Ecclesiastes is a unique book. Most think it was written by Solomon near the end of his life, and it’s a book of perspectives and of insights about the purpose of life. It’s a book of depression as Solomon tries to find pleasure in this world, only to find that eternal pleasure in this temporary, human world is not possible. Nothing gives him meaning, everything is like chasing after the wind.
Solomon pondered many questions from his own perspective, and Solomon’s thoughts and actions were not always based on God’s principles. From Solomon’s laments, we learn from his mistakes so we don’t spend our lives chasing after the wind. Here are some key verses that sum up this book –
- Ecclesiastes 1:2, “’Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity’”.
- Ecclesiastes 1:18, “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:11, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”
- Ecclesiastes 12:1, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.'”
- Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
Two phrases, “vanity” and “under the sun,” are repeated often in Ecclesiastes. The word “vanity” (your version may say “meaningless”) is used to emphasize the temporary nature of worldly things. In the end, all of our achievements and accomplishment will be left behind. And the phrase, “under the sun” occurs 28 times, and refers to our human world. Everything under the sun is meaningless, Solomon says.
Maybe Solomon didn’t try everything, you may be thinking. Solomon was the wisest and richest man who ever lived, and here is what he tried –
- Scientific discovery (Ecc 1:10-11)
- Wisdom and philosophy (Ecc 1:13-18)
- Amusement / entertainment (Ecc 2:1)
- Alcohol (Ecc 2:3)
- Architecture (Ecc 2:4)
- Property (Ecc 2:7-8)
- Luxury (Ecc 2:8).
- Materialism (Ecc 2:19-20)
- And even different moral codes (Ecc chapters 8-9).
Everything was meaningless, a temporary diversion. Without God, nothing had purpose or longevity. The remaining chapters 8-12 of Ecclesiastes discuss the conclusion about how a worthwhile life should be lived. Without God, there is no truth. Without God, there is no meaning to life. There are many evils in this world, and even the best of man’s achievements are worth nothing when compared to eternity. So what should we do? Solomon’s conclusion is that a life well lived consisted of two things,
- Acknowledge God from our youth (Ecc 12:1)
- Follow God’s will (Ecc 12:13-14).
For all of the vanities described in the Book of Ecclesiastes, the answer is Christ. Here are some examples –
|Ecc 3:17 God judges the righteous and the wicked,||2 Cor 5:21 Only those who are in Christ are judged righteous.|
|Ecc 3:11 God has placed the desire for eternity in our hearts.||John 3:16 God has provided the Way to eternal life through Christ.|
|Ecc 5:10 Striving after wealth is vanity and does not satisfy.||Mark 8:36 if we could gain the whole world, what good is it if we do not have Christ and lose our souls.|
Ultimately, every disappointment and vanity described in Ecclesiastes has its solution in Christ, the wisdom of God and the only true meaning to be found in life.
Today we’ll study Ecclesiastes 4-5, and the importance of words. In light of everything Solomon has learned, that everything is meaningless, do words even matter?
II. Words that Come with Age
Let’s open with Ecclesiastes 4:13-16,
A poor yet wise youth is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction – for he has come out of prison to become king, even though he was born poor in his kingdom. I have seen all those living under the sun move to the side of the second youth who replaces him. There is no end to all the people, to all who were before them. Even the ones who will come later will not be happy with him; for this too is futility and striving after wind.
On one hand, we have a poor young man – but he’s smart, and on the other hand, an old king – but he’s foolish. When we get older, we start to think we know everything. Or if we don’t know everything, we know more than these young whippersnappers. But times change. When I was young, America was very different. We prayed in school, abortion was illegal, homosexual behavior was punishable with jail time. And we drank out of the garden hose. Now, prayer is forbidden in public spaces, abortion is supposed to be a good thing, LGTBQIA+ and all the other letters declare that deviant behavior is to be celebrated with pride over God’s design of a male/female husband/wife that represents and illustrates the relationship between the church and Jesus. And not only do we not drink out of garden hoses, we quarantine inside in fear of everything, masking up in front of our own family. The world changes.
