Solomon’s Perspective on “Toil”

I’m studying Ecclesiastes right now in preparation for our next class, and yesterday I was in chapter 2. Solomon sure seems all over the board about whether he likes work (toil) or not.

At first he found pleasure in the toil, and the pleasure was his reward for doing the work (2:10-11).  Then he started to get tired, older and reflective, and he realized that he will work his whole life and hand his life’s toil over to someone who didn’t work for it and probably wouldn’t appreciate it. What if that person doesn’t have the sense to tie his own shoes? Seems like a waste doesn’t it?

But then at the end of chapter 2, Solomon is back to saying that we should enjoy our work. What happened? Is Solomon mental or something? No, he realized that his mindset and purpose for work was all out of whack and that God wasn’t in the center of his purpose for work. When pleasing God is your purpose, then work becomes fun again. If you’re out to please yourself and acquire stuff, then it all eventually becomes “vanity” (a complete waste of time).

Is God at the center of your purpose? How would you know? What does that look like when your focus for working is pleasing God versus pleasing yourself and getting stuff? Take time to talk this over with a wise godly brother and do some praying and reflection about it.

Below are the passages I referenced from Ecclesiastes.

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.
(Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)

I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
(Ecclesiastes 2:18-26)

God will equip you

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
(Hebrews 13:20-21)

God wants you and me to do his will and to work what is pleasing in His sight. But we don’t know how to do that and we are not equipped to do that. This is no surprise to God. That’s why we see here in Hebrews 13 that the God who raised Jesus the Great Shepherd will also “equip” us with “everything good” so that we can do the things that please Him.

I love this so much. God did not leave us alone out there in the dark with a bunch of expectations and no help on how to accomplish them. He is working on you and me everyday to give us the spiritual tools and talents to work in His kingdom. Many other passages say the same thing, God is working in us and He doesn’t give up on a project (Philippians 1:6,11; 2:13; 2 Cor. 9:8; Ephesians 2:10).

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
(Philippians 2:12-13)

Thinking Out Loud

Today, I’m talking to the extroverts, those who talk to think. Yes, I fully fit in that category and that is definitely my personality. All of my ideas and thoughts, good, bad and ugly, all come out when I’m thinking about things. But man, it really gets me in trouble.

When you are an extrovert and you talk to think, and you are talking to an introvert who thinks to talk, it can be a toxic combination. You probably know what I’m talking about. The extrovert, in rapid procession, spews out fifteen ideas and possibilities and variations to the introvert who is still thinking about the first idea. That’s a formula for a fight if I ever saw one.

  1. Not every idea has to be vocalized. Look below and meditate upon these passages from Scripture that repeatedly advise us to restrain and limit our words.
  2. Sometimes your ideas, variations and suggestions while innocently offered, can make someone feel guilty or inadequate for the suggestion he or she made. A person comes up with an idea, and you rapid fire a bunch of other things they could add or do or change, and it can really frustrate him or her.
  3. Take time to think more and pray more. Nehemiah is a great example to me in that he took “serious thought” before he responded to something. I really need that more in my life (Nehemiah 5:6-7).

Maybe next week, I’ll pick on the introverts. Gotta be balanced.

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.
(Proverbs 17:27-28)

Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom!
(Job 13:5)

For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.
(Ecclesiastes 5:3)

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
(Proverbs 10:19)

The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him. The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end of his talk is evil madness. A fool multiplies words, though no man knows what is to be, and who can tell him what will be after him?
(Ecclesiastes 10:12-14)

Be swift to hear slow to speak (James 1:19).

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;
(James 1:19)

The Faithful Remnant

We are studying the Kings and Prophets, and we are going into the period of the Babylonian Captivity. Dark times for Judah, no doubt. It seemed like no one cared about God or followed God. That may have been pretty close to true, but there were still a few strong followers of God. Just like we considered yesterday with Noah, even in the midst of corruption and wickedness, there was a faithful remnant.

Jeremiah preached for decades, but was anyone listening? For the most part, no, but here are a few examples of the people who were faithfully following God.

