Ecclesiastes | Life Under the Sun (Part 13) 8.26.18
Today, we’re going to finish our sermon series on this great book. Then, on September 9, we’ll begin our next sermon series on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which I expect will take us through 2019 and into 2020. Lord willing, that’s what we’ll be studying together for the next year and a half or so.
Here has been the central theme of Ecclesiastes: All of life under the sun is vanity; yet God is sovereign, and he gives his people the power to enjoy it. Therefore, the central application has been: Fear and obey God and enjoy it; Enjoy the gifts he has given you. That is the central wisdom of Ecclesiastes – Life is vanity, but God is over it all, and he gives his children the power and ability to enjoy it, so enjoy it.
Now, with only six verses to go, here’s how the author wraps it up; here’s his closing message: Wisdom (this book) is from God and for life. That’s his final, book-concluding point today, wisdom is from God and for life, and by God’s grace we’ll see it, but before I preach this sermon, we should pray together. Please bow your heads with me. Father in heaven…
Open your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 12. If you’re using one of our church Bibles, (which you’re free to take with you if you don’t own a Bible), you will find today’s text on page 360. And as we read today, keep in mind Solomon’s closing message: Wisdom is from God and for life.
Let’s begin with verse 9: 9 Besides being wise, the Preacher (that’s Solomon, the author of this book – He was wise, but he wasn’t just wise) – “Besides being wise [he] also taught the people knowledge, (how did he do that? By…) weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care.
Solomon passed on wisdom by writing out proverbs with great care. What is a proverb? Verse 10 tells us; here is a good definition of a proverb – “The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.” Here’s what a proverb is – A proverb merges “words of delight” and “words of truth.” Truth told delightfully, or truth told beautifully – that’s what a proverb does.
A proverb is winsomely written truth.
For example, I could say “Listening to wise instruction is important.” Or, I could say, Proverbs 4:13 “Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.” See, that’s a proverb, that is winsomely written truth. And proverbs are what you find in all three of Solomon’s books – his Book of Proverbs, his Song of Solomon, and his late-life-reflection, which we’ve been studying, Ecclesiastes.
So Solomon was not just interested in gaining wisdom – he also wanted to pass it on. Why did he want to do that? Well, because, verse 11: 11 The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings;
In other words – wisdom is for life, that’s why he wants to pass it on.
He says two things:
Number 1: Wise words are like “goads.” Most of you don’t have a goad at home. A goad is like a cattle prod. It was usually a long sharp stick and a shepherd would use it to move and guide sheep. Wise words are like that – they move you, and guide you.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might,
And number 2: Wise words are like “nails.” The text says “[the collected sayings] (the wise words) are like nails firmly fixed.” Nails provide stability and security. Wise words are like that – they secure and steady you. They nail your feet to the floor of truth.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
So wisdom moves you and guides you and secures you and steadies you. What is he saying? Wisdom is for life.
Not only that, look at the end of v11, what else is said about wisdom here? It’s from God.
The text says “[The wise words; the collected sayings] are given by one Shepherd.” Psalm 95:7 “For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” Psalm 23:1 says “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Psalm 80:1 calls God “the Shepherd of Israel.” The “One Shepherd” who gives wisdom is God.
True wisdom comes from God and nowhere else. If you want to know how to live your life, you’re going to need wisdom, and that can only come from God. Wisdom is from God and for life.
Verse 12: 12 My son, beware of anything beyond these (”these” words that are given by the One Shepherd) Of making many books there is no end, … There were a lot of things to read then, and there are even more things to read now, and Solomon’s advice is “beware.”
There are many books out there claiming to have wisdom, but this book alone is from the One Shepherd, so this book must have preeminence over everything else you read. Over fiction, over articles, over news, over Christian books, over everything.
One more thing before the King’s closing words. He says it in the second half of verse 12: 12 My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, (here it is) and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
The Professor has said “beware, wisdom is only from God.” And now he’s saying again “beware, wisdom is for life.” He’s driving home the same point again – Wise words are not ultimately for study, they are for living! These words from God need to get from your head to your fingertips. Theology is for life. Knowing is for living. If your doctrine doesn’t make you love God and people more, something’s wrong.
Let me say it this way, and this may mean nothing to some of you, but the ones who need to get it will get it – If we’re picking teams, I’ll take the Arminian who applies his doctrine every time over the Calvinist who doesn’t. For some of you men, especially young men, your interest in sound doctrine is premature. You’re not ready to eat meat, because you’re infantile in your application of the gospel. Go back to the thing of most importance, the gospel, and get them from your head to your heart and to your fingertips first.
