Text: Ecclesiastes 7:13–18
“Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.”
Date: November 16, 2014
The Big Idea: Avoid the two extremes of being self-righteous or wrapped in your sinful nature by fearing God.
The Preacher begins his message with a command to carefully observe the way God works. Based upon what he sees he calls each one of us to consider the work of God. From all that he has observed he concludes that whatever God has done we are powerless to undo. He states his conclusion in the form of a rhetorical question. “Who can make straight what he has made crooked?” The answer of course is “no one”. None has the ability to make straight what God has bent. This is not a call to fatalism but a call to humbly yield ourselves to the will of our sovereign God.
If we have a firm grasp of the sovereignty of God and when we experience the days of prosperity we acknowledge that they are a gift from God and in turn offer the thanksgiving and praise that God deserves. And when the days of adversity come our belief in God’s sovereignty will once again dictate our response. Knowing that this too is from the hand of God and this too is for our good.
The Preacher also warns us against the insidiousness of self–righteousness. Self–righteousness is the same as works-righteousness. It’s the righteousness of the hypocrite. It’s not the righteousness that comes by faith.
But what does he mean when he tells us to not be overly wicked? Is he saying it’s okay to be just a little wicked as long as we don’t go overboard. The Bible clearly teaches that any sin is too much sin. His point is that it is very dangerous to give yourself over to sin. The daily experience of the Christian is one of ongoing battle with sin. All of us sin, but the true Christian sins far more often than they want too. And that is completely different than willingly giving ourselves totally over to sin.
Pastor Philip Ryken writes; “So there are two dangers. One is a temptation for the religious person — self-righteousness. The other is even more of a temptation for the non-religious person — unrighteousness. Both of these errors will lead to destruction; they may even lead to an untimely death.”
“It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.” (Ecclesiastes 7:18, ESV)
The way to avoid the two dangers of being overly righteous and overly wicked is to follow the Preacher’s counsel of verse 18. When the Preacher tells us to “take hold of this” and “withhold our hand from that” he has in mind his words of verses 16 – 17.
His point is to avoid those two extremes. Don’t be self – righteous and don’t give yourself over totally to your sinful nature.
But how do we avoid these two extremes? Two powerful words: FEAR GOD! He says that the one “who fears God shall come our from both of them.”
FEAR GOD is also the theme of Ecclesiastes.
To fear God is to revere God. It is to know that he is God and we are not. It is to hold him in awe for his majestic beauty. It is to have respect for his mighty and awesome power. Having the true and proper fear of God will help us not to be so self-righteous. We will know that God sees us as we really are, and this will teach us not to pretend to be something we are not. The fear of God will also keep us from living a wicked life, because when we understand his holiness, the last thing we will want to do is fall under his judgment.