Can wisdom produce purpose? (Ecclesiastes 2:12-23)

Is there any value in wisdom? And if so, how is that value obtained?

In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon mentions “wisdom” or “wise” more than fifty times, yet never does he find any satisfaction or peace or joy in wisdom. For Solomon, wisdom is a god who cannot speak (Psalm 115:5), a scarecrow in a cucumber field (Jeremiah 10:5). For wisdom you can seek, but wisdom cannot speak. Solomon has put all his chips on the spot called “WISDOM,” and when wisdom fails him (Ecclesiastes 2:12-23), his only course of action is to hate life (2:17). Solomon believed that wisdom could promise him purpose, but that is not true. Wisdom does indeed have value, but the value of wisdom is only available to the one who already has a purpose.

PURPOSE IS THE MAIN THEME OF ECCLESIASTES

The study of Ecclesiastes has long fascinated me. Although a relatively short book, it is nevertheless profound in the questions the author asks about life and about death and about meaning. I have concluded that the dominant theme of this wisdom book is the search for purpose. Until a person lays hold of their God-given purpose in life, they will be forever restless and dissatisfied.

In Ecclesiastes 2:21, we read

When there is a person who has labored with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and then gives his legacy to one who has not labored for it; this too is futility and a great evil.

Labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill only yield a legacy to one who has purpose, because these are mere tools to be used to reach a goal. Labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill are never an end in themselves, but are deployed to fulfill a meaningful desire. Of what value is all the knowledge in the world if that knowledge is not useful in accomplishing your purpose?

The main point is this: Labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill can never yield purpose. These will support a purpose, but they can never produce a purpose. For all his immense wisdom, King Solomon missed this point, and so do many others. All the resources in the world will not benefit the one who has no God-given purpose.

PURPOSE MUST PRECEDE WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE AND LABOR

Purpose precedes labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill as automobile precedes gasoline.

A map is only necessary when you have an intended destination. Just so, you need only employ wisdom when you are moving toward a previously chosen purpose.

How do you set your GPS if you have not decided where you are going? And the world’s best GPS will never determine your destination. In the same way, you must already have a purpose if you are to get any value out of wisdom.

It is “vanity” and a “striving after wind” to believe that labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill can give you a fulfilling purpose.

It is foolish to ask a caterpillar or a turtle to fly. Just so, it is foolish to ask labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill to produce your purpose. You are asking the impossible. It is not a question of discipline or effort or determination. It is a matter of ability. The most disciplined turtle will never fly. The turtle may plummet but fly he never will. Just so, all the labor and wisdom and knowledge and skill in the world will never produce purpose.

SOLOMON MISSED IT

Solomon invested all his time and effort and determination to develop his wisdom and knowledge, and only when he had grown old does he realize that, without a God-given purpose, all his most keenly developed wisdom is mere “vanity” and “a striving after wind.”

How do we make sure that we do not make the same mistake that Solomon made? How do we make sure that, as we approach the end of our days, we do not decide that we hate life (Ecclesiastes 2:17), and that “everything is futility and a striving after wind?”

A LIFE OF PURPOSE

Avoiding a meaningless life begins with bowing down before the Lord Jesus Christ and crying out to Him for salvation. He who would have a life of purpose must first embrace the God who gives purpose. So first, repent and believe.

All those who come to the Lord Jesus in repentance and in faith have received a new purpose for their life. As a believer, you now have a Bible which guides you into new obedience so that you glorify God with your redeemed life. You have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, so you are now able to hear God as He speaks to you and guides you. With all the rest of God’s redeemed people, you have the purpose of glorifying God in all you do. All believers have this purpose, and this purpose is fulfilling and satisfying and lifelong.

But the Lord who saved you is also the Lord who saved you for His unique purpose. That is, every believer has been chosen and saved for a purpose that no one else can accomplish (Ephesians 2:10). Among the great joys of being a follower of Jesus is finding that unique place where you sense that you are fulfilling God’s unique purpose for your life. After years or even decades of searching and sanctification, the Lord has sovereignly placed you in a place of great usefulness and service. I believe this is what “purpose” means, to find that place where God is most glorified by the life that we live for Him.

SDG                 rmb                 5/20/2021

When is disappointment a sin?

My friend and I had talked for a long time over breakfast on Saturday morning about how crazy the real estate market is in Charlotte. When a house comes on the market, there are usually twenty showings the first day and then fifteen offers are made, all of them over the asking price, and within 48 hours the house is under contract. Davis and his wife, Natalie, had found a house they wanted, and Davis and I were talking about what they should offer. My advice was, “Go all-in, Davis. When God sent His Son to earth to save us, He went ‘all-in.’ So, we should live as ‘all-in’ people to demonstrate our trust in the Lord.” We had prayed about the house, and I had asked the Lord to provide the desire of their heart (Psalm 37:4). Then I had prayed, and I know that Davis and Natalie had prayed, throughout Saturday and Sunday, that their “all-in” offer would win the house.

