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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
Preached At:
Title:God Determines Our Times and Seasons
Text:Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

TH 316 - The Mighty God, the Lord
TH 567 - Rise, My Soul, to Watch and Pray
Psalter 206 - The Righteous Judgment of God
TH 679 - 'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Good timing is everything. When you bake something, the wattage of the oven, the temperature, and whether it’s fan-forced or not matters. But what also matters is the timing. If you leave it in for too long, it’ll burn; too short, it’ll be uncooked. Similarly in fancy restaurants, they’ll ask how you’d like your steak to be done - blue, rare, medium rare, medium, medium well, and well-done. This determines the timing. And we get upset if our food isn’t the way we ordered it. 

This is the same in all areas of life. We discussed investments last week. We think by putting our money into diversified multi assets like cash, bonds, and equities, we will manage risk and enhance yield and return. True. But timing is also important. Put your money in at the wrong time, and you may experience loss. We also hope to catch illness early - but some how we delay going for our health checks until it’s too late. And what’s frustrating is when we do go for our annual health checks, something is either not discovered until it’s too late, or a life threatening illness just pops up from no where - no sign, no indication - just the right bad timing. Sian. Right timing of doing things, doesn’t always guarantee the right results.

Farmers may plant at the right planting season, but a cold snap, or too much rain, or too little rain prevents growth. There’s no harvest. Right timing, but bad results. A couple may conceive and plan for their child in 9 months, but war breaks out in the 8th month. Right timing is no guarantee. God determines the times and the seasons. We Christians are aware of this - in theory but not always in practice. We get frustrated when things don’t go our way, at the right time. Like problems being solved quickly.

Ecclesiastes 3 teaches us that despite bad timing, despite things not coming to pass in a timely manner, we can still find joy in life’s disappointments because we can find joy in God. We learn firstly, that God has determined the times and seasons - good and bad. Secondly, these times and seasons are given to burden us. Thirdly, we can find joy in burdensome times.

Firstly, God has determined the times and seasons. God has a purpose. Verse 1 says, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” The words “time” and “season” are roughly the same in meaning. They are not speaking about the length of time, but they are talking about specific points in time. There are times in life when various things happen. And these times have a purpose. Whatever happens in your life, it is appointed. These times have a purpose under the heaven. 

Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he told his disciples in Acts 1:7, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” These times and moments in your life - they have been ordained by a sovereign God. Man doesn’t know what they are, man wasn’t consulted by God - because he’s sovereign. So whatever happens in your life aren’t not accidents, and they are things we can’t control. God has ordained them for his own purposes. Article 13 of the Belgic Confession says, “We believe that this good God, after He had created all things, did not abandon them or give them up to fortune or chance, but that according to His holy will He so rules and governs them that in this world nothing happens without His direction.” Times and seasons have a purpose. They’re not accidental.

And there are many kinds of times and seasons in our lives. Solomon lists down different times and seasons. These things are the common events in our lives that all of us experience in one way or another. He takes us through 7 sets of life events. Now, what are these events? Verse 2 talks about how long we will live - “A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” So it speaks about an appointed time when we are born, and an appointed time that we will die. Only God knows when they will occur - we don’t know. And this is also the same of the plant world. Plants will be planted, and they will be uprooted - there are seasons. We are born into the world and we quickly go to the grave. Every 8 seconds a person dies; and every 3 seconds, someone is born. Nike capitalized on this in its commercial a long time ago - where a baby was born and it traveled quickly, growing into a child, a teen, an adult, middle age, old age, and straight into a grave. And the slogan? Life is short - play hard.

The second life season speaks about times of progress and times of loss. Verse 3 - “A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up.” In our life time, especially in agrarian cultures, they have to kill animals. They raise them up to kill them for food. There are times when they have to nurse the animals back to health. Can you put your horse down, or can you nurse it until it dies? There are times when we must build barns and other times, we need to tear them down. This refers to our times of work, investments, and plans. There will be times when you can invest. Other times, your investment plummets. There are times when it makes no sense to hang on to something that you have spent years servicing.

Then there are times and seasons in our lives where we experience sadness and joy. Verse 4 - “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” We all experience times of weeping and mourning. My team lost the English Premier League. My loved one died after a long illness - of ups and downs, hope and loss of hope. We all experience times of laughter and dancing too. Your team won the English Premier League. Your loved one got married and you had a big reception and dancing. In life, we encounter all sorts of emotions. Sorrow and joy are part of life. We sorrow much because we loved much. There are times we are on the mountain top and other times we are in our valleys.

