Ecclesiastes: A great man without a God-honoring purpose

INTRODUCTION. A post based on the Preacher in Ecclesiastes, who accomplished impressive things with his life, but approached the end of his life with depression and regret. How does a God-honoring purpose answer the questions that the writer of Ecclesiastes asks?


Each disciple of Jesus Christ should be able to answer this question: “How will my life bring glory to the Lord?” And in answering this question, the critical component is PURPOSE or MISSION. The person who has a settled, clearly defined God-honoring Purpose for their life and who is living in light of that Purpose is very difficult to discourage and is difficult to stop.

Therefore, one of the disciple’s most urgent goals in his discipleship is to discover and develop the unique Purpose (or Mission) for which God has created him and called him.

Because this idea of Purpose is so foundational to joy and fulfillment in the life of the believer, I hope to write more about it in an upcoming blog, and it will certainly be covered thoroughly in my book on Discipleship (targeted for late 2022). For this blog post, however, I want to show how a lack of purpose results in a miserable life.


The writer of Ecclesiastes (probably King Solomon) refers to himself as “the Preacher” (Eccles. 1:1, 2, 12), which in Hebrew translates to “Qohelet,” which is how I will refer to him. In my reading of Ecclesiastes, I see Qohelet as a man in late middle age or even old age, who is looking back over a full and productive life and assessing the value of what he has done with his life and seeking to determine his legacy.

But here’s the problem: it is impossible to assess value without a God-honoring purpose. How can you assess the value of accomplishments that were arbitrarily chosen and were absent of any enduring purpose? The fact is that there can be no meaning to a meaningless goal.

Speaking of which: We are getting ready to recycle some old National Geographic magazines, and there is one in the current stack for recycling that just caught my eye. The cover of this November 2016 issue has a picture of Mars, the red planet, and the article about it is called, “Race to the Red Planet.” Here is surely a classic picture of fallen man pursuing a meaningless, godless goal that can have no purpose. I have not (and will not) read this article, but the goal is evident. Some group of over-funded, egotistical people are prepared to spend billions and billions of dollars and risk people’s lives to be the first to land on the planet Mars. Ecclesiastes has a word for this: Vanity. This is what man does when he has vast resources and lots of ego and ambition and no God-honoring purpose.

Qohelet is a man of wide learning, vast material resources, formidable intelligence, and great energy. He appears to be a man who has all the ingredients for huge success as he pours himself into life. He has made great building projects and enjoyed all manner of sensual pleasures and has contemplated the complex riddles of life, but he lacks a God-honoring purpose. He has lived his life to please himself and to impress others, but now, as the end of his life draws irresistibly nearer, he realizes the vanity of it all. It is striving after wind. All is vanity, all is meaningless and futility under the sun. And death swallows it all.

Our hero lacks a purpose that has enduring value. He lacks purpose not because he is a fool and not because he is overtly wicked, but because he is a fallen human who does not know the LORD. This is the common problem of all fallen man since Adam. All of us come into this world without a God-honoring purpose. We have ambitions and goals and desires and energy, but we have no God-honoring and God-given purpose toward which we can channel all our desires and energy. And so we “strut and fret our hour upon the stage and then are heard no more.” Ours is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing” (from “MacBeth”).

Most people live and die without ever giving much thought to the purpose of their existence. Their life has no more influence, no greater legacy than that of a passing cloud. “As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer” (Ps. 103:15-16). Then there are a few who seem to have a mission of sorts for their lives. They are ambitious and energetic and they strive to do great things and to make a difference in the world. Of those who thus strive, a small percentage succeed. Qohelet is a standout, a giant in this small percentage, and he serves as a spokesman for those who are unusually successful “under the sun.” And what does Qohelet have to say about being successful “under the sun?” “So I hated life” (Eccl. 2:17). “Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun” (2:18). It seems that the reward for those who successfully strive after the wind is that they eventually hate life.

Although he cannot articulate it, Qohelet acutely senses his need for Purpose. He desperately tries to conjure up a satisfying reason for his existence by chasing purposes “under the sun,” but these earth-bound, death-ended purposes all fail.

