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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
Preached At:
Title:Live Life Boldly Before You Can’t Live Life
Text:Ecclesiastes 11:1-12:8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

Psalter 134 - Praise and Trust
TH 195 - Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come
Psalter 146 - The Folly of Unbelief
TH 546 - The Sands of Time Are Sinking

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

Don’t go out - there are strangers in the night. Don’t wander off - someone will kidnap you. Don’t go to that part of town - it’s dangerous. These are pieces of advice we hear when we are children. They’re sound. But there comes a time when children have to venture out. We can’t stay in all the time, nor remain home at night, nor venture anywhere that’s unsafe. In life, we have to do these things. Imagine if we grew up and we never did nor risked anything. Therefore, we need to live life boldly. Or in our old age - I don’t want to go out, I might catch COVID. Some people have been holed up at home either by choice or by their family for 2 years. We can’t stay indoors forever. Life is not meant to be safe. Even as Christians, we’re sent as sheep into the midst of wolves.

Such advice - whether wise or unwise - comes from concerned hearts - that loved ones will prosper and profit in this world. Parents give it because they know life is hard. That’s the one truth we’ve been confronted with over again in Ecclesiastes - life under the sun is messy; it’s hard and then you die. But the Preacher has also given hope. Pockets of sweetness in life exist - we find joy in food, celebration, work, and family. But he knows there are still people who can’t accept that. They live in fear, disappointment, weariness of making mistakes, and bitterness. The pockets of sweetness are not sweet enough to cover their bitterness. In this chapter, Solomon responds to the realities of life he has preached. He gives 3 pieces of advice especially to those who are afraid to live life. Firstly, life is uncertain but live it boldly by faith. Secondly, life is vain but live it joyfully in God. Thirdly, life is hard but a time will come when you can’t live it.

Firstly, life is uncertain but live it boldly by faith. The preacher fleshes this idea out with 2 examples. He uses the example of trade. Verse 1 says, “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.” You export your grain across the seas and you will receive profits after some time. Solomon conducted a lot of trade. 1 Kings 10:11 - “And the navy also of Hiram, that brought gold from Ophir, brought in from Ophir great plenty of almug trees, and precious stones.” Solomon had a Phoenician navy, King Hiram, was one of his vassals. And he traded with Ophir - which is either Arabia or as far away as Sri Lanka. He brought back gold, jewels, and sandalwood. These were all highly prized goods. And he in turn traded them with Spain. 1 Kings 10:22 says, “For the king had at sea a navy of Tharshish with the navy of Hiram: once in three years came the navy of Tharshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks.” He had ships that were bound for Tarshish, or Spain. These were not small ships but ocean-liners. They would go and return every 3 years taking goods from places in the east to places in the west; the Mediterranean. When they returned, they were loaded with gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.

But there was a risk. Great storms were common in the Mediterranean. Remember Jonah - the sailors jettisoned the cargo to lighten the load? But such trade was important. Rather than not trade because of the storms, Solomon diversified his trade. Verse 2 says - “give a portion to seven, and also to eight, for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.” Divide your investments in many places, even seven or even eight. Why? You don’t know what disaster may befall you. Who knows if the ship you sent out would come back, be captured by pirates, or be capsized? Indeed, you don’t know what evil will come. Nevertheless, Solomon was saying - take risks. Cast your bread on the waters - ship your grain across the sea. Live boldly. If you don’t, there will never be any profit. Nothing ventured; nothing gained. Yes, life under the sun is vain. You may have a terrible boss, your investment may be lost, who knows if your marriage will last, what kind of future your kids will have, if you switch jobs - will it work out - if you sink your money into this BTO in this estate, is it wise - should you have a another child especially during COVID? Solomon is saying - live boldly. And dearly beloved, as believers, we trust in God's sovereignty. We live boldly but by faith also. We live by faith because all that we do has risk.

Another example Solomon uses to describe uncertainty is farming. Verse 3 says, “If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.” Rain is needed to cultivate fruit. But sometimes it storms. Trees are uprooted. The preacher’s point is simple - we wish for rain, but the storm is unexpected. Life’s like that - you start a venture, it goes south. Who knew? So what’s his advice? Yes, there’s the unexpected - but you can’t live your life only being cautious. You’ll never do anything. Verse 4 - “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.” And some of us are like that - we want certainty of returns; we wait and wait and watch and watch and never act. But there’s never a perfect time. We just have to live by faith. Verse 5 says that we can’t predict how the wind blows, or how a pregnancy will turn out, so we don’t know how God will work things out. But be bold in life and live it fully. Work hard as verse 6 says - “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.” Work in the morning and don’t rest in the afternoon. Sooner or later, God-willing, good will come from it.

