monetary debt doesn’t capture the urgency. It is like a city being conquered by a new king, who entrusts to the herald the proclamation of his victory and the offer of his pardon. The herald, therefore, owes it to all the citizens to tell them urgently. If he does not, they will incur the anger of the new king by not bowing the knee to him and accepting his pardon. This urgency makes Paul eager to preach the gospel.

 

After Paul’s Damascus Road encounter, he was overwhelmed with a burden to share Christ with others. Paul was not an intellectual snob. He saw Jesus Christ as an equal opportunity Savior. So he preached Christ to every language (Greek or any other Gentile tongue) and culture (wise or foolish). Likewise, we must seek out anyone and everyone—people from every “tribe, tongue, people, and nation” (Rev 5:9). Since we don’t know who God is drawing to salvation, a universal offer upholds God’s sovereign call. Furthermore, it allows our church to display a representation of the eternal state where there are people of different colors, classes, cultures, education, etc. Today, will you pray for a greater burden for those who have yet to believe the good news of Jesus? Plead with the Lord of the harvest to set your heart aflame.

 

One question remains: How can Paul “preach the gospel” to “saints” (1:7) whose “faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world” (1:8)? These individuals are already saved and on their way to heaven. As I discussed in 1:1c, the gospel is more than merely believing in Christ and being delivered from hell. In this context, “to preach the gospel” (euaggelizo) means more than just initially proclaiming the Christian message, but includes providing solid “building up” of those who have made an initial response (cf. 15:20).

 

In the book of Romans Paul preaches an expanded and developed explication of the gospel in all of its ramifications. It is the gospel of the “righteousness of God” by faith. And it is this gospel which impacts earthly lives and determines eternal destinies! Are you preaching this gospel to saints? Believers require both justification truth and sanctification truth to help us press on to full maturity in Christ.

 

Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point is a study of how human organizations change. How does a system reach the “tipping point” whereby an organizational culture is transformed? Gladwell documents that it takes no more than six children in a school to begin wearing a certain brand of sport shoe to reach the tipping point, whereby in just a few days one hundred children will begin wearing the same brand of shoe. This principle is relevant to businesses, organizations, and churches. When certain individuals step up and lead, dramatic change can occur. This can be especially true in the church. Christianity tends to be a minority movement. But when a remnant becomes emboldened and sold-out, a small group of believers can set the world on its ear. Just read the book of Acts and observe the exploits of Jesus’ eleven disciples.

 

Today, if you’re tired of playing it safe and are longing to fulfill God’s mission in your life and within your church family, step out in faith. God wants to lift you up and take you to a place of unprecedented health and growth. He wants to use you in a way that He never has before. All that He asks is that you humble yourself before Him and make yourself available. He will do more with your life and your church than you ever thought possible. God seeks ordinary believers to join an extraordinary mission.

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.

 

 

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?”

Divine prescription for money

Several years ago, a sixty-two-year-old Frenchman was rushed to the emergency room. This poor man was suffering severe stomach pain. There was an enormously dense mass in the patient’s stomach that weighed twelve pounds. It was so heavy that it had forced his stomach down between his hips. Five days after his arrival, doctors cut him open and removed his badly damaged stomach and its contents, but the man died a few days later from complications.

What is so astonishing about this man’s story is what the doctors found inside of his stomach. The dense twelve pound mass was not a cancerous tumor. Rather, the patient had swallowed around 350 coins: the equivalent of 650 American dollars! The doctor said he was suffering from a rare illness that makes people want to eat money.

 

Now you are probably saying to yourself, “That’s simply INSANITY! I am nothing like this mentally unhealthy fellow! I would never swallow coins, especially 350 of them.” Honestly, I am glad to hear this. As we tell our children, “Swallowing coins is dangerous. Don’t do it!” Now, let me ask you,

“Are you gorging yourself sick with money and materialism?” Stop for just a moment and take inventory of your life.

Are you sacrificing much time away from your family and church because of money?

Are you losing needed rest for the sake of a job?

Are you working too hard for material gain? Many of us, if we are truly honest, would have to say “yes” to these questions.

