Text: Ecclesiastes 12:9–14
The Big Idea: The meaning of life can only be experienced as we are rightly related to our Creator.
Date: March 8, 2015
Philip Ryken writes: “If there is no God, then there is no Judge. If there is no Judge, then there will be no Final Judgment. If there is no Final Judgment, there is no ultimate meaning to life. Nothing matters.”
Are you ready to come to that conclusion?
I for one am not! More importantly neither is the book of Ecclesiastes. Just the opposite is true – Ecclesiastes teaches us everything matters. You would do well to meditate on those words until you feel the weight of them settle down on you and let them impact the way you live, to let those words impact every choice you make and every action you take.
If nothing matters – then what’s the point; but if even one thing matters then everything matters. The Preacher who wrote Ecclesiastes agrees. From the beginning of his book he has been saying that if there is no God, there is no meaning.
But, now, the Preacher argues since there is a God, then everything matters.
The Preacher opened the book by saying the words that have become familiar to us. He opened the book by saying
“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, ESV)
Now as the book draws to a close we find him saying those same words:
“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 12:8, ESV)
By opening and closing the book with these words the Preacher reinforces one of his main messages, that there is nothing new under the sun. Life lived under the sun, which was how the Preacher has consistently described life that is lived apart from God, is vain.
The Preacher has taught us that work is vanity, that there is nothing for us to gain from all our restless toil under the sun. It is all “vanity and striving after wind.” We know that human wisdom is vanity, that it only increases our “sorrow” and “vexation.” Whether we are wise or foolish doesn’t matter because we will all die in the end. We know that pleasure is vanity. Wine, women, and songs, parks, houses, and vineyards, gold, silver, and treasure — there is “nothing to be gained under the sun”.
Of course the final twin vanities are the vanities of growing old and death.
Let me remind you though that there is still enjoyment to be found in life. The enjoyment is to be found in the good gifts that God gives to us each and every day. But what the Preacher really wants you to see, what he wants you to understand is that life holds no meaning apart from God. If we fail to remember our Creator then we have missed the very point of our existence.
Yet as Philip Ryken says “Vanity does not get the last word.” God thankfully does not end the book at verse eight; He adds a final six verses to properly conclude the book. And in his conclusion He provides us with the proper perspective that teaches us how to make the most of the life our Creator has blessed us with.
Just for your information, these final verses were probably not written by the Preacher himself but were added by an editor. But, as you can see, the editor was in sync with the Preacher.
PRAISE FOR THE PREACHER
The editor picks up his pen he begins by praising the Preacher. He says that the Preacher was a wise man. Just one final reminder when we talk about wisdom in the Old Testament it is not theoretical wisdom but practical wisdom; it’s insight into how to make the most of each day.
BIBLICAL WISDOM IS THE INSIGHT INTO MAKING THE MOST OF EACH DAY!
One of the ways that the Preacher demonstrated his wisdom was by making sure that he passed his accumulated knowledge on to others. The text says that he taught the people knowledge. The Preacher was also a teacher.
How did he teach the people the knowledge that he had gained? Our text says that he took all of the knowledge that he had accumulated and he “weighed it, he studied it and he arranged it.”
Philip Ryken said he wrote with logical clarity. He didn’t just to a massive information dump and hoped that people would figure it out for themselves. He took the time, he put in the effort to sort through it all and he threw out what wasn’t helpful or what wasn’t true. He would study and logically arrange the proverbs that he knew would help us to escape living lives of vanity and meaninglessness.
After stating his theme, the Preacher told us the story of his exhaustive search to find meaning in life. Then, to help us know how to live for God in this vain world, he showed the difference between wisdom and folly. He ended, by talking again about death and dying, before restating the primary theme — the vanity of all vanity.
But not only did he write with logical clarity he also wrote with literary artistry. The text says that he “sought out words of delight.” He understood the power of language and worked hard at choosing just the right word to express the truth he wanted to convey.
The Preacher wrote with logical clarity and literary artistry; he also wrote with intellectual integrity.
The editor says that he “uprightly wrote words of truth.” The message of the Preacher may be at times hard to hear, but we always know that he is shooting straight with us. He writes with integrity, meaning he has been faithful to the message that he was given to teach others.
As Christians there is a lesson to be learned from the Preacher and that is to make sure that we handle the truth of God’s word with integrity, not compromising the message out of the fear of man; while at the same time we must seek to communicate the timeless truth’s of the gospel in words that resonate with our culture.
Then we have a proverb.
“The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd.” (Ecclesiastes 12:11, ESV)
A goad was an ancient cattle prod. The cattle rancher would use the goad to inflict just enough pain to keep the cattle moving in the right direction. Likewise the words of the wise Preacher worked in the same way as the goad did. He words were sometimes painful to hear but his design was always to keep us moving in the right direction.
