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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.

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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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