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Monday, May 30, 2011

"Easy Does It!" - (05/29/11)

Ecclesiastes 7 (Message #7 in Series)
May 29, 2011

            “Easy does it!”  You’ve heard that expression, but what does it mean?  I associate it with things like trying to back up the car to hitch onto a trailer.  One person is driving; the other is watching the ball on the car get closer and closer to the hitch on the boat.  The observer says, “You’re almost there… slow… slower… easy does it.  STOP!”  So, “Easy does it” means to go slow and with extreme caution.  Don’t go rushing in like a fat girl at an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Take it easy!  It implies both balance and moderation.
            In our study of the Book of Ecclesiastes to this point ol’ Solomon has tried just about everything under the sun to see if any of it would bring satisfaction and lasting enjoyment to him.  He tried science, the study of the natural laws of the universe, which made some contribution but did not satisfy him.  Then he launched into the study of philosophy and psychology, but those didn’t satisfy him either.  Then he pushed the limits of sensual pleasure and materialism, to no avail.  From there he dropped into a kind of fatalism, which also failed to satisfy him.  He even tried religion and found that it didn’t fill the void in his heart.  And of course, through all of it he was hoping that his growing fortune would bring him happiness, but it didn’t.
            It is truly painful to see him try all these things, thinking that each one might hold the answer that his heart was searching for.  But in each case, that which he was chasing turned out to be nothing but a mirage.

            So now in the 7th chapter of Ecclesiastes we hear Solomon saying to us, “Easy does it!”  At the end of his life of excess, he tells us that life should be lived moderately, in a balanced way.  We should not lean too far in any direction but should keep our weight balanced squarely over our feet.  We need to keep a low center-of-gravity so that nothing can knock us over.
            Turn in your Bibles to Ecclesiastes chapter 7.

In verse 1 Solomon tells us that honor is better than wealth and luxury, and for that reason, we should live soberly, in anticipation of our death.
Verse 1: 1A good name is better than a good ointment [i.e. expensive perfume], and the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth. 
  • By a “good name” he’s talking about a good reputation. (e.g. Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”)
  • The development of godly character should be the primary attainment of our life. (cf. Romans 8:28-29, “…for those whom God foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.”) 
  • Death and sorrow should be occasions of instruction and discipline for us because death is conducive to sober thinking about the soul.
  • Solomon contends that an honorable life makes the day of a man’s death better than his day of birth, because at the end he has the satisfaction of knowing that he has made something out of his life.

In verses 2-4 Solomon tells us that a serious attitude toward life is better than an attitude of lightheartedness and flippancy.
Verses 2-4: 2It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.  3Sorrow is better than laughter, for when a face is sad a heart may be happy.  4The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure. 
  • A sympathetic understanding of sorrow and death gives one a proper appreciation of life.
  • When one visits a house of mourning or a funeral chapel, he is reminded of the brevity of life and therefore of the need for wise living.  Whenever I officiate at a funeral or memorial service I point out that it is very appropriate at such a time for each one of us to examine our own relationship with God so that we will be ready to meet Him when death comes knocking at our door.
  • Verse 3 describes something I’ve witnessed many times; namely, a Christian grieving for a loved one while at the same time rejoicing that his loved one is in Heaven with the Lord—a sad face but with a happy heart.

In verses 5-7 the Preacher, Solomon, warns us to give careful heed to the instruction of the wise rather than listen to fools.
Verses 5-7: 5It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man than for one to listen to the song of fools.  6For as the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool; and this too is futility.  7For oppression makes a wise man mad, and a bribe corrupts the heart.    
  • We should prize the rebuke of a wise man above the joking advice of the fool.  Solomon himself says in Proverbs 13:20, He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
  • In verse 6 he uses a word picture: he says the voice of a laughing fool is like the snapping and popping sound of weeds on a campfire, and it’s worth about that much too.
  • In verse 7 Solomon points out that in this life a wise and godly man will often be provoked to righteous anger.  There is injustice all around us and there are evil people who seem to be getting away with their evil oppression.  It makes a person with even an ounce of moral fiber want to scream and pull his hair out.

