Being a model church

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

Encouraging our leaders and others

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

(1) Salvation begins with God.

(2) Salvation involves God’s love.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Living confidently

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Embracing Authority

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Wise words about wisdom

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

 

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

 

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

In these first four verses, Solomon discusses one of the most prevalent questions of human history: Why do good people suffer and bad people prosper? In 7:15 he writes, “I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness.”

 

The phrase “I have seen everything” is akin to the contemporary expression of disgust, “Now, I’ve seen it all.” Solomon is a bit miffed that there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between one’s goodness and one’s lifespan. We see this principle alive and well today. We see righteous people die abruptly, and we see wicked fools living for what seems too long. Think about it…Jesus lived to be 33 and Hugh Heffner seems as if he’s going to outlive all of us. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it?

 

It’s easy to agonize over these hazy areas of the faith, like those spots on a sparkling car window that simply won’t come clean. Yet, these hazy areas tell me that God is real, dynamic, and too great for my conception.

 

His ways are higher than mine. Isa 55:8-9 states, “‘for My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”

 

If there were no hazy areas, Christianity would be too neat, too trite. If I can fully understand God’s thoughts, He would be no more God than I am. Others approach this theological puzzle (and others) with an ultimatum: solve it or God is not real. This is like approaching a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle and saying, “If I can’t assemble this in five minutes, I will deny that it’s a picture.” That’s unfair, isn’t it? It’s also irrational. Our inability to work out an answer reflects only on our limitations, not God’s. Therefore, it makes sense to trust our loving and powerful God even when He does not think and act like we might want Him to. After all, He sees the end from the beginning. With this in mind, today will you give the Lord whatever intellectual issues that you are struggling with? It’s as simple as saying, “God, I don’t understand what you are doing or why you are doing it, but you are God and I am not so I will trust You.”

 

Since we can’t possibly understand God’s decisions, Solomon’s conclusion in 7:16-17 is, “Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time?” These verses have been terribly misunderstood. Some have dubbed these verses “the golden mean,” which suggests we should not be too righteous or too wicked. Rather, we should strike a balance and achieve a happy medium. Instead of saying, “Do not be overly foolish,” Solomon merely declares: “do not be a fool.” By doing so, he seems to be suggesting that a person is either a fool or he/she is not a fool (i.e., there are no degrees of being a fool). Furthermore, trying too hard to become something—whether “good” or “bad”—does not accomplish lasting success. “Trying too hard” merely breeds frustration and an emptiness because the effort takes place “under the sun” and, for the most part, the success of such an effort is short-lived, perhaps “benefiting” the person only in his/her life “under the sun” and not in his/her eternal life.

 

Yet, if Solomon is telling us to be moderately godly, he is contradicting the Bible which clearly teaches us to seek righteousness and holiness with all that is within us. 2 Cor 7:1; Phil 3:13-14; Heb 12:14. I believe, therefore, Solomon’s concern is not with godly character, but with godly character in one’s own eyes. His point is that we should not depend on our righteousness or wisdom to guarantee God’s blessing in our lives. In other words, if you are a particularly righteous person don’t be too confident that you will live to see your 120th birthday. The verb translated “ruin yourself” is better rendered to “be appalled, astounded.”

Solomon is saying, “Don’t assume that God owes you anything for your righteousness.” If you do, you might be confounded or disappointed like the righteous person who dies at a young age.

 

The truth is, no matter how righteous or wise we attempt to be we are still sinners in need of God’s mercy and grace. The apostle Paul understood this. Early in his ministry, he called himself the least of the apostles. Later on he said he was the least of all Christians. Then he said he was the chief of sinners. The older he got, the more he saw of God, the lower he became in his own estimation.

 

In the same vein, John Newton, the former slave trader and author of “Amazing Grace,” said, “When I get to heaven, I will be amazed at three things. I will be amazed at those I thought would be there who are not there, those I did not think would be there who are there, and the fact that I am there at all.”

 

The Chinese are reported to have a saying, “The shoot that grows tall is the first to be cut.” Biblically and practically, it makes sense to be humble. There is just too much we don’t understand. There are too many questions, too many tragedies, and too much sin. Humility is always the best option. But what does this look like practically? It means you take a close look at how you think, speak, and act. When you think of Christian self-righteousness, you most likely think of a person who sees the faults of others, but is oblivious to his or her own condition. Tragically, this may be the most frequently used reason for not becoming a Christian. In the past, I used to dismiss this by saying, “There are hypocrites in every profession and sphere of life.” But now I agree with statements relating to hypocrisy among Christians. I will even acknowledge that I have been guilty of hypocrisy as well. I empathize with people who quote the common bumper sticker, “Jesus, save me from your followers.” Don’t get me wrong, we need to be authentically righteous, but we also need to be especially humble.

 

Not only is Solomon opposed to self-righteousness, he is also opposed to wickedness. Although we are sinful and will always have remains of hypocrisy and self-righteousness, we need to be careful not to use our sinfulness as an excuse to sin even more. The fact that we aren’t perfect should spur us on toward holiness, not toward moral compromise. It’s easy to see how this line of reasoning might work. “I’ve already told one lie. What difference will another make?” Or “I know I shouldn’t have used foul language, but why stop now?” All such reasoning is evil. Why compound your troubles by continuing to sin? When you’re in a hole, stop digging. If you can’t make things better, at least make sure you don’t make them worse. This applies to all of us because everyone struggles with sin to one degree or another. You don’t have to take another drink, you don’t have to cheat a second time, you don’t have to keep on swearing, and you don’t have to lose your temper over and over again. By the power of God, and with the help of a few good friends, you can stop the patterns of sin and replace them with habits of holiness.

