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Sep 02, 2018

Lessons Learned From Abundance

Lessons Learned From Abundance

Passage: Ecclesiastes 1-12

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Ecclesiastes

Category: Old Testament

Keywords: evil, extremes, good, life, opposites, reality, utopia

Summary:

Too many people refuse to accept life as it is and live with God in that life. Ecclesiastes is a book that calls us to live well in the world as it is but under the knowledge of God...as He is. This message will hopefully help you get started in grappling with the life-saving truths of this book.

Detail:

Lessons from Having It All

Ecclesiastes

September 2, 2018

Morning Get-Acquainted topic:  What is one thing you have had a hard time accepting or understanding about life?  Something you wish was different about life? 

When you think of “having it all,” what comes to mind? 

What do you picture about a person that “has it all”? [Responses]

            Americans tend to equate “having it all” primarily with wealth, right?  But being wealthy is only one narrow sliver of a life that “has it ALL,” right?  What other parts of human experience would someone need to “have” in order to really “have it all” in this life?

  • Wisdom to know how to best live life (including using wealth) in the world as it is (rather than as we wish it were); insight; accurate view of life and everything in life
  • Full, meaningful, good relationships: friendships, family, marriage, God
  • Meaningful activity/work
  • God
  • Justice, good government & authorities in your life.
  • Health, strength, bodily function
  • All stages of life: childhood, youth, young adult, adult, senior.

One of the problems we realize when we start to talk about “having it all” in this life is, we realize that nobody really does “have it all” in the sense of having ALL you WANT ALL the TIME.  Life seems to conspire against us to repeatedly rob us of the utopia we seek, the “heaven on earth” we long to have. 

            As we begin a new school year this week, I thought it was a good time to take a look at one of the most important wisdom books ever written, Ecclesiastes.  It’s a book that can be confusing and easily misunderstood.  But it is also a book that we all need to be listening to our entire life. 

WHY is that? 

  • I know people who have been continually disappointed and angry about life because they either never learned the truth of this book or refused to accept it.
  • I know of people who have ended their lives prematurely by suicide or substance abuse because they refused to embrace the message of this book.
  • There are people here today who will struggle unnecessarily with life because you won’t choose to embrace the central truths of this book in your lives.

Type of Literature:  This book is one of the 5 “wisdom” books of the O.T.  What are those five?  [Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecc., Song of Solomon]

Author:  Perhaps more than any other book in the Bible, it really matters WHO wrote this book.  It matters because the very subject of this book requires a certain kind of person write it. 

  • They have to have experienced an amazingly wide range of life experiences.
  • They have to have had incredible resources, amazing wealth in order to be able to experiment with a host of things.
  • They have to have amazing power and authority to be able to try a wide variety of experiences.
  • They have to have been unusually wise in order to make sense of so many experiences, people and things in life.
  • They have to have known God and truth well.

There are very few people in the O.T. that fit that bill.  But the first verse of the book does a pretty good job of telling us who it is.

“The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem”

The title translated here “Teacher” is also translated “Preacher” in some versions.  But those two terms don’t really do justice to what it means.  To catch the biblical sense of the title you’d have to also add in the idea of “President” or “General Secretary”.  This kind of teacher/preacher had both political, civil and moral authority to stand up and give a sort of “State of the World” message

            But as we’re going to see, it’s not primarily a description of the state of the world economically or militarily or medically.  It’s the state of LIFE in this worldfor everyone.  This wise world leader is telling us, no matter what country you come from, no matter what class you live in, no matter what conditions you experience…the nature of life itself just is certain things that each of us will be puzzled about and have to come to grips with.  And given that nature, what is the best way to live in the real world in which we find ourselves? 

            Now this “Life-Teacher” is none other than “the son of David, king in Jerusalem.”  Well, due to the fact that Solomon was the only “son of David” who ruled a united Israel as “king in Jerusalem,” it’s pretty clear that Solomon is our man.

            And what do you know about Solomon?  Wealthy?  Wise?  Women?  Career accomplishments?  World leader?  Powerful?  Intelligent?  Strong?  Vast experience?  If ever there was a person who “had it all,” Solomon did, right? 

            Now Solomon isn’t writing this book when he’s a young teenager or even 20-something.  He’s probably writing it at the zenith of his career and certainly after he’s lived long enough to come to some very wise conclusions about life.  He’s drawing on a wealth of experiences few, if any people in life, have even been able to experience. 