In this next section, verses 8-10, Solomon tells us to evaluate life on the basis of finalities rather than processes.  He also says that caution is better than rashness.
Verses 8-10: 8The end of a matter is better than its beginning; patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit.  9Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools.  10Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?” for it is not from wisdom that you ask about this. 
  • In verse 10 Solomon recommends that it is best to take a quiet second look at the past and present before saying that “the former days were better than these”.  The fact is, the years have likely obscured our memory of the difficulties in the past similar to those of the present.
  • As Christians we should live for the centuries, not for the seconds.
  • We should be slow to anger, and not make rash statements for which we will be sorry later.  The phrase in verse 8, “the end of a matter is better than its beginning,” suggests the wisdom of cautious speech, since only after one has spoken is he able to determine the full effects of his words.
  • We should learn to focus our attention on the future rather than on the past (10).

In verses 11-12 Solomon speaks of the value of wisdom as a defense.
Verses 11-12: 11Wisdom along with an inheritance is good and an advantage to those who see the sun.  12For wisdom is protection just as money is protection, but the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors. 
  • He says that wisdom leaves a greater inheritance than riches (11), but points out that wisdom with wealth is better than wisdom alone.
  • Wisdom becomes a part of life and actually forms it (12).  Solomon has already been quick to acknowledge that wealth can provide a man with good things, and when this wealth is combined with wisdom, the man has double means for finding life’s few pleasures.

In verses 13-14 Solomon says that resignation is better than indignation, which is kind of a summation of Solomon’s philosophy of life.
Verses 13-14: 13Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent?  14In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider—God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him. 
  • He says that since our lives are in the iron grip of God, both the day of prosperity (vs. 14), and the day of adversity have been determined by Him.  Therefore, let a man make the best of whatever life may bring.
  • A truly wise man recognizes the sovereignty of God in all aspects of life.

In verses 15-19, Solomon exhorts us that moderation is better than intemperance and that we should pursue Godly wisdom over earthly values.
Verses 15-19: 15I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness.  16Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise.  Why should you ruin yourself?  17Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool.  Why should you die before your time?  18It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.  19Wisdom strengthens a wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city. 
  • Experience has shown Solomon that the righteous do not necessarily live longer and happier lives than the wicked.  Therefore, he warns us in verse 16 to beware of self-righteousness which can lead to pride.  He seems to be telling us that the best way is to live moderately.  “Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise” seems to us an odd thing to say.  Is that even possible?
  • Then in verse 17 he gives the flipside: “Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool.”  He seems to equate being wicked with being a fool.  That’s because in the Bible the term fool means more than clown-like or silly.  It always carries the idea of moral laxness.  For example, “The fool saith in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”  In other words, he says to beware of allowing foolish wicked excesses to destroy your life.
  • At the end of verse 18 what does the phrase “hold on to both of them” refer to?  It refers back to righteousness and wisdom spoken of in verse 16.  Then in verse 19 he says that Godly wisdom and righteousness will preserve and strengthen you better than any other weapon.

In this next section of the chapter, verses 20-22, Solomon tells us to remember the natural proclivity of mankind to do evil.
Verses 20-22: 20Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.  21Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, so that you will not hear your servant cursing you.  22For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others. 
  • Verse 20 leaves no room for false piety and self-righteousness.  Don’t look for perfection, even among Christian people.  Solomon points out that all humans are depraved.  We are all “bad to the bone.”  This is exactly what Paul was getting at in Romans 3:10-18.  referring to man in his “natural state” Paul says, “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.  12 All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.  13 Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.  The poison of vipers is on their lips.  14 Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.  15 Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know.  18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 

Next, Solomon points out that true godly wisdom is not attained by worldly wisdom (23-25).
Verses 23-25: 23I tested all this with [my] wisdom, and I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. [i.e. I couldn’t pull it off!]  24What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious.  Who can discover it? [Answer: No one, on his own.]   25I directed my mind to know, to investigate, and to seek wisdom and an explanation, and to know the evil of folly and the foolishness of madness.
  • Solomon says that he applied himself to understand these things but the truth eluded him.  That’s because human wisdom can only take us just so far.  It has no answers for the ultimate questions of life.  We have to go to God for those answers.
  • The good news is that God has promised to freely grant unlimited quantities of godly wisdom to anyone who will come to Him and ask for it.  The Bible says in James 1:5-6, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But let him ask in faith without any doubting…” 