Early Tuesday morning I received a text from Davis that their offer did not win the house. He said, “it is tough, but the Lord did what was best for us.” I replied, “Amen! The Lord has revealed His will in the matter. Romans 8:28.”

NOT DISAPPOINTED

Now, what is significant is that neither of us used the word “disappointed” in our conversation. We did not use the word “disappointed,” because we were not disappointed. We had prayed to our God and our God had given a clear answer. There was no ambiguity at all. The sovereign Lord of the universe inclined His ear to us (Psalm 116:1-2). He heard our supplications (Psalm 6:9) and the King of kings answered us (Psalm 99:6, 8)! And our loving God said, “No.” It was not the answer that we had requested, but we acknowledged that the Lord is infinitely wise, and He knows what is best. And, after all, He is the Lord. He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). But we were not disappointed.

UNDERSTANDING DISAPPOINTMENT

“Disappointment comes from unmet expectations.”

There is a lot of truth in this common expression. And this applies to believers as well as unbelievers. When our expectations are not met, we feel let down and we may even feel a little cheated, like somehow the world is obligated to meet our expectations. If that is our attitude, we will need to accept the advice from the dread Pirate Robert in the movie, “Princess Bride:” “Get used to disappointment.” Most (all?) of our expectations are baseless and unrealistic. “Why did you have that expectation?” “I don’t know, I just did.” “Oh. Well then, get used to disappointment.”

So, that is a little about disappointment from the world’s perspective. But there is also a disappointment that applies uniquely to the Christian when we request and the Lord answers, but we do not like the answer we received, and thus we are disappointed. This disappointment is sin because it means we are not satisfied with God’s performance. In this case, our prayer “requests” were really veiled demands and God did not do our bidding. To put it another way,

“Disappointment comes from unmet prayer requests.”

You had prayed fervently about a job opportunity, and someone else got the job, and you remain unemployed. Like Davis and Natalie, you prayed that your offer would win the house, and you came in second. You prayed for healing and your friend died. You have prayed for a godly spouse and yet you remain alone. And so, you feel something inside. Is it disappointment?

DISAPPOINTMENT IS A SIN

In these cases, I would suggest that disappointment is sin, because the “request” was really a demand. When we are disappointed with a clear answer to our prayer, have we not treated God as our servant?

Isn’t our thinking a lot like this? “After all, we did what we were supposed to do. We made our request according to the formula (Matthew 7:7; Philippians 4:6), we even prayed, ‘In Jesus’ name. Amen.’ We put our prayers in the correct slot of the prayer machine, and we expected the right answer, but out came an answer we did not request.” In essence, our disappointment says that God got the answer wrong. God did not do our bidding, so we are disappointed.

The truth is that when we experience disappointment, it means we were not seeking God’s will on a matter and then accepting His answer as the perfect answer, but instead we expressed our demand in a “prayer request,” and then pouted when God gave us the wrong answer. (See Jonah, chapter 4, for a good example of this.)

This is the very essence of sin. We, the creatures, are disappointed with the Lord God, the Creator of the universe. Brothers and sisters, we must be very cautious when we make demands of our God. Like Job, we should repent of this in dust and ashes (Job 42:6).

HUMBLE ACCEPTANCE IN PLACE OF DISAPPOINTMENT

Alan had been a pilot for American Airlines, when he contracted a rare disease that robbed him of his eyesight. Some years after he was blinded, Alan was having a conversation with his mother. His mother is a strong Christian who has walked with the Lord a long time, but she was asking Alan how he felt about being blinded. Didn’t he wrestle with God about this? Alan simply said, “We accept what the Lord allows.”

Queen Esther understood what it was to go before the sovereign king and make a request. She was not making a demand, but rather a humble request. And she accepted the possible answers and their consequences: “If I perish, I perish (Esther 4:16).”

Likewise, we should replace disappointment with acceptance of the Lord’s perfect will.

CONCLUSION

The Lord invites His children to come boldly to His throne and He calls us to make our requests to Him as our Abba, Father (Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 4:16), but He remains ever and always the One who sovereignly “works all things (including all answers to our prayers) after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11)” to the praise of His glory.

Therefore, I will repent of disappointment and will replace it with acceptance of the Lord’s perfect will, and I will rejoice in the love of the Lord my God. Replace disappointment with contentment (Philippians 4:10-13).

SDG                 rmb                 4/20/2021

Disappointment and Grumbling (Exodus 16:8)

“Disappointment comes from unmet expectations.” Most people will accept this statement as true. If I have pictured my life (or this relationship or this decision or this investment or this whatever) turning out in a certain way, when my plans do not work out according to my wishes and when my expectations are not met, I am disappointed.

Disappointment is a big deal. It is a danger to your emotional well-being. Disappointment can lead to feelings of regret or failure or anger, and the nasty brew of these emotions can lead you into depression. But for the believer, of vastly more significance is the spiritual danger of lingering disappointment. Disappointment is a spiritual acid that erodes your walk with the Lord. It acts like a ball-and-chain that prevents your running the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1). Disappointment puts a low ceiling on your spiritual growth. And sooner or later it results in grumbling.

