Standing in Truth: “The Firm Stance” – 1 John 5

Immediately after teaching last Sunday night, I left for Orlando, and flew in the early hours of Monday morning to Washington, DC and then on to Columbus, Ohio. The meetings I planned to attend were about a half an hour away from the airport, so I needed to rent a car and drive north to the hotel where I was staying for two nights. I rented a full sized car this year, because last year the little compact I had was all over the icy and snowy roadways. I had very little control. This year, with a full sized automobile that was heavier, I felt somewhat safer, but driving on snow and ice is never fun! The problem with sliding down an icy road is you don’t have any real control – and that can be dangerous. It isn’t only the lack of traction that is troublesome, it is the fact that many other people have no traction, but drive like they don’t know they have little control.

As it is in driving, so it is in life. Many people are moving through life and seem to think they have more control than they truly do. They slide through life without making much real controlled contact. They live “fast and loose” with little saving, and even less care for maintenance of the things they own. They don’t seem to notice they aren’t in control of their appetites, much less their outcomes. The problem with sliding through life is that we cannot give God control of a life that is held by the forces of others. We may theologically agree that we must yield our lives to Jesus, but we can only surrender to Him what is in our grasp in the first place!

Did you ever go ice skating? I went years ago, because someone told me it would be a romantic thing to do on a date. Here is what I can tell you: It wasn’t romantic the way I did it! If you only skated occasionally or weren’t particularly good at it, you will know exactly what I mean when I say that two uncontrolled novices on the ice holding hands will only end up as larger “ice sweepers.” Each person straps on their skates and moves out across the ice wobbling and gesticulating wildly with no real control. When they hold hands, neither has much control, but they feel more at ease with someone else helping them to remain upright. Inevitably one falls and pulls the other down with them. There is nothing romantic about lying on cold, hard ice.

Here is my point: for a believer, surrender to Jesus is our call. Sadly, by the time many hear that truth, they have largely lost control of life, and find it difficult to give God what is His in their life. For some, they have surrendered so much of their physical ability by poor life habits, they cannot be as fully used in surrender of their body. For others, they have so ingrained a lack of emotional control and burst out in anger, etc. they can scarcely surrender their heart while allowing their emotions to run wild. The Apostle John wrote to the early church an essential truth that we must learn, and after a time of following Jesus, we must live. He wrote 1 John 5 to say, in essence, two things…

Key Principle: Jesus wants two things from us – true love and firm trust.

The principle tips off the fact that the last chapter of this letter can be easily broken into two parts:

• The first part we can entitle: “Five ways we show true love in following the Savior” found in the first twelve verses of the chapter (5:1-12).

• The second part we may call: “Seven ways we show firm trust” and they are found in the balance of the verses (5:13-21).

Fortunately, we have a practical guide on “how to” love and take a firm stance, rather than just a command to do so. I frustrate when I am instructed to do something but I don’t know how to accomplish it. Take a moment and look at the first half of the chapter for the way a believer shows love to his Master and Savior…

Five Ways We Show True Love

First, John shared that we truly love God when we show real love to God’s Son. He wrote:

1 John 5:1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.

In short, any parent can explain it this way: If you want to show you love me, show love to my children.

Some of you know that our family has struggled for three years now with the diagnosis and treatment of our youngest daughter of an illness that has ravaged her immune system. The pharmaceutical products that helped to keep the symptoms at bay are toxic, and are causing great troubles for my daughter as she tries to gain control of something that seems bigger than she is. Along the way, she and her husband moved into a little house in town to raise our first grandson, Malachi. As we were preparing the home for their little family, Tom came to my aid and designed and built a screen room on the side of their home. It was one of the profound times my family felt truly loved here, as Tom suffered in the hot summer sun to build something purely out of care for Sara and her family. I will never forget it. I will never be able to repay it. I saw his love for my family, and his care for me as his pastor and friend. Honestly, if you want to show love to me, show it to my children and grandchildren. I know you all understand because I know so many of you!

According to John, the impulse I felt was like one God Himself feels toward those who acknowledge His Son. Look at the words of verse one. John insisted that a believer trusts that Jesus was Messiah (the Greek form of that word is “Christ”) and that His birth was directly from God. The Gospel according to Luke could not be more deliberate about the means of conception of the child in Mary’s womb – God entered her and placed the baby inside her. This was not a human act; it was a Divine move, unique to Jesus.

In addition to acknowledging that Jesus truly WAS the child of the Father in Heaven (and not of some Roman soldier or cheap Nazareth affair), John made the point that loving the Heavenly Father can be directly measured by love for His Son. God showed His love in sending His Son. A believer shows His love in submitting to Jesus AS His Son. There is no option that allows one to claim they love God and follow Jesus, but do not believe that Jesus was uniquely placed in the womb by their Father in Heaven. Modern attempts to distance from the “Virgin Birth” of Jesus are, according to 1 John 5:1, swipes at loving the Father.

In 2010, Albert Mohler wrote an article “Must We Believe the Virgin Birth?” in response to an article in The New York Times by Nicholas Kristof. Mohler wrote:

In one of his columns for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof once pointed to belief in the Virgin Birth as evidence that conservative Christians are “less intellectual.” Are we saddled with an untenable doctrine? Is belief in the Virgin Birth really necessary? Kristof is absolutely aghast that so many Americans believe in the Virgin Birth. “The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time,” he explains, and the percentage of Americans who believe in the Virgin Birth “actually rose five points in the latest poll.” Yikes! Is this evidence of secular backsliding?

In another article from 2015, this one from World Net Daily, author Bob Unruh mused about the reports of a “problem” with the doctrine of the Virgin Birth belief. He wrote:

More people might come to church if Christians would drop “fairy tale” tidbits like the Nativity story. That’s the belief of a minister in Cairns Church in Milngavie, Scotland. … Rev. Andrew Frater wants Christians to “move on from the ‘fanciful, fairy tale’ Nativity story and ‘disentangle the truth from the tinsel.’” The report said Frater believes telling the traditional story of the birth of Jesus “had the effect of keeping people with doubts about their faith away from the church, as the Nativity was too easily dismissed.” He wrote in the newspaper: “This year I’m promising myself to be more theologically honest. No more going home with fanciful, fairy tale assumptions destined to make Good News seem incredible.” He said Christians should “look for the symbolism in the Nativity.” Focus on “missiles and housing and unemployment instead,” he advised. “The virgin birth,” he said, “leaves people hung up…Too much serious stuff is going on in the world for folk in my position to even risk the possibility of sounding remote, irrelevant or both,” he said. “For me, it’s time to travel beyond the literalists’ landscape; time to acknowledge that Luke and Matthew were not newspaper reporters. Although facts were for them significant, they were also secondary.”

What is amazing is how little regard doubting preachers have given the words of 1 John 5:1. John argued that loving God was seen by accepting that God sent Jesus in a miraculous way. Jesus was BORN OF GOD, not in a “birth is always such a miracle” sense, but in a unique way, signifying acceptance and thereby love of the Father.

A second way we properly show love as God’s children is we follow God’s rules. John continued:

1 John 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.

Loving God’s Son isn’t the only way we show we love to God Himself. In fact, one way to show we love God is to show true love to His children. How do we do that? Are we to offer gifts to each child of God we meet? In a way, “Yes” is the answer to that question. John remarked that when we walk in obedience to God’s Word, we HELP other believers. That sounds strange at first, but if you think about it – it really isn’t.

Some that hear this lesson served in the military. Sadly, some of them served in trenches on active battle fronts. If you talk to soldiers in those places, they will tell you that when it is really tough, when things get desperate, they are not fighting for their country, for their family or for lofty ideals of democracy – they are fighting for their brothers in the hole next to them. Christians should consider this mentality carefully. Instead of obeying God’s Word to advance our reputation of obedience, or even to show ourselves steadfast – part of the reason we do it is for the other believers around us. Let me say it this way: When you walk with God in obedience, you become a reliable brother in the foxhole. We can count on you, and don’t have to worry about you properly reflecting the values and training of a believer. Never give the grenades to the novice in the foxhole if you want to have a band of surviving brothers!

A third way we show that we gratefully love God is when walk with an understanding that in light of what He has given us, He doesn’t ask too much of us. Note verse three:

1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.

Focus on the last part of that verse for a moment. John wrote: “His commandments are not burdensome.” Do you agree with that statement? Does God ask too much when He asks me to willingly give my life choices to Him? Shouldn’t I get to pick my college, occupation, mate, local church, mission in life and main hobbies? Why wouldn’t God think that is “asking a bit much” when He demands I surrender all to Him?

Part of the answer can be found in understanding what God did for us. God gave His Son to be born, mishandled and brutally murdered in horrid fashion – that we might understand His love. Jesus gave His life to the mission of redemption, and gave His body to brutal and vulgar men to crush. The cost of our salvation was great if we take into account the sufferings of Messiah for us. At the same time, those same costs are more than one thousand times greater when we consider WHO JESUS IS, as the One Who gave Himself. Colossians 1 argued that Jesus is the Creator, the unifying glue and the ultimately Holder of all things – and yet HE DIED for us! It isn’t just about what Jesus did – it is equally about Who Jesus is!

If you were swept into a dangerous current, and I pulled my body out onto a limb and reached down into the water to grab your hand and you were saved – you would probably be grateful. If I dove in to rescue you, imperiling myself and saved you – you would probably be honored. If my son jumped into the water and grabbed you to save you – but lost his own life – you would be deeply indebted. If my son were the prince of the whole realm and he gave his life for you – you would be humbled, and no doubt become a model servant of the King. Jesus died for you – but He is the King above all Kings, and the very agent of Creation.

Because God did so much for you at such a high cost to Himself, are His commands to follow Him burdensome? Because He has designed human history and given you a role to play in the “story of God” is your part too hard?

Let me ask you candidly: Based on all that Jesus did for you, are you living like what He is asking of you has become simply too much to expect?

There is a fourth way to faithfully love God. We must steadfastly follow what He has proclaimed and unapologetically take our stand in a lost world.

