Working Well in a Wicked World

Ecclesiastes: Enjoy Life & Fear God  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  27:47
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How to live life in light of God’s control over all.

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Ecclesiastes: Enjoy Life & Fear God

It seems clear that the Author is King Solomon,
he narrates large portions of the book as the narrator who is named, “The Teacher”.
-What is Ecclesiastes about?
-goes to show what life is like “under the sun”
-We can choose futility, or choose to live for eternity
-Are we chasing the wind, or are do we Fear God and enjoy this world that He has made?
The Genre of this book is “Wisdom Literature”.
written with the people of the royal courts in mind.
future rulers & leaders studied these writings to help them rule and lead well.
Ecclesiastes 1-2 Action Steps
Worldly accomplishments and pleasure are futile, like chasing the wind. Evaluate your priorities? Are you chasing the wind or are you living for eternity?
Did you ever find a time in your life when you assumed that you were in charge, and left God out of the equation? It was your will and your ways.
STORY - Who is in Control?
Elise in the Home Depot shopping cart with a wheel.
Does life every feel like that to you? You are at the wheel, but when you turn it life doesn’t obey.
Ecclesiastes 3 starts off with a poem. As I read the poem ask yourself this question; Who is in control of that decision?
Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 HCSB
There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven: a time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to avoid embracing; a time to search and a time to count as lost; a time to keep and a time to throw away; a time to tear and a time to sew; a time to be silent and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.
Explaining some of the phrases
-a time to live and a time to die
-these belong to God, and so does everything in between.
a time to plant, and a time to uproot
try planting your garden in February, doesn’t work. But who is in charge of the seasons?
Time to kill and to heal
Time to tear down and build
These phrases all have to do with establishing or destroying.
You could apply it to war room strategy. You could apply it to construction. Buildings a re built for a purpose, time passes, and then they come down. Its time to move on.
Time to weep and a time to laugh.
Time to mourn and a time to dance
We all know straight away that this is true. And if you do the joyful dancing where the sad mourning should be, things seem out of sorts.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones.
What does that mean? You don’t hear that phrase very often.
The interpretation that I think makes the most sense has to do with war strategy. Sometimes it makes sense to put stones all throughout the fields so that others cannot use them for crops. And then of course, the battle is over, the land is claimed, and the stones need to be removed.
I’m going to stop there at going line by line through the poem, because I want to focus on what is the point of the poem.

What is the point of this poem?

Is it so that we will learn to understand and discern the times that we are in? Is it so that we will learn that there are certain rhythms to life, and that we should work with the natural order rather than against it?
Yes, I think that it is fair to learn that lesson from this poem, but I don’t think that understanding the times is the main reason for the poem.
Here is what the main point of the poem is. God is in control. God is overall. God is God, and we are not.
There are so many things that happen in our lives that are going to happen whether we like it or not. We get sick, and there is nothing that you could have done to avoid it. Wars come and go, young people get drafted and there is nothing that they can do. We have timelines set up. We work towards goals, we have hopes and dreams. But sometimes things shift. Sometimes nothing goes how we hoped, or how we had planned. How then should we respond?
Did you notice how one line cancels the other out.
A time to be born, and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to uproot.
One cancels the other.
And so in one sense you could say, the big result of everything is nothing, it is futility. All of our efforts will one day be cancelled out, its just a chasing after the wind.
Is that the point, that everything is futile?
Maybe we should just quit. Dissolve into fatalism. It doesn’t matter what I do, because God’s in charge anyways, and His ways will be done. Just be lazy in your work, lazy in your faith, lazy in your commitments. What does it matter, you can’t control time?
You could some up the question like this...

“If God is in control, what is my responsibility?”

Or maybe you would ask the question this way, “If God is in control, does it really matter what I do?” What am I working so hard for?
Lets see what the Teacher says about that in Ecclesiastes 3:9-15
Ecclesiastes 3:9–15 HCSB
What does the worker gain from his struggles? I have seen the task that God has given people to keep them occupied. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also put eternity in their hearts, but man cannot discover the work God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and enjoy the good life. It is also the gift of God whenever anyone eats, drinks, and enjoys all his efforts. I know that all God does will last forever; there is no adding to it or taking from it. God works so that people will be in awe of Him. Whatever is, has already been, and whatever will be, already is. God repeats what has passed.
If God is in control, what is my responsibility?
First, and of most importance.

