Confessions of a People-Watcher (Ecclesiastes 4:1-16)

  • this past week we've had our first really nice weather of the year
  • which means that that great Canadian sport can finally begin: people-watching
  • you know what I mean
  • I've seen some of you
  • some people quietly sit back from a scene, in a crowded room for instance, not doing anything but silently observing human behavior
  • some people are less obvious
  • I once lived across the road from a person who would sit behind the front window and peer out at the neighbors, moving the curtain out of the way any time he wanted a closer look

  • people-watching is not necessarily a bad thing
  • Philips Brooks, an Anglican Bishop in Massachusetts a century ago, told his students to read three "books": the Bible, the book of nature, and the book of mankind
  • that's not bad advice
  • one of the greatest ways to gain wisdom and a real understanding of life is to observe and learn from human behavior
  • to make insights from the lives of others
  • you know, when you're a teenager and a young adult, you think you have life figured out
  • you have life by the tail
  • you can make all sorts of "absolutes"
  • but you find as you get older and experience the complexities of life that you learn a lot, don't you?

  • this morning we're going to join one of the greatest people-watchers of all time
  • instead of being just an ivory-tower scholar with no grip on the real issues of life, the writer of Ecclesiastes was someone who had lived in the laboratory of life
  • and this morning we're going to read of the results of his people-watching as he observed four scenes in Ecclesiastes 4
  • remember, Solomon is attempting to construct a philosophy of life, a reason for living
  • and in this chapter, Solomon records his observations from visiting four places and watching people
  • let's look at these four scenes, and let's ask ourselves two questions for each scene
  • question number one: have things changed?
  • question number two: what can we learn from this scene?

  • [SCENE ONE]
  • the first place Solomon visits, in Ecclesiastes 4:1, is the courtroom
  • (Ecclesiastes 4:1) Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors—and they have no comforter.
  • (Ecclesiastes 4:2) And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive.
  • (Ecclesiastes 4:3) But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun.

  • somewhere, the writer stood back and saw events unfold
  • it likely could have been a courtroom
  • and what Solomon observed is this:
  • there is oppression and injustice, pain and sorrow
  • and to make it worse, those who cause the oppression and injustice are unconcerned about the pain and sorrow that it causes
  • oppression and injustice were rampant back then, and people suffered as a result

  • question number one: have things changed?
  • I don't think so
  • since the fall of Adam, corruption and injustice have also existed
  • and things are no better today

  • question number two: what can we learn from this?
  • Solomon's words are striking
  • one version translates him this way:
  • (Ecclesiastes 4:2) So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living
  • in other words, those who have already died are better off because they no longer suffer under the oppression that's so prevalent in every society on earth
  • and verse 3 is also striking:
  • (Ecclesiastes 4:3) But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun.
  • haven't you heard some say that they wonder whether it's fair to bring a child into the world?

  • what can we learn from this?
  • some people go through unimaginably hard things in their life
  • a woman I know has been widowed and lost two of her children
  • I was in church on a Sunday night when the police arrived and asked to speak to the pastor
  • and a few minutes later, the announcement was made that her son had been killed in a car accident just a couple of miles away from the church
  • I've talked to others who have experienced bankruptcy, or a loved one committing suicide
  • it reminds us of the words of that old spiritual they used to sing down south, "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen"
  • life is tough
  • and to be honest, from an "under the sun" perspective - leaving God out of the picture - it is probably better not to be alive
  • I doubt that Solomon was event talking about suicide - instead, he was making the point, "Maybe it would have been better to have never been born, or to have already died"
  • this is an honest, under the sun perspective

  • but for God's child, there is another perspective
  • (1 Peter 4:19) So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
  • (Romans 5:3) Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
  • (Romans 5:4) perseverance, character; and character, hope.
  • I'm not about to give someone who's suffering some glib platitudes
  • but for the child of God, somehow God comes along and in the middle of adversity accomplishes something in our souls that otherwise wouldn't be accomplished
  • adversity produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope

  • let me tell you this morning that some of the most godly people I know have suffered much in their life, and yet they are better, not bitter
  • and I have learned from it
  • scene number one tells us that there is oppression and injustice
  • but God is able to redeem those tough times and use it for our soul's benefit

  • let's move on to
  • SCENE TWO
  • and scene two is the marketplace
  • (Ecclesiastes 4:4) And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
  • (Ecclesiastes 4:5) The fool folds his hands and ruins himself.
  • (Ecclesiastes 4:6) Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.
  • (Ecclesiastes 4:7) Again I saw something meaningless under the sun:
  • (Ecclesiastes 4:8) There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. "For whom am I toiling," he asked, "and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?" This too is meaningless-- a miserable business!

  • I like going to the marketplace and watch people work, because it's a lot better than working!
  • Solomon goes to the marketplace and observes human behavior
  • in verse four he observes that a man may work very hard, but what about his heart?
  • he concludes that many work hard at their jobs for one reason: to compete with others and make more money
  • to get ahead in the rat-race in the spirit of competition
  • it's a dog-eat-dog mentality
  • in other words, honest labor is good, but underneath much of it is a self-serving human motivation of wanting to one-up somebody else
  • and he concludes that this, too, is meaningless

  • Solomon next looks at a lazy person in verse five, and notices that a fool folds his hands and ruins himself
  • he notices that laziness leads slowly to self-destruction
  • but just as bad, Solomon observes, is empty human activity:
  • (Ecclesiastes 4:6) Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.
  • in other words, one hand full of quietness and contentment is better than two fist s of clawing and scraping your way to the top

  • then Solomon observed a solitary man working
  • no matter how hard he worked and no matter how much money he made, he still wanted more
  • and yet this man had no partners or relatives, nor did he have any time to enjoy his wealth
  • Solomon wonders, what's the use? did he ever stop to ask what he was working for?
  • when he dies, he has no-one to leave the money to
  • when he's alive, he has no time to enjoy his wealth
  • what's the use?

  • I want to ask you the first question: have things changed?
  • one day if you don't have anything to do, go down to Union Station and sit on a bench and watch the people go to work
  • or drive to an overpass on top of the Gardiner Expressway and watch people drive to work
  • watch people's expressions as they are going to their jobs

  • if you really want an education, pick an office tower in Toronto and head to a top floor where high-powered executives work
  • you can usually pick them out by their Armani suits and their power ties
  • pretend that you're lost as you observe these executives coming and going
  • society tells us that the recipe to the top is to work, work, work, fight, fight, fight, sell, sell, sell
  • but how does it look once people reach the top?
  • you reach the top and have your own nameplate, a bathroom attached to your office, a parking spot, a nice view, a sofa in your office
  • does it satisfy?
  • look at the expressions on the faces of the executives
  • has it been worth it?
  • I would conclude that things haven't changed

  • question number two: what can we learn from this?
  • listen, because some people never figure this out
  • success in a career and the material things in life can never satisfy the deep, soul-level needs of a person made in God's image
  • true success doesn't come from working harder and climbing higher
  • one man was an incredible success in his life, and said this:
  • (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."

  • two more scenes
  • [SCENE THREE]
  • Solomon observes humans and sees the value of companionship
  • he is not talking here primarily of husband and wife, but simply the value of being in relationship with others
  • he observes that when working, two workers get more done
  • even if they divide the profits, they still get a better return for their efforts
  • when walking back then, the roads were not paved or leveled
  • it was very possible that you might fall and injure yourself
  • Solomon observes that it's much better to have someone there to pick you up when you fall
  • when the two came to camp out in the cold Palestinian night, Solomon observes that it's easier to stay warm if there are two of you
  • and in the middle of the night, one can keep watch
  • you feel safer when there's another person around, and Solomon says that three is even better

  • have things changed?
  • I don't think so
  • what can we learn from this?
  • as Solomon watched people, he observed that in this world of troubles, one way of coping is to have friends to help us with the challenges of life
  • the more difficult life is, the better it is to have friends there to help us
  • we all need friends

