Death and Wisdom
Ecclesiastes: The Search For Meaning • Sermon • Submitted • Presented • 41:03
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Death and Wisdom
Death and Wisdom
In the slightly over two years I have been here, I have preached through a few books of the bible.
Galatians, Acts, John, and now Ecc.
And without a doubt, up to this point, Ecc has been my favorite.
We still have about half the book to go, but I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
I’m not saying I didn’t love going through the other books, but this one hits different.
Part of it is that I am usually a cynic at heart and Ecc speaks to my soul.
Solomon doesn’t steer away from the questions and complications of life.
He faces them head on.
He wants us to see the hardships, tragedies, and futility of life.
He wants us to see that Life and the things of this world are fleeting.
They are a pursuit of the wind.
Chasing after bubbles.
At the same time pointing out that we can find meaning in life if we have the right perspective.
Discovering that living life God’s way is the way that meaning is found.
And this morning’s text, especially the first few verses, marks the mid way point of Ecc.
And at this midway point, Solomon is going to shift gears a little.
There are still going to be themes and call backs to the previous chapters, but here he wants to do something different.
He wants to give us some advice on how to life a life with meaning.
He wants to give us practical steps and perspective on the meaningful life.
And the way that he does that is through showing our limitations as humans.
That we are mortal creatures whose life is going to one day end.
But by living wisely instead of foolishly we will honor our lives and honor God in the process.
There are benefits for us when we live wisely.
And we do all this knowing and trusting in God’s Sovereignty.
But before we dive into God’s word, let’s pray and ask for his guidance.
10 Whatever exists was given its name long ago, and it is known what mankind is. But he is not able to contend with the one stronger than he. 11 For when there are many words, they increase futility. What is the advantage for mankind? 12 For who knows what is good for anyone in life, in the few days of his futile life that he spends like a shadow? Who can tell anyone what will happen after him under the sun?
These few verses are packed with insights and could probably be a sermon on their own, but the over arching theme is that we are limited.
In the first part of v. 10, Solomon says Ecc 6:10 “10 Whatever exists was given its name long ago, and it is known what mankind is..."
As I have stated many times in this Series, Solomon is interested in recovering eden in this broken world.
And in this verse, he takes us back to the Genesis narrative and points to the fact that God knows who we are.
That He named us.
Our name was given long ago.
And he isn’t speaking specifically of your personal name.
He is talking about humans in General.
Mankind. or as the Hebrew Word “A’dam”
When we were given our name from our creator he knew what he was doing.
You see you get to name things that you have authority over.
You name your kids, your pets, and some of you even name your car.
You are the owner and authority in that persons, animals, or automobiles life.
There is nothing new under the sun. Names have already been assigned from the dawn of creation.
And with our naming comes our limitations.
It doesn’t translate very well into English, but in naming man “A’dam” in Genesis 1 &2, God is naming us by where we come from.
A’dam is very close and shares meaning with Adama which means soil.
Essentially, our name, our category as man, or as A’dam links us closely with the earth.
From dirt we came, to dirt we will return.
We are mortal and limited compared to the God who fashioned the dirt into man.
Who breathed life into his lungs.
And b/c we are animated dirt. A creation of the almighty God, then we cannot “contend with the one stronger than [us]” end of v.10.
This is no doubt an allusion to God’s power and sovereignty over his creation.
You may want to think that you can wrestle with God.
That you can win a bout with God.
That you know better than God.
That your life would be better without God.
But that’s b/c you don’t recognize your limitations.
And recognizing your limitations is important to living a godly life.
Trying to contend with God is identical to what man did in the Garden.
Through the deception of the snake man contended with God to try to become like him.
Adam and Eve wanted to see what God was holding back from them.
They wanted to rebel against God b/c they thought the fruit was better than God’s instruction.
So they ate and came to know good and evil.
So rather than submission and trust there was contention and rebellion.
Leading to a broken relationship with the creator.
And like we looked at a few weeks ago v.11 points out that you can’t out bargain God with your words.
The contention with God in v. 10 lends its definition to arguing or trying to persuade God.
But here again it’s important to know our limitation.
No amount of words or pleading will bring you to the position of God.
