Living Life to the Fullest (Ecclesiastes 11:1-10)

  • when last did you do something bold?
  • when last did you grab life by the tail and take a risk, turning down the opportunity to play it safe?
  • William James said, "Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake. We are making use of only a small part of our physical and mental resources"
  • when last did you color outside of the lines?
  • there's a sign along the Alaskan highway that says:
  • CHOOSE YOUR RUT CAREFULLY, YOU'LL BE IN IT FOR THE NEXT 200 MILES
  • wow!
  • many people are in a rut and they don't even know it
  • as we get older, we tend to play it safe
  • some settle for comfortable and predictable lives
  • only a few dare to be bold with their lives and seize every day as a fresh gift
  • only a few roll out of bed in the morning with the fresh enthusiasm of a child
  • we're at the point in Ecclesiastes where Solomon advocates a little bold living
  • he says this: we ought to use wisdom boldly and carefully, cannily yet humbly, taking joy from life while realizing that our days of joy are limited by the certainty of death
  • Solomon is telling us, don't play it safe!
  • don't let fear, pessimism, and paranoia rule your life!
  • it's time to take risks and live boldly, deciding to enjoy life instead of just enduring it
  • having wrestled with the meaning of life, Solomon concludes that life is not monotonous; rather, it is an adventure of faith that is anything but tedious
  • death is certain, but life is a gift from God, and God wants us to enjoy it
  • yes, Solomon says, there are mysteries we can't understand and questions we can't answer
  • but that's no excuse to lead a dull and colorless life
  • I came across a Christian author recently; his name is Charlie Hedges
  • listen to what he writes:
  • "How many truly awake people do you know? They're easy to spot. They are interesting and sometimes energetic. They are the kind of people you just like to be around. They seem to sense the awesomeness of life, and they have a tendency to make it contagious"
  • and he concludes, "Maybe we just need to be reawakened, as if from a long slumber. Maybe we can be passionate too."
  • just because your eyes are open doesn't mean you're awake
  • but just because you're asleep doesn't mean you can't wake up
  • in this morning's passage, Solomon gives us a wake up call
  • Ecclesiastes 11 can be summed up in four words:
  • BE BOLD and BE JOYFUL
  • when we're bold and when we're joyful, we'll be living our lives to the fullest, refusing to settle for the dull and colorless
  • we'll experience the joy of living under God's sovereign hand
  • BE BOLD
  • let's consider how we can live our lives boldly
  • (Ecclesiastes 11:1) Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.
  • these verses don't immediately make sense to us
  • what does it mean to cast our bread on the waters?
  • in those days, the place where money was to be made was in the lucrative import and import business of Mediterranean ports
  • casting bread on the waters for a return after many days is Solomon's way of describing investment in the trade market of the day
  • he's saying, "Send your grain out in ships"
  • it would be months before the ship returned, but when it did, the merchant's willingness to take a risk would be rewarded
  • somebody is going to point out that risks are not always rewarded
  • why should I take a risk when everything I risk could be lost?
  • (Ecclesiastes 11:2) Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.
  • of course there's risk involved, so the Teacher instructs us to diversify our portfolio
  • who knows what crop will fail, what ship will be seized by pirates, what merchant will abscond with the profits?
  • don't put all your eggs in one basket
  • spread your investments widely - to seven or eight places - so that no one or two tragedies can wipe you out
  • this is crucial for prosperity
  • see what he's saying?
  • take a calculated risk!
  • don't let fear of failure paralyze you
  • take risks - calculated ones - but do it boldly
  • even though the world is uncertain, and even though we can't control what happens, it's still better to take action rather than be paralyzed with fear
  • Solomon also uses the example of a farmer in verses 3 and 4
  • (Ecclesiastes 11:3) If clouds are full of water, they pour rain upon the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there will it lie.
  • (Ecclesiastes 11:4) Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.
  • some people plan their lives around weather forecasts
  • there's a place for this, of course
  • we can't control the weather, but the weather controls us
  • but what happens when we pay too much heed to the weather?
  • verse 4 says that we'll end up not planting or reaping
  • how absurd!
  • don't wait for ideal conditions
  • if we wait for conditions to be ideal, we'll be waiting a long time
  • for some people, the wind is never right
  • there's always an excuse to wait for a better time
  • but there's never a better time than this one
  • Billy Sunday said that an excuse is "the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie"