The sons of Israel are sort of the “poster children” of grumbling. As the book of Exodus begins, they are oppressed slaves of the cruel Egyptians, scavenging around Egypt for straw to make bricks. They had not heard from Yahweh for a long time and had no real hope that anything about their situation would change. Then Yahweh found a washed-up shepherd in Midian and, through this Moses, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, He had decimated the land of Egypt and drowned the Egyptian army in the Red Sea after the children of Israel had walked through the sea on dry ground. Not only that, but this great God, Yahweh, had promised them a land flowing with milk and honey, a land that He was giving them for free. Despite this, within a week or so, the sons of Israel are grumbling because of unmet expectations. And grumbling is a big deal.

“For the LORD hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him. Your grumblings are not against us, but against the LORD.” – Exodus 16:8

Grumbling is a big deal because our grumbling is against the Lord. By my grumbling, I am letting God know that my expectations have not been met, and He needs to do something about it or else! I may protest that my grumbling and complaining is not against the Lord but is against some circumstance, but the Scripture makes clear that all my grumbling is against the Lord. He has promised to supply all my needs according to His riches and glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19),” but with my grumbling I question that. I call God’s faithfulness into question. And that is a big deal.

I have been found out! I am a grumbler and a complainer. Wretched man that I am! What is a grumbler to do? How can I overcome this sin? Well, I have some thoughts.

First, cut off the source of our grumbling, which is unmet expectations. How do we cut off that source? Keep my personal expectations to a minimum. The disciple is the Lord’s bondservant. As bondservants we have very few of our own plans because our goal and role in life is to serve our Master and to obey His commands.

Next, read your Bible and model the heroes you find there. For example, consider the apostle Paul. How different were his expectations from mine! His goal was to exalt Christ “by life or by death (Philippians 1:20).” It is difficult to disappoint a man who expects to die for his faith and to suffer for the name of Jesus while he lives. (Philippians 1:21) It would be an interesting exercise to go from listening to Paul in the Philippian jail in Acts 16, after he has been beaten and thrown in the stocks, and then traveling to the hill overlooking Nineveh in Jonah 4 and listening to the prophet Jonah. In the Garden of Gethsemane, our Savior, the Lord Jesus, prayed to His Father, “Not My will, but Your will be done (Matthew 26:39).” Taking that same attitude will radically reduce your disappointments.

Third, replace worldly expectations with biblical ones. Before I make my plans for my glory, I need to remember that “I am not my own; I have been bought with a price, to glorify God with my life (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).” I am called to “present my body (meaning my life) as a living and holy sacrifice, which is my spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1).” Therefore, my goal is to use my life, not for my pleasure, but for God’s glory. This mindset effectively erases expectations. In Romans 8:36, the apostle Paul declares, “We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” A sheep appointed for the sacrificial slaughter would have modest expectations, and it would be difficult to be disappointed.

Finally, be thankful. An attitude of thankfulness and gratitude will crowd out disappointment and grumbling. “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5:18).” There is no disappointment if you are always content with the outcome. God has delivered you from the domain of darkness and seated you in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. He has separated your sins from you as far as the east is from the west. He has wrapped you with a robe of righteousness. He has sealed you with His Spirit and He has promised you an eternity with Him in heaven. Now, tell me again, what is the source of your grumbling?

SDG                 rmb                 2/2/2021

He set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51)

The plan that had been established in eternity past and that had been necessitated by Adam’s sin and by every sin since Adam’s first sin was reaching its climax. The Lord Jesus Christ had entered time and space at Bethlehem and had been anointed for ministry and was displaying His glory in His ministry on earth. But now there had occurred a critical shift in direction, for now Jesus was headed for Jerusalem.

When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem. – Luke 9:51

            All the preliminary details had been accomplished and the preparation was done. Now Jesus’ face was set, and Jerusalem was His goal, and there was nothing in heaven or on earth that was going to prevent Him from reaching His goal. And what awaited Him in Jerusalem? Was He going to be crowned king and begin to reign? Oh, no. He was inexorably, irresistibly going to Jerusalem because a Roman cross awaited Him there. He set His face to go to Jerusalem so He could be “rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Luke 9:22).” His goal was Jerusalem because He knew that He had to die as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of His people, and He was the chosen sacrifice. And so, Jesus decisively set His face.

            Everything about Jesus displayed His authority and His holiness, but I wanted to make three observations about this part of His earthly ministry.