  • [SCENE FOUR]
  • Solomon draws our attention to one more scene in verses 13 to 16
  • it goes like this: there's a youth who started in prison
  • when he was released, he became king, and everyone cheered for the underdog
  • but what happens when someone has been king for a while?
  • everyone tires of them, and they're glad to be rid of him
  • rulers come with a wave of popular enthusiasm, but as the reign wears on, those who come later will become disillusioned and want him gone
  • as Cliff Fletcher could tell you, the people that cheered you yesterday are the same ones who want you hanged today

  • is this still true today? I think so
  • what can we learn from this?
  • popularity is fickle
  • yesterday's hero is old news; who needs them anymore?
  • you can't build your life on such an unstable foundation

  • [CONCLUSION]
  • it's easy to become cynical as we observe human behavior around us
  • Solomon observes the oppression and the rat-race and says, "What's the use? It's all vanity"
  • maybe now would be a good time to look at our lives
  • this past week I was on a roof for three days shingling
  • it gave me a good view of the street and those passing by
  • I saw people leave for work in the morning and return at night
  • I saw them garden and mow and play in the evenings and on Saturday
  • if I sat on the roof for a year and observed the same people, what would my conclusions be?
  • if I followed you for a week, what would my conclusions be?
  • if I looked at my own life, what would my conclusions be?
  • there's oppression in life, there's no real lasting satisfaction in our careers, and popularity is fickle
  • you know, there are only a few places left to turn
  • one is companionship
  • as Solomon points out, as we turn to others, we find that two are better than one
  • we need each other
  • we need human friendship and love to help us through this life that is so difficult and confusing
  • sometimes the only thing that keeps us going is knowing that someone else cares
  • as we people-watch, maybe the best thing we will see are two or three people strolling along communing and talking and supporting each other
  • maybe they will help to make sense of everything else we see
  • sometimes all we need to know is that somebody else cares

  • and were else can we turn?
  • as life is so confusing and difficult - in the presence of adversity and oppression - there is one place we can always turn, and that is God
  • God doesn't oppress - God is just and fair
  • God makes sense of our work - instead of working out of envy or a desire to get ahead, we can work for God and please him in everything we do
  • God isn't fickle - we're not popular with God one day and forgotten by him the next
  • God always loves us
  • as we surrender ourselves to God, we find a peace that overtakes our souls even in the midst of adversity
  • (Philippians 4:7) And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

  • look at people, and look at your own life
  • I think you'll find a common denominator in those who living lives that seem to have some credibility and sense
  • they have friends and they are loving and serving God
  • you can be that sort of person as well, and as others watch you, they will be drawn to God
  • let's pray

Time and Justice (Ecclesiastes 3:1-22)

  • occasionally, you come across a person who has some spiritual interest
  • my antenna goes up and I pick this up pretty quickly, because I'm a pastor
  • I sometimes sit down with a person on an airplane or in a restaurant or in a social setting, and inevitably the question comes around: "What do you do for a living?"
  • when I tell them I'm a pastor, I find out very soon whether there's any spiritual openness on their part or not

  • usually, if someone is spiritually open, there's a longing for something more
  • they have probably enjoyed life, but they realize that there is a longing in their soul for something more
  • they have identified a hunger that is probably weak but growing

  • we're lucky because today we're going to partake of a spiritual appetizer
  • I believe that if there is anyone here this morning who is spiritually hungry, that this appetizer will whet your appetite even more
  • it won't be the main course, but instead it will be like the aroma of a feast wafting from the kitchen
  • it won't fill you up, but it will prepare you for more

  • you'll remember that we've been studying the book of Ecclesiastes
  • the author (possibly King Solomon) is on a quest to find meaning in life
  • in other words, there is a spiritual openness there
  • Solomon has tried many things, and he has found them all unsatisfactory
  • but if you read between the lines at the end of Ecclesiastes 2, there's a bit of spiritual openness present
  • God begins to enter the picture of his life, and he says, "Maybe life is worth living after all"