In Ecclesiastes 5:10-20, Solomon is going to discuss the misuse and abuse of money. To coin an Italian proverb, Solomon states, “Money is a good servant but a bad master.” Now before you are tempted to tune out and say to yourself, “All that he wants to talk about is money,” I want you to stop in your tracks. When we make a commitment to the Lord, money will have to be discussed. Consider this: Sixteen out of thirty-eight of Christ’s parables deal with money; more is said in the New Testament about money than heaven and hell combined; five times more is said about money than prayer; and where there are five-hundred-plus verses on both prayer and faith, there are over two thousand verses dealing with money and possessions. Why all this talk about money? Jesus said it best, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). God understands that our use of money and possessions may be the single greatest indicator of our spirituality. So let’s see what Solomon has to say. In this passage, he offers us five sobering realities on money and then two profound truths about God. He begins with his five sobering realities on money.

 

  1. The more we have, the more we want (5:10).

Solomon begins by informing us that money is not the secret to happiness. Instead, it is addictive and unsatisfying. In 5:10 he writes, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity.” It is important to notice the twofold repetition of the verb “loves.” Money is not the problem; rather, the love of money is the issue. It has been said, “Money makes a lousy lover. The more you love it, the less it satisfies. The more you focus on it, the less it delivers.” Yet, most Americans are tempted to think: If I had more money; if I could marry the person of my dreams; if I could build my dream house; if I could get a certain promotion or position; if I could gain a certain position of influence; if I could solve a certain problem; if I didn’t have to do something…then I would be happy. In all of this, happiness is dependent upon happenings—more money and more possessions.

 

Someone once asked John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) how much money he wanted. He answered, “Just a little bit more.” This accurately describes most Americans. Unfortunately, whether we care to admit it or not, this is true of many Christians. We have developed a love for money and abundance. Yet, Solomon says, “Take it from me, a man who had it all, money does not satisfy.”

The problem is that we don’t believe him. We think it would be different for us. We wouldn’t be miserable. We would be happy. But let me ask you this:

Do you think most people in Hollywood are content?

Does it seem like most professional athletes are content? We would say that they “have it all” yet they are caught up in drugs, alcohol, violence, and divorce. The inescapable conclusion is that money and possessions are hebel—vanity!

 

This is an especially important realization for married couples or for those considering marriage. U.S. research indicates that wives or husbands who place high value on possessions are more likely to experience financial problems, which puts a strain on the marriage relationship. The study published by Reuters showed that very materialistic couples had a 40 percent higher risk of having financial problems than other couples, which can then impact marital happiness. Therefore, it is critical that married couples in particular spend money wisely, work off a budget, and save. Those couples who are considering marriage need to wrestle with spending habits, standard of living issues, and debt. Remember money is a good servant but a bad master.

[The more we have, the more we want. Now Solomon says…]

  1. The more we have, the more we spend (5:11).

Solomon states that when you have a lot of money you tend to spend a lot of money. In 5:11 he writes, “When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what is the advantage to their owners except to look on?” A person who comes into wealth suddenly discovers he or she has long-lost relatives and would-be friends (cf. Proverbs 19:4). The Message puts it this way: “The more loot you get, the more looters show up.” In other words, money brings out parasites or leeches. Seriously, it takes a lot of people to manage wealth, business, and property. There are bankers, brokers, financial consultants, lawyers, tax consultants, accountants, household employees, bodyguards, and sponging relatives. People can’t take care of their wealth all by themselves. They are dependent upon others. What is so sadly ironic is that more money means more workers to help make, distribute, and protect money. Often, this causes the profit margin of the owner to decrease. Is more better?! In many cases, it is not.

Therefore, you and I need to make sure that we don’t fall into the trap of believing that if we just had a little more money, then that would solve all of our problems. Let’s be honest, isn’t there a part in all of us that thinks if we only had enough to pay all of our bills or get what we are longing for, all of our problems would disappear? In truth, having more actually creates as many problems as it solves. As we get more stuff there are more things to take care of that will demand more of our time and money. We become even more tied down. To make matters worse, the more you have, the more people there will be who resent you for what you have. Indeed, money is a good servant but a bad master.

[The more we have, the more we spend. Solomon goes on to say…]

  1. The more we have, the more we worry (5:12).

Wealth does not give peace or rest but only promotes insomnia because the rich worry about how the wealth is to be maintained. Solomon writes, “The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep.” Solomon has observed that the person who works hard and only has basic necessities sleeps well no matter how much he has to eat. The rich man is actually more restless because he has eaten too much, he has too much going on in his life, and he can’t unwind. Stuff does not bring peace—it actually brings more anxiety. The wealthy are always afraid of losing what is theirs, while the poor man is content with what little he has. This is borne out in our sleep patterns. Did you know that the primary reason people in our culture cannot sleep is tension? And the primary cause for tension is worry over money. What is the stock market doing, how is the economy affecting sales, and how can I keep good people and get rid of those who I do not want? How about OSHA, the IRS, and government regulations?