  • a farmer once asked his neighbor if he could borrow a rope
  • "Sorry," the neighbor said, "I'm using my rope to tie up my milk"
  • "Rope can't tie up milk!"
  • "I know," said the neighbor, "but when a man doesn't want to do something, one reason is as good as another"
  • what lies are you telling yourself?
  • what excuses are you making?
  • there will never be a better time than now - don't wait for ideal conditions
  • we could be talking about your commitment to Christ
  • don't put it off - the time is now
  • we could be talking about living a life of bold obedience to Christ - don't put it off, the time is now
  • don't wait for the weather conditions to be perfect - do it now
  • verses 5 and 6 are so true
  • (Ecclesiastes 11:5) As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.
  • (Ecclesiastes 11:6) Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.
  • no one knows how God works in creation
  • and therefore, as verse 6 says, we should use our days wisely
  • get up early and sow your seed
  • work hard until evening
  • do your job, and trust God to bless some of the tasks you've accomplished
  • you don't know which ones God will bring to fruition
  • now is the time to act boldly!
  • let God take care of the mysteries and you take care of your work
  • be bold - diversify, work hard, and be bold
  • alongside his admonition to be bold, the Teacher directs us to BE JOYFUL
  • find beauty in every day
  • (Ecclesiastes 11:7) Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.
  • what a joy to anticipate each new day and see the sunlight once more
  • every night when the sun goes down, there is no guarantee that it will rise once again, or that we will be there to see it
  • that's why the Teacher remarks on the sweetness of seeing the light of the sun afresh every day
  • Warren Wiersbe writes:
  • "I confess that I never realized what it meant to live a day at a time until I was nearly killed in an auto accident back in 1966. It was caused by a drunk driver careening around a curve at between 80 and 90 miles per hour. By the grace of God, I had no serious injuries; but my stay in the Intensive Care Ward, and my time of recuperation at home, made me a firm believer in Deuteronomy 3 3:25, ‘As thy days, so shall thy strength be.' Now when I awaken each morning, I thank God for the new day; and ask Him to help me use it wisely for His glory and to enjoy it as His gift"
  • what a joy to be alive!
  • read verse 8 with me:
  • (Ecclesiastes 11:8) However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all. But let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything to come is meaningless.
  • enjoy life now, no matter what your age - because the days of darkness will come
  • he's not saying that old age is bad, but nonetheless - youth is the time for enjoyment
  • enjoy life while you can, because in old age problems will begin to reveal themselves
  • verse 9 adds a caveat
  • enjoy life, but don't get mesmerized by the things of the world
  • (Ecclesiastes 11:9) Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment.
  • this is what I long for: the ability to enjoy life while remembering that there's more to life that what we see
  • Solomon says, "Enjoy life passionately, but keep your eyes on the big picture - on heaven above"
  • and then read verse 10
  • (Ecclesiastes 11:10) So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless.
  • the phrase, "youth and vigor are meaningless," could be better translated, "youth and vigor are transient"
  • the precious years of our youth go quickly, and we must not waste the opportunities they bring
  • make the most of your "dawning years," as one writer says
  • some people say that it's hard to be young
  • this verse reminds us that it's great to be young
  • but no matter, what the age, we are to give ourselves wholeheartedly to life's endeavors
  • invest prudently, labor diligently, and find joy daily
  • because the rate of unemployment in the grave is 100%
  • this is the sixth time that Solomon has told us the same thing: accept life as a gift, and learn to enjoy everything that God has given us
  • get at it! have a ball! enjoy life
  • do it today while you still have time
  • as Swindoll writes, "Start activating your life today and never quit...Refuse to let your life collect dust. Remember that rut on the Alaskan highway and reject anything similar! Start today. If you don't start today, chances are good you never will. Don't wait for the weather to change. Don't wait for the kids to grow up. Don't wait for your husband to come back or your wife to return. Don't wait until you have spare time or more money or stronger health or a better job or a bigger house. Don't wait for conditions to be perfect. Be bullish about this, starting today. And never quit"
  • what are you waiting for?
  • and what's holding you back?
  • William James said, "Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake. We are making use of only a small part of our physical and mental resources"
  • let's pray and thank God for the blessings he's given us, and commit to being fully awake everyday, beginning now
  • Amen?

