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Author:Rev. A Veldman
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Southern River
 West Kelmscott
Title:The right attitude towards things that are crooked.
Text:Ecclesiastes 7:15-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Eccl. 7, 1-14
Text :Eccl. 7, 15-22
Ps. 133 : 1,2
Ps. 26 : 2
Hy. 61 : 6
Hy. 11 : 1,2,3
Ps. 73 : 8,9
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. A Veldman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

At the beginning of this worship service with the words of Psalm 133 we sang, "Behold, how good, how pleasant is the union, when brothers live together in communion." How wonderful, indeed! Yet at the same time I also realize that due to strife, bickering, etc., this union is not always as strong as it should be. Sometimes even within the congregation of Christ brothers and sisters live at odds with each other, do not seem to be able to solve their conflicts. Yes, it's saddening that there is so much imperfection, also in the church.
At times such conflicts seem to overshadow the joy of faith, life is completely taken up by it. However, the Lord doesn't want this and there is no need for it either. After all, one should also realize that in this dispensation even in the church we will never reach the complete state of perfection. This does not mean we should no longer worry about what is crooked. But we should also learn to put things in perspective.

In the last book of the Bible we read about the glory, which the believers will inherit in the New Jerusalem. With respect to this city we read, once it will shine in all directions as a city of pearls and diamonds and with its streets of gold. This means, once the church members as living stones, united by the Holy Spirit in the unity of the true faith, shall like jewels reflect the glory of God in a perfect way.
A wonderful promise, of which today already we may receive a foretaste; a foretaste, when God looks at us in Jesus Christ whose righteousness and holiness covers our guilt and pollution so completely that in God's eyes we may go through this life as if we had never had nor committed any sin, Lord's Day 23. Yes, beloved, how great it is to be Christ's, to know that we are washed in His blood and have been renewed by His Spirit. A wonderful gospel, indeed! Who doesn't stand in awe here?

I realize that at present even in the church all this is still overshadowed by the power of sin. At times even so much that one can become disappointed, frustrated. Frustrated, when injustice is done or when what is crooked seemingly is condoned. Yes, then one can become frustrated.
But, beloved, listen to what the Preacher says - and he speaks inspired by the Holy Spirit - also in situation like these, Chapter 7: 13 & 14a, "."
In other words, there also comes a time that we have to leave things to the Lord, trusting that God in His time will make straight also the crookedness we experience at present. To this end says the Preacher - and this brings me to the words chosen as text for this morning's sermon - Chapter 7: 16 & 17, "." Via these words the Preacher will teach also us true scriptural wisdom with respect to how to act when in our eyes things seem to be crooked.
This morning we thus will listen to scriptural teaching regarding

Our text teaches:
1) don't try to take matters into your own hand
2) at the same time don't permit yourself to do evil
3) but trust that God in His time will restore life to perfect luster

I When reading the passage of Scripture we will deal with this morning one may have some questions. For what does it mean when the Preacher warns us neither to be overly righteous nor to be overly wise? Or even stranger: not to be overly wicked either, as if a little bit of wick-edness does not matter. How are we to interpret these warnings? Let us have a closer look at these words.

First the Preacher says, vs. 16, "Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise?" One may ask, is that possible to be overly righteous or to be overly wise? Does the Bible not teach us, almost on every page, to be righteous and to do our utmost to increase in wisdom? How then can a person ever be overly righteous or overly wise? Does this perhaps mean one can also be too precise about God's commandments? In other words, are those who do not allow any deviation of God's law acting overly righteous? Are those who say that God's commandments must be kept very strictly perhaps less merciful than God Himself is? "Do not be overly righteous," is that what the preacher wants to say here?

These are just some of the questions that may come to mind when reading the words of our text. Yet, beloved, as always for a proper understanding first we must read words of Scripture in their context. As regards the con-text of the passage of this morning, I would like to point you to verse 15, where the Preacher says, "."
The Preacher struggles here with the same problem as Asaph, the author of Psalm 73. Asaph could not understand either why so often children of the LORD, who love the LORD dearly, have to endure hardship, whilst godless people seem to receive prosperity upon prosperity: Psalm 73:5, "For they (the wicked) are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like other man." Verse 4 of this same Psalm, ".there are no pangs in their death, but their strength is firm." As I said, the Preacher struggles with this very same problem.