 

Think about it. You started out to own things, now they own you. Maybe that promotion wasn’t so perfect after all. Like Henry Ford once said, “I was happier when doing a mechanic’s job.” Perhaps you can relate to this. When you don’t have a lot of money, there isn’t a whole lot to worry about. However, the one resting on his wealth has nothing to think about except the possibility of losing it through bad investments, lawsuits, or theft. If you find yourself preoccupied, anxious, and sleepless, you may have affluenza. So work hard and learn contentment. If you do, you will sleep well. And isn’t your peace of mind and rest worth far more than riches and success? Sleep is a gift from God (cf. Ps. 4:8; 127:2; Prov. 3:24; 6:22). Those who do not trust God devise evil on their beds instead of sleeping (cf. Ps. 36:4; Prov. 4:16; Micah 2:1). Earthly possessions rob the owners of sleep (e.g., Prov. 11:28; 18:10-12; 28:11; 30:8-9).

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

[The more we have, the more we worry. Now Solomon says…]

  1. The more we have, the more we hoard (5:13-14).

The tendency of many Americans who have wealth is to forget about those who do not. The selfish tendency of mankind grieves Solomon. He wants us to know, “What comes around goes around.” Listen to these words: “There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt.” Solomon calls hoarding a “grievous evil” (5:13). In the end, selfish greed only leads to the hurt of the hoarder. It has been said, “He who has no money is poor; he who has nothing but money is even poorer.” The truth is: we show what we love by what we do with what we have. If we are generous and sacrificial in giving to the Lord’s work and caring for others, we will have peace. If we choose to hoard, we will have hurt.

 

Verse 14 is very interesting to me. I think Solomon implies that the one who hoards may find that when it is time for his children to inherit his wealth, nothing remains. All it takes is a bad business venture.

 

Solomon writes, “When those riches were lost through a bad investment and he had fathered a son, then there was nothing to support him.” Solomon pictures a person spending his whole life saving for the future and then a calamity strikes—a catastrophic illness, fraud, a stock market crash, perhaps a terrorist attack that destroys the economy, or a “sure fire” investment that goes bad. How many people have lost that which they worked their lives for because they had an extended nursing home stay? The truth is we are all very vulnerable. We are just one illness, accident, or crime away from losing it all. Thus, our hope better be in something more secure than money, for money is a good servant but a bad master.

[The more we have, the more we hoard. Now Solomon says…]

  1. The more we have, the more we leave (5:15-17).

These three verses remind us that money is transitory and temporal. Like flour in a sieve, money slides through some people’s fingers. In 5:15, we come to “the naked truth.” Solomon writes, “As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand.” Solomon points out that we go as we come—naked. We’ve even coined a phrase that reminds us of how we came into this world. If a person has no clothes on, we might say he’s wearing his “birthday suit.” Proverbs 23:4-5 says, “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, Cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.” Did you know that on the back of a dollar bill is a picture of an eagle with his wings stretched out? When I saw it recently I thought, “Now that’s appropriate…and truly biblical as well.” And that old dollar bill will just fly right out of my wallet and so will the next one and so will the next hundred and so will the next thousand. Solomon tells us why. They make themselves “wings.”

[The righteous] are always generous and lend freely.
Psalm 37:26

We do want to be effective parents. There is so much to teach our kids, and so little time. But as we struggle and strain to bestow wisdom on the next generation, we might also pause to consider how much our children can teach us.

I recall a story by a woman named Elizabeth Cobb about a mother who wanted to show her children how to be more generous. After a tornado had touched down nearby, the mother taped a newspaper picture of a now-homeless family on their refrigerator. The photo included the image of a tiny girl, her eyes wide with confusion and fear. The mother explained this family’s plight to her seven-year-old twin boys and three-year-old daughter, Meghan. Then, as the mother sorted out old clothes, she encouraged her boys to select a few of their least-favorite toys to donate.