  • this morning we're going to pick up in Ecclesiastes 3
  • Solomon continues his look at life, and make no mistake about it: he is on a spiritual quest
  • this morning, in the time that we have, Solomon is going to direct our attention to two aspects of life: time and justice
  • Solomon, the spiritual seeker, is going to explore these areas to see what satisfaction they bring to the soul
  • the implication is clear: if these two areas satisfy the soul, we don't really need God
  • however, if these two areas are unsatisfactory, we have to look elsewhere

  • now this morning you might be very cynical about God
  • but you're probably here because you have some sort of spiritual hunger
  • or maybe you're not cynical about God - you've given your life to him and trusted Christ as Savior
  • but you still want more of God
  • I'm going to invite you to open your hearts this morning to examine these two areas: time and justice
  • to discover whether they satisfy your soul, or if you want more

  • let's pray
  • Dear Father:
  • Thank you for bringing each one here
  • I believe we are here by divine appointment, studying the words of a man who is long dead
  • yet as he examined life back then, we realize that not much has changed
  • people are still looking for something
  • they're still on a spiritual quest

  • as we read Solomon's journal, open our hearts I pray
  • if there is anyone here who has not yet found what they are looking for, I pray they would find it today
  • if there are any of your children who are looking for satisfaction where they shouldn't, I pray that you would draw them back to you this morning
  • we pray in Christ's name, Amen.

  • [TIME]
  • if you went to my bank this morning, you would find that I owe some money
  • basically what I have done is pre-spent some of my income
  • I have spent yesterday what I have not yet earned
  • it was fun when I spent it, but it's not so much fun now

  • but there is something which cannot be saved up or pre-spent
  • it's far more valuable than money
  • every morning you are given 86,400 new units
  • every week you are given 6,000 new ones
  • every year you are given 315,000 fresh ones
  • and once they're gone, they're gone
  • you can't save them, and you can't pre-spend them
  • no-one has more than you do; no one has less than you do
  • what is this commodity? it's time

  • just in case you weren't aware, time is the new most valuable commodity
  • it has replaced money as the number one need, because you can always make more money, but you can't make more time
  • and Solomon points our attention to time in Ecclesiastes 3 to find out whether or not there is something in time that can satisfy
  • is there something about time that can give some order to this world?

  • at first it appears hopeful
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:1) There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
  • and then Solomon begins to list fourteen pairs of items that fill our time
  • let's read them
  • after we read them, I want to ask you how they make you feel
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:2) a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:3) a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:4) a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:5) a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:6) a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:7) a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:8) a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

  • Solomon says, in effect, "These are the things that take up our time"
  • now how do you feel?
  • is this encouraging or not?
  • you see, many mistakenly view this as a formula for life, but if you look more closely, you'll find that it's more of a description than a prescription
  • and you'll find that it's not all positive
  • if you look closely you'll see that Solomon is showing us that we are subject to times and changes over which we have little or not control
  • and this can't be a good thing, can it?

  • sometimes I'm asked how the church is doing
  • to be honest, I never know how to answer
  • at any particular time I could tell you both good things and bad things that are happening
  • you know what I'm realizing?
  • there are seasons over which I have little control
  • sometimes it is tough slugging with no results; other times God is blessing and things are happening, and I'm doing the same thing as before
  • I'm not doing anything differently, but it's a different season

  • it's probably the same in your life
  • as Solomon says, you're born
  • you didn't ask to be born
  • you had no control over when you were born
  • and you're going to die
  • chances are you won't have much of a say over when you die
  • Solomon continues by reminding us that there are times when we laugh
  • and then times when we're going to weep
  • there are going to be times of love and times of hate
  • for every good there is probably going to be a corresponding bad
  • we don't have time in our grip; time has us in its grip

  • if we properly understand what Solomon has written, there's a kind of restlessness in this poem
  • J.A. Loader writes, "There is a restlessness like that of a weaver's shuttle in it, a persistent uncertainty in the back-and-forth movement of its ideas. It is a restless and unfathomable sea in which the human lifeboat tosses about."
  • Solomon is saying that no matter what we do, unfavorable as well as favorable circumstances come upon us
  • love and hate, war and peace, life and death are all parts of the equation
  • Solomon is saying, in effect, what's the use?