In this section of the chapter, verses 26-28, Solomon tells us that, in his experience and opinion, men are better than women.  [Now please don’t shoot the messenger.  I didn’t say that I agreed with him.]
Verses 26-28:  26And I discovered more bitter than death [is] the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are chains.  One who is pleasing to God will escape from her, but the sinner will be captured by her.  27“Behold, I have discovered this,” says the Preacher, “adding one thing to another to find an explanation, 28which I am still seeking but have not found.  I have found one man among a thousand, but I have not found a woman among all these.
  • He has already pointed out up in verse 20 that all humans are depraved and rotten to the core.  Now he observes that even women are prone to evil.  Moreover, he reveals his bias when he says that wise and noble women are even scarcer than wise men (28).  This is interesting in light of the fact that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines (cf. I Kings 11:1-8).  But it appears that he had a rather low view of women.  Perhaps that is because toward the end of his life he finally recognized the truth of God’s warning about marrying foreign women from idolatrous nations.  God said they would turn his heart away and that is exactly what happened.
  • What fascinates me is that this is the same Solomon who wrote the Book of Proverbs and included all that advice about fleeing from prostitutes and loose women.  It’s a shame he didn’t take his own advice.

In the last verse of the chapter, verse 29, Solomon affirms that the human proclivity toward evil is not God’s fault, but man’s.
Verse 29: 29Behold, I have found only this that God made men [i.e. humans] upright [righteous], but they have sought out many devices.”
  • Solomon knew the Scriptures, which say that God made man in His own image and likeness, and breathed into him the breath of life.  At the start man was perfect, sinless, and without flaws.  However, in response to Satan’s temptation and through their own pride and rebellion Adam and Eve sinned against God and so sin passed down upon them and all their descendants.
  • But God is not the author of sin.  All He did was create man as a free moral being with the ability to choose.  It is not His fault that man chose evil over obedience.  No man can point his accusing finger at God.

            Though God is not the one who brought sin into the world, He is definitely the one who provided the cure.  He is the Architect of Salvation and the God who “…so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  You can have that today, this very moment, if you will put your complete faith and trust in Christ and invite Him into your life to be your Lord and Savior.

Monday, May 23, 2011

"Riches That Do Not Satisfy" - (05/22/11)

Ecclesiastes 6 (Message #6 in Series)
May 22, 2011

            You’ve all heard the old joke about Chinese food—you eat it and three hours later you’re hungry again.   I don’t know where that came from but it’s true!  However, it’s also just as true about Norwegian food, German food, and American food.  That’s because food only satisfies us for a little while, and then we want to eat again.  Don’t blame the Chinese—it’s a human issue!  In fact, nothing in this world satisfies us for very long.
            A guy works extra hours, scrimps and saves, and finally gets enough money together to buy himself a little 12 ft. aluminum fishing boat with a   25-horse Johnson Motor.  He’s out of his mind with happiness for about a year, until one day his buddy buys a 21 ft. Alumacraft Trophy 205 boat with a 130-horse V4 E-Tec Evinrude engine.  Now his little 12 footer looks like chopped liver to him.  He’s no longer satisfied with what he has.  Now he too wants a new boat and feels he’s not going to be truly happy until he gets it.
            Or how about the young woman who uses all her feminine wiles to snag the man of her dreams?  She couldn’t be happier!  He’s everything she ever wanted in a husband.  Then, a few years into the marriage after the new has worn off, she meets a guy at work who lights up her life again.  Before long they are going out to lunch together, taking walks on the beach, and texting one another saying cutesy stuff.  Before long, she starts looking at her hubby and decides he just doesn’t measure up to her standard anymore.  Her family and friends are shocked one day when she announces that she is asking for a divorce because she just isn’t happy.  She says she needs a change.  She’s not satisfied with her marriage and wants more out of life.  Now that she’s met Mr. Wonderful she knows that he will make her truly happy and they will live happily ever after.  Yeah, right!  It will be the same thing all over again.
            Like I said, nothing satisfies humans for very long.  For us, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  This is also true for people caught up in the rat race of trying to get rich.  They think that great wealth will make them truly happy and will give them that warm, fuzzy feeling of fulfillment that every human is searching for.  Of course, it’s not true.
The Washington Post ran an article a few months ago entitled, In prosperous South Korea, a troubling increase in suicide rate.”  They reported that at about 35 suicides per day, South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the world, including the highest rate of female suicide.  The suicide rate in this prosperous nation of about 50 million people has doubled in the past decade and is now the highest in the industrialized world.  But what is really interesting, before South Korea got rich, wired, and worried, its suicide rate was among the lowest in the industrialized world.  But modernity has spawned inordinate levels of stress.  People there work more, sleep less, and spend more money per capita on cram-schools than residents of the 29 other industrialized countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.  Since the end of the Korean War, South Korea has provided a perfect laboratory to prove once and for all that wealth and the struggle to possess wealth does not, and cannot satisfy the human heart.  The richer people get, the more chance that they will throw themselves out the windows of 25-story high-rise buildings.  I find that very interesting.