Thomas Brooks wrote a book in the 1600’s and in the beginning he actually warns readers not to read it if they’re just going to study it and not do it. The book is called “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices.” I don’t think that title would sell today. Kind of like John Owen’s 17th century classic “OF THE MORTIFICATION OF SIN IN BELIEVERS; THE NECESSITY, NATURE, AND MEANS OF IT: WITH A RESOLUTION OF SUNDRY CASES OF CONSCIENCE THEREUNTO BELONGING.” This is a long quote, but I think it’s worth it:
“Remember it is not hasty reading but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths that make them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. It is not the bees touching of the flower that gathers honey, but her abiding for a time upon the flower that draws out the sweet. It is not he that reads most but he that meditates most who will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian. Know that it is not the knowing nor the talking nor the reading man but the doing man that at last will be found the happiest man. ‘If you know these things blest and happy are you if you do them,’ said Jesus. Judas called Christ “Lord” and yet betrayed Him and is gone to his place. Ah, how many Judases have we in these days that kiss Christ and yet betray Him? In their words profess Him but in their works deny Him. That bow their knee to Him and yet in their hearts despise Him. That call Him, Jesus, and yet will not obey Him as Lord.
Reader, if it be not strong upon thy heart to practice what thou readest, to what end dost thou read? To increase thine own condemnation? If thy light and knowledge be not turned into practice, the more knowing man thou art the more miserable man thou wilt be in the day of recompense. Thy light and knowledge will more torment thee than all the devils in hell. Thy knowledge will be that rod that will eternally lash thee, the scorpion that will forever bite thee, the worm that will everlasting gnaw thee. Therefore, read and labor to know in order that thou mayest do or else thou art undone forever.
Solomon is saying in vv9-12 that he has worked hard to pass on truth for life. Truth that will move you; guide you; and steady you. Wisdom. Read it, understand it, and apply it. Read it, meditate on it, and put it into action.
Wisdom is from God and for life.
Okay, two final verses. Very fittingly, the Professor ends with a final bit of wisdom for life – maybe the best for last here – and it sort of boils your life down for you.
13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
That’s wisdom for life. Fear God and keep his commandments. Solomon has 10 commandments in mind. Our catechism, taking the entire Bible, and the New Testament into account, elaborates on these commandments.
First, that we know and trust God as the only true and living God.
Second, that we avoid all idolatry and do not worship God improperly.
Third, that we treat God’s name with fear and reverence, honoring also his Word and works.
Fourth, that on the Sabbath day we spend time in public and private worship of God, rest from routine employment, serve the Lord and others, and so anticipate the eternal Sabbath.
Fifth, that we love and honor our father and our mother, submitting to their godly discipline and direction.
Sixth, that we do not hurt, or hate, or be hostile to our neighbor, but be patient and peaceful, pursuing even our enemies with love.
Seventh, that we abstain from sexual immorality and live purely and faithfully, whether in marriage or in single life, avoiding all impure actions, looks, words, thoughts, or desires, and whatever might lead to them.
Eighth, that we do not take without permission that which belongs to someone else, nor withhold any good from someone we might benefit.
Ninth, that we do not lie or deceive, but speak the truth in love.
Tenth, that we are content, not envying anyone or resenting what God has given them or us.
There they are, and Jesus summarizes the ten commandments in Matthew 22 by saying “Love God and love your neighbor.” This is what we’re called to do. Fear God and keep his commandments.
And then Solomon gives two reasons, “for” and “for.” Here are the two reasons:
For this is the whole duty of man. In other words – Fear and obey God because this is what you were made to do.
Also, there’s a second reason. For [the last verse of the book] God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
I tell you, on the day of judgment [that day is coming] people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Will you stand or fall on the day of judgment? No one will stand self-righteous. There are two kinds of fear here – the fear of believers and the fear of unbelievers.
Fear God because you stand condemned.
The Almighty—we cannot find him;
he is great in power;
justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.
24 Therefore men fear him;
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
Fear God because you stand forgiven.
“But with you there is forgiveness that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:4).
- S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,records this amazing dialogue between Lucy and Susan and Peter and Mr. And Mrs. Beaver and it goes like this:
Lucy’s asking about Aslan, the lion, and she says “Is he a man?” “Aslan a man?” Said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not! I tell you he is the king of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion-the lion, the great lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” Said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you. Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe but he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.” “I’m longing to see him,” said Peter, “even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.”
And then Lewis goes on to describe this. “People sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes and they found that they couldn’t look at him and they went all trembly… His voice was deep and rich and somehow took the fidgets out of them and they now felt glad and quiet and it didn’t seem awkward to them to stand and say nothing.”
The Gospel. God is holy, sovereign, the creator, and merciful.
You came to know that the God who stood ready to judge was willing to save. The lion would rather pardon than punish you. You came to know his mercy, and when you did, your fear of God became another kind of fear – a new fear that drove you to God, not away from Him. A deep reverence for God that leads to a desire to please him in all things.
“After Jesus’ death and resurrection we seek to revere God and keep his commandments not because we dread the coming judgment but because we are grateful for God’s grace in providing salvation for us through his Son Jesus Christ.” (Sidney Griedanus)