In an earlier sermon I mentioned, we do not know exactly during which time the Preacher lived. Even though in Chapter 1:1 he calls himself the son of David, for a number of reasons it is difficult to accept King Solomon being the author of this book. I think of what we read in Chapter 2:9, where the author says, "I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem." It is difficult to ascribe an expression like this to King Solomon, who had only one predecessor to whom he could refer. Moreover, throughout the entire book the name Solomon is never mentioned. Also the situations described in this book are more befitting a much later period in history, e.g. Chapter 5:8, where we read about the op-pression of the poor and a violent perversion of justice and righteousness.
Therefore with others as regards the author I would rather consider him to be of a late student from the school of the wisdom of Solomon, who himself also came from the lineage of David and who lived during the latter period of David's royal house. A time during which many a king lived contrary to God's commandments and wickedness seemed to pay off, whilst more often than not the righteous had a hard time. That's what verse 15 is referring to, the righteous perishes in his righteousness, whilst the wicked prolong their life.

The Preacher, as an upright child of the LORD, has difficulty in accepting this. After all, how can this be reconciled with what God had said at the time when He established His covenant with Israel? I think of that won-derful Chapter 28 of the Book of Deuteronomy, which speaks about blessings for those who walk in the ways of the LORD, whilst disobedience would be cursed. But the Preacher in his day is confronted with the opposite: curse for the righteous and blessing for the unrighteous. And this - as the wording of verse 15 indicates - was not just an exception, but rather a rule, a situation very common in the day of the Preacher.

You can imagine, Brothers & Sisters, in times the righteous are oppressed restraint can easily be lost. In Chapter 7:9 we read about people who became angry in their spirit, and because of it started to take matters into their own hands, trying to straighten this crooked situation. It is against these people that the Preacher says in our text, "Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise: why should you destroy yourself?"
"Do not be overly righteous." In the original Hebrew it reads more specifically, "Do not pose as overly righteous, neither as overly wise." In other words the Preacher addresses people who are not really righteous or wise, but only seem to be righteous. Of what kind of people do we have to think here? Again the context may help us.

I already pointed to verse 9, where the Preacher speaks about people who had become angry in their spirit, people who had difficulty in accepting the crookedness they were confronted with. They could not reconcile this with the fulfillment of God's counsel. Addressing these people the Preacher says in the verses 13 & 14a, "." In more practical terms this means: accept not only the good things from God, but also the bad things. For God has appointed the one as well as the other. Is it is God who in His time may appoint even evil authorities. Yet they too have to be obeyed, as the apostle Paul writes it in Romans 13.

It is within this context that also vs. 16 receives color. Apparently there were people who reacted overly righteous to all that was wrong. They posed as overly wise - yes, even wiser than God - by saying, "This is not allowed! Something must be done here." And so they took matters in their own hands trying to straighten what was crooked. It is to these peo-ple that the Preacher says, "Do not be overly righteous, neither be overly wise. Why should you destroy yourself?" Don't try to make a heaven out of this life. You may find yourself trying to be even more righteous and wiser than God who governs all things.

To put this in today's terminology, the Preacher turns here against the radicalness of the gospel, as we have seen it quite often in church history. I think of the sect of the zealots, for example, which during the time that the Lord Jesus was on earth took the sword into their own hands trying in a revolutionary way to free the Jewish nation from the Roman oppression. I could also refer to the Anabaptists who during the time of the Great Reformation took the sword to establish God's kingdom on earth. They laid down the apostolic meekness and girded themselves with the armor of David. In the eighties of previous century we have seen the same radi-calness with some modern theologians who tried to make the church into a power to redeem society from its established authorities. I refer to the theology of revolution, which supported liberation movements in Africa and Latin America. This theology made Jesus of Nazareth unto a Libera-tor of the poor and the oppressed who in His day did not shrink either from turning against the established order. Even today there are Chris-tians who in the same way try to make straight what is crooked. However, in all this the main question is whether these people really do justice to the gospel or only pose as overly righteous and overly wise, even wiser than God.

