Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes. It is a very odd book and stands out from the rest of the bible.

The title Ecclesiastes is and odd word also. Apparently it is a Latin transliteration of the Greek title for the book and the Greek title is a translation of the original Hebrew. The meaning is to Assemble or Gather. So imagine a wise individual assembling a class to teach them about how the world works. The real nitty-gritty practical stuff. I imagine the wise professor gathering the class about to graduate and saying something like “Class today in practical terms we are going to talk about how most of the things in life, specifically your perception of life is just a waste of time.”

Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 2:15-17 ESV

Ecclesiastes really has some hard and sobering questions about the script that you have written for yourself and what you will do in life. It strikes right at our finite mortality forcing us to realize that this life is temporary. I challenge you to spend time in the Bible this week and read Ecclesiastes, become familiar with what God wants you to take away from this book.

There are many choice parts of Ecclesiastes to quote from, but one that has kind of haunted or challenged me more than others is from 7:2…

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2 ESV

You learn more at a funeral than at a feast—After all, that’s where we’ll end up. We might discover something from it. Ecclesiastes 7:2 MSG

The Teacher is telling me that it is better to go to a funeral than a party? On the face of that statement I am cringing because the last place I want to be is at a funeral, however on closer inspection the Teacher is reminding the students that all their striving and all their money will not go with them. Dave Ramsey the financial talk guy on the radio frequently says “I have never seen a U-Haul following a hearse”.

There is some hope provided in Ecclesiastes, but that hope is limited because the author is still waiting for Jesus to be revealed.

I perceived that there is nothing better for them 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. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 ESV

While the best hope of Ecclesiastes is to be joyful in the toil of this land. We know that through Jesus we have a hope of salvation because Jesus has told us where the end of this life takes us.

For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:10 ESV

Ecclesiastes 5:15 | Commitment

arlingtonWhat is the major commitment in life that consumes all of the time you have? Stop now and think for a few moments and think about what the number one commitment might be. We have many commitments, some not of our own choosing, but there likely is some single commitment that is most important to you. Spouse? Kids? Work? Service to a Country at war? Politics? Sports? Something material like a house or car? Maybe a charitable cause to eradicate homelessness, or hunger is the commitment? I am a practical person and my major commitment is my wife and children. Much of what I do in life is for their benefit. Take a look at the people, ideas, and things you place a commitment on and then ask to what end you are committed to those people, ideas, and things. I ask the question that way because this life is temporary. We are all going to die, and if you are fortunate you will get around 80 years of this life to work on your commitments.

Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands. Ecclesiastes 5:15 NIV

Just think about how temporary that is. Is that Job in and of itself worthy of your time and effort? Is that Charity serving a cause of worth? Is the most current news on Sports Center worth the attention and time?

For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone? Ecclesiastes 6:12 NIV

I reflect on this sobering idea of the temporary nature of this life. As Americans living in the relatively peaceful west my mind drifts toward the east where Israel and Palestine are at war. Where Russian and Ukrainian fighting has accidently killed hundreds of people flying overhead at 30,000 feet. It is so meaningless and evil the end to those lives. More closely to home I look at the soldiers who serve to keep me safe, who serve to keep the shores where I live at peace. That is a commitment from them that I am grateful for, because it allows my commitment to my family to be possible.

There is one commitment I have read about that gives me pause and it is of Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth. They served as missionaries in China around 1900 to great personal sacrifice. Their commitment was absolute and it lasted a life time. Johnathan did not buy Rosalind an engagement ring he gave the money for the ring to the poor. They lived most of their productive life in Asia as missionaries suffering illness and even the death of 5 of their children. They had to flee a 1000 miles across China when war broke out. Toward the end of their service Rosalind returned home to Canada with their children and she wanted Jonathan to return with her. He refused and asked this question to her “Suppose our country were at war with another nation and I, a British officer in command of an important unit. Much depended upon me as commander as to whether it was to be victory or defeat. Would I, in that event, be permitted to forsake my post in response to a call from my family”? Johnathan eventually returned home to Canada at the age of 74 and almost blind. He then traveled preaching the gospel even preaching four times on the Sunday before his death.

Jonathan’s commitment to the Gospel of Jesus overrode any other commitment even to that of his family. I and most others may balk at such a disregard, but he viewed the world as a battle ground that needed his attention. Just like the soldiers who leave their families at home and commit to service in a war in another land Jonathan followed the same ideal.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24 NIV

I think men and women like the Goforth’s grasped the idea of deny and follow from Jesus in a way that I living in the comfort of my job, home, family, and consumerism are afraid to absorb. Johnathan was committed, he was willing to “deny” the life he wanted with all the comforts for a radical life serving Jesus. If this life is temporary and eternity with Christ is forever then are my commitments in this life really the best choices? What does that say about me if I selfishly make myself comfortable while my neighbor who does not know Christ has only this life now to look forward too? Maybe I like Johnathan should “deny” myself even just a fraction of the extreme he followed? Jesus used the word “deny” here to mean that this follower would “lose sight of one’s self and one’s own interests”. This word is only used in the Gospels and only in context of words from Jesus to the disciples. Jesus calls us to walk away from the selfishness of ourselves and join Him in this work.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:24 NIV

Following where Jesus leads means that the plans I have for myself and the commitments I want to make may not align with the plans Christ has for me. This is demonstrated in the act of Baptism. The individual who has accepted the Lordship of Christ and wants Him to be their advocate before God symbolically is immersed under water and then raised out of the water. The old commitments, life, desires give way to a new commitment, life, and desire.

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life … Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. Romans 6:4;13 NIV

As you think of the commitments that take up your time are there any that might not be so important? Is the one big commitment something Jesus wants from you? My commitment to my wife and children is aligned with the life Jesus wants for me, but Jesus would not accept a commitment to my family to give them only material goods without teaching them an eternal perspective that is in service to God. Would you commit to search the scripture and pray for commitments from God that should be higher in priority? The service to God will last forever. You can take that with you. Service to self in this short life is temporary and none of it will benefit us in the life to come.

Tucker, Ruth A. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya A Biographical History of Christian Missions. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.