Full Contentment

| Ecclesiastes 11:7-10; 12:12-14

Week of April 7, 2019

The Point: Obedience is the key to a full life.

 Rejoicing and Remembering: Ecclesiastes 11:7-10.

[7] Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun. [8] So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity. [9] Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. [10] Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity. [ESV]

“Young and Old [11:7-10]. One of the reigning idolatries of modern times is the cult of youth. For people who know they are getting older, worshiping this god or goddess demands endless efforts to stay young. But many young people worship the same deity. Rather than respecting their elders, they look down on people or ideas that seem old-fashioned. They want everything new and trendy. It is hard for them to imagine that they will ever grow old. Whether we are young or old or somewhere in between, Ecclesiastes can help us. The Preacher who wrote this book teaches us to celebrate the joys of life at any age. But he is also honest about the troubles that come with growing old. By the wisdom of the Spirit, he gives a series of calls that can help us live well, however young or old we happen to be – two calls to rejoice, one call to remove, and one call to remember. The first call is to rejoice in the goodness of life, even though we know that life is vanity [11:7-8]. This call is especially for old people – people who have lived many years. It is good to find joy in the pleasures of life. Many things in life are sweet. How sweet life is, and how pleasurable are its many blessings! What a joy it is, therefore, to live for many years – not only because we have more time to serve the Lord in sowing and reaping, but also because we have more opportunity to enjoy the goodness of life. For the faithful believer, long life is a blessing from God [Ps. 91:16]. The right way to respond is by rejoicing. Praise God for the goodness of life! Praise Him for everything sweet you taste and everything bright you see. The God of light deserves our praise. Yet even as we rejoice, we need to remember that there is more to life than sweetness and light, which is something that Qoheleth never lets us forget. If we live for many years, he says, the days of darkness will be many [11:8], and we will taste what is bitter in life as well as what is sweet. Sooner or later we will suffer loss, disappointment, injustice, and grief. All that comes is vanity. Ecclesiastes gives us a realistic view of life that is joyful about its happy pleasures while at the same time sober about its many sorrows. The book steadfastly refuses to show us anything less than the whole of life as it actually is. When the Preacher tells us that we will have many dark days, he is not being cynical or trying to rob us of all our joy. Instead he is telling us to enjoy life as much as we can for as long as we can. The days of darkness qualify what he says about rejoicing in the light, but they do not negate it. To the end of our days there is sweetness in the world, and therefore we are called to rejoice. Do not take life for granted. Do not complain about all your problems, the way older people sometimes do. But greet each new day the way the Psalmist did, saying, This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it [Ps. 118:24]. The call to rejoice is not just for the elderly but also for youngsters. While old people are to praise God for the length of their days, young people are to praise God for the strength of their youth. Hence the Preacher’s second call: Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. [11:9]. Young people enjoy many blessings in life. They have fewer of the cares that come with having adult responsibilities. Their bodies are strong and getting stronger. Their hearts are full of good cheer and easy laughter. The future is full of possibilities. There is freedom to take risks and time to go a new direction in life. Young people still dare to dream that they can make a difference in the world. These are all reasons for the young to rejoice. And yet once again the Preacher sounds a cautionary note. What he says about following one’s heart might lead some people to think they can do whatever they please, which frankly is the way many young people operate. They think mainly of themselves. They expect everyone else to operate on their schedule. Living for the moment, they do not stop to think about the consequences of their actions. They buy on impulse. Rather than cleaning up after themselves, they leave a mess behind. They take the immediate pleasure of sex without making the long-term love commitment of marriage. To make it clear, then, that young people are called to holiness, the Preacher says, Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment [11:9]. The Preacher knows that young people face many temptations. He also believes that God is a righteous judge who will hold every one of us accountable for what we do. Therefore, He reminds us that every time we follow our hearts and do what looks good to us, we have to answer to God for what we have done. Young people, especially, should beware of the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life [1 John 2:16]. The Preacher does not say this to suck all the joy out of life or to give us the impression that God is out to get us, but to remind us that we live before God and are called to rejoice in Him. The word judgment at the end of verse 9 is literally “the judgment,” and thus it may refer to the last of all judgments. That day may seem like it is a long way off – too far to make