There are also times of intimacy and times of coldness. Verse 5 - “A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.” The phrase for cast away stones and gather stones is a bit uncertain. But many Bible commentators take it to mean - intimacy in marriage. And married couples know this - sometimes you feel close and intimate, and loving; and other times you just have no desire at all. You don’t feel romantic. And this goes the same with hugging or not hugging. In life, you will have times of love and coldness. And for some, there won’t be times of romance - this is something that we may never experience. And for others, there will be a spouse with no romance at all, no embracing.

Verse 6 tells us that our life cycle will include times of wealth and times of poverty - “A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.” There will be times in our lives when we will have plenty - when we get a lot; and then we will lose them. It’s like the investments. It’s like savings. You finally save up enough for a holiday, and then you need to get a new fridge. You finally have enough to pay your mortgage, and then you fall sick. You finally got a promotion, with a pay rise, and now you have to pay more taxes. Even your possessions - you buy clothes and then you have to give away clothes. You buy this and that, but unfortunately, in the storage in your house, what you are looking for, that you know you have, you can’t find.

Verse 7 speaks about times of sadness and times when we should stop being sad - “A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” When people were mourning in the Old Testament, they would tear their clothes and be silent - like David, he put ash on his head, and he fasted and kept silent when he was told his son would die. But after that, he got up, he repaired himself, and started eating again and continued life as per normal. There’s a time to mourn - and to mourn loudly. But there’s a time to stop mourning. 

And verse 8, speaks about relationships - “A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.” There are times when everything is good - we love one another and there’s peace. Everything is great. But then misunderstanding sets in, we rub each other the wrong way - there will be times when we hate; we will have our own wars. This is family life, work life, every aspect of life where there are people. There will be hatred and misunderstanding and wars and conflict - where people kill one another. There are those alive here who were born in the 30s. Since then, we have seen many wars, here are only some of them - WW2, Partition of India, the Malayan Emergency, Korean War, Vietnam War, Suez Crisis, Brunei Revolt, Indonesian Confrontation, Falklands, Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Isis. Then there will be times of healing - where nations come together in peace. There was the peace summit for North Korea and South Korea. So things seemed fine in Afghanistan, so the US pulled out. And now, not long after, the Taliban have captured the presidential palace.

These are the times and seasons of life that God has appointed. No one wants a short life - but that’s not up to us. It is appointed by God. There’s a season. You wish that life was wonderful and that you would retire and die in your sleep, and then disease sets in. You wish you’ll stay young, then you get your first white hair. You wish you can have someone to spend the rest of your life with - then romance is dead. You wish last year’s clothes could still fit. You’ve been vaccinated, but there could be a time for COVID, then a time for quarantine. There are seasons. These are life’s realities - especially now!

Now, Solomon was not making a value judgment. He’s not giving instructions - like there are times you should do these things; or that you should kill and hate; rather he’s saying that these things happen. Whether you like it or not, they will happen to you. These things are a map of our lives. We will live, rejoice, dance, gain; lose loved ones, hate, and mourn. There are times of great joy, and there are times when we can’t even put one foot in front of another. You are so sad, that you have an ache in your chest, and every day is so hard. And while we prefer to rejoice rather than mourn, it’s not up to us. We are those who experience these things, and we are not those who determine them. These times are determined by God. There is a time to every purpose under heaven.

But what is that purpose? Why does God give these things to us? God inflicts these time and seasons of life on us for a purpose. They are given to burden us. That’s the second point. Solomon asks in verse 9 - what’s the point in all of this? What’s the profit in all of this? What’s the point of your life? Birth, death, plant, pluck, kill, heal, break, build, weep, laugh, mourn, dance?

The thing that hits us first seems unsettling. We see that it is God who gives it to us to trouble us. Verses 10-11 say, “I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised (or troubled) by it. He hath made every thing beautiful in his time.” God is the one who gives it as a burden to man. He has appointed an appropriate time for everything. That’s what beautiful means. Suitable. All these things in our lives, the ups and downs, are appointed by him because they are suitable for us. The money we have, and the lack of health to enjoy it. Suitable! The initial happiness of a marriage, and the present difficulties. Suitable! Never having romance. Suitable. The great job, and the threat of redundancy. All by God, because they are suitable for us. To him, they are beautiful. We all have different lots in life. Why? Because he has a purpose. Why does he give us the frustration of life? 

So that we would be humbled. So that we would ask “why God?” And that’s intentional on God’s part - that we would question out of frustration. Verse 11 says, “also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.” He has set the world in our hearts. Some translations have the word “eternity.” He has put in our hearts a big question - as big as the world as long as eternity. “WHY??” We don’t understand life. We have sickness after sickness, and we ask why. Or God gives us the good things in life to set us up, as it were, so that when the bad things come, we ask why. We have a spouse that we lose far too early. And what’s the purpose? So that we can see how small we are. And to know how ignorant we are.“No man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.”

