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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:The Lord teaches us to have a proper sense of righteousness and wisdom
Text:Ecclesiastes 7:15-19 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2008-04-13
Added:2008-09-15
Updated:2008-09-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing:  Psalm 111: 1, 2

Sing: Psalm 111: 3, 4, 5

Sing: Psalm 112: 1, 3, 4

Sing: Psalm 73: 1, 2, 5

Sing:  Psalm 138: 1, 4

 

Read: 1 Corinthians 1: 18 - 2: 5; Ecclesiastes 7: 15 - 29

 

Text: Ecclesiastes 7: 15 - 19  

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters:

 

Some people have all the answers. They have a solution to every problem and can explain everything away. They especially have all the answers when it comes to other people and their situations. When there is trouble in another person's life they can tell you exactly what the problem is, why it happened, and how to correct the matter.

 

In so doing they also present themselves as models of uprightness. "If only others would be like me, then they would have no problems." Those smug kind of people want you to think that they are superior to you. They want you to admire them.        

 

But where does that leave the rest of us? It leaves us bewildered, even feeling guilty. It leaves us thinking that the bad things that happen to us are our fault. We're not as good as we should be. We are bad people. It even happens that a lot of people who do not go to church have fewer problems than we do. We wonder what's wrong with us.

 

Well, brothers and sisters, that is what the text in Ecclesiastes deals with. It deals with the apparent injustices in life. It tells us how to put things into a proper perspective. Today’s message is summarized under the following theme:    

 

THE PREACHER TEACHES US TO HAVE A PROPER SENSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND WISDOM

       He teaches that:

       1. Wickedness leads to imaginary success

       2. Overmuch righteousness leads to bewilderment

       3. The fear of God leads to true righteousness and wisdom.

 

1. Have you ever noticed that people have a strong sense of justice when it comes to themselves? They are always comparing; comparing the way others are treated in comparison to themselves. You can see that strong sense of justice in children already. They always think that they are getting “the wrong end of the stick”. Parents and teachers know what I am talking about. When you punish one of your children, then another one will automatically pipe up and say, "If that had been me, you would have been a lot stricter. I never would have gotten off so lightly." Especially older children will say that in regard to their younger siblings. As adults we are not any different. For we see the same thing in the way that we treat each other in the church. Once somebody has been disciplined or reprimanded, such a person often stays angry about it. From then on they will look for any discrepancy in the way others are treated, even if the other case only bears a slight similarity to their own. Once any perceived discrepancy is seen, they will cry foul: "See, they treat me different than somebody else. Look at the injustice!"         

 

Now it is true that earthly judges do not always mete out justice equitably. Parents, teachers, and consistories are all made up of sinful people. And they make mistakes. That is why they have to be very careful in the way that they deal with others.        

 

But what about our heavenly judge? Do we not have a perfect judge who treats everyone equally? Some people would even question that. We see that in this text. We hear a complaint. The Teacher has heard it many times. It is not a complaint against men but it is a complaint against God. The complaint is: "Look at how you treat me, God. Look at what is happening. It is plain for everyone to see. It doesn't seem fair." It says there literally: "In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness."

 

So you see what the complaint is. God is not fair. There are good people who die young and wicked people who seem to live on and on. "Now is that justice? Is that the way we ought to be treated?  Why is it that some people have to bear a lot more adversity in their lives than others? Others seem to have all the luck. Everything seems to go along swimmingly for them. They don't have the kind of problems that I do with my poor health and with my lack of resources, financial and otherwise. My life seems to be nothing but sorrow and trouble, even though I try so hard to be a good person and to live according to God’s commandments." 

 

They may even wonder about the truth of what God says to his people in the fifth commandment: "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land which the LORD your God is giving you." And also with the second commandment, that He will show his love to a thousand generations of those who love Him.  If that is true, how can it be that those who try to keep the commandments of God, those who are righteous, often receive such adversity in their lives? Is that not a contradiction? That is also the complaint of the preacher. He complains about righteous people who perish in their righteousness.