  • every morning God gives us 86,400 seconds
  • by the end of the day, what's left of it?
  • Charles Swindoll tells of seeing a photograph with the familiar, octagon-shaped yellow sign on it that says, "Dead End"
  • someone had spray-painted two more words on it, so that it read, "Dead End - What Isn't?"

  • Solomon gave us a list of opposites - fourteen positives, fourteen negatives
  • in a sense, they cancel each other out and leave us on a dead-end street
  • we can't find life's meaning here

  • that's why Solomon says in verses 9 and 10:
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:9) What does the worker gain from his toil?
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:10) I have seen the burden God has laid on men.
  • we could very well say, what difference does it make in life?
  • no matter how hard we work and no matter what we do, calamity and misfortune still come upon us
  • that's what the seeker has to say about time
  • it's as much bad as it is good

  • for the person without God, this is as good as it gets
  • enjoy the good times, because it's going to get worse
  • whether the bad times, because eventually it'll get better
  • is that any way to live?

  • but wait
  • there's another option
  • Solomon changes one thing in this equation, and it changes everything
  • to this futility, Solomon adds God, and look what happens:
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:11) He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
  • now underline or highlight this verse: it is the key verse of this chapter
  • here's what it says
  • two things
  • first, God orders time
  • God is sovereignly in control
  • he has a time and purpose for everything
  • even bad things can be made beautiful in his time
  • God has a purpose in everything?
  • second, we weren't made for time - we were made for eternity
  • we were made for eternity
  • the things of time cannot satisfy
  • we were created in the image of God with eternity in our hearts

  • let me make this real to you
  • if you knew that you were only going to live for x number of years and then be annihilated forever, your life would simply be a series of ups and downs until you died
  • you would just try to have more ups than downs

  • but if you knew that there was an eternity to be enjoyed, and that everything in life had a purpose, and that you weren't created for time, you were created for eternity - wouldn't that change things?
  • it would for me!
  • when God enters our life, we can live today in the light of eternity, and look what happens:
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:12) I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:13) That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil - this is the gift of God.
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:14) 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 men will revere him.
  • understand what Solomon is saying
  • he is saying that life is transitory; we are not in control; but whatever God does is forever, so live for Him and you will enjoy life
  • only when we let God take our lives over does life make any sense

  • as Warren Wiersbe writes, "How can life be meaningless and monotonous for you when God has made you part of His eternal plan? You are not an insignificant insect, crawling from one sad annihilation to another. If you have trusted Jesus Christ, you are a child of God being prepared for an eternal home"
  • God has put eternity in our hearts, so we can live above the here and now

  • let's pause here before we continue
  • you have a choice
  • you can live in the present with no thought to eternity
  • but then you will be living out the philosophy I read on the bumper sticker: life is hard, and then you die
  • that's option a

  • but option b is this: you can live in light of eternity, knowing the good is a gift from God and the bad has a purpose
  • and that eternity is in your heart
  • which one will it be?
  • we were made for eternity, and the things of time cannot ultimately satisfy our souls
  • so stop looking to the things of time and start looking to the things of eternity

  • [JUSTICE]
  • Solomon invites us also to look not only at time but at justice - at what is fair and not fair
  • and he concludes that life isn't really fair
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:16) And I saw something else under the sun: In the place of judgment - wickedness was there, in the place of justice - wickedness was there.
  • Solomon points out a problem
  • there is injustice in this world
  • life is not fair
  • Solomon points out that everyday, wickedness wins out over justice
  • as James Russell Lowell said, "Truth forever on the scaffold; Wrong forever on the throne"
  • cynicism reigns
  • but to the seeker, Solomon reminds us to look past the here and now
  • Solomon reminds us that injustice only has a temporary reign
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:17) I thought in my heart, "God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed."
  • there is a fundamental injustice in this life, but God will judge

