Monday, September 17, 2012

Ecclesiastes 7:14 - Be Joyful Always !


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.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, 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[1]   (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 ? [2]

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.

[1] William Barrick : Ecclesisastes p.128
[2] This section is inspired  by J.I. Packer’s book , entitled “Great Joy” , p.  112f

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