Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Ecclesiastes 5 : A proper view of God helps us to live wisely

TEXT: Ecclesiastes  5
THEME:   A proper view of God helps us  to live wisely
DATE: 05/08/2012

Is  the pursuit  of  our dreams   a guarantee that  we will  live a  fulfilled   life? 
Much of modern advertising  seems to think so.  “This  car will  be your ultimate  dream“;  “that retirement  plan will  usher  in your carefree  future”;” this piece of real estate is guaranteed  to  be  your  heaven on earth” !

One man  in the  Bible  had set  his heart upon such a quest. King Solomon of Israel  spared  no expenses  in  the pursuit  of  self- indulgence,   allowing  his  thoughts and desires  to  lead them wherever they would take him to. But, contrary to popular expectation,  he discovered  that  the pursuit  of all these things  in themselves   would lead to no lasting  satisfaction.  And so we  find his oft  repeated  mantra:  All is  vanity… a striving after the wind ”.
Even the pursuit of wisdom,  which at face value seems to be a noble  endeavor,   if pursued  only for its own sake,  is  vanity. Listen to Solomon  in Ch  2:16:  the wise dies just like the fool … for of the wise as for the fool there is no enduring remembrance  .  
It is not the wisdom about the fallen world that gives meaning to the fallen world; it is the fact that there is a providential God above this fallen world that supplies meaning to us in this fallen world. 
I trust that you are  beginning  to see  what Solomon is saying in this sermon.  Life apart from God  at  the center  is ultimately meaningless, empty  and even despairing.  Such an observation should not  surprise us , for we were made for God, and  as fallen beings  we have   this  vacuum in our  heart  which creates a longing , of  which as  Augustine  reminds us in his Confessions: “O God  our hearts are restless until they are  found in you!”  
So,  if wisdom, pleasure, work  don’t do it for us, where  shall we go  to satisfy  our heart’s  hunger?  In Ecclesiastes  3 we  received the  first positive indication.  Here  Solomon helps us to  see that one of the great  secrets  towards  experiencing satisfaction and meaning in life is to recognize and embrace the providence of God over everything in life, and to accept  the fact that  God has made a  time for everything!  It is this fact that brings joy to the soul, and we shall see this pattern repeated  again as we  now survey  Chapter  5. But before we get there, just a brief recapitulation  of  Ecclesiastes 4.
This  sobering passage  looks at  injustices and oppressions,  jealousy and envy,  at loneliness, and at  political intrigue  in this  fallen  world.  Again, Solomon  wants us to see that if we are looking for ultimate satisfaction from  people in this life,  we  are going to be  sadly disappointed. Satisfaction in this life cannot come from focusing on this life.  It has to come from something outside this life.  It must come from someone above this life. This thought then  brings us  to Ecclesiastes 5.

Outline  of Ecclesiastes 5

Vv. 1-7 : a thought provoking treatise  on  how we should approach God in worship. 
 Vv. 8 – 9 :   how should we  respond  to the oppression of the poor?
 Vv.  10-17 :  the emptiness of wealth , prosperity and affluence without God. 
 Vv. 18-20  :  Enjoy what you have  while you  have it !  The keyword here is joy ! ( see  also 3:12,13)

1.       The Key : Worship  thoughtfully and reverently –  Learn to live from the center  ! (1-7)

a. Draw near to  listen  (5:1):  Let God have the first word – the sacrifice of fools  forms the contrast – those who Jesus says , babble  and  who use many words. 

b. Be careful when you speak (5: 2-3):  Having told us  that we must be  quick to hear (and obey) he now  he urges us to be slow to speak.  The governing theological principle  is  this :  "God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few." Here is something important  for us  to consider. Even though  we are privileged  to have  entered into an intimate relationship with God (through Christ) , we must  also learn to know our place. Therefore,  let us  be careful not to  substitute   our reverent  intimacy with  a flippant overfamiliarity.   God   is to be feared  (Cf. 5:7 – also  3:14; 7:18 ; 8:12; 12:13). Don’t think  that  you don’t know God  as well as you think . He is   infinitely righteous  and holy , and you are not. He sees everything  with  perfect clarity , and you do not .  He is infinitely great  and awesome in His Being , and you are less than a speck of   dust in creation. You don’t know the mind of God (Isa  55: 8-9), yet He knows you better than  you know yourself. He  is utterly self sufficient  in His own wisdom and counsel  (Rom 11:34;  Isa  40:13 ; 41:28) .  You are not His counselor  or  His private  secretary. You don’t have to instruct or remind  God of anything  - something that we often forget in prayer !  You don’t have to babble  or to use many words  to get through to Him (Matt 6:7,8) . A fools voice comes with many words  (5:4). Fools   say things about God  that are not true at all. They come to false conclusions  about   His work in the world.  Solomon warns  you: “ Be not rash with your mouth, nor  let  your heart be  hasty to utter  a word before God.” (5:2)

