Welcome again to our Bible Study! If you are new to my blog, then you are especially welcome – thankyou for joining us. Over recent weeks we have been look at Ecclesiastes, one of the great books of Old Testament wisdom. We’ve been seeing just how relevant that wisdom is for us today. This week we reach chapter three, which you can read here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ecclesiastes%203&version=NIV
A Time for Everything (3:1-8)
As we saw last week, not only does life have times and seasons; but God orders our days. The idea behind the old word for time used here (Kairos) is that there are particular moments which are ordained by God for specific purposes. Obviously the time when Jesus would come into the world was ordained by God, as is the moment when He will return in glory. The angels in heaven do not know when that will be – only God the Father knows. Yet that time is marked by Him and will come to pass.
Some people live in the past! They are full of nostalgia for great days they once knew. I know people who had powerful spiritual experiences of God at work in the mid-20th century, and really just long to go back there. I know others who live for the future. Often younger, very zealous Christians, seem to think that when the present lot of church leaders move on and they get to run things, then great days of blessing will come. It’s so easy to live in the past or in the future. Both can be complete deflections from making the very best of today. Think of this:
10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2)
That means that rather than being born too late, having missed all the great opportunities of the past; or being born too soon before great things that are to come; you and I have been placed here by God; along with the work He has for us today! Future aspirations and nostalgia for the past can be the greatest distractions for godly people. Living for the past or the future, means not only missing God’s purposes for you today but will also sap your joy; which comes from living each day with The Lord!
I know these are difficult days. Not just in terms of the global pandemic; but difficult days in the West for the church – in our secularizing culture. But don’t lose heart, or give up – God has plans for you today. Some Christians have gone into “nuclear bunker mentality” – that is, they are so afraid of this world and the destructive powers they see everywhere, that they have hidden away below deep defenses; hoping to ride out the storm. But Jesus says we are to advance with Him, as He builds His church and His kingdom; “and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”.
So don’t despair at the time in which you have been placed. God put you here for a reason, and has given you specific works that He wants you to accomplish for Him today, which were not there in the past, and will not be there in the future. Ask God for a holy boldness, to grasp every opportunity that He gives you today. Of course, there will be resistance to this from the world, the flesh and the devil – but claim this promise from The Lord, “He that is in you, is greater than he that is in the world!” That is, if you are a Christian, then the same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in you! So you do not need to give in to fear, or fatalism, or feelings of inadequacy, rather pray,
“Father thankyou that when you saved me by grace, you prepared good works in advance for me to do. Please give me with wisdom to discern them today, and the courage to seize hold of them! In Jesus’ name, Amen!”
The Meaning of Life.
The second part of our chapter concerns The Teacher’s continued quest for meaning in life. Ecclesiastes is something of a spiritual journal. He writes:
9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
Our ‘teacher’ here, Solomon has some very profound things to say here that we should listen to. The rest of this chapter concerns two things, first of all “the gifts”, and then “the giver”.
The first thing we are to note here is that all the good things that we experience in life are gifts from God. They are not ours by right, we didn’t create them and we do not deserve them! They are here in the world as tokens of the goodness and generosity of God. And we are supposed to enjoy them and give thanks to God for them. Some forms of religion have gone wrong, because they have decided that the essence of true spirituality is saying no to things which God has said we can enjoy! Paul critiques this kind of false asceticism in his letter to Timothy, saying: They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. There is a difference between rejecting sin, and rejection of God’s good gifts!
Knowledge, education, travel, family, work, autumnal trees, sunsets, art, music, song, birds, waterfalls, friends, food, shelter and warmth – all these are from God. Don’t miss out on enjoying them to their fullest potential, and give hearty thanks to the Lord, from whose good hand they come! Why has The Lord stacked His creation with so many wonders and delights? Why did he make us with such a deep attraction to beauty, and place us in a world with so many beautiful things? The first answer is that He is remarkably generous and kind. Genesis 2 contains a remarkable and often overlooked verse: “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” Do you see the significance of that? He didn’t just make the tree functional, but also made it beautiful! The pure, holy, wonder of God’s joyful creativity and the lavishing of His goodness on his creatures is on show all over the place. Enjoy it!
The second reason is this. Acts 17:24-28 says, 7 God did this [work of good creation] so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. That is, the gifts should point us towards the giver – so that we reach out to Him.
The ideal pattern is very clear here. We ae supposed to receive good gifts from God and receive them with thanks and live each moment with joy and thanksgiving to God for them. We are supposed to enjoy both gift and giver! Each and every gift is intended to be a signpost pointing us to God. Sometimes when we drive from our home in Scotland, down to London – which is about an eight-hour journey; we see the signs on the highway (they call them Motorways here) which say “The South” and “London”. We follow them, all the way down through Scotland to the border then all the way down the M6, the main North-South route in the country. Imagine if instead of continuing down the road, we stopped at the signpost and said, “It says London – we must be here!” That’s clearly a foolish thing to even suggest .. and yet we so often do that with the great signposts that God has placed within creation which are meant to point us to Him! We stop at the signpost – and miss the great thing to which they point!
Because we are sinful, our hearts latch onto the things God has given us which are calling us to worship Him – and we worship them instead. Listen to what the great 20th Century preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones said about this:
The effect of sin is to make mankind a slave of the things that were meant to serve him. This is one of the terrible, tragic things about it. According to our Lord, earthly, worldly, things tend to become our god. We serve them; we love them. Our heart is captivated by them; we are at their service. What are they? They are the very things that God in his kindness has given mankind in order that they might be of service to him, an in order that he might enjoy life while he is in this world. All these things which can be so dangerous to our souls because of sin, were given to us by God, and we were meant to enjoy them – food and clothing, family and friends and all such things. These are all but a manifestation of the kindness and graciousness of God. He has given them to us that we might have a happy and enjoyable life in this world; but because of sin, we have become their slaves. We are mastered by appetites. God has given us our appetites; hunger, thirst and sex are God-created. But the moment a man is dominated by them, or is mastered by them, he is a slave to them. What a tragedy; he bows down and worships at the shrine of the things that were meant to be at his service! Things that were meant to minister to him have become his master. What an awful, terrible thing sin is. (D. M. Lloyd-Jones. “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount” vol2 p103
That is a stunning quote!
But here is the good news of the gospel. In Jesus, we can be saved from our sins, which distort all these things – and can be reconciled to GOD! In our chapter Solomon confessed that he didn’t know what would happen after death “Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” he laments. (v21) However, Jesus did know – and tells us. In fact Jesus is “greater than Solomon” (Luke 11:31) because he was eternal, and knew all the mysteries of eternity which were hidden even from Solomon!
Jesus said, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11). He told the penitent thief on the cross adjacent to his own, “today you will be with me in paradise” – and in John 14 said, “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”
So here is our conclusion. Accept the wonderful gifts that God has put here in the world for you. Enjoy them, and enjoy life to the full. But do not stop there – without God, these things are distorted, empty, meaningless and even harmful. But taken as signposts, they point you to an eternal, loving, glorious and good God. You may not yet know God. You may not yet know his salvation, eternal life and freedom from sin, death and hell. So without any delay call on Him now, ask for His forgiveness, His cleansing and receive the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ!
As ever if you need any spiritual help our counsel, please contact me, there is nothing that would bring me greater joy than to introduce you to Jesus.