Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 6, God Has Set Eternity In The Human Heart

We are still in Chapter Three reading Solomon's discourse on a time for every purpose. He begins today by asking, "What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race." (Ecclesiastes 3:9-10) We woke up this morning with tasks ahead of us, whether we have work to do at home or whether we have jobs to go to. It often seems like it's the same old thing day after day, year after year, and sometimes we aren't sure whether we are getting anywhere or not. The housecleaning I do this week will have to be done again next week. The yard work too. The tasks at my job as well. Solomon says, "This is a heavy burden. We spend most of our lives performing some type of work. Why did God make life so monotonous?"

Being a man of wisdom, I'm sure Solomon knew the answer to his own question, but like many of us he still found it frustrating that there is so much repetitiveness to life. The reason we must spend most of our lives performing some type of work is found in Genesis following the fall of man. The Lord said, "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." (Genesis 3:19) Sin always brings a measure of futility and repetitiveness into our lives. Since Solomon is on the subject of meaninglessness, I want to say there is nothing more meaningless than sin. There is nothing that will bring us more sorrow, more frustration, or more work as we either try to cover up our sins or as we try to undo them and make things right.

Yesterday we studied Solomon's poem about there being a time for all things, both the good and the bad, and he concludes this thought by saying, "He has made everything beautiful in its time." (Ecclesiastes 3:11a) The will of God may not always be understandable to us, but it's still beautiful. It's still holy and completely right. His plans for the world and for the way things work may confuse us in our feeble humanness, but if we could understand them with His intelligence we would never fail to see the beauty of His design. When a circumstance happens exactly on time and according to God's will it is beautiful because it is right, whether it's war or peace, mourning or dancing, planting or harvest.

Now Solomon says some of my favorite words in the book of Ecclesiastes, "He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end." (Ecclesiastes 3:11b) The Lord created us with a soul that knows it is eternal and He gave us minds that thirst for knowledge. We can't help wanting to understand everything that has been and everything that will be. We can't stop ourselves from wondering what life will be like after death when we go to be with the Lord. Because He created us in His image, we know there is something more than this short life on earth and we have an inbuilt certainty that there is a purpose for everything that happens. This is why a majority of the world's inhabitants have some type of religion, pagan though much of it is, because we humans feel so strongly there has to be a Creator and there has to be some sort of afterlife. But Solomon finds even this beautiful knowledge frustrating because he wants to understand it all, right now while he lives on earth, and he has not been able to fathom everything God is doing.

He falls back into the same mood we found him in the other day, wondering if maybe we should give up seeking more knowledge about the Lord and just enjoy what we can while we live. "I know that there is nothing better for people to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil---this is the gift of God." (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13) By all means let's be thankful for God's blessings in our lives. Let's enjoy the food He's placed on our tables. Whether we have plenty or whether we have little, let's be like the Apostle Paul who said, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation." (Philippians 4:12) Let's be like the Lord's brother James who advised us to "count it all joy" whether we find ourselves in happy circumstances or in difficult circumstances. (James 1:2) Let's do good to others whenever the opportunity arises, "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10) But let us never conclude that there is nothing to life except to eat and drink and be merry, or that the world should revolve around us and our happiness, or that we can earn salvation by doing good works. When was it that men like Paul and James learned such valuable lessons so they could teach us how to live godly and fulfilling lives? Was it before they came to know Christ, or after? It was after, and that's why we who are in Christ are given this precious promise, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10) Or as the KJV puts it, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

Solomon longs for a full and abundant life. He's spent most of his years searching for meaning in all the wrong places, so now he feels empty and dissatisfied. All his work seems pointless. He is famous throughout the known world and he is wealthier than any other king of Israel will ever be. He controls more territory than any king of Israel ever will. He is wiser than any man before him or any man after him. But what has he accomplished of eternal significance? As he nears the end of his life he wonders how he will be remembered or whether he will be remembered at all. He wants to know what the abundant life is and how to get it, but so far he has fallen short because he left God out. Was the Apostle Paul living an abundant life before he came to Christ? No, because in the book of Romans he tells us what an ambitious, grasping, self-centered and covetous man he was. Nothing ever satisfied him; his worldly gains only made him want more. Was the Lord's brother James living an abundant life before he believed in Christ? No, because his epistle is one of the strictest and most serious of the New Testament and I think he is so outspoken about certain sins because he had committed them himself. He warns us not to be merely listeners of God's word but doers of God's word. He advises us not to fool ourselves by thinking we are righteous when we can't control our tongues or when we show favoritism to people of wealth or high position. He speaks against harboring bitterness and selfish ambition in our hearts and points out what a sin it is to have pride. I think James preaches against having these wrong attitudes because he had them himself before he gave his life to the Lord.

Without Christ we can't hope to live a full and abundant life. We won't be able to find the strength to be joyful in all circumstances. We will never learn how to be content in any situation. We won't ever be satisfied with anything we gain in this world because it will leave us as empty as it left Solomon. It's Christ who gives our lives meaning. With Him at the core of everything we do, even the smallest task takes on a new significance. "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." (Colossians 3:23-24)

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