Baruch, the scribe for Jeremiah. He wrote down the words that Jeremiah received from God. He was a faithful servant and assistant to Jeremiah. Just like Jeremiah, he was taken hostage and carried off to Egypt after the Babylonian captivity.

The descendants of Jonadab faithfully followed their father’s commands even after centuries passed. Their faithfulness was contrasted to Judah’s faithlessness to their Father (Jeremiah 35).

Many people were sealed by God before the destruction of Jerusalem, because as God told Ezekiel during these days, they were “sighing and crying” over the abominations committed there (Ezekiel 9). Even in Jerusalem, the hot bed of sin and rebellion to God, there were folks faithfully following God’s word.

Ebed-melech was an Ethiopian eunuch who helped saved Jeremiah’s life (Jeremiah 38). For his faithfulness and bravery, he was blessed by God. Take note of this promise of God to Ebed-melech:

“Go, and say to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will fulfill my words against this city for harm and not for good, and they shall be accomplished before you on that day. But I will deliver you on that day, declares the LORD, and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me, declares the LORD.'” (Jeremiah 39:16-18).

Away in captivity, there were also others faithfully serving God during this time. Daniel, Ezekiel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are some examples.

The same can be said today. Scattered throughout the world, and in maybe the most unlikely of places, there are members of the faithful remnant. Most importantly, let’s make sure that you and I are part of that faithful remnant. We can, with God’s grace and help, serve God faithfully in this godless age.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,
(Titus 2:11-12)

They Will All Wear Out Like a Garment

And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”
(Hebrews 1:10-12)

There is a beginning and there is an end. In the above passage, we see that the earth and heavens are the work of God, and that “in the beginning” God laid their foundation. We also see here that there is an end as well. The things of this earth will wear out, be rolled up and  changed. Newton’s laws are true, things wear out and go from order to disorder. They have an end in contrast to God who has “no end.”

What gets us so frustrated? What distracts us so easily? The stuff that wears out, changes and ultimately will all have an end. The “here and now” will be the “distant and past” one day. It may be that you have to re-center your mind today to remember the One who always was, is and is to come. I know I need that right now. All this stuff is temporary, and we have to deal with it and live in it, but our mind can’t be drowning in it.

God laid the earth’s foundation and one day it will all be burned up and changed. While we are here, remember that “God is the same and His years have no end.”

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
(Colossians 3:1-4)

With All Purity

Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity.
(1 Timothy 5:1-2)

How we treat people is based upon how we view people. Look at this passage where Paul gives the evangelist Timothy advice on how to treat others. It is based upon how Timothy sees others and values them.

Treat older men like you would your dad, and older women like you would your own mother. See the younger men as your own brothers, and the younger women as your sisters. Notice this: with all purity.

If we value others as special and precious we will treat them accordingly. However, if we view others as merely objects to satisfy the desires of our flesh, then that’s how we will treat them (2 Peter 2:12-14).

How would Timothy treat a young woman in the faith “with all purity”?

He would avoid being alone with her. For one thing, it would protect against being led to sexual sin. But it would also be part of living blamelessly and above reproach. If you have a Bible study, take someone with you. If you are going on a business lunch, take someone else with you. Protect her purity, your purity and both of your reputations.

He would not ask her nor press her to do things that would violate God’s standards of purity. If he sees her as precious in the sight of God and as an image-bearer of Jesus, then he will value her body and her soul as belonging to God. Think of how Joseph behaved with Potiphar’s wife. He knew that she belonged to another man, and that he belonged to God. How he viewed her and how he viewed his relationship with God affected how he treated her (Genesis 39). Christians were called to greet each other with a “holy kiss,” which implies that there can be an “un-holy kiss.”

With all purity…that is God’s standard.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
(1 Thessalonians 4:3-8)

Slow to Anger, Great in Power

An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh. The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; he dries up all the rivers; Bashan and Carmel wither; the bloom of Lebanon withers. The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it. Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him. The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness. What do you plot against the LORD? He will make a complete end; trouble will not rise up a second time.
(Nahum 1:1-9)

We were studying the book of Nahum last night in our Bible class. Nahum was sent to pronounce the final judgment upon Nineveh and Assyria. Jonah had been sent around 100 years prior to this, and the people of Nineveh repented. However, they have gone back into their violent and wicked ways. God was slow to anger, but now there is no remedy. He will come at them with an overwhelming flood of judgment and punishment.

