The need of the hour is for Christian men and women to have their minds and hearts shaped by Scripture. In a day when the social pressure to compromise on any number of moral and ethical issues is exceedingly strong, we need men and women who will take unwavering stands for biblical truth, even–and especially–when it is socially unacceptable to do so. However, those most vocal about their convictions sometimes give the impression that they forget Ecclesiastes is in the Bible. In short, Ecclesiastes is meant to shape our understanding of how the world in which we live really works. It is a wake-up call that we all live in a world that is “not how we would have it.” Let me explain.
Many with strong convictions look back at church history and bemoan our current state of affairs in comparison with bygone ages. However, the sad reality is that there were just as many false teachers, compromising ministers, rebellious and difficult congregants, and hateful worldly opponents then as there are today. The author of Ecclesiastes sums this up when he says, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10).
Others are consumed with how people talk speak about them. They take offense at the slightest demeaning word. They appeal to the ninth commandment in a sanctimonious and corrective manner, with each and every infraction. The author of Ecclesiastes has something to say about this. He wrote, “Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others” (Ecclesiastes 7:21).
Still others give the impression that they think they deserve to be rewarded or advance in this life for their supposed piety. A spiritual entitlement-mentality is often lurking in the heart of those who believe that they should be heard and revered because of their commitment to holiness. The writer of Ecclesiastes would have us remember the following: “There are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous” (Ecclesiastes 8:14).
Sometimes, those who have the strongest convictions about excellence and diligence in Christian education, or in theological studies, or in ecclesiatical labors give the impression that this is a surefire formula to secure the outcome for which they strive. They believe that if they speak out enough, or work hard enough, or join forces with enough likeminded brethren, they will achieve the change for which they long. The Bible certainly commends diligence in all spheres of life. The Proverbs teach that “the hand of the diligent will rule” (Prov. 12:24). However, the author of Ecclesiastes reminds us, “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all” (Eccl. 9:11).
Often those with the strongest convictions are quickest to speak in anger about those who comprise. They are often the ones who believe that they are only faithful when they are spouting off on a particular issue. This seems like a reasonable reaction to moral decline. However, it is often the product of spiritual pride. The author of Ecclesiastes warns about the folly of such anger, when he says, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:8–9).
Finally, some who seem have the strongest biblical convictions about holiness are those who functionally embrace a “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (Col. 2:20–22) approach to sanctification. In my experience, those who speak most often about holiness are often the most joyless people. This is not a problem with biblical holiness. The problem is with their refusal to embrace all that they Scriptures teach about holiness. They refuse to enjoy the good gifts of God or the delights of life. The author of Ecclesiastes has much to say about this. After noting the vanity of life under the sun, he writes,
“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God” (Eccl. 2:24).
“Everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (Eccl. 3:13).
“What I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot” (Eccl. 5:18).
“I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun” (Eccl. 8:15).
“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do” (Eccl. 9:7).
It would do all of us good to put more of Ecclesiastes into our spiritual diet. When we do so, we begin to discover afresh that life is “not how we would have it.” We are reminded that things are often not the way we think they should be. We come to terms with the fact that we do not know what we think we know. We have to face the reality that we live in a futile world that works in ways other than we would have it work. We are encouraged to know that God wants us to enjoy the good things of His creation. And, we are taught again the most important thing for us to do is to pursue the fear of the Lord.