In this world we are confronted with hunger, oppression, and injustice. But, beloved, don't think that with your righteousness and wisdom you can overcome all these things. Don't be so consumed with righteousness and wisdom that you think that you can set everything straight in this life. This does not mean that we have to condone what is wrong, but at the same time we should also realize that we cannot straighten every crooked situation. Let me try to make this clear with a practical example.
During the last decade on many an occasion we have addressed the gov-ernment about its abortion policy. Yet it did not help. In practical terms: abortion is no longer illegal. How crooked! On a daily basis life created by God is murdered in the mother's womb. However, this does not allow us to do the same as that man in Melbourne did killing a security guard at an abortion clinic. That's taking matters into your won hand. In cases like these we have to realize that God without being the author of sin allows also the evil of abortion to happen. Then we cannot make straight what God allows to be crooked. When in situations like these we try to force the issue, we only ruin ourselves. Here applies the word, which the Lord Jesus spoke to the apostle Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane > Peter who also in an overly righteous way drew the sword and cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. But then the Lord Jesus said, "Put the sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." We can't always change situations. This does not mean that we should keep silence when confronted with crooked situations. Yet we are not allowed to take matters into our own hands. We should also remind ourselves of that word which the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, Ch. 12, 19, "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the LORD."

I spoke about crooked situations in society, but, Br. & Sr., the same ap-plies also the church life. I think here of situations where brothers or sis-ters in order to get justice fight to the bitter end, writing letters to consis-tory, and if this does not help they appeal to classis or synod, for justice should be done. One may say, but is this not right then? I like to think that also here the word of our text applies, "Do not be overly righteous." Also in church life it happens that we are unable to change a situation. If then driving for justice we carry on and on, the one appeal after the other, in the end we ruin ourselves, the issue is eating us away, there is no joy in faith left.

Does this mean we should leave it, is that right? Isn't it so - in particular within the church of Christ - that justice must be done. We can't gloss over things, can we? This seems to be a very strong argument. Strong - as strong as those ten rulers mentioned in vs. 19 of Ch. 7, yet as it says there, "wisdom strengthens the wise." That's wisdom whereby at times one can also leave things to the Lord.
Moreover let us realize that we ourselves are not perfect either. We all need God's grace, every day again, vs. 20, "." We all need God's grace. Together we rejoice in that grace when celebrating Holy Supper. That's why we should never use the Lord's Table as a means to get things our way, for example by staying away from it. Especially the Lord's Table tells me that we live in a broken communion, which brokenness can only be covered by the blood of Christ. And then I need that covering blood as much as that brother or sister with whom I may have quarrel. I'm only depriving myself by staying away.

"Do not be overly righteous, neither be overly wise." It's because of this scriptural warning that at times I can also leave matters to the Lord, per-haps even suffering injustice. So what? For how much injustice did the Lord not suffer for my sake? Therefore, beloved, whenever you go through difficult times in your life, whenever you see things done in a crooked way, don't become angry or bitter in your spirit, because in the process you might become so bewildered that you loose the joy of faith. You feel lost.
Instead, look on high to Him who has all things in His almighty hands and who apportions to us in His time either sadness or gladness. It all comes from God, our heavenly Father, who at times even may let us suf-fer injustice. The Preacher says, in times like these do not take matters into your own hands, but continue to trust in God. Live in faith and obe-dience convinced that one day God will in Christ restore life to its perfect luster.

II I now come to my second thought. For the preacher warns us not only not to be overly righteous and overly wise, but in vs. 17 he also says, "Do not be overly wicked, nor be foolish. Why should you die before your time?" Also this verse must be read against the background of vs. 15, where the Preacher writes, "." From this verse one could conclude since in the end righteousness does not profit anyway therefore it does not make much difference whether you live a righteous or a wicked life. And if this is the case, isn't wickedness much more pleasant for the flesh? Then one better enjoys life to the full.