            Solomon came to understand that “things” and money can never satisfy a person, at least not for very long.  In the short run things can make us happy but the new wears off pretty quickly.  He learned that lesson for himself.  He had more money and more stuff than all of us put together, yet he was not happy, not satisfied.  Here in the Book of Ecclesiastes he tells us his story and shares his conclusions.  Turn with me to Ecclesiastes chapter 6.

            In the first 9 verses, Solomon observes that one of life’s greatest misfortunes is that a man may have riches and yet not be able to enjoy them, either because of an early death, or because he has not heir, or perhaps because of a spirit of greediness in him, which will never let him be satisfied, no matter how much he possesses.
Verses 1-2: There is an evil which I have seen under the sun and it is prevalent among men--2a man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor so that his soul lacks nothing of all that he desires; yet God has not empowered him to eat from them, for a foreigner [stranger] enjoys them.  This is vanity and a severe affliction.
  • Solomon claims to have seen this situation often.  That makes sense since he ran with a wealthy crowd.  He knew lots of wealthy people and had occasion to observe them and become privy to their situations.
  • In verse 2 he describes the scenario: the person is rich, having been given wealth and riches by God.  But then, the person ends up not being able to ever lean back and enjoy what he has accumulated for one reason or another.  Something always seems to go wrong.  Maybe he has no heir and thus, in the end, some stranger ends up benefiting from his estate.
  • Solomon affirms that riches to not always spell joy.  One might be rich and yet unable to spend his riches.  It is possible to starve in the midst of plenty—to be starved for love, for affection, for friendship, for companionship, for meaningful conversation, i.e. for the things that money can’t buy.

Likewise, having a large family is not guaranteed to bring joy either.
Verses 3-5: If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, however many they be, but his soul is not satisfied with good things and he does not even have a burial, then I say, “Better the miscarriage than he, 4for it [the stillborn] comes in futility and goes into obscurity; and its name is covered in obscurity.  5It never sees the sun and it never knows anything; it is better off than he. 
  • In verse 3 Solomon talks about the opposite case from the previous verses.  Here he looks at the case of a wealthy man with heirs galore who lives to a ripe old age and yet still is not satisfied.  Again, what good are riches if they can’t satisfy, whether you have kids or not?  Compare a rich man and a poor man: the rich man can still only wear one suit of clothes at a time; he can still only eat three meals a day; he can only drive one car at a time; he can only sleep in one bed at a time, and more importantly, he cannot live longer than the poor man, no matter how many doctors he has, and he takes nothing with him when he leaves.  From the perspective of eternity, what good are his riches?  Not much!
  • It is vain effort to give one’s life to the pursuit of that which does not bring happiness here, and has no value hereafter.  Yet many people spend their lives in this kind of emptiness, forever chasing the illusive butterfly of happiness.
  • Solomon concludes that it would have been better for the person to die in his mother’s womb, a miscarriage, a stillborn child, than to ever see the light of day.  He says that nonexistence would be better than meaningless existence.  He believes that to live badly is worse than to never have lived at all.  Solomon would say that to grow old and ornery is worse than a premature death.
  • In fact, Solomon would say that productivity and longevity without true meaning are a curse.  In verse 3 he pushes his story to the extreme where he says, “…and he does not even have a burial…”  Some versions insert the word “proper” but it is not in the Hebrew original.  I believe that Solomon is saying, “Even if the man could live forever, without dying and being buried, a life without meaning is worthless, no matter how long it goes on.”  He expands this idea in verse 6 to show that long life may actually turn out to be a trial rather than a blessing.
  • This reminds me of Alice Edwards, who at 106 years asked me several times why God was leaving her here for so long after all her family members were already in Heaven.  Her longevity was not a cause for joy to her.

