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Ecclesiastes 7 Sermon

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Ecclesiastes 7 Sermon

June 23-24, 2007

Big Idea: Wisdom, though imperfect, if based on a fear of God, preserves life and gives it meaning.

I.       Introduction

A.    Secular – Isaac Newton’s secular achievements

1.      Isaac Newton has been in the news recently, and if you don’t remember who he was, here are some quick facts about his life.

2.      He was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer and natural philosopher, and according to a recent poll in England, has had a greater impact on science and humankind than even Albert Einstein.

3.      Some of his achievements include:          

a.       He published his Principia Mathematica in 1687 which is a foundational text still today.

b.      In it he described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion.  We remember him sitting under an apple tree.

c.       He explained that the motions of objects here on earth and of planets and stars were governed by the same set of natural laws.

d.      He invented the reflecting telescope through optical innovations and advanced the particle theory of light as well as the use of prisms.

e.       In addition, he helped develop the mathematical discipline of calculus.

4.      Because of these talents and achievements, he became world-famous.

a.       Much of what he discovered and wrote about college students still discuss today.

b.      He has literally changed the world, but what’s more, he was recognized in his own time as doing that.

B.     Personal

1.      Don’t you ever wish you could be famous like that?  That people would look up to you and remember you?

2.      That you could invent something, discover something, or just think of something that would change the world and benefit people for generations to come?

3.      Have you ever wished you could be that wise?

C.     Biblical

1.      The guy that we’re studying right now, the Preacher, certainly wanted that as well, and he certainly considered himself to be very wise.

2.      In the book of Ecc., which we’re going through, the Preacher’s spent six chapters telling us what he has researched and observed in life.  I don’t know if you’ve picked up on this, but so far it hasn’t been too good.

a.       The word “meaningless” or “vanity” has come up a few times to describe not only the various aspects of life that give us pleasure

b.      But all of life is described in this way also.

c.       Of the 38x the word for “vanity” appears in this book, we’ve seen 26 of them already, or 2/3 in just ½ of the book.

3.      Everything that he has set his mind to discover and observe has just made him come up empty.  His conclusions are not very uplifting.

D.    Textual

1.      However this week we’re in Chapter 7 of Ecclesiastes and the purpose and structure of the book changes just a bit.

2.      The first six chapters were the Preacher giving us his data; what he has found from extensive research, and some of his conclusions regarding the meaning of the data.

3.      Up until this point the Preacher hasn’t been focused too much on the “Now what can I do with this?”, or as a friend of mine likes to call it, the “So What?” of the message.

a.       He hasn’t made the rubber hit the road quite yet.

b.      Until now.

4.      Beginning in Chapter 7, we get conclusions from his observations and advice on what to do with it.

5.      Thus begins a very practical section, that applies for you and I today as well.

6.      Although we begin a practical section, the Preacher wants to help us make that transition by giving us some proverbs about wisdom and folly to chew on first.

7.      And while the first half of this book could be characterized by the use of the word “vanity”, this chapter alone contains ¼ of the occurrences for the word for “good”, which also shows up as “better”.  So we see a shift in attitude, as well as content and form.

II.    Exposition

A.    Wisdom, Though Imperfect, Preserves Life (1-14)

1.      Wisdom Remembers Our Mortality, Folly Laughs It Off (1-4)

a.       There is a day that all of us will die. 

1.)    Folly laughs it off and takes nothing seriously.  It wastes money, talents, energies all in celebrating “today” and giving no thought to tomorrow.

2.)    Wisdom looks at life and takes it seriously.  Not to say that you’re not allowed to have any fun, but keeping it all in a proper perspective.

b.      A wise person sees that our days are numbered and lives rightly within them.

1.)    Ps. 90:12 says “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom”

2.)    Much of the Preacher’s frustration with life, especially in the first chapter, came from the observation that we’re all going to die, therefore, it seemed to him, everything we do is worthless.

3.)    Here he takes that same fact of mortality, and now says that we can use that understanding to live wisely now, and improve ourselves morally, which is what v. 3 is speaking towards.

c.       Illustrations

1.)    One show I like to watch is CSI.  I enjoy the lab work and the scientific angle.  I thing that becomes apparent right from the beginning, however, is that nearly every dies in a state of foolishness.

a.)    They’re partying and carrying on as if there will be no consequences to their actions and in the morning they end up dead.

2.)    King Philip II of Macedon understood this truth.

a.)    He was father to Alexander the Great and king before him.

b.)    He had a full-time servant whose job was to stand in his presence and periodically say “Philip, you will die.”