We live in a lost world that is not at peace with God. When we follow God, there will be a struggle, simply because we are not in step with the world when we follow Christ. John reminded:

1 John 5:4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

Can you see it? The terms of our faith are terms of conflict with the world that eventually overcomes them. Evil doesn’t win. Godlessness won’t prevail. When you came to Christ you came to the side of a conflict which will end in the victory of the Creator. John continued:

1 John 5:5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood.

John made the argument that belief in Jesus as God’s Son meant believing He came in the flesh, and died after physical suffering. He entered in water and left in blood. He wasn’t a moral story – He was a physical Savior. We stopped mid-verse. Let’s continue in verse six:

1 John 5:6b …It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this: He has testified concerning His Son.

The Spirit of God through the Word of God and the testimony of the people of God has made clear that we do not follow after cleverly devised myths – but we proclaim the truth. Jesus came in the flesh. Jesus came as the Eternal Son of the Living God. Jesus was God in human skin, the Word made flesh. He was the expressed image of His Father, one with Him. The church must proclaim that truth. Skeptics will scoff at the notion – and that should have no bearing on whether we cling to the message.

Dear ones, our message is not our own. We are not to make it more palatable. We do not act as PR spokesmen for God. He isn’t running for office. Our job is to proclaim with clarity the truths He shared in His Word. It is not to make the world believe – it is to lovingly, graciously but pointedly tell the truth as He shared it. We love Him when we stop worrying about His popularity and pay more attention to our clarity.

A fifth way to honestly love God is to take Him seriously in our own hearts. We must not simply defend His Word before the world, but must take to heart all that He has commanded us to do and become in His Word.

Our walk with God cannot and must not be a show. It is to be personal, real and deep. John wrote:

1 John 5:10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made [designated] Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this – that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

We have a simple message: Know Christ and find life. The converse truth is a devastating one: Reject Christ and you will face permanent exile from God in death. That is what the Bible teaches. That is what we hold dear in our hearts. That is what defines the family of God for us.

In the end, loving God is about being faithful to Him in our hearts, representing Him faithfully with our mouths, and showing His goodness with our hands. Jesus wants people who choose to love Him, and thereby show love to His Father.

Seven Ways We Show Firm Trust

That isn’t all Jesus wants. The rest of the passage made plain He has a second desire for those who follow Him. We are to trust Him because He has revealed the truth – as only He can. Firm trust sounds like the bullet points of belief! Here are seven statements we can know that ground us firmly.

First John said we know that following Jesus has given us the promise of eternal life. He wrote:

1 John 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Consider the fact that John was writing during times of sweeping persecution, when standing for Christ may have meant hanging by the neck or bowing before the axe of execution. Do you see why “eternal life” was an essential thing to consider in the face of trouble?

Pastor Don Baggett wrote a few years ago:

My little grandson is just beginning to walk. For a little while, we would see him standing in the floor all by himself, but then when he realized that he was standing alone, he would just sit down. He could’ve most likely walked at that time, but he lacked confidence. Now, we expect him to quickly gain confidence, and when he does, his crawling days will be history. He will not keep crawling, because walking is a lot better than crawling. … We want to see him properly maturing at every age level, because we believe, as he does that, his life will be more fulfilling. We want him to have confidence in his abilities, so that he can get the most out of them. I want you to consider how important it is for you, as a Christian, to have confidence before the Lord. It is only as we have confidence, that we will take bold steps of faith. It is only through our confidence in the promise of His word, that we will be able to display confidence before Him, as we live out our life. I think it is safe to say that a Christian who lacks this confidence has not understood who Christ is in him and who he is in Christ.

Secondly, John said we know our Savior listens to us right now when we call to Him. It is a wonderful truth (especially when trouble strikes!) He said it this way:

1 John 5:14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

John made clear: Jesus listens to us. He loves to hear our voice. We don’t pray repetitions of rote to earless stone. We serve a Savior Who has bent to hear our heart’s cry.

Third, John told us we know life here is a battle, but we can ask Him to empower us to help others in the family.

1 John 5:16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

We need to remember that we were not promised a life without struggle. In our family we will encounter those who are failing to heed God’s warnings. Some will get sick and experience pain. We can offer advice; but we can do much more. We can intercede for them and pray. When we do, we have confidence that God can act through us for them.

Fourth, John reminded us that we know those who follow God follow what He said, and that makes us able to remain strong before a lost world. John wrote:

1 John 5:18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.

Don’t get lost in this verse. Remember how John defined “sin” in this letter? When we studied a few lessons ago, we encountered 1 John 3:4:

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.

He defined the term “sin” as he was using it in his argument. The term is powerfully loaded and has many dimensions in the Bible, but John is focused on one: how those who don’t know God make decisions. His claim is this: One who does not know Jesus can be identified best by one character trait – They make up their own rules. They cobble together morality and ethics, not based on the dictates of the Creator, but made up “on the fly.” What is wrong today may be right tomorrow and required the next day. They don’t have a fixed moral compass. They live a life of the disconnected orphan – and they are all around us.

They don’t wake up in the morning set to do evil. They aren’t all really bad and sinister workers of mayhem. The issue is simple: they don’t know God, and they don’t invest in doing what God says. They don’t understand life in the family, and the willingness of those of us who are part of God’s family to do what the Father tells us to do. What excites us and settles us looks like slavery to them. The problem is, they want the benefits of what we have. They want peace. They crave stability. John continued…

1 John 3:5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.

John backed up to make the observation that Jesus came to pull His followers out of a life of making up their own rules. He is the standard. As the Word incarnate, He fleshed out all that God wanted in a man. He offered us an example and an escape hatch from living apart from God. It is only the one who leaves the path plowed by the world, and begins to follow the sinless Savior who will find the patterns that please God. John added:

1 John 3:6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.

He isn’t claiming that people who follow Jesus live with righteous perfection. His point is that one who walks daily and intimately with Jesus doesn’t make up his own rules of what is right or moral, but rather follows a path that pleases God by abiding (or intentionally inviting moment by moment close life participation) in Jesus. The one who claims to follow Jesus but has no care for the way Jesus taught us to live is not an authentic follower, regardless of their claim.

Fifth, we know we don’t belong here. The world is still dominated by the wicked one until the end comes. He wrote:

1 John 5:19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

The lost state of the world is no indicator of the power of God. This is His story, and evil will reign until He says it is done.

Sixth, we know that life here is fleeting, and Jesus has opened the door to a life that doesn’t end. He wrote:

1 John 5:20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

We are instructed to be content and confident in Jesus through His promises as the Scripture revealed them.

• You may recall in Philippians 4:11 where the Apostle Paul remarked he learned to be content “in whatever circumstance” he found himself. He learned this, the verse clearly says. Therefore, contentment is a lesson to be learned. We can learn to experience what David did when he wrote: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Contentment is learned when we are more concerned with God’s glory than our wants. Can we really feed our senses all week and our Savior on Sunday? No! We will not be content if we try.

• Paul also wrote to a younger servant of Jesus in 1 Timothy 6:6 these words: “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” By this we can discern that contentment is an incredible asset in life.

• Paul went on to describe in 1 Timothy 6:8 says, “Having food and clothing, we shall be content.” With those words, Paul made clear that contentment is a choice we make.

• In order to assist us in that choice, Peter reminded us in 2 Peter 1:4: God “has given us exceedingly great and precious promises.” Perhaps focus on these is the great ticket to finding true contentment, and living out true confidence. We must take hold of the promises He has given us to gain confidence, and in that we will learn contentment.

Our confidence about life is directly linked to our unmoved trust in the word of God. When we become supremely confident that God will, in fact, meet all our needs “according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19) we will learn to be content. Jesus has conquered death and promised we will as well. He has promised life, relationship, joy and peace. We can have them when we take Him seriously.

Finally, we know that we can easily forget what we know and live ruled by our desires.

Idolatry is living in a state where we choose to derive our chief joy in someone or something other than the God Who has made all the promises that keep us firm in following Him. John warned as he closed:

1 John 5:21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

Honestly, idols sneak into your heart. You start by interest in something, and you find yourself trusting them more than you trust God. St. Augustine was remembered as saying:

Idolatry is worshiping anything that ought to be used, or using the One that ought to be worshiped.” (Note: We can’t be certain the saying was his, but it has been attributed widely to him).

Author Dan Allender wrote the book The Wounded Heart and offered this definition:

Idolatry is placing our longings for what only god can provide in the hands of a creature instead of the Creator. When I live for my work or my wife, I have made them my false god.”

It seems that people install a ‘god’ in their own minds that meets the needs they self-define. They prostrate themselves to worship that god, but in reality, they worship themselves – their senses, their wants.

John’s closing instruction to those who read his Epistle was this: Stay on guard from placing yourself at the mercy of your wants and desires. That isn’t what Jesus wants for us or from us…

Jesus wants two things from us – true love and firm trust.

Not long ago, a sad item ran in a newspapers picked up from the sub-Asian region and broadcast by the wire services around the world. Apparently a man spotted that his dwelling was on fire. He saw that his family had made it to the street safely, but he wasn’t content to stand and watch as the village tried to put out the fire. He ran back into his burning dwelling to get both his valuables and an ivory idol trusted by his family for generations. It was the headline that stuck in my mind: “Man dies trying to save his god from fire.”

Stop and consider something for a moment… If The Jerusalem Post had posted a report two millennia ago, it could easily have read: “God dies to save man from fire.” That wouldn’t have been a story; it would have been a report. It is what He did… and He did it for US. He gave Himself for us.

The Search is Over: “The Fool on the Hill” – Ecclesiastes 9:13-10:20

One day in 1967, Paul McCartney sat down at his dad’s piano at the family home in Liverpool, England and began playing variations on a D 6th chord. He played for about five minutes, back and forth, with no particular direction when he noticed a series of notes that seemed pleasing to him, and he repeated them a few times. As he thought about the repetition, his mind floated to a picture of an eastern mystic that he heard interviewed on TV some days before. The man seemed detached from the world around him, but he was perfectly fine with the world thinking his life was a disconnected waste. “The Fool on The Hill” became Paul McCartney’s major contribution to the Magical Mystery Tour, and it was written sitting at that piano. Later, McCartney played the tune and sang some of his impromptu wording for John Lennon. When Lennon told him to write the words down, McCartney shrugged and said, “I will remember them.” He opened the song with:

Day after day, alone on the hill, the man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still. But nobody wants to know him, they can see that he’s just a fool. And he never gives an answer… But the fool on the hill sees the sun going down and the eyes in his head see the world spinning around…”

Was the mystic smart and ridiculed or dumb and disconnected? In the song, it is hard to tell. He may be wise but unwilling to communicate to those around him. A close look at the words of the song are bound to leave you unsure of what the songwriter’s intent.

Yet the picture lingers. Sadly, when we look about in the world, we see people who seem unaware of how foolish they appear to others. Becoming wise isn’t a simple matter for many of us. In fact, if there are two places we can easily stumble when it comes to wise living, they are where we receive counsel and how we develop proper patterns in life. Think about it…

First, we need to learn to accept counsel exclusively from reliable sources.

