The Priceless Love Of God

6.12.2016

1st Christian Church

1st Baptist Church

Glenwood IA, USA

Ordinary Time

 

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11

Welcome In The Name Of The Father, And The Son, And The Holy Spirit

 

 

 

            [1] I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. [2] I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” [3] I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. [4] I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. [5] I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. [6] I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. [7] I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. [8] I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hedonism is pointless.

 

Or at least there is no redemption in it.

 

And redemption is all that matters, when the sun sets upon the dustling living under the sun.

 

Solomon tests himself with pleasure, under the guiding hand of the Wisdom, or so he claims at any rate. The wisdom of this experiment with sin is debatable. While many people have been burned by what they would describe as “fundamentalist handling of law and gospel” there is still wisdom, deep godly wisdom, in believing God and avoiding sin. Solomon goes head first into all the sins. He says as it were, “I’m going to try all the things.” Solomon decides to test himself with pleasure. Can pleasure be a trial? We often say pain is trying. We often talk about trial by fire, trial by pain, trial by disaster, but, is there such a thing as too much of a good thing?

 

Certainly.

 

Is there such a thing as too much of a thing that God does not desire for you at this stage of your life?

 

Yes.

 

And, furthermore, is there such a thing as too much of a thing that you are never suppose to have?

 

Obviously.

Nobody needs a harem.

Yet Solomon in all his wisdom chooses to go headlong into such things.

 

Why?

 

 

Because he wanted to, that is why.

 

In Romans 7 we see a man who is in the fight against sin. Solomon isn’t in the fight. He has told himself that he is conducting a grand experiment guided by the wisdom of his heart. We dustlings have a way of justifying whatsoever our hearts desire.

 

Jeremiah 17

Thus says the LORD:

         “Cursed is the man who trusts in man

                  and makes flesh his strength,

                  whose heart turns away from the LORD.

         He is like a shrub in the desert,

                  and shall not see any good come.

         He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,

                  in an uninhabited salt land.

 

 

 

         “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,

                  whose trust is the LORD.

         He is like a tree planted by water,

                  that sends out its roots by the stream,

         and does not fear when heat comes,

                  for its leaves remain green,

         and is not anxious in the year of drought,

                  for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

        

        

         The heart is deceitful above all things,

                  and desperately sick;

                  who can understand it?

         “I the LORD search the heart

                  and test the mind,

         to give every man according to his ways,

                  according to the fruit of his deeds.”

        

 

 

 

(Jeremiah 17:5-10 ESV)

 

 

Solomon knew better. Sometimes being smart doesn’t help you walk close to Jesus. I say that as an advocate of self-education. The world would be slightly better if we all read a few more books and kept a few more opinions to ourselves.

That’s just my humble opinion.

The problem with Solomon’s wisdom was that he used it to fool himself, which isn’t all that smart, when you think about it.

 

Back in the garden before the breaking of the world they saw that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was good for making one wise.

 

It made them know the difference between good and evil without giving them the ability to consistently choose the good. One might surmise that taking the path of rebellion to obtain knowledge in and of its self makes it difficult to choose good.

 

So it was that Solomon tried it all.

 

And all he tried tried him.

 

All he tried was vanity.

 

Solomon the hedonist = Vanity.

Solomon the drunk = Vanity.

Solomon the builder = Vanity.

Solomon the tycoon = Vanity.

Solomon the planter = Vanity.

Solomon the environmentalist = Vanity.

Solomon the city planner = Vanity.

Solomon the architect = Vanity.

Solomon the slaver = Vanity.

Solomon the hoarder = Vanity.

Solomon the collector = Vanity.

Solomon who had the most toys wins = Vanity.

Solomon “Big boys have big toys” = Vanity.

Solomon the consumer = Vanity.

Solomon the connoisseur = Vanity.

Solomon the hipster = Vanity

 

Vanity of Vanity all is vanity and striving after the wind.

 

 

Your life is but a vapor, what shall you do with it?

 

The Lord once said,

 

         For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

 

 

 

(Mark 8:36 ESV)

 

How little we think on those words.

 

 

One does wonder what the Lord should do with a man like Solomon. When we read about a guy like Solomon our hearts often turn into the older brother condemning his prodigal brother.

