Serious About Sin

OPENING PRAYER

Lord, in a world that is broken and unpredictable, thank You that You are always true, always just, always good.

 

Read:ECCLESIASTES 9:13-10:9

[13] I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: [14] There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. [15] Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. [16] So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded. [17] The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. [18] Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. [1] As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. [2] The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left. [3] Even as fools walk along the road, they lack sense and show everyone how stupid they are. [4] If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great offenses to rest. [5] There is an evil I have seen under the sun, the sort of error that arises from a ruler: [6] Fools are put in many high positions, while the rich occupy the low ones. [7] I have seen slaves on horseback, while princes go on foot like slaves. [8] Whoever digs a pit may fall into it; whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake. [9] Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them; whoever splits logs may be endangered by them. 

 

Reflect:WHAT PIECE OF WISDOM STANDS OUT TO YOU?

Something as small and seemingly insignificant as a fly may ruin an expensive perfume. As a present-day proverb warns, “One bad apple spoils the whole barrel.” Therefore, when storing apples, a farmer takes pains to ensure that no one fruit touches the other, lest one rotten apple destroy a whole harvest.Folly, or foolishness, is a bit like that. As we saw in Monday’s reading, the Bible understands folly as being a lack of reverence for God and moral deficiency (see Jeremiah 4:22), rather than simply lack of intelligence or common sense. Folly is not to be regarded as some harmless indiscretion, easily or casually overlooked; rather, it is cause for grave concern, for it “outweighs wisdom” (10:1) and may damage or even destroy what is good and wholesome. Paul upholds this same principle: “Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?” (1 Cor. 5:6). Similarly, sin is a subtle pollutant. It is always a serious matter, never to be trifled with or flirted with, since even a “small” sin affronts the absolute holiness of our utterly holy God.

 

APPLY

Ask God to show you any area of “small” sins that may have serious consequences. Journal about it.

 

CLOSING PRAYER

Lord, I don’t want to be anything but what You have called me to be.

 

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Living and Loving Life

OPENING PRAYER

Lord, may I have the ability to recognize You in the everyday realities of my life.

 

Read:ECCLESIASTES 9:1-12

[1] So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them. [2] All share a common destiny-the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good, so with the sinful; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. [3] This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead. [4] Anyone who is among the living has hope-even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! [5] For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. [6] Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun. [7]Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. [8] Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. [9] Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun-all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. [10] Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. [11] I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. [12] Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.

Reflect:HOW DOES THE PASSAGE CALL US TO RECEIVE PHYSICAL BLESSING?

Today’s passage is structured like a sandwich. The “bread” layers are bleak: death is certain (1-6); life is uncertain (11,12). Sandwiched between these grim realities, however, lies a delightful “filling,” joyous and light-hearted (7-10a). The Teacher cites some commonplace activities: eating and drinking, cleanliness and clothing (perhaps preparation for a celebration?), marriage, work… Clearly, he has no hang-ups about the goodness of the material world. As Paul affirms, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). Despite the harshness of death and the hazards of life, our response should not be bitterness, cynicism or weary resignation. Instead, we are to embrace life wholeheartedly (10a). We are not called to mere survival, but to live and love life to the fullest.Life and death, joy and sorrow, feasting and fasting–these are inevitable “seasons” of our lives (see 3:1-8). Yet the delicious “filler” in Solomon’s sandwich is but a foretaste, a tantalizing appetizer, of the delightful feast God has planned for those who love him. And it will last for eternity.

 

APPLY

Take time to do something you enjoy today. Be aware of the pleasure God shares with you in it.

 

CLOSING PRAYER

Father, in a world that falls far short of Your glory, let me see You and the hope of life eternal.

 

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The Grace of Enjoyment

OPENING PRAYER

Lord, teach me to be content in You and to live from the place of peace that only You can offer.

 

Read:ECCLESIASTES 5:8-6:12

[8] If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. [9] The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields. [10] Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. [11] As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them? [12] The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep. [13] I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners, [14] or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when they have children there is nothing left for them to inherit. [15] Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands. [16]This too is a grievous evil: As everyone comes, so they depart, and what do they gain, since they toil for the wind? [17] All their days they eat in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger. [18] This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them-for this is their lot. [19] Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil-this is a gift of God. [20] They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart. [1] I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: [2] God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil. [3] A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. [4] It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. [5] Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man- [6] even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place? [7] Everyone’s toil is for their mouth, yet their appetite is never satisfied. [8] What advantage have the wise over fools? What do the poor gain by knowing how to conduct themselves before others? [9] Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. [10] Whatever exists has already been named, and what humanity is has been known; no one can contend with someone who is stronger. [11] The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone? [12] For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?

Reflect:WHAT TREASURES DO YOU POSSESS THAT MONEY CAN'T BUY?