Much of “growing up” is learning who we can believe in! All of us have believed some report from the web that wasn’t factually true. If we did the really embarrassing thing, we passed it to others. The recent surge of issues regarding “fake news” demonstrates the most recent version of a constant battle between truth and rumor, slander and scoop. It is amazing to watch how many people will make decisions about crucial things based on an article they read or a report from social media – only to discover the whole thing is at least speculation and at worst downright fabrication.

For instance, have you noticed how many so-called “health products” have a low-toned voice disclaimer about how there is no actual representation to “make your health better” when that was the subject of the whole advertisement? I am amazed when they present a forty-five second commercial of how their product will surely make your life better and solve your health issue, and then have a fast speaking and low-toned voice tell you at the end of the ad that what you saw doesn’t actually represent any verified claim that the product can really help you at all!

Does following a claim by “shady sources” make you look foolish? It certainly can. Consider this story:

The New York Daily news reported on December 5, 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch, a 28-year-old man from North Carolina was arrested after he opened fire inside “Comet Ping Pong” in Washington D.C. The pizza restaurant was named in a “Reddit post” as the secret location of a child sex ring, run by then-candidate Hillary Clinton. After his arrest, Welch told police he decided to “self-investigate” whether the so-called “Pizza Gate” conspiracy theory was true — that Clinton and her campaign chief were operating the ring in the restaurant’s back room. He took a rifle and went to DC to check it out.

Getting information from unreliable and unconfirmed sources can be both embarrassing and dangerous.

In addition to this, there is another practice that separates the wise and the one who lacks wisdom…

Second, we must develop habits that work out successfully in the world.

It isn’t your imagination. Some people just can’t seem to “land on their feet” in life. They exert some effort to be successful, but they seem to keep failing, year after year. If you ask them, they aren’t really sure why, but they know something is wrong that is holding them back from becoming all they were meant to be. You see it in the worker that doesn’t seem to advance in the job. You detect it in the person who can’t seem to land the job in the first place. You see it in the person who seems constantly stirred but their expended energy doesn’t help them progress. Some will tell you honestly they don’t know what line they missed, but they feel they didn’t get some piece of instruction other people did. They aren’t trying to be wrong, but they need wisdom to identify their weaknesses and spot paths to successful living.

Solomon had much to say about wisdom, and nearly as much to say about foolishness. From the middle of the ninth and through the tenth chapter of Ecclesiastes, the wise king reminded us of the two skills developed by the wise…

Key Principle: Wise people learn two essential skills: how to discern good sources and how to develop successful habits.

Solomon opened with a view of “how to find proper sources for the truth” in 9:13-10:7.

Discerning Good Sources: Cautions about seeking counsel!

It is obvious to all of us that sometimes we need help finding direction. Since wrong counsel can lead to devastating consequences, Solomon offered some tips to keep in mind when seeking wise counsel. If Orson Wells radio experiment in “War of the Worlds” taught us anything long ago, it made clear that where we get our perceptions and our news can impact dramatically how we respond to life. Solomon opened with some words that may surprise some of you…

First, wisdom doesn’t always come from the place you would think to look for it.

For some reason, our prejudice has much to say about who we listen to – even when they don’t demonstrate a pattern of wisdom. He warned:

Ecclesiastes 9:13 Also this I came to see as wisdom under the sun, and it impressed me. 14 There was a small city with few men in it and a great king came to it, surrounded it and constructed large siege works against it. 15 But there was found in it a poor wise man and he delivered the city by his wisdom.

The scene was a small walled town surrounded by a large and well-resourced army. As the siege ramps were being constructed outside the wall to make holes and breaches in it, a small group of men gathered inside to weigh their options. The words of a poor man who was wise made sense to the leaders of the village, and they executed a plan based on his theory of negotiation. They were pleasantly surprised when the plan succeeded and peace came to the city. The point of the portion was to remind a student that people think they know who will offer the truth that delivers – but these men got it wrong. The poor man was wiser than the town councilmen. We must grow to understand that some attained success without any real knowledge of how it happened. They don’t have a formula – they simply were in the right place at the right time. When pressured to offer direction to you, they may be unable to do so. Just because someone has had success, does not mean they can instruct you on how to have success – apart from instructing you to follow God’s Word.

Second, when wise counsel comes from an unlikely place, it often isn’t always valued as it should be.

Solomon continued his words concerning the poor wise man with a sad note:

Ecclesiastes 9:15b “…Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the wisdom of the poor man is despised and his words are not heeded.

He may not look the part, but your dad may be a very wise man. Your mom might know what you really need to hear right now. They may have never been in leadership of a Fortune 500 company, but they very well may have pulled a family through a tough time and paid every debt created along the way. Just because the world doesn’t see them as particularly wise and recall their mammoth struggle to put food on the table and pay for your braces in Jr. High, doesn’t mean they aren’t champions at budgeting. Don’t forget the people who got you to where you are. Don’t overlook the sacrifices because your familiarity bred a heart of contempt for them. Look carefully at what people have done in their lives with what they have been given. If they had little but stretched it to cover the needs, they are perhaps wiser than the one who had much and struggled little. If they managed much, they probably can help you get organized.

Let’s face it: Our world places great value on people who can throw a ball and little value on a child care worker who holds a baby. We will pay enormous sums of money for those who can catch a pass, but are quite stingy when it comes to one who will care for our loved one in their last days, when they need constant help. My point: the value system of the world doesn’t reflect what is truly important. A wise men or woman learns to look carefully and remember those who have cared for you, taught you and helped you along the way. Don’t look past those who the world may not recognize, and again, don’t forget who helped you become the person you are.

Third, we must learn to listen carefully for wise counsel over the most pronounced voices.

Solomon discovered the loudest mouths were often attached to the smallest minds. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 9:17 The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.

There is a difference to being “in charge” of the room and being right in our opinion. Having authority placed upon us should humble us, not make us think we are automatically smarter than everyone else in the room. Just as I recognize Scripture teaches believers to respect authority, I must also recognize those of us who are in the position need to become wise enough to quiet down and listen to the other people. A shouting “ruler” (as Solomon put it) isn’t right because they are louder than all the other voices in the room.

A wise word leads us to act on truth. It must be heeded because of what it is – not because of the package in which it is presented. Many in our world are distracted and follow the flash and tinsel, but not the truth. Look past the package. Develop and ear to hear truth and wisdom whether it is presented well or not.

Fourth, never forget wrong counsel can do untold damage – and it doesn’t take much.

Wrong answers matter. Wrong directions can bring perilous consequences. The king wrote:

Ecclesiastes 9:18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. 10:1 Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor.

These sayings reinforce the “one bad apple will spoil the whole bunch” idea. In 9:18, Solomon made clear that wise living offered grand protections, but needed to be embraced for all to bring safety to a community. Think about it. One unwise fire builder in the forest imperils all the other campers. Time and again, Solomon will remind us that a community is only as strong as the least wise among it. Building the Great Wall of China would only keep out the Mongols until one gate keeper was bribed. All the effort of the Kingdom to protect itself from invasion was undermined by a single traitor. The saying isn’t to leave us in despair; it is a warning. We must educate and train those among us who are weak and underdeveloped in wisdom. Our young are idealistic, but often don’t have the experience to understand how a policy that clearly offers them help in the short run may not be best for the society in the long run. Parts of our nation have been deeply wounded by the behaviors of some students, and it appears they haven’t been offered wisdom to connect their ideals with practices that will build a strong society. It isn’t their fault as much as it is ours. We must raise them up in wisdom.

Not only can one bad soldier cause the downfall of the squad in the field of conflict, but a little foolishness mixed into otherwise wise planning can spoil results. You need to lock the back door as well as the front. That was the point of the first verse of chapter ten. It doesn’t take much poison to ruin the whole pot of stew. Wise is the society that watches what is put in the pot as its young are trained. We aren’t trying to be uncooperative, but we cannot and must not allow an agenda of social experimentation to infect the education of our young. It has devastating consequences. Let me offer an illustration if I may.

Children mimic what they see at home, both on media and in the behaviors of those in charge. If there is no respect for authority developed in the home, but rights are constantly echoed, the child will have little regard for those in whom enforcement of the law has been placed. They will learn little in regard to personal property. They will see the values of peaceful protest and turn them into a destructive riot – while actually believing they are both exercising their rights and helping their community. They will harm others and destroy property while believing they are being heroic and helpful. Respect must be taught. Boundaries are a learned idea. When someone feels they have the right to destroy my automobile because they have encountered injustice by the local police, they are simply wrong. When that idea is allowed to fester, they will begin to believe violence is a practical tool. I have lived and worked with people who thought the violent bombing and destruction of a bus of school children was a legitimate form of protest. It is not. It is murder and mayhem – and we must teach that your rights stop at my nose. You don’t have the right to hurt people or property that is not yours to make a point no matter how valid your point may be. Children must be taught that sometimes how you argue erodes and even invalidates the point you are trying to make. That is wise instruction.

Fifth, recognize there will be choices and watch the path of the would-be counselor before taking their advice.

Solomon encouraged seeking mentors, but warned to watch them before accepting them in that role. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:2 A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left. 3 Even when the fool walks along the road, his sense is lacking and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool.

Verse two isn’t political; though in our current day it may seem like it can be obviously applied that way. In Solomon’s day, “left” and “right” weren’t code words for liberal and conservative. The point he made was simpler: Fools choose a path different than wisdom directs. Wise people are called to live differently than the accepted foolishness around them. Solomon noted that if one looks closely, they can spot the fool.

Look at verse three and ask this question: How did Solomon indicate I could tell a fool? The answer is this: Watch the path they walk upon, the direction they take, and the way they walk it. In other words, if you would receive counsel from them, look at the way they have lived. The longer I live, the more I see it. There are those who are wise and quiet. There are those who are foolish and loud. There are those who are ready to pass wisdom to me, but have no evidence their path of wisdom has been applied to their own walk – at least not for very long.

I want to take advice of health from someone who is healthy. I want to take my advice on work from one who has a long track record of working diligently. I want to take my counsel on marriage from someone who demonstrates they have a good one over the long haul. Degrees mean you have encountered information in a theoretical form for a specific duration of time. They don’t guarantee that I can apply truth any more than reading a recipe makes me a chef. Look for people who have lived in a way you seek life to go. Watch their walk before you accept their talk. That is wisdom at work.

Sixth, choose positions carefully and prepare to hold your ground thoughtfully when challenged.

Solomon wrote it this way:

Ecclesiastes 10:4 If the ruler’s temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses.

