TEXT: Ecclesiastes 7: 14
THEME: Be joyful always
DATE: 16 /09/2012
There is so much in chapter 7 to consider and to meditate upon. Last week we focused on Ch 7:1-4 , and we noted how biblical logic confounds our natural human logic: “The day of death is better than the day of birth…”; “it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting…”; “ sorrow is better than laughter….”.
Does this mean that we should walk around with solemn, grave and joyless faces, saying to everyone we meet “woe is me!”? Is that what Solomon is suggesting?
No! Solomon is simply observing a whole lot more reality when you stand before a coffin than when you stand before a crib. There is a whole lot more reality at a funeral than at a feast! But he is not suggesting that you should abandon the thought of ever having a birthday party again , or that you should stop laughing altogether, or that you should perhaps consider buying a house overlooking your local cemetery! If you came to such a ‘sad’ conclusion you would miss the point of his observations altogether. You would be missing the fact that Solomon is frequently urging you to let joy break through in this life that you live under the sun.
Now remember again that Solomon is observing life “under the sun”, life in a fallen world ; a world where people are born and where people die (as a result of sin) , and he is looking at the “in between” where life is filled with so many joys as well as sorrows .
How do you make sense of this contradictory state of affairs?
Many people choose not to think too deeply about life , and if they must, they live by shallow ‘pop psychology’, and ‘pet phrases’ (e.g.” learn to love yourself” ; “think positively”) which only make sense at superficial levels, but do not really help when your child has died or when you have lost your job.
Others think deeply, but have no ultimate and eternal perspective on life . They often become depressed and cynical about life and end it with suicide, since they perceive life to be meaningless.
Still others, by God’s grace are enabled to see life in this fallen world, with all its ups and downs, through God’s redemptive purpose and with an eternal perspective. It is such people that are truly wise. Remember, that Chapter 7 frequently contrasts wisdom with foolishness.
It is not that the wise ‘have it all figured out’, while fools blunder along. No! The wise may equally struggle with the oppressiveness of life’s madness (v.7) . They are tempted in every way as the rest of mankind is tempted (v.7b “ a bribe corrupts the heart”). However, the wise learn not to judge everything by ‘good beginnings’. They wait for the end result (v. 8). The wise are patient in spirit, rather than proud in spirit. (v.9) . The wise do not glorify the past, saying it is better than the present (v.10). The wise know how to deal with an inheritance (v.11). It is very common for inheritances to be squandered . The wise know how to work with money and with knowledge (v.12).
Solomon challenges us to think about these things from a God centered perspective, and the big question is this: How does God fit in to these things ( some of which he has just described) that face us in life?
Solomon answers (v.13): “Consider the work of God : who can make straight what He has made crooked ?“. After he has challenged us in the first 12 verses to think a little deeper about the issues of life, he turns our attention back to God: “Consider the work of God!” .
What is it that we must consider? It is this fact: “…who can make straight what He has made crooked?“ What he is saying is that God’s work cannot be changed or altered by ourselves (see also 1:15; 3:14).
What cannot be changed or altered? It is the fact that we are so seriously affected (made crooked) by Adam’s fall into sin (Genesis 3). Because Adam (God’s choicest creature , made in His image ) sinned , God has handed him and all his offspring over to futility (Rom 8:20 ; see also Rom 1:24,26,28). This is ultimately the reason why life is so very complex, and why Solomon sees the world as it is. Sin mystifies us; it puzzles us. It makes our world senseless and meaningless, and we get the idea that this is not the way it was designed. We, who have been made straight have become crooked. In v. 29 Solomon puts it like this : “God made man upright , but they have sought out many schemes ”. Even creation is affected by all this (Rom 8:22), so that we talk about global warming, and desertification and deforestation, and the killing of rhino’s and elephants and leopards and cheetah’s to near extinction. Our crooked hearts do this, and if not this then something else that is destructive. Everything and everyone is groaning and that is why we look forward to the redemption of our bodies, and the recreation of the heavens and the earth, and the ushering in of the kingdom of God, when Christ returns and when the earth shall be subdued, and the glory of the Lord shall cover it as the waters cover the sea.
The temptation is now to think that God has abandoned this earth. Not at all! Solomon says that God is still in control of this weary world has appointed both the good (the straight) and the bad (the crooked) circumstances in which we find ourselves. This is not mere “fate.” (another modern pet phrase). The Bible teaches us that God controls all events (straight or crooked) in our lives and designs them for our good (Rom 8:28).
It is this fact that leads Solomon to declare in 7:14: “In the day of prosperity be joyful and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other , so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.”
I trust that you see the plainness of the logic here. If God is the God of all your circumstances then it does not matter whether things go well (prosperity) or not well (adversity) in this life. Your Father in heaven knows… (Matt 6:25-34)
The Theology of Joy (v.14)
“ In the day of prosperity (lit. in the day of good) be joyful (lit.” be in good (spirit) ) and in the day of adversity (lit. evil) consider : God has made the one as well as the other , so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.”
