Life is a wonderful gift. Indeed, as it is filled with many wonders. Life affords us the opportunity to witness the wonders of God’s creation and be marveled at His wisdom, power and supremacy.
Regretfully, creation in all of its beauty and wonders, and life in all its goodness and bliss, has been tarnished by sin. The Fall of man has impaired the world – both life and creation, into dysfunction. Life, corrupted by sin, becomes complex, malevolent and treacherous.
Making sense of life is a daunting task. Yet, it is a very needful and necessary thing to do in order for us to know how to make good of life and how to live well. The great Greek philosopher Socrates posits that “an unexamined life is not worth living”.
We all struggle to grasp what life is all about and how we ought to go about living it meaningfully, happily and expediently. Some could not make sense of life and degenerate into despair and eventually, feeling empty and meaningless, chose to end their lives. For the atheists, many got lost and disillusioned as they go through the maze of life trying to sort out life on their own. Others seek to grab a hold on life through various ideologies and belief system but fail to fill the spiritual vacuum within. Many who hold to an agnostic worldview, adopt a more stoic outlook of life and resign to their fate, albeit helplessly, to whatever life brings.
History records for us that once upon a time, King Solomon, the wisest king ever lived, wrestled to understand life. In his quest to know the meaning of life and to understand how he could lie well, he experimented exhaustively in all ways and aspects of life. His findings were later canonized into the Bible in the Book Of Ecclesiastes.
In our modern time, people pay huge amount of money to listen to professionals and gurus on various topics on financial, economics or health interest. Here, in the Word of God, is offered to us free of charge, counsels on life and how to live well. This counsel, mind you, did not come from any phony charlatan who tries to fleece people for profit. But, it came from a man, touted to be the wisest man ever lived, who was endowed with great wisdom from God. How could we refuse such a gracious gift from God ? It would be prudent of us to pay heed to what King Solomon – the Teacher, teaches about life.
When it comes to the Book of Ecclesiastes, even if one does not remember anything about the book, for sure the clarion proverbial exclamation : “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity !” (Ecclesiastes 1:2), rings a bell in our minds. So pronounced is this declaration that resonates throughout the writing, it is almost assumed as the sole message of Ecclesiastes. Thank God it is not. Else, we will all have to despair.
Ecc 2:15 Then I thought in my heart,
“The fate of the fool will overtake me also.
What then do I gain by being wise?”
I said in my heart,
“This too is meaningless.”
Ecc 2:16 For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
in days to come both will be forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise man too must die!
To be sure, the proverbial declaration underscores a harsh but fundamental reality about life. That is : Life is short. Very short indeed. Swiftly it comes, swiftly it goes. Before we know it, it is over.
At the point of death, everything comes to naught, literally. Along with our death, our glory as well as our shame will pass and be forgotten. At death, we ceased to exist. Thus, from the vantage point of mortality, everything is meaningless and all is vanity.
The brevity of life, as daunting as it is, paradoxically, is a reality that does not quite sink into us. Our human survival instinct and the lack of security set us into a relentless pursuit to accumulate wealth and possessions while we are alive. The truth of the impossibility of bringing along our possessions with us into death somehow does not register till we lay dying on the death bed. Regrettably, by then, much misdoings would have been committed and precious time wasted. Can I avoid such a pathetic consequence for my own life? I wonder.
So, since life is brief and all is vanity, how then should we go about life? Should we be care-less and frivolous about the way we live since nothing matters ?
Of course not. In his contemplation on the finitude of life, King Solomon gained some insights on how we should then live. He offers 3 counsels on how we ought to live well.
a. Excel & Enjoy
Though life is brief and everything will come to naught eventually, the Teacher advocates that the wise thing to do to make good of life and live well is to do our best in all that we do and enjoy the toil of our labour.
Ecc 5:18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink,
and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun
during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot.
Ecc 5:19 Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions,
and enables him to enjoy them,
to accept his lot and be happy in his work—
this is a gift of God.
Ecc 8:15 So I commend the enjoyment of life ,
because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.
Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life
God has given him under the sun.