  • sadly, Solomon returns to a human and horizontal worldview in concluding this chapter, and he forgets God for a moment:
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:18) I also thought, "As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals.
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:19) Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath ; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless.
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:20) All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:21) Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?"
  • (Ecclesiastes 3:22) So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?
  • for a moment, Solomon spouts some heresy and says we're no better than animals

  • let's wrap this chapter up for the seeker
  • Solomon says you have a choice
  • you can live without God, and your life will be a jumble of good and bad, and then you die
  • there will be injustice in the world and you can do nothing about it

  • or you can let God enter the picture
  • and when he does, he makes everything beautiful in its time
  • he equips you to live not just in time but in eternity
  • and he brings justice to the wickedness in this world
  • for the seeker, which one will it be?
  • your choice

  • I'm going to close in the words of J. Parker:

God holds the key of all unknown,
And I am glad;

If other hands should hold the key,
Or if He trusted it to me,
I might be sad.

I cannot read His future plans,
But this I know;
I have the smiling of His face,
And all the refuge of His grace,
While here and now.

  • let's pray
  • Father, Solomon is good at presenting problems
  • and he's shown us this morning that apart from you, life is just a series of ups and downs
  • it's full of injustice, and who can tell from a human perspective if we're any better off than animals?
  • but Solomon also shows us in Ecclesiastes 3 that you have put eternity in our hearts
  • that you will judge all injustice and wickedness

  • Lord, this morning I know that there could be a seeker present
  • I ask if there is that you would show them that without you life is just ups and downs, and then you die
  • but if they trust you, you make all things beautiful in yo ur time
  • you have a purpose in everything
  • that injustice will finally end

  • for the believer this morning, I pray that you would give them the satisfaction that Solomon writes about
  • that the gift of God is that they enjoy life because they have their eternity squared away
  • Lord, this is my prayer in Jesus' name, Amen.

A Tribute to Women (Proverbs 31:10-31)

  • please open your Bibles to Proverbs 31
  • if you want to generate a bit of heat in any discussion, just bring up the role of women
  • I find a great variety of views exist in the never-ending battle of the sexes
  • on one hand, you have the view that a woman can do the work of two men
  • that if women were prime ministers and presidents, wars would end, unemployment would be eliminated, and the Bre-X fiasco would never have taken place

  • on the other hand, you have those who feel that a woman's place is secondary to a man's
  • that it's a man's world, and that a woman had better learn her place in the world
  • just try opening a discussion on the matter sometime and see how it goes

  • if you took a poll and asked people what the Bible says on the matter, you would probably hear that the Bible is an antiquated book reflecting old-fashioned values
  • but this morning we're in for a surprise
  • into the discussion of the role of the sexes, the Bible enters and paints a very noble, enlightened view of women
  • this morning is Mother's Day
  • we are going to pay tribute to our mothers
  • we are so grateful for the qualities that our mothers exemplify

  • but there are many women who are not mothers
  • and we want to pay tribute to them this morning
  • I'm not going to make the mistake of telling women how to be better women
  • what do I know about being a woman?
  • but we're going to let the Bible this morning pay tribute to the women in our lives as it paints a lofty view of females

  • I HOPE YOU REALIZE FIRST OF ALL THAT THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT WOMEN AND MEN ARE EQUAL IN PERSONHOOD AND IMPORTANCE
  • when God created humans, he created both male and female in his image
  • men and women were made equally in God's image, and both men and women reflect God's image in their lives
  • we need to realize that Scripture teaches that men and women are equally important to God and equally valuable to him

  • I get very angry when I hear some chauvinist men let on that they are somehow worth more because they are men
  • no man should feel superior because he is a man, and no women should feel inferior because she is a woman
  • the Bible is clear, right from Genesis 1, that God values males and females equally, and both are created in his image

  • the Bible is also clear that there is an equality of God's people in the church
  • (Galatians 3:28) There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
  • Paul was emphasizing to the Galatians that they had better not adopt the values of the culture in which men thought of themselves as being superior to women
  • instead, Paul told them that men and women are equal before God and should be equally valuable to each other as well
  • I won't even get into the rights that the Bible bestows on a woman that were unthinkable in the culture of the day
  • or the friendships that Jesus had with women
  • we need to realize the dignity that the Bible bestows upon women