The phrase I want to focus on for just a moment is that God is “slow to anger but great in power.” A question that was posed last night in class was, “What if God was fast to anger and great in power?” We all agreed that there wouldn’t be much left of us and it wouldn’t take long for God to do it. He would snuff us out in a hurry.

Look at the passage above. Nahum asks, “Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the heat of His anger?” When God is full of wrath, there is no place to hide nor any shelter strong enough to withstand the blast (except the shelter of the blood of Jesus, of course). “His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken in pieces by Him,” Nahum added.

Are you great in power? What I mean is, are you in authority over people? At work? At home? In organizations? How about in the church? What do you do with that authority and power? Do you run rough shod over people? Are you quick to anger, or are you slow to anger like God is? Is your wrath poured out quickly and instantly known by others (Proverbs 12:!6)? Are people around you intimidated and scared to set you off? Do others walk on egg shells around you because of your hair-trigger temper?

God is great in power, but slow to anger. He has the power to do whatever he wants to you and me, but His lovingkindness governs His power. Have you ever driven a truck that had a governor set where you couldn’t go over a certain speed? I think we need something like that with our anger and all our passions and emotions. What regulates my power and strength? Does God’s love, mercy and kindness rule my authority so that I do not take advantage of those who are accountable to me?

The people under your authority may not be able to escape. They have to endure that anger and face those blasts of wrath because they have to keep coming to work everyday or they have to live with you everyday. When you go off on a rant, they may have to just stay there and take it. But that isn’t fair to them is it? Should they have to endure that kind of abuse because you can’t control your temper?

If you are that person who has that kind of anger issue, please work with God to get to the root of the problem. Sit down with wise, godly people who can help you work through your anger and give you the tools to control that anger and put it in its proper place. It will take humility to admit you have a problem, and even more humility to seek out help to work through it.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
(James 1:19-22)

What Love Is and What Love Isn’t

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Please meditate upon this section of Scripture today. Below are some simple questions and commonly used approaches to this text, but they are helpful to ask ourselves. We all need to reconnect with this passage occasionally.  I know I do. It certainly would help to read it everyday.

  • What is love? What are some things love is NOT? It certainly is not a feeling, is it? This is about rising above your feelings and doing what is right regardless of how you feel.
  • How does Jesus/God demonstrate these qualities? Look throughout Scripture and consider your own relationship with God as well. How do you see God being kind? Was Jesus arrogant and rude? Aren’t you glad that He doesn’t keep a score on you? Your record of sins has been washed away by the blood of Jesus because of His great unfailing love for you.
  • Do I have these qualities of love in my heart? Am I patient? Am I kind or am I rude? Do I insist on my own way? Am I irritable or resentful? Is my goal to be right or to be reconciled with my loved ones? Do I keep score in relationships? Am I happy when someone messes up so I can have an, “Aha! Gotcha!” moment? Do I look for the good in people or do I work up the worst possible motives about them in my mind? Am I hopeful for the best outcome in relationships?
  • Can I visualize how these qualities of love would look in my relationships? How do I specifically live out these qualities? What about when my wife gets snippy because she’s under a lot of stress? How do I talk to that person at work who is always self-centered, worldly and rude? What about the person under my authority who questions my decisions and approaches? How do I respond? How would I begin a conversation with someone that I am odds with if I had this kind of love working in my heart and soul?

Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old (Psalm 25:6).

God Laid It On My Heart

Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” Whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.
(Isaiah 30:21)

There are times when someone will preface what he or she is about to say or do with, “God laid it on my heart.” If I really feel passionate about saying something or going a certain direction, I might feel like God is leading me and is behind these words or actions. It may be that God approves of what you and I are about to say and do, but how will you confirm that?