2.      Wisdom Recognizes Our Weaknesses, Folly Ignores Them (5-10)

a.       A wise person understands that they have weaknesses, that there are kinks in their armor.

b.      The Preacher gives several examples of what our weaknesses might be.

1.)    We like to be flattered (5-6)

a.)    While we might be tempted to simply listen to all of the good things people might say

b.)    It is better for us if we seek out honest counsel from a wise person.

2.)    We have a price (7)

a.)    When it comes down to it, we all have a price.  We all have an amount with which we can be bought and compromise our morals and values.

b.)    That price will be different for each of us, and what we’re selling will be different but it exists.

c.)    The price may be someone who pays special attention to us, the promise of a promotion, or just the thrill of “getting away with it”.

d.)   But what we lose will be our family, our job, our friends, our integrity.

e.)    Wisdom is knowing what your price is, and avoiding it with all your strength.

3.)    We can be impatient, proud and angry (8-9)

a.)    Especially when things are not going our way

b.)    A fool will step in and rashly make a mess of everything, thinking that he can do better, but most likely doing more harm.

c.)    Wisdom shows patience both with people and with projects.

4.)    We can be dissatisfied (10)

a.)    Nothing that happens in our life is any good, so we constantly complain and curse about it.

b.)    Wisdom understand that yesterday is gone, and while we can learn from it, we shouldn’t dwell in it.

c.       Wisdom recognizes our weaknesses and takes precautions accordingly so that our integrity is not compromised and our good name remains intact.

3.      Wisdom Preserves Life, Folly Makes It Meaningless (11-14)

a.       It’s best to read this verse “with an inheritance”

1.)    Wisdom understands that although money and wealth can provide for our shelter and our needs, they can be foolishly wasted and destroyed.

b.      Using our inheritance, our money, with wisdom will guide us through difficult times and is what preserves our life in the end.

c.       Illustration:  I think of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 who demanded that he receive his father’s inheritance from him early.

a.)    He went out and squandered every last penny on wine, women and song; living life foolishly.

b.)    He walked out from under the shelter of using his inheritance wisely and it nearly cost him his life.

d.      Regardless of the good times or the bad, our responsibility is to continue to act wisely.

1.)    God has made both kinds of days, and we can’t change them.

2.)    Job said that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.  He also said, “Shall we receive the good from the hand of God and not also receive the bad?”

3.)    Paul said in Philippians 4:12-13, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

e.       Wisdom understands that these days will come, but God is sovereign over all of them, and that confidence should help us persevere and preserve our life in tough times.

4.      So we see how wisdom has a proper perspective on life, (that it will end), on ourselves, (that we have weaknesses), and on wealth (God is sovereign over it).

B.     Wisdom, Though Imperfect, Works Through Fearing God (15-29)

1.      Fear God For Meaning In Life (15-18)

a.       Problem: Righteous Suffer and Wicked Prosper (15)

b.      Wrong Reactions:  Overstriving and Oversinning (16-17)

1.)    Overstriving and overwisdom is really folly because it forgets to take our weaknesses into consideration.

2.)    Oversinning is just giving up on all of it and throwing in the towel because it seems too hard and not worth it.

c.       Right Response: Faith in God (18)

1.)    “Golden Mean” solution

a.)    Comes from misunderstanding the first half of v. 18.

b.)    Better to understand v. 18b as “will follow them both”

2.)    The right response is to fear God, and to follow Him and Him alone by following after wisdom and righteousness.

2.      Do Not Expect Perfect Wisdom (19, 23-25)

a.       Wisdom is powerful and effective (v. 19)

b.      But it is not fully accessible to us, both personally and generally (vv. 23-25)

1.)    The Preacher said that “I am determined to be wise” and earlier in 1:16, “Look, I am the wisest guy around, wiser than anyone before me.”

2.)    Yet he also discovered that perfect, true wisdom was beyond him, that he couldn’t attain it.

c.       What about following after righteousness?

3.      Do Not Expect Perfect People (20-22, 26-29)

a.       Although there are people who lead righteous lives and strive for righteousness, there is no one who is perfect in righteousness.

1.)    His example of this is the cursing servant.

2.)    He reminds us that as much as we hate when people speak behind our back, gossip and put us down.

3.)    If we’re truly honest with ourselves, we would see the same thing.

b.      Verses 26-29 are very difficult and have caused controversy among many people.

1.)    He seems to be saying that women are a snare to trap men and that while there may be one righteous man, there are no righteous women.

