Self-sufficiency isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can lead to an attitude of independence and result in an unhealthy dose of pride. It is especially dangerous for believers, because we are meant to find our strength in Christ, not ourselves. It is when we become self-confident and seemingly autonomous, that we run into problems in the Christian life. And Jesus had some strong words to say to the final church on His list. This time, He is addressing a church that seems to have it all. In Revelation 3:14-22, John records the words of Jesus to the church in Laodicea. They were a relatively wealthy congregation who evidently saw themselves as relatively self-sufficient and in need of nothing. They had gotten cocky. Unlike some of the other fellowships, they weren’t having to deal with persecution or financial difficulties. Jesus accuses them of thinking too highly of themselves, claiming to be rich, prosperous, and in need of nothing. But they were actually blind to their true spiritual condition. And their blind spot had resulted in their inability to see their tremendous need for what Jesus had to offer. They were sick and didn’t even know it. They were measuring themselves by the wrong standard and drawing the wrong conclusions. But Jesus loved them enough to tell them the truth. And just as He had with all the other churches, Jesus lets this congregation know that He wants them to repent and recommit themselves to Him. They could still be conquerors, but only if they confessed their self-sufficiency and turned to Him in total dependency.
Philadelphia is known as the city of brotherly love. But it wasn’t the first city to have that designation. All the way back when John penned the Revelation, he included a section that was addressed to the church of Philadelphia in his day. It was one of the seven churches for which Jesus had a personal message. But the local congregation wasn’t feeling the love in Philadelphia. In fact, the synagogue in Philadelphia was treating the believers like second-class citizens and making their lives miserable. But Jesus encouraged them to keep up their morale and their morality. They weren’t to give in to the pressure or allow themselves to fall short of God’s expectations for them as a fellowship. And in Revelation 3:7-13, Jesus conveys some amazing good news to this struggling church. While they were experiencing their fair share of persecution and difficulty in this life, He assured them that they would be kept from the hour of trial that was coming on the earth. This is a reference to the seven years of tribulation that will come on the planet and all who live on it. But the church, including every single believer who is alive when Jesus comes to take His bride to be with Him, will be spared from having to endure the pain, suffering, persecution and even martyrdom that is going to come in those last days. Jesus was encouraging the Philadelphian believers to keep trusting, keep believing, and keep enduring, because their reward was going to include escape from future tribulation. Jesus holds the key of David and has the authority to open and shut the gate leading into God’s presence and His Kingdom. The enemy can try to keep us out, but he has no power to prevent what God has promised.
Spiritual deadness. What does that look like? It doesn’t sound too appealing though, does it? And when Jesus Christ accuses you of being spiritually dead, it’s not exactly a complement. But that’s exactly what the congregation in Sardis heard Jesus say about them. They had a reputation for being alive, but were really dead in the water spiritually. They were like a lifeless cadaver, painted up to look alive and well, and good enough to impress everybody but Jesus Himself. He saw through their hypocrisy. And He called them out for it. It wasn’t that the whole church was spiritually dead and without new life in Christ, but they had allowed the walking dead in their midst to have a negative influence on their congregation. And Jesus was particularly put out with the leadership in the church. They were responsible for the health and well-being of the church. But they had let their guard down and the unbelievers in. But while these lost individuals were giving the impression that they were saved, they were actually having a deadly influence on the health of the church. In Revelation 3:1-6, Jesus addresses the congregation in Sardis, providing the rest of us with some powerful warnings about spiritual complacency and the danger of moral infection from the presence of unbelievers masquerading as believers. Fake Christians can do some serious damage to a local fellowship, creating an atmosphere that wreaks of spiritual death and lulling the church into a state of spiritual stupor. Which is why Jesus says, yet again, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
The world is full of temptations of all kinds, and it is constantly casting its deceptively-enticing lures our ways, in hopes of distracting and catching us in a down moment. Even the body of Christ, the church, can find itself lured away from trusting in Christ alone through faith alone, and accepting Satan’s offer of satisfaction without sanctification, and happiness without holiness. In Revelation 2:18-20, Jesus is going to address yet another congregation, both commending and condemning them. He will applaud them for their faith and endurance, but warn them against their unhealthy toleration of immorality in their midst. Jesus is going to have some fairly serious words for an individual in their local congregation who was leading the fellowship astray. He would pull no punches or spare no pains in pointing out this woman’s evil influence on the flock. And He was not too happy with the church body for allowing her to have a platform from which to spout her false doctrine and spread her deadly influence on the rest of the fellowship. Their tolerance was intolerable to Christ. He demanded immediate action. And He called them to hold fast. They were not to allow this woman to pry their grips from the cross of Christ. Temptations tend to offer us something enticing that requires us to take our hands off the one that really matters: Jesus Christ and our faith in Him. Like a child with a favorite toy, we find ourselves offered something brighter, shinier and newer, but it requires that we let go of what we have. We trade in the source of joy for the promise of greater happiness. But Jesus will tell them to hold on to what they have. Because the reward to come is greater than anything the world could ever offer.
