Thursday, May 11, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 14, Some Very Helpful Proverbs

Today Solomon begins a series of proverbs. His mood has lifted a bit from the dark despair in the first part of Chapter Seven and he gives some advice we can use.

"Extortion turns a wise person into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart." (Ecclesiastes 7:7) This goes back to Solomon's earlier declaration in the book of Ecclesiastes that the love of money is harmful. A lust for wealth will corrupt the heart and cause a person to do almost anything. He's not speaking against being a responsible adult and working to support a family and to pay the bills; he's speaking against turning money into an idol.

"The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride." (Ecclesiastes 7:8) It takes patience to see a project through to completion. Many things in this life are difficult at the beginning, but there is satisfaction in finishing the things we start.

"Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools." (Ecclesiastes 7:9) I need this verse displayed somewhere in my car, which is where I am most likely to be quickly provoked! We all have things that push our buttons, but Solomon says we are behaving like fools when we lose our tempers. We are more likely to say ugly words when we're angry or to make decisions we will regret later.

"Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions." (Ecclesiastes 7:10) Solomon advises, "Don't live in the past. Don't miss the opportunities of today and tomorrow by believing your best days are behind you. Time edits the memory. It edits out the hours of boredom and the nights of sleeplessness and the days of worry, leaving you with only the parts you chose to remember and cherish. You endured just as much anxiety and aggravation then as you do now; it's just that you've forgotten them because you didn't dwell on them. God can't move you forward into fresh new things if you're always looking backward."

"Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun. Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: Wisdom preserves those who have it." (Ecclesiastes 7:11-12) Solomon has plenty of money to leave to his descendants, but what he most wants to leave them is his wisdom. Unfortunately, I think it's too late for his son and heir Rehoboam. Solomon's son is going to be an unwise king who will almost immediately lose control over ten tribes of Israel, which will break off and form a separate nation. Rehoboam will be forty-one years old when he receives the throne and for most of his forty-one years he observed his father seeking meaning in worldly things. What effect might this have had on him? During his formative years his father was not a good example. Solomon spent his youth and middle age looking for happiness in all the wrong places. This could not have been beneficial to his son. In the book of Proverbs we find Solomon giving advice to his son, probably hoping at the end of his life to make up for all the lost time and opportunities, but a lot of damage had already been done. When Rehoboam was a little boy I bet he was like most other little boys, wanting to follow in his father's footsteps. But Solomon was walking in the wrong direction.

It's so important what kind of attitude we, as Christians, display to the world. The proverbs in today's passage are useful for us in our walk with Christ, so we are going to break them down into several points below:

1. If the world sees us lusting after money and violating our principles to get it, won't they simply conclude we are hypocrites? If we appear dishonest and greedy, the world will decide our Lord is ineffective at changing the heart and they will believe our conversion isn't real.

2. If we have a prideful and impatient spirit, will we be able to attract others to Christ? Jesus was so patient with those who came to Him, being very gentle and kind to those who were broken in spirit.

3. An angry temperament is not Christlike and nobody enjoys being around an angry person. We will not be in a position to influence anyone if we are so unlikable no one wants to be in our company.

4. It will be impossible to convince unbelievers that the Christian life is exciting and fulfilling if we are always looking back to the past and whining about it being better than the present. We serve a forward-looking God. He wants to take us on into bigger and better things. One of the best ways to honor Him is to put a hand in His and be willing to go wherever He wants to take us.

5. Godly wisdom and a godly example are better than anything else we could leave to our descendants. Which would we rather have them say of us, "Grandma and Grandpa left me a fortune! I will never have to work a day in my life!", or, "Grandma and Grandpa were some fierce soldiers of the Lord's army! They could always be counted on to get their prayer requests straight into the throne room of God. They faced every day with strength and courage. They taught me how to live a life of meaning and joy in Jesus Christ."

Solomon will say in the book of Proverbs that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. (Proverbs 1:7a) In other words, until we decide to honor and reverence Him, we don't know anything. This is why all the wisdom of Solomon's youth and middle age profited him little, why his possessions didn't satisfy him, why his relationships didn't make him happy, and why all his frantic work didn't fulfill him. For many years of his life he didn't fear the Lord. He was led by his lusts into idolatry and was unfaithful to God. Now, near the end of his life, he sees where he went wrong and he passes advice onto us so we don't make the same mistakes. We must fear and serve the Lord. He alone can make our lives meaningful. They were never intended to be meaningful apart from Him.

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