  • does this mean that there are no differences between men and women at all?
  • I think that most of us would recognize that there are some fairly obvious differences between men and women
  • there are two schools of thought on this issue
  • both recognize that women, Scripturally speaking, are equal before God
  • but one view teaches that men and women are equal and yet have different roles
  • that's another morning's topic
  • but listen up chauvinists: women and men are equal in personhood and importance

  • THE BIBLE IS ALSO CLEAR THAT WE SHOULD PAY TRIBUTE TO WOMEN
  • and that's what we're going to do this morning
  • 1 Peter 3:7 tells husbands to "bestow honor" on their wives
  • and Proverbs 31 is a beautiful picture of the honor given to a godly woman

  • the passage in Proverbs 31 pays tribute to a woman who is finding fulfillment in her home, in the community, and in a career
  • this passage doesn't limit women to one of these roles
  • now please understand that this passage isn't intended to place guilt on women or to create unrealistic expectations
  • this passage, however, lays out some of the possible opportunities for women

  • if you're a woman, please sit back and bask in the praise this morning
  • this isn't a Hallmark card - it's God's Word that's praising you
  • so enjoy it
  • maybe you will be challenged by the passage to find fulfillment in another avenue in your life

  • THE NOBLE WOMAN IS PRAISEWORTHY IN HER HOME
  • women, this morning we praise you because many of you have shown yourself praiseworthy in your homes
  • [AS WIVES]
  • (Proverbs 31:10) A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
  • (Proverbs 31:12) She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
  • (Proverbs 12:4) A wife of noble character is her husband's crown
  • there's hardly a day that goes by that I'm not aware of the value of a good wife
  • Charlene and I are like any couple
  • we have our good days, and she has her bad days
  • oops, I mean that we have our bad days
  • but not many days go by that I don't realize how privileged I am to have a wife like her
  • I am incredibly blessed, and it's worth even more as we consider that not everyone has this privilege

  • men, if you are married, please value your wives
  • your wives are precious, worth far more than rubies
  • let her know today how much you value her
  • she is a precious gift

  • [AS MOTHERS]
  • we also honor women who are mothers
  • (Proverbs 31:21) When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
  • (Proverbs 31:27) She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
  • (Proverbs 31:28) Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:

  • it seems that everyone is blaming their parents for their problems
  • that's why I like the title of a book I saw: What My Parents Did Right
  • let's honor our mothers for their provisions of love for us

  • when Winston Churchill was still alive, an editor submitted a list for his approval of those who had been his teachers
  • Churchill returned the list to the editor with this comment: "You have omitted to mention the greatest of my teachers - my mother"

  • one woman wrote a letter to her child
  • this letter expresses what a mother gives to her child:

I give you my love, which means that I accept you, without reservations, just as you are and will be.
I give you my personal presence in order that you will have the security you need during your childhood.
I give you my ears, in the sense that I will never be too busy to listen to you - sometimes never uttering even one word.
I give you opportunities to work so that you might learn to do it without shame and come to enjoy the satisfaction of work well done.
I give you my counsel only when it is necessary or you ask for it so that you might avoid some of the mistakes I have made.
I give you my consolation when you have failed or feel discouraged, but I will not always protect you from the consequences of your sins.
I give you instructions in the way of the Lord so that when you are old, you will never depart from it.
I give you my daily prayers that the Lord will keep you and guide you in such a way that you, my child, will be a man or woman who will serve and glorify our Heavenly Father.
This I give you with all my love.