 

How do you explain that? First you have to take a close look at what the scriptures understand with the term righteousness. What really constitutes a righteous man? In the book of Job we meet a righteous man. “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil" (Job 1:1). Simeon, the man who was in the temple when Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus there according to the custom of the law, “was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him." (Luke 2:25)   

 

Why are these men called righteous? Was it because they were without sin or because their personal righteousness outweighed their weakness? No, of course not. There was ever only one truly righteous man on earth and that was the Lord Jesus Himself. There has never been, or ever will be, anyone like Him. The Lord Jesus is the only one without sin. All other men are sinful.  Job and Simeon were called righteous because of the kind of people they were. Job put his trust totally in the Lord God alone. He had some wrong perceptions certainly and so he began to question God.  He was looking for answers. But one thing is for sure, during his troubles he not once renounced God. He sought his redemption, his deliverance from his difficult circumstances, from God alone. That is why he cried out at one point, in Job 19:25, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth."  Job completely threw himself at the mercy of God. He was looking forward to the coming of Christ. He knew that therein lays the only way out of troubles. The Lord did not disappoint him.

 

Simeon also worshipped the Lord and knew his redemption to be secured by the Son of God. He knew he was not a perfect man. Therefore he delighted in the fact that he could see his Redeemer in the flesh. Job and Simeon sought their righteousness, not in themselves, but in the Lord. They believed and the Lord reckoned it to them as righteousness. They were righteous because of faith. They believed that the Lord had forgiven them their sins. They believed that the Lord God would not allow them to remain in their sins. They were righteous because of faith. They believed that no matter what would happen to them in this earthly life, nothing could separate them from the love of God.       

 

Let me ask you, do you also believe? Do you believe that God has forgiven you your sins? Do you believe that you have to be redeemed through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ? If you do, then you too are a righteous person. For the Lord has made you righteous. He has done that, not because you are such a good person, but because of the righteous of Christ. That is the promise you must hang on to, all the days of your life, no matter what happens to you.

 

But then you may wonder, what good does that do me? I don't get treated any better than anyone else. Sometimes I get treated worse. That's also the complaint of the text. The Lord promises a long life to the righteous and yet sometimes that is not the case. But then let us consider brothers and sisters, what does the Lord mean when He speaks about a long life? Does that not mean, in the final analysis, eternal life? What is longer than eternal life? Oh, I know, the promise also has an earthly significance. That is what the preacher has in mind first of all here. The preacher knows that, in spite of the fact that some righteous people die an early death the rule is that someone who is obedient to the law of God is much more likely to live longer than someone who leads a disobedient, reckless life style.         

 

The preacher, in accordance with the Scriptures, also has a much wider perspective on things. For ultimately when the Scriptures speak about life, they speak about the life in Christ, about eternal life. That is what He promises to those who are righteous by faith, and of that we may be sure.         

 

Someone who is righteous in the way that Job and Simeon were righteous will have eternal life. To them belong all the promises of the covenant. But a wicked person will not have such a wonderful life. Some of them may live long on the earth, but their life is nothing but a constant death, which leads to the ultimate eternal death in hell.       

 

The true believer only truly possesses life in its fullest. A true believer can rejoice all the days of his life. He can rejoice in spite of adversity. He can, indeed he must, be happy during all circumstances of life, even when he is struck by poverty, unemployment, or illness. He may rejoice even when he has to bring a loved one to an early grave.

 

Do you know what a great comfort that is, brothers and sisters, boys and girls? No matter what happens in our lives, the Lord will keep you in His hands. Even during times of trials we can be comforted by Scripture. For example, Deuteronomy 4:31 assures us: "For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath."

 

2. At this point the Preacher comes to another interesting statement. That brings us also to our second thought. He says in verse 16, "Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise- why destroy yourself?" If there is one statement in the Bible that has been abused, it is this one. A lot of people interpret this verse to mean that the Scriptures teach that we should not always be too righteous. In other words, that we should not always be so serious about things. They suggest that we can relax our sense of righteousness to some extent. After all, we are sinful human beings. Certain things cannot be changed. They will even go so far as to say that this statement implies that we may sin to a moderate degree. Don't be too righteous, and don't be too wicked. Find a good balance in your life. As long as you don't sin too much you will be all right. After all, God is a merciful God.