Now, why does Solomon give this advice? He’s spent the first 10 chapters saying life is messy. It is. But just because it’s messy, don’t crawl into a hole and hide. Students may be tempted to say - why take my exams - I might not pass. Or if I do, and score well, get a good job; I’ll slog the rest of my life for a boss who may not appreciate me, earn money that will be taxed; then, if I have children, I’ll have to feed and raise them - and who knows if they’ll be foolish or not? And even if I’m capable and godly, life is unpredictable; I may still be a victim of the folly of others! Yes, these are the realities. So the preacher says, press on - live by faith - life is messy and uncertain, but who knows what God has in store for you? There may be profit and success! Life has risks. But implicit in this is being a good steward. Solomon divided his investments. And this means to us - don’t merely invest for ourselves - invest in heavenly things. We’re to be rich toward God. Yes, the rich fool diversified - he had many barns - many portions - he was bold. Then he died. He was not rich toward God. Life is uncertain, live by faith. And remember to invest in God’s kingdom. 

That leads us to the second advice - life may be vain, but live it joyfully in God. Verse 7 says something remarkable - “Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.” Now, what’s going on here? What’s the preacher saying? He’s saying be joyful! It’s great to be alive. It’s wonderful to live life under the sun. And this is strange, considering what he’s been saying in the last 10 chapters. In the previous chapters, when the sun has been mentioned, it was always about evil things. Here’s a sample - “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. (ch1) There was no profit under the sun. (ch2) The work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me. (ch3) I saw vanity under the sun. (ch4)” Life under the sun is vain. 

But here, he says it can also be pleasant and sweet. Never forget that each new day is a gift. It’s an opportunity to glorify God - to live for God. And if you live many days and years as verse 8 says, rejoice in them. Rejoice in your youth, verse 9. If the Lord wills, you have many days ahead. There’s much to do here for God. Of course there’s a caveat. Your life is not yours to live. Young people, Solomon is not telling us to live it up while we’re young. He’s not saying that we should party on. He’s not saying be young, be foolish, and be happy. No. A lot of you swing to either extremes. You come to faith - and you forget how to enjoy the gifts of the giver. Or you’re jaded by spiritual things and try to find joy only in the gifts rather than the giver. Solomon is saying - live life with enthusiasm and joy to the glory of God. The end of verse 9 says, “…but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.” Remember - God is still a judge. He sees into our hearts, he judges all that we do. 

That’s why we must also be mindful. Ecclesiastes 12:1-2 - “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them; while the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain.” The word “remember” does not mean to look back in time, because he’s saying remember now in the days of your youth. “Remember” means to be mindful. Young people, Solomon is speaking to you. Keep this in mind now, before you get old - that life is messy, it is vain, you will die; but learn to live boldly by faith and to rejoice. Why is this advice given to the youth? Why must you learn it early? Simple. You don’t want to be an older bitter person - who never got what he wanted in life, or focussed only on what he didn’t get rather than what he had; who had a lot of disappointment because he felt that God should’ve worked differently. You don’t want to be that person who had pockets of sweetness in life, but never rejoiced in them. Or that you didn’t realize how disappointing life could be, and when it was, he couldn’t get past the bitterness.  

One day, two monks were walking when they saw an old woman by the river. She was upset because there was no bridge and she couldn’t get across. The monks offered to carry her across. She accepted their help and they carried her across. After they set her down, they went back on their way. After awhile, one monk began to complain - “Look at my clothes! They are dirty from carrying that woman across the river. My back hurts from lifting her.” And further down, the same monk complained - “My back is hurting. I can’t go on any further.” And with that, he slumped down. The second monk looked down at his friend and asked - “Have you wondered why I am not complaining? Your back hurts because you are still carrying the woman. I put her down five minutes ago.” Now, imagine carrying this for more than 5 minutes - but carrying your unhappiness and dissatisfaction until your old age? Be mindful. Learn the lesson of rejoicing now. Why? 

Because life is hard, and it only gets harder. Life is hard but a time will come when you can’t live it. That’s the last point. If you don’t remember your Creator now - the joys that he brings, his sovereign will in the messiness of life - you will find it more difficult as you grow older. In verses 1-8 he gives a description of what it is like for your body to age. Verse 3 - the keepers of the house or your arms will tremble. The strong men or your legs - they will bow. Your grinders or your teeth will cease and become few. The windows of the house or your eyes will dim. Verse 4, the doors or your ears will be shut - your hearing fails. And the daughters of music - or musicians - your voice, starts to quaver. And in verse 5, you will be terrified of heights and afraid of falling. Can’t hit those high notes anymore. And if you have any hair left, it will be white, like the flowers of the almond tree. And the time will come when you have your funeral procession Your life - that silver cord or golden pitcher - shall snap and break.