What Did You Expect? (Ecclesiastes 9:11-10:20)

  • we're almost to the end of Solomon's most interesting book
  • his thesis has been that everything under the sun is meaningless - like a bubble that bursts
  • he's put forward a number of arguments to support his thesis
  • in fact, next week I'll give you a list of the twenty-seven things that disturbed Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes

  • there is much scholarly debate over the meaning of many passages in Ecclesiastes
  • it's not always the easiest book to piece together
  • a few messages have come through loud and clear
  • one message is that life sometimes doesn't make a lot of sense
  • we've seen this theme over and over
  • Solomon observes life and its absurdities and many times comes to the conclusion that some things in life just don't make much sense

  • but Solomon comes to another conclusion
  • the conclusion is that life is a gift from God and is to be enjoyed under his sovereignty

  • we only have a couple of weeks left
  • this morning's passage is definitely in the first category
  • if you open your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 9 and 10, we're going to read some interesting observations about life that, when you think about it, point to some absurdities

  • now, I don't know about you, but a lot of my life's struggles involve my expectations
  • we develop certain expectations of life, and when life doesn't deliver, we become bitter and disillusioned
  • in fact, the word "disillusioned" means "the fact of being disenchanted, or free from illusions and false beliefs"
  • disillusionment comes from our false beliefs
  • depending on how many false beliefs and expectations we have, we're going to experience some degree of disillusionment in our lives

  • Solomon wants to spare us the trouble
  • in Ecclesiastes 9 and 10, he informs us of four facts that we'll have to confront if we're going to avoid being disillusioned in life
  • so buckle up, we're going to go fast

  • FACT NUMBER ONE: SKILL IS NO PREDICTOR OF SUCCESS
  • 11 I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.
  • 12 Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.
  • we all know of cases where the swiftest or the strongest don't win
  • we all know of some wise people who have gone hungry, and some intelligent people who have gone rewarded
  • in fact, as we look at life, we see that life can be essentially unfair

  • I know of a woman who kept the financial side of the business running smoothly
  • her boss was the nicest person in the world, but basically inept at even recording check numbers when checks were issued
  • when it came time to let someone go because of downsizing, guess who was let go - the one who kept things humming, or the one who hardly knew how to do even the simplest things?

  • we can go on with other examples
  • many times, when a contest is held, the best candidate does not even win
  • many times, the smartest and most talented people in the world don't get ahead
  • Solomon cautions us that this is a reality: skill, intelligence, and wisdom are not necessarily accurate predictors of success

  • just one application from this
  • adjust your expectations
  • I think all of us pictured ourselves tearing out of the gate like a horse that is destined to win the race far ahead of all the other horses
  • okay, maybe you didn't picture yourself as a horse, but you get the picture
  • your expectations were probably high, and there's a good chance you haven't met with all the success that you expected
  • Solomon tells us that this is normal - it's not fair maybe, but it's normal
  • it's part of life we have to accept

  • FACT NUMBER TWO: OUR SOCIETY DOES NOT ALWAYS HONOR THE RIGHT THINGS
  • (Ecclesiastes 9:13) I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me:
  • (Ecclesiastes 9:14) There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siegeworks against it.
  • (Ecclesiastes 9:15) Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man.
  • (Ecclesiastes 9:16) So I said, "Wisdom is better than strength." But the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.
  • (Ecclesiastes 9:17) The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.
  • (Ecclesiastes 9:18) Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.
  • this is a fascinating story
  • a poor, wise man delivered a small, poorly defended city from a siege by a powerful king
  • yet when the city has been delivered, he remained despised, poor, and unrewarded with wealth or social esteem
  • as verse 17 points out, sometimes wisdom is out-shouted by the loud volume of fools
  • I think there's a correlation there
  • fools are usually quite loud and hard to ignore
  • and fools often get heard by virtue of their loudness, while the wise are ignored and forgotten

  • from this we learn a valuable lesson: society does not always acknowledge or appreciate the right things
  • our society honors wealth, attractiveness, and success above wisdom
  • yet wisdom is a greater asset
  • we live in a world that gives more recognition to celebrities and superstars, no matter how foolish or inane they might be, than to those who might have the answers to the real questions people are asking

  • the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace this past week was certainly tragic
  • yet our society gave more notice to his death than the deaths of four other men who were allegedly killed by Andrew Cunanan before him
  • it's as if their lives weren't worth as much as Versace
  • Solomon would say that things haven't changed much
  • society doesn't always honor the right things
  • it seems to value some people over others, and it's not always fair

  • FACT THREE: WISDOM CAN BE EASILY DEFEATED BY LESSER THINGS
  • you know how wisely Solomon esteems wisdom
  • yet he tells us that wisdom appears to be easily overcome by much lesser qualities
  • it's like that game of paper, scissors, rock
  • the scissors beat the paper, the paper beats the rock, and the rock beats the scissors
  • all of them have an equal chance of winning
  • but in life, even though wisdom is more valuable, Solomon tells us that the deck is stacked against it

  • read verse 1 of chapter 10
  • (Ecclesiastes 10:1) As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
  • Solomon tells us that it only takes a little foolishness to overpower wisdom and honor
  • much like dead flies can ruin perfume by giving it a bad smell, so a little foolishness can outweigh a lot of wisdom and honor
  • there are people who have lived exemplary lives and made one foolish mistake, and that one mistake has outweighed much of the good they did
  • think David and Bathsheba, or Moses striking the rock
  • it only takes a little foolishness to undo a large amount of wisdom

  • sometimes it only takes a ruler's caprice to nullify wisdom
  • the whim of a leader can nullify wisdom
  • (Ecclesiastes 10:4) If a ruler's anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great errors to rest.
  • in other words, if your boss blows a cork, your boss's temper tantrum - foolish though it may be - may nullify a lot of your efforts
  • Solomon's advice is to keep a calm head when your boss l ooses his, and it just may avoid a blow-up
  • keep calm, quietly do your work, and your boss will probably get over his or her anger and calm down