While the boys brought out unwanted playthings from their rooms, Meghan slipped quietly into her own room and returned hugging something tightly to her chest. It was Lucy, her faded, frazzled, and much-loved rag doll. Meghan paused in front of a pile of discarded toys, pressed her round little face against Lucy’s for a final kiss, then laid the doll gently on top.

“Oh, honey,” the mother said. “You don’t have to give away Lucy. You love her so much.” Meghan nodded solemnly, eyes glistening with held-back tears. “Lucy makes me happy, Mommy,” she said. “Maybe she’ll make that other little girl happy, too.”

The twins stared openmouthed at their baby sister. Then, as if on cue, they wordlessly walked to their rooms and returned not with castoffs, but with some of their prized toy cars and action figures. The mother, now almost in tears herself, removed a frayed coat from the pile of clothes and replaced it with a just-purchased hunter green jacket. The parent who had wanted to teach her kids about generosity had instead been taught.

Meghan intuitively knew that her beloved rag doll was not hers to keep forever. Though she could not have explained it, she understood the meaning of the Scripture that says, “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand” (Ecclesiastes 5:15). When Meghan realized that another little girl needed Lucy more than she did, she willingly gave up her cherished toy.

God wants us to use our possessions, our wealth, our talents, and our very lives to bring glory to Him. As the apostle Paul says, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion” (2 Corinthians 9:11).

Every year, Forbes magazine publishes a special report on the top-earning dead celebrities. Last year (2016), the top were:

  • Michael Jackson, $825 million.
  • Charles Schulz, $48 million.
  • Arnold Palmer, $40 million.
  • Elvis Presley, $27 million.
  • Prince, $25 million.
  • Bob Marley, $21 million.
  • Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, $20 million.
  • John Lennon, $12 million.

 

These men earned a lot of money during their earthly lives and now their estates are prospering after their deaths, however apart from Jesus Christ it is vanity. Solomon is clear: You can’t take it with you. However, the flip side of that coin is positive: You can send it ahead. Jesus commanded us to “store up for ourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). By giving to the Lord’s work and being a blessing to others, your money can outlive you. For now, we only need to remember that in eternal terms there is no own—only loan. In other words, we are not owners; we are merely stewards of God’s resources.

 

Solomon concludes this section in 5:16-17 with disappointing words regarding the pursuit of wealth: “This also is a grievous evil—exactly as a man is born, thus will he die. So what is the advantage to him who toils for the wind? Throughout his life he also eats in darkness with great vexation, sickness and anger.” Solomon reminds us that despite all of our work and wealth, we are going to die. And to make matters worse, if we are obsessed with wealth in this life, happiness will evade us. Andrew Carnegie was right, “Millionaires seldom smile.” Money can’t console you in loneliness, illness, or hardship. Affluenza hangs a dark cloud over life. It causes sorrow (fighting, lawsuits, greed), sickness (stress, ulcers, back pain), and anger (bitterness, resentment, anger at others who use you). And for what?

Money is a good servant but a bad master.

Well, enough bad news, now for some good news. Solomon says that there is a divine prescription for achieving satisfaction, security, and significance in life. In 5:18-20, he shares that happiness ultimately comes from God. He mentions God four times in these three verses. Listen to these two truths about God.

  1. God gives work as His gift (5:18).

Even though you may assume that work is a curse, work is God’s gift. Work was before the fall of man and work will continue into the eternal state; for ultimately work is an expression of worship. Solomon writes, “Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.” God gives mankind work as a reward! This ought to motivate you and me to express gratitude for our jobs. When you wake up tomorrow morning, you need to thank the Lord for a beating heart and for red blood pumping through your veins. You need to thank Him for your job and for the strength He has given you to work your job.

[Not only does God give work as His gift…]

  1. God gives wealth as His gift (5:19-20).

These final verses emphasize the truth that our wealth comes directly from the hand of God. Solomon writes, “Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God. For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart.” These verses demonstrate that wealth is not condemned (cf. 1 Timothy 6:16). The key phrase in 5:18 is “God has given riches and wealth.” But you may say, “I thought I worked for it!” Yes, but God gave you health, a country, economy, skill, and opportunity. Apart from His strength and provision, you would not have what you have. And God wants you to know that if He has given you wealth, He wants you to enjoy it. But one word to the wealthy: Enjoy the wealth God has given you without leaving Him and others out. God is good and the giver of good gifts. We want the good gifts God wants to give us.