 

Do you really think the Scriptures say that? If that were truly the meaning of this passage would then the Scriptures not contradict themselves? Listen to what the Lord Jesus said to the multitudes in His Sermon on the Mount. He says there, "You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." He does not want us to lower our standards. On the contrary. Throughout the Scriptures it is made very clear that the Lord is very angry at our sins, even the smallest sins. Every sin makes us guilty before the Lord.

 

What then is the Preacher telling us? Well, let’s look at the context. He is speaking here about people who have a wrong sense of righteousness. He is speaking about the people who seem to have all the answers.  He is speaking about those who think about the fact that adversity is always the result of some specific sin. That is what the friends of Job thought, for example. They told Job that the terrible situation he found himself in was because of his own fault. Such people do not have a proper sense of their own sinfulness.

 

Why do we have to suffer in this life? Is God unjust in giving us adversity in life? Is he unjust in giving more adversity to the one person than to the other? No, brothers and sisters, because of our total depravity we all bear the effects of sin. It was not unjust of the Lord to let Job suffer as he did. Because we are sinful, we are exposed to all kinds of misery. But then we have to remember through all this that in spite of our sinfulness, in spite of the adversity the Lord sends our way, the Lord nevertheless is treating us as sons. We are His covenant children. You are near to Him.

 

Why then does He send adversity? Well, He uses whatever adversity comes our way to draw us closer to Him, to make us feel totally dependent on Him. That is what He did to Job, and that is also what He did to Paul. He never took the thorn in Paul’s flesh away, for he used his affliction, whatever that may have been, to make him feel the power of God. By His power we know He can, and will, totally renew us, body and soul.         

 

The Teacher tells us to put all things into proper perspective. Trust in the Lord. Know that He is your heavenly Father. Don't be too righteous. That is, don't have the wrong sense of justice. The Lord will not allow anything to happen to any of His children to his or her detriment. The Lord knows what you need.         

 

Yet his love means that we also must bear pain at times. That pain is there because of our sins. Do you not believe, for example, that He dearly loved His own Son? Of course He did. He could not do otherwise.  For His Son was not only a man, He was also God. By the Father loving His Son, He also loved Himself. For the Father cannot be separated from the Son. The two are one.

 

And yet, look at how He treated His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ was the most righteous man to ever live. He tended to the sick; He healed them and comforted them. He dealt justly with all those who sought Him out. Yet, God made his Son suffer. He was ridiculed by the masses. He was despised. Not only was our Lord rejected by the Roman authorities but he was also rejected by His own brothers in Israel. He was thrown out of His own hometown and accused of being a blasphemer against God. Our Lord Jesus was tortured and had to withstand all the indignity man could heap on Him. The Lord was despised to such an extent that the world no longer could tolerate His presence around them. Thus they killed Him and hung Him on the cross. It was a total humiliation. His absolute righteousness did not earn Him the rewards that the world would expect Him to receive. No, brothers and sisters, He even died at a relatively early age, in His early thirties. Yet Christ never called God's justice into question. He knew that He had to undergo His humiliation because of the sin that He bore on behalf of mankind.       

 

We too are God's children and we belong to Christ. Because we are children of God, we too have to suffer. At times we have to bear pain in our lives. That is not because the Lord is angry with us, or that we need to be punished. No, beloved, that is not the reason. If we had to bear the full burden of God's wrath, we could not take it. We no longer have to be afraid of God’s wrath but He does want us to have some inkling of the pain the Lord Jesus had to bear. He wants us to realize how great our redemption is. In this way He wants to bring us close to Him. He wants to have us near Him, all the time. He wants us to rely on Him, no matter what life may bring us.

 

The Preacher writes in verse 13, "Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked?" He exhorts us to consider God's plan for us. We may want to lay out for ourselves a neat course of life to follow. But the Lord's plan for our lives often goes counter to what we have planned for ourselves.  Thus we read in Proverbs, "A man's mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps". If we think that things will go as we planned them, then we will certainly be astonished. It may lead to our bewilderment if things happen differently as often happens, for then we no longer trust in the Lord. 