Compromise. It has always been a potential danger for the child of God. And compromise almost always takes a subtle form. It’s rarely blatant and obvious. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, our disobedience tends to be appear more like a form of clarification of the truth. Satan led Eve to compromise by questioning the word of God. He slyly asked her, “Did God actually say?” And she took the bait. She opened herself up to his deceptive reasoning. And the next thing she heard from the enemy was, “You will not surely die.” Satan flat-out denied the word of God. And he caused Eve to doubt God. In Revelation 2:12-17, Jesus addresses the church in Pergamum, and His primary bone of contention with this local fellowship is their spirit of compromise. Some within the church had allowed their convictions to cave in and they ended up selling out. But Jesus calls the rest of the church to remain faithful and true. He encourages them conquer, not compromise. And He lets them know that those who endure to the end can expect a more-than-adequate reward for their efforts. Compromise is nothing more than a selling out of what you say you believe and a selling short of the promises of God. Rather than take God at His Word, we listen to the lies of the enemy and settle for his offer of blessings without obedience, contentment without conviction, and fulfillment without faithfulness.
It’s easy to get discouraged. Even as believers in Jesus Christ, we can find ourselves hammered by the circumstances of life and begin to lose hope. This can happen churches as well, as is illustrated in Jesus’ words to the church in Smyrna reveal. Revelation 2:9-11 gives us a bit of insight and encouragement regarding churches that find themselves going through difficult days. It’s not always easy. The world doesn’t always like us or welcome us with open arms. And the church in Smyrna was a struggling congregation that was surrounded by worldliness and suffering from constant persecution. On top of that, they were poor. They were a financially strapped church made up of members with limited resources, but plenty of problems. So, what does Jesus have to say to these people? Well, He doesn’t assure them that everything is going to be okay. In fact, He’s going to tell them that more suffering is headed their way. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. He doesn’t promise them immediate relief or a miraculous deliverance. No, He tells them that some of them are going to end up in prison. Some might even face death. But even with that sobering reality staring them in the face, Jesus will tell them to remain faithful. But why? What’s their motivation? How in the world are they supposed to endure the continued suffering headed their way without losing heart and giving up all hope? The answer is found in what Jesus describes as the crown of life He will give them. In other words, Jesus wants them to focus on their reward to come, not their suffering to come. He wanted them to look further down the road, to the day when God restores all things, and glorifies His people. There was going to be a very happy ending to their personal nightmare. This story was going to turn out well. And Jesus encouraged them to remain faithful because their God was faithful.