Ecc 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might,
for in the grave, where you are going,
there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
This precept is congruent to appreciating life as a gift and celebrating it by enjoying it. It is not a mandate for us to go mindless frolicking and burn our passion in roguish dissipation. For this only brings trouble to our otherwise happy life. Responsible and decent indulgence can be satisfying, fulfilling and enjoyable.
b. Remember God
Celebrating life does not grant us the warrant to do anything under the sun. The Teacher implores us, while we exhaust ourselves in our labour and delight ourselves in enjoyment, to be mindful of our Creator God who is the Judge of all men.
Ecc 11:9 Be happy, young man, while you are young,
and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart
and whatever your eyes see,
but know that for all these things
God will bring you to judgment.
Ecc 12:1 Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”—
However we live, we must remember that God our Creator, the Judge, will hold us accountable in all that we do. In enjoying the fruit of our labour, let us be careful not to let our success and achievement to bloat our pride; and in our arrogance become “self-full” and “god-less”. Being mindful of God means living our lives responsibly, righteously and reverently.
c. Fear God And Obey His Commandments
At the end of his extensive research about life, King Solomon wraps up his investigation with this conclusion : fear God and keep His commandments. He deems this as the whole duty of man for the life that he has been granted.
Ecc 12:13 Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole └ duty┘ of man.
The fear-of-the-Lord is a deep reverence for God that one espouses and adopts as the precept that guides his moral conscience with a desire to live a life of holiness worthy of the Lord pleasing Him in all that he does. Such is a life that is righteous, blissful and enjoyable. No wonder the Book of Proverbs tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverb 9:10).
The fear-of-the-Lord is not a natural instinct inherent in our nature. It is a submission we freely and intentionally subject ourselves to God in reverence of Him as the Author of life and the Most Holy God. The fear-of-the-Lord has to be inculcated through our daily living as we walk with God. Our freedom, celebration and enjoyment of life, if not harnessed by the fear-of-the-Lord, would degenerate into moral decadence and dissipate in selfish idolatry.
Our good Lord did not leave us on our own to find our way in life. God has given us His commandments to guide us in our lives. The Teacher exhorts us to employ the commandments of God to guide us in our lives.
This is attested by Apostle Peter who teaches that God in His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Christ and through His great and precious promises and commandments. The Psalmist makes the point trenchantly with the rhetorical question : “How can a young man keep his way pure ? By living according to Your word” (Psalm 119:9).
Do not be mistaken. God’s commandments are not a set of legalistic regiment that we are required to adhere to so as to achieve some form of moral merits. They (God’s commandments) are rules to guide us to live a life of holiness and prosperity. As such, obedience ought not be exercised out of fear of not being good enough to qualify us for salvation as salvation is purely by the grace of God.
Rather, obedience ought to be exercised out of love for God with a desire to please Him and out of prudence to live well and righteously. Apostle John highlights to us that there is no fear in love for perfect love casts out fear because fear has to do with punishment (1John 4:8). One must not mistake such fear of punishment that is self-serving with the fear-of-the-Lord which is focused on God which we mentioned in the earlier point.
Having surveyed the findings and propositions of the Teacher on life, one may wonder what is so enlightening or profound about the Teacher’s wisdom ? His propositions seemed nothing more than common sense. Herein lays the paradox. Though the Teacher’s advises are something common to our sense, yet, they are truths that many people fail to grasp or adopt as precepts of life. Contrary to our thinking, common sense is not so common in our fallen human idiosyncrasy. It takes a deep comprehension, a reverent conviction and a discipline commitment to undergird our living with these precepts.
It would seem that the wise King has taken too much trouble and indulged himself in unnecessarily life experiments just to discover the few facts of life. Yet, without experiencing the vanities of life personally, he would not have acquired the wisdom and formed the conviction of his own learning and qualify to be a credible counselor of life. The Teacher did not pluck his understanding of life from the air.
We do not have to waste the time nor experience the exasperation of experimenting life to learn how to make good of life and live well. It pays to heed the wise counsel of the Teacher.
So, let us excel in all that we do and enjoy the fruit of our labor. Yet, without forgetting God our Maker, who will judge the way we live. We would do ourselves a great favor to safe guard our journey of bliss and happiness with the fear-of-the-Lord lovingly abiding in His Word.
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