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Ecclesiastes | Life Under the Sun (Part 11)                                                                      7.22.18

Ecclesiastes 9:10 – 11:6

 

Introduction

 

The best way to divide up and understand the book of Ecclesiastes is not obvious. The chapter and verse markers are not very helpful, which is okay to say, because those were not inspired by God. In fact, the books of the Bible were not assigned chapters until the year 1205, and I think the verses a century later or so.  Side note: Can you imagine trying to have a discussion about the Bible, or leading a study of the Bible, without Chapters and Verses? I’d have to say something like “Please open your Bibles to about the middle of Ecclesiastes.”

 

All that to say we’re not bound to the divisions handed down to us. The best way to divide up and understand the book of Ecclesiastes, (and I’ve said this before), is to break it into four sections.

 

This is what Walter Kaiser, former president of Gordon Conwell Seminary, proposed in his 2013 commentary; and he was helped by an article written for the Princeton Review in 1857; and that author was persuaded by J.G. Vaihinger, who as far as I can tell, was the first to suggest these four divisions in 1849.

 

So we’re in the fourth section, with only three sermons to go. And according to Walter Kaiser, here is the author’s intention in this last section of the book:

 

[In this final section] we are given practical advice and taught how to apply the insights gained from this new perspective on life set forth in the previous three sections. The righteous must be encouraged lest the .. puzzles that still remain in the mystery of God are allowed to dishearten them. Kaiser Jr., Walter C. Coping with Change – Ecclesiastes (Kindle Locations 1955-1960).

 

Here is what he is saying, and he’s right. By the time we get to this point in the book, Solomon has given us a “new perspective on life.” And now, in the final section, he focuses on encouragement and practical advice.

 

Now, in case you’ve forgotten, here is the new, unexpected, shockingly realistic perspective Solomon has given: Life is vanity. Yet, God is sovereign over all things, and gives his people the power to find joy in the vanity.

 

That is a new perspective on life that Solomon put forward in the first three sections of his book. He will bring it up again in our text today, and then move on to practical advice and encouragement. If you’re taking notes, those would be your outline headings today: Perspective / Advice / Encouragement.

 

But first, before I preach this sermon, we should pray together. Please bow your heads with me.

 

Open your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 9. 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 359.

 

Perspective – Advice – Encouragement. We’ll find all of these in our text. Let’s begin with perspective.

 

Perspective

 

Solomon doesn’t say “Life is good.” He doesn’t say “life is beautiful.” He doesn’t say “life is an adventure.” He says, unexpectedly, “Life sucks.” “Life is the pits.” Life is vanity. There is nothing inherently good about this life. There’s a label on life and it says “enjoyment not included.” (you may agree or disagree; but that’s what Solomon is saying).

 

And in our text today, Solomon focuses on one particular vain quality of earthly life – uncertainty. Life is uncertain. Life is unpredictable. There’s a song by country song writer Thomas Rhett called “Life Changes.” I like the song, partly because he mentions adoption, but the song is about the unpredictability of life. Here’s the chorus:

 

“Ain’t it funny how life changes
You wake up, ain’t nothing the same …
You can’t stop it, just hop on the train …
You never know what’s gonna happen
You make your plans and you hear god laughing
Life changes…”

 

Life is full of surprises. And isn’t this true – oftentimes, the surprises are difficult. We’re all walking on thin ice, and we could fall through at any time. So not only is life difficult, we don’t necessarily see the difficulty coming. Listen to these verses from our section today:

 

9:12  For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.

 

10:14  A fool multiplies words,
though no man knows what is to be,
and who can tell him what will be after him?

 

11:2  Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.

 

11:5  As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.

 

11:6  In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.