  1. Jesus was crystal clear on His mission. He knew what He was and what He was not to accomplish. There was no ambiguity in His mind, no waffling or wavering. Having a definite target on which to focus enabled Him to avoid distraction. There was a cross for Him in Jerusalem, and His mission was to reach it, and the rest was just noise.
  2. Jesus had unflinching resolve. Knowing the goal, Jesus made the commitment to reach that goal. Regardless of the cost or the difficulty of the path, Jesus was directing all His energies toward that goal.
  3. Jesus had confident trust in His Father. The Father had created the plan and the Father had called Jesus to accomplish this part of the plan. Jesus trusted that the Father would be with Him and would guide Him and provide for Him until He had fulfilled the mission. He trusted in God’s sovereign control of all things to bring about the desired end.

APPLICATIONS

            What can we learn from our Lord for our daily challenges?

  1. Be clear on my mission. Having a clear purpose and mission is a great help in directing our energies and activities. We are not going to be the savior of the world, but God has called us for a purpose and for a mission. What is my mission? Why am I here? Clarity on your mission will help you focus and avoid distraction.
  2. Resolve to press on and persevere. The best way to persevere is simply to resolve to not quit. All paths have monotony and difficulty, but a determination to continue and to persevere will make you an overcomer. “One thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).”
  3. Trust the Lord. If the Lord has called you to Himself, then He has adopted you as His child. He is for you. “If God be for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?” He is with you. “I will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).” The Bible is a book of the Lord’s faithfulness to His people. He is trustworthy. In the midst of the battle or in the midst of the calm, we can trust His sovereign control of all things to bring about His desired end.

SDG                 rmb                 11/4/2020

Casting Bread on Water, Disasters, and Falling Trees (Eccles. 11:1-4)

                A couple of weeks ago, a good friend of mine told me that he was praying about how the Lord might use him in new ventures and had been studying Ecclesiastes 11 for biblical guidance. To help my friend and to see if I learned anything from our pastor’s recent sermon series on Ecclesiastes, I decided to look at the verses of 11:1-4 to see what they mean.

INTRODUCTION

            Can we gain knowledge and wisdom from Ecclesiastes? If so, how can we do that?

            Some would go directly to the verses of Ecclesiastes to find wisdom for practical decisions, but this is not the right approach. Is there wisdom to be found in Ecclesiastes? Unquestionably. Is there practical wisdom to be obtained from Ecclesiastes? Yes, there certainly is. But while there is practical wisdom to be obtained from Ecclesiastes, there is skill required in the obtaining. As we have said before, Qohelet (the Preacher) does not give us direct answers to our questions. The writing in Ecclesiastes is complex and Qohelet’s primary interest is not wise investing nor time management nor how to leave an impressive legacy. Remember, he has already created astonishing wealth and has indulged in sensual pleasures and has built beautiful cities (Ch. 1-2). Those, for him, are irrelevant memories from a hollow past. Those brilliant successes have brought him to the place where he repeats the word, “Vanity.” In fact, not just vanity, but vanity of vanities. As Jesus is the King of kings, the supreme King over any and all other kings, real or imagined (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16), so Qohelet’s experience in life is the supreme vanity below any and all other vanities. His vanity is so empty that it consumes and overwhelms all apparent successes and renders them useless. Now, as an old man looking back at his many years, he is in an urgent search for meaning. Meaning is Qohelet’s primary interest. It is meaning in life that he urgently seeks, and he brings to bear all the wisdom he can muster to uncover that most important of all attainments; namely, an answer to the question, “How can this life have any meaning if it ends in death?” Is there no purpose to life under the sun? Does death have the final say?

            In the paragraph above, I have made the statement that practical wisdom can definitely be obtained from Ecclesiastes. That is, as we read of Qohelet’s search for meaning, we can glean practical wisdom that can guide decisions that we are compelled to make in our own lives. But while the Preacher has advantages over many of us in terms of his experiences, his wisdom, and his abilities, we have an even greater advantage over him. What is that advantage? We have the advantage of knowing that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing (in Him) we may have eternal life in His name (John 20:31).” We have the full written Word of God, the completed written revelation of God’s eternal plan for the world. Because we can know how things turn out, and can know the meaning of life from the lips of Jesus the Messiah Himself, and can know that this life is not all there is, but that there is eternal life available and that we can never die (John 11:25-26), we can know the answers to the great mysteries that troubled Qohelet. So the wisdom that we gain from Ecclesiastes is largely a derived wisdom, a wisdom that answers questions not directly with black and white answers, but a wisdom that gives us a range of acceptable answers or responses which flow from the spring of eternal life that has come to us by our faith in Jesus Christ. That is, having answered the ultimate questions about life and death, about meaning and purpose, about how to have peace and joy and contentment, about how to be reconciled to the holy God against whom we have rebelled and sinned times too many to count and yet to be welcomed to His table as an adopted son or daughter; having answered the ultimate questions through the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can wisely deal with the myriad other questions that bombard us as we walk through this broken and fallen world.

With that as an introduction to this passage, I want to take a look at Ecclesiastes 11:1-4 and draw out the wisdom that is contained there. The wisdom in this section is deep and dredging it up will take some skill, but we will be wiser as a result of having wrestled with the teaching of the Preacher.

11:1 – Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.

