Summary: In today's lesson we are urged not to be paralyzed by our lack of knowledge but to use every opportunity to work boldly but wisely for the glory of God.
In his quest to find out how to live a meaningful life the writer of Ecclesiastes urges his readers not to be paralyzed by their lack of knowledge but to use every opportunity to work boldly but wisely for the glory of God.
Let us read Ecclesiastes 11:1-6:
1 Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.
2 Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
for you know not what disaster
may happen on earth.
3 If the clouds are full of rain,
they empty themselves on the earth,
and if a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where the tree falls,
there it will lie.
4 He who observes the wind will not sow,
and he who regards the clouds
will not reap.
5 As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.
6 In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good. (Ecclesiastes 11:1–6)
Do you ever wonder if anything you do for God really matters? You pray for a friend, but does your prayer ever get answered? You give money to help the poor, but does it really help them? You give money to the church, but does it change lives? You share the gospel, but does anyone get saved? Sometimes you wonder if what you do for God and his kingdom really matters.
But then there are times when you catch a glimpse of what God is doing, when you see that something you did for Jesus really did make a difference in someone’s life. When I was an associate pastor many years ago a couple started attending worship services. We quickly learned that Angela (not her real name), who was in her late 40s, had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. My wife, Eileen, befriended Angela and after a while shared the gospel with her. “Angela was ripe for the picking!” said Eileen, as Angela immediately trusted Christ. I had the privilege of baptizing Angela several weeks later, just days before she died and went to be with her Savior. At the funeral Eileen learned that Angela’s aunt had been praying for Angela to become a Christian for more than 35 years! What a joy it was for her to see that something she did for Jesus really did—eventually—make a difference in someone’s life.
Even though we do not know how God will use our work to advance his kingdom, we should continue to pray, continue to serve, continue to give, and continue to share, “knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58b).
The writer of Ecclesiastes, known as Qoheleth or the Preacher, takes this perspective in Ecclesiastes 11:1-6, where he urges his readers not to be paralyzed by their lack of knowledge but to use every opportunity work boldly but wisely for the glory of God.
Similarly, in today’s lesson, then, we are urged not to be paralyzed by our lack of knowledge but to use every opportunity to work boldly but wisely for the glory of God.
I. Take Action (11:1-2)
The first point the Preacher makes is this: take action!
He commands in Ecclesiastes 11:1, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.”
Now, what exactly does this somewhat strange command mean? Is the Preacher saying that you should toss a loaf of bread upon the waters? We know that a loaf of bread will simply sink to the bottom. We are not going to find it after many days.
A number of interpretations have been proposed. One interpretation is that the Preacher is encouraging us to be generous to the poor. Bread “cast . . . upon the waters” is sharing with someone who needs help. The point is that if we are generous with others when they are in need, eventually we ourselves will get help when we are in need.
Another interpretation is that the Preacher is referring to seed sown in a floodplain. Commentator Charles Bridges used the annual flooding of the Nile as an example: “The time for sowing the seed is just when the waters are going down, leaving a loamy bed, in which the seed apparently lost is deposited, and produces a most luxuriant harvest.” The point here is that the farmer gets a good return for sowing his seed.
While both of these interpretations are plausible, it seems to me that the most likely interpretation is that the Preacher is referring to engaging in trade. He is urging action with regard to sending bread, grain, or other produce to other destinations via the waters (such as the sea or rivers), and then waiting for a return of money or other goods upon the return of the vessels. And so to “find it after many days” is to receive the reward that comes with taking the risk of a wise investment. As we say today, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”