  • Solomon tells us of another error that arises from bosses and rulers:
  • (Ecclesiastes 10:5) There is an evil I have seen under the sun, the sort of error that arises from a ruler:
  • (Ecclesiastes 10:6) Fools are put in many high positions, while the rich occupy the low ones.
  • (Ecclesiastes 10:7) I have seen slaves on horseback, while princes go on foot like slaves.
  • this could almost be a Dilbert cartoon
  • bosses don't always promote the most capable or deserving person

  • in all these things, Solomon is saying that you can be wise and it doesn't matter
  • your wisdom can be easily out-muscled by the whims of a boss, or a little foolishness
  • it doesn't seem fair and it doesn't make sense, but it's true

  • now, we're almost to the end
  • just one more facts we have to confront to avoid being disillusioned in life
  • FACT FOUR: PEOPLE DON'T ALWAYS USE THE WISDOM THEY HAVE
  • (Ecclesiastes 10:8) Whoever digs a pit may fall into it; whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake.
  • (Ecclesiastes 10:9) Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them; whoever splits logs may be endangered by them.
  • (Ecclesiastes 10:10) If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed but skill will bring success.
  • (Ecclesiastes 10:11) If a snake bites before it is charmed, there is no profit for the charmer.

  • these verses are almost humorous
  • there's been a lot of debate on their meaning and application
  • here you have five situations and their corresponding dangers
  • when you're digging pits, there's a danger of falling into the pit
  • when you're breaking through a wall, there's a danger of being bitten by a snake that's hiding in the wall
  • when you're quarrying stones, there's a danger of being hurt by falling stones
  • when you split logs, you endanger yourself
  • when you chop wood, you may overexert yourself because you haven't made time to sharpen the axe

  • I think what Solomon is saying is this:
  • accidents happen
  • despite all the best plans in the world, and despite all your diligence and industriousness, each of us risk loss and even injury every day
  • no matter how carefully you work, disaster could strike at any time
  • it doesn't seem fair, but seemingly random events can bring disaster to people no matter how hard they have worked
  • it's not fair, but it's reality
  • the end of verse 14 is so true:
  • (Ecclesiastes 10:14) No one knows what is coming-- who can tell him what will happen after him?
  • one of the things we need to teach our children - and ourselves - is that life is not predictable
  • hard work and the application of right principles do not always lead to predictable results
  • they often do, but not always
  • somebody has said that the book of Proverbs emphasizes how life would be if everyone acted fairly; Ecclesiastes explains what usually happens in our sinful and imperfect world

  • WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR US TODAY?
  • in 1997 terms, it means we should adjust our expectations
  • when you stay at Holiday Inn, don't expect the Hilton
  • when you drive a Firefly, don't expect the performance of a Ferrari
  • and when you're living on earth, don't expect the justice of heaven to prevail

  • on earth, the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.
  • we have to somehow get used to this fact

  • I think it also means that we have to have something bigger than what's on this earth
  • let me use an example
  • if I'm driving that car I mentioned earlier, the Firefly, and when I go out after church this morning and it's been demolished, the level of my emotional turmoil will depend on one thing: whether or not I have other cars
  • if that Firefly is my one and only car, it might be junk to other people, but it's all I've got
  • and I'm going to be plenty upset that it's gone

  • if, however, I've got a whole fleet of Fireflies at home, maybe even a few Ferraris there too, I'm not going to be too upset about the Firefly that was demolished
  • if all you have is success on earth, and it's taken away, you're going to be plenty upset
  • but if you have riches stored away somewhere else, you're not going to care very much
  • (Matthew 6:19) "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
  • (Matthew 6:20) But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
  • (Luke 12:16) And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.
  • (Luke 12:17) He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'
  • (Luke 12:18) "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
  • (Luke 12:19) And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."'
  • (Luke 12:20) "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'
  • (Luke 12:21) "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."
  • (Luke 12:22) Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.
  • (Luke 12:23) Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.

  • Charlene and I switched banks this week, literally
  • in the remaining moments we have this morning, I'm going to ask you to switch from having an earthly bank to a heavenly one
  • let's pray

How to Live Before You Die (Ecclesiastes 9:1-10)

  • this morning I would like to ask you a question
  • I want you to answer
  • what is success?
  • [wait for answers]
  • I came across one definition of success this past week
  • success is:
  • The wealth of Bill Gates
  • the physique of Arnold Schwarzenegger (or Cindy Crawford)
  • the intelligence of Albert Einstein
  • the athletic ability of Michael Jordan
  • the business prowess of Donald Trump
  • the social grace and poise of Jackie Kennedy
  • the imagination of Walt Disney, and
  • the heart of Mother Teresa
  • that sounds absurd, doesn't it?