2.)    Feminist theologians claim here that the Preacher is a misogynist; a woman-hater, therefore they are justified in ripping out these verses from their Bibles.

3.)    Others explain that this is just the patriarchal, male-dominated culture that they lived in and that he’s simply speaking in terms that his audience would be able to grasp.

c.       I don’t like either of those explanations and prefer a third.

1.)    Remember that the Preacher is giving us his personal observations.  He’s telling us what he’s observed in life.

2.)    If the Preacher is Solomon, then it makes sense to what he’s saying because in his life he hasn’t seen any righteous women.

a.)    His mother was an adulteress.

b.)    His 1000 wives and concubines only served to take his heart away from God.

c.)    Within that we also see his opinion of himself because he admits that he was a sinner who was ensnared and not someone who pleased God.

3.)    What is the truth that we can take out of this for our situation today?

a.)    That although the Preacher found only one person in a thousand who was upright a righteous (and it wasn’t him), it was because mankind has chosen to walk away from wisdom and righteousness and follow their own schemes.

b.)    Whatever you make of the previous verses, they have to be understood in light of verse 29.

c.)    God made the human race in His own image, and because of man’s desire to live foolishly and do things without God, wisdom and righteous people are now a scarcity.

III. Application

A.    We’ve gone over the text and have seen several things that wisdom can and cannot do for us.  Although wisdom is a great benefit for us, it is imperfect and incomplete without a proper fear of God in our lives.

B.     The main point of this message is that meaning in our life, wisdom, righteousness does not come from our own abilities and power, but can only come through fearing God.  What does it mean to fear God?

1.      Easton’s Bible Dictionary says that “It is a fear conjoined with love and hope, and is therefore not a slavish dread, but rather filial reverence.”

2.      It is genuine fear, but it is mixed with love and hope so that the result is reverence.

a.       We must remember that the same God who created the universe in six days and said that it was “very good” is the same God who destroyed it all with a flood in the days of Noah.

b.      The same God who chose Israel to be His chosen people is the same God who at various times punished them, judged them, and allowed others to conquer them.

c.       The same God who rose Jesus from the grave was the same God who allowed Him to die in the first place.

d.      We fear Him and reverence Him because He is the God who gives us blessings and fulfills His promises to us.  However, He is also the same God of whom the writer to the Hebrews said, “ ‘The Lord will judge His people.’  It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (10:31)

C.     Because we fear Him we want to live our lives for Him.  Not to appease Him, but because we fear and reverence and worship Him.

D.    What does this look like?

1.      It is one that lives by faith and obeys Him even in tough times.

a.       Exodus 1:17 says that the Hebrew midwives feared God, therefore, they felt compelled to disobey the Pharaoh’s evil command and instead allow the newborn baby boys to live.  Therefore God was kind to them and preserved their lives.

b.      Heb. 11:7 says that Noah had a holy and reverent fear of God which motivated him to build the ark and preach to others about the coming flood of destruction.

c.       Abraham was stopped by the angel of the Lord from following God’s command and sacrificing Isaac in Gen. 22 because the angel now knew that Abraham feared God.

2.      It is one that asks for what we do not have.

a.       Ps. 111:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

b.      Job 28:28 says, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.”

c.       We know that a life of faith and a life of wisdom are inexorably linked.

d.      In addition, God says in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault.”

3.      God offers us this wisdom through His Son Jesus Christ.

a.       Isaiah says that the spirit of wisdom, understanding and counsel would rest on Him and that He would be for us a Wonderful Counselor.

b.      The Bible also says in Rom. 3 that God offers us His righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ so that instead of trying to manufacture our own imperfect wisdom and righteousness, God offers these things in perfect form through Christ.

E.     A life that fears God walks by faith in obeying His commands and believing in His Son Jesus.

IV. Conclusion

A.    I said at the beginning that Isaac Newton was in the news recently.

1.      It seems that people have re-discovered some of his writings from the early 1700s that he predicted, based on complicated calculations, that the world would end no earlier than 2060.

2.      Not that he wrote this out of vain conjecture, or for the temporary fame it would get him 300 years later, but that Newton was a God-fearing man.

a.       He said, “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion.  God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done.”

b.      In fact, Newton’s writings on religious topics outnumber is scientific writings.

c.       Newton’s wisdom lives on today because his wisdom was based on God’s wisdom and on a fear of Him.

B.     It is folly; not living in fear of God, not obeying His commands, not believing in His Son, that makes our lives meaningless, vanity and frustrating.

C.     Wisdom lives for God, in fear of God, by faith in God and produces a life of meaning and eternal worth.

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