Stand in Awe.

We don’t normally stand still. As a culture, we are not very good at Sabbath, stopping our work so that we have time and space to worship God.
We fill our days from dawn till dusk with tasks. But try this out this week, start each day with this phrase:

God works so that people will be in awe of Him.

As you go through your day, look for God’s work. Think about how this world is sustained. And when you take a step back to see what God is accomplishing, stand in awe. Appreciate his work. Praise him for his control.
The second thing that we can do is to

Enjoy Life.

God is in control, he is overall. And he has created us to live on his earth, in view of his work, and carrying forward with our responsibilities and commitments.
So let us rejoice and enjoy this good life that God has given to us. We can trust him.
Maybe nothing is working out how you thought that it should. Maybe it’s becoming painfully obvious that you have far less control than you thought. None the less, you can enjoy this good life that God has given. Why, because God is not surprised, alarmed or anxious. He is our God and He is in control.
Philippians 4:11–13 HCSB
I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.
The next section of scripture that we are looking at is the remaining bits of Chapter 3 and then Chapter 4. In this portion we get a picture of what happens when people attempt to take control and ignore God and his ways.
Ecclesiastes 3:16–17 HCSB
I also observed under the sun: there is wickedness at the place of judgment and there is wickedness at the place of righteousness. I said to myself, “God will judge the righteous and the wicked, since there is a time for every activity and every work.”
Do remember the OJ Simpson trial? He had the sort of lawyer that made the world question if he was getting justice.
Why should we work well in a wicked world? Because even though money can buy you a better defence in the human courts of law, money won’t do anything for you in front of the judgment seat of God.
But if we live as if God does not judge us and if his divine law and order don’t matter, how are we different from animals?
Ecclesiastes 3:18–21 HCSB
I said to myself, “This happens concerning people, so that God may test them and they may see for themselves that they are like animals.” For the fate of people and the fate of animals is the same. As one dies, so dies the other; they all have the same breath. People have no advantage over animals since everything is futile. All are going to the same place; all come from dust, and all return to dust. Who knows if the spirit of people rises upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth?
Lets deal with that last line first, who knows if the spirit of people rises upward? The implied answer is no one knows that. We don’t see the afterlife. But we could expand that to say, No one knows the answer WITHOUT God’s revelation.
The New Testament clearly teaches us that there is life after death.
John 11:25 HCSB
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.
John 14:3 HCSB
If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.
But are we living our lives as if that weren’t true. Does the culture that we live in encourage us to live as if now is the only reality worth living for?
The evidence that we are living in a wicked world is this, people live as if they will never have to stand before an Omnipotent (All Knowing) God. But if we all live this way, in a dog eat dog survival of the fittest mindset, we all all be in a world of hurt. Animals live to survive. We must do much better.
But what the Teacher was seeing was a culture who was living each person for themselves. Where was the sense of community and kindness.
We must not live like we are simply animals, doing whatever it takes to survive. What’s next?
Ecclesiastes 4:1–3 HCSB
Again, I observed all the acts of oppression being done under the sun. Look at the tears of those who are oppressed; they have no one to comfort them. Power is with those who oppress them; they have no one to comfort them. So I admired the dead, who have already died, more than the living, who are still alive. But better than either of them is the one who has not yet existed, who has not seen the evil activity that is done under the sun.
Here the Teacher is taking an extreme view of the hopelessness of oppression.
He asks for us to consider the acts of oppression. They seem cruel, and futile. Lives are ruined, people are hurt, and no one is comforting the hurting. So what does the Teacher do, he doesn’t offer a solution. Instead, he gives us despair. It would be better if he hadn’t have been born. Then he wouldn’t have to live that despair and see that kind of hurt in people.
If all there is to life is what we can see under the sun, then all of this oppression, corruption and abuse simply makes life unbearable.
More subtle is the jealous heart.
Ecclesiastes 4:4 HCSB
I saw that all labor and all skillful work is due to a man’s jealousy of his friend. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.
The Teacher is exposing the motives. Why is it that you work to get good grades in your class? Is part of it so that you will be able to see that your grades are better then your classmates?
Why do you try to go to certain Universities? Is part of it so that you can have that prestige?
Why do you try to win the promotion over your coworkers, is it to gain an edge?
What is it that you spend the bulk of your time working towards? Have you ever stopped to examine your heart motives? Have you ever slowed down, retreated from your work for a couple of hours and asked God to search your heart?
We live and work in a world where there are all sorts of unholy motivations. How can we work well in this world? How can our lives stand out in such a way that we will draw people to Christ?
Mr Teacher gives us a little bit of help here in the form of a proverb.
Ecclesiastes 4:5–6 HCSB
The fool folds his arms and consumes his own flesh. Better one handful with rest than two handfuls with effort and a pursuit of the wind.
3 Hand Positions in Ecclesiastes 4:5-6.
Fold your arms
two hands full with effort
One handful with rest
The first one is the folded arms. Try folding your arms while you work. Its tough to drive a car with folded arms. Its hard to plant your garden, do your homework, play an instrument, you get the picture.
The folded arms represent the fool who doesn’t work. She just folds her arms and is left with no resource, and as the Teacher puts it, is “left to consume her own flesh” because when you don’t work, there is no food to eat.
The two hands full with effort I think of the body building pose. Two fists used to show the muscles and the physic. Its a picture of putting every single part of who you are into your work.
Its the idea that bigger is better. If you can just work hard enough you can get all of the toys, fulfill all of your dreams, achieve the great status.
But read the rest of the verse, because the result of all of this effort is vanity. “two handfuls with effort and a pursuit of the wind.’
You give all your time, all of your effort, all of your strength, and then at the end of the day, what’s left? You given all your time to work, but what about putting time towards family, friends and faith? You’ve given everything for something that is fleeting, the impossible dream.
So how should we work well in a wicked world?

