Summary: God is opposed to anything that diminishes our joy. What many think is a "good time" is actually self-abuse. Life is fleeting, so fear and obey God, for your own good.
Overcoming Futility—a sermon series on Ecclesiastes
“In the Days of Youth” 11:9-12:14 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
We conclude our study of Ecclesiastes, a book written to people who are struggling to find meaning and purpose in life. Solomon ends on a cautionary note, with three cautions:
A. Enjoy life but know you’re accountable (11:9-10)
B. Life is fleeting (12:1-8)
C. The bottom line--fear & obey God (12:9-14)
A. Enjoy life, but…(11:9-10)
People (young, and old alike) live as though they’re never going to have to account for their actions! We answer to God. He wants us to enjoy life. We can’t enjoy life if we’re harming ourselves. Much of what people think is a “good time” is actually self-abuse. I was reading recently how alcoholics can’t really enjoy a glass of beer or wine. They’ve lost the capacity to savor. Their enjoyment is spoiled, and a fine wine is wasted on them. It’s simply a means to an end. Benjamin Franklin observed that, “beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Proverbs 104:15 says that God made wine to “gladden our hearts.” When we abuse this gift, we only hurt ourselves, and others. Solomon is calling us to a life of personal responsibility for our own good.
Why do we say, “youth is wasted on the young”? Because, however wild the younger generation may be, those who have some years on them know how they could act if they could only turn back the clock. Verse 9 says “Follow the ways of your heart.” In other words, do what your heart desires. If we desire God, our hearts will desire holiness.
Enjoyment of life doesn’t have to mean lawlessness. When we’re caught in lust, we think of God as a disapproving interferer; when we’re consumed by material things, we think of money as our supreme need and God as a mere extra. God wants us to find true love, and He wants us to discover how to be prosperous, regardless of our income. He wants us to enjoy life, the moral and healthy way. God created a good world, and He doesn’t want us to spoil our joy, so He’s given us some “rules for the journey.” He provides wisdom, purpose, and direction beyond our experience.
Obedience means not slavishly obeying God’s law but seeking His will behind the law. God wants only what is best for us. A wise teenager figured this out; he said to his dad, “Everything they teach in church and Sunday School comes down to one thing; if I remember this, everything else will be okay…I should just always ask what God wants me to do and then do it. That’s all.”
We are fairly tolerant of strangers, but more demanding with those we love. We’re passionate about their well-being. This is how God loves us. He fervently wants us to do right because He cares about our happiness. He’s against anything that diminishes our joy. We can’t know joy outside of God’s will. Catholic author Peter Kreeft states, “the theme song of those who live for self is ‘I did it my way.’ People think that is Heaven, when in fact it’s the song people sing in Hell.” True joy comes from saying to God, “Thy will be done.” When we live with virtue, we live with joy.
B. Life is fleeting…(12:1-8)
“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come.” Sounds a lot like a guy who’s going out with his buddies for a final fling a few days before reporting for Basic Training. What Solomon’s saying is that we don’t have all the time in the world. It may seem that way when we’re young, but life is brief.
Youth is the prime time to find God. Cultivating faith takes time. People can come to faith in their latter years, but usually with considerable regret over a life wasted on things that didn’t matter.
We need to make the most of life before it’s too late. Solomon’s depiction of our mortality isn’t a threat, simply a reminder. Before the flame of life burns out we need to grasp the meaning of life, to know God, His will, and live with a sense of urgency. Some people who’ve reached their senior years admit they’ve missed the point of life, but (with regret) they’re unwilling to turn to God because it’s “too hard to change.” But it’s not too late. “Remembering our Creator” means we drop our self-sufficiency and commit our lives to Him. We surrender our plans and priorities to God.
Verses 2-8 provide a poetic description of the fading of life. Solomon’s telling his young readers what they can look forward to. Life becomes increasingly challenging as time passes. To explain some of the symbolism: the grinders are the teeth, the silver cord is the spinal cord; the golden bowl is the skull, the blossoming almond tree is white hair, the pitcher is the heart, the wheel is the circulatory system. Physical abilities decrease while anxieties increase. We can somewhat disguise the aging process, but we can’t reverse it. I knew a Chaplain who, like me, was thin on top, so he got a toupee. He said, “What God hath not wrought, I went out and bought.”