Don’t be defensive and loud, but rather confident because you chose your positions well. Don’t abandon your moral post because it makes the person in charge upset. Calmly stay by the values you have thoughtfully formed. The results of bringing a testimony of truth and solid values into a meeting will diminished rapidly if you abandon your positions when challenged. Learn truth. Accept it. Stand by it. When those who have power test your resolve, stand by what you know to be true with kindness and confidence.

Every now and then in a class I test this idea. I will ask a question, and a student will raise their hand and offer an excellent answer. From every angle, what they answered was correct. Yet, if my facial expression changes as though what they said is somehow painful, many will back off their answer to try to please me as their teacher. Solomon argued that we should so carefully form our positions in wisdom, that we are prepared to stand by them when they are tested.

Seventh, don’t be surprised to learn that titles don’t tell the whole story.

Live for a while on the planet, and what Solomon wrote next will become painfully obvious. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:5 There is an evil I have seen under the sun, like an error which goes forth from the ruler— 6 folly is set in many exalted places while rich men sit in humble places. 7 I have seen slaves riding on horses and princes walking like slaves on the land.

Solomon noticed two things: Not everyone who has the position is in the right place and not everyone who lacks position is undeserving of a great position. I have worked in many places, but I have noticed something that may be true where you work. Often in the office there is a boss who depends heavily on a worker. In that same office, many of the workers could leave and little would be affected by their absence. Yet, there is one person, often a low-ranking clerk of some sort who carries the office on their shoulders. They can find what no one else can. They know all the little idiosyncrasies of the machines and can make them all work when needed. They understand the computers, the printer and know where the relevant files are kept. They may not be in charge, but they effectively run the place. When they aren’t available to help everyone, the whole work place slows progress.

The point is that titles don’t tell the whole story. Many who work hard and keep things running aren’t the ones with the titles at all. They know the work, they do the work – but another is placed in charge of the work. In my own work, much of what is essential to getting things done is performed by others around me. I am responsible, and I am affirmed when it goes well, but I am often not in the room when the real labor occurred.

All seven ideas we just reviewed teach one idea: Wisdom must be learned, but we must carefully select the sources from which we accept that learning. That will help us bypass one of the two great pitfalls that lead to a wise life. There is a second. When I discover the proper places to source wisdom, I must learn to adapt my life to conform to what I learn. Solomon would say it this way: “You must develop wise habits”.

Developing Good Habits: Wise Words for Successful Workers!

The first habit Solomon mentioned has become the mantra of many shops and factories. It is this:

Safety first!

Ecclesiastes 10:8 He who digs a pit may fall into it, and a serpent may bite him who breaks through a wall. 9 He who quarries stones may be hurt by them, and he who splits logs may be endangered by them.

The fundamental habit we must teach to our young as they begin to drive / work/ play/ is this: pay attention to what you are doing. Distraction can kill you. Leave the text until you stop the drive. Learn to work cautiously and be careful to look at the dangers of the task. Youthful exuberance can easily lead one to believe that sheer power will overcome all obstacles. It won’t. Careful use of resources and power will keep you from harm.

The other night I at a friends and we watched a few minutes of one of the reality shows that place people in ridiculously harsh environments as they practically kill themselves to win a prize, or simply to prove to themselves they can survive no matter what apocalypse may come upon them. The young man was collecting fire wood, but had no tools to chop it to size. He decided to take a boulder and hurl it at the wood placed at an angle against a rock. If never occurred to the young man that hurling a rock in close proximity may not work. The rock may bounce back and hit you. The branch may break and part of it will spring upward toward you. He tossed the boulder with great force and got a face full of wood smacking him in the forehead. Fortunately, all he hurt was his head, but that didn’t seem to be working very well even before… so there was little loss. Not to sound cruel, but it is hard to underestimate how little some people think before they do something that will definitely leave a mark.

Second, prepare your tools!

Wise people work on the tools before they work on the job. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:10 If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success.

It always feels like if you don’t plunge in, you are wasting time. That isn’t true. Solomon would tell you to get the right tools and prepare them well for the work you are about to do. Probably referring to this text, some historians quip that Abraham Lincoln once put it this way: “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six of them sharpening my axe”! (From My Study Windows by James Russell Lowell (Professor of Belles-Lettres in Harvard College), Section: Abraham Lincoln: 1864, Page 166, James R. Osgood and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View).

It is a simple picture: a man who wants to chop down a tree reads in Ecclesiastes 9:10 to “Do it with all your might!” As a result, he grabs his axe, finds a tree and begins to hack and wack away. Preparation would have saved his arms and increased his efforts. Ecclesiastes warns against taking simple wisdom of a Proverb and thinking in a superficial way while failing to see how complex and difficult life can be. The Bible isn’t a single verse, but many blended, some that balance others. This is such a verse.

I read one day that painting professionals realize the importance of surface preparation in achieving maximum paint performance. Most paint coating failures can be directly attributed to inadequate surface preparation which affects coating adhesion. When you want to get the paint flowing, the most important thing is to keep the can closed and prepare the surface.

When I was in school, back in the dark ages just after the wheel was invented, I had to take classes in both Greek and Hebrew. When I was doing that, I ended up thinking what MOST students think part way through the process. I thought I was wasting precious time. “How will this help me reach lost people?” I would ask myself. The answer comes from Solomon: “You are sharpening the axe. In the end this will save me time not waste it.” I will never rise to be great language scholar (although I continue to work on my English!) but gaining facility in the languages has enabled me to follow commentaries and make your own decisions about whether versions are right or wrong. The tree falls more easily because the axe was forcibly sharpened by my professors.

Remember this: Truth is never invented; it is only discovered. Discovery takes time. If God revealed it, chances are good that somebody else in the church history has seen it before. If you will take the time to work at preparation, learning and discovery – joy will come in the easier work.

Third…Practice, Practice, Practice!

Solomon told us what we heard in little league. You won’t hit the ball unless you practice. Unpracticed players embarrass themselves. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:11 If the serpent bites before being charmed, there is no profit for the charmer.

A snake charmer is only impressive when the snake follows the script. Practice of the craft helps avoid the embarrassment and loss that comes with the snake doing what is natural and not what is practiced. The Bible calls believers to DO, not just to KNOW.

Let’s be honest: We only truly believe the commands of the Bible that we actually practice. We can easily claim, “We believe in witnessing.” The obvious question is this: Do you intentionally share Christ with people? If not, I would submit you either don’t really believe in it, you don’t recognize the lost-ness of those without Christ, or you just don’t care all that much about other people and their plight. Our problem, when we look honestly at it, is often that we know far more than we do and we teach people to know more that we teach them to apply what they know in practice. Filling notebooks with Bible insights isn’t the objective. Thinking that writing things down is the point is a mistake. The truth is you don’t judge an army by how soldiers sit in the mess hall and eat. The real judgment is made based on how the army performs in battle against the foe.

Fourth, don’t speak or act like you know what you don’t!

Now Solomon offered another caution that should become our wise practice:

Ecclesiastes 10:12 Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him; 13 the beginning of his talking is folly and the end of it is wicked madness. 14 Yet the fool multiplies words. No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him?

He offered this thought: A few helpful words are better than long predictions and detailed guesses. Beloved, we need great thinkers who work through deep thinking – but not all of us are that deep.

Each generation needs its C. S. Lewises and J. R. R. Tolkiens, and G. K. Chestertons, its Blaise Pascals but they are rare among us and always were. Be careful not to try to sound like you are, if you are not. The wisest people I know are unafraid to admit what they don’t know. Know what you know, but know what you don’t. That is a good habit. When you hear these words: “Somebody will have to teach me about this, I just don’t know,” you are hearing wisdom.

Fifth, be careful with your resources.

Don’t waste what you have been given – you may need it. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:15 The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city. 16 Woe to you, O land, whose king is a lad and whose princes feast in the morning. 17 Blessed are you, O land, whose king is of nobility and whose princes eat at the appropriate time—for strength and not for drunkenness.

With time on the planet, the young grow old – and some grow wise. You can note wisdom when you see someone who learned to conserve their energy for doing something important. Immature people blow through resources without thinking ahead, always believing more resources will come. Solomon would say this: “Don’t!”

Sixth, plan time to maintain and manage things.

Gaining something is one thing; keeping it is another. Solomon noted:

Ecclesiastes 10:18 Through indolence the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks. 19 Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry, and money is the answer to everything.

Everything you own takes maintenance. Every relationship does as well. Preparation and maintenance may not be glitzy, but it keeps the roof from leaking on your dessert at the table! If you want to have a great life, take time to maintain what is important.

Seventh, watch your mouth about those in charge.

Solomon began with learning who to trust, and he ends with learning who NOT to trust. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:20 Furthermore, in your bedchamber do not curse a king, and in your sleeping rooms do not curse a rich man, for a bird of the heavens will carry the sound and the winged creature will make the matter known.

We get the saying: “A little birdie told me” from this verse. Respect isn’t a put up job – you need to cultivate it even when you think no one is listening. It will show eventually. Learn to respect those in authority. Don’t just put it on – do it as a matter of your own heart.

It is fine to disagree with those who lead us, but don’t confuse your opinion with real conviction. They are not the same thing. Opinions are things you argue about; convictions are things you are willing to die for. Our world needs men and women of godly, biblical convictions who refuse to waste their voice on matters of opinion. Throughout history, people who have had the greatest impact for God were not the most knowledgeable, nor the most talented, but rather those who stood unapologetically for conviction rooted squarely in the Word.

Wise people learn two essential skills: how to discern good sources and how to develop successful habits.

Mary Bartels wrote this years ago in Guideposts: Recently I was visiting a friend who has a greenhouse. As she showed me her flowers, we came to the most beautiful one of all, a golden chrysanthemum, bursting with blooms. But to my great surprise, it was growing in an old dented, rusty bucket. I thought to myself, If this were my plant, I’d put it in the loveliest container I had!” My friend changed my mind. “I ran short of pots,” she explained, “and knowing how beautiful this one would be, I thought it wouldn’t mind starting out in this old pail. It’s just for a little while, till I can put it out in the garden.”- Mary Bartels Bray, reprinted from Guideposts, June 1965.

I wonder if that is you. You were planted here in an old tin of a body, but your beauty is just beginning to show. Wisdom is living out God’s truth. If you do it well, the beauty of the Designer will show through!