Verse 6: Even if the other man lives a thousand years twice [i.e. 2,000 years] and does not enjoy good things--do not all go to one place [i.e. the grave]?
  • Life is not just about living a long time!  Ramel and I were watching the news recently and heard about a lady living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by the name of Maria Gomes Valentim who was born on July 9th, 1896 in Carangola, Minas Gerais, Brazil.  She is almost 115 years old, lacking just a few weeks.  The Guinness World Records people have determined that she is the oldest living human on the planet.  “Vovó Quita”, as she is known to her family and friends, attributes her longevity to a healthy diet, including fresh bread every morning with coffee, fruit, and the occasional milk with linseed oil.  She can still eat on her own, and she admits that she indulges in an occasional glass of wine.  She also still eats spicy food, and she likes to have peppery chicken pie in the afternoon.
  • Big deal!  I believe that it is more important to finish well than to last long.  Is the goal in life just to keep breathing until everybody else you know croaks and you are the last one standing?  I don’t think so!
  • Length of life does not necessarily bring wisdom and virtue.
  • There is an old saying that says, “There is no fool like an old fool.”  To live a long time but be lacking in wisdom, morals, and character is certainly nothing to celebrate.

In the next verses we see that sensual-satisfaction in not soul-satisfaction.  Pleasures that only come from our physical senses are short-lived at best.
Verses 7-9: All a man’s labor is for his mouth and yet the appetite is not satisfied.  8For what advantage does the wise man have over the fool?  What advantage does the poor man have, knowing how to walk before the living?  9What the eyes see is better than what the soul desires.  This too is futility and a striving after wind.
  • A sick soul can never be satisfied with material things and money.
  • Moreover, the soul is not satisfied through the mouth.  There is not a connection between the stomach and the seat of our satisfaction.  In other words, you can’t eat your way to happiness, though lots of Americans try to do just that.  But all the “Biggest Loser” type shows on TV prove that it just ain’t so!
  • I really like the way the New Living Translation renders these verses: All people spend their lives scratching for food, but they never seem to have enough.  8So are wise people really better off than fools?  Do poor people gain anything by being wise and knowing how to act in front of others?  9Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have.  Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind.”
  • If we would enjoy what we have rather than desiring what we don’t have we would be much better off and much more content.  Covetousness, jealousy, and the constant desire for more rob us of contentment.

In these last three verses, Solomon tries to come to some kind of conclusion.  He reminds us again that in the final analysis God is the one in charge and our ultimate satisfaction in life depends on us making our peace with Him and His plan for us.
Verses 10-12: Whatever exists has already been named, and it is known what man is; for he [man] cannot dispute with Him [God] who is stronger than he is.  11For there are many words which increase futility.  What then is the advantage to a man?  12For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life?  He will spend them like a shadow.  For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun? [Answer = God, and God alone!]
  • In verse 10 Solomon tells us that everything has already been decided. God determined long ago what each person would be so there is no use arguing with Him about your destiny.  For example, it was God’s plan that Solomon should become the King of Israel.  But that does not mean that God caused him to do all the stupid things he did while serving as King.  In the same way, in God’s plan another man has been chosen by God to be poor.  In the play, “Fiddler On the Roof,” Tevya is contemplating this very fact when we hear him talking to God and saying: Dear God, You made many, many poor people.  I realize, of course, that it’s no shame to be poor.  But it’s no great honor either!  So, what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune?”  At that moment he breaks into song singing, “If I were a rich man…” listing all the things he would do if he were a wealthy man.  At the very end of the song he turns his attention to God once again and says: “Lord, who made the lion and the lamb, You decreed I should be what I am.  But would it spoil some vast eternal plan… if I were a wealthy man?”  I think many of us have asked God that same question.
  • In verse 11 Solomon points out that riches and attainments often just serve to increase pride and emptiness.  They are a poor substitute for patience, honor, character, or health.  These things produce far greater satisfaction at the end of life.
  • The idea of verse 12 is that only God knows what awaits us when we die.  No man knows.  For that reason we should fix our eyes on Him and draw near to Him.  Only God knows how the end of our story will play out.