any difference in our daily decision-making. But the judge is always near. He sees everything that we do. This means that everything we do and everything we decide matters for eternity. How we spend our money, what we do with our bodies, the way we use our time, what we decide about our future, how we handle our relationships – what we touch, taste, hear, and see – all of this matters to our Judge and therefore ought to matter to us as well. Rejoice responsibly. Enjoy life’s pleasures, but not in sinful ways. Celebrate the gift of youth, but at the same time follow God’s command to flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart [2 Tim. 2:22]. After his call for old people and young people to rejoice, the Preacher gives a call to remove: Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity [11:10]. With these words, the Preacher advises us to eliminate the bad things in life that trouble our bodies and our souls. A vexation is any problem that causes us worry and concern, that angers, grieves or irritates. It is the bitterness provoked by a hard and disappointing world. The vexations are different for each one of us. Yet we can all agree that life is full of vexation. It is also full of physical pain. Whether from illness, accident, or disability, we all suffer bodily pains. Once again the Preacher is honest about the troubles of life, both physical and psychological. He also has some advice for us: we should do what we can to remove discouragement from our souls and to minimize damage to our bodies. This is not a call to deny the very real suffering that everyone experiences. Nor is it a call to escape pain by living for pleasure. Rather, it is a call to take care of our mental and physical health. If we are getting discouraged by various vexations, and if we are tempted therefore to become depressed or disillusioned, we should do what the Preacher says and remove those vexations from our hearts. This starts with refusing to feel sorry for ourselves. Rather than dwelling on all the things that are going wrong, we should count our blessings. We should also seek the care of a pastor or the counsel of Christian friends – brothers and sisters in Christ who are sympathetic to our situation but also able to see our situation for what it is and tell us what we need to hear, especially from the Scriptures. But the very best remedy for vexation is to go to God in prayer, telling Him all our troubles [Phil. 4:6-7]. The Biblical way of removing vexation is to cast our cares on God. If our sufferings are physical, it is right and good for us to seek a way to ease the pain. When the Bible tells us to put away pain, it is not giving us license to drown our sorrows in alcohol or to use life-destroying drugs. But physical pain is an evil that we are right to avoid, when we are able to do it in a way that honors God. One of the reasons why the Preacher tells us to remove pain and vexation is because he knows that we cannot stay young forever: youth and the dawn of life are vanity. This does not mean that youth is meaningless. The Preacher has already told us to rejoice in our youth and to enjoy its many pleasures. But youth is vain or empty in the sense that it is elusive and ephemeral. It is like smoke that disappears into thin air or mist that vanishes with the morning sun. One day we are young and strong, but almost before we know it, those days are gone. Thus the Preacher advises us to live free from care as long as we can. This is not cynicism or pessimism but realism about the limitations of human life. In fact, we might even call it a kind of optimism because the Preacher is helping us make the most out of life. God has made everything beautiful in its time [3:11]. There is a time to be young and strong, and as long as we are in that season of life, we should celebrate its blessings. The Preacher’s last instruction is mainly for young people, although maybe the people who understand it the best are older. It is a call to remembrance: Remember also your Creator in the day of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.” [12:1]. Here Qoheleth is calling us to live a God-entered life, making the God who made the universe our first and highest priority. In fact, this is the key to all the other things that he has called us to do in this passage. The reason we are able to rejoice in our long years of life or else in our youth and strength is because every day is a gift from our Creator God. The reason we need to walk in holy ways is because our Maker is also our Judge. The best remedy for any pain or vexation is to cast our care upon the God who made us and knows all about us. Everything that the Preacher says in this passage assumes and requires the close presence of God. To remember God is to live our whole lives for Him. It is to be mindful of God in every circumstance – including Him in all our plans, praising Him for all His blessings, and praying to Him through all our troubles. It is to drop our pretense of self-sufficiency and commit ourselves to Him. The best time in life to do this is when we are still young enough to give a whole lifetime to God’s service. Do not wait until you are so old that you do not have much desire to do anything because life has lost its pleasure. Rather, give your life to God now, while you still have enough passion to make a difference in the world. Remember God when at home and at school. Remember Him when outside in His creation or indoors in the kitchen or the bedroom. Remember Him at work and at play. Do not forget about God, but remember Him in everything you do.” [Ryken, pp. 263-268].