The Bible says: “Money is the root of all evil”–right? Wrong! Paul writes: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…” (1 Tim. 6:10).The observations of the Teacher–one of the wealthiest men of his time–help in understanding the proper place and true nature of riches. Poverty has its problems, but so does wealth. The “lover of wealth” is never truly “satisfied” (5:10; 6:7), since the deepest needs of the human heart are those things that money can’t buy. A paradox of our times is that “We buy more, but enjoy it less” (Bob Moorhead, The Paradox of Our Time). Riches don’t always or automatically produce joy (6:2). Although they can buy comforts, the anxieties (and perhaps clogged arteries!) accompanying these may also beget insomnia (5:12). God intended that human labor be fruitful (Gen. 2:15). God himself grants the ability to produce wealth (Deut. 8:18). And it is God who gives us the grace of enjoyment to experience contentment and joy in the fruits of our labor (Eccles. 5:19).

 

APPLY

Demonstrate your gratitude by sharing what you have with someone whom you know is in need.

 

CLOSING PRAYER

Source of Life, Love and Joy, You are God and I desire You above all.

 

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Holy Fear

OPENING PRAYER

My Great King, help me to prioritize You over every other thing and to live to advance Your eternal kingdom.

 

Read:ECCLESIASTES 4:13-5:7

[13] Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning. [14] The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. [15] I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king’s successor. [16] There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. [1] Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. [2] Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. [3] A dream comes when there are many cares, and many words mark the speech of a fool. [4] When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. [5] It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. [6] Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? [7] Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.

 

Reflect:WHAT WISDOM DOES THE TEACHER OFFER?

“Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God'” (Psa. 14:1, NRSV). A fool, in the biblical sense, is not someone who flunks an IQ test, but one who refuses to acknowledge and reverence God. The wise, by contrast, “seek after God” (Psa. 14:2, NRSV).References to “God’s house,” “sacrifice” and “vow” point to worship as the context of Ecclesiastes 5:1-7. To “fear” God is not a trembling, cringing, recoiling from God; but this does not mean that a sloppy or lax approach is acceptable. God is Father and Friend, but also, and no less, King of kings and Lord of lords! “Watch your step…” (1a, The Message) emphasizes the importance of preparation before approaching God. “Enter to learn…” (1b) advocates a teachable and submissive spirit. Rather than mouthing a multitude of mindless or ill-considered words (2,3,7), worship is to be thoughtful; in our speech, songs and prayers, do we both say what we mean and mean what we say? Do we treat with utmost seriousness commitments made before God (4-6)? Holy fear gives rise to thoughtful worship, which goes beyond our spoken words and is the offering of our whole life.

 

APPLY

Take five minutes and sit in silence before the Lord. Settle your heart before him.

 

CLOSING PRAYER

Eternal God, teach me to walk in reverence and the fear of You.

 

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Disappointed with Life

OPENING PRAYER

Lord, thank You that You are not a God who is far away, but that You have entered so deeply.

 

Read:ECCLESIASTES 3:16-4:12

[16] And I saw something else under the sun: In the place of judgment-wickedness was there, in the place of justice-wickedness was there. [17] I said to myself, “God will bring into judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time to judge every deed.” [18] I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. [19] Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. [20]All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. [21] Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” [22] So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them? [1] Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed- and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors- and they have no comforter. [2] And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. [3] But better than both is the one who has never been born, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun. [4] And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. [5] Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves. [6] Better one handful with tranquillity than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind. [7] Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: [8] There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless- a miserable business! [9] Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: [10] If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. [11] Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? [12] Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. 

 

Reflect:HOW DOES THE TEACHER SUM UP WHAT HE OBSERVES?

Viewing life through a wide-angle lens, the Teacher is saddened by corruption in the courts (3:16) and merciless oppression of the powerless (4:1). In his book Disappointment with God, Philip Yancey quotes his long-suffering friend, Douglas: “We tend to think, ‘Life should be fair because God is fair.’ But God is not life. And if I confuse God with the physical reality of life… I set myself up for a crashing disappointment” (India: OM Books, 2001). In spite of his disappointments with life, the Teacher does not confuse God with life; instead, he affirms that God is just (3:17).Switching to a telephoto lens, the Teacher zooms in on life at a personal level, only to be disillusioned once again. A man labors long, but his toil is motivated by envy (4:4), hard work fails to bring lasting satisfaction, and a wealth of riches fails to compensate for lack of relationships (4:8). Yet the Teacher discerns some silver linings: first, the contentment that comes when there is no greed and grasping (4:6; see also 1 Tim. 6:6); second, the blessedness of friendships that strengthen and support (4:9-12).

 

APPLY

Thank God that his love and justice extend far beyond the unfairness of life. Pray for an ability to see his purposes.

 

CLOSING PRAYER

Lord, help me to be someone who walks honestly and lovingly with others who are hurt and disillusioned by life.

 

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