If Jesus was to write a letter to your church, what do you think He would say? Would it be filled with words of commendation and congratulations for a job well done? Would He shower your local congregation with accolades for all their generous giving and selfless serving? Or do you think He might have a few words of criticism and critique? Well, you don’t have to wonder or conjecture, because Jesus has spoken to His church. And we find the content of His message in chapters two and three of the book of Revelation. In these two chapters, Jesus addressed seven different churches, expressing words of commendation and exposing acts deserving of condemnation. And lest we think these messages have nothing to do with us, Jesus makes it perfectly clear that His Words are timeless in nature and limitless in terms of their application. They are for all churches in all times. And in Revelation 2:1-7, we will find that His words for the church in Ephesus have an irrefutable and unmistakable ring to them. If we look closely and honestly, we will recognize our own church in this passage. What was happening in Ephesus was not unique to them. Their praise-worthy activities should be true of all churches. But while they had done a lot of things well, they had also dropped the ball in a few significant areas. And if we’re honest, so have we. Jesus isn’t out to demoralize them, but to motivate them to return to their former state of faithful obedience. And He wants the same thing for us. But to return to where we were, we have to do two things: Remember and then repent. We must recognize that we have strayed and express a willingness to be restored to our former state. Remember and repent. Even good churches can wander. We can all lose our focus and our way. But Jesus calls us to return.
John was exiled on the island of Patmos when he received his vision. One minute he was on this small, virtually uninhabitable island, and the next thing he knew he was transported into the very presence of God. And not only would he see God the Father face to face, he would be reunited with his friend and Savior, Jesus. But this would be a remarkably different Jesus than the one he remembered. His last glimpse of Jesus had been as He ascended back up to heaven. But standing before him in the heavenly throne room was a drastically different man than he once knew. And the shock left John flat on his face, worshiping His Lord and Savior. But Jesus calmed his fears and prepared him for the job for which he had been chosen: To write down all that Jesus had to say to the seven churches. John was to act as the Savior’s amanuensis or personal secretary. And one of the first things Jesus wanted to drive home to John was the reality of His resurrected state. He described Himself as the first and the last, the living one. He had died, but He was alive and He held the keys of Death and Hades. This speaks of Jesus’ authority and His dominion over death and the grave because of the sacrifice of His own life and His resurrection by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, as the living Lord, has some sobering words to share with the seven churches. And we will soon see that what He has to say is for more than their ears alone. Repeatedly, Jesus will say, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” His messages are global, yet specific. These seven churches needed to hear the commendations and condemnations of Jesus, but so do we. Revelation 1:9-20 sets the stage for what is to come. Jesus, the one who is worthy to open the seals is also the resurrected, all-powerful Shepherd of the church, the head of the Body of Christ, who is about to comfort and convict His bride, preparing them to finish what they have begun and to prepare for His eventual return for them before the end comes.
All those who call themselves Christians share a common belief in the eventual return of Jesus Christ. It is most often referred to as His second coming in order to distinguish it from His incarnation, when He came to earth the first time, in the form of a baby and born to a virgin named Mary. The four Gospels provide us with the details concerning Jesus’ first arrival on planet earth. But it is the book of Revelation that provides us with the still future aspects of His second coming. And in Revelation 1:4-8. John reveals to the seven churches to whom his letter was addressed, that Jesus was going to come again, on the clouds, and every eye will see Him, including those who pierced Him, a reference to the Jewish people who had demanded His crucifixion and death. While the book of Revelation will dedicate just a few chapters to the return of Jesus to earth, its entire contents is designed to preface its eventual occurrence. There will be much that must take place on the earth before Jesus can come back. But we are given repeated assurances throughout the book that He will indeed return. He promised to return. And it is His return that will bring about the end of the centuries-worth of sin’s deadly influence and Satan’s oppressive rule over this planet. There is going to be a vast difference between the way Jesus came the first time and how He will appear in the future. He will not return as a baby in a manger. He will not return as a meek and mild carpenter who heals the sick and preaches a message of salvation to the lost. No, when He returns, it will be as a conquering King who reasserts His right to rule and reign over the world He Himself created. The New Testament writers typically describe Jesus as seated at the right hand of God the Father. He is in heaven, occupying His rightful place at His Father’s side. But there is a day coming when Jesus will establish His Kingdom on earth, fulfilling the promise made by God to Jesus’ ancient ancestor, King David.
