Sunday, May 14, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 17, Respect For Authority

Solomon has not been satisfied in life in spite of his wisdom, but he still feels it's better to be wise than to be foolish. He goes on to speak about the wisdom of having respect for those in authority over us.

"Who is like the wise? Who knows the explanation of things? A person's wisdom brightens their face and changes its hard appearance." (Ecclesiastes 8:1) The face of a wise person has a glow about it. We are attracted to the comforting company of those who are wise and who can give us advice and encouragement. If I'm feeling discouraged, I'm certainly not going to call up anyone who scorns the Lord, but I'm going to call up one of the many wise and godly people I know. That type of person always has a word for the weary.

"Obey the king's command, I say, because you took an oath before God." (Ecclesiastes 8:2) Wisdom also includes having respect for authority. We may not always feel personal respect for someone who is in charge, but the Bible commands us to respect their position. The Lord tells the wife to respect the position her husband holds in the household. He tells the worker to respect the boss. He tells the citizens to respect the nation's leaders. We may not always agree with the person in authority over us, and we may not always find much about their personalities to admire, but if we can't learn to show respect for humans who are in authority over us we might have a hard time respecting the God who is in authority over everything. After all, we don't always understand what He's doing. Sometimes we even disagree with how He's handling a particular situation. But we are to respect Him even when we don't understand and don't agree. The Apostle John makes a good point that I feel applies well here, "Whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen." (1 John 4:20b) If we can't love and respect our fellow humans who are right in front of us, how easy might it be to stop loving and respecting the God who is invisible?

"Do not be in a hurry to leave the king's presence." (Ecclesiastes 8:3a) Wouldn't it be dreadful to have to deal with subjects who want to get away from you as quickly as they can? This shows a lack of respect. When the king calls someone into his presence, that person's duty is to listen patiently and not display an eagerness to be gone. He is to remain in the king's presence until the king dismisses him. This made me stop and think how many times I've been in a hurry to leave the presence of the King of kings, when I've hastily said my prayers while thinking about all the other things I have to do. How sad that is! Imagine how God must feel when His children are in a hurry to be on with their day instead of just sitting down and spending some time with Him.

"Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases. Since a king's word is supreme, who can say to him, 'What are you doing?'" (Ecclesiastes 8:3b-4) Solomon says, "When called before the king because you've been accused of wrongdoing, don't keep trying to cover it up or defend it. The king has the authority to pass any sentence he chooses if he finds you guilty. It's best just to admit guilt and ask the king for mercy." This is true of our God and King as well. Let's just get it all out in the open and deal with it. Let's throw ourselves on His mercy. If we leave this world still hiding our sins and making false protests of innocence, He has the authority to pass any sentence he chooses. He can't help us if we don't ask for help. He can't heal us if we don't confess that we are broken.

"Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a person may be weighed down by misery." (Ecclesiastes 8:5-6) It was important for the king's subjects to know how to address him and to be aware of the proper etiquette while in his presence. Things were to be done in an orderly manner. Solomon observes, "If you don't break the law, you won't have to worry about facing charges in the king's court. You may have to come into his court if you need to bring charges against someone else, but even then there is a procedure to follow. Don't speak when it's not your turn to speak. I know you might feel an overwhelming urge to start crying out about an injustice that's been done to you, but wait until you are called to give your testimony. It is disrespectful to cause a disruption."

There is a time to speak and a time to be silent. There is even a time to be silent in the Lord's presence with an attitude of holy awe and reverence, "He says, 'Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'" (Psalm 46:10) We aren't to come into the Lord's presence and take up the whole time talking. We are to spend some time listening. We wouldn't dare stand before an earthly king and not allow him to speak. We owe respect to our God and King and we should give Him an opportunity to speak.

It's not always going to be easy to respect those in authority over us, but it will help if we keep in mind that we are respecting and obeying God when we respect and obey those He's put in charge. (It goes without saying that when God's laws and man's laws are in conflict with each other, we are to obey God as the higher authority.) When our boss gives us work to do, it honors the Lord to do the work with a respectful attitude. When someone gets elected that we didn't vote for, it honors the Lord to show respect for the office that person holds. When our parents, teachers, professors, pastors, or Sunday School teachers speak, it honors the Lord when we listen to their words and take them to heart. For those of us who are women, when our husbands make a household decision we don't agree with, it honors the Lord when we are able to keep a spirit of respectfulness and kindness. We are allowed to make our case for an alternative decision, but if our case is rejected, the word of God says the husband has the authority to make decisions for the family.

We may not always like these commandments. We may find them extremely difficult to follow. Our human nature tells us that if we don't like a person or if we don't agree with them then we don't have to do what they say. But God's word says something different. If we can't learn obedience to those in authority over us in this world, how can we learn to be obedient to God? Sure, we may like Him better than our fellow man. We may have no problem respecting His position and His power more than we respect the position and power of our fellow man. But what about when we don't agree with something He allows to happen? What about when He tells us to do one thing but our carnal minds tell us to do another? If we haven't learned how to be obedient to anyone on earth, we may not be obedient to our King in heaven. Our minds can become set in a pattern of disobedience. Our spirits might become accustomed to rebellion. If we can't respect earthly authority we are going to eventually have some trouble with heavenly authority.

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