The Search is Over: “The Incredible Journey” – Ecclesiastes 9:1-12

When I was a kid, Saturday mornings were for house chores. For the uninitiated, these are horrible punishments devised by mad men and women in the school of parenting, that were created to add misery to an idyllic childhood. My mother graduated from “Mom U” with a degree in “wake them up early on Saturday to dust something that didn’t look any different after it was dusted.” In spite of it all, somehow my siblings and I survived to tell the tale of such inhumane treatment…After chores, the remainder of the morning was normally given to the little “knob-type” television that was in the room with the couch we were allowed to sit on. There was another room with couches and chairs, and I am not certain what it was for, but we were only allowed there on Christmas when the tree was set up in that room. In the “TV room” we collapsed on the floor and couch and watched science fiction theater – a Philly area treat that was a combination of the weird and a dab of science sound. One implausible movie after another treated us to strange ideas. One I happen to remember was the 1966 film called “Fantastic Voyage,” a tale of a submarine crew who was tasked to shrink to microscopic size and venture into the body of an injured scientist to repair the damage to his brain.

It really was a fantasy for the biology nerds of my day! At one point, an arteriovenous fistula forced the crew to detour through the heart, and they were further forced to induce cardiac arrest to avoid turbulence that would crush their little vessel. They passed through the inner ear, where all personnel were ordered to remain absolutely silent to prevent massive waves of turbulence. The lungs were a highlight, where they had to replenish their supply of oxygen in the small ship. I recall a number of scenes from the movie, but don’t really remember the whole of the plot. I can say this: it was a journey to behold, even if it was the stuff of imagination.

Enough of make believe – we came to deal with real life. God left us a record of the wisest man ever to walk the earth, and he told us of a journey as well. This one wasn’t fiction, but it did unveil a fantastic voyage. It was the story of how life on this planet was designed to work, and what skills needed to be learned to navigate the troubles inherent in a fallen world.

In short, Solomon observed life, and as he observed intently some of the texture of it, life frankly scared him. He gazed and pondered the depths of some of the hardest to explain facets of our human experience, and it didn’t settle him. In fact, when he looked at how unpredictable life can be it was disconcerting. He contrasted that with how very predictable its end will be in death, and that didn’t exactly lift his spirits either. Finally, after careful and contemplative consideration, he came to the conclusion that many people on the planet are, well, just plain nut cases. Honestly, they are fruit cakes. He lost sleep over his observations. Then, as with many great minds disturbed by studying too intensely for too long a time – he decided to write down his observations. His work is intense at times, depressing at other times – and all true to life. He noted that in some ways, life is predetermined. In other ways, life is really what you make it. He would say it this way…

Key Principle: Though life is unpredictable and short, it can be incredible.

Solomon didn’t hate life all the time (though he admitted he did on occasion). He simply made a factual record that apart from understanding that we are created and have a purpose in our Creator – life doesn’t make sense. In fact, it isn’t even appealing to think about a cosmos disconnected. The remarkable thing is he wrote that before our modern curriculum developers who have sold American educators that very message. Make no mistake, Solomon said that life disconnected from God will drive people over the edge. Here are some of his telling observations in Ecclesiastes 9.

First, he saw that in the short run, we don’t know what we will face – and that is a problem. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 9:1 For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God. Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him.

He acknowledged that God is in control of our lives, but we cannot predict from day to day what we will experience. He is not cruel or erratic, but we live in a fallen world riddled with sin and its effects. Without our ability to see His complex plan in the midst of the world devastated by our rebellion against God, we will not be able to perceive how everything works, and it will always appear event are nothing more than “loose ends” while living under the sun.

Look even closer at his words.

He opened with words about emotional response. He said he “took to heart” the reality of life’s unpredictability. In a moment he will make clear how unpredictable life truly is, but in his opening line, he showed an honest assessment of how it feels. The truth is that life hurts. On the face of it, because we can’t see what is coming toward us, we cannot fully emotionally prepare for it. Life can and will hurt you, and you won’t know why at the time it happens. That isn’t happy news, but it is the truth.

Second, he noted along with the reality of pain the truth that being righteous or wise doesn’t offer us the ability to predict the difficulties and blessings we will face along the journey. Our education may inform us on the specifics concerning what we face once we are in it, but that learning will never really prepare us for the pain of the experience. No amount of wisdom offers you a crystal ball on your future.

Finally, he made plain one of the most powerful emotionally packed qualities of life – the reactions of others. Because we live in a fallen world, we are surrounded by people who are deeply flawed and damaged by the fall. Much of the pain we will face in life will be directly connected to how others deal with us. People may be loving and kind toward us, but may just as likely be hateful and troublesome. We may be at perfect peace with everyone we know, when someone enters our life that intends to do evil. We may do right, but that is no guarantee we will be repaid with a life filled with fair and reasonable people.

Ask health department workers who went to their annual Christmas party luncheon after a training session on December. 2, 2015, in San Bernardino. Sayed Farouk and his wife Malik came into the community research facility with weaponry and left behind 14 dead and 22 injured, some very severely. A few minutes before he left to get his bag of weapons, Farook posed with four fellow county employees in front of a Christmas tree in a conference room. The murderous couple left behind a 6-month-old daughter, who was taken into foster care, according to family members. “That’s very hard for us to comprehend.” said David Bowdich, who was the in charge of the FBI Los Angeles office.

Solomon understood the incomprehensibility of the reactions of people. Though he knew nothing of Christmas parties or high-powered rifles, he knew that nothing in life guaranteed that others would treat you fairly or evenly humanely. It isn’t a given that how you act will set the tone for how others treat you. A decent, hard-working, peace-loving young man of color may face hideous prejudice. A loving, kind and helpful janitor may be shot dead next to his bucket because of someone else’s incomprehensible world view. Because you do right, you are not somehow insulated from the actions of others who do not intend to be fair or just. That was Solomon’s observation.

Solomon summarized and restated the notion of unpredictability later in his speech using these words:

Ecclesiastes 9:11 I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all. Let’s face it, life here holds no guarantees except one – it is temporary.

Second, though we live with unpredictability in the short run, in the long run, we know what we will face – and that is an even bigger problem! He reminded:

Ecclesiastes 9:2 It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and for the unclean; for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice. As the good man is, so is the sinner; as the swearer is, so is the one who is afraid to swear. 3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men.

“In short,” Solomon argued, “Everyone faces death. It is our reality.” Scan the pages of the newspapers. On the front pages you may be challenged by how outrageous the behavior of some people became as they took on police and ended in the morgue. Flip back a few pages to the obituaries. You will find kind people who went to bed one night and left their body for eternity. The circumstances for the two were very different, but both people woke up the morning before their death for the last time. Death is the reality for most of us when it comes to exiting the scene on this planet. I don’t believe that is news to any of us – but we seem to manage to avoid living like we know that is the real situation we live with.

Look at the way Solomon faced it. He opened frankly and succinctly: “We all face the same thing.” He observed that it didn’t matter if we behaved or not, gave or not, religiously observed, or not, swore an oath, or not. Life on this planet normally ends at a funeral. There were only a few who bypassed it. Enoch appeared to get to God without facing all that others face. Elijah got a chariot ride to glory. Here’s the truth: You and I need to understand that we are very likely NOT going to get a chariot or beam up experience. We will likely face death. It will come to all of us, unless we are here at the return of Jesus for His own.

Solomon’s point was not that it doesn’t matter how you live. His observation was simple: the way you live doesn’t determine how you enter eternity – though it may reflect where you will spend that eternity. Though wicked and good, clean and unclean, observant before God and an ignorer of God all die – he didn’t argue that how they lived didn’t matter. He argued that how they lived didn’t insulate them from facing death. Death passed on all men. No one should assume their behavior grants them an exemption.

Later in the same speech, Solomon added to that truth and noted the best plans we can make will one day be interrupted. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 9:12 Moreover, man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them.

Not only is life unpredictable in its course, the timing of its end is often very unpredictable. No matter what your plans are for next year, it would be wise to bear in mind that you may not have a next year in which to accomplish your plans. I am not trying to depress you. The statement is simply true, regardless of how it makes you feel. Life offers no guarantees and death is seldom on someone’s schedule or jotted into their “Daytimer.”

In a way, Solomon began this lesson with the unpredictable course of life, and ended it with the predictable end of life – and both seemed like a terrible problem to him…

Third, Solomon observed the timeline between our birth and death. He noted (along with an unpredictable life course and its all too predictable but untimely end) the incredible stupidity and seeming insanity of many of earth’s residents. Solomon observed:

Ecclesiastes 9:3b “…Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.

Not only is life unpredictable and death certain, but Solomon made plain that people don’t make sense of how to navigate the journey very well. He used the term “evil” and “insane” to describe the way people live – and that was before they issued driver’s licenses to all the people in our neighborhood! Have you been amazed at the risks some people take to get from one place to another? Have you wondered how in the world they could think what they were doing was in any way “normal?”

Perhaps you think calling people insane is an impolite way to refer to them. I would ask you to “keep an open mind” on that point. On August 15, 2013, HuffPo reported this:

A pair of would-be Chicago restaurant robbers have proved not every crime has a “mastermind” behind it. Chicago police and prosecutors say Mario Garcia, 39, and Domingo Garcia-Hernandez, 28, went to the Clifton Grill in West Rogers Park late Sunday demanding food and telling the owner, “I will kill you, I have a gun with me,’’ the Tribune reports. Concerned for his customers’ safety, police say the owner told the men he was too busy but to come back in an hour — and they did. According to CBS Chicago when the men showed up a second time just after midnight, they demanded $100 in addition to food. The owner told the guys he needed to get his wife’s check book, which bought him enough time to call police. The men were charged with one count of attempted aggravated robbery each. Garcia-Hernandez is also charged with possession of a replica firearm, United Press International reports. According to police, the replica used: a squirt gun. The two men are due in court Aug. 19.”

Honestly, I have lived on the planet fifty-five years, and I am still taken by surprise when I read the news about how some people make decisions on how to spend an evening!

Everything we see in the passage leads us to the negative. Life is unpredictable. Death is certain. Our neighbors on the planet are lunatics. Wow. How in the world can we look at all this and not leave the lesson depressed? Fortunately, the ancient king didn’t just point out how bad a state we are in, he offered words of counsel on navigating the insanity through the rapids of unpredictability.

Stop for moment and listen to him – but hear ALL of what Solomon said. He wasn’t done at verse three. Life really isn’t as bad as all that. In fact, in many ways life is incredible. It can be beautiful. It is surely humorous.

If you aren’t laughing enough, it is because you aren’t looking at the whole scene or you are hanging out with the wrong crowd.