Let’s take some time to ponder the concept of God laying things on our heart. Here are some thoughts from Scripture:

Within Scripture I know for sure what God has laid upon my heart. We know that Jesus promised the apostles before He left this earth that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth (John 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:5-15). Having that truth, the apostles then wrote it down, and we have in the pages of the God-breathed Scripture the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:9-16; 2 Timothy 3:15-17). As Paul said, when we read we learn the revealed mind of God (Ephesians 3:4).

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;
(Hebrews 1:1-2)

Not everything going on inside of me is from God. We are in a spiritual war between the Spirit and the flesh (Galatians 5:17), so not all leadings and impulses I have within are from God. Paul tells us that we have to bring all thoughts into the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), so that tells you not every thought we have is a prompting of the Holy Spirit. There are those Paul said who had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2).

Several different opinions, interpretations and directions arise from people claiming that God laid something on their heart. A problem arises when you and I choose our words and pathway based upon what we believe God is laying on our heart. The problem is that so many are saying that but are going in completely different directions spiritually. Remember that God is not the author of confusion, but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33). We can know for sure that God is not laying contradictory things on different hearts. Let’s be careful of crediting God with something that He may have had no part in (Jeremiah 23:32).

We are to test all things by the standard of God’s word, and that includes any promptings or thoughts I may have within. “Test all things; hold fast to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The Bereans were praised by God because they tested what Paul said by comparing it with Scripture (Acts 17:11). “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). In the same way the hearts of men are misread and misinterpreted, the word of God is also misread and misinterpreted. Knowing that, Peter warns us to be very careful not to twist the Scriptures to fit with our own desires and interpretations (2 Peter 3:14-18).

My conscience is there to help me as a guide, but it must be trained and conditioned by the word of God. Go back to the verse from Isaiah at the beginning of the article. This passage says that people will hear a word behind them telling them which way to go, to the right or to the left. I’ve often hear this passage quoted to go along with the concept that God lays things on your heart. Yes, God is speaking today and yes, He is telling us which way to go, but how does He do that? The voice of God is clearly speaking today in His word, and the apostle John wrote that if we follow His commandments, our hearts can be assured that we are one with God.

My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
(1 John 3:18-22)

So, if I end up by the providence of God in a situation where He wants me to be, what do I say? Do I let my heart lead me? Have I prayed for wisdom to speak the truth from God’s word that this person needs to hear? Have I diligently studied God’s word so that I can be approved of God when I step up to speak for Him (2 Timothy 2:15)?

If I feel prompted to go a certain direction in life, have I tested that with the word of God to make sure this is the way God wants me to go? Have I sat down with wise, godly Christians to seek their counsel as to which way I should go (Titus 2:1-5; Proverbs 1:5; 24:6)? Yes, God may be leading you that direction, but He is calling you to check His word first, pray about it, and seek godly counsel. If that impulse or thought you have is not in line with God’s word, then you know it wasn’t from God.

 

Go home to your friends

As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
(Mark 5:18-20)

Here is a very rare occasion where Jesus told someone he healed to go out and tell everyone about it. Usually Jesus strictly and sternly forbade anyone he healed from going around and talking about it (Mark 1:34,43-45; 5:43; 7:36; Matthew 12:14-21). Of course, no one really listened to Jesus and went out and told everyone anyways!

Whenever someone would broadcast the news of a healing, Jesus would be so crowded and pressed about that he could hardly move. But in this situation in Mark 5, he was leaving the region. The formerly demon-possessed man really wanted to go with Jesus. I think we can understand that. Not only did this man have a really bad history with the people in that area, but come on, it was Jesus, of course he wanted to go with Jesus. He could go get a fresh start with Jesus.

But Jesus wanted him to stay put. “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.” Isn’t that a very simple plan for evangelism? Go to your friends and talk about how God is good to you and His mercy is great upon you. And look at the impact this man had on the people in his region. They believed!

So guys, let’s take that simple thought with us today out into the world. What was asked of this formerly demon-possessed man is the same thing asked of each one of us who were bound by Satan and sin. Talk about the goodness and mercy of God.

Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.
(Psalms 96:1-4)