Today we begin a new study in the book of Revelation. Yes, for the next few months we are going to be working our way through this fascinating and often controversial book. There are those who avoid it like the plague, intimidated by all its strange visions and difficult-to-understand symbols. There are others who gravitate to it like it a puzzle book full of seemingly indecipherable clues and riddles they need to solve. But one of the things we have to keep in mind is that the book of Revelation is one of 66 books in the Bible. It is not intended to stand alone, and as we dig into it, we are going to discover that the answers to its many secrets are to be found in the pages of Scripture. Revelation is the last book in the Canon of Scripture and it provides us with a detailed vision of the things yet to come. There is much in the book that remains a mystery, even after centuries of study and debate. And while we may never know, this side of Christ’s return, what each and every sign, symbol, vision and message means, we can know that God has a plan for the world and there is a day when His Son will return to restore all things. Revelation is meant to be a book of encouragement. In spite of all the doom, gloom, destruction and judgment found on its pages, it is intended to show that God is in control and He has a well-thought-out and fool-proof plan for the world He created, including all those who have ever lived and those who will be living when the events outlined on the its pages occur. To say that we will be studying the book of Revelation is a bit of a misnomer, because in order to do so, we will have to spend time in a variety of other books, both in the Old and New Testament. This study, like no other, will reveal the incredible integrity and synergy nature of God’s Word. Virtually everything we are going to see on the pages of Revelation have been prophesied elsewhere in Scripture or find their meaning there. So, join me as we begin a study of the only book that comes with the promise of a blessing for those who read it and for all those who hear it.
We are at the end of Solomon’s book. And it leaves him near the end of his own life. But he has left us with much to think about and a great deal of wisdom to consider. And at the close of his book, he uses the phrase, “The end of the matter.” It’s his conclusion or summary to all he has written in his book. And what was the end of the matter according to Solomon: Fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole duty of man. That’s it. After all he has shared, this is what it all boils down to. A healthy reverence for God and a willing obedience to His will for your life. But as we will see, Solomon was still thinking in terms of earthly rewards and temporal blessings. He was advocating fear of and obedience to God because those things were necessary if you wanted to experience the blessings of God – in this life. What we are going to see in Ecclesiastes 12:9-14 is that Solomon still had a rather limited understanding of how God works. He couldn’t help but think that this life was the one in which the rewards of God were most likely to be conveyed. It was only in this life that man could experience the joys that God made possible through the five senses. The afterlife was a mystery, and no one was assured what was going to happen beyond the grave. But we know better. Because we know that Christ came to give life, and life more abundantly. And not just for this lifetime. He came to give us eternal life and to make possible joy beyond our wildest imaginations. This life is a dim shadow of what is to come. Any blessings we experience in this life pale in comparison to what we will experience in eternity. Contrary to what Solomon thought, this life is not the end of the matter.
There is one irrefutable fact about life: It ends in death. And, in his old age, Solomon was keenly aware of that painful reality. The older he got, the closer he came to the end. And old age has a way of causing us to reminisce about the way things used to be or could have been. In Ecclesiastes 12:1-8, Solomon continues to address his words to young people. He wants them to know what he has learned from his years of life lived under the sun. He is a man who has accomplished much but is in the final stages of his life’s journey. And while he has little to look forward to, he has much to look back on and he wants those he leaves behind to learn from his mistakes. He wants them to understand that one day they will be where he is. They too will one day face death. They will be forced to experience the effects of the aging process, as their physical capacities and mental faculties slowly diminish. So, what advice does Solomon have to offer those whom will be leaving behind? Remember your Creator. And do it while you’re young. In other words, don’t live your life without an awareness that it is God who gave you life to begin with. He is the giver of life and, ultimately, He is the one who determines the length of our lives. It would seem that Solomon is once again expressing the sentiment, “Don’t do as I did.” He had forgotten his Creator in his youth. Somewhere along the way, he had made the focus of his life anything and everything but God. He had wasted his youth on the vain and futile pursuit of worldly pleasures and temporal gains. But if he had it all to over, he would put God in His proper place: At the center of his life.