But getting older should come with wisdom, but all too often it comes with stubbornness and anger. Some of us in this room have a lifetime of experience, and we see what the world has become and we just want to scream at the world to get its act together.
But yelling at the world doesn’t change the world. The world just tunes old cranky people out with the “ok boomer” response. Their words become unimportant to us, and our words are unimportant to them.
The younger generation, despite their limited experience, know how to relate to the world. But they grow older, just like we did, and as Ecclesiastes says, “there is no end to all the people, to all who were before them.”
Solomon uses irony to teach the wisdom of being teachable by stating that a poor but wise youth is better than an experienced king who has been on the throne for many years but is no longer willing to listen to wise counsel.
Having a teachable spirit is necessary for living a meaningful and successful life, and this means receiving instruction from those who are experienced and wise. Proverbs 1:5-7,
A wise person will hear and increase in learning,
And a person of understanding will acquire wise counsel,
To understand a proverb and a saying,
The words of the wise and their riddles.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
So the irony is that if you want your words to be wise, then you must be willing to listen. One must listen to wise counsel before one can be wise counsel.
III. The Words the Come from the Lord
Where do the wisest of words come from? Let’s look at Ecclesiastes 5:1-3 –
Guard your steps as you go to the house of God, and approach to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know that they are doing evil. Do not be quick with your mouth or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore, let your words be few. For the dream comes through much effort, and the voice of a fool through many words.
The wisest counsel comes from the One who is greater than Solomon, the Lord Jesus Christ. Without Him, we are building empires of dirt.
I admit, too often I approach God in prayer, God do this, God do that, please God do something else. While scripture tells us to bring everything to the Lord, I don’t think scripture meant for us to make that a one-way street where we are doing all the talking.
This verse encourages us to approach God with a heart for obedience instead of meaningless rituals or our many, many words. We should listen more, speak less when in the presence of God.
Here’s an illustration of what Solomon says we should do in the presence of the Lord:
Solomon teaches us here that God does not delight in religious ritual. God delights in our repentant worship.
First, we are taught to approach God in reverence – guard our steps when we approach the sovereign God of the universe. Think carefully when we enter the house of the Lord. We enter the worship service to worship. Try to keep up with me here. Solomon encourages us to reverently approach God for worship, consider the nature of worship, consider our purpose for being here. Or are we just going through the motions?
I confess something that crosses my heart here at Second, that we have such an amazing choir. But I’m not here to be entertained. I’m certain God doesn’t want me to come to church because the show is good.
Isaiah 29:13 warns us,
“These people approach me with their speeches to honor me with lip-service, yet their hearts are far from me.”
God cares about your heart and my heart, and about our attitude toward God. I shudder when I hear some people, some politicians, and even some pastors on television tell us that the church has to evolve to become more relevant to society. Solomon in Ecclesiastes 5:1 says fools do not know how to keep from doing evil, even when they approach the house of God. Fools that show up to church to inform God that if He wants the world to like him, He’s going to have to get on board with the worldly causes. Our hearts are far from Him and His desires because we are speaking more than we are listening. If we listened more, we would know that God wants us to be in the world, but not of the world.
After approaching God with reverence, we are to listen to God with reverence. When we approach God, we should first be listening to what God has to say first. Why? Because He is God and we are not. God is in heaven, we are on earth. God is above us, God is superior, God is in control.
When we approach God in prayer, we offer to God the respect and honor first before rambling on and on and on about ourselves. Jesus, in Matthew 6:9, began what we call the Lord’s Prayer with “Our Father, who art in heaven.” The wise person then patiently waits in silence. The fool can hardly wait to open his mouth and tell God what’s going on.
We don’t like to be quiet, to stop and consider what God has spoken. We want to take control of our own lives and then drag our religiosity behind us like some sort of designer suitcase. But if we take God’s advice to be still and know that He is God, then we may hear His wisdom through the world’s foolishness. Make prayer the second word. Give God the first word, let God have the last word. Because the answer to our prayers does not depend on what we ask for, or how we ask for it, or how many times we ask for it. It depends on God, who is fulfilling His perfect purpose.