Well, beloved, it is against this thought that the Preacher warns when he says, "Do not be overly wicked." This does not mean that a little bit of wickedness does not matter. The Bible clearly speaks in a different way. Never can one defend any wickedness whatsoever.
No, what's at stake here is this. At times it happens that children of God, seeing what is going on in the church (crooked things, injustice, hypoc-risy, a lot of chaff under the wheat) > at times it happens that church members who have difficulty in swallowing all this say, "If that's the church then I will no longer be part of it." They give up and turn their back upon God. In cases like these it often happens that such former church members no longer seem to bother at all. They have seen it. Comments are made like, "the church, just a bunch of hypocrites." Out of reaction they identify themselves completely with the world. Throughout my ministry I have seen this happen quite often, especially with young people.

Well, beloved, it is against people like these that the Preacher says in our text, "Do not become overly wicked." Don't be foolish by saying: right-eousness doesn't profit anyway, and so I just as well live a wicked life. At least then I can enjoy myself and don't run the risk of suffering injustice.
Pure foolishness this is, so the Preacher says. For why should you die be-fore your time?
Some commentaries explain these latter words in a mere spiritual way: you will be dead in your sins, before you are physically dead. Yet I won-der this is the right interpretation of these words. I think of Psalm 55,23, for example, where we read, "But Thou, O God, shall bring them down to the pit of destruction. Bloodthirsty and deceitful men shall not live out half their days." In other words, so the Preacher warns here, don't be de-ceived by what you may see with your physical eyes > a wicked man who prolongs his life in doing evil. Don't conclude from this that God will put up with anything and everything. Don't think that in case you break God's covenant turning your back upon the LORD, that you will escape His curse.

In the text chosen for this morning's sermon the Preacher thus warns against two dangers. First he says, when you meet with crookedness, in-justice, don't try in an overly righteous way to straighten things taking matters into your own hand. Don't try to be wiser than God in straighten-ing what He has made crooked for reasons I cannot understand.
Yet, on the other hand this does not mean that we should make light of sin. Also as regards sin we must call a spade a spade. In more practical terms this means, when there is crookedness or when injustice is done, we should not take an attitude of 'I-can't-care-less'. Or even worse, out of re-action to the wrongdoings sometimes going on the church as well, bitterly turn our back upon the church, and in so doing turning our back upon the Lord as well.
Scripture clearly warns us, also in other places: "Never profane the blood of the covenant, by which you were sanctified, but continue to cling to the Lord." In the same context in which the apostle Paul urges us at cer-tain times to leave things to the Lord, who has said, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay." > in that same context the apostle Paul also says, "Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good."

Summarizing, when confronted with things we are unable to straighten let us cling to the Lord. After all, he is in control as we learned also from previous sermons. Beloved, don't be deceived by what you see with your eyes. Life can indeed be full of contradictions: a righteous one perishing and a wicked man prolonging his life in doing evil. Remember: this too is from God who makes it so in order that man may live by faith and not by reason alone. Therefore trust in the Lord. Hold on to His promises, which remain trustworthy even though for a while it may seem to be the oppo-site. Live by faith, firmly convinced that one God will restore life in per-fect luster. This brings me to my third and last thought.

III Listening to the warning of the Preacher not to be overly righteous, nor to be overly wicked, one could conclude the best is to pursue some kind of middle course. However, this is not the conclusion, which the Preacher draws. He does not say, to escape these two extremes one should keep the golden mean. Instead in vs. 18 he writes, "." In other words, we should take to heart both warnings. Says the Preacher, escap-ing these two extremes one should put all his trust in God alone: fear God!
Fear God - that is: continue to walk in His ways, the ways God has pointed out in His Word without turning to the right or the left. Doing so one will indeed avoid both dangers, mentioned in the verses 16 & 17. Then we will still as regards sin call a spade a spade and never be in league with any wickedness. But at the same time we will not in an overly righteous way try to straighten what is crooked either. Instead we will remember that there is a God who lives and who executes judgment on the earth. He will bring into judgment both the righteous and the wicked, as we read it in Ch. 3,17 of this book.