 

However, we often seek the gift but do not seek the capacity to enjoy the gift. Job observed that in Job 1:21—that The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Job was able to say that because what God had given him as a gift of capacity was more important than the gift of prosperity itself. When we ask God for blessing, we should also ask Him for the gift of capacity so we can enjoy the blessings He gives. Our recognition of God as the one who gives the capacity to enjoy His blessings allows us to relax and enjoy whatever He gives. Principle: We must be more occupied with the giver than with the gifts.

 

So keep working and enjoy life; don’t fret over its brevity and difficulty. Here’s a happy heart. Righteous people are enabled by God to work hard, laugh loud, enjoy their life and their stuff as gifts from God’s own hand. They have a rich and full life, whether they have prosperity or they are poor.

There is a story told of a rich industrialist who came across a simple fisherman. The rich man was quite perturbed to see the fisherman sitting back with his feet up next to his boat on a sunny afternoon. “Why aren’t you out there fishing?” he demanded. “Because I’ve caught enough fish for the day,” replied the fisherman. “Why don’t you catch more fish?” asked the rich man. “What would I do with them?” “You could earn more money,” said the rich man, who was becoming more impatient, “and buy a better boat so you could go deeper and catch more fish. You could purchase nylon nets, catch even more fish and make more money. Then you could buy more boats and could hire others to help you fish. Soon you would have a fleet of boats and would be rich like me!” “Then what would I do?” “You could sit down and enjoy life” said the industrialist. “What do you think I’m doing right now?” replied the fisherman as he gazed out towards the sea.

The lesson here is not that “money can’t buy you happiness,” but rather, “you don’t need money to be happy,” nor power, nor accomplishments, nor any of those things. Happiness lies outside of things we work for. It’s not that we shouldn’t work; it’s just that it’s useless to pursue happiness through work, or through what work can provide for us. Rather, God wants us to work hard and enjoy the good gifts that He has given us. Make your money your servant to serve others, not your master so that it masters you.

Working for the right reasons

Karoshi is a Japanese word which means “death from overwork.” The syndrome is now so common in Japan that it claims as many as 30,000 victims each year. Its increase has caused such concern that since 1990, the Japanese government has been forced to provide restitution to karoshi widows.

 

As Americans, we hear this and we think to ourselves, “That’s crazy! What are these poor people thinking?” Yet, all the while many of us are working ourselves to death, either literally or figuratively. The question is, “Why?” What is driving us to work so hard and so long? Our natural temptation may be to claim, “I work hard and long to glorify God.” (HA!)  This may be true, but I would suggest for most of us it is only partially true. If the truth be known, many of us are working hard to climb the corporate ladder, to impress our boss, to meet our own expectations, and to make more money. However, working long and hard for these reasons can lead to bitter disappointment and possibly even a premature death. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Japanese people.

 

The world would encourage us to work smarter, not harder.  Lifehack.org suggests things like improving our time management skills, speeding up our typing, learning to use macros, use the phone more than email, create a “to don’t” list, be concise in our communications, and learn as much as you can. Fortunately, Solomon has a biblical solution for us. In Ecclesiastes 4:4-16, he encourages us to do the same thing. We work for the right reasons.by making three specific choices.

 

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

When you were growing up, you might have heard the expression, “Moderation in everything.” Solomon imparts this same truth in these first three verses. He discusses the workaholic, the lazy sluggard, and then strikes the biblical balance between these two extremes. In 4:4 he writes, “I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind.”

 

Solomon once again observes life. He is a student of human nature and activity. In his “people watching,” Solomon discovers that people compete with one another in everything. The twofold use of the word “every” undoubtedly means every type of labor and achievement rather than every individual instance of these things. The point is: much achievement is the result of a desire to be superior over others. We live in a constant state of competition. Research indicates that nine out of ten office workers suffer from “professional envy” of colleagues they perceive to have more glamorous or better paid jobs. What drives many people is to climb the corporate ladder and outdo others?

 

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

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

 

In the 1960s, one generation got sick of the affluence of the 1950s. So this group bailed out and claimed the title of “flower children.” Everybody gave up ambition and the drive for financial success. They let their hair grow long, quit bathing, and just sat on the grass and hummed.

 

Obviously, this is not the way to accomplish God’s purposes in the world. I would dare say this is sheer laziness and foolishness.