This is why we need to “let our words be few” in the sight of God.
B/c the more we talk the more foolish we look.
The more we dig ourselves into a hole.
But if we know our limitations and we rightly approach God and not contend with him, but trust him as creator.
So when Solomon ends v. 11 with the question “what is the advantage for mankind?”
It’s a rhetorical question meant to cause us to reflect on the truth he just spoke.
Man is but a shadow.
A creation that came from dirt and will return to dirt.
Our life and breath is granted to us through the good and perfect creator.
We aren’t as good and powerful as we would like to think.
In fact, Adam has already shown us who we are.
We are rebellious creatures who should know better, but would rather contend with God rather than trust and obey.
Solomon closes this look at human limitations by asking a couple of questions in v.12
Ecc 6:12 “12 For who knows what is good for anyone in life, in the few days of his futile life that he spends like a shadow? Who can tell anyone what will happen after him under the sun?”
Here’s the jumping off point for the next section of scripture that we are going to look at.
Who knows what is good?
If we are limited in our understanding and in our nature how could we possibly know what is good for us.
Our life is short and in the presence of God it is simply a shadow.
We think of limitations as a negative thing.
Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do?
Momma told me that I can do anything that I want if I put my mind to it?
But limitations aren’t negative.
In fact, they can be freeing.
Knowing that you don’t have complete control of your life frees you to trust in God and can free you from the anxiety of control.
Knowing the area in which God has gifted you frees you to flourish in that area rather than struggling with a gift that isn’t yours.
Knowing that you don’t have all the answers frees you to search for and trust the one who does.
And where Solomon is really leading us moving forward, knowing that your life is short.
That you are going to die, frees you to live.
To live for what matters most.
To live for what is actually important.
Death is on Solomon’s mind b/c he knows that death is truly the great equalizer.
He knows that knowing we are going to die forces us to define how we are going to truly live.
One of the things we are going to see as we move through the next several verses is a refrain that we have seen and talked about earlier in our study of Ecc.
Your going to see a lot of x is better than y.
So we can call this section better and better.
Or if you don’t like grammar. Gooder and Gooder.
So how do we find the good mentioned in v.12, by chasing after the “better thans.”
By living wisely in the sight of the Lord.
By recognizing our limitations and God’s sovereignty and authority over our lives.
Solomon is going to present us with 13 different proverbs in these next 13 verses, but we are going to break them up by theme.
5-10 Choose Wisely
11-13 Wisdom’s Benefits
And we will wrap up in v.14 with God’s Sovereignty.
1 A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.
Like I said earlier, the reality of death should bring with it proper perspective.
Knowing that our lives are finite and simply a vapor should push us to seek and understand our place in the world.
Unfortunately, we don’t think about death too often.
In fact, we tend to avoid the thought of death.
We really don’t want to be faced with our own mortality.
But here, Solomon reminds us that there is nothing that we can do to escape death’s coming.
In fact, the death of someone really solidifies their “legacy”
“A good name is better than fine perfume”
Having a good reputation is important to living a life of wisdom and “better than”
Being better than fine perfume means that a good name is valuable. B/c Fine perfume was expensive.
A luxury not available for everyone.
You may not be able to afford fine perfume, but having a good name was something that is within your control.
The way that you talk and interact with people either sullies your name or bolsters it.
Do you have integrity?
Are you kind and generous with your life?
Are you seeking the things of God, well then you will have a good name.
Are you selfish, self-centered, greedy, stingy, then your name will not be great.
So with every comment and every action we either build up or tear down our reputation.
And here’s the deal, as long as we live our reputation is still somewhat in limbo.
We don’t really know what impact we made until we die.
Our reputation isn’t sealed until we die.
And that’s why Solomon says Ecc 7:1 “...and the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.”
Its sounds a little awkward and weird that death would be better than being born, but Solomon has said things like that before in Ecc.
Death is the transition between the toil of life to the rest in death.
And death is really better for those who are in Christ.
B/c we get to rest with him.
We get to see our savior face to face.
We get to enter into glory and worship the one who died for us.
We no longer worship him through a glass darkly, but rather we get to see the fullness of his goodness and glory.
And I don’t know about you, but I am excited about that day.
