Ecclesiastes 7:1–14, 21–22 comment (0)
August 3, 2006
By Doug Wilson
Related Scripture: Ecclesiastes 7:1–14, 21–22
Explore the Bible
Assistant Professor of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
How Can I Stay on Course?
Ecclesiastes 7:1–14, 21–22
“Stay the course.” That is a recurring theme in Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot,” an epic film set in the time of the American Revolution. With the loss of one son and the eventual loss of another, Gibson’s character is reminded to stay the course for fighting to gain independence from the tyrannical George III. The theme of this week’s lesson is about how to stay the course in the midst of uncertainties.
Chapters 7 and 8 of Ecclesiastes contain a number of proverbs that will help us stay the course in a life of faith.
First, they teach us that our life is limited. Second, we learn that we must be prepared to receive and respond to criticism. Third, we must live and trust God to work out His purposes. Finally, we must exercise patience in dealing with others.
Remember Life’s Brevity (1–4)
You may look at these verses and think, “Oh, how morbid! Who wants to think about death when there is so much living to be done?” We understand that it is important to have a good name, but why all the focus upon sorrow, mourning and death? Actually the wisdom literature takes a look at death square in the eyes, as do the Psalms, the Prophets and the Pentateuch.
While we have a considerably higher longevity rate in the United States than in many nations around the world, the mortality rate remains constant: 100 percent. Instead of fearing death, we must live life remembering that it is just a vapor. We stand in victory, knowing that Jesus has triumphed over the grave. Standing on this truth, we walk with a focus on eternity and not the temporal pleasures of life.
Heed Criticism and Resist Anger (5–9)
Criticism is often difficult to receive, especially if it is personal. If you are like me, then you have the temptation to respond by shooting first and asking questions later. But this is not a biblical approach to dealing with constructive criticism. We must look for truth in every godly rebuke we receive. Taking to heart that correction is for our benefit, we must learn from it rather than allowing pride to dictate our responses. This, too, will help us stay the course in our Christian life.
Paul wrote that love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor. 13:5). Many of Solomon’s proverbs warn against the quick-tempered man and his foolishness. Verse nine also bears witness to the folly of allowing anger to rise up. Those who exercise wisdom will not allow their pride to provoke them to wrath.
Focus on God’s Work (10–14)
The elderly have a different perspective on life than the young. Simple ideas like patriotism, careers at a single company and the personal touch of yesterday have given way to globalism, retirement buyouts and nanotechnology.
It’s not wise to ask why life is not like it used to be. Older folks have gained enough wisdom to know better, and young people generally have little desire to revisit the past.
Christians are to gain knowledge and practice wisdom, not for the sake of more information but as a demonstration of faith. A proper reverence and respect for God are the foundation for all wisdom, as expressed in verses 13 and 14. No one can undo what God has done. We can expect both prosperity and adversity, for God has made both.
Temporal concerns often distract us, but we stay the course when we recognize that God is continually at work.
Allow for Human Frailty (21–22)
We often say things we do not mean, sometimes under our breath and other times aloud. Other people do as well.
Why do we get angry at others’ snide comments when we are guilty of our own sarcasm?
The wise Christian acknowledges that people complain. Sometimes the complaints are accurate; other times they are due to fatigue, difficulty at home, spiritual problems or some other external factors. We will stay the course of following Christ when we forgive those who accuse and hate us. Others did it to the prophets, and religious people treated Jesus similarly. Jesus said to rejoice and pray for them (Matt. 5:11–12, 44–47).