            What can we take away from this passage?  First of all we need to see it in the broader context of the book and of the author’s main message.  Solomon is writing to tell us one single over-arching truth and that is this: Apart from knowing God and doing His will, this life has no meaning.  It is just a big joke, a useless waste of time, a “chasing after wind”, and an exercise in futility.  No matter what heights you might attain in business or politics during your lifetime, no matter how much money you make, no matter how many widgets you manufacture, and no matter how many altruistic philanthropic good-deeds you do—if you do not know God and do not find His will and plan for your life, then in the end you will find that you’ve just been spinning your tires the whole time you’ve been on Planet Earth.  If you don’t know God, it doesn’t matter who else you know.  If you don’t do what God designed you to do, it doesn’t matter whatever else you do—you are a loser!

            That’s what Solomon would say if he were standing here.  Is he right, or is he wrong?  What do you think?

Monday, May 16, 2011

"You Can't Take It With You" - (05/15/11)

Ecclesiastes 5 (Message #5 in Series)
May 15, 2011

            “You can’t take it with you.”  We have all heard and used that saying, but where does it come from?  Like so many other wise sayings, it actually comes right from the Bible.  I Timothy 6:7 says, “We have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.”  I believe that this was the thought in Job’s mind after the God-sanctioned calamity that occurred in his life.  He said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there…” (Job 1:21).  Likewise, the Psalmist in Psalm 49:16-17 made a similar observation.  I especially like the way it reads in the New Living Translation: “Don’t be dismayed when the wicked grow rich and their homes become ever more splendid.  17 For when they die, they take nothing with them.  Their wealth will not follow them into the grave.”
            You’ve never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer.  There are no pockets in a shroud.  There are no storage compartments on the inside of a coffin.  You can’t take it with you!  When the day comes for you to meet your Maker you will stand there empty-handed.  All the money you ever made and all the possessions you ever accumulated will be left far behind.

            To a poor man that thought is not especially shocking, but to a rich man it make come like a slap in the face.  In the ancient world, the great kings tried everything they could think of to make arrangements to carry their wealth with them into the next life.  That’s why King Tut’s tomb was full of loot!  The Egyptian Pharaohs had it all worked out.  They had their burial chambers filled with everything they thought they might need to set up housekeeping in the afterlife.  But the interesting thing is, when the archeologists finally got into those chambers all the stuff was still there!  That’s because, “YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU!”
            Solomon had some thoughts on this subject and he wrote them down in Chapter 5 of the Book of Ecclesiastes.  Turn there with me.
            In these first eight verses of the chapter Solomon sort of goes off on a rabbit trail before he gets into the meat of the subject of riches.  Verses 1-8 are kind of a parenthesis in the middle of his discussion about the ultimate values in life.  In them he gives a warning about how we should approach God in worship.  I don’t know why he chose this spot to bring up the subject but he has some important observations to share with us.  And it is also important to remember that it was Solomon who built the first Temple in Jerusalem.  He knew something about approaching the presence of God.
            First of all, he says that we need to beware of allowing our worship to become commonplace or insincere.  We need to be careful that we are worshiping the right God, in the right way.  He warns us against the folly of religion for religion’s sake.
Verses 1-3: 1Guard your steps [lit. watch your feet] as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen [hear and obey] rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they [i.e. the fools] do not know they are doing evil.  2Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God.  For God is in Heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.  3For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words.
  • He advises that we should tread lightly, with humility, on entering God’s house.  He’s referring to the Temple but I believe it applies to us approaching God in prayer or coming into a worship environment as though it were meaningless.  In these first two verses he draws a contrast between those who enter God’s presence in obedience and repentance, and the “fools” who worship with unrepentant hearts.
  • Moreover, in verse 2 he says that we should go with a learning heart, not a busy mouth.  The NT gives similar advice in James 1:19 where it reminds us all to be “…quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”  
  • Solomon also says that we should beware of making insincere statements of praise to God because God knows what’s really on our heart.  The word “hear” in the OT often has the sense of “obey.”  In Matthew 6:7 Jesus warned His disciples about getting caught up in mere “vain repetitions” in their prayers.  God would rather hear one sincere sinner’s prayer coming from the heart, than a 1,000 flowery prayers from unrepentant hypocrites.
  • Verse 3 is a little difficult to sort out in most of the versions because it is a difficult construction in Hebrew and hard to translate literally.  Eugene Peterson does a great job of making the meaning clear in his paraphrase, The Message: Overwork makes for restless sleep.  Overtalk shows you up as a fool.”  Or, as the New Living Translation says, “Too much activity gives you restless dreams; too many words make you a fool.”  I think we would all agree that sometimes it is better to be thought a fool than to open our mouth and remove all doubt.

