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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
Title:Trading Up
Text:Ecclesiastes 7:1-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Ecclesiastes 6:10-7:13

Text: Ecclesiastes 7:1-13



  1. Trade in Life

  2. Trade in Happiness

  3. Trade in Nostalgia

  4. Trade in Control


  1. Psalm 62: 1, 3, 4

  2. Psalm 63: 1, 2

  3. Psalm 49: 1, 2, 4

  4. Hymn 10: 1-2

  5. Psalm 128:1

  6. Hymn 8


Words to Listen For: cologne, evangelist, salt, lexicon, nuggets


Questions for Understanding:

  1. How is death better than life?

  2. What’s so bad about happiness?

  3. What lesson can we learn from the animals?

  4. What’s wrong with nostalgia? (hint: it’s not the feeling itself that’s wrong)

  5. Why is it ok to give up our control? (2 reasons)

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

Brothers and sisters, beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

“Wanna trade?”

This is a question that kids ask all the time.

  • Wanna trade… toys?
  • Wanna trade…hockey cards?
  • Wanna trade… snacks?

And then, as we get older, we still TRADE, we just trade different things.

  • Wanna trade…$20,000 for this car?
  • Wanna trade…a day’s work for a steak at the Keg?

Throughout all this, our minds are working. Taking stock of what we have, what we want, and how we can make that happen.

All that we do, if we really think about it, throughout our lives, is we make trades.  Some more important than others.

Not just in how we spend our money, but how we spend our time, how we spend everything.

Because every decision is a trade.

When I decide that I will make coffee in the morning, I’ve decided that trading tea for coffee is a good trade.

When I decide that I will spend time reading the Bible, doing my devotions, I have decided that time spent in God’s Word is better than spending time reading another book, or time spent online.

We always want to be trading up.  Trading the inferior for the superior.

And this is what we read in our text this morning.

But as we read it, something feels…off.  Something feels…wrong

We’re used to wise sayings like the ones we find in Proverbs. Statements we can get behind, like: a wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.

But then we come across:

  • It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting.


  • Sorrow is better than laughter

These don’t fit with the well-known wisdom of Proverbs.  In fact, they seem to go against our better judgement.  Why would we make these, seemingly foolish, trades?

How is this 

TRADING UP” ?  This morning we will examine 4 wise trades that we are commanded to make.  First, 

  1. We must Trade in Life,

  2. We must Trade in Happiness

  3. We must Trade in Nostalgia, and finally 

  4. We must Trade in Control


Trade in Life

Our text begins rather simply.  Just like a proverb.

     A good name is better than precious ointment.

The meaning here is quite simple, yet profound.  Just like Proverbs.

Your name is your reputation.  A good reputation is better than precious ointment.  A good name is better than great riches.  If someone offers you to trade in your good name…don’t do it!

What use is a good perfume without a good reputation?  

Is it really worth the few seconds between when people smell you and when they see you?

They smell your wonderful cologne and think, “Oh!  Who is this that is coming here, smelling so great?”  and then they see your face and say, “Oh.  It’s him.  Oh.  It’s her.  Nevermind then.”

You can purchase precious ointment, but a good reputation lost, might just be lost forever.

This is a valuable proverb.  It could easily be a sermon in and of itself.

But this valuable proverb may seem a little out of place here, at the start of this chapter, with what came before and what is coming after.

A good name is better than precious ointment…yes, we understand this one…but then a dramatic shift!  “And the day of death than the day of birth.”  Really?  How did we get HERE from THERE?

But it all comes together when we realize that this is being used comparatively.

JUST AS a good name is better than precious ointment - a common proverb of the day - SO TOO is the day of death better than the day of birth.  Ah okay then…wait, what?

This should make us pause.

Is it REALLY?  Death…is better than life?

The first is so obvious, but for the second, we must think more deeply.

Would you rather go to a birthday party, or a funeral?  Would you rather be alive, or dead?

All of us, I think, without exception, would choose the happiness of a birthday party!  But the Preacher says, “a funeral.”

This he further backs up with verse 2 - It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting.

DEATH is better than LIFE, so says the Preacher.