Life is unpredictable – but it is often hilarious! We face death – but we don’t have to make that the punctuation mark of every sentence along the journey! Listen to the positive counsel of the wise king:

First, learn to live optimistically. Hope carries us through the unpredictability of life.

Ecclesiastes 9:4 For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. 6 Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun.

Solomon shared something that growing up I thought my grandma made up : “Quit whining, there is still hope if you are breathing!” His method of sharing the truth was more philosophical. He said a dead king is worse off than a living pauper – and used the animal kingdom to show it. He simply made the point that we only contribute to the story until our time is done on earth – then our insights don’t matter (unless you are in the movies or an author).

I get the chance to both write and be on film. One of the beautiful things about writing is that long after you are here, your thoughts can live on. One of the ugly things about film is that you realize how much older you look now than when your series began! One of the key complaints the recently deceased Carrie Fisher made about playing Princess Leia was that people met her at fifty and sixty and were disappointed that she didn’t still look like she did when she was scantily clad in galactic wear at age 18. Film captures you at one moment and locks you there in the minds of others.

Don’t overlook the happy thought tucked into verse four. While we live, we need to see hope. People die faster on a battle field from hopelessness than they do from water or food deprivation.

• Hope is the new beginning for every ending.
• It is the belief that there is a remarkable and unwritten chapter of the journey yet to come.
• Hope waits for a new dawn and sees it as a new chance to take on troubles in a different way.
• Hope helps you focus on the opportunity inside the problem.

Solomon isn’t “pie in the sky” about life. He stated the obvious. You are still breathing. How about figuring out a way to make that a good thing? He went on…

Second, learn to live contentedly. Your Creator has planned some stunning moments in your journey.

He said it in simple words…

Ecclesiastes 9:7 Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.

Obviously Solomon is assuming you are doing what pleases God when he makes his reference in the text. The statement doesn’t apply if you are ignoring His Word and doing evil. At the same time, if you are doing what God told you to do, Solomon would tell you to do your best to have some FUN on the journey. That was his point when he added the words “with a cheerful heart.” Take what God has graciously provided for you and add some cheer to your day! Dreariness isn’t spiritual, in spite of the many examples you may have seen in life. Godliness isn’t glum. Spirituality isn’t suffering in silence.

The fact is that a contented life comes from being happy with what God has provided – not becoming complacent about a desire to better yourself. Contentment isn’t an excuse to lay back and quit work; it is not about that at all. It is more about finding joy in what you DO have, instead of living in a dream world of what you wish you had. Contentment is a state of your heart – it isn’t locked into circumstantial response.

Honestly, some of the poorest people I know have lots of money – but they don’t know how to enjoy their life. Solomon would say: “Never let the things you want blot out the celebration of the things you have!” Remember: It isn’t how much you have in life, who you know in life or where you are in your life, that will become the driving forces of happiness. What you believe about each of those things in your life drives your happiness. If you learn to see the beauty of what you have, you will enjoy life much more.

Third, learn to live each day like a celebration of life. Each sunrise offers new opportunities to learn something new and enjoy something more deeply.

Ecclesiastes 9:8 Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head.

This too can be misunderstood if you don’t know the context of Scripture. Solomon isn’t calling us to be hedonistic to enjoy life – it is hedonistic to make enjoyment the chief end of life. Look closely at the verse…

He referenced clean clothing and a clean appearance (a well-oiled head) to suggest that we take the time at the end of the work day to clean up and enjoy the cool of the evening. He who works all the time celebrates little. You will find the more you learn to celebrate the mundane and daily parts of life, the more life will offer you to celebrate.

I LOVE to open a coffee can for the first time, and let the vacuum seal release all the aroma of the beans. I get very excited to tear the seal on the top of a jar of peanut butter to release the wafting smell of the once crushed and imprisoned nuts. I love the smell of a campfire, when it doesn’t include the smell of burning sneakers. I am fascinated by the ocean – and can watch for hours the waves crashing against the rocks or onto the sandy shore. Who can resist a laughing baby?

I know these things seem small, but they are the daily joys of life. The same rain that causes the child to cry – because recess will be indoors – makes the farmer smile. Life is, more often than not, how you choose to view what happens. Solomon would tell you to go to work and give it all you have – then come home and clean up and get ready to take pleasure in the small things.

Fourth, learn to live in rich relationship. Invest in them early and keep them fresh for a lifetime.

If I am excited about any part of this lesson, it is this part. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 9:9 Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.

If you read the verse carefully, you will notice that Solomon didn’t down play how hard life is. He called your daily work “toil.” He called your life fleeting. He admitted that work took up much of your life’s blood and energy. Yet, against the backdrop of all that labor, he happily advised we find a good mate, and stick with him/her all our days.

I would be remiss if I didn’t use this time to be honest with you about marriage. There are seasons to life, and there are seasons to relationships. Those who don’t go the distance may never know the joy of making it through the tough times. Not every day is bliss, but the accumulated collection of life with a satisfying mate cannot be matched in life.

Let me take a moment to offer a few reasons to stick with it even if you’ve seriously considered giving up on your marriage.

First, half of the problems in your current marriage will be with your for life – because your spouse isn’t the whole problem. Let me kindly suggest a few of the problems in your marriage have to do with you. You can’t move on if you take YOU with YOU to happy land.
Second, starting over isn’t as romantic as it may sound. Do you really relish restarting the process of finding someone to trust, love and respect starting from scratch?

Third, when you break a marriage, you tear something you often cannot mend. Maybe it will rip the heart of your children. Maybe it will crush your credit. Maybe it will destroy your mate’s self-confidence. None of those things are good.

Finally, the person you married is still buried inside the cantankerous person eating breakfast cereal across the table. Maybe you have been taking each other or granted. I don’t know. May I suggest you pray like mad and give your best to making it work?

Honestly, there are no perfect marriages. There are flawed people who choose to grow together and stay at it in spite of their imperfections. Your spouse shouldn’t be compared with a movie character or cardboard cutout of perfection.

To the young I offer only this: Choose wisely the wife or husband of your youth. The days will slip away, and your figure will go with them. Pain will leave its mark on your brow all too soon. Don’t choose based solely on externals – because they don’t last long. Find someone you can honestly spend life with and be thankful they are willing to have you.

Fifth, learn to live fully. A half done life is less satisfying than a runny egg on your breakfast plate.

Solomon wrote it this way:

Ecclesiastes 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.

You get one chance at life – don’t waste it. Don’t half live it. Give it all you have. You can sleep when you are dead. For now, put some energy into BECOMING. Put your best effort into the important things. Don’t take life for granted – you will be left with nothing but regrets if you do. Solomon would summarize the whole of this lesson this way…

Though life is unpredictable and short, it can be incredible.

Life Is Beautiful was a 1997 Italian comedy-drama film about a Jewish Italian book shop owner named Guido who used an overactive imagination to shield his son from the horrors of internment in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.

In 1939 in Italy, Guido arrived to work in a city where his uncle operated a restaurant. He was a comical and sharp young man, and he found a woman and fell in love, stealing his wife from her own engagement party (to another man) on horseback. They married and had a son, and settled into owning an operating a little book store. War broke out and Guido is seized, with his family. They are forced onto a train and sent to a concentration camp. Guido never saw his wife during their internment, but he got creative and pulled off stunts, like using the camp’s loudspeaker to send cryptic messages to assure his wife that he and their son were safe. Though many are executed in the camp, Guido works to hide their true situation from his son. He convinced his son the camp was a complicated game in which he needed to perform the tasks his father gave him to earn points. He taught his son that whoever got to one thousand points first won a tank. He said if he cried, complained or said he was hungry, he would lose all his accumulated points. Quiet boys that hide from camp guards earn extra points. Though at times reluctant, the boy went along with the game. Guido maintained the story right until the end when, in the chaos of shutting down the camp as Allied forces approached, he told his son to stay in a box until everybody left and he will have completed the game. Guido ventured out to find his wife, but was caught by a soldier and marched to be executed. While he is walking to his death, Guido passed by his son one last time, but stayed in character and played the game, winking at his son. The next morning the camp was liberated and Guido’s son was reunited with his mother. It wasn’t until years later that truly understood his father’s story and the sacrifice he made for his family.

Guido didn’t need a good life to make his son’s life a good one. He needed to teach optimism and contentment. He needed to make each day a celebration. He needed to love more deeply the partner God gave him. He needed to throw himself into living with all he could – even when the circumstances weren’t ideal. It made the difference in his son and changed the world while he was in it. You and I need the same thing.

Though life is unpredictable and short, it can be incredible!

The Video Introductions for the New Testament are Complete!

Our “One Hour. One Book” videos on each Bible book reached a milestone this past week as we completed and posted to the site ALL of the New Testament videos. There are still a handful of videos from the Hebrew Scriptures that are not posted, but we will have them up soon. The New website is:

It contains a carefully prepared introduction and survey of each book of the Bible that was taped in our classroom in Florida. Our hope is that people unfamiliar with any part of the Bible will find the video introduction helpful, It is currently in use in Bible studies and the series has regular viewers in 114 countries.

The Search is Over: “The Watermarks of Wisdom” – Ecclesiastes 8

We have all met them, and some of us live with them. Each of us has in our life someone who seemingly knows a great deal about health food, but even a cursory look at them shows they are unhealthy in their lifestyle. We may have a friend who can explain in detail the benefits of regular exercise, but they are grossly overweight and extremely undeveloped in the muscle department. Perhaps we have in our life someone who has incredible insight into raising children, but their own children seem like hellions. Another friend may offer tremendous advice on how to play a cello, but they cannot seem to hold the bow. There are people who know theory, and then there are people who have learned how to practice that theory consistently.

I mention this because in Biblical terms, there are people who know the theory of a godly lifestyle, but do not live consistently according to Biblical principles.

They get the idea of a walk with God, but they don’t consistently practice one – at least not according to the way God has expressed in His Word He wants them to practice it. They are not hard to find; they are all over the place in the Christian world. They can quote Scripture, but don’t seem to connect their bad habits and ungodly practices with violations of the very truths they memorize. Though we all have areas of life that are not consistently surrendered to God, that isn’t what I am talking about. For most of us, areas in which we struggle to surrender control are points of conviction. That is not true for these unwise friends. They appear satisfied that godliness is mere memorization, theological prowess and theory – whether or not it seems to be showing in their life choices. Solomon would call the unwise, and openly challenged that lifestyle as he explained the workings of godly wisdom in Ecclesiastes 8.

