Aug 5 2018 Ecclesiastes 3 - Living Life Well (in the Present)
6th August 2018
Ecclesiastes 3 – those of you who are old enough know that the Byrds made this section famous – a song written by Pete Seeger. This was a poem – an extraordinary poem – and what we sometimes don’t realize is that this poem was written in a particular context – and so was the song – but those contexts are different and now our tendency is to view the scripture through the context of the song.
I’ll read vs. 1
3:1 There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
The Pete Seeger song was probably based on the King James Version. This is NASB.
The King James says ‘purpose’ – this says ‘Activity’ – and the Hebrew word literally means pleasure. A time for every pleasure under heaven.
I think what The Teacher – the person given credit for this poem – is being a little snarky. There are things there that are not pleasurable – a time to kill, die, lose, tear down? But the Byrds song was a protest song against the war – and at the end – I swear it’s not too late – it was a protest song – we can change things if we rise up against the war.
In Ecclesiastes, this was not a song of hope, but a song of despair. There are all of these events under the sun – and it is just going to happen to you.
v. 9 sets the context:
9 What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils?
He brings this up over and over again.
2: 11 Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.
He says almost the exact same thing in 1:14.
Saying we do all this work, and we get stuck in this cycle of human experience and it just rolls on and sometimes it knocks us flat on our back – there is nothing we can do about it.
One commentator explains it this way: “The lesson of the poem is not that everything has an opportune time – a time when one should discover an opportune time for action…
The rightness or ‘opportunenss’ is not at issue here – all events are not under human control, and God makes things happen in His time, so strenuous labor does not pay off.”
10 I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves.
This is not a ringing endorsement of God’s sovereignty.
11 He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.
I remember the first time I heard this phrase – eternity in their hearts – we can live for eternity – and that is a great idea, but that is not the context…
So he has given us this desire for eternity – this understanding of a past, present, and future, but we can’t grasp it.
There is an urban legend that a dentist would let his kids go out on Halloween, but then would take the candy away when they got home. That is what this verse is like – setting eternity in our hearts, but not letting us enjoy it.
As we have said in the past few weeks – this does not have the view of the resurrection – we can look back on this – knowing what Christ has done – and say, yes to this – but before we say that, it is important to understand what is actually being said. We know something he did not know – and so we don’t have to live in despair when things go wrong.
NRSV – I think this says it the best – He has made everything suitable for its time – moreover, He has put a sense of past and future into their minds – I like that – yet, they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. The thing we need to learn – yes, there is a past and a future, but we need to live in the present. For The Teacher, his advice was to find whatever pleasure you can find. For us, we need to learn to be fully engaged in the present moment with God, the people he has put in our lives at that moment. – and the tasks He has given us to do in the here and now.
The next one is a quote from Blaise Paschal – we heard this on a podcast – so I looked it up – "We never keep to the present. We recall the past; we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight. We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so vain that we dream of times that are not and blindly flee the only one that is. The fact is that the present usually hurts. We thrust it out of sight because it distresses us, and if we find it enjoyable, we are sorry to see it slip away. We try to give it the support of the future, and think how we are going to arrange things over which we have no control for a time we can never be sure of reaching.
Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so."
I think that is an incredible quote. There are two types of people in the world – those who live in the past (and when we do, it is with regret or thinking of the good old days – and longing for them to come back. And we could all agree that it feels like stuff is a lot worse today, but in many ways it is better. This concept that everything was better in the past is a trap – one the devil wants to get us into – because in doing that – we never live in the reality – the here and now – that God has given us to live in. We might not like it, but He has done with it – DEAL WITH IT! This is it! This is the world God has given us to reach and win and to be a witness to! Do it! Be a witness and a light and the salt of this world. The second type of person lives for the future – for a better tomorrow: Looking for a time in our lives when everything is running on all cylinders – and that is a trap too – you might get close, but it never happens! It is all about to cave in on you.
This leaves out the eternal hope we have in Christ. We have that advantage. If this is how things are without Christ – our state is better with Christ.
12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; 13 moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him. 15 That which is has been already and that which will be has already been, for God seeks what has passed by.
Again, this is not a ringing endorsement – but he is saying – all you can hope for is a bit of happiness in this life.
16 Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness. 17 I said [e]to myself, “God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,” for a time for every [f]matter and for every deed is there.
This is his joke mode. He continues:
18 I said to myself concerning the sons of men, “God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts.” 19 For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. 20 All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. 21 Who knows that the human spirit ascends upward and the spirit of the animal descends downward to the earth?
So for the teacher – we live, we die, that is it. For us, we live, we die, but that is not it. We know. In fact – Paul wrote in 1 Cor – if we had only hoped in Christ for this life – if all you have is this life as a Christian and nothing after it – we would think – that is better than the alternative, but Paul says we are of all people to be pitied. If there is no hope – the Writer of Ecclesiastes is correct. So if there is no afterlife – you might as well live for yourself – but Christ changes everything.
22 I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?
1 Cor. 15:58 – Paul says – in this chapter on the resurrection – because we are not like the teacher of Ecclesiastes, because we know there is an eternal hope – be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord because your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Ecclesiastes is a book all about what it is like to live without the hope of the resurrection. What Paul is telling us – even the worst job in the world – when you do it for Christ in hope of the resurrection – that task you are doing will receive great reward. Everything we do on earth in Christ’s name – every detail – God is watching – and He is loving – when we serve Him wholly and fully – and someday – all of it will be rewarded -let’s pray.
Lord, thank You for this day – and Lord just to be out here hearing Your word and listening to Alycia’s testimony – we are grateful for all you have done for us. We have a future – an eternal hope – help us to live for that in the present.