 

We were talking about deathbed conversions in Sunday School last week, and Matthew 20 came to my addled brain.

 

 

We often think that the man who makes the death bed confession of faith gets the best of both worlds because we secretly believe sin is more fun than righteousness.

 

This reveals far more about ourselves than the death bed convert.

 

Laborers in the Vineyard

 

   “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

 

 

 

(Matthew 20:1-16 ESV)

The Lord told the thief on the cross, “Surely you will be with me today in paradise.”

 

I  am glad our God desires nobody perish. I wonder if we do too.

 

Although Solomon had an opulent life, and although Solomon was well acquainted with luxury, he failed to properly appraise the value of things.

 

He failed to properly appraise the value of the Love of God.

 

As we’ve read the Psalms together as a Church, we’ve discovered a thing or two.

 

Steadfast love is the modus operandi of the most high.

 

During my years under the sun I have drunk deeply from the cup of suffering. I have realized more and more my great need for the love of God. In other words I have realized more and more my great need for Jesus.

 

Jesus is the Love of God.

 

This too is the journey Solomon writes of in Ecclesiastes.

 

This is the great journey of life.

 

We walk a dusty trail. The trailhead begins at prideful self-reliance and ends at utter reliance upon the love of the Lord Jesus. The cross proves as much. This is the Christian life.

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Wisdom

 

 

Ecclesiasties 1:12-18

 

Life Under The Sun

 

Welcome In The Name Of The Father, and The Son, and The Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

The old, dusty, Preacher King gathers his people before him and asks them to reconsider all the ambitious schemes they’ve hatched in their noggins. He tells them in essence, “I’ve been there and done that already, this isn’t my first rodeo, I’ve been around the block a time and two, and believe you me, kiddo, there’s no redemption at the end of the road you’re taking.”

 

Preacher Man Solomon tells the people: it’s all vanity.

 

 

He begins with his beginning: Wisdom.

 

Now, Wisdom had been his old companion. Wisdom was the first and oldest tool in his royal toolbox. Before King David died he said his son, Solomon, was young and inexperienced, and Solomon for his part did an extraordinary thing; instead of being offended, he listened to his dear old dad (1st Chronicles 22.5)! So it was that Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom.

 

 

 

Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

 

 

 

(1 Kings 3:9 ESV)

 

 

The point of wisdom, for Solomon, when he was young and wet behind the ears, was to discern between good and evil, so that he might be a good king, so that he might be a good servant of God.

 

So why is it that old Preacher man Solomon seems to take a different view? Surely discerning between good and evil doesn’t go out of style like your clothes? Not your clothes, per se, other people’s, of course.

 

Isn’t truth timeless? Isn’t choosing good always in style?

 

 

 

         Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,

                        and be attentive, that you may gain insight,

            for I give you good precepts;

                        do not forsake my teaching.

            When I was a son with my father,

                        tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,

            he taught me and said to me,

            “Let your heart hold fast my words;

                        keep my commandments, and live.

            Get wisdom; get insight;

                        do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.

            Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;

                        love her, and she will guard you.

            The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,

                        and whatever you get, get insight.

            Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;

                        she will honor you if you embrace her.

            She will place on your head a graceful garland;

                        she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”

        

 

 

 

(Proverbs 4:1-9 ESV)

 

It is fascinating that the Holy Spirit chose to personify wisdom as a woman. Word to the wise, husbands, word to the wise, sons.

 

But what’s going on with Solomon in Ecclesiastes verses Solomon in Proverbs? Had he gone sour on wisdom?

 

Wisdom is a beautiful thing, if her purpose is to know the triune God deeply and profoundly. But she is a terrible replacement for God. As always, the motives of your heart determines something’s value.

 

Why are you reading all those books? Why are you dishing out all that tuition? Are you trying to serve God deeply? Are you trying to prepare yourself to help people?

Are you trying to be perceived as the smartest kid in any room?

Are you trying to win to get somebody to say, “You’re right.” on Facebook?

Vanity of vanities, I’ve yet to see such a thing!

Or are you trying to outwit God?

 

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

 

It is literally vain to say or to even think, “Hey. Listen to my diploma rather than what you just read in the Word of God.”

 

That is, however, what is going on.

 

This vanity is going on in too many “Churches”.

 

This vanity is going on all over the internet.

 

This vanity is going on all over the television.