There is a classic scene in the movie “Chariots of Fire” as Harold Abrams, a Jewish runner competing for England in the 100 meters in the 1924 Paris Olympics, makes his final preparations for the 100 meters gold medal race. He is talking to his trainer, but more to himself, as he contemplates the significance of this race. In his musing, we can sense how conflicted he is. His entire life has been lived for this moment, for this one event. To win this race has been his life’s single-minded obsession, but only now has he really considered the worth of his obsession. His rival, Eric Liddell, had refused to run on Sunday without the slightest regret, knowing that he (Liddell) served a greater King and lived for a God-honoring purpose. Liddell had thrown away the 100 meters final as if it was of no importance and he continued to be perfectly at peace, but Abrams, now in the race because of Liddell’s default, was distraught and desperate, for he knew he would not have peace even if he won this race. And so, he contemplates these things and finally says of the race, “Ten lonely seconds to justify my entire existence.”

Abrams ran fast to justify his existence, and Qohelet strives to accomplish great things to escape from a life of vanity, but the Preacher knows that all his grandest achievements are rendered meaningless by physical death. His finest accomplishments simply give death more opportunities to taunt him. For Qohelet, all his personal purposes are futile because death trumps man’s purposes. In his worldview, death reigns. No matter which path he takes, death is the master. Death has the final word.


But the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ declares that Christ has conquered death and Jesus gives to His disciples His purpose for their lives. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” “You shall be My witnesses to the ends of the earth.” “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The disciple of Jesus Christ has a God-given, God-honoring Purpose for this life, and then has a promised eternity in heaven as we enjoy worshiping our conquering King forever.

SDG                 rmb                 6/28/2022                   #549

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.


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 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 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?”


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

Sow your seed morning and evening (Ecclesiastes 11:6)

To be a witness for Jesus Christ is an essential part of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus has called His disciples to be witnesses to Him. In fact, the last thing that Jesus said to His disciples before He ascended to heaven after His resurrection was, “You shall be My witnesses . . . to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8).” Thus, being a witness (“martyr” in the Greek) for Jesus is virtually synonymous with being a disciple. And what is the best means that we have, as His followers, to witness for Him in this world? The best means we have been given is the gospel. We are called to sow the seed of the gospel so that Jesus Christ is glorified.


Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether this or that will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good. – Ecclesiastes 11:6

The author of Ecclesiastes gives us simple wisdom about successful agriculture in chapter 11, verse 6: Scatter the seed! And then continue to sow the seed. Morning and evening (an expression that means “all the time”) sow the seed, because you have no idea which will sprout, but we do know that you will not have a good harvest if you do not scatter any seed. Of course, God gives us this wisdom for more than just agriculture. When considering the seed of the gospel, what wisdom can we take away from this? Scatter the seed! Morning and evening and all the time sow the seed, for we do not know which of them God will use to change a heart.

Matthew 13 is a chapter that is full of “kingdom parables,” which tell us about the kingdom of heaven through stories of everyday life. In the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-8, Jesus tells the large crowds, “Behold, the sower went out to sow.” Then we see the sower scatter the seed indiscriminately on roads and among weeds and on the rocks and in good soil, apparently indifferent to where the seed is going. Yet, despite the sower’s careless sowing, Jesus makes no mention about the need for greater skill on the part of the sower. The sower is not rebuked. Why not? Because the sower is not called to evaluate the condition of the soil, but is called to sow the seed, and trust that the seed will yield a crop. The sower’s confidence is in the seed. Just so, we cannot see the condition of the human heart and so we cannot know what the Lord will do when we sow the seed of the gospel. We have been called to sow the seed indiscriminately and extravagantly and then trust the Lord to bring the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).


The sower who does not sow is a contradiction in terms. How can it be that the one who is defined by his task does not do the work that defines him? A sower is obviously hired to sow seed. If he does not sow seed, shouldn’t his compensation be in jeopardy? Indeed, his very identity is in jeopardy! Now, the believer is called to be a sower of the seed of the gospel. If we do not sow the gospel seed, shouldn’t we be concerned about our identity? Therefore, since Jesus has called us to be sowers of the seed of the gospel, let us be sure that we are laboring at our defining task.

If some of his master’s seed is “wasted” by extravagant and indiscriminate sowing, the sower will still be praised as faithful to his duty, because the master has called the sower into the field to sow. Now, we know that the seed of the gospel is potent seed and that the master has an ample supply, but we also know that the sowers of the seed are few (Matthew 9:37). Finding faithful sowers of the seed is the limiting factor.

The only “wasted seed” is the seed that is never sown.

The unfaithful sower is the sower who has been given seed that he does not sow (Matthew 25:24-26).

Let us, therefore, be faithful sowers who extravagantly scatter the seed of the gospel.