In the midst of vanity and futility (which is due to the fall) Solomon’s theology helps us to find joy. This is the unique perspective of a believer! And therefore do not be amazed that Solomon does not lack a perspective of joy in the midst of his realistic reflections on this life’s vanities (see 3:12; 5:19-20; 8:15;9:7-9; 11:8-9) !
And it is not only Solomon that has this perspective .The NT also has this perspective.
· Paul says to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:18) : “Rejoice always !” He says this right after he has said “See to it that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone…”.
· Paul had joy even when he was imprisoned ( letter to the Philippians ) .
· To the Corinthians he writes: “In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.” (2 Cor. 7:4b);
· Of the Macedonians Christians is was said: “… in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. (2 Cor. 8:2)
· James says: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” (Jas. 1:2) .
· Peter agrees : “ In this (salvation) you rejoice , though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…”
· Of Jesus it is said that , “ for the joy that was set before Him ( He) endured the cross…” (Hebr. 12:2).
So, this is what the Holy Spirit is teaching us through Solomon’s sermon. God is in charge of your prosperity and adversity! Thank God that you are in His hands!
So then, enjoy the good times and remember them while they last. Treasure them and build memories to sustain hope during the more difficult times of life. I have a dear, older friend who has helped me so much in my own spiritual pilgrimage in the past. He exemplifies this spirit. He wrote last week in a message: “It is (my wife’s) 80th Birthday on Thursday, and we are all together to celebrate God's goodness to her. Although the last 10 years have been a trial (she has Alzheimer’s) , we are very grateful for a wonderful life, well lived.“
In the day of adversity remember : God has made the one as well as the other. And while you do not rejoice in your wife’s Alzheimer disease, you rejoice in the sustaining grace of God and you are very grateful for a life well lived under this sun, and you look forward to that eternal day when Jesus will make all things new, including our bodies.
In the day of adversity you must learn to trust Him, because He alone knows the purpose of such adversities. “What appears on the surface as adversity, may in truth be a severe mercy of the sovereign God that leads to a more profound and substantial blessing”  (see for instance Isa 57:1–2).
Now, whether these adversities are economic (prosperity vs. recession or depression), physical (health and life vs. illness and death, peace vs. war, environmental stability vs. earthquake or flood), or social (support and acceptance vs. rejection and persecution), we must find our peace and confidence in knowing that God is in control .
CONCLUSION : Why is this joy so important ? 
Joy is at the heart of satisfied living. It is also at the heart of real and credible Christianity , the Christianity that glorifies God and shakes the world. “As joy is“, to quote C.S. Lewis, “the serious business of heaven”, so it is central to serious godliness on earth.
“The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness , peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 14:17). A joyless Christianity (and joylessness cannot be hidden) will become an obstacle to believing Paul’s statement and will render the faith repulsive rather than attractive, whereas a joyful Christianity is a most arresting advertisement for the transforming power of the gospel. So all who do hope to cut ice as witnesses for Christ will do well to study the art of joy as part of their preparation.
Jim Packer then asks: “ Do I arouse eagerness in your heart? Or do I irritate you ? “
There are people who resent the suggestion that joy is for everybody. “Oh”, they say, “that may be alright for you, but it’s no use for me; it’s just mockery as far as I am concerned.” They say that because they are hurting emotionally. If you are hurting, it is hard to believe that there is any possibility of joy for you. You feel bitter and angry when you know that others experience joy and want to pass it on to you.
But to those enmeshed amid the four dark “D’s” – disappointment, desolation, depression, desperation – or bogged down in any of the four dark “F’s” – frustration , failure, fear , fury- I wish to say two things :
1. Christians are not victims and prisoners of either the past or the present. ( I want to add : They are now slaves or prisoners of Christ). The powers of forgiveness and new creation are at work in their lives. Before them lies a sure and certain hope of deliverance, transformation and glory. Joy will someday be theirs in the fullest measure, and they should give way to the black feelings that life will never be better for them than it is now .
2. Christians have, so to speak, larger souls than other people; for grief and joy, like desolation and hope, or pain and peace, can co –exist in their lives in a way that non- Christians know nothing about. Grief, desolation and pain are feelings triggered by present situations, but faith produces joy, hope and peace at all times. This does not mean that grief, desolation and pain cease to be felt ( that idea is inhuman); it means that something else is experienced alongside the hurt. It becomes possible for Christians today, like Paul long ago, to be “ sorrowful , yet always rejoicing.” (2 Cor 6:10) .
And the chief difference lies in the fact that, God in Christ has made straight again that which was crooked, so that in this life we do not live as men and women without hope, but Christ overshadows many a bleak prospect, and helps us to live with joy while we wait for His appearing. Amen.