Summary: We see how no virtue is ultimately pleasing to God outside of the Spirit of Christ working in us.
Ecclesiastes 4:1-5:7 Beulah 5 August 2001
Also read: Galatians 5:16-26
Topsy turvy, confusing: Should we pursue pleasure? Work? Wisdom? Madness?
The Mesopotamian story
End of chapter 3, Qoheleth is despairing, putting man on level with beasts, forcing us to accept that, with the information at our disposal under the sun, we might as well just accept our lot, seize the day and enjoy ourselves as much as possible- Isaiah and Paul both echo this- "if the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (Isa 22:13, 1 Cor 15:32). Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero (Horace). Herrick- “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,/Old Time is still a-flying/And this same flower that smiles today/Tomorrow will be dying.” Alan K. Resurrection is all that stands between us and nihilistic (that is belief in nothing) hedonism (well it might as well be fun!).
And yet there are many things that prevent us from eking out this limited life in a pleasurable way... the seven deadly sins, in actual fact. Before we get onto that, though...
B. Words and promises (5:1-7)
1. Slow to
• speak (1-4,7)- GNB v 3- "The more you worry, the more likely you are to have bad dreams, and the more you talk, the more likely you are to say something foolish." Cf. James 1:19
• sacrifice (1)
• promise (2-6)- "a pocket full of mumbles such are promises" (Paul Simon)
• protest (6)
• dream (7)
2. Fast to
• listen (1)
• fulfil vows (4-6)
• fear God (2,7), cf. Eccl. 12:13
C. Seven Deadly Sins and Nine Noble virtues (4:1-14)
1. Wrath (Oppression) vs. Kindness and patience (v1-3)
• Taking up where he left off in 3:16
• Green Mile- John can feel pain, take some but not all- "couldn’t take it back"- girls are raped and murdered.
• Open Doors- “does our more cheerful outlook spring from hope or complacency” asks Kidner?
• Oppressors are comfortless too- "those that should have comforted them durst not, for fear of displeasing the oppressors and being made their companions for offering to be their comforters. It is sad to see so little humanity among men" (Henry). Yes Hitler, Pol Pot, Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar and Stalin were incredibly powerful men who had the thrill of being to able to do whatever they wanted with people. But it’s my guess their very status made them unloved and lonely.
• Under the sun dilemma- cry, kill yourself. No life is better than this life. “I looked for comforters and found none” says the Psalmist in Psalm 69.
• The Son’s solution- cry out to God (Psalm 40), be sacrificed for others (1 Peter 3:18). This life is hard, but Jesus died to give us a new life, a better life to come, and rose and ascended so that His Comforter, the Holy Spirit could dwell with us (John 16:7).
2. Envy vs. Peace & Joy in others (v4)
• Only one of ten commandments based on thoughts- covetousness, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).
• Capitalism- based on envy and the profit motive- keeping up with the Joneses. Competition drives us to efficiency- BMWs vs. Trabants!
• Envy and greed enrich us materially but robs us spiritually- the more stuff we have, the less of a person we are. "A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). We have no peace- “he that loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver” (5:8).
• Even in Christian work- I go to more meetings than he does, I’ve read more of the Bible than she has. "All too much of our hard work and high endeavour is mixed with the craving to outshine or not to be outshone. Even in friendly rivalry this may play a larger part than we think- for we can bear to be outclassed some of the time and by some people, but not too regularly or too profoundly" (Kidner). FOOTBALL!
• Under the sun dilemma: the only way you can get people to work is through envy, so it’s a necessary part of economics, sport, relationships and life generally!
• The Son’s solution: do not become conceited (Gal 5:25- envy-pride), work for God out of gratitude and in expectation of heavenly reward (Eph 6:7,8). Prefer others above yourself (Phil 2:3). Be pleased with other’s success even more than your own- "if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it" (1 Cor 12:26). Cotton quote- "one finger envieth not another, that weareth a gold ring, as taking it for an ornament of the whole hand- yea of the whole body". Actually envy should act in such a way that people covet the relationship we have with God and each other for themselves- "salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious" (Romans 11:11). Pointless to be aggrieved that others have gifts we don’t as the wind (the spirit) blows where He likes (John 3:8) and is always just and fair.