For the follower of Jesus death isn’t something that should be dreaded.
Instead we should embrace death a this beautiful transition.
Do we want to die, not necessarily, but are we ready to die absolutely.
The goodness we experience this side of heaven will be nothing compared to the goodness on the other side.
And one of the reasons that we fear death is b/c, we do tend to avoid it.
We don’t think about it.
Instead we fill our lives with ways to avoid death.
But Solomon tells us that it is wise to expose ourselves to death’s reality.
2 It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, since that is the end of all mankind, and the living should take it to heart. 3 Grief is better than laughter, for when a face is sad, a heart may be glad. 4 The heart of the wise is in a house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in a house of pleasure.
I don’t know about you, but often times I would rather go to a part than to a funeral.
But Solomon wants us to see in these proverbs that it is good for us to mourn.
It is good for us to grieve.
It is good to witness and be around death.
He’s not saying that we should always avoid feasts or pleasure, but he is saying that it is to our benefit when we look at death in the face.
When we are around those who have lost a loved one.
When we see and experience the reality of our own mortality.
Just b/c we avoid death doesn’t mean we aren’t going to experience.
Death is the “end of all mankind, and the living should take it to heart.”
We should find and remember to live our life’s in light of death b/c we can’t escape it.
But again as Christians we also know that death isn’t the final destination.
That there is beauty in death b/c of Unity with X.
Not only that, but going to a good funeral helps us prepare for our own death.
We can look around at the tragedy of death around us and know that there are things in this world that truly matter and there are things that don’t matter.
And if we live in light of the fact that each of our lives are going to end in death then we are spurred on to live lives for the things that matter and not the things that don’t.
Ecc 7:3 “3 Grief is better than laughter, for when a face is sad, a heart may be glad.”
How can this be?
How can grief be better than laughter?
B/c when grieving we find that there is somewhere to go.
Not only that, but if our lives are always filled with frivolous laughter, we are hiding from the reality around us.
To be well rounded people we need to know joy and sorrow.
We need to know pleasure and pain.
We need to know the ups and the downs.
The is the world we live in.
So dealing with death is good for the heart.
“We gain more wisdom from going to one good funeral than we do from going to a whole year’s worth of birthday parties.”
Dealing with death and all its sorrow makes us better people.
Seeking after the wisdom of God doesn’t mean avoiding the things that make are realities for us.
We live in a broken world where death is the end all of us will meet.
Trying to life a life avoiding death is living a life not chasing after the truth.
And if we aren’t chasing after the truth then we are not going to be chasing after wisdom.
It’s foolish to think your life is all about pleasure.
It’s foolish to only want to chase after laughter and happiness.
It’s foolish b/c it isn’t true.
So we need the somber reminder that death is real.
Death is coming.
But at the same time we know that on this side of the Cross, death isn’t the final reality.
We have a prize in death that is sweeter and greater than any pleasure and prize on the earth.
We get Jesus. We get to be held by him.
Yes death is real, but so is the fact that Jesus defeated the sting and pain of death.
And in the death of a loved one who passed we can rejoice that they are now in the arms of Jesus.
So through the grief there is joy to be found.
True joy. Not manufactured laughter.
So on the path to living wisely we need to know our limitations and embrace death’s reality, but that’s not all.
There is more to living wisely.
We need to make a choice to live within the bounds of God’s wisdom or to venture outside those boundaries and move towards foolish living.
That’s what Solomon is going to introduce us to next.
5 It is better to listen to rebuke from a wise person than to listen to the song of fools, 6 for like the crackling of burning thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of the fool. This too is futile.
If you are seeking the wisdom of the Lord you need to be open to correction.
This can be a difficult thing for some of us.
We don’t want to be corrected.
We feel like we don’t need to be corrected.
Correction and rebuke are amazing tools that God uses to give us wisdom.
Wisdom is always open to more wisdom.
And we learn more from our failure and corrections than we do from living ignorantly.
Harsh but loving words from a spouse, friend, or mentor serve to help us see our blind spots in life.
And we all have them.
But most of the time we don’t see them, hence why they are called blind spots.
Definitely the songs of fools can be more enjoyable to listen to but they are also empty and hollow.