Fear God and Keep His Commandments: Ecclesiastes 12:12-14.

[12] My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. [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. [ESV]

“All There Is. Ecclesiastes ends with the practical application of Biblical truth. We have heard what the Preacher said, as well as how and why he said it. How then should we respond? What is the book’s conclusion? What should we take with us as we leave Ecclesiastes? The book’s final words provide an ethical and eschatological conclusion: The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil [12:13-14]. This is not the first time that Ecclesiastes has told us to fear the living God. To fear God is to honor and revere Him, to worship Him as God. At various points the Preacher has told us to fear God because His work is eternal [3:14] and because He demands holy worship [5:7]. He has told us to fear God in times of adversity as well as prosperity [7:14-18]. He has told us that if we do fear God, it will go well with us [8:12]. Now we are told to fear God and to obey Him because one day we will stand before Him for judgment. When the Bible says that this is the whole duty of man, it literally says that “this is the whole of man.” The word duty may well be implied, but Ecclesiastes is making a wider point. To say, “this is the whole of man” is to say, “this is all there is to man.” In other words, “this is what life is all about.” The most important thing for any person to do is to worship God and obey His holy commandments. The greatest thing in life is to come before the one true God in worship and obedience. Whether we are ready to come before God now or hope to avoid it, the truth is that one day every one of us will stand before God for judgment. One day God will expose every secret sin and uncover every anonymous kindness. He will bring every last deed to judgment, whether it is good or evil. Including every casual thought and every careless word. He will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart [1 Cor. 4:5]. After all our days of questing, at the end of our spiritual road we will arrive at the throne of eternal justice and meet the Great Judge. Why does Ecclesiastes tell us about the final judgment here? Because it means that everything matters. The Preacher began and ended his spiritual quest by saying that everything is vanity and that without God there is no meaning or purpose to life. “Is that all there is?” he kept asking. “Isn’t there more to life than what I see under the sun?” If there is no God, and therefore no final judgment, then it is hard to see how anything we do really matters. But if there is a God who will judge the world, then everything matters. This is not all there is. There is a God in Heaven who rules the world. There is a life to come after this life. One day the dead will be raised and every person who has ever lived will stand before God for judgment. When that day comes, it will be revealed that everything anyone ever did or said or thought has eternal significance. At the final judgment, it will matter how we used our time, whether we wasted it on foolish pleasures or worked hard for the Lord. It will matter what we did with our money, whether we spent it on ourselves or invested it in the eternal kingdom. It will matter what we did with our bodies – what our eyes saw, our hands touched, and our mouths spoke. The final message of Ecclesiastes is not that nothing matters but that everything does. What we did, how we did it, and why we did it will all have eternal significance. The reason everything matters is because everything in the universe is subject to the final verdict of a righteous God who knows every secret. What matters most of all, therefore, is the personal decision that each person makes about Jesus Christ. Ecclesiastes does not end with a promise of grace but with the warning of judgment. Nevertheless, this book has the gracious purpose of pointing us to the gospel. If it is true that God will bring everything to judgment, then it is desperately important for us to make sure that we will be found righteous on that awesome and momentous day. The only way to be sure is to entrust our lives to Jesus Christ, who alone has the power to save us from the wrath of God.” [Ryken, pp. 273-281].

Questions for Discussion: 

  1. The Preacher gives us four calls or commands in 11:7-12:1. What are the commands? How do these commands help us deal with life’s difficulties? How will following these commands help us to live wisely before God? How is the fourth command the key to the other three?
  2. What does it mean to fear God? Look at the different ways the Preacher has instructed us to fear God: 3:14; 5:7; 7:14-18; 8:12. Why does the Preacher connect fearing God with keeping His commandments? Why is fear and obedience called the whole duty of man? Why does Ecclesiastes end with a reference to the final judgment?

References:

Ecclesiastes, Gordon Keddie, Evangelical Press.

Ecclesiastes, Philip Ryken, Crossway.