SDG                 rmb                 1/22/2021

The quest for purpose (Luke 13:7)

Man is a purpose-seeking creature. Built into man’s very nature is the deep need for a purpose that gives meaning to his days. Yet even though there seem to be myriad paths available to a person, there is no obvious guide for deciding which path to choose and there is no universal, default destination for where the chosen path should lead. So, without a path and without a destination, the natural man struggles to find purpose. Sometimes we feel like Alice in Wonderland as she encounters the Cheshire cat at the fork in the road. Alice asks the cat, “Please tell me which road I should choose.” “Well,” replies the cat, “that all depends on where you are going.” “I don’t know where I am going.” “In that case, either road will get you there.”


Man needs a purpose because in some sense he wants to justify his existence. If someone were to ask him one day, “What are you doing here, anyway?” he would like to give some credible answer. And yet, what answer could he give? “I don’t really know what I am doing here. I just showed up one day and kept breathing.” We seek to justify our existence and are frightened to discover that our best offering is pretty shaky.


We would love a compelling mission for our lives that gives us a laser beam focus, but, if the truth were told, we would settle for any mission at all. The scene that opens the movie “Apocalypse Now” shows Martin Sheen sitting on a sweat-soaked bed in Vietnam as the ceiling fan slowly stirs the sultry air, and then the voice-over says, “Saigon. Waiting for a mission.” That pictures the state of every person as they begin to grow toward maturity and begin to contemplate their existence. “Here I am. Waiting for a mission.” Where can anyone turn to find an answer to the question of purpose? Jesus tells a parable about a man who had a fig tree planted in his vineyard that produced no fruit. “Cut it down!” he says. “Why should it use up the ground? (Luke 13:7)” Whether we know the Lord or not, this question haunts us. “Why should he use up the ground?”


In my observation, there are three broad categories of purpose into which people fit.

  • No purpose
  • A man-made or man-invented purpose
  • A God-given purpose


The natural state and the starting point of all people in their quest for purpose is “no purpose.” This is the result of the Fall of man when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. One of the consequences of man’s sin is that he is separated from God and so is groping around for purpose and direction like the blind. Isaiah says, “We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes (59:10).” There may be some casual searches for meaning at different points in life, but eventually the search is abandoned, and life becomes a long and aimless chore. Often this is a life defined by random choices because they lack a compelling ‘why,’ and random choices are usually bad choices. Tragically, I think this may describe the majority of people.


It has already been observed that there are myriad paths in life available to a person, but there is no clear means for deciding which of those paths to take or why, and there is no default destination toward which a man or a woman should strive. Nevertheless, there are many who, because of their circumstances in life or because of their personality and character makeup, or both, find a path that, for whatever reason, appeals to them. The choice of path or purpose is often random (I remember we were on a trip to Florida on a summer break from college when I saw a rocket engine and decided to become a Mechanical Engineer!), but, having selected that course in life, men and women pour themselves into this “man-made purpose” with obsessive energy.

Some choose a career as being their obsession. Others choose their children or their family. Making money can be the purpose. Or sexual conquests. Or sports. Or really anything. Wrestling crocodiles. Chasing tornadoes. Politics. Being a “foodie.” The man-made purpose does not need to be important or impressive in the eyes of the world (although it often is). My obsession in my twenties and early thirties was rock climbing. (Like I said, it does not have to make sense or be impressive.) I poured myself into that activity and sacrificed almost everything else to pursue cragging. It seems foolish, but that is the nature of the man-made purpose. Once chosen the choice of the purpose is rarely questioned.

The author of Ecclesiastes, “the Preacher,” had chosen man-made pursuits. Enormously successful at all that he did, he was miserable. “So, I hated life! All is vanity and a striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 2:17).” Having given his life to wisdom and pleasure and accomplishment, he encountered that great equalizer. He encountered the problem of the six-foot hole. When considering his own death, he says, “The same event happens to all of them. How the wise dies just like the fool! As one dies, so dies the other (Ecclesiastes 2:14, 16; 3:19).” All those who pursue a man-made purpose will find vexation and emptiness in this life, and judgment in the next. “This, too, is vanity and a striving after wind.”