            It is not certain whether this verse is to be taken literally or figuratively. I am assuming that it is to be taken literally. So, assuming this verse is to be taken literally, what we have is a man who does something incredibly foolish that should never result in anything but a total loss, yet the man ends up breaking even. Picture this: A man goes to the grocery store and buys a loaf of wheat bread. He then drives up to the lake, walks to the shore, unwraps the loaf of bread, and throws the bread into the lake. Four months later the man drives back to the lake and walks to the same spot by the lake, and there, along the edge of the lake, is every slice of that loaf of wheat bread. So, the man gathers up those soggy slices and puts them back into the bread bag. Net result? Break even! He did something that was totally foolish and still basically broke even.

WHAT IS THE POINT?

Is the point to be reckless and careless with your ventures and investments because we live in a random universe? NO! The point is that no matter how reckless or how careful and wise you are, ultimately you do not know how things will turn out. Life is unpredictable and the future is uncertain, but uncertainty must not lead to paralysis!

But it is key also to notice that in this example, the foolish venture came back break even. The outcome of this foolish venture should have been a total loss, but there was essentially no loss. How can this be? This can be because the universe has a sovereign Lord who determines all outcomes and the Lord blesses those who are His (Psalm 1:3). Some followers of Jesus are wise, and some are not, and some do really foolish things. I know that after praying about major decisions for a long time, I have decided to do things that, in retrospect, were incredibly risky and could not possibly work out unless the Lord was actively involved. And what happened? I basically “Cast my bread upon the waters,” and against all odds, not only “found it after many days,” but found five fresh loaves of bread and a couple of large sacks of wheat! This is because the Lord blesses all His children, not just those who make the “best choices.” Do you love your children only when they make “the right choices?” Of course not! Just so, the Lord delights to bless all His children. “When a man falls, he will not be hurled headlong, for the LORD is the one who holds his hand (Psalm 37:24).”

This is the lesson: Even in an unpredictable world where the future is unknown, the child of God can make decisions with confidence, knowing that the outcome is not ultimately dependent upon their own brilliance and wisdom, but is dependent upon the sovereign God of the universe, who has adopted them into His family. So, be generous and take action.

11:2 – Give portions to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.

            My understanding of this verse is that, according to wisdom, it is better to diversify your investments, because that way you are more likely to avoid disasters. This wisdom is well-known to anyone who has talked to a financial counselor. (It is not, however, good advice from a marriage counselor!) Virtually everyone who gives you advice about investments will tell you to diversify your portfolio. And I think this is what Qohelet is telling us here as well.

Then the question comes up, “So, in this case, does the disciple of Jesus basically do the same thing that everyone else does?” Let’s think about that before we answer. Looking carefully at the words of this verse, we see first that the Preacher tells us to divide our portions “to seven, or even to eight.” I think there is some significance in the fact that seven is the perfect number and he tells us to give to seven or to even more than seven, just in case. So, there is probably at least some significance in the numbers.

I think there is more significance, however, in the fact that he uses the word “disaster.” “You know not what disaster may happen on earth.” Qohelet says we diversify because we do not know which one of our ventures will perform disastrously. To paraphrase, “If you spread the risk out to seven or even eight places, then the disaster will not hurt you as much.” By using the word disaster, Qohelet acknowledges that we live in a world where disasters take place and sometimes, they affect us. Since the fall of man in Genesis 3, the door to natural and financial disasters has been thrown open, and it is presumptuous for the disciple of Jesus to ignore this fact or to pursue ventures as if everything would always turn out well. It is entirely possible that my ventures will not turn out well. Does the Lord delight to bless His children? He does. Is the Lord obligated to bless His children? He is not. Do we know the Lord’s timing, as to when He will bring disasters on the earth? We do not. Do we know the Lord’s divine purposes in all that He ordains, including when He allows disasters on His children (Job 1:13-19)? We do not. And since these things are not known to us, we act by faith and invest or act generously and confidently, but with the wisdom that a broader investment base provides use with less risk. “Putting all your eggs in one basket” is foolish because it presumes upon the Lord and expects Him to bless the one venture we choose, and because it refuses to acknowledge that we are in a world fallen because of our sin, a world in which disasters are ultimately one of the consequences of sin.

This is the lesson: Diversify your investments and your portfolio because we live in a world where disasters occur, and they occur to disciples of Jesus. Diversify with the knowledge that disasters are one of the consequences of sin and are one of the means that the Lord uses to sovereignly bring about His purposes in the world. Diversify generously and with confidence, knowing that the Lord whom you serve, delights in you and will never leave you or forsake. In other words, the action of investment appears similar to the action of the rest, but the attitude of the investment is entirely different.

11:3 – If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth, and if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place that the tree falls, there it will lie.

            Qohelet now takes us to pictures of clouds with rain and falling trees, but his mindset has not changed. That is, he is still telling us why believers in Jesus can live generously and confidently in this unpredictable world. This is because in a world where many things are unknown and therefore potentially threatening, some things are certain.