 

If we choose to disregard God’s Word and play the fool we may die before our time. The truth is, God does sometimes punish the wicked in this life. There have been times over the course of my life when I have wondered what would happen if I attempted to steer off a cliff while driving my car. I have thought to myself, “Would God send an angel to steer my car away from imminent danger? Would God Himself slam on the brakes before I drove off the cliff? Would He keep my steering wheel from turning in the direction of the cliff?” The answer to these questions is, “NO, NO, NO!” This is not to say that the Lord would not work a miracle, but the odds are against it. If I make a foolish decision, I may pay for it with my life. This is the message we should be trying to get our young people to understand: please don’t play the fool. One experiment with drugs could end your life. One sexual encounter could cost you dearly. One suicidal attempt could be your last. It’s not worth it. Live in light of eternity. Exercise wisdom and self-control.

 

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

[Wisdom provides humility. We will now see…]

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

In this section, Solomon says, “Wisdom is a strong ally in this fallen world, but it cannot shield believers from pain, injustice, and bad circumstances.” In 7:19 Solomon writes, “Wisdom strengthens a wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.” The Hebrew word for “wisdom” (hokmah) refers to “the skill of living.” This involves both a godly perspective and a godly power to live life. Perspective and power are like the two wings on a bird, the two blades of a pair of scissors, or the two sides of a coin. The whole of wisdom doesn’t exist without both perspective and power. In 7:19, Solomon states that the wisdom of God is better than surrounding yourself with the ten best men you can find. It’s been said that a man with a Bible could stay in a cave for a year, and at the end of that time, he could know from his reading what everybody else in the world was doing. There is no greater blessing than wisdom. There is no greater activity than walking with God and revering Him. But watch out that you don’t let your good behavior go to your head.

 

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

 

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

 

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

My prayer is that you and I will stand up for others and sit down for ourselves. I am learning to take the destructive words of others toward me with a grain of salt. One man said, “I never worry about people who say evil things about me because I know a lot more stuff about me than they do, and it’s worse than what they are saying.” Seriously, the key to defusing gossip and slander is to humble yourself and not take yourself too seriously. Remember Jesus’ words, “Woe unto you when all men speak well of you” (Luke 6:26). Elsewhere He said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matt 5:11).

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

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

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

 

So did Solomon discover anything? In 7:26 he writes, “And I discovered more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are chains. One who is pleasing to God will escape from her, but the sinner will be captured by her.” There is some mystery surrounding the identity of this woman. Some understand this woman to be a prostitute or an adulterer. The application then is to avoid sexual sin. I believe, however, that this woman is the personification of that wickedness which is folly itself. She is the “strange woman” of Proverbs 1-9. The antecedent of “the woman” is folly (7:25), a Hebrew feminine noun that also has an article. This conclusion seems corroborated by the allusions in 7:26 to the tactics of folly who tries to lure one away from wisdom’s embrace. The point is: Foolishness is like a seductive PERSON, so beware for she will lead you to your demise. Be like a wise person who refuses to be captured by her. Use discretion as you travel this life. Choose your friends wisely. Bad company corrupts good morals. I Corinthians 15:33. Guard your intake of television and movies. Don’t watch programming that will tear you down in your walk with Christ.

 

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

 

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

Verse 29 asserts two truths from Genesis: Initially, all of God’s creation was good. Humans can understand and implement God’s will. Fallen humans are creative and energetic in the area of evil and rebellion. Though morally capable, humans turn from God’s will to self-will at every opportunity! Even though we seek righteousness, we need to remember that no matter how good we get, we are still sinful—every last one of us—men and women both. We need to remember that no matter how good we get, the only reason people tolerate us is that we have learned how to tame our public evil as opposed to our private evil. Does that disturb you about yourself? Here it is again: The only reason that you’re a likable person is that you have learned to distinguish between your public and private obnoxiousness, and you are smart enough to keep your lustful, hateful, wicked thoughts contained in your brain. In your public treatment of people, you have remained basically hygienic and nonviolent.  I know this is a hard word, but don’t get mad at me; I’m just the mailman. I just deliver the mail.

 

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

 

Solomon closes out this section in 8:1 with a transitional verse: “Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter? A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam.” Wisdom provides insight. Wisdom will bring illumination and a smile to your face. How can you get wisdom? The primary way is by reading and heeding God’s Word. This is what I read in Proverbs 6:16-19: “There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.” The first item that God hates is “haughty eyes.” God hates pride and self-righteousness. The fourth item is “a heart that devises wicked plans.” This summarizes the whole of foolishness and wickedness. The last item on this list is God hates it when “one spreads strife among brothers.” This ties back into Eccl 7:21-22. If you and I want to be wise ones, we will study God’s Word and then apply it to our lives. As Solomon said in Prov 1:7: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” May we heed these words and choose to be humble in all things?

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.