c.   Keep  your vows ! (5:4-6) :   When anybody   in Israel  made a vow before God , they were under obligation to keep it  - see Numbers  30:2  [For application : see   Hannah in  1 Samuel  1:11 and   1:21  for fulfillment of  her vow]. The temptation , as you might imagine, was  to withhold  one’s  vow.  Solomon  reminds us to let our “yes” be  yes” or no  before God, and the  NT  sees no change in status  in this when Jesus speaks about this  subject in  Matt 5:33-37 .  Word’s  and vows are important  to God . So , since our tendency is to make rash vows, it would be better not to vow at all[1]. Doing so might provoke God to anger so that He destroys the work of your hands (5:6b). Don’t say to  the messenger ( the  one  who has heard your vow before God , and who holds you accountable  afterwards ) – it was a mistake !   Be  also careful  of this :  when dreams   and words grow many, there is  vanity”  (5:3,7). Be careful that  your dreams and the many words (perhaps the counsel of friends  that surround you) don’t  make you say things you should not say.   The bottom line is this: Fear God. It is, as we have already observed a recurring theme  in this book. 
Learn to live from the center. Don’t play the fool with God. The ultimate reality is that He is the One who you must fear.   Learn to listen to God; let your words be  guarded when you speak  about  God. Obey God from  the heart.  This is  true wisdom. For the rest,  trust God.

2.      Our response to oppression  and violation of justice (5:8,9)

What should  believers do  when  they see  oppression  and  lack of justice and righteousness exercised in the land? Firstly, they should  not be  amazed by it (5:8a)!    This is the way life is under the sun , and in the scheme of things  every country  has  to contend with the frustration  of  officialdom and bureaucracy. It is in the nature of bureaucratic officials  to oppress  people . When a person gains power over other persons, it seems inevitable that a moral weakness develops in the person who exercises that power.Power corrupts , absolute power corrupts absolutely  said  Lord Acton (1834 -1902 ), and English historian  and politician.   See also Samuel’s warning in  1 Samuel 8: 10-18 !  This is the typical expression of man’s fallen nature. So , do not be amazed when it happens! V.9  is   difficult to translate, but taking the ESV we  take the view that  a land ( even with  bureaucratic and stifling  systems)  can be  blessed when its king is committed to making sure that there  are cultivated lands  i.e.  food on the table!

3.      The emptiness of wealth , prosperity and affluence without God  (5:10-17)  

5:10 :   Life without  God at the center  produces all sorts of distorted  perceptions. Nowhere is this more  apparent than  with  money and wealth. Solomon says  that  if money is your first love, then it will leave you  dissatisfied. It’s a strange thing about money.  The more we have, the more we want.
5:11 :    Wealth brings its own set of challenges . My father used to say :  The more money you have ,the more  worries  you have; the more  you need  to fight to protect it.”  This is burdensome.  The more you have, the more   you will have  people around you who feed off you. Your responsibilities increase. You live to work for others.  
5:12 :     Wealth, far  from providing  peace and contentment, can actually make you restless  and sleepless .  The common labourer does not have this problem, whereas  the rich man  may  lie awake  at night wondering whether the stock -market   would not perhaps leave him penniless tomorrow morning. If money is  your  first love , then this  love  will  not put you to sleep tenderly at night.
5:13 :   Solomon shares a  testimony  of what he has personally seen :  There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being kept by  their  owner to his own hurt.”  People in love with money , hoard their money and possessions, and  often  become  deeply suspicious, paranoic   and insecure. Can I trust my financial advisor?  Can my wife and  children be trusted ?  How sad, when God, family and  friends  move into  distance  on account of the love of money.  
5:14 :  Here’s another reason why wealth and   riches  cannot satisfy. It so easily slips through our fingers: “… and  those riches were lost in a bad venture.”    And then your son (or family)  who are your heirs  sit with nothing !
5:15 -16 : The grand  truth of course is that  a hearse pulls  no trailer!  You can’t take it with you.
5: 17 :  “… all his  days he eats in darkness  in much  vexation, sickness and anger.”  The heart  fixed on material  wealth  makes you  miserable  - emotionally and physically! 

4.      Enjoy what you have  while you  have it !   (5:18-20 )  

a. First principle  : Live in the fear of the Lord  (v.7)  
b. Recognize that prosperity  may be a   very  real  trial to your faith . It is easier in this sense to be poor  than to have much .  Thomas Carlyle ( 1798 -1881) ,  a Scottish philosopher said, “For a hundred that can bear adversity, there is hardly a one that can bear prosperity.

c. Key :  Do not be  owned by things ; things  must  be owned by you .  Possessions weigh me down in life ; I never feel quite free. I often wonder  whether I own my things , or if my things own me.” That means that we use  what we have been given by God  to glorify God,  and to meet  the  legitimate  needs of our families and ourselves, and to do good to Christians, to promote the gospel, and to be generous  in  our  community.  

d. The result is joy  ( mentioned 4 times in vv.   18-20) , and it is possible because  God is at the center !  God frees us from the tyranny of possessions , and this produces joy !
[1] See Judges  11:29 - 40 : Jephtah’s tragic vow

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