  • As to his wealth, MSN-Money has estimated his net worth at $2.2 trillion Move aside, Bill Gates! 
  • He had all the money he could ever want and more to engage in any kind of building project or kitchen renovation you can imagine.
  • Speaking of kitchen, he could afford to hire the best chef’s in the world…and probably did. Every night was probably a 5-star feast. So if you like food, you probably would have loved Solomon.
  • Here’s just part of the description in 2 Chronicles 19 about his financial and military wealth:

20 All of King Solomon's drinking cups were made of gold, and all the utensils in the Hall of the Forest of Lebanon were of pure gold. Silver was not considered valuable in Solomon's day. 21 He had a fleet of ocean-going ships sailing with King Hiram's fleet. Every three years his fleet would return, bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and monkeys.

22 King Solomon was richer and wiser than any other king in the world. 23 They all consulted him, to hear the wisdom that God had given him. 24 Each of them brought Solomon gifts—articles of silver and gold, robes, weapons, spices, horses, and mules. This continued year after year.

25 King Solomon also had four thousand stalls for his chariots and horses, and had twelve thousand cavalry horses. Some of them he kept in Jerusalem and the rest he stationed in various other cities. 26 He was supreme ruler of all the kings in the territory from the Euphrates River to Philistia and the Egyptian border. 27 During his reign silver was as common in Jerusalem as stone

  • Then there is his “wealth” in terms of women. Some of you may be thinking, “If I could just find the right man…or woman, the right life-partner!”  Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (not to be confused with porcupine…thought it may have felt like it at times. J)  I’m pretty sure nobody here has had that kind of married life!  (We’re not talking serial monogamy by multiple marriages here either.) 

But added to all this wealth of money, of relationships, of you name it, this man had a wealth of wisdom.  God had granted him a capacity to weigh and measure life in a way that no one else except Jesus has ever had.  His 3,000 proverbs of wisdom, mostly found in the book of Proverbs (just before Ecclesiastes) and some here in Ecclesiastes, are amazing in their ability to guide anyone into a life that is full of goodness while avoiding evil and foolishness.  Solomon was uniquely equipped to write a book like this. 

So listen to his opening salvo.  The NET (New English Translation) says: 

“Futile! Futile!” laments the Teacher,
“Absolutely futile! Everything is futile!”

The ESV (English Standard Version) translates it like this:

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
    vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

That term “futile” or “vanity” is literally translated “wind” or “breath” or even “vapor.” 

  • Picture someone vaping and that little cloud of vapor blowing away out the window as they drive down the street. (This isn’t a commercial for vaping!) 
  • Imagine trying to grasp a handful of mist on a cold morning…or your breath on a winter night.
  • How frustrated would you be if your job in life was, say, to capture the wind? So you go outdoors on a particularly windy day, determined that you are going to get jars full of wind.  Talk about a frustrating job!  

There is nothing there, is there?  Your hand is empty.  Your jars are empty.  That wind, that vapor, that breath is gone, never to be present again. 

            Solomon is going to be dissecting and examining what life is like in this world…and apart from God.  Every now and then he will pause and contrast that with what life can be WITH God.  But remember, he’s giving a “state of the world” message here…a “state of life” in this world from the vantage point of most people’s approach to life.  And he will contrast that, from time to time, with how someone who knows God should make sense of the often senseless-looking world.  This is what life is like, even when you “have it all”…in every conceivable area of life…but live life without God.  That is a critical distinction to keep in mind.

            There is something else important to keep in mind about this book.  It is a book contrasting this world from the next, this life from life after life.  And Solomon is telling us right on the first page that, as far as life in this world goes, it is “emptiness”… passing…very temporary…very changeable…very empty compared to the fullness of the next life for those who know the Author of life. 

ASSIGNMENT:  One of my tasks as your spiritual shepherd is to teach you how to feed yourself spiritually.  God never commanded me to be an entertainer.  He’s not going to reward me based on how funny I was or even how well I kept you awake. But He will call me to account on how well I led you into “green pastures and beside still waters” so your souls could be refreshed. 

            Part of doing that is faithfully taking you to the green pastures of God’s Word and teaching you how to feed your own soul well.  So to help you learn how to do that with today’s text, Ecclesiastes, I have an assignment I want each of you to do for about 2-3 minutes.  [See handout.] 

LESSONS about Life from Ecclesiastes  [My cursory observations.]

Chapter 1

  • The futility/fleeting nature/wearisomeness of the passing of endless effort (vs. 3)
  • of the generations (vs. 4),
  • of nature’s cycles (5-7—sunrise/sunset, wind, water),
  • monotony of life,
  • lack of permanence/remembrance of human efforts and experience (8-11).
  • (12-13) Life is a “burdensome task” God has assigned to humans.
  • (14-15) Everything we do will fade away in time; we simply must accept at times what is and not fight against it.
  • (16-18) Getting more wisdom and knowledge doesn’t change the equation; if anything it makes it more frustrating because you see the depth of the problems.

