INTRODUCTION – This morning I hope to help broaden and strengthen your perspective on how life works, & how the kingdom of God intersects this fallen world; because that is what I believe Solomon – the preacher – is after in chapter 10, if not in this whole book called Ecclesiastes. Even back then, I think Solomon knew that people could place their faith in God to escape hell and judgment and to find much needed forgiveness for sins, but never really learn how to live like God meant for us to live.
You see perspective pretty much more than anything else determines whether we thrive or just survive. Perspective determines whether we see the glass half full or almost empty. Perspective – that is wise and godly perspective – shields us from the onslaught of lies that constantly come our way from the father of lies, and from this corrupt world system that is well oiled and crafted by the father of lies, and from our own sinful flesh.
My last assignment in this sermon series was chapter 8, and we never got past the first verse. Today I’m going to cover the whole chapter because I want you to see how it is tied together.
Seems to me there are about 8 principles or truths in this chapter; and I’m going to touch on all of them briefly.
Here’s the first truth or principle to help you and I thrive and not just survive:
1. As valuable as wisdom is, foolishness can upend it and greatly reduce its effect. Read Vs. 1
Mark Ayres mentioned in the opening sermon on our series in Ecclesiastes that there is a perfume out there somewhere that sells for $46,000 per bottle. Expensive perfume stops wealthy people in their tracks. It sets you apart as not only wonderfully smelly, but also significantly wealthy. It is one of the ways wealthy people detect other wealthy people in a crowd. But if some late afternoon, after applying some of this expensive to each side of your neck, your cell phone rings, and because it is downstairs and you are expecting an important call, you run to get it – leaving the top off of your perfume bottle, and because your husband who is always hot left your bedroom window open, and because your husband still hasn’t put a screen on your bedroom window, and because your husband recently put horse manure on all the plants (including the ones right underneath your bedroom window), some flies made a fly line for that wide open bottle of perfume, they fairly quickly drowned, and all of a sudden that expensive perfume was absolutely worthless.
That’s what foolishness can do to something of great worth, and there are few things in life of greater worth than wisdom.
So as wonderful as wisdom is, and as accessible as it is, and as wonderful as it is that you and I can obtain it and walk in it, and be a wonderful example of it in a business meeting, or let’s say in a Sunday morning service or ministry team meeting, we can right after that in an unguarded moment get in the car and say the most stupid, foolish, boneheaded thing to our spouse or child, and immediately it is as if the wisdom and honor was never there. I of course have never done such a thing, but I’ve heard that it happens. ☺
Wisdom is wonderful. But foolishness can cloud it, if not totally upend it.
How many successful businesses and even stable kingdoms have been passed down to the owner’s or king’s child, only to see it squandered and terribly mismanaged by the foolishness of the heir?
God protect us from unguarded moments, and from fools who would destroy what we by wisdom have established.
2. The test of whether you and I are really walking in wisdom is whether we belong to the right political party. ☺ Read Vs. 2
So is this verse saying what it appears to be saying? Well obviously not. First of all it was written around 935 B.C., which was a few years before the Republican and Democrat parties were born in America. Second, this phrase “directs him toward the right” literally could be translated “is at his right hand”. In Hebrew in the Old Testament days, the right hand was the place of protection. Many of you are familiar with this verse from Psalm 16:8, “I have set the Lord continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” The thought is similar in Ecclesiastes 7:12, which reads, “For wisdom is protection just as money is protection, but the advantage of wisdom is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors.”
So the second principle or truth – instead of being about political party affiliation should read like this: 2. The heart or mind of a wise man will provide protection for him, while the heart or mind of a foolish man will lead him astray and render him defenseless. Guns and barred windows and alarm systems are necessary at times. But there will be times where God leads us to places and situations where we have none of those to protect us. Wisdom on the other hand can be our constant companion and a 24/7 bodyguard to boot!
An example of the foolish heart or mind of a man leading him to danger and unprotection is found in vs. 3 where we get a visual of a foolish man walking down a road, most likely right down the middle or perhaps shifting from one side to the other, making it very difficult for folks on horses or camels or donkeys or chariots to not run into him. Read vs. 3
An example of how wisdom can protect us is found in vs. 4. (Read vs. 4). The context or setting back then was probably in government. A more likely context for most of us is the workplace wherein we have a boss who is often bad tempered and who seems to have it in for us. The world’s wisdom would say in such a situation – “you don’t have to endure that. Get out of there. Let them hire someone else that is stupid enough to put up with that mistreatment. You deserve better.” God would say, “Unless you are convinced I am leading you to leave your post or position, rely on me for wisdom to respond in kindness and meekness to your boss, and in time he may just change his tune, and you will not have to go out looking for another job.” And it is very possible that his contempt towards you will turn to favor because deep down he knows he doesn’t deserve your loyalty and forbearance.