Your Mother,
Lydia Lightner

  • (Proverbs 31:28) Her ch ildren arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her
  • let's praise the women here for what they have done in our homes
  • there really is no higher contribution that anyone can make than in the life of a child
  • as children and husbands we applaud you

  • THE NOBLE WOMAN IS ALSO PRAISEWORTHY IN HER COMMUNITY
  • (Proverbs 31:20) She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
  • (Proverbs 31:25) She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
  • (Proverbs 31:26) She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
  • here we have a woman pictured who is compassionate, known for her strength and dignity, and also a wise and loving counselor
  • her interests reach beyond the confines of her home
  • she cares for the needs of other people

  • the passage acknowledges that women are a vital part of the community as a whole
  • in the church, in neighborhoods and communities, we appreciate the contributions of women
  • today we have books identifying that men and women are different in fundamental ways
  • women are from one planet, and men are from another one
  • of course men get to be the ones from Mars
  • we need to recognize that women bring to the church community something that men can't bring
  • we need to honor their contribution

  • let's look at another area of praise for the noble woman
  • this one might surprise you
  • THE NOBLE WOMAN IS ALSO PRAISEWORTHY IN HER CAREER
  • (Proverbs 31:13) She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
  • (Proverbs 31:14) She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
  • (Proverbs 31:15) She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.
  • (Proverbs 31:16) She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
  • (Proverbs 31:17) She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
  • (Proverbs 31:18) She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.
  • (Proverbs 31:19) In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

  • Proverbs 31 pictures a career woman
  • whoever it is that argues against women having a career obviously hasn't read this passage!
  • here is a woman working diligently in her career
  • she is buying and selling, making money

  • in fact, the Bible does describe the career activities of woman outside the home without condemning them
  • Lydia was a seller of purple clothes; Priscilla was a worker along with her husband
  • the Bible does not stifle the individual talent of a woman outside the home or in a career
  • in fact, Proverbs 31 praises a noble woman who is a good wife, mother, community member, and career woman

  • not all women choose to have careers, but about 60% of Canadian women over the age of 25 do hold jobs
  • but for those of you who have made this choice, don't succumb to those who try to impose guilt on you for having work outside the home
  • the housewife's role only came into existence during the Industrial Revolution
  • in fact, for almost all of history until World War II, women did have careers
  • we ought to follow the example of Proverbs 31 and praise those women who are working hard in their careers
  • we do honor you

  • FINALLY, THE NOBLE WOMAN IS ALSO PRAISEWORTHY SPIRITUALLY
  • (Proverbs 31:30) Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
  • the woman who lives for God is worthy of praise
  • some of the most spiritual people I have known have been women
  • and we praise them for it

  • how's that for a tribute?
  • let's make a few applications as we close

  • APPLICATION NUMBER ONE: LET'S GIVE PROPER HONOR TO THE WOMEN IN OUR LIVES
  • surely the first application is that we should be recognizing women as equal partners in God's grace, and expressing our appreciation to them
  • (Proverbs 31:31) Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
  • let's give women their due and show our appreciation to them for their roles
  • not just in the home, but in our communities and in their careers
  • have you done this today?
  • if your mother is still alive, have you thanked her and praised her today?
  • if you have a wife, have you told her how much you appreciate her?

  • APPLICATION NUMBER TWO: LET'S STRIVE TO APPLY WHAT THESE WOMEN HAVE TAUGHT US
  • let's consider their example and imitate them if they have been good examples
  • let's learn from the woman of Proverbs 31 and try to emulate her
  • she is respected by her family and community, a success in her career, and she is spiritually sound
  • how are you and your family? could you learn anything from the woman in Proverbs 31?
  • how is your impact in the community?
  • how is your spiritual life? do you know God and fear him like the woman in Proverbs 31?

  • APPLICATION NUMBER THREE, LET'S LOOK AT OUR LIFE'S BOTTOM LINE
  • one of the things we're told to do is to imagine what we want people to say about us at our funeral, and then try to live a life that earns the eulogies we desire
  • women couldn't do badly to try to live the life of Proverbs 31
  • as we see Proverbs 31, we think of the bottom line of our lives
  • not just success in a career or community or home, but balance and success and respect
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
  • How do you measure success?

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a redeemed social condition, or a job well done;
To know even one other life has breathed because you lived—
This is to have succeeded.