The Fulfilled Life: “The Danger Zone”
The man was clearly blind, with a cane in hand and a dog in tow. I got more and more nervous the closer he came to the edge of the cliff. He walked up to it as though he could see. Did he know how dangerous the place was? I almost couldn’t watch…but I had to see if he would stop before he got to the end of the earth and toppled downward. I was afraid and nervous as he walked up quickly, seemingly un-phased by the danger… Do you know people who are living on the edge? What does the Word teach us this life looks like? What are the danger signs we should read? Are there any safeguards we can erect to protect us from living beyond the wise place?
Key Principle: There are symptoms that we must recognize to keep ourselves from plunging downward.
Solomon had a great beginning, but that is just not enough! On a project around the house, a class in school, a job in church or in paying off some bills…. I mean we are out of that starting gate like hungry grey hounds chasing a rabbit…..But time passes and the diet ends, the exercise stops, we fail the class, the job doesn’t get done and the bills are still there. You see, though there is nothing wrong with a good start — it just isn’t enough — is it? Solomon had a great start — a good father, good advice, a good request, he performed as good project, he had a good prayer life and he wrote 3 good books….. But in the end we find the Lord becoming angry with Solomon and tearing the Kingdom from Him, Why? BECAUSE he no longer walked in the ways of the Lord…. “THESE THINGS HAPPENED TO THEM AS EXAMPLES AND WERE WRITTEN DOWN AS WARNINGS FOR US, ON WHOM THE FULFILLMENT OF THE AGES HAS COME.” (I CORINTHIANS 10:11). (Steve Malone, Southeast Christian Church, Orlando, FL)
Symptom One: Basking in Breathtaking Extravagance (The Wow Principle – 9:26-28; 10:4-5, 11-14). Breathtaking extravagance is the process of getting where no one around you has ever been (9:26-28), having what no one around you has ever had (10:4-5), building what no one around you has ever built (10:11-14) to the point that it “takes the breath away” from others (10:5b).
Problem 1. We miss the opportunity to bless the Lord in our extravagance! “I think the message in this story is “Take the BLESSING of God seriously.” Too often we brush everything off. We take it for granted that we live in one of the most prosperous countries in the world. We take it for granted that we have cars to drive and food on the table and a large TV in the living room… we need to respond to God’s blessing the same way the Queen does… We need to say in the words of Ephesians 1:3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” And we need to say in the words of 1 Chronicles 29:12 “Wealth and honor come from YOU! YOU are the ruler of all things! Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name!” (Pastor Marc Axelrod, Peace Evangelical and Reformed Church, Wisconsin)
Problem 2. We forget the lessons that WANT brings to us! The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “It is not good for all your wishes to be fulfilled. Through sickness you recognize the value of health, through evil the value of good, through hunger satisfaction, through exertion the value of rest.”
Symptom Two: Allowing an Unwarranted Reputation (Big Buzz Principle- 10:1,6-7). Allowing an unwarranted reputation is settling for people telling us we deserve what we have. It is believing our own press (10:1,6-7). Solomon was well known in antiquity, and many stories survive of his wisdom: “…the Queen of Sheba that she sent two wreaths of roses to Solomon, one real and the other artificial. To test his reputed wisdom she defied him to detect the genuine from the artificial. Solomon at once directed that some bees be brought into the room. Immediately they flew to the real flowers and ignored the counterfeit.” (Pulpit Helps) Maybe it was true, but it was not deserved. Solomon got what he got because of God’s goodness. He readily admitted later that he was not living the wise way he should have been in Ecclesiastes! There are six Hebrew Wisdom books are divided between three Didactic (teaching) writings and three Devotional (reflective) collections:
-Proverbs (Mishlai – tapestry of illustrations). Key Thought: The Use of wisdom in life. Key Subject: Fruits of righteousness and unrighteousness.
-Ecclesiastes (Koheleth – from kahal “assemble”; the announcer; Greek: EK is “out of” and KLESIS – “a calling”). Key Thought: Futility of experience and rationalism without revelation. Key Subject: The Way to truth.
-Job: (Job). Key Thought: The place of trials in life. Key Subject: Crucible of testing.
-Psalms (Tehillim – the range of praises). Key Thought: The place and method of worship. Key Subject: How worship works to draw me into God’s presence.
-Song of Solomon (Shir HaShirim – song of songs). Key Thought: The place of affection and love in life. Key Subject: How God views affection and yearning of heart.