I’m reminded of Proverbs 25:15 that says, “By forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue breaks the bone.” Elsewhere in Proverbs we are told that “A gentle answer turns away wrath.”
Often we think we need a new job or different company. God thinks we just need to learn to be like Christ. Wisdom can help us get there.
3. While no human ruler can be in a position of authority and power without God allowing it, even ordaining it (as Psalm 75 & Romans 13 teach us); God does not control every move these rulers make. God in His sovereignty and manifold wisdom allows rulers to do stupid and even evil things. The sooner we can come to grips with this the better. Read Vs. 5-7
Elected politicians (or unelected ones) have a strong tendency to give positions to those who helped them get theirs, or to whom they owe some kind of favor. Or they may give a position to someone because they know they will be a yes man, and never cross them or challenge them.
Others, who could truly help the said city or nation, people who have proven character and proven skills are sometimes ignored or not elected.
Solomon says this is evil because of the sad consequences on all involved, but it does happen, and has happened since the beginning of civil government on our planet.
4. The fulfillment of one’s work may incur unforeseen costs. Just because God enables you to pull off something necessary, and to work really hard to accomplish an objective, doesn’t mean He will protect you from some of the risks that come with fulfilling that responsibility. Life happens. Hard manual work especially comes with physical risks and inherent dangers. Read Vs. 8,9
We should always pray for God to protect us. And we should always thank Him for all the times He has protected us. But we shouldn’t be too shocked when accidents happen. It just sometimes comes with the territory.
5. God does want to help you with your work. What He offers you is wisdom that greatly trumps gallant effort every time. Read Vs. 10
This of course was in the day before chain saws and saw zaws were invented. But even those work best with sharpened blades. Now you can eventually get a tree down with a dull axe. But you will have to work twice as hard and twice as long. Sometimes we foolishly do not take the time to wait on God for wisdom to do things His way, and our bodies (and maybe even our families businesses or congregations) pay the price for our foolishness. Our income may pay the price as well. So let’s all learn to take a deep breath, when our flesh is screaming at us to hurry and jump into a project or task, and lift up our cry to our good good Father for the wisdom that He is so willing to provide and that ensures success. An ounce of wisdom is better than a pound of effort without wisdom.
6. He also wants you to know that timing and diligence is very important in one’s work and accomplishments. Read Vs. 11
By the way, this verse is not endorsing snake charming – just like when the Bible discusses righteous ways to deal with slaves, it is not endorsing slavery. It is just acknowledging in the cultures and nations at that time, snake charming (and slavery) existed. Skillful snake charmers could draw a decent crowd and a charmed snake could bring in some decent income. It was a practice that was common, and thus the Preacher draws lessons from it.
So what in the world is Solomon after in this random verse? Well it could be procrastination was in his mind. Perhaps the snake charmer put his snake out in the market square, and then saw a friend he hadn’t seen for years, and ran over to him to greet him, and in that short time, his snake saw a juicy ankle nearby. The bitten person screamed, the crowd freaked out, the snake was traumatized by the freaked out crowd, and the opportunity to make some money was lost.
Skills are great! Knowledge of one’s craft is great! Sharpened tools are great! But windows of opportunity are not infinite. They are here and gone before you know it.
Proverbs 10:4 says, “Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, But the hand of the diligent makes rich.”
Well if that’s what this verse is about why didn’t the Preacher just plainly state it? Well because you and I need colorful and memorable hooks to hang principles on so we can remember them.
For all of you couples here this morning, how much better might it be, wives, when your husband is reading the newspaper or reading something on his phone or laptop, and you ask him to take the trash out or empty the dishwasher, and you can see he is nodding with his head, but somewhat ignoring you with his heart, and you can just gently say, “Honey, remember the snake charmer!” ☺
May the Lord make all of us – those who increasingly make the most of every opportunity, and are quick to perform the task before us.
7. Wise words bear good fruit. Foolish words bring destruction. Read Vs. 12-15
Remember how we learned from Ecclesiastes 8:1 that “A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam.”?? Well there is a similar idea here in that a truly wise man’s words are always gracious and pleasing. They can literally change the atmosphere and open doors where doors were previously closed.
But foolish words from a foolish man not only poison the atmosphere – – they also poison the man who speaks them.