 

Many people are like that. They have a keen sense of earthly justice. They don't want to put God into the picture. They see God as an unjust God. They say to themselves, "If the lot of man is the same for everybody else, then what's the use? Why bother trying to live a righteous life? Why go to church? Why believe in God?”

 

Because of that wrong sense of righteousness they go to the other extreme.  Such people are very shortsighted. They only see the life that we live here under the sun. So they throw in the towel. They spurn God. And they try to make the best out of life here on earth. They live as if there is no tomorrow. They become wicked in their lifestyles.

 

For that reason the Teacher comes with another warning for us: "Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool- why die before your time?" When you throw caution to the wind like that, then you certainly will not live a long life here on earth. And you certainly will not live eternally either.

 

By stating that you should not be overwicked he does not mean either that sinning a little is all right. As he says in verse 20, "There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins."  Rather the Teacher warns the reader that sin not take hold of us. He warns us to fight against our sinful habits. If a particular sin takes hold of a person, then his life will be ruled by that sin. We can think for example of alcohol or drugs or uncontrolled sexual passions. In the end such a person will be consumed by that sin, and perhaps die before his time. Perhaps die eternally. The Lord does not want us to live reckless lives, as if God does not exist.       

 

The Teacher calls such people foolish, and "a foolish man", he says elsewhere, "strives after wind. Even when the fool walks down the road, he lacks sense, but he says to every one else that he is a fool."  Jeremiah also teaches us, "Foolish people have eyes and do not see, they have ears but they hear not." The fool is not in tune with God's Word because he has put God to the side. He doesn't know how to put God into the picture.

 

3. Well, says the Teacher, the fear of God leads to true righteousness and wisdom. As you may remember from a previous sermon on Ecclesiastes, wisdom has to do with a skill, the skill of life. Someone who is wise knows how to avoid the pitfalls of life. He avoids all extremes.

 

There is a lot of fanaticism in this world. We see it all around us. Fanatical movements abound. Think about homosexual activists, or the Islamic zealots, or the liberal environmental fanatics, to mention just a few. These people will do anything for their cause. They will not look at another side of an issue. They will pursue their cause no matter what, no matter what truth would refute their claims. They are totally deaf and blind.

 

Don't think that such fanaticism is not found among Christians either. You have fanatical Christians as well. It is their way or the highway. Only they have a corner on the truth. They won't listen to another side of an issue. They have all the answers. They will tell you exactly how to live and how to think. With them there is no wiggle room. They will tell you exactly what is wrong with the world, what is wrong with the church, and what is wrong with you. They know why this happened and why that happened. Such people, however, are unbalanced in their thinking. They go from one extreme to the next. But there is not always an answer for the apparent injustices in life. We don't know everything. Only God knows everything.

 

The disciples also were looking for answers. For example, at one time they wanted to know from the Lord Jesus about a certain man who was born blind. They asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Then the Lord Jesus answered, in John 9:3, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."

           

Brothers and sisters, the adversity in our lives has been so that God's work may be displayed in you and me. For God has a definite purpose for your life and for my life. No matter what happens here on this earth, that plan, that purpose for your life, will be realized. The ultimate purpose of your life is that you glorify and praise God.

 

            In the end the preacher says, "It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other." Have you ever been on a small boat or on a ship during a storm? The only way you can survive under those conditions is if you hang on with both hands to the railings. If you don't, you're in danger of being swept overboard. As the winds howl and the waves batter against the boat, sweeping over the deck, you had better have a good grip. Or else you are going to disappear into the angry sea and perish.

 

            That is what the preacher is talking about here as well. In the midst of adversity and turmoil in your life, you hang on to the Lord God and the proper kind of righteousness, and to the firm resolve not to sin. The wonderful thing is that you do not have to hang on in your own strength. If you do, you'll still perish. No, the Lord God will be with you as you go through the storms of life. Don't have the wrong sense of righteousness. Don't be wicked. Fear God and you will come forth from it all. That's what God promises to you today and forever. Amen

 

 

  




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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