And let me say, before we dive too deeply into this, that I know there are those here, probably most of us, who have encountered death RECENTLY, or TRAUMATICALLY, or both.  The death of a loved one, or even ourselves being in near death situations.  There are some of us who may be in mourning still, maybe in mourning for the rest of our lives because of who we have lost.

And in no way do I want to minimize that pain.  I too have encountered loss.  I too mourn death.

But this is what is in front of us, and we are going to take it seriously this morning.

The day of death is better than the day of birth.  Okay then, Scripture says it, so how do we understand this difficult truth?

Well, the easy way would be to dismiss this as the thoughts of an elderly and depressed Solomon.  But the easy solution can’t be the one that we take.  No.  This is divine truth, and we must seek understanding of it.

The day of death is better than the day of life.

There are two ways to understand this, two lessons that we can glean from it, and both of them are accurate.  Both of them are true.

First of all, birth is potential, and death is fulfillment.


Birth is potential.

A baby is conceived in the womb.  And there is excitement.  There is joy.  Will it be a boy, or a girl? Will he be handsome? Will she be successful?  Where will they go? What will they do?

And then compare this to a funeral.  The day of death.

Gone is the potential...and we mourn this.  We rightly mourn the loss of life, for life is a gift from the God of life.

Gone is the potential…but in its place…something even better.  Potential is replaced by fulfillment.

Gone is the MAYBE, replaced by the WAS.

     “MAYBE she will be beautiful” is replaced by “she WAS a true believer.”

     “MAYBE she will be smart” is replaced by “she WAS a picture of Jesus’ love”

The day of death is better than the day of birth, because it is real.  It is tangible.  The day of death looks back on a life, hopefully well-lived.  A life filled with mistakes and heartbreak and difficulty, but also with joy and love and faithfulness.

We might WANT to go back, we might look at a newborn baby with hope - a younger and more perfect version of yourself, with every option and no mistakes…but it’s not real.  It won’t last.  It’s potential, just like the wind.  Like vapour.

This is the first reason.  Potential replaced by fulfillment.  And the second is like it…the day of death is better than the day of birth because of what death is.  Because of how death functions.

And again, I must begin with a few qualifications.

     DEATH is not a natural part of life.

     DEATH is not part of God’s created order

     DEATH is not what we were made for

     DEATH is something that most of us fear, and all of us hate.

This is ALL TRUE.

And yet…death has an important function.  An important theological function.  And seen this way, seen as something God has softened and filled with meaning…death is valuable, death is useful…in a way that life just isn’t.

And this is because death…death is an evangelist.

A coffin is a better preacher than a cradle.

Because death comes with a single message - I’M COMING.  I’M COMING…FOR YOU.

And we have to grapple with that.

Because when we look at the person, whether the baby in the cradle, or the body in the coffin, we empathize with them.  We put ourselves in their position.

A baby in a cradle will fill us with hope and happiness, and make us think that, just like this baby, we have so many more years.  We have so much potential still.  “I’m not really that old yet!

Let’s leave the deep discussions, the important thoughts, the difficult decisions for another day.  I still have time.”

But a body in a coffin, though it fills us with sadness and even with dread, also makes us think “What kind of person do I want to be remembered as when I die?  When it’s my turn to be in the coffin, will my life have been worth it?  What will they say about me and how I spent my time?”

Only one life,

T’will soon be past

Only what is done for Christ

Will last.

Death, death orients itself to true and authentic living.  One could even say, “you see most clearly through your tears.”  Death sharpens our vision.

Death brings things into stark clarity.  This is coming…for me.  Death is coming - look busy!  Or rather…death is coming, BE BUSY with the most important things of life.  There is no time to put off the things of God.  Seek His glory.  Seek His wisdom.  Seek…HIM. Today!  You might not get tomorrow.

As for the happiness of a birth, absolutely, enjoy it.  Absolutely, children are such a wonderful gift, but do not let yourself be distracted by gifts and never think about the Giver, and the eternity that you will spend, either with Him, or away from His presence.  Happiness is a blessing, but it brings with it danger.  That’s our second point.

     Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face, the heart is made glad.

     The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

     It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.

     For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of fools; this also is vanity.