 

“Man does not know.” “No man knows.” “You know not.” “You do not know.” “You do not know.” “You do not know.” Life is unpredictable. Things often don’t go the way we expect. Listen to 9:11,

 

11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, [what’s he saying? Things don’t go as planned. The fast don’t always win the race, the strong don’t always win the fight] BUT time and chance happen to them all. That is a figure of speech – In other words, apparent randomness happens to everyone. The fastest runner trips, the strongest fighter comes down with the flu, the most intelligent blow the interview, the health conscious person gets sick, the faithful church goes loses a member unexpectedly, the godly parent suffers a rebellious child, the wealthy businessman loses everything.

 

Life is vanity. That’s the perspective here. Life is unpredictable. Therefore, we could use some advice and some encouragement, which is where the Professor is headed. So let’s move on to his practical advice. If life is uncertain and unpredictable, how should we respond? What should we do? How should we live, facing life’s uncertainties?

 

Advice

 

Last time we were in this book, in 8:16-9:9, Solomon’s practical advice was this: enjoy the gifts God has given you. Remember that? Yes, life is vanity, but God has given you gifts and he has given you power to enjoy them, so enjoy them. Don’t worship them, but don’t ignore them, and don’t feel guilty about them – enjoy them.

 

This morning, he has another bit of practical advice, and here it is: Enjoy your work and do it with all your might.

 

Now, after hearing the entire sermon text read to you, I’m not sure you heard that practical advice coming through, so let me take just a minute to show you, in our text, why I think that’s the practical advice here.

 

 

Look at the first verses of our text, and look at the last verses of our text; the bookends of this section; the opening statement and the closing statement – that will tell us what this text is about. And you’ll see, it’s work.

 

9:10a

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might

That’s the opening statement, and it’s about work. Now jump down to the closing statement. It’s given in 11:1-6. I’ll quote from the first half of vv1, 2, and 6:

 

11:1a; 2a; 6a

1 Cast your bread upon the waters, …
Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, …

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, …

          That’s the closing statement, and it’s also about work.

 

So get work in your mind. For those of you who don’t know what work is – it is vigorous effort. The practical advice here, in light of the uncertainty and unpredictability of life, is in regards to your work.

 

What do you do for a living? What is your job? If you have one, that’s an easy place to start.

 

For some of you, your daily work is something you don’t get paid for. Moms who are full time homemakers, this would be you. You work. You work 24-7. I think someone made the mistake once of asking my wife “Do you work or stay home with your kids?”

 

What’s on your to do list? What occupies your time? What projects are left undone? Kids, what are your responsibilities? What are your chores? Get all that in the forefront of your mind right now.

 

And now here this practical advice: Enjoy your work and do it with all your might.

 

Enjoy your work. The first section of our text says this: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.” And now, listen to the context of enjoyment, which we find in the previous three verses. Here is v10, along with vv7-9:

 

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might,…”

 

Do you hear the context? It’s joy isn’t it? Work, and the ability to do the work, is one of the gifts God has given us. And that work ought to be enjoyed. Work is not evil. Work is good. Work is not just a means to an end. It’s an end in itself. Work shows up in Genesis 2, not Genesis 3.

 

Genesis 2:15

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

 

That is pre-fall Adam, in paradise (heaven on earth), working. In the next chapter, Genesis 3, Adam sinned, and everything became corrupted, including work (Genesis 3:17-18, 19).

 

Genesis 3:17-18, 19

And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.

19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

 

So work is cursed, but it is not evil. The workload has increased because of the fall. The outcome of the work is unpredictable because of the fall. But the work is good, and a gift to be enjoyed.

 

Ecclesiastes 2:24

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. …

 

Ecclesiastes 3:22

So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot.

 

Enjoy your work… And, here’s the second part of the practical advice… Do it with all your might.

 

I think that is what most of the verses, in between the opening and closing statements on work, are all about. We’ve read all of them, but we’re not going to take the time to go through each of them. Let me just show you a couple things before moving on to the Professor’s encouragement.