His words not only keep us in line, his words are like nails firmly fixed. Meaning that they provide stability and focus. One thing I appreciate about the Christian life is I know what the goal is, I know what God desires of me and that it is never going to change. I don’t have to worry about hitting a moving target.
As an example we repeatedly read in the book of Ecclesiastes the Preacher pleading with us to fear God, to be in awe of God and to remember our Creator. Why does he do these things? The Preacher gives us the reason in chapter 8:12
“Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him.” (Ecclesiastes 8:12, ESV)
The Preacher issues these repeated exhortations for our own good, for our own peace of mind.
Think of the security that comes from our understanding that God is in control. Think of the focus that results from the Preacher’s constant exhortations and encouragement to seize the day, to seize the opportunity that God provides for us, to daily enjoy God’s gifts that he so graciously gives us.
The goads prod us to move in the right direction while the nails firmly fixed provide us with security and stability.
Where did these proverbs and these words of wisdom come from? The come from one Shepherd. The word Shepherd is probably capitalized in your Bible. Who is this Shepherd? In the Old Testament God the Father is referred to as the Shepherd of Israel. And what do we see in the New Testament? Jesus is our Great Shepherd.
Therefore what the Preacher is giving us is not his own wisdom but the very wisdom of God communicated to us through words of the Preacher. This means that his words are words of authority and we must respect them but more than respect them we must obey them.
Additionally we must give God’s word priority. That’s the point of verse 12
“My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12, ESV)
The Bible should be, must be the first place we turn to seek direction and guidance for our lives. The Bible contains the timeless, eternal wisdom of God. Therefore the Bible will never lead us astray indeed it can’t lead us astray; the Bible when obeyed will always keep us out of trouble.
Scriptural truth is timeless and unchanging. Unlike much of what is written today. If there were a lot of books in the time in which the Preacher lived imagine what he would think today. Millions upon millions of books written and published and some certainly are helpful to us but they must never take priority over the Word of God.
We would do well to listen to the advice of Charles Spurgeon who said, “Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.”
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, ESV)
The Teacher has already urged us to “fear God.” In chapter 3:14 he wrote, “I know that whatever God does endures forever …” God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him [literally, should fear him].” In chapter 5:7 he commanded, “With many dreams come vanities and a multitude of words; but fear God.” In chapter 7:18 he encouraged, “the one who fears God shall succeed with both.” And in chapter 8:12 he comforted, “I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they stand in fear before him.”
“To fear God is not to be terrified of God but to stand in awe of him. God is the almighty Creator; we are mere creatures. God is eternal; we are a finite vapor. God is sovereign; we are dependent. God is holy; we are sinners. It is only fitting that we stand in awe of the eternal, almighty, creator God. “
“To fear God is to take God seriously, to acknowledge him in our lives as the highest good, to revere him, to honor him, and worship him, to center our lives on him.”
What is the evidence that we fear God?
Our obedience is the proof that we truly fear God. Not what we say but what we do. Lot’s of people give lip service and say that they love God and that they fear God but there is little to no obedience in their lives.
As one commentator said “The one leads to the other.” Jesus said in John 14
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15, ESV)
“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12–13, ESV)
Why should we fear God? Simply because it is the whole of man. In the original the word duty is not there it is implied and supplied in the English to aid our understanding. We should fear God because that is why we exist; this is why we were created. This truth applies to everyone. It is the duty of everyone to fear God and to keep his commandments. It’s not just our duty, it’s our essence. God created us to stand in awe of him and keep his commandments. This is where we find the meaning of life – this is our essence!
Second we should fear God because God will bring every deed into judgment.
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”” (Matthew 12:36–37, ESV)
Every deed, every word, every action, has significance. Think about all of your actions, all of the words that you’ve spoken today, think of everything you have done today. Each and every one of them will come under the judgment of God unless and until you come to Christ!
The meaning of life can only be experienced as we are rightly related to our Creator. God, our Creator, has made it possible for us to escape the judgment our sin demands. How so? God took the punishment that you and deserved. Jesus Christ God in the flesh came to earth and lived a life of perfect obedience. He lived a life that demonstrated each and every day the wisdom of God and how that wisdom must be used to live life in a God pleasing way. Therefore for all who come to Christ, willing to turn away from their sin, their wisdom, their false sense of self sufficiency then they will not experience the judgment the Preacher talks about. Rather they will find grace and mercy, forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life.
Until you come to Christ you are under the judgment of God both now and in the future. If you never come to Christ you will have not only wasted your life you will have wasted your eternal existence.
Come to Christ while you can!
“The final message of Ecclesiastes is not that nothing matters but that everything matters.” Philip Ryken