We should understand this verse in terms of the certainty of God’s revealed will. If God has revealed His will to us, we can be certain that will come to pass. In an uncertain and risky world, there is certainty in God’s revealed will.

There are two ways that God reveals His will to us. The first way that God reveals His will to us is by declaring truth in His Word. The Bible contains God’s revealed will for mankind. The Bible contains only truth, so that, when we read the words of Scripture, we can be confident that we have read what will surely be. Qohelet illustrates this principle with a simple example. To paraphrase: “When the clouds are full of rain, then rain is going to fall on the earth.” Our experience in life has shown us that this is a true, although not very significant statement. The Bible tells us, “The soul that sins will die (Ezekiel 18:4).” The fact that this is contained in God’s holy Word declares to us that this is a true and extremely significant statement. But as rain falls from clouds is true, so whatever is written in God’s revealed will, the Bible, is true. We can have confidence in the Bible in an uncertain world, because God has revealed His will to us in His Word, and in His Word God has declared that we who believe in Jesus have been chosen before the foundation of the world and will receive a crown of righteousness in heaven. As surely as it is God’s will to drop rain from clouds full of rain, so it is His will to bring us to heaven.

But God also reveals His will by giving us history. The example is of a fallen tree. Before the tree falls, you may speculate, “Which way does God desire to drop that tree?” Before it falls, you do not know God’s will about the tree, but once it falls, all doubt is removed. It was God’s will to drop that tree exactly where it fell, and nothing will change that. God has revealed His will. In the same way, there are many things about the future that we do not know, that God has not revealed. We could be anxious about that and worry about that, but there is no reason for worry. God already knows exactly what the outcome will be for whatever it is that you are concerned about. He has already determined the outcome; he has just not told you. So, the outcome is certain, it is just not certain to you. This means that we can take the outcome of a venture off our plate. “O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty, nor do I involve myself in great matters or in things too difficult for me (Psalm 131).”

This is the lesson: Whether God has revealed His will about something, or that something is still part of God’s secret will, God already knows all outcomes. Therefore, the child of God can be generous and confident even in risky ventures, even when the outcome remains completely unknown, because the believer relates as “Abba, Father” to the God who does know and ordain all outcomes.

11:4 – He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.

            The meaning of this verse is straightforward: If you look around for an excuse not to take risks, on excuse will always be readily available. What causes us to look for excuses? Fear of risk or threat. The idea is that it is less risky to do nothing than to take a course of action that could lead to loss. But is that true? In Matthew 13, the sower went out to sow. He did not check the weather report before he went. In Matthew 25:14-30, the master gave the servants talents and expected them to do business with them. The servant who did nothing was called “wicked and slothful” and was cast into the outer darkness. In Luke 19:12-27, the nobleman’s servants were commanded to “engage in business until I come (19:13).” The one who did nothing was condemned with his own words. Paul took many risks, yet he could say after less than twenty years of risky ministry, “from Jerusalem and round to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” and now there is no more work for me in this region. Is it safer to do nothing than to risk for the kingdom of God and the King? A thousand times no!

            One last thought: Fear of loss implies that we have something to lose, but the disciple of Jesus Christ has nothing to lose. According to Colossians 3:3, we have already died, so we cannot lose our life. According to John 11:25-26, we can never die, so threats of death should have little effect. According to Philippians 3:20, our citizenship is already in heaven, so we cannot lose our country. The more we consider it, the more we see that we have nothing to lose. We can “spend and be expended” for Christ (2 Cor. 12:15), because there is nothing to lose.

            This is the lesson: Take risks for the glory of God and scatter your seed broadly. Be generous and confident in whatever venture the LORD gives you to do and “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10).”

SDG rmb 8/31/2020

Trading Retirement for a Mission (2 Timothy 4:7)

            There is in the American experience an expectation of “retirement.” That is, part of the American dream is this persistent idea that, after some number of years of working and struggling to make our mark in the world, the time has come to retire and to slow down the pace and to ”enjoy the golden years” hopefully “doing what we have always wanted to do.” Maybe we will get a hobby and spend some time with our grandkids and take it easy. At first glance, this seems like a great idea. And haven’t we earned it? Don’t we deserve to bask in the fruits of our labor? But as the Christian examines this idea against the teaching of Scripture, we may find that completing our mission too early is not a good thing.

KING SOLOMON

            Consider, for example, King Solomon. Solomon was chosen by the LORD Himself to be the one who would build His house in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 28:6, 10). Then King David, Solomon’s father, charged him with the task of building the house of the LORD (1 Chronicles 28:20). Additionally, Solomon himself had decided to build a magnificent royal palace for him and his wives. So, it can correctly be said that what defined King Solomon’s life was the completion of these two great building projects. And what an amazing task to be given and what a remarkable mission to accomplish, to be the one who would be known for all time as the builder of the house of the LORD in Jerusalem! After twenty years of construction, Solomon finished these projects (2 Chronicles 5:1; 6:10; 7:1; 8:1), and thus his life’s accomplishment was completed. He had successfully done what the LORD had called him to do.