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

 

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

 

One day a mother walked in on her six-year-old son and found him sobbing. What’s the matter?” she asks. The boy replied, “I’ve just figured out how to tie my shoes.” “Well, honey, that’s wonderful. You’re growing up, but why are you crying?” “Because,” he says, “Now I’ll have to do it every day for the rest of my life.”

 

Maybe you feel like this six-year-old boy. You’ve recognized that you’re going to be doing the same tasks for what may seem the rest of your life. Perhaps you work a monotonous job, day in and day out, and it kills you to know that you may be working this job for the rest of your life. God wants you to know that there is glory in the grind. Shrug off laziness. Work like today is your last day of work, for it just might be. Work for the right reasons.

 

Solomon now strikes a balance between workaholism and laziness. His solution in 4:6 is: “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind.” At first glance, it seems 4:6 contradicts 4:5; however, we must recognize that 4:6 like 4:5 is a proverb. The comparison is between anything with rest and anything with work. This is not an argument in favor of laziness but a call for balanced living. Blessed are the balanced! The wise person realizes that some things matter more than other things, that your career is not the measure of your self-worth, that having more money can’t replace the joy of spending time with people you love. Contentment means that you have everything you need right now. If you needed more, God would give it to you.

 

Solomon is saying, “Rather than grasping for so much that you have to be a workaholic to get it, be content with less. It is better to have less and enjoy it more.” Our problem is not the high cost of living; it is the cost of high living. We want far too much. The cure is contentment, being willing to settle for less materially if it means we can have some “rest.”

 

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

 

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

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

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

These verses remind us that people should be our priority. If you are too busy for the people in your life that matter most, you are too busy. In 4:7-8 Solomon writes, “Then I looked again at vanity under the sun. There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked, ‘And for whom am I laboring and depriving myself of pleasure?’ This too is vanity and it is a grievous task.” 

 

Do you know anyone like this? Of course you do! With that person in mind, I’d like to describe this person. This man believes in the value of hard work and the inherent dignity of a job well done. He’s probably married and has at least three children whose picture he carries in his wallet. He loves his wife and thinks about her more than she knows. It’s true he works long hours—often he’s gone by six in the morning and doesn’t come home until after seven at night. The pressures at work are so enormous that it takes him an hour or two to unwind, so he doesn’t spend much time talking in the evening. He’s so tired that it’s all he can do to read the paper, watch a little television, and then go wearily to bed. His blood pressure is too high, he knows he needs to exercise, his diet isn’t the best, and sometimes he’s irritable and snaps at his family—and regrets it later. It’s true that he works seventy hours a week, but he doesn’t think of himself as a workaholic. He simply loves his job—and he’s good at it. And thankfully, he is able to bring home a nice paycheck and provide good things for his family. One of these days he plans to slow down and smell the coffee—but not today. He gulps his coffee and heads for the door before his family knows he’s gone. One evening he comes home and his family is not there. While he was at work, the kids grew up, his wife went back to college and found a career of her own, his children moved out, and now the house is empty. He can’t believe it. The Board of Directors just named him CEO. Now there’s no one to share the good news with. He made it to the top—alone.

 

Even if you are not a successful, high-powered CEO, you can probably relate to this man. It is so easy to become consumed with work. We all tend to suffer from the hurry syndrome. Consider the Tyranny of the Urgent:

http://www.olemissxa.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Tyranny-of-the-Urgent.pdf

We are busy people…so busy that sometimes we miss the significant people right in front of us. How many mothers and fathers have shortchanged their children for $10,000 or $20,000 extra a year? How many young consultants make great money but don’t have friends because they travel every week? How many wealthy people have accumulated huge nest eggs but no friends? Do you have anyone to enjoy life with? Are you taking the time to smell the coffee? Are you truly enjoying your children? Do you have any trusted friends?

 

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

  • Friends bring about good results in labor (4:9).Solomon writes, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.”  Relationships grow out of shared work whether it is yard work, mission trips, service projects, or local church ministry. Two human souls combine their strength, creativity, talent, and ambition. There is something special about working together with at least one other person. There is a bond that takes place when people work or serve together. Who are you currently working with or serving with?