            In verses 4-7 Solomon warns of making hasty vows to God that we don’t intend to keep.  He says that God takes our vows seriously and literally, whether intended or not.
Verses 4-7: 4When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools.  Pay what you vow!  5It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.  6Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake.  Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands?  7For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness.  Rather, fear God. 
  • Why is God such a stickler about us paying our vows and carrying out what we have said to Him?  Because He is careful to always be true to His word and He expects the same from us.
  • Some people are of the mistaken opinion that one can say anything to God, or make any kind of promise, and God will never hold us accountable.  That is simply not true according to God’s Word.  God hears, He listens, and He remembers.
  • What kind of vows are we talking about here?  Here are a few suggestions:
Ø      One that comes to mind immediately is the vow that Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, made to God in Acts 5.  When they backed out, God struck them dead!  They broke their vow to God.  Peter said that they “lied to God.”
Ø      Or how about, “Dear Lord, I give my whole life to You.  Save me and make me Your own child.”
Ø      Or, “Lord, I will go wherever You send me.  I will obey Your call, even if it means going to darkest Africa.”
Ø      Or, “Lord, I take this woman to be my wedded wife… until death do us part.”
Ø      Or, “Lord, if You’ll just get me out of this jam I will quit drinking and will serve You for the rest of my life.”
  • The “messenger” mentioned in verse 6 is not an angel as some have said, but rather the priest whose job it was to collect what had been vowed.
  • Verse 7 harks back to verse 3 and simply reemphasizes Solomon’s point that just as too much concern over business brings troubled dreams, so too many words spoken at worship can bring on rash promises and punishment by God.  I think this should put a little fear into us.
            Now, starting in verse 8 until the end of the chapter (verse 20) Solomon camps on the theme of the failure of riches to satisfy the heart of man.  And he should know!  He had boatloads of money but still suffered from a gaping hole in his life!  He starts out by discussing the graft-ridden system of taxation that existed in every government in his day, and also in ours.
Verse 8: 8If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them. 
  • He points out that each official watched the one beneath him in order to skim off part of the spoils of taxation and graft.  He says, “Don’t be shocked when you see this” because it’s just the way it is.  Because of the greed and grasping after riches the poor are oppressed and justice is perverted.  These are not new problems.
  • But it is also important to remember that God is the Protector of the Poor, and one day, all those officials who ripped off the poor and oppressed the weak will have to stand before God, and woe to them because the holy fiery wrath of God will surely fall on them.

            In 9-11 Solomon says that the goal of getting rich is an empty and futile object of satisfaction.  It is a fool’s errand.  It is like a dry well—riches cannot satisfy one’s inner thirst.
Verses 9-11: 9After all, a king who cultivates the field [i.e. plows the wealth back in] is an advantage to the land.  10But He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income.  This too is vanity.  11When good things increase, those who consume them increase.  So what is the advantage to their owners except to look on?
  • In verse 9 he recognizes that a smart king will cultivate his “field,” that is, his country.  He will share the wealth and reinvest the profits so that everyone prospers.  That’s what a good king does, and Solomon says, “…he is an advantage to the land.”
  • However, in verse 10 he points out what most kings do, because of their greedy desire for more and more wealth.  He says that satisfaction by riches is merely like a fleeting mirage.  It doesn’t last, and it can’t really satisfy.
  • On top of that, he points out in verse 11 that as riches increase needs also increase.  What does he mean by that?  In other words, as you make more, you end up having to spend more.  It’s a confounded rat race!  For example, poor people don’t have to shell out money to pay accountants or hire high-priced tax lawyers.  And think about the poor guy who wins the lottery.  Before everybody loved him.  Now, all the false friends and blood-sucking relatives show up to help him spend his newfound wealth.  “When good things increase, those who consume them increase.”  Before long everybody hates him, and according to Solomon, all he can do is stand there and look on at the mess that has been created of his life.

            Solomon tells us in verse 12 that riches may fill the stomach but they also trouble the mind.
Verse 12: 12The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep. 
  • Certain advantages automatically accrue to the poor man.  He tends to sleep better, according to Solomon.
  • Also, riches often lead to over-indulgence and all the problems that result from having “too much.”

