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TEXT: Ecclesiastes 6:10-7:14
SUBJECT: Ecclesiastes #8: Who Knows What We Need
Bill Hybels is one of the best known pastors in the United States. In 1975, he founded Willow Creek Church with 125 in attendance. Today, the church has more than 25,000 members, with spin-off churches all over the country, and the world.
If you have seen the man or heard him speak, you know some of the growth is the result of personal magnetism. He's handsome, well spoken, and comes off as very confident without being cocky. Bill Hybels is a dynamic person and a born leader.
If you asked him about his success, however, he wouldn't point to himself. Willow Creek became a megachurch because it was open-minded and sensitive to the community. From day one, surveys were conducted asking people what they wanted in a church, and didn't want. The things they didn't want-like traditional hymns, long sermons, and heavy doctrine-were minimized, and the things they wanted-like friendliness, pop music, and 'something for the kids' were emphasized. This is the Willow Creek model. It's called a Seeker Sensitive church.
There's something to be said for this approach to ministry. Churches can become ingrown and pastors often fall in love with their own vision of church life. Then there's the perennial danger of inertial, doing things the way we've always done them-not because they're good or wise or effective-but because we've always done them this way.
Open-mindedness is good; listening is good; being correctable is good. We would do well to live by James' advice-
Be slow to speak, swift to hear, slow to wrath.
But for all the good Bill Hybels has done, there's a fatal flaw in his way of 'doing church'. What is it? It equates felt needs with real needs.
What's wrong with this? The fact is, we don't know what we need-I don't know what I need, you don't know what you need, nobody knows what we need.
Except God!Only the Lord knows what our real needs are, and only He knows how to meet them. Sometimes He meets them in ways we don't recognize or approve of, even in ways we despise and hate. But Father knows best, and it is our duty to renounce our own wisdom, submit to His will, and live in patience, humility, and obedience.
WHY THINGS HAPPEN THE WAY THEY DO
This brings us to today's passage, Ecclesiastes 6:10-7:14. It begins in the expected way: with a dark reflection on the mystery of life, 6:10-12-
Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man?
For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?
Why do things go the way they do? And, in particular, why do so many painful and disappointing things come our way? Who or what is responsible? Depending on where you look in the Bible, you'll find a variety of answers.
Some of our suffering is self-inflicted. Read Psalm 51 and you'll find David's appalling guilt and shame were the fruit of his own infidelity. He doesn't blame God or Bathsheba or his wives or 'the times in which he lived'. Over and over in that moving confession, he takes personal responsibility-
My transgressions.my iniquity.my sin.
Some of our suffering is caused by the sins of other people. Read I Samuel 18ff., and you'll find David on the run from King Saul. Had he betrayed his lord? Not at all; he was Saul's most loyal subject. Still, he was resented because the people admired him more than they did the king. David may have had this sad experience in mind when he wrote Psalm 69-
They hated me without a cause.
Some suffering is the result of nature or of human error. In Luke 13, Jesus recalls the Tower of Siloam toppling over and crushing eighteen innocent bystanders. We don't know what brought the building down: was it an earthquake or a hurricane? Or was it shoddy workmanship? Or, were the carpenters good men given bad material? Whatever it was, it was not because the people who killed in the accident were worse than anyone else.
We mustn't forget the work of Satan. I know it sounds terribly primitive and naïve, but it's still true: the devil is real and there's nothing he likes more than abusing people, twisting their bodies and mutilating their souls. In II Corinthians 12, Paul speaks of a thorn in his flesh, which he then calls-
A messenger of Satan sent to buffet me.
I say all this to show you that there are second causes for our suffering, for the painful and disappointing things that come our way. But the term, 'second cause' suggests there is a 'first cause' behind them, and there is.
The reason things happen the way they do, including the hurtful ones, is because God wills them!
WHO 'NAMES' AND WHAT IT MEANS
This is what 6:10 teaches, albeit in a subtle fashion-
Whatever has come to be has already been named.
Whatever has come to be, obviously means 'what happens'. And these 'happenings' have already been named. What? Already it was named in the past-not in the present, not as we go. Named takes us back to the sovereignty of God. It was He who named things in the beginning-
Day, night, earth, seas.
The 'names' were not arbitrary labels. God called the earth 'earth' because that's what it is! Or, maybe, it was by calling the earth 'earth' that it became the earth! In any event, 'naming' a thing means dominion over it.
The dominion (or, Lordship) God claims in this passage is over everything-
Whatever has come to be.
I know this creates many problems, both real and imagined, but it's what the Bible teaches, and if we can't square God sovereignty with the way things are in the world, we leave it be-
Even so, Father, for it seemed good in your sight!
Because God is all wise and all powerful-and we're not-we need to be quiet-to stop telling Him what He ought to do or chiding Him when He does otherwise.
This is one of the main lessons from the Book of Job. Job is a righteous man who's not getting a square deal from God. Or that's what he thinks. For pages and pages, he tells the Lord to explain Himself. For a long time, the Lord remains silent, but when He speaks, He says-
Who is this who darkens counsel without knowledge?
Job's only answer is to shut his mouth and repent in sackcloth and ashes.
This is the course the Preacher advises us to take. To humble ourselves before the Almighty, Only Wise God. And why shouldn't we? Better to keep our inane thoughts and words to ourselves-
The more words the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man?
Speaking of our ignorance, the Preacher says we don't even know what's good for us, v.12-
Who knows what is good for man?
The implied answer is: not man.
When it comes to our true condition and what to do about it, we are doctors without a brain! We don't know what's wrong with us or what to do about it. Left to ourselves, we treat every scratch with chemotherapy and every tumor with a Bandaid!
HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE?
I stand by everything I've said so far, but if I left it there, I would leave you with a dangerously false impression. You may think I'm saying, 'Since God is behind good and evil, life and death' there is no difference between them. There is a difference!
The Lord uses good and evil, life and death to accomplish His purpose, but He doesn't think they're all the same! God is for good and life; He is against evil and death, and yet His wisdom and power are so great that He can use them all to bring glory to Himself and good to His People!
Therefore, we mustn't live life as though losing a parent is the same as having a baby, or that divorce is equal to marriage. We ought to cry at funerals and laugh in the nursery; rejoice in weddings and bemoan their breaking up.
But, for all this, we have to live in a world that is not what it should be, not what we want it to be, not what it will be when the Lord is done with it. How do we do it?
This brings us to 7:1-14. Commentators differ on how many counsels are given here, but, allowing for some overlap, I think there are nine. They are:
A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.
Problems rob us of our pleasures. I can't enjoy the movie because my head is killing me. I take the bus the work because somebody else got the promotion. We all feel this way, of course, and there's a reason we do: We put pleasure above character. But what if the headache makes you feel your dependence on God while the movie will make you forget Him? Or, what if taking the bus to work teaches humility and compassion? Humility and compassion are better than a new car! Depending on God is better than a movie!
See your problems, therefore, as problems, but not only problems. See them also as opportunities for God to work in your life, to deepen your faith and make you more useful in His service.
Does this make sickness and poverty and bereavement happy things? No, it doesn't! They remain what they are-evils. But it enables you to process them and grow through them.
It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting. For this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face, the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools for as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of fools. This is also vanity.
Would you rather go to a party or a funeral? We'd all choose the party, of course. But the funeral is better for us, because it forces us to see life as it really is, a precious gift of God, but a gift that can be lost and sometimes we when least expect it.
Funerals won't let us drift. We don't have all the time in the world, and we have to choose what we will do with the time we have!
Therefore, though death is awful to think about, it is also good for us. Recalling this will enable you to live a life you will certainly lose some day.
Surely oppression drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart.
If a wise man is constantly surprised by crime and hate and war and the other evils of life, he will soon become a lunatic. The Lord does not want us to be crazy; He wants us to expect evil, counter it when we can, and wait patiently for the day it will be no more.
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
You and the church and the world are in the hands of God and in the process of being fully redeemed by Christ. The process is a long and slow one, with plenty of stalls and setbacks too-but it will move to completion. Till then we have to accept our imperfections, and grow in likeness to Christ with the hope that some day-
We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.
Is it ever right to be angry? Of course it is! There's something wrong with the man is is always calm, cool, and collected. Jesus Himself felt a burning anger at times, and expressed it when He needed to. But He wasn't a grouch, always carping about the world, His job, His family, His friends, and politics.
The angry man, the resentful woman is not living in the faith and hope that God is in control and that He will make things right in His own good time.
Say not, 'Why were the former days better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
'The Golden Light of Nostalgia is rust on the memory!' This is one of my big faults, wishing I was younger or living in 'the good old days'. Of course, all days have their own set of problems, and since the Fall no days have been entirely (or, even mostly) good. To hanker for a past you cannot retrieve is nothing but self-pity and laziness and disobedience to serve God when and where you are!
Accepting the sovereignty of God means being content where you are and when.
Wisdom is good with an inheritance, an advantage of those who see the sun. For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
Wisdom will not make you sovereign over the world or even your own life. Still, it is better to be wise than a fool, and though both can be struck dead tomorrow, on balance, being wise is more likely to result in a longer and happier life than being stupid.
Consider the work of God: who can make straight what He has made crooked?
We are can-do people! This is both our glory and our folly. If the French can't dig the Panama Canal, the Americans can! If the Russians can't put a man on the moon, we can!
Nobody is better qualified to solve technical problems than we are! But, of course, the real problems in life are not technical. Back in the day, morons used to say, 'If we can send a man to the moon, we can end war'. No we can't, because 'ending war' is a moral and spiritual problem, while landing men on the moon is a scientific one-and science is a lot less complicated than the human heart!
The world was not made crooked, but when man fell into sin, the Lord put us all under a curse. As long as it remains, we have to be satisfied with partial solutions to select problems. Our real problem won't be solved till Jesus comes again and sets all things right!
In the day of prosperity rejoice, 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.
Take the blessings of God as real blessings to be innocently enjoyed. Take the problems He sends your way as cod liver oil-awful to the taste, but good for what ails you. Be content with doing His will in the present and leaving the future to Him.
A FALSE SUMMARY AND A TRUE ONE
What's the Preacher's big idea? If this were the only book in the Bible, you might think it's something like this: Life stinks, but make the best of it!
There is some truth in this summary, and that is part of what he's saying. But the bigger truth lies elsewhere. 'Make the best of it' is not a motivational speech built on thin air. It is not empty optimism!
It is faith.
We accept the world the way it because, in Jesus, it's not going to be this way forever! Though He is the eternal Creator of all things, in time, He joined the Creation. He became subject to the same painful, confusing, and discouraging world that we live in.
But then, after suffering all it had to dish out, He conquered it! Jesus rose from the dead and became the first member of the New Creation. This means all our concerns and complaints and objections will one day be answered in full and to our complete satisfaction! The world will become what it was always meant to be-
A world wherein dwelleth righteousness.
We have God's Word on it, and more than His Word. We have tangible proof: Jesus is risen, and with Him every Christian and all the world will be raised to newness of life.
O, Lord, haste the day,
When the faith will be sight!
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