The best of all purposes is a God-given purpose. This is possessed by all those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Having been called by God to faith in Jesus, the believer has received the blessing of a clear purpose that pleases God, that is intensely fulfilling, that lasts a lifetime, and that receives the commendation in heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21, 23).” The believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit who is a divine guide for directing him or her to the right path (Isaiah 30:21). The believer has the mission of being a witness for Christ (Acts 1:8) and of being His ambassador in the world (2 Cor. 5:20), a mission that is joy-producing and satisfying and challenging. In trusting Christ as Savior, the believer has received a purpose that justifies their existence and that is worth spending a lifetime to accomplish. This purpose is worth living for and it is worth dying for.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” – the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21 

SDG                 rmb                 1/15/2021

Is our search for significance vanity? (Ecclesiastes)

So, I hated life!” “I hated all my work at which I worked!” These would be deeply disturbing statements from anyone, because of the misery that is revealed by them. There must be deep anguish of soul when someone says, “I hated life.” What makes these statements more troubling and even more baffling is that they were said not by someone who had led a life of failure and aimlessness and dissolution, but by a man who had lived what many would envy as an ideal life. Immense wealth and pleasure and fame and accomplishment, and yet somehow the result is an exclamation of, “So I hated life (Ecclesiastes 2:17).”

This introduces us to the complex book of “Ecclesiastes” in the Bible, a book that explores the question of whether it is possible to have meaning and significance in life when death seems to erase it all. The author, who I will refer to as Qohelet (Hebrew for “preacher”), appears to have mastered life and to have sucked all the juice out of his life well-lived. Building projects and wisdom, pleasures and accumulating wealth; he seems to have succeeded in everything he attempted. But there is one problem Qohelet has failed to solve: DEATH. All his grandest successes “under the sun” shrink into insignificance in the face of this one failure: “I will die.” Death renders life vain (“Vanity of vanities”). Death erases all that life wrote. Death trumps life, and life’s house of cards collapses. And so Qohelet views all effort, indeed, all of life to be just so much “striving after wind.” Is Qohelet right? Is life a pointless striving after wind since death awaits us all? If Qohelet is wrong, where does his error lie? Can we refute his statements or his conclusions? Better still, do we have a solution to his dilemma?


            First, let me say that I believe that Qohelet is driven by a search for significance, and the primary obstacle to anyone’s lasting significance is that event that concludes life, namely DEATH. If a person’s death does indeed erase all accomplishment and destroy all significance, as Qohelet assumed, then having significance in this life seems impossible. Qohelet accepted the ideas that death is final and that no purpose or significance transcends death, but I believe both of those ideas are false.

            Qohelet has realized late in life that performing all the right things “under the sun,” and even performing them very well, will not bring significance. Nothing “under the sun” can provide significance, because nothing “under the sun” is meant to provide it. Qohelet has focused his search along the horizontal plane, on what can be found “under the sun,” but significance is found vertically, in looking up.

It is also true that accomplishment never produces purpose. Rather, meaningful accomplishment flows out of purpose. First you receive the mission or the purpose, then you pursue those things that accomplish that mission. Qohelet got the order reversed.

            Finally, it seems to me that the Preacher lacks a compelling “why” for all that he is accomplishing. He has amazing abilities that allow him to achieve astonishing things, but his motivation for these comes from within himself, and is not given him from above. Qohelet needs a motivation that is greater than his own ambition, a God-given motivation.


            As one who has long contemplated my own significance and who has wrestled with Qohelet’s arguments, I have several thoughts to offer about solutions to these questions.

            I do not create my significance by what I do, nor is my significance achieved by my own effort. That is because significance is not manufactured from within, and thus is not to be found “under the sun,” but significance is given by the Lord who reigns over all and is humbly received by the man or woman who loves the Lord.

            My significance is a derived significance. By myself, my life is relatively insignificant. That is why my significance must be derived from another, from one who is infinitely significant. For I joyfully serve the living God and, through faith in Jesus Christ, I have come into a loving relationship with Him, and I derive my significance from His infinite majesty. I am an adopted child of the King of kings, and nothing I could accomplish in a thousand lifetimes would be more significant than that. And since I am in Christ, and Christ lives forever, death has lost its threat and the grave can no longer frighten.

            If we search for significance “under the sun,” we will always be “striving after wind.” But those who fear the Lord and worship the One who is worthy of all praise will find true contentment. They will rest in Him and rejoice in Him and receive with joy and thanksgiving the good things He provides and praise His name. They rejoice in hope now in this life “under the sun,” knowing that after death they will be forever rejoicing with Him.

            In short, significance is found in bowing the knee to the Lord Jesus and humbly and obediently walking with Him through life here “under the sun,” and then forevermore in heaven.

