A few years ago, I preached through the book of Ecclesiastes and in the process sealed its place in my affections as my favorite book in the Bible. Along with Romans. And Jeremiah. And Mark. And Exodus. And…. Well, you get my point. If you don’t, ask your pastor what I mean.
Ecclesiastes helps me. It reorients my thinking not only to face reality but to embrace it. And not only to embrace it but to embrace it in joy. Because the book really is about joy—the joy that comes from knowing, trusting, and obeying the God who has created us and who redeems us through His Son, Jesus Christ.
In Jesus, we can face real life in a fallen world with genuine joy. How? By living wisely. Living within our limitations. By that I mean, within our creatureliness. There is only one God and we are not Him. This is His world and He has placed us in it and provided all that we need to live well in it. That doesn’t mean a life with all of our dreams met nor even a life without pain. But it does mean a life with God. It means a life of wisdom.
I recently was encouraged by this helpful reflection by J.I. Packer.
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
What is true wisdom? Does the preacher in Ecclesiastes give us any guidance about this? Indeed he does, in outline at any rate.
Trust and obey God, reverence him, worship him, be humble before him, and never say more than you mean when you pray to him (Eccles, 12:13; 5:1-7): do good (3:12); remember that God will someday take account of you (11:9; 12:14), so avoid, even in secret, things of which you will be ashamed when they come to light during God’s final judgment (12:14). Live in the present and enjoy it thoroughly (7:14; 9:7-10; 11:9-10) — present pleasures are God’s good gifts.
Though the writer of Ecclesiastes condemns flippancy (7:4-6), he clearly has no time for the super-spirituality which is too proud or pious ever to laugh and have fun. Seek grace to work hard at whatever life calls you to do (9:10), and enjoy your work, as you do it (2:24). Leave to God the issues of life; let him measure its ultimate worth. Your part is to use all the good sense and enterprise at your command in exploiting the opportunities that lie before you (11:1-6).
This is the way of wisdom. Clearly it is just one facet of the life of faith. For what underlies and sustains is it the conviction that the inscrutable God of providence is the wise and gracious God of creation and redemption. We can be sure that the God who made this marvelously complex world-order and who compassed the great redemption from Egypt, and who later compassed the even greater redemption from sin and Satan, knows what he is doing and “has done all things well” (Mark 7:37).