There’s a popular saying among Christians that states, “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” The basic gist behind what it means is that we can spend so much time thinking about and waiting for heaven, that we end up doing nothing of value and significance in this life. And while that saying has a grain of truth in it, I fear that far too many Christians have taken it to heart and made it their life’s mantra. And, as a result, they have become so earthly-minded that heaven has become an afterthought. But the apostle Paul warned the Colossian believers, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Being heavenly minded doesn’t require that we sit around dreaming about and waiting on eternity. It means that we live our lives with an understanding that this is not all there is. Our reward is waiting for us in the future. And in Ecclesiastes 11:7-10, we’re going to see that Solomon, like a lot of other Jews of his day, had a difficult time understanding just what was out there in the future. Eternity was a mystery to them. The Old Testament saints didn’t have a well-developed theology of the eternal state, so it left them to focus most of their attention on the here-and-now. But as New Testament believers, we know what tomorrow holds and we also know who holds tomorrow: God. But, once again, the apostle warns us that we live in a day when there are those who are “headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Colossians 3:19-20).
Faith versus fear. That’s a choice all of us face in this life, on a daily basis. As Christians, it can be so easy to verbally express our faith in God, all the while living with doubts that He can or will come through for us in the end. And the end is a big question mark for many of us. And by end, I mean the end of life. Death looms like a dark cloud on the horizon, and we wonder what it holds in store for us. In spite of all the promises in Scripture and the assurances given to us by Jesus Himself, we can still find ourselves doubting the reality of heaven and struggling with understanding just what eternal life really means. So, as a result, we end up concentrating all our time and attention on this life. Which is something Solomon would highly recommend. In fact, in Ecclesiastes 11:1-16, he will go out of his way to encourage a live-for-the-moment kind of attitude. For Solomon, the one thing we can know for certain is that this life exists and it can be full of joy and sorrow, good and bad, blessings and curses. We know from experience that life on this planet can be tough at times. But we also know that it can come with some incredible blessings. But for Solomon, death was a veritable unknown. He knew it was coming, but beyond that, he wasn’t quite so sure of what came next. Which is what led him to seek fulfillment and satisfaction from this life. And while Solomon didn’t have the whole redemptive plan of God spread out in front of him, he should have known that his God was a good and gracious God, who keeps His promises. But somewhere along the way, Solomon’s faith in God had become just about the only thing in his life that had not increased in quantity or quality. Which left him fearing the future and living for the moment.
In the first seven verses of Ecclesiastes 10, Solomon addressed the inherent weaknesses with wisdom. But now, in verses 8-20, he provides us with ample proof of wisdom’s worthiness. It’s a good thing. And if anybody could speak as an authority in wisdom, it was Solomon, the wisest man who has ever lived. He had a lot of experience with wisdom. And over his long life, he had used and abused it. He had experienced its many benefits and suffered the consequences of relying on wisdom without relying on the one who gives it: God. In these verses, Solomon will change writing styles, delivering his message in the style we normally associate with his other book, Proverbs. He’ll deal with wisdom as it relates to work and then he’ll apply the proper association between wisdom and the tongue. Let’s face it, just about all of us have to work for a living, so a great deal of our life is spent in an arena where wisdom is desperately needed, but often in short supply. And every one of us knows what it’s like to struggle with trying to speak wise words. Far too often, we speak before we think, and end up saying things we regret. Wisdom could save us from a multitude of troubles, if we just learned to shut up before we speak up. As James wrote, “the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” And Solomon would have wholeheartedly agreed. Finally, Solomon closes out this chapter with a primer on wisdom and leadership. Nobody wants to be led by a fool, but sometimes we fail to notice that we’re the ones at the head of the parade, and wisdom isn’t the tune to which we’re marching.