 

Chapter 2

  • (vs. 1-3) Pleasure and partying is empty.
  • (4-11) Materialism is empty: from designing to building to living among life projects, farming, gardening, managing lots of people, having great wealth—when he stopped long enough to reflect, he realized how futile and empty they were.
  • (12-17) Wisdom is superior to folly/foolishness BUT they both end the same—in death! So both a wise and a foolish life have the same sense of meaninglessness to them.
  • (18-23) Work in this world, even great work, is ultimately a futile attempt to change things for the better permanently because we are temporal. Our best accomplishments will blow away as we move off the scene.  And our hard work wears us out in this life.
  • (24-26)CONCLUSION: [First time God is mentioned.]  Enjoy what God gives you to do and enjoy BUT realize that the ability to enjoy it is a gift from God.  25For no one can eat and drink or experience joy apart from him.  26 For to the one who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy,

Chapter 3

  • (1-8) Both pleasant and unpleasant things have their proper time/station in life. [Term “time” used 28 times.] Therefore, learn to accept and know the timing of things.
  • (9-11) People don’t appreciate God’s timing.
  • SOLUTION: (12-15)—enjoy everything in its time (food and drink, work and rest); accept God’s sovereignty and will in the unfolding of life’s events. In so doing, we will learn respectful reverence (“fear) for God.
  • Injustice and oppression are vexing BUT there will be a final judgment that will set wrong right.
  • (18-21) Death happens to humans and animals alike. In terms of permanence of physical life, we are both mortal.  THEREFORE—enjoy your work!  (4 times Ecc. commends joy in work: 2:24; 3:22; 5:18; 6:2)

Chapter 4

  • (1-3) There is much oppression and sorrow in life.
  • Both the unborn and the dead have an advantage on the living in that they are not experiencing oppression and its attendant sorrow.
  • (4-6) Much of work can be simply a desire to be better than others/envy. But idleness is worse. Learning to be content with less and having more time to enjoy it is better than constant work.
  • (7-8) Living a single, selfish life will bring emptiness in the end.
  • (9-12) Companionship, teamwork and shared life is superior to being alone.
  • (13-16) A wise poor man is better than a foolish rich  But both will come to the same end (death) and be forgotten.

Chapter 5

  • (1-7)—Don’t vow to God what you can’t/won’t fulfill. Our respect for God should slow us down about making promises to God…and speed us up in keeping those promises.
  • (8-9) Governments are corrupt and burdensome.
  • (10-12) Love of money and even wealth isn’t the blessing people think it is.  Hard work and rest can give as much or more happiness.
  • (13-17) Wealth is fleeting and not the answer to our hunger for happiness.
  • (18-20) Finding enjoyment in life’s pleasures and life’s work is what God intends.

Chapter 6

  • (1-9) Wealth without contentment is a sad reality for many with money. Contentment with what one has before God brings more joy than great riches. 
  • (10-12) Accepting the lot God has given you in life will lead to greater satisfaction than arguing with/complaining against God about it.

Chapter 7

  • (1-4) Considering death rather than hiding/running from it will lead to a better life just as sorrow can accomplish more than contentment/happiness. 
  • (5, 6) Hanging out with fools or the wise:  The pain that comes from a wise person’s rebuke is better than the apparent happiness that comes from people/fools who just want to be entertained/laugh.
  • (7) Sadly, evil/injustice/bribes can corrupt good people.
  • (8) How you finish is more important than how you start.
  • (9) Anger is self-destructive
  • (10) Pining for the past is foolish.
  • (11-12) The protective nature of wisdom
  • (13-14) God brings both adversity and prosperity. Learn to accept both from Him, trusting him about which the future holds.  [Would take care of worrying!]
  • (15-18) Life looks capricious at times with the righteous dying young and the wicked living long. Humility and teachability will protect from extremes in living.
  • (19-22) Wisdom protects better than people. Don’t take their criticisms or knowledge too seriously.
  • (23-24) Trying to make sense of everything in life will leave you frustrated and disappointed.
  • (25-29) People will disappoint (especially the opposite sex?) whether men or women. Trying to make sense of everything in life (and trying to make it all right) will leave you frustrated. God, who made people better than they become, doesn’t even force people into goodness. 

Chapter 8

  • (1-6) Following general rules about government and those in power will generally make life better.
  • (7-9) We cannot know or control the future any more than we can always keep evil people from abusing others.
  • (10-14) While justice isn’t always served in this life, living righteously is always superior to living wickedly. The fear of God is the best deterrent to evil and crime. But even that doesn’t mean life will play out well for the righteous and poorly for the wicked. 
  • (15) SOLUTION:  learn to enjoy the good things/times/ work of life.
  • (16-17) Even the wisest person (Solomon?) cannot figure everything out in this life.

