When we study Ecclesiastes 7:15-29 we find ourselves living in an upside down, paradoxical world—a world where good is punished and evil celebrated. And there is the temptation for us as Christians to succumb to that, rather than to live counter-culturally and counter-intuitively. We mirror culture when we bow to our old natural sin nature. The following are potential evidences that you may be living like the world.
(1) You may be living like the world if you turn to friends, family, money, or the world when you’re in trouble, instead of seeking the Lord’s help, forgetting that He is in control.
(2) You may be living like the world if you turn to friends, family, money, or the world when you need advice, rather than to God’s Word or God’s people. There is a lack of discipleship in the American church. In every place I’ve lived, I’ve looked for 3 kinds of relationships: a Paul (a mentor or someone who disciples me), a Barnabas (a friend and accountability partner), and a Timothy (someone I disciple). Is that your practice, or do you do what you’ve always done, either doing what your parents did (if they did a decent job) or doing the opposite of what they did (if they did not do a decent job)? We are called to make disciples and to be disciples, not pew-warmers.
(3) You may be living like the world if your first instinct is to weasel or work your way out of a situation rather than to pray your way through a situation.
(4) You may be living like the world if your Bible is a decorative, Sunday accessory, rather than a well-worn, well-used manual for life.
(5) You may be living like the world if you do not take any and every opportunity to grow spiritually, whether it’s to be here when the church has something for you, or to invest yourself into building relationships with others in the body of Christ.
I’m not sure how many of you are old enough to remember Archie Bunker, from the 70’s TV show All in the Family. I was born in the late 70’s, so I’ve only caught it on re-runs. The show centers on a man in his 50 or 60s who’s having a hard time coming to grips with the rest of the world. He’s a working class bigot with changes swirling about him: from African-American neighbors to women’s lib to homosexuality and on and on and on. And the opening theme of this sitcom had Archie and his wife, Edith, singing a song called Those Were the Days. It talks about how good everything used to be: “You knew who you were then, girls were girls and men were men; didn’t need no welfare state, everybody pulled his weight. Those were the days.”
That mentality runs contrary to what we see in Ecclesiastes 7:10, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these? For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” Anyone over a certain age has said and meant and believed otherwise. The question is: do we really want to go back? Ever since most of us were alive there’s been world wars, nuclear bombs, racism, depression, and sin, left and right. Things may be different now—certainly not better—but it’s foolish for us to want to go back. Perhaps most of our youthful days were somewhat idealistic (unless you grew up in the middle of a war zone—domestic or otherwise). What former days truly were better? We would have to go all the way back to the Garden of Eden, before the fall into sin, to find one. Since then there has been disobedience, murder, envy, strife, wickedness, idolatry, and beyond. It may have been packaged in more palatable forms (for you), but it was sin all the same. The answer to our problem ultimately lies in the future—when our faith will be realized in Christ. Certainly our pardon was purchased in the past, with Christ on the cross, but even that day was not the day we ultimately love and want to experience. We long for Christ’s return—not a former day, but a future one—when things truly will be better. Don’t live in the past, your hope is in the future.
Last year, I introduced the church to chiasms (ki’azem) in the Bible while we studied the book of Daniel. For those of you who did not see that note, let me remind you what a chiasm is: it is a pattern of repetition for clarification and emphasis; a pattern within a passage in which the second half parallels the first half, but in reverse order. For instance a verse, chapter, or book may be laid out in a pattern of A-B-C-B-A. The first ‘A’ corresponds with the last ‘A’, ‘B’ with ‘B’, etc. Whatever lies at the center is the main point. What we see in Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:9 is also a chiasm. The main point in Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:9 comes in 5:18-20 where we see the blessing of basking in—or enjoying—God’s gifts (point ‘C’ below).
Our first point (5:8-12 & 6:7-9) acts as a picture frame setting up the argument. Our second point (5:13-17 & 6:1-6) acts as a matte in that frame, in which the picture, our third point (or main point) is offset and embellished. And all of that draws us right into the middle of our text in 5:18-20. Unlike the English language, where we typically move linearly through a passage from point A to B to C and so on, Hebrew oftentimes makes a point (point A), then moves to point B, and C, and then back to point B, and then to point A. And whatever is at the middle of all of that is what the author really wants you to hone in on: in this case, “The Blessing of Basking in God’s Gifts.”
I am indebted to Sydney Greidanus, and his extremely helpful book Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes: Foundations for Expository Sermons in finding the chiasm within this passage.
I recently read an article from an evangelical music minister entitled, Are We Headed for a Crash?: Reflections on the Current State of Evangelical Worship. This music minister had recently attended the National Worship Leader Conference. He said it was eye opening in many ways. He had several good things to say, and certainly didn’t see the entire conference in a negative light, but he did express concern over a common, troubling theme. It’s the theme of what he calls ‘performancism.’ In many a church the worship leader is the performer, the congregation is the audience, and the sanctuary is the concert hall.
Now I doubt that we will ever be technically and musically sophisticated enough here at this church to succumb to that problem. Yet, there is perhaps a greater problem that all churches remain susceptible to. That is, the man-centeredness of worship. When worship becomes about us: our needs, our preferences, and our tastes, we have ceased to make God the object of our worship and have replaced Him, with us.
In Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 we come to grips with a God who is there. Sometimes, we come to worship with hardly a thought as to whom we’re worshipping. There may be moments we do not forget in every hour we meet, but for the most part we forget that God is here in our midst. When we’re more about what we get out of our time together—whether it’s good company in the presence of friendly people, or songs we like, or a good message that does something for us (a message that we stand in judgment over)—we forget that God is here. We’re here because God is here.
In Matthew 21, Jesus entered the temple and saw that people had turned it into something that strictly profited them, at the expense of honoring God. Jesus turned over tables, with a zealous and righteous anger for the glory of God. He later went to the cross and became that house of worship (John 2:21). Jesus invites us to come and worship Him. Stop playing church and take up your cross and follow Him: worship Him, love Him, fear Him, and serve Him. Anything less, is for someone less.
In today’s sermon, I relate a story about the great Methodist evangelist, George Whitefield (1714-1770). His preaching to crowds numbering in the tens of thousands, on two continents, both in Europe (in particular, the British Isles) and the American colonies were unrivaled in his age. He was instrumental in the Great Awakening, preaching over 18,000 times in his lifetime; often every day, and twice on Sundays. As an itinerant preacher (meaning that he traveled from place to place) he would often preach in the open fields, particularly when many churches closed their doors to him. At that time, preaching out of doors was unheard of, particularly in the Anglican high church, for which Whitefield was a part of. Yet it was he who made the practice popular. In fact, Whitefield was the one to first encourage his good friend and contemporary, John Wesley to adopt the practice.
Whitefield received his education at Pembroke College, Oxford, where he met John and Charles Wesley in their holy club meetings. Though they differed greatly theologically in terms of eternal security, perfectionism (Wesley’s belief that one could attain a sort of sinless perfection in this life), and the sovereignty of God in salvation, they remained good friends throughout their life.
Whitefield traveled from the colonies to Britain several times. He started an orphanage in the new colony of Georgia, and assisted in the beginnings of Dartmouth College (then a school to train Indians to be ministers to their people). He was friends with Benjamin Franklin (Whitefield’s publisher in America) throughout his life and regularly witnessed to him to no avail (Franklin remained a staunch deist). The good George Whitefield did and the souls saved under his preaching are incalculable. I commend his two-volume, 1,200 page biography by Arnold Dallimore. There’s also a condensed version.