The Preacher thus urges us to let our life be guided by true scriptural wis-dom, which according to vs. 19 makes the wise more powerful than 10 rulers of a city. Indeed true scriptural wisdom is powerful beyond under-standing. Powerful not in sense that we can just sit back and wait for God to act. Scripture is averse to that kind of passiveness. We are to raise our voice whenever we see things going crooked either in the world or in the church. Even though we are not allowed to take matters into our own hands, we still have the duty to point out what is wrong, calling people back to the Word of the Lord, in the church but also in the world. The Lord wants the voice of the church to be heard also in this midst of a crooked world. He doesn't want us to keep silence where we still have opportunity to raise our voice against the evil in today's society. In Rev. 11 we read that the voice of the church should be heard in the streets of the great city.
Next, we also have that mighty weapon of prayer, whereby we may lay all our needs before the Lord, firmly assured that one day God will cause justice to triumph. How great a comfort this is, beloved. Ultimately, not we are the ones who have to rectify everything and have to make this world better. We may leave it to God, who in Christ is our Father, and who will take action in His time.

See there your task, beloved; your task in a world in which so many things have grown crooked. This task is - as the Preacher writes it in the concluding part of this book, Ch. 12, 13, "to fear God and keep His com-mandments. For this is the whole duty of man." Thus guided by true scriptural wisdom we are to bear witness to the truth firmly assured that despite all crookedness God's work will triumph. "For - as it reads in the last verse of the book Ecclesiastes - God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil."

We are to bear witness. True, then this world will do its utmost to silence the voice of the church. But in the end they will not succeed, even though for a while it may seem to be so. In this context I like to make once more reference to what it says it Rev. 11. I spoke about the voice of the church being heard in the streets of the great city. We have a word for the world. But in Rev. 11 we also read that the world doesn't want to listen to this testimony, vss. 7-11, "." But then it reads in the vss. 11 & 12, "." See there how the cause of the righteous will triumph. God in His time will restore life in perfect luster.

Yet - as I said before - this should not make us sit down and doing noth-ing. Instead we should seize the opportunities to raise our voice against all crookedness be it in the world or in the church. Yet when we do so - as it reads in the concluding part of our text - we should always do so with a spirit of humility. After all, vs. 20, we should not forget that we ourselves are sinful as well. Therefore we should be careful how we go about addressing the crookedness we are confronted with. One can work himself up about lots of things or in an overly righteous way try to straighten everything, but be careful, so the Preacher says. Be careful that in the end things do not turn against you, vs. 22, "." You know how it goes: we clearly see the speck in the eye of our brother, yet we forget about plank in our own eye.

No, in saying this I do not mean that we have to put up with what is wrong or are not allowed to raise our voice against what is crooked. But we should also ask the Lord for wisdom to speak at the right moment or when necessary to help us to remain silent and to give it over to the Lord. For as the Preacher has pointed out earlier on in this book, there is a time for everything, "a time to keep silence and a time to speak." Yes, a wise person will speak when the time is right for it and he will also do so in a very humble way, knowing that we all need God's grace; I as much as that brother who might have gone wrong and therefore needs to be ad-dressed.

Thus guided by true scriptural wisdom we will find the right attitude to address what is crooked. Then we will not keep silence. But at the same time we will also realize that in this broken world we cannot straighten everything. And so there might also come a time that we simply leave it to the Lord who through the brokenness of this present world is working towards a new heaven and a new earth from which all wickedness will be banned. This assurance gives rest and peace. The Lord is in control. Not I have to do it, but he will act in His time. That wisdom - as we read it in Ch. 8,1 of this book - changes the sternness of our face. Then we no longer walk around somber faced, complaining about this and about that. Instead - says the Preacher - "a man's wisdom makes his face shine." Shine, since I may trust in God,
"who through this world will guide His own
and lead us to His holy throne.
His mercies ever shall endure
when this dark world will be no more."


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. A Veldman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2001, Rev. A Veldman

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