Chapter 9

  • (1-3) The fact that the wicked and the righteous both die is vexing. The wise person will trust God for whatever comes their way, whenever (timing).
  • (4-6) Never forget that despite all the injustices and imponderables of life, being alive is better than dying. Choose life…even if it is troublesome.
  • (7-10) Learn to discover and enjoy the joys of this life because death will claim each of us one day…soon… and then all of this life will cease.
  • (11-12) Life doesn’t play out ‘fairly’…nor as we expect it to based on outward appearances of people and things.  Leave room for the unexpected and the unfair
  • (13-18) Wisdom is superior to power and might; but that doesn’t mean people will value wisdom more than might. And one wicked person can destroy a whole lot of good just as a little folly can destroy.

Chapter 10

  • (2-7) While wisdom generally protects a person, there is plenty of injustice in life to go around.  Things are often simply the reverse of what they should be. 
  • (8-11) Everything in life has risk, even all work.  But exercising wisdom will usually lower the risk and work involved.
  • (12-15) Words and works of the wise are better than the words and works of the foolish.
  • (16-20) Good rulers are a blessing to a people while evil ones are a curse. Learn how to use or guard your words and wealth

Chapter 11

  • (1-6) God ordains things we can never discern in advance. Don’t live, therefore, in fear or make decisions based on fear.  Take prudent risks, make wise decision, work hard and “let the chips fall where they may.”  Doing nothing will never lead to success.
  • (7-10) Learn to enjoy the good in life while recognizing there will be evil. Live life to the full from the beginning, remembering that you will answer to God for all of it.
  • Life is fleeting; live it well.

Chapter 12

  • (1-7) Reverence God early on and enjoy life that He gives because old age will overtake you before you know it.  There are many things you can only do now that latter on you won’t be able to. 
  • (8) Repeats the opening reality: life is fleeting and seems futile and empty at times. 
  • Finding godly wisdom and living by it will anchor and steady our lives unlike any other knowledge or learning/books.
  • CONCLUSION: Live knowing that everyone will answer to God. So reverence Him by learning and obeying his instructions/commands.

Miss June’s Story:

  • Born in the middle of WWII, Dec. 1943. Germany was intensifying its bombing of Britain.  The Japanese had just used poison gas in an attack on China.  The Allies were making progress in Italy and the Pacific but at high losses.  45,000 civilians were killed in Allied bombing of Hamburg, Germany.
  • Oldest of 15 children—11 brothers and 3 sisters. Not an easy childhood! (Any firstborns here?  Of 15 or more???!!!)
  • June was in and out of school, depending on the demands of the family. She became a sort of 2nd mother to her sisters and brothers.  Not sure she even finished school.
  • Had 3 children—all girls. Never married.  Her youngest daughter died at 4 years of age from leukemia. She was never the same.  She could have gotten angry with God…but didn’t.
  • She raised the other two by working nights cleaning offices, working days at a daycare and serving as a nanny for other families.
  • June loved good food. She was an excellent cook whose specialty was baking—biscuits, breads, pies!
  • June did dislike a few things: people that didn’t get along or family that wouldn’t stick together bothered her.  She was always asking her siblings and kids if they were in touch with each other and other family members.  If there was a rift of any kind, she didn’t care who was at fault.  She just wanted people to work it out and get back together. 
  • She genuinely modeled a very forgiving heart.
  • [Recount what happened at the funeral as the family one after the other talked about her unconditional love, her “tough love,” her open arms and heart, her peacemaking forgiveness and passion for harmony in the family.]
  • Rich’s remembrance of her ministry to him at the UGM.
  • She didn’t get everything she wanted in life. She never owned a car…never married…never got to travel or learn some skills she wanted to. 

But she was a living example of someone who had come to grips with the truth of Ecclesiastes:  

  • She knew this life is passing quickly; so she valued people, forgiveness, unconditional love…and seeking God every day…being with God’s people every week.
  • She accepted that life in this world will have plenty of pain, injustice, heartache and suffering.
  • She didn’t let that drive her away from God. Instead, she chose to see life as it is—as proof that God is truthful.  Life is just what He said we would experience in this fallen, broken world.
  • She chose to enjoy the good things (like food, family [physical and spiritual] and meaningful work) and endure the bad. She came to embrace that both of them have their purposes in this life.
  • She chose to respect/fear God and do her best to obey Him. She wasn’t perfect but she was a conduit for the presence of Christ in this imperfect world.

Her brothers knew that.  Her sisters knew that.  Her daughters and her grandchildren and her nieces and nephews and their children knew that…right in the middle of a dysfunctional family that had lots of hurts and divisions and pain.  And after she passed away, they decided to start living life as it is the way she was! 

  • To start forgiving others.
  • To keep forgiving others.
  • To stop the divisions and grudge-holding. (Talking with one of her brothers who was hugging two 9 year old grandsons he was meeting for the first time in his life.)

CALL:  to embrace the wisdom of Ecclesiastes…and embrace Jesus!