 

First, listen to what was clearly said in the first verse of our section, 9:10:

 

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, ..for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

 

“Do it (the work) with your might.” With all your body, with all your mind, with all your soul. “For… there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol (which just means the grave), to which you are going.”

 

Do you hear his argument for working with all your might?

 

Life is unpredictable. Who knows how many days you have left. Which means – who knows how many days you have left to work on this earth. Who knows how many days you have left to sweat and fix and clean and repair and get tired. So make the most of it. That’s Solomon’s logic – Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might… Why?

 

9:10b for there is no work … in Sheol, to which you are going.

 

Solomon goes on and gives examples of working with all your might. In chapter 10 he rattles off proverb after proverb having to do with working wisely – in other words “your might” includes your mind. Working with your might means working hard and working smart.

 

Again, we don’t have time to go through each of them, but let me repeat some of them and give a sampling of the wisdom Solomon is talking about. Wisdom doesn’t save you – He’s made that point – but it’s essential to use wisdom in your work:

 

10:1 Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench;
so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.

 

9:17-18 17 The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.

 

We say, a bad apple ruins the entire bunch. A little folly goes a long way, so be wise, be smart in your work. It takes far less to ruin something than it does to create it (Kidner)

A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right,
but a fool’s heart to the left.

 

This is not a reference to modern American political leanings. The “right” refers to the place of power and preference, of favor and salvation. In your work, honor God.

 

10:12, 15, 18

12 The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor,
but the lips of a fool consume him.

15 The toil of a fool wearies him,
for he does not know the way to the city.

 

18 Through sloth the roof sinks in,
and through indolence the house leaks.

That’s the practical advice – enjoy your work and do it with all your might.

 

Conclusion

 

In conclusion, let’s end with the encouragement.

 

We need encouragement. Encouragement to do this. Remember what Walter Kaiser said about this fourth section?

 

[In this final section] we are given practical advice and taught how to apply the insights gained from this new perspective on life set forth in the previous three sections. The righteous must be encouraged lest the .. puzzles that still remain in the mystery of God are allowed to dishearten them. Kaiser Jr., Walter C. Coping with Change – Ecclesiastes (Kindle Locations 1955-1960).

 

So what should we do? How should we live? How should we cope? We’re tempted to anxiety or depression. We might grow disheartened or discouraged. Some people distract themselves. Some people don’t think about it. Some people grab onto some philosophy that claims to solve the riddle. But what does Solomon encourage us with?

 

Encouragement

 

Here it is – It is in 11v5: As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.

 

Solomon is consistent. It’s the same encouragement throughout the book. It’s the second part of the book’s theme.

 

Life is vanity. Yet, God is sovereign over all things, and gives his people the power to find joy in the vanity. 

 

What does he encourage us with? The sovereignty of God. Life is unpredictable. Life is uncertain, but God is certain.

 

That may sound small, but it’s huge. The sovereignty of God.  And because God is in control, I can handle whatever happens in this life, because I receive it as from his loving hand, including the work he has given me to do.

 

The goodness and the greatness of God is all that is certain. God is certain. His glory is certain. Your good is certain. Heaven is certain. He doesn’t move. He doesn’t change. He doesn’t fail. He doesn’t fluctuate. He doesn’t shift. He’s certain. But everything else, at the end of the day, is completely and utterly unpredictable.

 

If you’re here and you’re a Christian.

 

If you’re a Christian, this should make you glad.

 

If you’re here and you’re not a Christian.

 

If you’re not a Christian, this should make you… humbled? Curious? Forget for a second how you feel about what God is doing and realize that there is a God and you are accountable to Him.

 

Christian, remember the sovereignty of God, and enjoy your work and the ability to do you work as a gift from him, and do it with all your might.

 

Colossians 3:17, 23

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

 

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,

 

Unbeliever, submit yourself to the one who is in absolute control of your life and destiny. If you’re here and you’d like to talk about that, please come up and see me after the service. I’d like to speak with you.

 

Let’s pray.