IV. The Words that Matter
In Ecclesiastes 5:4-7,
When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you not vow, than vow and not pay. Do not let your speech cause you to sin, and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice, and destroy the work of your hands? For in many dreams and in many words there is futility. Rather, fear God.
Solomon’s last instruction in this passage is simple: do not harshly make a vow before God. Or, if you do make a vow, fulfill it.
One of the early lessons I was taught by men after becoming a Christian is that I should never bargain with God. Never say, “God, if you do this, then I promise to do that.” There’s good wisdom in that lesson, but bargaining happens. The soldier in the foxhole with bullets flying over him may start with, “God, if you save me…” Someone whose sister is dying of cancer may start a prayer with, “God, if you cure my sister…”
I was surprised to find examples in the bible of people bargaining with God. In 1 Samuel 1, Hannah has gone to the tabernacle to pray, and in verse 11, she says,
And she made a vow and said, “Lord of armies, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your bond-servant and remember me, and not forget Your bond-servant, but will give Your bond-servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.”
God took this bargain, and Hannah gave birth to Samuel, and Hannah dedicated Samuel to the Lord. Samuel grew up to be the spiritual leader of Israel and anoint the first two kings of Israel, first Saul and then King David.
I gave some thought to this bargaining, and a few things crossed my mind. I wondered why God took this bargain, and maybe the fact that Hannah wanted a son, but the very son she wanted she was willing to give back to the Lord. I also realized that Hannah was fulfilling the will of God, so God would appoint Samuel to lead Israel. God was able to use Hannah, but was Hannah’s vow necessary? Is not the will of God fulfilled anyway?
In Ecclesiastes 5, Solomon makes clear that it is better not to make a vow at all. It sets up a possible sinful situation, for Ecclesiastes 5 also says that not fulfilling a vow makes the Lord angry. If Satan gets wind of your vow, you can be sure Satan will do everything he can to keep you from fulfilling it.
But this is important to remember: the Lord never requires a vow from you. God loves when we do something that brings glory to God, but turning it into a vow corrupts that and makes it about you, not Him. If you think there is something that you can do that will please God, then do it. Don’t turn it into a bargaining chip to get something you want. God is not a magic genie or a cosmic vending machine.
Why do we feel the need to make promises? Not just to God, but to each other as well? I think it’s because, deep down, we recognize our own sinful nature. We can’t trust others, but worse, many times we can’t trust ourselves. We have to use phrases like, “honestly, I’m telling the truth.” And it really disturbs me when I see a movie character say “I swear to God.” I think dang, I didn’t know you were a Christian. You just shot that other guy. But hey, now you recognize our Lord and you’re making a vow to Him.
Besides taking the Lord’s name in vain, we know from Ecclesiastes 5 that vows like this can easily lead to sin which angers the Lord. It is unnecessary. Just let your yes be yes and your no be no. Jesus says in Matthew 5:37,
But make sure your statement is, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil origin.
The bible teaches us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. When we fear God, we revere Him and we stand in awe of Him. We come into His presence with reverence, for He alone is holy. We listen before we speak. And when we speak, we choose our words carefully. Now, maybe you’re thinking you already messed this one up, but if you have placed your trust in Christ, He paid it all. He paid for your lies, my lies, your broken vows, my broken vows, your running off at the mouth and mine instead of being still and knowing that He is God. Christ has washed us clean.
By His grace, we can approach God, listen to God, and speak to God. The great payment of God’s only Son should give us great reverence for all God has done for us so that in Christ, we can approach God, hear God, and speak to God in confidence. Reverence for God will cause us to draw near and listen, rather than to run our mouths like fools. Reverence for God will encourage us to keep our word. Wise believers carefully weigh the promises they make to God and others, knowing they will be expected to keep any promises made.
Our purpose is not so much to change the world for God, but to demonstrate to the world that God lives in us. Each of us is limited, so we cannot display the full, unlimited nature of God. Instead, we demonstrate Christ in us by responding how He would respond if He was in our situation. And since He is in us, He is in our situation. Choose your words carefully.
To God be the glory.