  • as we've said before, things haven't changed in the past few thousand years
  • as we've looked at the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, we've seen people struggling with the same questions that confront us today
  • what is success? what is the meaning of life?
  • Solomon tried many different approaches in his life, and nothing worked
  • he tried materialism, pleasure, humanism, and even fatalism
  • the reason Ecclesiastes is so relevant today is because these approaches are still being tried, often with disastrous results

  • in 1923, a small group of the world's wealthiest men met at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, Illinois
  • at the time, these men controlled more money than the total amount contained in the United States Treasury
  • of seven men who were present at that meeting, two died broke, two died shortly after being released from prison, and three committed suicide
  • clearly, their approach to success was not the right one

  • please look with me at Ecclesiastes 9
  • having explored life and its meaninglessness, and finding a number of unsatisfactory approaches, Solomon is drawing some important conclusions
  • he presents us with three major realities that give our lives definition and meaning
  • these three things are reliable
  • they're failsafe
  • if you and I are going to have the right approach to life, these are three realities we will have to confront

  • REALITY NUMBER ONE IS THE SOVEREIGN HAND OF GOD
  • (Ecclesiastes 9:1) So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God's hands, but no man knows whether love or hate awaits him.
  • verse 1 says, "I reflected on all this"
  • serious Bible students like we are immediately ask the question, "All what?"
  • to really understand what he's referring to, you have to look back to what he was discussing in chapter eight
  • the theme in chapter eight is human ignorance of God's providence
  • we can't understand much of what happens in life
  • verse one concludes his observations with this thought: the future is in God's hand, and no one knows whether that future will be good or bad
  • only God knows our future, whether it will bring blessing ("love") or sorrow ("hatred")
  • "the hand of God" is upon all of us
  • everything is under God's control - nothing happens outside the sovereign power of God's hand
  • but that's no guarantee that things will always go well
  • the verse says, "No one knows whether love or hate awaits him"
  • being in the hand of God is no guarantee of economic prosperity, physical health, freedom from pain, or popularity
  • we don't know the troubles that we will face tomorrow
  • but we can know one thing beyond a doubt: a caring God is in control, and nothing takes place apart from his sovereign control
  • (James 4:13) Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money."
  • (James 4:14) Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
  • (James 4:15) Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."
  • we tend to make plans as if we were sovereign
  • the fact is, we don't even know what will happen in ten minutes
  • before the day is over, the trajectory of our lives could change completely
  • but God is in control
  • God is in control of every circumstance in your life
  • this is a reality that gives our lives definition and meaning
  • REALITY NUMBER TWO IS THE ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY OF DEATH
  • (Ecclesiastes 9:2) All share a common destiny--the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them.
  • (Ecclesiastes 9:3) This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead.
  • Solomon continues the thought he began in verse 1: all people - the good and the bad - share an uncertain future
  • no one knows what the future will hold
  • but he further develops this thought by stating man's ultimate destiny: death
  • verse 3 says, "Afterward they join the dead"
  • death is unavoidable
  • (Hebrews 9:27) Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,
  • (Hebrews 9:28) so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
  • death is an appointment that all of us have and none of us can cancel
  • an Indiana cemetery has a tombstone over a hundred years old that bears this epitaph:
  • Pause, Stranger, when you pass me by,
  • As you are now, so once was I.
  • As I am know, so you will be,
  • So prepare for death and follow me.

  • an unknown passerby had read these words and scratched this reply below:
  • To follow you I'm not content,
  • Until I know which way you went.

  • there's a beautiful scene in the classic novel The Pilgrim's Progress
  • death is pictured as the Jordan River, and the Celestial City is at the other side
  • to reach heaven, you have to cross the river
  • in the book, Hopeful enters the Jordan River and calls back, "Be of good cheer, my brother, for I feel the bottom and it is sound"
  • the believer doesn't fear death
  • (1 Corinthians 15:54) When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
  • (1 Corinthians 15:55) "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"
  • the late Joseph Bayly wrote a book called The Last Thing We Talk About
  • listen to what he writes:
  • "Death is the great adventure beside which moon landings and space trips pale into insignificance"
  • you get that kind of confidence when you're a Christ-follower, when you've trusted Christ as Savior
  • Woody Allen said, "I don't fear death - I just don't want to be there"
  • you know, I want to be there
  • I want to be on hand as I leave this world for a better one
  • I have the assurance that when I place my foot in the Jordan River, I will feel the bottom and it will be sound
  • I want to live my entire life with the knowledge that I'm headed for a better place, and every minute and every decision of every day should be lived with that knowledge
  • only a believer can live like this
  • the reality is that we're on this earth only a short time