-Lamentations (E-khah- “alas”). Key Thought: Destruction is not the end. Key Subject: the crucible of judgment.
Eight Empty Marks (Vanities) of Life:
1. Human Wisdom – 2:15,16
2. Human Labor – 2:19,21
3. Human envy and rivalry – 4:4
4. Human avarice – 4:8; 5:10
5. Human fame – 4:16
6. Human coveting – 6:9
7. Human frivolity – 7:3,4
8. Human awards – 8:10,14
Solomon showed he tried many things throughout his life that were not wise!
Symptom Three: Trafficking Unlived Advice (Talk the Talk Principle – 10:2-3). Sometimes we give the right advice, but we don’t live the right way at the same time! Trafficking in unlived truth is dangerous, but not uncommon among believers (10:2-3) -Charles Swindoll in his book on Grace puts it this way, “You want to mess up the minds of your children? Here’s how – guaranteed! Rear them in a legalistic, tight context of external religion, where performance is more important than reality. Fake your faith. Sneak around and pretend your spirituality. Train your children to do the same. Embrace a long list of do’s and don’ts publicly but hypocritically practice them privately . . . yet never own up to the fact that its hypocrisy. Act one way but live another. And you can count on it – emotional and spiritual damage will occur.” Charles Swindoll. The Grace Awakening. Dallas: Word Pub., 1990) p.97 -One of the subjects I taught was physical science for learning disabled kids. It was hard to get them motivated to do much at all. One day I showed the class a video about protecting the environment. It explored all the ways that humanity was destroying the earth and the steps we needed to take to save our planet. By the end of the video, half the class was unconscious and the other half well on their way to sleepy land. It irked me so I flipped on the lights and launched into a five-minute tirade about how they should care about this subject and do something about it. At the end of my mini sermon one kid named Sam, who never passed a test the whole year, raised his hand. This was odd. Usually nothing roused Sam from his sleep in class. When called on he asked, “Mr. Smith, do you recycle?” Stammering and trying in vain to save face I had to admit that I did not. With one stupid question Sam nailed my hypocrisy. I’ve often wondered if God didn’t work through that sleepy teenager to teach me a lesson. (Sermon central)
Symptom Four: Reveling in Flattery of Allies (The Golden Tongue Principle – 10:8-10). Your men, your servants, your God… On the surface it all sounded good. Was it true? Reveling in praise for things that belong to you Master to give as He desires is not good (10:8-10).
“Flattery is all right—as long as you don’t inhale.” –Adlai Stevenson Flattery is from the teeth out. Sincere appreciation is from the heart out.- Dale Carnegie Psalm 112:9 says that God has scattered his many blessings all over the world. Instead of looking at another person’s success and saying, “That stinks,” we should say, “Lord, I am thankful that I’m not the only person in the world who has been blessed. I am thankful that you cause the sun to rise upon the evil and the good. I am thankful that you have given us everything we need for life and godliness. I am thankful that we serve a God that didn’t just create the world and walk way. But that we serve a God who is involved with blessing us every day of our lives.” And after we get over the shock of discovering that God has the right to bless people as much as He wants, we should say, “Lord, thank you for what you have done for me personally. Thank you for the privilege of being alive in the United States of America. Thank you for my house and my family and my ministry on this earth. Now I wish I could tell you that Solomon was just as thankful to God as the Queen was. I wish I could tell you that he learned to be grateful for his blessings without getting selfish. (Pastor Marc Axelrod, Peace Evangelical and Reformed Church, Wisconsin) Jesus said that the queen was wise to comprehend God’s goodness for what she saw: “The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.” (Matthew 12:42)
Symptom Five: Glory in Power Consolidation (The Build Up Principle – 10:15-17, 26). Power appears in symbolic ways. When we ready for a war that is not there, we often do so to our own peril. It was not for preparedness that Solomon stockpiled weapons, it was for vanity (10:15-17,26). We get easily caught up in our own visions of glory! Peter Marshall had this proper attitude in prayer: “O God, when I am wrong, make me easy to change, and when I am right, make me easy to live with!” (Tan #2954 epigram) During an operation, an experienced surgeon asked a young intern, “Who is the most important person in this operating room?” The intern (who was taken back by the question) groped for an appropriate answer. He didn’t believe (for a moment) that this mentor was asking (or fishing) for personal compliments, so trying to sound gracious, he replied (giving credit to the other people’s contribution to the team), “I suppose that it would be these nurses who assist you in such an efficient manner.” The surgeon shook his head and said, “No, the most important individual in this room is (not the doctor, the nurses, or the team, but) the patient. (Remember that.)” (Daily Bread 9/29/93)
