SCRIPTURES – Eccles. 1:2, 12-14 & 2:18-26; Col. 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. (Ecc. 2)
It’s incredible how apropos and relevant are the words of God that we hear in church. They were written thousands of years ago, and yet they sound so fresh! For instance, King Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes: he sounds like he’s been listening to our politicians! “Vanity of vanities; behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind!”
Yes, if you’re a bit depressed by our political leaders, Ecclesiastes is for you! But, Solomon also writes joyful and encouraging words for us. Consider these:
“God has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for people than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.” (3:11-13)
And, I’ve heard these words from Ecclesiastes in weddings:
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other… And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (4:9-10, 12)
Yes, there are glad and joyful words in Ecclesiastes, as well as depressing words. They are a contrast, for that is what Solomon holds before us in this book: the contrast between the one who pleases God and the sinner. The contrast is seen in the living of their lives.
LIFE LIVED UNDER THE SUN IS TOIL.
Of course, this is true whether or not you believe in and follow Jesus. There is much toil in life. Ecclesiastes speaks of toil as not only hardship but also as futility: “sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it.” And he may be a fool! “This is vanity,” Solomon says. It is empty; a waste.
We’ve all experienced life’s vanity, it’s futility, in various ways. I think here of my mother, a faithful Christian all of her life. She will be 90 soon, and people often ask me, “How’s your mom doing?” Well, I don’t know what to say anymore. Parkinson’s Disease, combined with her age, has devastated her body. She can’t walk. She can’t even get up out of bed to sit in a chair. She has to be lifted with a machine called a Hoyer Lift to be put in her chair, or a wheelchair, or on the toilet. Because of her disease and the medicines she takes she sleeps most of the time. On a good day she can talk clearly for a bit. On a bad day she can’t even hold the phone and barely responds. This is vanity; a waste!
Has she cried out to God for help? Of course! So have her family and friends and many in her congregation. But, His response seems to be the same as Christ’s response to the man who asked Him for help when his brother was refusing to share the inheritance: “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” God often doesn’t intervene in our lives; at least, not in the way that we want.
This is a hard toil! Life is full of such toil. It’s part of life lived under the sun in a broken and fallen world that sin has corrupted. But:
LIFE LIVED UNDER THE SON IS JOY.
Under the Son – this is not simply as a play on words. To know God the Son – Jesus, the Son of God who left His throne on high where He rules over all things in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit to live among us in service, and to finally give His life for us in order to bring us to God – is to know and have joy. Now, there are many who believe that there is a God but who are uncertain as to who He is, or whether He knows and cares about us. Others claim to know God, but believe that He will only help and bless you after you first meet His standards. God the Son reveals a God of mercy, who not only sees your burdens and knows the vanities and futilities of life but immerses Himself in them that He might deliver us through them and, finally, from them. There is great joy in knowing this God.
Did King Solomon, a man who lived nearly a thousand years before Jesus came, know this merciful God? Yes, he did. He indicates this in what he wrote: “To the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God.” Notice: Solomon contrasts the one who pleases God with the sinner. The one who pleases God is not a sinner! How can this be? Did Solomon believe that a person could be perfectly obedient and not sin? No. In fact, he wrote in Ecc. 7:20, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” We are all sinners! But, Solomon knew that God had called his ancestor Abraham out of his sinful belief in false gods to faith in Him before Abraham had done anything for God. He knew that God had delivered his ancestors out of Egypt by His own mighty power, and not by anything they did. Solomon built a temple for the worship of God, a worship that centered in God’s full and free forgiveness of the sinner through the offer of a sacrifice that covered his sin. Solomon knew that when God forgives you, your sin is no longer looked upon by Him. You please Him, and He blesses you with wisdom and knowledge and joy!
What is this wisdom and knowledge and joy when everything seems vain and you are struggling with the futility and unfairness of life? “Apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” asks Solomon in Ecclesiastes. All things come from Him and are in His hands! This is certainly a challenge when you are struggling and everything seems to be vanity. But we must believe that God is with us and is directing all things for us in His goodness and love. We must trust Him!
I think here of Joe Orban. Last week I brought him Communion, and as we were talking about his cancer treatments and how he was doing he told me that the hospital had called to ask if they could do a psychological survey, but he declined. “I don’t need to talk to a psychiatrist,” he said, “I know that everything doesn’t always turn out well with cancer. But, I’m ok. I’m not worried about it. Whatever happens will happen. God will take care of me.”
God has given Joe “wisdom and knowledge and joy.” The hardships he knew over the years as he took care of his wife, Marcia, in her sickness and the love and joy they shared throughout all of them taught this. My mom shares this faith. And so, she is ready to die, and not simply because she wants her suffering to end. She knows that in Christ she has treasure in heaven!
By His life, death and resurrection for you God’s Son is your treasure, also. He is your treasure now, for “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3) Make Him, God’s treasure, your focus, and not the treasures of this life and world that are so uncertain and do not last! You will then not hear Him say, “Fool!” when your soul is required of you, but, “My beloved child! Receive the treasure prepared for you from the foundation of the world!”
In the blessed name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.