Sunday, September 20, 2020

Ecclesiastes 7:14 "Be Joyful - Always!"



 
There  is so much in chapter  7  to   consider and  to meditate  upon. Last time we focused on Ch.  7:1-4, and we saw there   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 and joyless  faces, saying to everyone we meet, “woe is me”?  Is that what Solomon is suggesting? No!  Solomon is simply observing  that there  is a whole lot more reality  when  you  stand  before a coffin than when you stand before a crib.  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 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 must  live under the sun.

Now remember again  that Solomon is observing life  “under the sun”, life in this  fallen world,  into which  people  are born  and where people die, and he is looking at the  “in between”, in which   this life  we live is filled with  joys as well as  sorrows. How do you make sense of this  life?  

Many people choose not to think too deeply about life , and if they must,  they most often live by shallow   ‘pop psychology’ with its  superficial  counsels e.g. ”just learn to love yourself” or  “just think positively”. This really does not   help when your child has died or when you have lost your job.

Others think deeply, but have no eternal perspective on life. They often become depressed and cynical about life and a few end it with suicide, since they perceive this life to be meaningless.

Others, by God’s grace are enabled to see life 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. We see this  in  the preceding verses.

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 (see v.7)

The wise are tempted in every way as the rest of mankind is  tempted (v.7ba 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 (v.13):  “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what He has made crooked ?“

So then, 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 and says, “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 by ourselves (see also 1:15; 3:14).

What is it that cannot be changed or altered?  It is the fact that we are seriously affected (made crooked) by Adam’s fall into sin (Genesis 3).  Because Adam,  who is 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 this is why Solomon sees the world as it is.

Sin mystifies us. It puzzles us. It makes our world difficult to understand. We know that this is not the way our world 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 people talk about global warming, and desertification and deforestation, and the killing of rhino’s to near extinction. Our crooked hearts do this. 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 to think that God has abandoned this earth. Not at all!  Solomon says that God is in control of this world. He has appointed both the good (the straight) and the bad (the crooked) circumstances in which we find ourselves.  This is not mere fate or ‘karma’ -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).

 The Theology  of Joy  (v.14)

It is this  fact  which   leads  Solomon to declare  in  7:14,   “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.”  

I trust that you see 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).

Solomon’s doctrine of God helps us to find joy in prosperity and in adversity. 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. Consider 3:12; 5:19-20; 8:15; 9:7-9; 11:8-9. Here is joy in the midst of vanity!

 And it is not only Solomon who 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 (see the letter to the Philippians).

·         To the Corinthians he writes, “In all our afflictions, I am overflowing with joy” (2 Cor. 7:4b).

·         Concerning the Macedonians Christians he says, “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)

·          “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of  various kinds.” (Jas. 1:2). 

·         In this  (salvation)  you rejoice , though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…” (1 Peter 1:6). 

·         Jesus…, “for the joy that was set before Him  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. An old friend of mine, Errol Hulse, exemplified this spirit. In a message he wrote, “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 had 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 broken bodies.

In the day of adversity   you must learn to trust  God, 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[1]   

Whether  these  adversities  are economic, physical, social, spiritual, emotional, political -  we must find our peace and confidence in knowing that  God is in control.

 CONCLUSION: Why Is This Joy  So Important ? [2]

 Joy is at the heart of satisfied living.

It is also  at  the heart of real and credible Christianity, that Christianity which  glorifies God and shakes the world.  C.S. Lewis says, “Joy is the serious business of heaven”,and  so  it  must be  our serious business on earth.

The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and  drinking, but of righteousness , peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” says Romans 14:17

A joyless Christianity  is a poor exhibition of our faith, whereas joyful Christianity is a wonderful advertisement for the transforming power of the gospel.

We will do well to study the art of joy.  There are people  who  think that this  exhibition of joy  is artificial, but often it is that they think this  because  they are themselves trapped  by feelings  of bitterness and anger. 

The truth is that freedom in Christ brings freedom to the heart and therefore freedom to our faces.  

Christians are not victims and prisoners of either the past or the present.  The powers of forgiveness and of Christ’s new creation are at work in their lives. Before us lies a sure and certain hope of deliverance, transformation and glory. Joy will someday be ours in the fullest measure.

Christians have larger souls than other people.  Grief and joy, desolation and hope, pain and peace, can co –exist in our lives in a way that non- Christians know nothing about.

This does not mean that for Christians, grief and  desolation and pain no longer exist. It means that  Jesus  has  come alongside our dark experiences.  It is because of Christ in us, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27), that it  becomes possible for Christians today, like  Paul long ago, to be “sorrowful , yet always rejoicing.” (2 Cor. 6:10)

And the difference is found in the fact that God is in charge of all our human experiences. And   in Christ He  makes straight  again that which was  crooked (often a very painful process), so that in this life we do not live as men and women without hope.

Jesus in us makes the difference. He helps us to live with joy in this often vain and meaningless life, while we wait for His appearing. Amen.

 



[1] William Barrick : Ecclesisastes p.128 ;   see  for instance Isa 57:1–2.

[2] This section is inspired  by J.I. Packer’s book , entitled “Great Joy” , p.  112f



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