Today we continue in our studies in Ecclesiastes. Please read the scriptures here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ecclesiastes+6-8&version=NIV
A British newspaper recently ran a series of articles which featured well-known figures writing advice to themselves, around the theme, ‘what I know now, which I wish I had known when I was 18!” Some of the pieces were funny, some were confessional – all of them had something of a nostalgia for lost youth along with an understanding that in life we make a lot of mistakes on the way.
When King Solomon sat to write his book of Ecclesiastes at the end of his life, he pulled together a lifetime of godly wisdom and lessons he had learned. He left it not as a fictitious ‘letter to my 18 year old self’ but as a legacy for his son. Some of his insights are spectacular. Some of the mistakes he made along the way were phenomenally expensive. All of it has been preserved for us.
In the Bible’s wisdom literature, people are assessed as to whether they are wise, foolish or wicked. Wise people seek God’s perspective on life, foolish people don’t listen to God’s wisdom, while wicked people actively rebel against it. Folly is the stupidity of thinking that you know it all, and don’t need to listen to God’s perspective. Sometimes folly can wreck the lives of otherwise well-intentioned people. The wisdom of God can be the brakes that slow us down to navigate the bends in the road of life that can send us crashing into things, if we just charge ahead without the humility to stop and take heed. Wickedness on the other hand can be very well-informed! It is quite likely that Solomon passed this book onto his son, who would have been brought-up with the word of God and wisdom; and he actively decided to throw it all away and live his own way.
Wisdom calls us to listen to God’s voice and to gain His perspective on life. One of our great challenges in life is to learn to value what matters! This world so often values all the wrong things; and craves after them as if they are eternally significant. Yet Solomon’s confessional journal shows us again and again that money, sex, power, art, music, culture, empires and all the great things God has put in this world can contribute to a well-rounded life if handled wisely. But they cannot provide eternal meaning, significance and identity for you; no matter what quantity of them you posses.
Today, be wise – and learn four lessons from Solomon.
Lesson One: Let your words be few.
Especially in the context of approaching God in worship, we should come with some humility. That means not coming with a great volume of words, thinking that that will impress God, or others. Rather we should come to God expecting to hear from Him in order to obey him; rather than pour our own words into the air. Yes, of course, there is a time for pouring our hearts out to God. That often happens when we are alone in the place of prayer; what we must never do is to fill our worship and devotional times with so much noise of our own making that the Lord doesn’t get listened to! “Be Still and know that I AM God” the scriptures say. There is a wisdom in learning to be still before God, and receiving from Him.
Many people are looking for peace, Some people think they can find peace by looking within themselves. That is a sad, deluded kind of vanity, which can become self-worship. If we search within ourselves truly we will find plenty of sins, faults and failings which will be distressing – not comforting. True peace comes not from within, but from outside ourselves the Bible insists. Jesus said he would give us peace (John 14:27), but here again people so often get misdirected. They approach him with frantic religious activity, or great prayers which might be masterpieces of style or impressive in length; but simply drown out the life-giving voice of Jesus. If you lack peace, don’t babble at God, come quietly, reverently and humbly to Jesus. Turn from your sins, and gaze upon his wonderful face. Learn to dwell in His presence, ask Him to fill you with His Holy Spirit so that you can glimpse Him afresh. There are well-intentioned people who miss out here, because they lack wisdom.
Lesson Two: Let your words be true (5:4-7)
If our words are to be few, they are also to be true! Truth telling may be in short supply amongst politicians and journalists these days; but it is highly prized by God, and must be by all who follow Him. From small matters to great contracts, it is essential that we are people of our word.
4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. 5 It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. 6 Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? 7 Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.
The question of truth matters intensely to God. Jesus said he was “the truth”, and so truth telling or lying is something which shows that we are aligned or misaligned with the eternal character of God. After all, God tells the truth and keeps His promises. Think about the promises God has made us to (i) forgive our sins, 1 John 1:8-9, (ii) to send us His Holy Spirit, Luke 11:13 (iii) and give us wisdom, James 1.
And just as God tells the truth, and keeps His promises – so must we.