  • there's this little song:
  • Did you ever think when the hearse rolls by
  • That you could be the next to die?
  • Jesus said we ought to be storing up for ourselves treasures i n heaven, where we're going to spend much more time than we'll ever spend here in this life
  • this is a reality you need to confront
  • only a believer has nothing to fear from death
  • there's one more reality we'll face from this passage
  • but before we continue, maybe it's time to allow you to respond to the reality of death
  • the Bible tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory
  • because of this, no one is going to heaven
  • the Bible tells us that "the wages of sin is death"
  • but listen to the next part of this verse - "but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord"

  • if this morning you would like to receive the gift of eternal life, the Scripture is clear how this may happen:
  • (Romans 10:9) That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
  • REALITY THREE: THERE IS HOPE FOR THE LIVING
  • (Ecclesiastes 9:4) Anyone who is among the living has hope --even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!
  • (Ecclesiastes 9:5) For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten.
  • (Ecclesiastes 9:6) Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.
  • despite the fact that every human being is ultimately subject to the same inscrutable distribution of adversity and prosperity, and despite the fact that we are all going to join one another in death, Solomon tells us that we shouldn't despair of life
  • life has its advantages over death!
  • "Even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!"
  • back then the dog had about as much respect as a rat does today
  • so Solomon is saying, "It's better to be alive and dishonored rather than honored and dead"
  • only the alive can experience knowledge, love, even hate and jealousy
  • these are advantages we have over the dead
  • we're going to conclude this morning with Solomon's advice in light of these realities
  • and we're going to have some fun doing it
  • in light of these realities, Solomon's advice is, "Enjoy life as God enables"
  • another preacher summarizes Solomon's advice, "Have a blast while you last - Great counsel on how to live 365 days a year"
  • in view of the uncertainty of life and the reality of death, Solomon recommends that you go flat out and enjoy life to the max, because life is God's gift to us to be enjoyed as long as we're here
  • now, I'm no dummy, but when Charlene repeats the same thing to me five times in a relatively short period, I know it's important
  • this is the fifth time Solomon tells us to enjoy life, except this time he spells it out in more detail in verses 7 to 10
  • (Ecclesiastes 9:7) Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.
  • (Ecclesiastes 9:8) Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil.
  • (Ecclesiastes 9:9) Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun-- all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.
  • (Ecclesiastes 9:10) Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
  • friends, listen - life is not a sentence leveled against us
  • we are not designed to live every day with some heavy cloud hanging over us
  • God is not some cosmic killjoy who is continually angry with us and would like nothing better than to banish enjoyment from the earth
  • I grew up thinking of God as a stern, judgmental grandfatherly figure who at best tolerated laughter, and was happiest when we all felt guilty and somber
  • but God created this world with textures and colors and tastes and sensations and emotions for us to enjoy
  • what did Solomon say we should enjoy?
  • food and wine, fine clothes and pleasant lotions
  • back then the lavish diets we enjoy were relatively rare
  • but Solomon advises, even when the menu is a simple one - just a little bread and wine, enjoy it!
  • I love the advice to wear fine clothes and pleasant lotions
  • back then these luxuries would be enjoyed only on special occasions
  • Solomon says, wear these things always!
  • in other words, make every day a special occasion!
  • bring out the good china - some people are always saving it for special occasions that never seem to happen
  • delight in every day, even in the routine
  • then look at verse 9: enjoy your marriage
  • Proverbs 18:22 and 19:14 speak of a wife as a gift from God
  • the Bible sees marriage as a loving commitment that lasts a lifetime
  • Warren Wiersbe says, "No matter how difficult life may be, there is great joy in the home of the man and woman who love each other and are faithful to their marriage vows"
  • Solomon adds the phrase, "all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun" - meaning that life is short
  • enjoy these things while you can
  • verse 10 says, enjoy your work
  • (Ecclesiastes 9:10) Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
  • the Jewish people looked upon work not as a curse, but as a stewardship under God
  • Solomon tells us that we ought to be doing our very best at work and finding fulfillment there
  • the things that make up our enjoyment now won't be present in the grave, so make the most of your opportunities now!
  • I have a feeling that Solomon would agree with the phrase, Seize the day!
  • make the most of every day, live life to the fullest
  • you know, if we fear God and walk by faith we don't have to escape or merely endure life
  • we will receive immeasurable enjoyment from life and receive it as a gift from the Lord
  • one preacher says, "If you are waiting to live it up when you're six feet under, pal, you're in for a major disappointment! The time to live is now. And the way to do it is to pull out all the stops and play full volume...There's a contagious enthusiasm in the way we're supposed to live. When we do life becomes exciting, infectiously happy. It's made up of eating good food and drinking good drink and enjoying a wife or husband"
  • as one poet wrote:

Don't be bashful.
Bite in.
Pick it up with your fingers and
let the juice that may
run down your chin.