Solomon had a lot to say about wisdom. On the pages of his two books, Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, he promotes the positive attributes of wisdom repeatedly. But as a wise man himself, Solomon had learned the sobering lesson that wisdom alone was not enough. Even wise people suffer. They can even make dumb mistakes. Wisdom is not an anecdote to life’s problems or some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card that guarantees a success. And in Ecclesiastes 10, Solomon is going to sing wisdom’s praises, while exposing its weaknesses. In the first seven verses of the chapter, he uses some interesting comparisons in order to warn against the weakness of wisdom. By itself, it proves to be an insufficient resource for understanding life, let alone for navigating the ups and downs that life can throw at us. Underlying his thoughts in this chapter is the premise with which he opened this book. He stated, “I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.” In essence, Solomon concluded that as he grew wiser, he simply became sadder and more disenchanted with life lived under the sun. But what he had failed to remember was that wisdom began with a healthy reverence for God. It’s not a commodity God doles out like candy, but the result of a vibrant relationship with Him. He is wisdom, which makes Him its very source. Wisdom comes from God, but only as we get to know Him for who He really is and as we allow Him to reveal to us who we really are, especially without Him.
Time and chance. These were two commodities that Solomon believed drove the affairs of life. And both were in the hands of God. Time was something God doled out to the human race and, according to Solomon, it was in some kind of arbitrary and unexpected way. Nobody knew how much time they were allotted by God. It was impossible to know your death date. And to a certain degree, this made life seem like it was all up to chance. In Ecclesiastes 9:7-18, Solomon explores the futility found in a world dominated by time, which slips through your fingers like sand, and chance, which tends to leave your fate up in the air and the future, uncertain. As he has stated before, Solomon recommends a life focused on eating, drinking and merriment. In other words, a life of uninhibited pleasure-seeking, where you make the most of whatever time you have on this earth. And you should do it before chance steps in to rob you of the opportunity. Not exactly a glass-half-full kind of outlook on life. For Solomon, life was full of unexpected and undesirable outcomes. Which is why he tended to come across as so negative. His motto seemed to be “make the most of what you have” – whether that “what” referred to time, money, a good meal, your health or a relationship. But living life for the moment tends to rob life of its meaning and purpose. It causes you to put all your eggs in the basket you hold in your hands, while ignoring any future blessings God may have in store for you in the days ahead.
Back in chapter 3 of his book Solomon made the wise and perceptive pronouncement that God “has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end.” He was right. God has put a longing for eternity in the hearts of all men, but in our current fallen state, we have a difficult time comprehending what that might look like. We are stuck in the here-and-now, unable to see beyond the grave. What little we know about life after death, we find in the Word of God. But much of what we have heard is nothing more than the blind conjecture of men. No one knows. And so, Solomon, unable to see beyond the grave, puts all his emphasis on the present. But as usual, he misses the point. He fails to comprehend what God has placed in the hearts of all men: The reality that there is an eternity awaiting each and every one of us. Because God is the god of eternity. And we are eternal creatures whom He has made. Solomon had no problem discerning the divine power of God. He was fully aware that God was in control of all things, including life and death. But what he couldn’t understand is how the seeming injustices of this life would one day be worked out in the next life. He saw life as a struggle that ended in death, and nobody knew what lay beyond death’s door. So, Solomon recommended making this life your main point of emphasis. As he so aptly put it, “A living dog is better than a dead lion.” But what Solomon failed to recognize was the hope we have in an eternal God who has promised eternal life to whose faith is in Him and His promise of salvation.
Is it wrong to enjoy life? Does God frown on those who find pleasure in the things this life has to offer? The obvious answer is, “No.” And Solomon would fully concur. In Ecclesiastes 8:9-17, Solomon continues his discussion of life lived under the sun, giving his seasoned outlook on life. In fact, because he sometimes saw life as meaningless and full of injustice and inequities, he repeatedly advised that we should make the most out of what we have while we’re here. In his words, “Eat, drink and be joyful.” Life can be difficult, so Solomon concluded that finding pleasure in this life was a worthwhile endeavor. When you look around and see that the wicked seem to prosper, while the righteous suffer, you can lose your motivation. It all becomes a seeming effort in futility. Which is why Solomon advised that you look for those things that bring joy to your life and make them a high priority. For him, eating and drinking were symbolic of man’s basic needs. Food and wine were necessities. One provided nourishment, while the other could provide comfort in times of heartache or intense pressure. Food fills us. Wine calms us. These two basic commodities played a huge part in the lives of those living in Solomon’s day. The satisfaction of a good meal and the comfort of a glass of wine were seen as worthy objects of a man’s attention. The rich and poor alike could enjoy them. And with all that can go wrong in life, Solomon recommended these two things as reliable options worth pursuing.