One of the ways many people end up in a position of “living in untruth” – without ever meaning to deliberately lie, is to make a well-meaning vow or promise and then just never seem to get round to implementing it. That’s bad enough when we do that to people; but “The Teacher” here in Ecclesiastes warns us against doing that to God. According to a survey conducted by inc.com 60% of people make “New Year Resolutions”, of which only 8% are kept! Promising that we will do some future good may pacify our conscience in the immediate-term, but leave the actual good undone. “The diet starts tomorrow!” is a surprisingly common attitude.
If you have post-dated promises made to God – today is the day to start fulfilling them. Some people say, “Lord, I promise I will stop committing that sin…”, “I will stop that destructive habit”, and “I will break off that toxic friendship”; but leave that promise hanging in the air. Other promises to good things can be left too, “I promise I will get my financial giving sorted out”, “I promise I will prioritize real people over social media”, “I promise I will read the Bible”, “I promise I will pray..”
So many people Christian people have sensed a call from The Holy Spirit to take up a new calling or ministry, and said “Yes”; but then sat down again and done nothing. As a result, that orphanage never got built, that preaching ministry never got going, that feeding program is still just a dream, that church plant is still just an idea, that African child still has no sponsor, that Christian ministry is still short of money, and that neighbor still hasn’t heard the gospel.
Friends. Today is the day! Have the humility to hear this wisdom from God’s word and turn the promise or the intention into reality. Your fruitfulness and integrity depend on it. “A good name is better than fine perfume” it says in ch7v1.
Lesson Three: Enjoy the good
The final lesson of wisdom in our text today concerns the enjoyment of life! Especially learning to enjoy the possessions we have been blessed to own. This text comes loaded with a warning and promise (as do so many things in the Bible).
The warning is that if you live for making and consumption of money – it will ruin you! Chapter 5 continues:
10 Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless.
11 As goods increase,
so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners
except to feast their eyes on them?
Money makes a terrible ‘god’. You cannot serve both God and money; and of the pursuit of money there is no end! A life spent accumulating money is utterly and completely meaningless, a chasing after the wind! One of the great tragic ironies of this is that when people love money – they don’t enjoy it! If money has captivated your heart you will be consumed with the pursuit of the next buck, and scared of losing what you’ve got. I once worked alongside a colleague who constantly checked his stock portfolio as he was consumed with the fear of his assets devaluing.
When we accept good things from the hand of God, however – we do not love them more than God, but we do learn to enjoy them! Part of that is to do with learning to hold them lightly! That is, putting our trust in The Lord for our daily bread, our peace, joy and happiness, and accepting that one day we might have less! If you want to enjoy your things fully, stop worshipping them!
Lesson Four: Be Balanced!
Our final lesson in this study is this; learn to be balanced!
Do not be overrighteous,
neither be overwise—
why destroy yourself?
17 Do not be overwicked,
and do not be a fool—
why die before your time?
18 It is good to grasp the one
and not let go of the other.
Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.[a]
Do not be ‘over-righteous’ – that is don’t disappear into your own self-righteous bubble in which you spend all your time in a ‘holy-huddle’ with people you agree with, criticizing other people who you think are wrong! Rather get into the world, and love real people! Over-righteous people take themselves far too seriously, and seem to think that being critical of everyone and everything is holiness! I knew an ‘over-righteous’ man who really thought that enjoyment of life was almost sinful, and as a result people just avoided him, He certainly was not a good advert for the gospel, or life in all its fullness!
Likewise, don’t be over-wicked. That is, don’t make the pursuit of pleasure, enjoyment and this life your goal, as your lusts and flesh with destroy you.
Instead, learn a balance! Learn to enjoy life in a godly way. In the Middle Ages, it was thought that money, sex and power were so sinful and unmanageable, that if you wanted to follow God you had to join a convent or a monastery and take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. That’s not Biblical at all, in fact that’s trying to be ‘over-righteous’ and extremist. On the other hand, having no brakes, or controls on how we handle these things would be sinful and dangerous. Lust, greed and abuse have tainted this world. The balanced Christian knows how to live in this world, using the gifts God has given us here, in balanced, careful ways – according to the standards of God’s word.
Extremists are everywhere in the church! Make sure that you are not one, but that you live a careful, humble, balanced life which is an advert for faith in Jesus.
Let your words be few.
Let your words be true.
Enjoy the good.
And all of these things because you are a worshipper of God who is eternal, as you live wisely in this world which is not!