Life is ready and ripe
NOW
whenever you are.
You don't need a knife or fork
or spoon or napkin or tablecloth

For there is no core
or stem
or rind
or pit
or seed
or skin
to throw away

Wise Up (Ecclesiastes 8:1-17)

  • one of the most valuable and rare commodities in life is wisdom
  • wisdom is valuable to those who possess it
  • "An unusual amount of common sense is sometimes called wisdom," says one person
  • another person says, "Years make all of us old and very few of us wise"

  • when dealing with the absurdities and complexities of life, one thing that is sure to help is wisdom
  • Ecclesiastes 8:1 says:
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:1) Who is like the wise man? Who knows the explanation of things? Wisdom brightens a man's face and changes its hard appearance.
  • wisdom enables us to meet challenges in life that defy easy answers and quick fixes
  • but even wisdom has its limitations
  • even wisdom can't solve all of our problems

  • are you wise?
  • an old Persian proverb says this:
  • He who knows not, and knows not that he know not is a fool; shun him
  • He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is a child; teach him.
  • He who knows, and knows not that he knows, is asleep; wake him.
  • He who knows, and knows that he knows, is wise; follow him.

  • Ecclesiastes is a very realistic book
  • it deals with life as-is, and is honest about the struggles that are part of life
  • in Ecclesiastes 8, Solomon magnifies the value of wisdom, but is honest that even wisdom has its limitations

  • you and I both have to deal with difficult situations and people
  • in other words, we both need wisdom
  • we would do well to listen to Solomon, the wise king, as he teaches us about wisdom
  • but you know something else?
  • we would do well to learn wisdom's limitations
  • the pilot of the RAF Nimrod that crashed in the air show over Lake Ontario almost two years ago ignored the written limitations of the plane and pushed it beyond its capabilities, and we know the result
  • if we truly understand wisdom, we will be wiser if we understand its limits as well

  • before looking at the limits of wisdom, though, let's first examine the value of wisdom, by way of a case study
  • the case study has to deal with one of the most difficult areas of life: dealing with difficult people who have more power than we do

  • Solomon says:
  • A WISE MAN CAN AVOID THE KING'S WRATH (8:1-9)
  • one of the most difficult tasks in life is knowing how to relate to difficult people
  • I've heard of an annual contest to find the world's worst boss, and the contestants are always unbelievable

  • when the preacher wrote this passage, the king's power was absolute
  • the Eastern rulers of that day had absolute power over their subjects' lives
  • they were not elected by the people, nor were they answerable to them
  • they had the power of life and death, and they often used that power
  • you think your boss is bad?

  • history shows that some kings ruled as benevolent dictators
  • for the most part, however, kings were tyrannical despots who always had their own way - no matter what

  • I don't think there could be a more challenging career than serving as an officer of the king's court in that day
  • the expectations would have been high, the pressure immense, and if you failed? there goes your head!
  • the preacher asks a question in this passage
  • how can a subject relate to such power?
  • how does a wise person cope with a powerful tyrant?
  • the question today would be similar: how do we relate to those who exercise power over us and leave us virtually powerless?

  • Solomon asserts in verse 1 that only a wise person can size up a situation like this and act accordingly
  • verses 2 to 4 suggest that a wise person would understand that in this case, the best approach is obedience to the king
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:2) Obey the king's command, I say, because you took an oath before God.
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:3) Do not be in a hurry to leave the king's presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases.
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:4) Since a king's word is supreme, who can say to him, "What are you doing?"

  • if the king has absolute authority, and can do whatever he pleases, and is not answerable to anyone, would it be very wise to provoke the king's wrath?
  • absolutely not!
  • as one person said, "Action is what you don't take when the other guy is bigger than you are"
  • I might add, "or more powerful"
  • Solomon's advice then? "Obey the king's command"
  • don't be in a hurry to leave his service and stand up for a bad cause
  • the wise person understands this

  • instead of storming out of the palace in anger or openly defying the king, Solomon suggests another tactic in verses 5 and 6
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:5) Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure.
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:6) For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man's misery weighs heavily upon him.
  • the wise person understands that there is a proper time and procedure
  • the wise person figures out two things: the right thing to do at the right time
  • timing, as they say, is everything

  • Joseph didn't impulsively reveal his identity to his brothers until the time was right
  • Nathan didn't charge into King David's presence and charge him with adultery; he waited until the right time and used a strategic method
  • Nehemiah was burdened to rebuild the broken walls of Jerusalem, and could have been killed for even broaching the subject with the king
  • but he waited and watched and prayed until God gave him an opportunity
  • the wise person understands the proper method at the proper time

  • I wouldn't be surprised if there is a difficult and powerful person in your life
  • it takes great wisdom to know how to handle them, doesn't it?
  • the Bible gives great advice on how to deal with difficult people
  • the key, though, is wisdom
  • the Bible says:
  • (James 1:5) If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
  • there are no easy answers or quick fixes, but God does give us wisdom to deal with difficult and powerful people
  • and this is only one example of the value of wisdom

  • as valuable as wisdom is, it's also important to realize that wisdom has its limitations
  • EVEN A WISE MAN CANNOT UNDERSTAND GOD'S JUDGMENT (8:10-17)
  • even wisdom has its limitations
  • there are some things that even the wisest person can understand
  • verse 9 says that Solomon applied his mind to everything done under the sun
  • his conclusion is in verse 17:
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:17) No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.