            In verses 13-17 Solomon reminds us that we can’t take it with us when we die.  The riches and worldly goods that we have accumulated during this life will all stay right here.  As I said in the beginning, there are no pockets in a shroud, no storage compartments in a coffin.  You can’t take it with you!  Riches must be left at the grave.
Verses 13-17: 13There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt.  14When those riches were lost through a bad investment and he had fathered a son, then there was nothing to support him.  15As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand.  16This also is a grievous evil--exactly as a man is born, thus will he die.  So what is the advantage to him who toils for the wind?  17Throughout his life he also eats in darkness with great vexation, sickness and anger. 
  • In verses 13-14 Solomon points out that a hoarder is not a happy person.  Many of you have watched the show on TV about “hoarders.”  The scientific name for this is disposophobia, which simply means, “fear of throwing things away.”  Solomon talks about this “grievous evil… of riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt.”  People holding tightly onto their “stuff” is not a new problem.  That attitude has been around since the beginning.  The danger is that instead of us possessing our stuff, our stuff can begin to possess us!  But when our “stuff” becomes the focus of our life, it become a tyrant, a little “god” that wants to take over everything.
  • Another problem is that the rich man’s hoarded riches often end up being squandered away by his posterity.  Those who come along behind him do not have the same frugal mindset that he had.  They are just interested in spending what he has worked so hard to accumulate.
  • In verses 16-17 Solomon says that the grave robs one of the fruit of his striving to get rich.  Thus all his life’s sacrifices and self-imposed deprivations are in vain.  The dictionary defines “miser” as “…a person who lives in wretched circumstances in order to save and hoard money; a stingy, avaricious person.”  Related to it are the words, “misery,” and “miserable.”  Money is not evil, but the Bible says that the LOVE of money is the root of all evil.  A person who is motivated by getting more and more money will never be happy.  He will always be miserable.  He’ll end up like Ebenezer Scrooge, “…eating in darkness with great vexation, sickness, and anger.” 

            In the last three verses of the chapter Solomon brings us back to a godly perspective.  These verses stand out like an oasis in the desert and they stand in stark contrast against the backdrop of verses 13-17.
Verses 18-20: 18Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.  19Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God.  20For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart. 
  • Notice in verse 18 he contrasts “…I have seen what is good and fitting,” with what he said up in verse 13, “…I have seen a grievous evil.”  In other words, he has looked at this subject from two directions.  He has seen all the evil that riches can create—greed, stinginess, graft, pride, oppression of others, etc.  He has also seen that life can be good and riches can be enjoyed if we maintain a correct perspective.
  • In 18-19 he concludes that life is to be enjoyed as a gift from God.  God is the giver and sustainer of life.  He is also the one who gives the ability to create wealth.  All good things come from His hand.  Nothing truly belongs to us because everything comes from Him.
  • He points out that with this attitude and healthy perspective, life passes swiftly and with abundant joy (vs. 20).  A person who is enjoying life and rejoicing in the fruits of his labor will have little time for morose pondering and worrying about growing old.  He’s too busy having fun in his retirement, and playing with his grandchildren!

            So what should we conclude from all of this?  What should be our take-away today?  Looking back over the chapter there are several things that come to my mind:
  1. From verses 1-7, we need to take seriously the words that we say to God, because He takes them seriously.  When we pray, when we praise, when we sing, or when we just talk about Him we need to put a guard over our mouth and be respectful of Him.  Verse 6 sums it up: “Do not let your speech cause you to sin.”
  2. From verses 8-9 I see that public officials have a God-given mandate to protect the poor and come to the aid of the oppressed.  In God’s plan, this is the role of leaders, including kings, presidents, and every official on down.  Those who do a good job will be blessed and commended; those who use their position to get rich at the expense of others should be denounced and removed from office.
  3. From verses 9-20 I see that money should never be allowed to control us.  It should never become the focus of life.  It should never be allowed to come between us and God or between us and other people.  It is merely a tool to be used for good.  It is a resource to be spent for the glory of God and the good of man.  That great preacher, John Wesley, said it this way: “When I have money, I get rid of it quickly, lest it find a way into my heart.” 

            What has stood out to you from these verses?  What lesson are you going home with today?  What “next step” are you committed to take?  And before you answer that, remember, God is listening!

About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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