Wisdom is a wonderful thing. And Solomon would be the first to agree with that statement. He admired wisdom. He depended upon wisdom in order to rule his kingdom. And he spent years trying to acquire more wisdom. He had an insatiable desire for it, just like he did for gold, silver, power, property, and pleasure. He had filled an entire book with simple, yet profound maxims regarding the need for wisdom in life. But as he drew closer to the end of his life, Solomon showed an increasing propensity to treat wisdom like just another possession. And what he seems to have forgotten was where his wisdom had come from in the first place: God. His wisdom was not self-made, but God-given. And while he had added to his wisdom over the years and increased his knowledge base, he had lost the one thing necessary to give wisdom its power and potential: The fear of God. He lost his reverence and respect for God. Unlike his father, David, Solomon tended to view God as a resource provider, rather than a relationship to be pursued. He knew wisdom had its benefits and even desired for his people to be wise. After all, what king wouldn’t want his subjects to display wisdom. And Solomon knew wisdom made him a better king. But the problem was that wisdom without God is folly. It’s useless. God scoffs at man-made wisdom, because it tends to leave Him out. And wisdom that leaves God out, tends to put man right where God belongs – at the center of everything. It becomes all about us and our worship of self.
Extremism. That’s a dirty word these days, because we’ve have been trained to fear extremists of all kinds, including religious and political extremists. They’re regularly portrayed as dangerous and potentially deadly. And Solomon would tend to agree. In Ecclesiastes 7:15-29, he’s going to warn against extremism, but not some external kind of radicalism and polarizing political posturing. No, he’s going to warn against going to personal extremes in the daily affairs of life. And, as usual, Solomon spoke as a seasoned expert on the topic. He starts out claiming that, in his long life, he had seen it all. In fact, he had tried it all. He had seen the religious zealot who spent his entire life pursuing righteousness, only to die at the end of his life – just like the wicked man who had made his pursuit of wickedness his full-time passion. And yet, the wicked man lived longer than the righteous one. In these verses, Solomon seems to be advocating a life of balance, rather than extremes. He warns against not being overly righteous and not trying to make yourself too wise. After all, as far as he could see, neither extreme was going to prevent trials and troubles, or hold off the inevitable outcome of death. Since nobody could be perfectly and completely righteous at all times, it made no sense to Solomon to waste time trying to be overly righteous. It was a waste of time. But so was the other extreme. A life of foolishness and wickedness may appear tempting, but a steady diet of it could be deadly. That’s why Solomon advocated a life that landed somewhere in the middle. But was he right? Is this sound advice or the resigned ramblings of a man who found everything to be nothing but vanity and a chasing after the wind?
Most of us think we know what makes life good. We have our own view of what is necessary to enjoy our days on this planet. For some of us, it’s the company of good friends. For others, it’s the pleasure of good food. Or the sense of accomplishment from a job well done. Or the thrill and excitement of a risk taken or a fear, overcome. There are some who never seem to find satisfaction in this life because they can’t ever get enough of whatever it is they think they need. So, they spend all their time pursuing and accruing, in the hopes of finding that magic amount that will bring them true satisfaction. Life can become a quest to find what is preferable and to avoid what is not. And in Ecclesiastes 7:1-14, Solomon is going to throw us a curve ball, surprising us with his assessment of what is really better in this life. He will take some fairly recognizable aspects of life and contrast them with one another, revealing that what we believe to be the better of two opposing alternatives is actually the one to be avoided. If given the choice between mourning or feasting, we would choose the latter over the former – hands down. But Solomon would say we made a mistake. There are few of us, if given the option, who would prefer to have a wise person point out our flaws, instead of having a fool sing our praises. It’s a no-brainer. But Solomon has learned that what we think will bring us joy and satisfaction is often the very thing that increases our sense of futility in life. Sometimes simpler is simply better. Birth may appear better than death, but there is more assurance of success at the end of life than at the beginning. Life begins with hope, but can end in disappointment. Yet death can reveal the proof of a life well-lived.