When we studied chapter 7 we noted that Solomon made clear two things were required to have wisdom: we must grab God’s Word and “take a knee” (or bow to worship Him). That was a great beginning point, but Solomon continued his message concerning a wise life. He made an important point that should separate the practical sheep from the theoretical goats.

Key Principle: Wisdom connects God’s direction to the normal choices of life.

Remember that Solomon was the third king of the United Kingdom of the confederate tribes made from the sons of Jacob. God presented him at the beginning of his reign the gift of a profound ability to connect truth to practice in life – what the Bible simply calls “wisdom.” Because God’s gift filled his life during the early days of his administration, it also filled his thinking and speech. Few Biblical writers spent as much time on the subject, because few had as much wisdom in their life as he did.

Though he later drifted far from it, Solomon began as a wise man, and became an avid student of wisdom.

He understood what wisdom is and how its practice helps enrich the lives of people. He knew why wisdom was and is essential. Since the whole of our discussion will be about the use of truth in life – let’s say it the way Solomon would as we study the Word of God written through his quill:

Wisdom is connecting truth to life. It is grasping the principles designed by our Creator and demonstrating their value in the practice of our daily life.

Pick up your Bible and look at how Solomon opened the discussion on seeing wisdom in practice. He posed the idea in a question:

Ecclesiastes 8:1a Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter?

He wasn’t asking an open-ended query; he was making a point. We all need wise people in life when trouble comes. How do we know when we found one? Solomon’s point was that when you see a wise man or woman, you will know that is what they are. Wisdom isn’t a mist, it is discernible. It is both practical and practiced. Let’s face it, when you need to reach out to someone you feel you can trust, how will you be able to discern if they are wise? Solomon used the question to hook us, but went on in his speech to answer the question. Read the rest of the verse:

Ecclesiastes 8:1b …A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam.

The king first counseled that you take a discerning gaze at the face of your “would be” counselor in the tumultuous moment. He made the point that wisdom changes the countenance of the wise. It offers deep satisfaction to its possessor and a certain confidence you need for troubled times and hard advice in the difficult moments. When we don’t know what to do, panic often shows on our face. When we have the confidence of practiced truth that has bridged this gulf before, we show peace on our face in spite of the storm all around us.

That is one way to identify the wise, but it is not the only way to discern one in whom wisdom is operating well. In addition to the countenance, Solomon took the time to make clear in the rest of his message that because wisdom is the practice of truth, it can be clearly demonstrated in behavior consistent with God’s revealed facts about life.

Since wisdom is living according to God’s design, it is best revealed in (at least) six important “marking” behaviors.

Solomon asserted that wisdom can be seen. If we are following God’s direction, people will be able to tell by watching our behavior. What should they look for?

First, wisdom directs proper respect of authority

Entitled and disrespectful people have not connected God’s Word to their life properly. The very first behavior that revealed a wise person mentioned by Solomon was in relation to how they act under authority – perhaps because it is one of the first lessons we learn in life from our parents at home. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 8:2 I say, “Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God. 3 Do not be in a hurry to leave him. Do not join in an evil matter, for he will do whatever he pleases.” 4 Since the word of the king is authoritative, who will say to him, “What are you doing?” 5 He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble, for a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure.

When the king discussed respect, he did it in terms of royal authority – though it applies to all authority. Solomon’s view in this equation was admittedly from the top (as he was the king of his land), but he is careful to explain both the defining characteristics of respect and the ways in which respect for authority shows wisdom.

When our society was more rooted in Biblical ideals, people were taught to respect an office because of the office. Today, people openly reveal that no one is entitled to their respect if the office holder does not “earn” it. In fact, you will hear people espouse the idea that “I respect myself too much to offer allegiance to someone simply because they hold an office or position. They have to convince me of the value of respecting them.”

That may sound reasonable to you, but it isn’t Biblical. It isn’t moral. It isn’t wise. In the end, a society that requires every individual to earn your respect will give you unending opportunities to disregard authority while they are busy trying to convince you of the value of doing what you are told. Teachers in such a society become beholden to complaining students and absent parents. Police officers get arguments instead of compliance. Bosses get under performing and over-expecting workers.

No one is arguing that public servants and people in charge don’t need to behave well. That is a separate issue. The issue is this: the mark of wisdom is clear when we show respect for those in authority over us. Look at the verses again more slowly:

Solomon began with the notion that wisdom directs respect as an acknowledgement of God’s control and placement of those who are over us (8:2). Did you notice how linked human authority was with that of Divine authority? Ultimately, lack of respect for human authority structures is rooted in an expression of rebellion against the God Who appointed the authority over you. For this reason, it is difficult for anyone to really understand the coherent logic of respect without a firm belief in God. When the Scripture argues the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, this is a significant part of what such an ideal entails. Consider this:

The book Family and Civilization was the obvious magnum opus of Carle C. Zimmerman, a distinguished sociologist who taught for many years at Harvard University. Zimmerman demonstrated the connections between the rise and fall of the nuclear family and the rise and fall of their respective civilizations, with particular attention to ancient Greece and Rome, medieval and modern Europe, and then finally the United States. He traced the family structure from tribes and clans to modern nuclear families and then to the broken families of the twentieth century. (The book was published in 1947). He showed the consequences of each family structure for the bearing and rearing of children; for religion, law, and everyday life; and for the fate of civilization itself.

That may not sound interesting, but the compelling analysis predicted many of today’s cultural and social controversies and trends, including youth violence and depression, abortion and homosexuality, the demographic collapse of Europe and of the West more generally, and the displacement of peoples. One magazine lifted a quote from the book as follows:

“…Eight specific patterns of domestic behavior typified the downward spiral of each culture Zimmerman studied: Marriage loses its sacredness…is frequently broken by divorce; traditional meaning of the marriage ceremony is lost; feminist movements abound; there is increased public disrespect for parents and authority in general; an acceleration of juvenile delinquency, promiscuity and rebellion occurs; there is refusal of people with traditional marriages to accept family responsibilities; a growing desire for, and acceptance of, adultery is evident; there is increasing interest in, and spread of, sexual perversions and sex-related crimes.” – Confident Living (author unknown), November 1987, p. 34

Don’t get lost in the verbiage; his point is clear. Zimmerman showed the lessons of the family are what bring respect or rebellion to the public square. The cohesiveness of the training at home has everything to do with the crime rate, the social conscience and the public sense of respect for one another.

Solomon went on to note that respectful observers of authority stand by the one appointed by God and are not willing to abandon or betray them easily (8:3). Loyalty is a treasured commodity by those who learn respect. People who learn to show rightful respect to those in charge will reap the benefits of that knowledge.

Jerry Jenkins wrote a book that I read and used many times about twenty years ago, called Twelve Things I Want My Children to Remember Forever. The book was reprinted many times, and captures some basic lessons the author felt were essential as his children grew up. One chapter was entitled: “Some people have the right to be wrong.” In that part of the book, Jenkins made clear those in authority do not have the right to hurt you, nor to press you to do something that is illegal, immoral or ungodly – but they DO possess the right to tell you how to do the work they have hired you to do – because they are the boss. The coach has the right to call the play – even if you think you know better. The employer has the right to demand that you arrange the tasks he or she gives you according to their priorities, even if they don’t make sense to you. Respect demands that we not need to be fully consulted to be wholly compliant to those in authority.

Wisdom connects the value of respect for authority to the practice of daily living. Godly people take every opportunity to show respect… but that isn’t all…

Wisdom also informs timing, and as have been said, “Timing is everything.”

Wisdom separates play time from work time. It teaches balance between work and leisure and informs us what is essential for that moment. Solomon wrote it this way:

Ecclesiastes 8:6 For there is a proper time and procedure for every delight, though a man’s trouble is heavy upon him. 7 If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen?

The king noted that even in the midst of heavy times, there is a moment when relaxation, laughter and release are appropriate. Because we don’t know what is about to happen, we must learn to govern our sternness and our intensity for the long haul. Reckless people play when they should be working. Unwise people take no breaks. Wisdom reminds us we can’t expend all our energy in the first quarter of the game. Timing and careful execution of both our work and our play show we have gained wisdom. But there is more related to this idea…

Wisdom reminds us of our limitations.

Fools fight battles they cannot win. Wise is the person who recognizes the right place to expend their energy. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 8:8 No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death; and there is no discharge in the time of war, and evil will not deliver those who practice it. 9 All this I have seen and applied my mind to every deed that has been done under the sun wherein a man has exercised authority over another man to his hurt.

This proverb is dense with idea. The beginning of verse eight reminds us that we don’t have unlimited power, and we aren’t in charge of our own finish line. If you keep reading, the verse reminds us there are evils of the world that break into our life and we cannot control their assault, nor rebuff the need to drop everything we are doing and march in resistance to their evil.

Ask those who were drafted and they will tell you they understand this concept well. They didn’t go to war because they knew the people that were disrupting the peace of the world community. They went because we sent them. They didn’t know the enemy, and they didn’t care. They were living life until they were conscripted to fight – and there was nothing they could do to stop the dramatic changes that were about to happen to them. From haircut to wardrobe to training – it was out of their control. They went from freedom to being told when to eat and where to sleep.

Wisdom reminds us there are things in life that we will not have the strength, the intelligence or the latitude to adjust. We will be told, and we will comply. At the height of our personal strength, we are still weak and subject to authorities and forces bigger than ourselves. Solomon would say: “Don’t get too big for your britches!”

One of the noticeable traits of people who are entitled is they believe they offer greater wisdom than their life experience would normally afford. Another one is they feel deeply valuable, even when they have actually produced much in life. It is easy for the unwise to believe they know and can do almost anything – but wisdom teaches us some of our limitations. The candidate can make sweeping changes the elected official may not be able to pull off. Wisdom teaches us this often through powerful life experiences.

Wisdom reminds us of the difference between real faith and public piety.

While we are learning about limitations, we also learn about what is REAL in life. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 8:10 So then, I have seen the wicked buried, those who used to go in and out from the holy place, and they are soon forgotten in the city where they did thus. This too is futility.

The king observed some who lived poorly but went to worship regularly. He noted the fact that little of them was remembered after their life ended. Wisdom teaches that a good life is about impact on your life to others – not simply your attendance in places where good things are taught.

Solomon would ask: “Do you want to have an impact even after you are gone?” The answer to having one is not how many hours you spent in Bible studies and worship meetings – it is in how much you DO for people. You know the hours you spend learning and preparing. Others only know the hours you spend serving and doing. Wisdom reminds us to get out of the chair and get busy in the lives of people.