And when we don’t understand, when we are confronted with all these burdens in our life, we will fear God. Verse 14 - “I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.” God did these things in our lives that we might submit to God’s sovereign plan, that we may be dependent on him. That we would realize that we are creatures and he alone is creator. In other words, God intends for us to be humbled through all of this - that we would see his greatness and our smallness. Did Job ever receive an answer? Did he know why he lost his farm? Did he know why he lost his family? Did he know why his flesh was afflicted? Or why his friends became his foes? No. He asked God “WHY?” But God never answered his questions. God responded to him by showing him his greatness. And Job humbled himself - with no answers to his specific questions - but the answer that God was sovereign and good was enough.

That’s what happens when we come to this realization. When we know that God is great, we are small, his purposes are infinite, and we can’t understand all of it? We will reverence God. Even in the dreadfulness of life, even in burdensome times, we can find joy. That’s the last point.

Verses 12-13 say, “I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.” One of the greatest responses to this frustrating life and our helplessness is to make the most of it. Even though we may not understand why things happen to us, God has called us to enjoy life and do good in this time he has given us. “I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives.” Dearly beloved, this is the response of believers. This is our application.

We live in that tension. We must accept and we must know that God’s the one who determines times and seasons - somethings we can respond to proactively; other times we can’t do a thing to change what has happened. But in the midst of that, we praise God. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord. In the midst of the sickness, you marvel at how you can still have world-class medical treatment. You can rejoice in the fact that God has given you doctors and nurses; even that crabby missy who shuffles around in the ward - her calling is to take care of you. Even though you may be on the way home and stuck in the train with no where to sit, you can still enjoy your podcast through your bluetooth air-pods. And so it’s not moving, but you have some time to catch up on your reading. And you have many days of laundry to do - you spend time sorting through whites, colored, and darks. You have that white shirt with a stain; you bleach it but the stain is not completely removed. You wash the other clothes and dry them, iron them and fold them. And looking at the pile of neatly folded laundry, you can find satisfaction. And that shirt with the faded stain is no longer so grievous. You are in church, and you have been offended - but you forgive and seek forgiveness - and learn to love - though that past offense may still be there, you are try to forget, and you enjoy those times of renewed but tenuous friendship.

But the opposite is also true. You are well, realize that you may one day fall sick. You visit sick people in the hospital; you may one day be there. You are happy without a care, but you will have many cares one day. Be sober and learn to enjoy what you have for now. There is nothing better than to enjoy your labor. As unpredictable our times and seasons are, God gives us that gift. “And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.” This is how our life on earth will be until heaven. There’s no perfection here - don’t bother finding it. Life will be a cycle of ups and downs. There’s no formula to it. And some of us haven’t learned that lesson. And we’re going to ask the question “why” a lot. But the answer is simple - God ordained it, it’s beautiful in his sight, you won’t understand everything, so in the midst of the messiness, make the best out of life because it is the gift of God.

We have no control over our birth, death, and seasons and times. It’s not for us to know or determine the times. There are secret things we do not know. But God is good. What is given to us is to live rightly and to enjoy the gifts that God grants. When you feel dizzy and weary from these changing times and seasons, cling to Christ by faith. He is sovereign.

That’s what our confession tells us in article 13 - “And as to His actions surpassing human understanding, we will not curiously inquire farther than our capacity allows us. But with the greatest humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, and we content ourselves that we are pupils of Christ, who have only to learn those things which He teaches us in His Word, without transgressing these limits.” And this doctrine comforts us - nothing happens by chance. He watches over us with fatherly care. And it was because of that fatherly care, that he sent his Son at the right time to live and die for us. It was a suitable, perfect time for Christ to live, to heal, to be broken, to have friends, to be betrayed by them, to weep, to die, to resurrect, to rejoice, to be taken up into heaven and to sit at the right hand of God the Father, and to rule.

If there’s any certainty at all in life, it is this - “that I am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; he also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. He assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready to live for him.” And one day, we will be in his arms. We’re safe in Christ. We look forward to heaven, but until then, our lot under the sun will be a combination of good and bad times - that we can enjoy.

Sermon Outline:

1. God Has Determined the Times and Seasons - Good and Bad

    A. God has a purpose

    B. The 7 events in our life cycle

2. These Times And Seasons Are Given to Burden Us

    A. So we may be troubled

    B. So we may be humbled

3. We Can Find Joy in Burdensome Times

    A. Rejoice and enjoy

    B. It is a gift

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Mark Chen

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