            So, if we are armed with our current “bask-in-his-glory” mindset, we would expect to see Solomon reaping the fruits of his vast labors and that the rest of his life would be a glowing success, an example of a life well-spent. That expectation, however, is shattered as we witness this great man’s life slowly unravel in indulgence, opulence, and idolatry, marrying many foreign wives and building altars to pagan gods (1 Kings 11). After the mission of his life is accomplished, Solomon turns his heart away from the LORD and spends the remainder of his days in disastrous pursuits. Toward the end of his life, Solomon pens the book of Ecclesiastes in which, as an uncertain, cynical, pessimistic older man he asks essential questions about the meaning of life and about the purpose of existence. Without oversimplifying things, I think the main problem was that Solomon completed his life’s mission long before his life was done.

            This is the inherent danger of our modern idea of retirement; namely, that we complete our life’s work or accomplish our life’s mission, and then spend the rest of our days in leisure. The danger of retirement is intentionally putting an end to our life’s mission long before our life is over.

            Related to this are two fundamental truths that must be grasped. First, mankind was created by God for mission, and every individual man and woman is most fulfilled and most alive when they are most fully engaged in the mission God the Creator has given them to do. When Solomon was engaged in his building projects, his kingdom flourished, his advice was wise, and his life was fulfilled. But when his mission was over, he drifted downstream and ended up on the rocks. Again, I say, we are made to fulfill out God-given mission until we draw our last breath, not just until we decide to “retire.”

            The second truth that we must grasp is that we are fallen creatures and our entire being has been corrupted by sin. The Fall of man was very effective, and, because of it, all human beings are bent toward sin and are bent toward disobedience. By nature, we love sin and, even when we have been born-again through faith in Jesus Christ and our sins have been forgiven by His blood, we still live with our “flesh,” which tempts us toward indulgence, opulence, and idolatry. Therefore, since we are fallen and still live with our “flesh,” each of us needs a noble, compelling mission that infuses passion into our lives. Without a compelling, God-given mission, we are likely to waste our time and squander our lives in aimless pursuits. Because Solomon was fallen like all men, and because he had finished his life’s mission, he lost his zeal and aimlessly drifted. In the end, his life, which had such spectacular promise, disintegrated into a dubious legacy of disappointment.

A CONTRAST

            While the Bible gives us examples of people who, like Solomon, did not finish well so that we might be warned not to follow their course, the Bible also gives us other examples of people who pursued their mission to the very end and died while still pressing forward. One of those examples is the apostle Paul. For Paul, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).” In this verse, and in many others, Paul makes clear that he had received his mission from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and that he was going to accomplish that mission. In all of Paul’s writing there is no mention of “leisure” or of “retirement.” Instead, we read of fruitful labor, of striving, of pressing toward the goal, of spending and being expended for people’s souls, and of being poured out as a drink offering. Instead of indulging his flesh, Paul buffets his body to make it his slave. Rather than playing it safe, for the sake of the gospel Paul was constantly being exposed to real dangers, like beatings and shipwrecks. There is no record of Paul ever living in a palace or of him musing about the “golden years” of rest that are up ahead, unless you count the times the Apostle talked about heaven and his desire to go there where he would receive his crown (2 Timothy 4:8).

LESSONS ON MISSION

            One of the immense blessings of being a follower of the Lord Jesus is that, with our salvation we have also received a calling, a mission. The entire Christian life is about living on mission, about finding and living out that unique place to which the Lord has called you where you are most satisfied. We have all generally been called to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8) and His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). We are all to be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19) and are all to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). But I am convinced that we are also all given a unique mission to accomplish that the Lord has entrusted to each one of us.

            Since that is the case, the first thing to do is to seek and find your mission. “How do I know what my mission is?” You will know it when you find it, but you will also know it when you have not found it, because when your life is not running on mission, you will know a level of dissatisfaction. The search for your mission may be a long search, but the treasure of the mission is worth the effort.

            What are the characteristics of an ideal “mission?” Your mission will probably not be a narrowly defined, specific task or endeavor. Rather, it will be somewhat broad. (Examples: “A ministry of prayer in which I lift up immediate needs of my church and also pray for our supported missionaries.” “Writing articles and blogs on Bible passages to increase the love of the Word among God’s people.”) Your mission should be context independent. That is, it can be done in any country, in any season; it can be done whether you are rich or poor, at any age of your life. The mission should be something that can be done until the day you die, whenever that is. The mission should allow you to still bear fruit in old age (Psalm 92:14). Your mission should be something about which you are passionate. Finally, your mission is something that you know that you will never complete. If you have a mission of praying for your church’s needs, you know that you will never finish praying, for there are always more needs. If your mission is writing articles, blogs, and books about the Bible, you know that you will never finish your mission, because there will always be articles to write and people to encourage. And this is a good thing, because it ensures that you will always have “missionary” work to do, and so your passion will ever flow hot.