I believe the reason many believers struggle to serve is they get lost in the preparation. They know their own inner weakness and don’t trust themselves to be fully ready to serve others. They wrestle, year in and year out, with private sin and personal failures, and use these as an excuse to spend more time in preparation, and little time in serving. Sadly, they don’t realize that it is ONLY in serving that people are changed.

If making an impact is important to you – I urge you to begin to measure your life by how much you are serving others. Wisdom teaches that servants change others while students focus on themselves. We must go past preparation and into service to do what will be remembered.

By mid-chapter Solomon changed tempo in the narrative. The second half is still about wisdom, but it added a dimension. The king wasn’t only concerned with the application of wisdom to individuals as the first half of the chapter demonstrated, but also to public society. The remaining verses concern how wisdom plays out in the public square. After all, he was a king.

Wisdom instructs a community to offer swift judgment to deter crime.

Solomon began with wisdom concerning judgment of those who have been unwise. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 8:11 Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.

The point of the text is clear: Timely and reliable jurisprudence are marks of a wise society. An erratic court leaves justice wanting. A long held judgment that isn’t carried out becomes a joke. Solomon wasn’t pressing for a lynch mob to deal with criminals, but he made clear that a system with unending appeals is not a system that will deter people from crime. Years ago, when I was living in the Middle East, one of my European friends made a comment that stuck with me. He said: “The truth is if you were going to murder someone, the best place to do it is in America. You have more ways out of judgment than any justice system I can think of.” I am not sure if he was right, but I know there are many times I feel that way when looking at the cases that roll past me on the news ticker.

In our system, we have several grounds on which one may appeal for a reduced sentence or even acquittal that have nothing to do with whether or not they committed the crime. Out of compassion, we allow for mitigation of punishment based on what we perceive to be the mental state of the criminal, the passionate motivation for the crime, and a host of other conditions. While we have grown more compassionate in our judicial system, we may also be unwittingly creating more criminal incentive by offering so many ways out of taking full responsibility for our public actions. Solomon’s concern was not the swiftness of the proceedings to prove a man or woman guilty – but rather the length of time between a guilt finding and the execution of a sentence. In other words, wisdom says that twenty years on death row encourages more crime.

In the modern legal world, the idea of deterrence is generally not held in high regard. Biblical wisdom directs that when we have passed judgment on a criminal, their sentence should be swiftly executed in order to signal to others the seriousness of the crime and the certainty of the judgment.

Move for a moment from the county court room to your own living room. Most of us learned how serious Mom was about what she commanded by watching our siblings. She would tell our brother to take out the trash, and he would say, “In a minute, mom!” We would hear her voice change and her command become more shrill. “Get this trash out.” We would watch to see how far our dear brother could push the situation before they obeyed. If Mom walked in and said, “Take the trash out in the next minute or you are grounded for one week” you would recognize the swift result for ignoring obedience. How would that change the way you responded to mom next time she spoke?

Despite what some will tell you, deterrence and example should be part of the formula for a just society. Wisdom makes clear that while the guilty are being handled, the “not yet criminal” eyes are watching intently.

Wisdom reminds us of real justice and what truly works in the end.

Solomon offered another word on justice that is worth recalling as well:

Ecclesiastes 8:12 Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. 13 But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God. 14 There is futility which is done on the earth, that is, there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility.

Solomon knew some would do wrong and seem to get away with it. Some would even profit from their misdeeds in the short run. Even for those who appeared to gain longer life and richer bank accounts, they weren’t really getting ahead. Their life was a mirage of richness – because they were facing God’s wrath in the end.

Solomon made an astute observation about our life on earth: If you try to judge fairness in life while you journey here – you will be left depressed. It is true! Sometimes the bad guy defeats the good guy here. Sometimes the good guy goes through great difficulty and dies at the hands of his enemy while the crime boss lives in luxury and dies in his bed peacefully. Here is the catch: the whole story doesn’t happen here. Death is just the beginning of another unending experience. What is unfair on earth will be made right after life here.

Remember the theme of the book? Life under the sun doesn’t make sense because the answers aren’t found in the material world. The cosmos doesn’t hold the meaning of it all, God does.

It doesn’t matter how many plays end badly, how many movies proclaim falsehood and how many songs try to convince you otherwise – evil will not win. Hate, murder, lies and injustice will be made right before the face of the Perfect One. If I didn’t know that, I would lean toward agreement with the radical skeptics and Nihilists – none of this appears to make much sense. Thank God for His Word! We have not been left here without a way to put a sense of burning injustice to rest.

Wisdom offered conclusions on priorities.

Solomon drew two important conclusions about the world by looking through the prism of God-given wisdom. They are worth sharing, and God let us have them in His Word.

First, he noted that enjoying life as a walk with God in every step of life made time here a blessing.

He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 8:15 So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun.

Life is not a curse, though we live in a fallen world. Over and over again, Solomon made clear that God provided life under the sun. God assigned our task of work. God offers moments of fulfillment – a full belly, an unstoppable “tears running down your face” time of laughter, an inner sense of deep satisfaction in a job well done. Each of these moments is to be treasured, and must never be taken for granted.

Dear ones, we have each other for a very short time. All our life here is the mere vapor of only a few moments. We have the joys of a beautiful sunrise and the stunning vista full of colors of sunset for a few more days to enjoy. If we choose, we can waste our life raging at what we don’t like about living in an incomplete and fallen world, but that is like spitting into the wind: We won’t change the world very much and we will get ourselves all wet and more miserable in the process.

Look very closely to the words of Solomon. He “commended” pleasure. The word is “shabach” which is literally “to praise.” In short, Solomon congratulated pleasure. He said, “You are good, and I am glad I have you in my life!” I am sad to say that many believers find that hard to believe. They seem to feel the godliness is glum at its core. I want to say this in such a way that it cannot be misunderstood. God gave you the pleasures of life. The fact that there are hedonists in this world is no excuse for you to see all pleasure as secret sin. God INTENDED you to enjoy your life – IF you would keep Him at the center of your joy, fulfillment and happiness. A God-centered life is the only kind God counts as a fulfilled life.

Let’s say it this way: God wants you to have a party, but only if He is invited!

He doesn’t want the party to become more important than our walk with Him. He must become our chief joy, or we have settled for something less than we could have. He gave us much to celebrate along the journey, but wants it to be the best it can be for us – and He IS the best for us.

Solomon offered a second observation. He wrote, “Don’t think you will ever make sense of all of life – you won’t.”

Ecclesiastes 8:16 When I gave my heart to know wisdom and to see the task which has been done on the earth (even though one should never sleep day or night – lit. “see no sleep in his eyes”), 17 and I saw every work of God, I concluded that man cannot discover the work which has been done under the sun. Even though man should seek laboriously, he will not discover; and though the wise man should say, “I know,” he cannot discover.

There is no command of God for you to figure everything out in life. You are to know Him and listen to His Word. In fact, godly wisdom only comes to one who is open to receive God’s Word. Musical notes fall to the floor without meaning if the audience is deaf. So it is with the wisdom from God.

It is also important to remember that a journey with wisdom truly is the road less traveled. Kent Lenard wrote a few years ago:

In a recent NCAA cross-country championship held in Riverside, California, 123 of the 128 runners missed a turn. One competitor, Mike Delcavo, stayed on the 10,000 meter course and began waving for fellow runners to follow him. Delcavo was able to convince only four other runners to go with him. Asked what his competitors thought of his mid-race decision not to follow the crowd, Delcavo responded, “They thought it was funny that I went the right way.” Delcavo was one who ran correctly.

Wisdom is practicing God’s truths in life. It is what you earn after decades of listening to God’s Word when you wanted to talk and give Him your insight and counsel. If you would have it, you must travel a different path. You can’t afford to simply memorize and get theoretical. Wisdom makes you act. It gives you strength to stand when no one else will.

Wisdom can be observed. It isn’t a mysterious ethereal concept locked in theoretical sophistry. It is practical. It is daily. It connects God’s direction to the normal choices of life.

Who was United States Senator Edmund G. Ross of Kansas? I suppose you could call him a “Mr. Nobody.” No law bears his name. Not a single list of Senate “greats” mentions his service. Yet when Ross entered the Senate in 1866, he was considered the man to watch. He seemed destined to surpass his colleagues, but he tossed it all away by one courageous act of conscience. Let’s set the stage. Conflict was dividing our government in the wake of the Civil War. President Andrew Johnson was determined to follow Lincoln’s policy of reconciliation toward the defeated South. Congress, however, wanted to rule the downtrodden Confederate states with an iron hand. Congress decided to strike first. Shortly after Senator Ross was seated, the Senate introduced impeachment proceedings against the hated President. The radicals calculated that they needed thirty-six votes, and smiled as they concluded that the thirty-sixth was none other than Ross’. The new senator listened to the vigilante talk. But to the surprise of many, he declared that the president “deserved as fair a trial as any accused man has ever had on earth.” The word immediately went out that his vote was “shaky.” Ross received an avalanche of anti-Johnson telegrams from every section of the country. Radical senators badgered him to “come to his senses.” The fateful day of the vote arrived. The courtroom galleries were packed. Tickets for admission were at an enormous premium. As a deathlike stillness fell over the Senate chamber, the vote began. By the time they reached Ross, twenty-four “guilties” had been announced. Eleven more were certain. Only Ross’ vote was needed to impeach the President. Unable to conceal his emotion, the Chief Justice asked in a trembling voice, “Mr. Senator Ross, how vote you? Is the respondent Andrew Johnson guilty as charged?” Ross later explained, at that moment, “I looked into my open grave. Friendships, position, fortune, and everything that makes life desirable to an ambitions man were about to be swept away by the breath of my mouth, perhaps forever.” Then, the answer came — unhesitating, unmistakable: “Not guilty!” With that, the trial was over. And the response was as predicted. A high public official from Kansas wired Ross to say: “Kansas repudiates you as she does all perjurers and skunks.” The “open grave” vision had become a reality. Ross’ political career was in ruins. Extreme ostracism, and even physical attack awaited his family upon their return home. One gloomy day Ross turned to his faithful wife and said, “Millions cursing me today will bless me tomorrow…though not but God can know the struggle it has cost me.” It was a prophetic declaration. Twenty years later Congress and the Supreme Court verified the wisdom of his position, by changing the laws related to impeachment. Ross was appointed Territorial Governor of New Mexico. Then, just prior to his death, he was awarded a special pension by Congress. The press and country took this opportunity to honor his courage which, they finally concluded, had saved our country from crisis and division. Jon Johnston, Courage – You Can Stand Strong in the Face of Fear, 1990, SP Publications, pp. 56-58)