Life is hard now; it’s harder as you grow older; there’s a time you won’t really be able to live it. And if you’re not mindful now of how messy life is, you’ll be bitter in your old age. Because life is going to be even harder. We think our retirement years may be great - and they may be - but our bodies and mind will deteriorate and who knows whether there’ll be a tragedy like illness? Who expected COVID? We face bitterness if we don’t understand that lesson. Which is why, thank God for many of you - who have learned that lesson - that you might traverse these difficult years with grace and joy and trust in God. But if people don’t - what is their conclusion about their life? Verse 8 - “Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.” Learn that lesson now before we grow old. 

But we should be aware of another interpretation. The preacher may not be talking about old age. Rather, he may be wisely reminding us that the world is going to end one day. It is deteriorating. We should learn this lesson now - the world is coming to an end. That’s the second way of looking at verses 1-8. Solomon pictures a little house in a town that’s winding down its day’s activities. Night is coming and things are stopping. People who grind flour on the streets - they are closing shop. The economy is slowing down. Sounds in the streets are gradually dying. Street musicians are packing up. The lights are dimming. People are going to sleep. And the only loud sound is the funeral taking place on the street. Things are coming to an end. It’s like when you come back from work, after a long day, and you see the lights coming on, people are having their dinner; the cars on the roads are fewer, and the streets are becoming quieter. And then eventually the lights go off and everyone sleeps. The world is coming to an end - not just that we’re getting older. And that’s why we must be mindful of our Creator now.

Dear friends, how do we apply this? Firstly, a word to the young. We are living in this present time of distress. What will you do? Live life. Pursue your dreams. Thank God you are still able to in a more limited fashion. A have a dear pastor friend in Myanmar. His capable wife just got meningeal tuberculosis, she struggles to remember things. His children because of the political upheaval and COVID have not attended school for 2 years. It is hard for them to live life, but they do. Young people, live life boldly. Life is messy, but don’t let that paralyze you. But know what is important. Are you sure of your salvation? Are you living your life for Christ? In the midst of life’s messiness, it’s the hope of Christ that gives you the power to continue. Of all the uncertainties in the world, the thing that gave comfort to Solomon was he knew his Creator. Remember now your creator in the days of your youth. Solomon knew his justice, his love, his kingdom of heaven. And he knew the name of this God who did these things. His name is Christ - he’s the coming judge. The one who takes us to heaven. So while you live life boldly here, is it because you have hope in a better life in heaven?

Secondly, a word to the non-young people, to the elderly - or the ones who are headed there. Dear fathers in the faith, and not forgetting mothers. What is God’s Word to you? We see another preacher in 1 John 2:14 - “I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning.” Those of you who are older in faith, and have a settled knowledge of Christ - you are growing old. You are experiencing what the Bible says you’ll go through. You’re getting slower. You’re experiencing fatigue. And you may be very highly discouraged. Don’t be bitter, dearly beloved. This just means that you’ll be meeting the Savior sooner. Remember Christ now. Continue to live boldly however you can. I’m not saying be rash. I’m saying live for Christ while you still can.

Thirdly, a word to those who minister. Pastors, elders, deacons, ministry leaders. As we look at our people and yearn for them to be spiritual, we may be at times discouraged. Why are my prayers for the youth not answered? Why is that brother still living in sin? Why is that couple living in bitterness? How can we see Christ’s people mature before it’s too late for them? How can our friends and family who are so resistant come to believe? There’s one thing in this life that’s guaranteed. When you cast your bread, or sow the gospel grain on the ground there will be guaranteed returns. The Word of God will accomplish whatever it was sent to do - for the hardening of hearts and for the salvation of souls. When you die to the world and lay down your lives, there will be returns. Dearly beloved, our Lord Jesus came to be born into this broken world. He lived and ministered. His family rejected him. His village wanted to stone him. His disciples were a motley crew of misfits. The religious leaders opposed him. But he pressed on. He has a kingdom to his name today. This is the hope we have. Our Lord gives the increase. 

Sermon Outline:

1. Life Is Uncertain but Live it Boldly

    A. Trade despite potential losses

    B. Farm despite potential floods

2. Life Is Vain but It Can Be Sweet in God

    A. Be joyful

    B. Be mindful

3. Life Is Hard but a Time Comes When You Can’t Live It

    A. The body will grow old

    B. The world is coming to an end


* 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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