Solomon sounds like a very happy man, doesn’t he?

But seriously.  How can we grapple with this?

     Aren’t we created for JOY?

     Isn’t heaven going to be JOYFUL?

     Isn’t our final destination the one where all sadness and sorrow and tears and mourning is BANNED?

How can the Preacher speak this way?

Well, in much the same way as he can speak of death and life.

And also note the exact wording.  In summarizing these verses, the point is about trading in HAPPINESS.  Not about trading in JOY.  And there’s an important difference between the two.

Happiness is found in things and circumstances.

Happiness is fleeting.

Happiness can be, ultimately, foolish.


But joy on the other hand….

Joy is found within, planted there from above.

Joy is found in using the blessings of God for His glory.

Joy is everlasting.

Joy is, ultimately, wise.


And here, the Preacher is telling us not to be satisfied with lesser things.  HE went on a pursuit of happiness.  He spent years and years of his life pursuing happiness, refusing to even consider whether joy was possible.  Whether joy was even out there.  Because, remember, the Preacher blocked out life above the sun, focussing only on life under it.

  • He pursued happiness in alcohol (Ecclesiastes 2:3)
  • He pursued happiness in building projects, houses, vineyards, gardens, and parks (Ecclesiastes 2:4)
  • He pursued possessions - slaves and animals.
  • He pursued wealth - silver and gold and treasure
  • He pursued music
  • He pursued sex

And after years spent going down every pleasure-filled avenue, he came up empty.

And here’s a reminder…the Preacher went through all of this, he went down all these roads…please don’t try it yourself.

Please don’t pursue happiness at the expense of real joy.  Trade UP, don’t trade DOWN.  If you go down these roads, you will find only pain, and heartbreak, and sorrow.

Don’t pursue happiness.  Because happiness, as described here as foolish laughter, the house of mirth, the song of fools…why would anyone pursue this?


AS A DISTRACTION.  AS A WAY TO NUMB OURSELVES to the emptiness of life.  To the monotony of the journey, as we heard in chapter 3.

If you party hard, if you laugh loudly, if you drink deeply…then maybe, just maybe, the emptiness inside will go away for a bit.

And you will always be searching for that next hit of happiness.  That next boost to your mood.  This will CONSUME YOU, and you will end up emptier than before, like trying to quench your thirst by drinking salt water.

We can gain more wisdom in one night reflecting on the brokenness of this world, than in a million nights of partying.

We can gain more insight, more “soul health” at one funeral, than at a million birthday parties.


But does this mean that there is NEVER a time to laugh?  That there is NEVER a time to feast?

Not at all!  Jesus ate and drank with enough regularity that the Pharisees accused Him of being a drunkard and glutton in Matthew 11.

The Preacher, along with seeming to condemn wholesale all of these earthly pleasures, elsewhere in Ecclesiastes praises them when they are used properly, for the glory of God.

But when we embrace wholesale, the trinkets of this earth…when we see them as TREASURES rather than TOOLS…then we go wrong.

If you spend all your time as a class clown, as someone who is NEVER SERIOUS, as someone who is NEVER DEEP…you are selling yourself short.  Don’t continue to be a salesmen for what the earth has to offer.  Instead, in your times of sorrow, in your times of introspection and thinking about the deep things of life, like faith, meaning, and eternity…be an ambassador for heaven.  Find that real and living water.  That which will truly satisfy.

Be the one in your friend group who has that real depth of soul.  That real strength of character.

But don’t misunderstand me.  Don’t misunderstand the Preacher.  This doesn’t mean that all the time spent fishing, all the time spent eating, all the time spent drinking at a party is wrong and foolish and sinful, and it must all be traded in for quiet mournful conversations in plush leather chairs.  Not at all.

ENJOY the gifts of this life.  Wine is there to gladden the heart.  But listen closely: wine is there to GLADDEN the heart, not to DULL the heart.

When you are dealing with loss, when you are dealing with sorrow…don’t go dancing to forget.  The only way OUT is THROUGH.

We must learn this lesson, interestingly enough, from cows and buffalos.  The only way OUT is THROUGH.

Not being a farmer, nor a cowboy, I get this information second-hand, though I’ve heard it confirmed by others.