 

  • Friends pick up one another in trouble (4:10).Solomon writes, “For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” America is the land of the lonely. We cultivate loneliness in our culture. We take pride in being independent and alone. We even have a Declaration of Independence. Men especially are raised with this sort of macho attitude. Yet, even men need other men. Some of our fundamental principles in the Ironmen’s Men’s ministry (1) relationships are valuable, (2) we need to trust one another, (3) real men share their feelings, (4) real men need accountability, and (5) real men need to learn from one another. Who are you currently encouraging and investing in?
  • Friends warm one another in a cold world (4:11).Solomon writes, “Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?” If you are married, does your spouse have cold feet? My wife, Karen, occasionally has cold feet. One of my acts of service is to allow her to warm her feet on me. This is sheer unconditional agape love on my part. Of course, you may not be the sacrificial servant that I am, so you adjust the temperature on your waterbed or electric blanket. However, in Solomon’s time, cold was a much more serious issue. When forced to sleep in the open, or even in a tent, the more bodies that huddled together, the warmer all would be. So Solomon says that two are better than one in staying warm. Take two coals, heat them up and then separate them and what happens? Their heat will be extinguished. They cannot generate sufficient heat when they are alone. That is why it is so important for the church to meet together. We come together to create a bonfire of fellowship that we might set one another aflame with a zeal for serving the Lord. So who are you currently showing Christian love to?

 

  • Friends hold up one another in adversity (4:12).Solomon closes his thoughts in this section with these words: “And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” We need other people to give us strength in the midst of persecution and hardship. “A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart” was a proverbial way of saying “there is strength in numbers.” We all face trials and tests of our faith. If you have no one to walk through these dark times with you, life will seem utterly impossible. Again, this is why involvement in a local church is so important. Are you currently bearing someone else’s burdens?

 

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

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

In this four verse parable, Solomon reminds us that popularity is fleeting; therefore, we are better to choose influence over popularity. The story goes like this: “A poor yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction. For he has come out of prison to become king, even though he was born poor in his kingdom. I have seen all the living under the sun throng to the side of the second lad who replaces him. There is no end to all the people, to all who were before them, and even the ones who will come later will not be happy with him, for this too is vanity and striving after wind”(4:13-16).

 

What is in view in this parable is a succession of kings, none of whom fully satisfies the populace. The point is that even though a young man may rise from the bottom of society to the top, not everyone will accept or appreciate him. Therefore, since it is impossible to achieve full acceptance it is foolish to spend one’s life seeking advancement and popularity. It is better to stay poor and wise. From this unimpressive position, it may be possible to influence more people than you ever thought possible. Influence must always trump popularity because popularity is temporal.

 

If we are honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that life at the top is fleeting. Our attention span is short, our memories nonexistent, and our only question is, “What have you done for me lately?” Presidents and prime ministers may have extremely high approval ratings for a while, but they don’t last. Just ask President Bush. Consider the quarterback on your favorite team.  Former Dallas Cowboy quarterback, Don Meredith, used to say about quarterbacks, “Today you are in the penthouse. Tomorrow you’re in the outhouse.” What is true of quarterbacks is also true of the rest of us. Popularity doesn’t last. Today’s heroes are tomorrow bums. Become president of the Rotary Club or PTA. Get elected chairman of your Homeowners Association. You’ll be doing great if more than half the people still like you when you’re done.

 

It’s Super Bowl Sunday. Winning the Super Bowl is the professional dream of every NFL player. It isn’t the money they make; a winner’s earnings from a Super Bowl appearance amount to less than a full game’s check for the average NFL player. It isn’t the Vince Lombardi trophy, which they don’t get to take home. It’s the fame, the respect, that moment of supreme glory. The players do receive a ring, and the Super Bowl ring is perhaps the most coveted prize of the world of sports—on par with an Olympic gold medal. But even such a ring may not last.

Charlie Waters of the Dallas Cowboys found that out when his five Super Bowl rings were stolen from the closet in his home.

Joe Gilliam won two Super Bowl rings as a member of the 1974 and 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers, but he pawned them off for a few dollars after being caught in a vicious cycle of drug addiction and homelessness.

Another former Steeler, Rocky Bleier, sold his four rings to cover divorce and bankruptcy proceedings.

The Cowboys’ Thomas Henderson had his Super Bowl XII ring seized to pay back taxes.

Former Raiders All-Pro cornerback Lester Hayes sold his to pay for dental work. Mercury Morris of the Miami Dolphins sold his ring to raise money to clear his name during a drug-trafficking case.

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

 

Achievement, riches, and popularity can all expire on us like cottage cheese. These three pursuits are so temporary. In the end they are hebel—breath, vapor, mist, and utter futility. So influence: Just trust God, love people, and enjoy life.