SDG                 rmb                 11/19/2020

More thoughts on Ecclesiastes 11

Back on August 31 I had posted an article about Ecclesiastes 11:1-4, “Casting bread upon the waters.” I have some more thoughts about that may be helpful and encouraging. This post will be not so much a single article but a collection of related thoughts.

The key words that come to mind in Ecclesiastes 11 are risk, stewardship, loss, trust the Lord, wisdom, contentment. The context of Ecclesiastes 11 can easily be adopted to wisdom about investing.

Regarding risk: Is risk different for a Christian? That is, does Christ make a difference in our view of risk? I think that the answer should be an unqualified “yes.” Perceived risk is directly related to trust in the Lord and to stewardship.

Stewardship is a word used mostly by Christians. Stewardship relates to how well my resources (primarily monetary, but they could also be time and talents) are being used for the purposes that Christ would approve.


            Since I have become a Christian, I find that even the definition of words related to money have changed. PROSPERITY: Prosperity has been dramatically redefined. Before I was a believer, “prosperity” was an entirely material word. It was about what was going on “under the sun.” More was always better. There was little regard for quality, because what I was measuring was dollars, and there is no “quality” for dollars. It’s about quantity. But now, prosperity is much more about pleasing the Lord. I am prosperous when my life is being lived in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.

            My monetary goals change as I grow as a Christian. Before I was a Christian, it was all and only about greed and about keeping score with dollars. The only goal was wealth and it was easy to keep score: He who dies with the most money wins. It was like Monopoly for adults. Since the objective was clear, the means for achieving the objective were clear and few. My peace, my contentment, my feeling of satisfaction, how well I was serving others, and so on were not considerations that deserved much attention.

            Hoarding money, which would have been a potential strategy for achieving my greed goal, reveals fear and distrust. I hoard money because I am afraid that if I don’t, I will not have enough. A hoarder has no confidence or trust in the giver of the goods. A hoarder feels the need to rely upon themselves.

            Saving money can be either a response to fear or an act of wise stewardship, and it can be difficult to detect the difference. If “saving” continues when there is more than ample resources available (Give us THIS DAY our daily bread), saving has become hoarding and it reveals a low level of trust in the Lord.

            Perhaps the action that shows the most spiritual maturity is an attitude of “godly spending.” Money is simply a conduit for bringing good things to others. It must be remembered that money is only good in its use.


            We can be generous with our resources because we have been promised prosperity by the God who sovereignly controls the universe. We can be generous because our trust is in the sovereign Lord, who loves us and has given us His promises. We can be generous because the Lord who controls all things makes a distinction between His people and the rest. The LORD delights in His people, and so His people have an enormous advantage. Because we have placed our faith in Christ, we can have confidence in an uncertain world. Faith in Christ entitles me to embrace the Lord’s precious and magnificent promises.

            The beginning of wisdom is THE FEAR OF THE LORD.

            Progress in wisdom flows from TRUST IN THE LORD.


Because we have already died (Colossians 3:3), we should have no fear of death.

Jesus says that we can never die (John 11:25-26). Thus, what do we have to lose.

The heroes of the Bible consistently take risks because they trust the LORD. Some of these risks are much more than outrageous. Gideon reduced his army from 30,000 to 300. David went up against Goliath with no sword, no shield, and no armor bearer, yet he was victorious because the LORD was with him. In Exodus 14, the LORD commands Moses to put the people of Israel in the place of maximum risk, then the LORD demolished Pharaoh and the Egyptian army.

In Numbers 14, the children of Israel refused to go into the land from Kadesh-Barnea because they feared the people of Canaan. Thus, they rebelled against the LORD and despised His provision. The consequence was that everyone from that generation fell dead in the wilderness wanderings.

Jeremiah was constantly threatened by his peers and by the kings who reigned while he prophesied, yet Jeremiah did not back down or shrink back. He declared, “The LORD is with me like a Dread Champion (Jeremiah 20:11).” If we have that same God giving us the same promises that He gave Jeremiah, why would we be any less bold than Jeremiah? This applies to our entire lives, including our perception of risk.

Finally, the LORD ALWAYS makes a distinction between His people and the rest. The LORD has promised to do us good. Psalm 1:3 gives us the promise that “everything that he does will prosper,” but if nothing is done, how can the LORD prosper the venture?

SDG                 rmb                 9/4/2020

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.


            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.


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