One handful with rest.

Here are some supporting scriptures to strengthen this point.
Proverbs 15:16 HCSB
Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure with turmoil.
Proverbs 16:8 HCSB
Better a little with righteousness than great income with injustice.
The teachers point is that we should be satisfied to live peaceful and good lives with handful.
Think about some of the ramifications.
We do honest work, but we are not workaholics.
We are content without having the biggest and the best.
We are at peace, even when we are not at the top.
One temptation is to embrace the world as it is. Live so that the world accepts you. Own the things that gain the approval of others. Live so that you don’t look or act any different then the people and the systems that you are a part of. This is choosing to please people rather than to please God.
But ask yourself, Who is in Control? Who controls the seasons? Who’s world is this? Should I live for people or for God. At the end of the day, when it is his word that the world is judged by, and no longer the world that is attempting to judge his word, what side will I be on then. How can I live towards that today?
Other sermons that I could and should preach will deal with what we should do about the wickedness in this world. For example, we should care for the poor, we should help those in need, we should push for God’s righteousness in our land. These are all true, but they are not what The Teacher is showing us in Ecclesiastes 3 & 4.
Here is the conclusion:
God is in charge of the times and the seasons.
At the appointed time, Jesus came to this earth.
Jesus began his time of public teaching and healing by saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of Heaven has come near, repent and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)
During Jesus ministry a group of leaders tried to have him arrested, but no one laid a hand on him because “his hour had not yet come” John 7:30
In preparation for the last supper, leading up to the night that he would be arrested Jesus declared “My time is near” Matt 26:18
and Paul declares
Romans 5:6 HCSB
For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly.
Jesus Christ fulfills everything about time. He created it, he is the Beginning and the End, he is over it all, and he lived his life at the exact time in history when it was ordained.
We can stand in Awe of God’s control of time, and we can surrender our lives to his rule and his control. He is always on time, and maybe for you, today is the day of Salvation.
If your life is in Jesus Christ, then enjoy this life that has been redeemed for you. You are born again because this Messiah has given his life so that we who were dead in our sins could be made right with God.
So, Fear God and Enjoy your Life.
And how should you work in a wicked world. Don’t fold your arms, give up, and fall into despair. Don’t become a work a holic, working like this world is all that there is.
If God is in control, then what is your responsibility?
Instead, work at rest with one handful.
If you have your Bible open, then you will see that there is some more to Ecclesiastes 4. Some really helpful stuff, and I’m out of sermon time. So I am passing on this assignments to your small group.
Look at Ecclesiastes 4:7-13
ASK - Does everybody have strong relationships, so that they aren’t going through this world alone?
Look at Ecclesiastes 4:14-16
ASK - If Solomon is the foolish in king in verse 14, what have been different if he had paid attention to the warnings? What warnings should we pay attention to? (from Ecclesiastes)
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