Have you ever seen what cows do when a storm is brewing?

Imagine a storm is brewing in the east.

The cows will run WEST, to try to get away from the storm.  This seems logical…except for the fact that cows move slower than storms.  And so, by running WEST, instead of outrunning the storm they actually run right along with the storm.  They maximize their pain and frustration they experience from that storm!

A buffalo on the other hand…well a buffalo is a little smarter than a cow.  At least when it comes to storms.

Buffalo deal with storms in the exact opposite way of cows.  Instead of fleeing from the storm, they take one look at the storm coming in from the east, and they start to run…EAST.  They charge right into the storm, minimizing its effect.

It’s the exact same storm, but by facing it, by being willing to feel that storm for all its pain and frustration, they end up far better in the long run.

So congregation…trade in your happiness for sorrow, and in that sorrow…find true and lasting joy.  In your sorrow, find the One who can ultimately transform it and use it for good.  Just as we see most clearly through our tears, we grow the most through the storms that come our way.  God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our consciences, but shouts through our pain.

Learn to love the storms for where they take you.  Don’t waste the storms, longing for the sun.  Don’t waste the present, longing for the past.  Instead, trade in your nostalgia for something better.  Something greater.  Something meaningful.  Our third point.

Today isn’t like the good old days…if only…

Back in my day, you could walk into a store with 10 cents, get a magazine and a soda pop, and have enough money left over to get a pack of smokes for your dad!

We’ve all heard the stories.  We may have even told a few ourselves.

But did you know that Scripture speaks DIRECTLY AGAINST THIS?

Ecclesiastes 7:10 - Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”  For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.

The phrase “the good old days” should not appear in the lexicon of a Christian.  It simply shouldn’t.  Speaking this way is foolish, and, more than that, speaking this way shows a lack of gratitude to God.

Let’s unpack the problem of nostalgia here together.

Nostalgia SEEMS so nice.  It SEEMS so wonderful.  But it’s a waste.

What is nostalgia exactly?

Well, it is an intense desire, a LONGING for the past.

  • A time, maybe, when we were freer as a country.
  • A time, maybe, when we were happier as people.
  • A time, maybe, when life was less complicated.
  • But here’s the thing.  Nostalgia is empty.  It is futile.  It is hollow.

Think of it this way.  You might have nostalgia for a PLACE.

Maybe a place where you went camping with your family, 10, 20 years ago.  Nostalgia for a campground, a B&B, a specific hiking trail…really ANYTHING.

You are filled with nostalgia for it…as well as the very incorrect idea that if only you could go back there, if only you could walk that trail again, sit in that room again, all of those lovely wonderful feelings would come flooding back, and it would be exactly the same again.

But that’s just not true.

If you do return, maybe the campground will be quite nice, the hiking trail lovely…but it won’t be the same.  Even if the location has been frozen in time…YOU haven’t been!  You’re a different person, with different emotions, different memories, different joys, different sorrows.  We are different people all throughout our lives.  And that’s GOOD!  We have to keep moving forwards.

But that’s the point.

The past is the past, and we can have a little bit of happiness over our memories, but we cannot LIVE IN THEM.

And besides, we idealize the past.  The beauty is always exaggerated, the laughter is always a little louder, the happiness is always more meaningful, and the sorrows are forgotten almost completely.

You are longing for a more beautiful person than you have ever met, or a more beautiful place than you have ever known.  You’re longing for the past…but that’s not where you will have these longings met.

But here’s the thing, beloved.  Our mistake is not longing in the first place.  Remember - God has placed ETERNITY IN OUR HEARTS!

But our mistake is longing in the wrong direction.

  • We SHOULD long for someone more beautiful than we have ever met.
  • We SHOULD long for somewhere more beautiful than we have ever known.

But we will not get there with our eyes focussed backwards.

Instead, we must look forwards to the moment when time gives birth to eternity.  When all the clocks stop, and then they go forever.

And this is why nostalgia isn’t just foolish, it is insulting and showing a real ingratitude to God.

The God who was good to us 20 years ago, is just as good today. We can look BACK and see God’s goodness, but to look FORWARDS and see that same goodness…it requires trust.  It requires faith.  And maybe our faith is a little weaker than it should be.