 

“Listen to my diploma rather than what you just read in God’s book. Let me tell you why it doesn’t mean what it means.”

 

Christ at the center is humble wisdom.

 

Christ edited out, well, that’s vainglorious wisdom.

 

A Cross-less, Christ-less, Resurrection-less life is just less.

 

What does Solomon say?

 

 

 

The Vanity of Wisdom

 

            [12] I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. [13] And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. [14] I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

 

 

There are many lenses through which you can look at the world. The Preacher says the first one he tried was wisdom. What does he conclude? Vanity. Striving after the wind. What are other lenses, or worldviews through which people try to make sense of the world? Philosophy. Education. Science. Nature. Darwinism. Economic. Psychological. Sociological. Religion. Government. Cultural. And there are a hundred more, no doubt.

I wonder why Solomon says it is an unhappy business God has given us to be busy with? Part of the answer has to do with the great breaking of the World way back in Genesis. The curse says we will work and work and work all the days of our lives, by the sweat of our brow, often with limited success, and regardless of how successful you are, it’ll all be dust in no time.

It is also an unhappy business God has given us to be busy with because life is unbelievably painful, if you’re honest that is, and I never assume people are, but if you are honest, you will admit that life is often marked by searing loss and disappointment. This too makes life an unhappy business.

This is why the Church must be as safe of a place for those who are suffering as the Scriptures are.

The biggest reason that Solomon can say that we humans are preoccupied with an unhappy busyness is because the human soul longs to be busy with redemptive things. This too is why Jesus Christ at the center matters. This is why your local Church should be the center of your life as well, so long as your local Church is deeply busy with the things concerning Jesus. The same Resurrected Jesus whom they didn’t recognize until He broke the bread in Luke 24.

 

We long to be busy with eternal things. We long to have meaning. Meaning too, as with peace, can be one elusive fish, to be sure.

 

The notion of Christ centered vocation means that even the most menial tasks takes on cosmic meaning and value if it is done for the glory of God. You wake up day after day, put your clothes on, drink your coffee, and work. For what? The Bible views work as a good thing. The Bible views providing for one’s family as a good thing. Yet if you live only for replenishing your bank account you will soon find yourself poor in spirit. The graveyard, and the obituary page are always reminding us that we are painfully replacable. Yes, you are all unique snowflakes; snowflakes melt. Christ at the center saves you from despair.

 

The Preacher goes on…

 

 

            [15] What is crooked cannot be made straight,

                        and what is lacking cannot be counted.

           

           

                        [16] I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” [17] And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.

 

            [18] For in much wisdom is much vexation,

                        and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

 

 

 

 

(Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 ESV)

 

There are a couple notions here in Solomon’s words. To be certain the old axiom “Ignorance is bliss” may come into play here.

 

But then again the actor John Wayne is credited with saying, although it seems that he didn’t actually say it, “Life is hard. It’s even harder when you’re stupid.”, may also come into play.

 

Are we as Christians to be anti-intellectual? Anti book?

 

May it never be!

 

But as Saint Paul argues in 1st Corinthians, knowledge, wisdom, giftedness without love are all useless to the Kingdom of God.

 

Sitting around in Jerusalem thinking you have more wisdom than any King who reigned over Jerusalem before or since may not be coupling wisdom to the love of Christ…. Even if it happens to be true.

 

But there is a deeper point here. You may be the most intelligent person of the age, but you will never surpass God’s wisdom, so fall to your knees and kiss the son, lest He be angry (Psalm 2).

 

Or, you might think of St. Paul’s description of the intellectual creeps of the last days:

 

having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

 

 

 

(2 Timothy 3:5-7 ESV)

 

Or you might think of St. Luke’s description of the men of Athens in Acts 17:21

 

Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

 

Solomon talks about delving into the madness. It is true that one can live so deeply in books that they become untethered to reality. Sometimes this is good.

 

Sometimes this is bad.

 

Sometimes the accusation is made just to shut you up.

 

To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

 

            And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”

 

 

 

(Acts 26:22-29 ESV)

 

Well, who was out of whose mind?

 

Whether you get dubbed a mad scientist like Dr. Frankenstein, or Jekyll & Hyde, or just mad like the Apostle Paul, we know that knowledge is made perfect, and worthwhile only in Christ.

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