God is to be the source of all joy, contentment, satisfaction and meaning in life. But think about how seldom that seems to be the case on your own life. If we were honest, and Solomon was, we would have to admit that there are times when we think God owes us a comfortable, enjoyable life, filled with all the things we deem necessary for finding contentment. And when we don’t get them, we feel a bit cheated by God. When we observe others, who seem to have all that their hearts could want and all our hearts would ever envy, we get confused and even upset. We wonder why God is holding out on us. And without knowing it, we reveal that we suffer from the same problem Solomon had. He thought God was the giver of all good things, and he was right. But where he missed the mark was in thinking that the good things were the point. For Solomon, God was the giver, but he never seemed to recognize that God was actually the gift. God gives us life, so that we might enjoy Him. He provides us with food, so that we might have the strength to serve Him. He allows us to experience the joys of life, so we might express our gratitude to Him. God pours out His blessings and showers us with His gifts, not so we might worship the blessings and gifts, but so that we might understand and appreciate the graciousness and goodness of our God. Solomon had it all. But it all meant nothing. What he really needed was a healthy relationship with the one who had provided it all. Because, without that, it doesn’t matter what or how much you possess, you’ll never have enough to make you truly happy.
They say money can’t buy happiness. But Solomon would add that money can’t purchase contentment either. And nobody knew that fact better than Solomon. He was wealthy beyond belief and surrounded by every imaginable luxury and convenience that money could buy. He had slaves and servants, singers and musicians, palaces and vineyards, the latest chariot model and the finest food cooked by the world’s greatest chefs. But he was deficient in contentment. In Ecclesiastes 5:8-20, Solomon continues to share his time-tested proverbs, hoping to shed some light on the grievous evil he has seen under the sun. The gap between wealth and poverty was narrow and the potential for material goods to bring spiritual well-being was negligible. Solomon had first-hand experience with the failure of self-gratification to provide any hope of true satisfaction. It never worked. He had learned the hard way that the more you owned, the more it tended to own you. Wealth comes with baggage. Like golden handcuffs, materialism may look attractive, but it can end up holding you captive. We can easily find ourselves lying awake at night, grieving over what we don’t have, and worrying over losing what we do have. In Solomon’s words, it’s a grievous evil. So, about all you can do is make the most of it by enjoying what you have as long as you have it. For Solomon, life had boiled down to a moment-by-moment experience, where satisfaction was short-lived and contentment was a long shot. And while he recognized that the ability to enjoy what you owned came from God, he wasn’t overly enthusiastic in his expression of thanks.
Promises. We all make them. And the sad truth is, we all end up breaking them. In this section of his book, Solomon is going to go into proverb-mode, something with which he was very familiar. He was a collector of proverbs – wise sayings that provide deep truths in a simple, easy-to-understand format. He filled an entire book with them. And in Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, he is going to provide some timely truths learned along the way that had special meaning and significance to him. They all have to do with a man’s relationship with God. While, at this point in his life, Solomon had veered off course and abandoned his relationship with God, he still had a healthy fear of God. He knew better than to treat God with disrespect. Of course, he had placed idols to false gods all over the kingdom, but in his old age, he seems to realize that he had made a drastic error in judgment. He could look back over his long life and see the many times he had rushed into God’s presence, offering his sacrifice, while neglecting to offer his heart. He also knew what it was like to make promises to God and then fail to keep them. In a way, his entire reign had been one big broken promise to God. At the very beginning of his reign, God had told Solomon that if he remained faithful, God would establish his throne forever. But Solomon had failed. He had made a promise to God and had not kept it. And like so many other things he has to say in this book, Solomon’s words in these verses resound with regret.