And what is more, when we long, not only for what we experienced 10 or 20 years ago, but when we long for WHO WE WERE at that time…do we not realize that who we were was someone LESS SANCTIFIED?  Someone LESS HOLY?  Someone who knew LESS about God?

Each day is a step closer to eternity.  Each day is a step closer to returning home.  To that place we’ve never been, to that place where we are welcomed in and we truly belong.  To that place more beautiful than any we have ever seen.  To be embraced by Someone more beautiful than any we have ever met.

We should not long for the journey to be any longer than it has to be.  Yesterday and last year and 10 years ago…WEREN’T BETTER DAYS.

We must look forwards to the BEST OF DAYS.  The day to end all days.  The day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns and makes all things new.

And our challenge is, that we do not have control over any of the days between this day and that day.  We don’t know when that day will come, we don’t know what we will experience.  And the more we tighten our grip and try to control what we can’t, the more and more joy will slip through our fingers.  Our final point.

Consider the work of God: who can make straight what He has made crooked?

Now, this verse, like all the rest that we examined this morning, could be taken in two different ways.

  • Solomon wants to die - DEATH is better than LIFE
  • Solomon is depressed - NO MORE LAUGHTER, ONLY TEARS
  • Solomon wants everyone to be as miserable as he is - NO MORE GOOD MEMORIES.

And now…Solomon wants everyone to be as fatalistic as he is.

You go off, you follow your heart, and you end up in the same place.  We can’t do anything.  God is powerful, we are powerless, woe is me.

But that’s not the case!

The Preacher is giving us nuggets of pure gold!  He has, in chapter 7, really taken huge strides in terms of meaning.  We saw that last time in chapter 5, seeing worship as the thing that matters more than all the others.  The Preacher has started to come out of his “meaningless meaningless” refrain, and is giving us wisdom about meaning that he won at a very high cost. We MUST pay attention!

  • It’s not that Solomon wants to die, it’s that he wants us to REALLY LIVE!

  • It’s not that Solomon is depressed, it’s that he doesn’t want us to try to be satisfied with worthless things!

  • It’s not that Solomon wants to take away our memories of the past, he wants us to be focussed on the future, which is better by far!


  • And finally, it’s not that Solomon is fatalistic…instead, he wants us to rest secure in God’s power.

And this is where it has come to.  This is the beginning of the end of the matter.  Resting secure in the power and plan of God…this is what it is all about.

This is what gives a solid foundation to this otherwise chaotic and meaningless life.  He is the solid ground.  He is, what we sang to begin the service, the rock that will not quake.  He is the the stronghold that none can shake, and our firm foundation.

Who can make straight what He has made crooked?

     No one!

Who can cause to fall those whom He has saved?

     No one!

And for us to constantly wrestle with God, trying to gain control over our lives, telling God to butt out and let us handle it…this only brings more pain.  This only brings more sorrow.  Because no matter how we reject Him or fight Him…God remains in control.

The Preacher spent so many years ignoring life above the sun, doing whatever he wanted whenever he wanted.  But God was there with him, every step of the way.

And we can feel oppressed by this, or we can accept it as the actions of a loving Father who will never let us go.

We can feel annoyed by His constant presence, His insistence on being in our lives, or we can rejoice in the constancy of His love and care.

Giving up control is hard…but it becomes easier when we know just who we are giving up control to.

We are giving up control, or rather, our illusion of control, to the One who made all of this, and who made it GOOD.

We are reminding ourselves that the One in control is the One who pursued us in our sin, longing to be together with us again.

We are preaching to our own soul that the One in control is the One who gave up His only Son that we may have life with Him.  Life abundantly.  Life eternally.

Giving up a control that we never actually had to gain a comfort we can never lose…well…that’s about the wisest thing anyone could do.

That’s the best trade any of us could make.

And so beloved, as you go into this week, think about all the trades you are making.  Every single second you are making a trade.

Make sure that when you trade, you are trading up.  Trading the bad for the good, and the good for the great, and the great for the meaningful.  The eternal.  That which is from God.


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

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