            Finally, consider these two statements about mission:

“I have fought the good fight; I have finished the course (mission); I have kept the faith.” – (2 Timothy 4:7) written by the apostle Paul as he was awaiting his execution in a prison in Rome.

“I glorified You (God the Father) on earth, having accomplished the work (mission) that You gave Me to do.” – (John 17:4) spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ on the night of His betrayal.

            So, rather than thinking about retirement and how we can enjoy the leisure of your “golden years,” let’s think about laboring in a compelling mission from which we will never retire and which will allow us to hit the finish line at full speed.

SDG                 rmb                 7/29/2020

Understanding God’s will – Part 1 – Revealed will

            The subject of God’s will is often one that creates a lot of confusion among believers. The reason for the confusion and frustration is that all followers of Jesus Christ would say that they want to find God’s will and obey it, but the details of God’s will seem so elusive and so vaguely defined in the Scripture. We say, “Just tell me what to do and I will do it! If God wants me to do His will, why is He so reluctant to show me what it is?”

            I am still journeying along the path and am still learning more about the whole realm of “God’s will,” but I have learned some things already and maybe these reflections will be helpful to you, as well.

            In Ephesians 5:17, Paul writes, “Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, after giving us commands to rejoice always, pray without ceasing and in everything to give thanks, Paul tells us, “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In these two verses, Paul references God’s will and clearly expects us to know what it is. In fact, he commands us to understand the will of the Lord (Eph. 5:17), and the Biblecannot expect us to obey something that is impossible. We can conclude from this that this will of the Lord is knowable.

            To untangle this knot, we first need to realize that there are two aspects to the will of the Lord. There is the moral, revealed will of God, which is the doctrines and the principles, and the commands contained in the revealed word of God, and there is also the secret, decretive will of God, which consists of all the details that God has planned and ordained and decreed by His sovereign power so that His perfect ends for time and eternity will certainly be achieved. We will address each of these aspects in turn in these next two blog posts.

            When the Scripture commands us to find or understand or obey the will of God, the Bible is referring to the revealed will of God.  That is, we are accountable to God not for making every “right decision” (whatever that means) when we are confronted with a fork in the road or for making the ideal choice among several acceptable and legitimate and “good” options, but we are accountable to God to know and obey His revealed Word. When Paul calls us to “understand what the will of the Lord is,” he is effectively calling believers to devote time and energy to knowing God’s Word and then to be diligent to obey what you know. What this means is that, if we have been believers for any period of time, we have no excuse for not knowing the will of God, because God has given us His Bible to make His will available to us.

            The moral, revealed will of God, then, is about obedience. It is about walking in holiness. It is about bearing fruit in keeping with repentance. It is about displaying a transformed life to the watching world. It is about pleasing God by your radically obedient behavior. It is about heeding all the imperatives in the Bible and striving to obey them in greater and greater degrees. It is about being Christ-like in your words and actions.

            So, finding the will of God is as far away as your Bible and obeying the will of God has been empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. And, also (listen CAREFULLY), this is the aspect of the will of God that God requires of us. The Lord commands us to understand and obey this will, because He has carefully revealed it in His holy and inerrant Word.

Consider Deuteronomy 29:29 regarding this subject of the will of God:

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things the are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do (obey) all the words of this Law.

            Here in this one verse we see the two aspects of the will of God, and we see that it is the revealed will that we are to obey.

REFLECTIONS

            As I reflect on this revealed will of God, it occurs to me that this aspect of God’s will requires little prayer and requires great energy and diligence. I say that this requires little prayer because this will of God is based on what He has specifically revealed to us in order that we can know what we need to obey. What the Bible commands I am to obey, and I do not need to pray about that. It is pretty black and white. “In God’s will” and “outside God’s will” are clear because they based on God’s Word.

            On the other hand, obedience to this revealed will of God requires diligence and great energy. Our flesh will always resist obedience to God’s commands, because the flesh hates to be restrained from evil. The “old man,” which consists of our old habits and ways of thinking and defaults positions, also aids and abets the flesh to tug us toward disobedience. As believers recently arriving in the light from the darkness, we must strive to learn and embrace the holy commandments of Scripture so that we know what to obey. Finally, the devil and his world systems, which he has structured to foster wickedness, will also militate against our hunger for righteousness. All these forces can be resisted and defeated if we strive against sin with all diligence in the power of the Holy Spirit.

            Finally, it is ironic that the revealed will of God gets a lot less attention than the secret, decretive will of God. This is ironic because we cannot know the secret, decretive will of God and so are not held responsible for “obeying” this will of God, and yet, for many of us, this is what causes us immense concern. My recommendation would be that we focus our energy on being obedient to what the Lord has already revealed as His will and trust Him for the secret things that He alone knows and ordains. But we will talk more about the secret, decretive will of God next time.

SDG                 rmb                 6/1/2020