  • it's possible that we will solve a mystery here and there, but no one can ever claim to understand life or claim to have solved everything that God has done
  • as Winston Churchill said about something else, "It is a riddle, wrapped up in a mystery, inside an enigma"
  • no one can understand it!
  • even wisdom has its limitations
  • historian Will Durant surveyed human history and came to the conclusion that "our knowledge is a receding mirage in an expanding desert of ignorance"

  • one thing that is a mystery is the failure to punish the wicked
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:10) Then too, I saw the wicked buried--those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless.
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:11) When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong.
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:12) Al though a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God.
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:13) Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:14) There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless.

  • Solomon is coming to term with reality, and refers to a common experience that we have all witnessed
  • somebody who is wicked dies, and at his funeral all his wicked deeds are glossed over
  • have you ever been to a funeral, and people are extolling the virtues of the deceased, and you want to lean over and ask your friend, "Am I at the right funeral?"
  • "Are we talking about the same person?"

  • another common mystery is that the wicked sin with impunity
  • Solomon points out that they commit a crime a hundred times and still lives a long life and is not brought to justice
  • and therefore people do not fear God

  • there's also the mystery of unfair consequences
  • the New Living Bible translates verse 14:
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:14) And this is not all that is meaningless in our world. In this life, good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good. This is so meaningless!
  • this could come right out of today's newspaper
  • why is it that a Bible college student is swarmed at the Jane subway station rather than brutal murderers?
  • why is a youth pastor killed in a tragic sporting accident?
  • why is a Christian family traveling down a highway killed by a drunk driver, while the drunk driver walks away without a scratch?

  • I don't agree with his conclusions, but Rabbi Harold Kushner poses the problem well:

There is only one question which really matters: why do bad things happen to good people?...Like every reader of this book, I pick up the daily paper and fresh challenges to the idea of the world's goodness assault my eyes: senseless murders, fatal practical jokes, young people killed in automobile accidents on the way to their wedding or coming home from their high school prom.

  • these are mysteries that defy explanation

  • no one can understand God's providence
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:16) When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man's labor on earth - his eyes not seeing sleep day or night -
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:17) then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.
  • Solomon closes his section of the treatment of these enigmas by acknowledging our ignorance of God's ways
  • Solomon is emphatic and repeats it three times:
  • "no one can comprehend...man cannot discover...he cannot really comprehend"
  • even if we expend all our energies, even if we're wise, we can never really understand the mind of God
  • (Isaiah 55:9) "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
  • (Romans 11:33) Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

  • how do we handle these mysteries in life?
  • let me quote Chuck Swindoll
  • "We must each admit, ‘I am only human' - and admit it daily. We should say it to ourselves first thing in the morning, a couple of times a day, and just before we go to sleep every night. And we should do that week in, week out - until it sinks in!...We must each admit, ‘I don't understand why - and I may never on this earth learn why."

  • Solomon gives more instruction on how to handle the mysteries of life
  • for the fourth time, he writes that we should enjoy life and delight in the fruit of our labors:
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:15) So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.
  • Solomon is not telling us have the positive "faith outlook" of God's children - to accept life as God's special gift, and know that he gives us "all things richly to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17)
  • we cannot control or predict adversity or prosperity; however, each day's joys should be received as gifts from God's hands and be savored as God permits

  • we're going to go to prayer this morning
  • there might be some here this morning who need wisdom
  • it might be wisdom to deal with a difficult person, or to meet a pressing problem in their lives right now
  • the Bible says:
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:1) Who is like the wise man? Who knows the explanation of things? Wisdom brightens a man's face and changes its hard appearance.
  • (Ecclesiastes 8:5) The wise heart will know the proper time and procedure.
  • (James 1:5) If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
  • if you need this wisdom, I'm going to invite you to bow your heads and pray to God with me for wisdom

  • we're also going to pray for those who are going through some trial they don't understand
  • the Biblical advice is to recognize that human wisdom has limitations
  • there are certain things we can't understand no matter how hard we try
  • I'm going to invite you to pray and confess to God that there are things you don't understand
  • that's okay
  • we're going to pray that you will grow comfortable with the limits to your wisdom, and to commit whatever problem you have to God's hand for him to deal with as he sees best
  • you don't understand, but God does
  • let's pray