Symptom Six: Lap up Status Symbols (The “Bling” Principle – 10:18-25). We can get caught up in the status symbols, but we are really masking emptiness (10:18-25). In a 1995 Forbes magazine released an interesting survey of the chances of a person having an extramarital affair with the income level he or she is making. The higher the income bracket you are in, the higher the infidelity level you will face. If a person makes $10,000-20,000, the chances of a person’s heart changing is 33%. If the person makes $20,000-30,000, the percentage is 45%. If the income is $30,000-40,000, 55%. If income is $40,000-50,000, 66%. If $60,000 and above, 70%. (Forbes FYI 1995) People tend to forget where the small pleasures of life and the simple things in life once they make it. Solomon made it big. He was a celebrity, a hit, a showstopper. Traders or spice merchants (1 Ki 10:15), governors of the land (1 Ki 10:15), apes and peacocks (1 Ki 10:22) made its debut in Scriptures and made their way into Israel for the first time. The king lived a life of influence, affluence and opulence. Solomon made a great throne of ivory for himself (1 Ki 10:18), and twelve lions were on the six steps leading to the throne. All King Solomon’s goblets were gold, and all the household articles in the palace were pure gold. Nothing was made of silver (1 Kings 10:20-21). (Victor Yap, Riverside CMA, California).
A Jewish story tells of Alexander the Great’s presence before the gates of paradise on his journey home after he had conquered the whole world. Seeing that the gates would not open for him, he asked for a token to prove that he was there. All he got was a human eye. Reaching home, he called all his wise men together. “O King,” replied the wise men, “place the eye in the scales and weigh it.” “What for?” asked Alexander. “I can tell you before hand that it weighs but little.” “Do it just the same!” the wise men urged. “In the other half of the scales place a gold piece. Then we will find out which is heavier.” Alexander did as they asked. To his surprise he found that the eye was heavier than the gold piece. He threw into the scales another gold coin – still the eye was heavier. He then threw a whole handful of coins and ordered that all his gold and silver and jewels be thrown in. Still the eye outweighed the treasure. “Even were you to take all your chariots and horses and palaces and place them in the scales, the eye will be heavier.” said the wise men. “How do you explain this?” asked the king. “How is such a thing possible?” “Learn a lesson from all this, O king,” said the wise men. “Know that the human eye is never satisfied with what it sees. No matter how much treasure you will show it, it will want more and still more.” “Your explanation doesn’t satisfy me. Give me proof,” insisted Alexander. “Very well,” agreed the wise men. “Have all your gold and treasure removed from the scales. Then place a pinch of dust in their place and observe what happens.” Barely had Alexander placed a little dust in the scales when they tipped to the other end, for the dust proved heavier than the eye. “Now I understand the meaning of your words and of what was in your minds!” cried Alexander. “So long as man is alive, his eye is never sated, but no sooner does he die when he is as dust! Then his eye loses its impulse and becomes powerless. It can no longer desire.” (Victor Yap, Riverside CMA, California) What can we do to guard against the slide into sin in spite of appearances? We need to be aware and observant that there are symptoms that we must recognize to keep ourselves from plunging downward.
Every year in Alaska, a 1000-mile dogsled race, a run for prize money and prestige, commemorates an original “race” run to save lives. Back in January of 1926, six-year-old Richard Stanley showed symptoms of diphtheria, signaling the possibility of an outbreak in the small town of Nome. When the boy passed away a day later, Dr. Curtis Welch began immunizing children and adults with an experimental but effective anti-diphtheria serum. But it wasn’t long before Dr. Welch’s supply ran out, and the nearest serum was in Nenana, Alaska–1000 miles of frozen wilderness away. Amazingly, a group of trappers and prospectors volunteered to cover the distance with their dog teams Operating in relays from trading post to trapping station and beyond, one sled started out from Nome while another, carrying the serum, started from Nenana. Oblivious to frostbite, fatigue, and exhaustion, the teamsters mushed relentlessly until, after 144 hours in minus 50-degree winds, the serum was delivered to Nome. As a result, only one other life was lost to the potential epidemic. Their sacrifice had given an entire town the gift of life.The people were saved by the sacrifice of others, but equally by the ability of one man to see the symptoms and interpret them in the lives of his villagers before they were lost!