That’s what it means when he talks about the fools words are like thorns under the pot.
Using thorns as fire wood is empty and vain.
They make a lot of noise crackling loudly but quickly fade away not offering heat or substance.
Just because something is loud, noisy, or distracting doesn’t mean that it is good and wise.
We need to know that the pain of rebuke is for our good.
The recognition that we need help seeing our blind spots is a grace of God.
We may not like it at the time, but we become more wise when we know and heed the advise of a wise man.
I’ve used this example before when it comes to my life, but I for those that haven’t heard it it’ll be new to you.
When I was doing my seminary work in NC, we were heavily involved in our church at the time.
And Specifically the small group ministry.
When we were leaving one evening from our small group, the leader pulled me aside and asked if we could get some coffee the next morning before work.
I agreed and we met at the coffee shop.
Things were good for a few minutes before he told me why he wanted to meet.
He wanted to meet b/c he had witnessed some of my interactions with Corrie and he was concerned.
He rebuked me b/c he saw that the way I would talk to her or treat her didn’t honor God or my marriage.
Now it wasn’t something so outrageous that most people would notice, but it was a snide remark here or there.
And he reminded me that I should be careful and mindful of the way that I talk to my wife.
Now when I first heard that rebuke I was caught off guard.
I didn’t know what to think let alone what to say.
I didn’t think that things were bad enough to warrant this confrontation
But he was right.
As I reflected on things I said and how I treated Corrie, I started to notice that it wasn’t honoring to God or our marriage.
So I started to be more mindful of how I spoke and treated her.
It took strength, love, and wisdom for that man to rebuke me.
And it took wisdom on my part to heed his rebuke.
Now I’m not saying that things were perfect or that I was perfect from that moment forward, but I am saying that it would have been completely foolish for me to ignore his rebuke.
So if someone wiser than you rebukes you for your behavior, I would suggest taking their rebuke not as an attack, but as correction.
That’s the wise thing to do.
Rather than ignoring them and listening to the song of fools which are loud, but they are empty.
As the Royal king, Solomon takes us to another avenue of wisdom that isn’t necessarily for everyone.
It is for a specific subset of people in authority.
7 Surely, the practice of extortion turns a wise person into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the mind.
Here’s the thing, when Solomon is talking about extortion and bribery he is specifically talking about someone who is a position of political power and influence.
Extortion and bribery are unwise b/c they play into the avenue of greed and corruption.
Most of us in here will never hold political office, but the reality is is that those of us in leadership my face some of the same temptations.
We may allow people to bribe us to do something that we wouldn’t otherwise do.
We need to consistently be pursuing goodness and justice in all of our affairs.
We don’t need to be tempted by greed to do things that oppose God’s design and subvert God’s justice.
Being influenced by greed, extortion, and bribery is unwise and ungodly.
What other proverbs does Solomon have for us?
8 The end of a matter is better than its beginning; a patient spirit is better than a proud spirit. 9 Don’t let your spirit rush to be angry, for anger abides in the heart of fools.
The end of the matter that Solomon is talking about here is the result of something.
The destination of the journey you are on.
And the reality is that the end is better than the beginning.
Many things that don’t seem promising at the beginning end up turning out well in the end.
But we have to look forward.
We have to continue to move toward the destination.
B/c we know that Romans 8:28 is true.“28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
And let me just say this as well, even if the end of the journey isn’t as good as we thought.
The journeys we take in life aren’t all there is.
We know that our end is going to be better than our beginning b/c we are saved and held by J.C.
That this life may be hard.
That the road may be difficult.
But that our destination is the arms of Jesus.
Pure and unadulterated fellowship with our king.
The hardships and difficulties in life are but a flash in the pan compared to the glory we are going to experience when our life is over.
So we need to be patient.
We need to endure.
Not giving ourselves over to pride.
Not thinking that God owes us something.
Not believing that we could do better than God in guiding our lives.
No we need to know that he is working and that trust in his plan and purposes.
And while we endure we need to not allow our hearts and minds to be provoked to doing evil.
That we aren’t to get irritated and angry so that we sin.
We patiently and humbly continue knowing that God is at work.