In fact the preacher says in vs. 13 that the foolish words and talk of a foolish man if not abated, will result in wicked madness – even insanity. They have the potential of escalating to the point where out of control words turn into out of control actions, and who knows how many fights and even murders have gone down in this fashion? Who knows how many families have been torn apart by out of control words that morphed into out of control and devastating deeds.
One huge difference between a wise man’s words and a foolish man’s words is the volume or number of them. The fool the preachers says, “multiplies words”. The fool somehow thinks the more he talks the more he can accomplish. Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer once said, “It is much better to keep silent and let everybody think you are a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Proverbs 10:19 says, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.”
There is another difference between the words of a wise man and a foolish man. A foolish man boasts of things he is going to do in the future, when in reality he has no ability whatsoever to control the future. That’s what he is getting at when he says in vs. 14, “No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him?” James in his epistle touches on this at the end of chapter 4, where he says, “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “if the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right things to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” James 4:13-17
There is one more thing the Preacher wants us to know about fools in vs. 15. Because they waste so much energy talking and boasting about what they are going to do in the future, they have little stamina and endurance for doing real work in the now. So much so that when they actually do work, they have no energy physical or mental left over to figure out necessary things like how to get to the nearby city to purchase much needed supplies.
Energy is not infinite. And those who succeed in life learn how to harness and not waste it.
8. Two of the things that determine whether a city or nation rises or falls are: First, whether their leaders are diligent and responsible; and Second whether its citizens are diligent and responsible. Read Vs. 16-20
A. Kings ideally ought to be mature and seasoned men, who know the value of selfless service, and who know the consequences of laziness and selfishness and entitlement among leaders. They ideally will be disciplined men (or women), who can withstand the many temptations of illicit pleasure that come with power and prestige. And when a city or nation gets this kind of a leader, the whole city or nation will experience God’s intended blessing for them. That’s what vs. 17 states.
B. Therefore when as vs. 16 states, a city or nation is led by young, immature, selfish and entitled men (or women), the whole city or nation will be negatively impacted and will lose out on God’s intended blessing.
Most of us have lived long enough to see how true this is.
C. So what can we citizens do to ensure our city or nation receives God’s intended blessing instead of His curse and judgment? Three things from these last five verses:
First, from vs. 18, we become the kind of people we want our government leaders to be. After all they always come from us or are a product of the culture we have contributed to.
All of us in our homes and families and especially in our own personal lives have sagging rafters and leaky roofs. If you are a homeowner, and if you own a car or two, you should be very aware of all the things that need fixed or maintained or cleaned or organized in your home or on your property.
My offices at home and here at church have for years been a reminder of how slow I ought to be in criticizing the inefficiency of government. Organization and efficiency requires constant and focused attention, and it is no easier for the government to do this than it is for us. Proper filing whether paper, or emails and documents on our laptops determines whether we are able to find things we need, and how quickly we can find them.
Then personally speaking, in the language of Matthew 7 we all have logs or beams that require our constant attention or in the language of Hebrews 12, we all have weak knees that need strengthened.
So the more the average citizen lives a disciplined and responsible life in their work, and in their home and personal life, the more our culture will reflect that, and produce people who do the same when elected to government posts.
Second, from vs. 19 we need to remember that regardless of what the government does or doesn’t do, God wants us to ignore it all from time to time and enjoy a good meal and a good glass of wine or a latte or Typhoo Decaf Iced Tea, all of which by the way money is necessary to pay for; and that money comes from hard work, diligence and giving proper attention to our own responsibilities, and not being distracted by focusing on other’s handling of their responsibilities.
Third, we need to stop this American pastime of criticizing our government leaders or our boss, which probably is what the reference to “a rich man” is referring to in vs. 20. Unrighteous judging of authorities over us is like a boomerang. It always finds its way back to us in one way or another.
And one of the most devastating ways it gets back to us is by poisoning our children. When they hear us day after day, usually it is evening after evening after watching the evening news, …when they hear us moan and groan and criticize and slander and malign our government officials, or our bosses, or anyone in authority over us, over time they conclude – all government officials are corrupt; all corporations are corrupt; life is jacked; and I might as well escape from the misery of it all by one or more of the various ways our youth and Milennials are choosing to escape and medicate themselves these days.
Here’s the good news: Our Risen Lord and Savior – offers to us the same power that raised Him from the dead – to become the kind of focused, diligent, responsible, non judgmental, wise, self controlled, and happy people that He has called us to be. Regardless of how bad a start we got in life, and how bad our models were for this kind of character growing up, His blood can cleanse us from all defilement and corruption and impart to us His very life, His mind, His perspective – – that will guard and protect us from all the evil and injustice and corruption around us.
Let’s look to Him now in prayer.