He never promises us that we will avoid the valley, but he does promise that he will be with us in it.
So we look to him.
We embrace him and we trust him.
Looking forward to the prize at the end of this Journey of life. That is Fellowship with God.
But unfortunately, it can be hard to look forward.
In fact, too often we hold on to the past.
10 Don’t say, “Why were the former days better than these?” since it is not wise of you to ask this.
Abandon The Good Ole Days
Abandon The Good Ole Days
I have had people in my life and circle of influence say, “Man, I wish we could go back to the “Good Ole Days.”
In fact, there was a politician that built his campaign around that idea.
The fact is that the past is a good reference point, but it is a horrible anchor.
We don’t need to idealize the past.
We don’t need to hold fast to the former days.
B/c if we are honest, what we normally do is completely ignore the problems of the past and only look at the good.
If we actually throughly examine “the good ole days”then we would probably see that they weren’t as good as we think they were.
Maybe some aspects were better than they are today, but no era or time period has ever been one where we need to long for it to return.
And on top of that, That’s not how God created time to work.
We can’t go back.
We can only move forward.
So rather than “reveling in the glory of the good ole’ days” maybe we should look up and make each day, today and the future, better.
Maybe as followers of Jesus we should be creating a culture in our neighborhoods and families today that glorifies God.
We need to know that moving on and moving forward is the wise thing to do.
Cause if we are anchored in the past we can’t see God moving in the present.
So as we can see, Solomon is concerned with wisdom.
He wants those who hear his words to pursue wisdom.
But why should we pursue wisdom?
11 Wisdom is as good as an inheritance and an advantage to those who see the sun, 12 because wisdom is protection as silver is protection; but the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of its owner. 13 Consider the work of God, for who can straighten out what he has made crooked?
Solomon in earlier chapters has said a lot about money and it’s inability to satisfy.
Not that money is unimportant, but that wealth shouldn’t be our goal and consuming passion in life.
And here he tells us that the Wisdom is as good an inheritance as silver.
That wisdom guides and guards us.
That wisdom preserves the life of the one who is wise.
Wisdom is beneficial in our lives b/c it reminds us of how God designed us to live.
Wisdom, true spiritual wisdom, penetrates deeply in our hearts, minds, and souls and reorients us to God’s will for our lives.
True and Godly wisdom pushes us to pursue Recovering Eden.
True and Godly wisdom forces us to see the problems with the things of this world and guards us from their vain pursuit.
True and Godly wisdom forces us to have the good and Godly perspective of the world.
Reminds us of God’s plans and purposes for his creation.
True and Godly wisdom highlights that we are a creation and that we are limited in power and influence.
True and Godly wisdom puts us in our proper position before the king of the universe.
True and Godly wisdom shows us the heart of God.
Why should we pursue wisdom?
B/c it is good and right to do so.
It is true and wholesome.
And ultimately it Glorifies God.
But how do we know that true and Godly wisdom is good?
Because our Good is Good.
How can we trust in true and godly wisdom?
Knowing and Believing that our God is Sovereign.
14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity, consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that no one can discover anything that will come after him.
Pursuing True and Godly wisdom keeps us anchored in the goodness of God.
Here’s how Solomon wraps up these proverbs about wisdom.
God is in control.
God is smarter, and more powerful than you.
He has brought about the good days and the bad days.
He is the source of all joy and goodness.
He is in control of the valley and darkness.
The promise of God is that regardless of what happens in life, he is never caught off guard.
So we rejoice in knowing that God takes what is crooked and makes it straight.
That God is working out all things for our good, that is our being shaped and molded into the image of Jesus, and for his Glory.
That is his praise and majesty on full display.
So it is wise to trust in him.
It is wise to listen to him.
It is wise to know him.
It is foolish to think you know better than him.
It is foolish to think that God is ignorant of your situation.
It is foolish to not trust in him, listen to him, or know him.
So where do you want to be counted today?
Among the wise or among the foolish?
Jesus came to this earth to live a perfect life so that you could be restored.
He died to cover your sins.
And he rose again to defeat death so that we could be reunited with God.
You are a sinner in need of a savior.
Jesus is that savior.
Give your life to him.