Wise Words Have Sharp Points

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
(Ecclesiastes 12:9-12)

We are about to wrap up our study of the book of Ecclesiastes in our congregation. At the end of the book, Solomon speaks of wise words.

Here a few quick thoughts from this passage:

These wise words come from One Shepherd. I would assume that Solomon is talking about the Lord here as the source of these wise words. If someone is sharing sound wisdom and truth with you, that truth did not originate from the person counseling you.

The “Preacher” had to take great care and time in knowing, preparing and delivering these wise words. He “weighed,” “studied,” “arranged,” “sought out” these words of wisdom from God with “great care.” Solomon, like Timothy, was diligent to be approved by God because he handled God’s word with the utmost reverence (2 Tim. 2:15). When we are seeking to teach and advise others, we must show the same thoughtful care.

Wise words have sharp points. They are “goads,” which I believe is a sharp implement used to prod oxen on while plowing. Being prodded with a sharp pointed tool is not pleasant, but it moves the ox in the direction he needs to go. God’s word is called a sharp two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), and those points hurt at times, but they are moving us in God’s direction. They are also sharp points in that they are well-driven nails. Nails are used to fasten things together to provide stability. Again, those sharp points from God’s word may hurt at times, but they are setting our feet on stable, solid ground.

Beware of anything beyond these. Beware…a strong warning to watch out for something dangerous and harmful. Watch out for advice and the words of worldly wisdom that go past what God has already given you.

James’ Words for the Rich and Powerful

Today’s words come from the book of James, and the focus is those who have power and possessions. There are some blunt words and clear warnings given by James to those with the funds and the status.

Read these words of wisdom and reflect on what God has to say to those of us in positions of authority. What is God saying to us when we have the blessings of material goods in our lives? Authority and money are great tools and wonderful blessings that can be used for God’s glory; they don’t have to be used like most people use them (abuse them).

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
(James 1:9-11)

The rich man must remember that all those “pursuits” will fade away. Use them, enjoy them and share them, but remember they are all going to perish.

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
(James 2:5-7)

Being affluent doesn’t mean anything to God when it comes to salvation. In fact many times it gets in the way, because the rich often are too proud and self-sufficient to see a need for salvation. We may be rich in funds, but we must become poor in spirit.

For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
(James 2:13-17)

One of the very reasons we work and get wages is to have funds to help others in need (Ephesians 4:28). If you have this world’s goods, remember to look around for those who are lacking those goods, and share your blessings with them. Don’t do it out of guilt, do it out of gratitude. Show your faith by how you use your cash.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”–yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
(James 4:13-17)

Plans and life itself all change in a millisecond. James bluntly calls us arrogant when we make all our plans without regard for God, His will, or the brevity of life.  Are you doing the Lord’s will today? Tomorrow may not arrive.

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
(James 5:1-6)

Finally, God pays attention and knows very well who is being oppressed and abused. Those who use authority, status and money to hurt other people will be judged by a holy and just God. If the workers cannot cry out to their bosses for mercy, they can certainly cry out to God for mercy and He will hear them. Use your power, status and money to be a protector and provider of others. You know it shouldn’t have taken unions, lawsuits and riots to force businesses to do the right thing for the workers. If those who are running businesses and managing employees would honor God and read James, then they would naturally work to create a safe working environment and pay fair wages.

Wake Up O Sleeper

But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
(Ephesians 5:13-14)

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
(1 Corinthians 15:33-34)

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
(Romans 13:11-14)

Sometimes its just hard to wake up. We’re groggy, stiff, not fully aware, and shuffling across the floor to the bathroom. Certainly not ready to have coherent conversations, and certainly not ready to be at peak job performance! After a shower and a “few” cups of coffee, then we begin to feel human again.

Here are three occasions where Paul tells the Christian to “wake up.” They all are connected to living holy lives. As you can see in these Scriptures he talks about waking up from the dead, waking up from a drunken stupor, and waking up by turning on the light.

The first picture is of a Christian zombie, he is alive but dead. Dead in sinful works. Dead to righteousness. He’s walking around, and he makes the claim to be a Christian but the life of God is not in heart.

The second image is of a drunken man stumbling around. The alcohol has taken over his brain, and his motor skills and brain power are completely taken away.

The third image is of waking up and turning on the light. I imagine that most people don’t sleep with the lights glaring in their faces. Usually people sleep at night, and its dark. Paul compares the darkness to living in sensuality and wickedness. We have to turn the lights on through the word of God and expose the darkness. It’s not to be nighttime for the Christian, we are to be living in the light of Christ in the daytime, living holy lives and making pure choices.

For us, Paul says, it’s time to wake up!

  1. Wake up and let Christ shine on us. Come to Him in prayer and ask Him to shine His light upon you. Shine on our darkness, Lord. Bring your light into our hearts (2 Cor. 4:6).
  2. Wake up to the company you are keeping. Paul said, “Bad company ruins good morals.” Part of waking up spiritually is deciding to choose new friends and influences.
  3. Wake up to the environment you are choosing to live in. Wake up to the provisions you are making for the flesh. If you are tempted to drink, stay away from bars, your drinking buddies and the liquor aisle. If you are tempted to lust and commit sexual sin, you will have to create a different environment that helps encourage purity, not sensuality.
  4. Wake up to the fact that time is precious and limited. “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” “You know the time,” Paul said. I love this. It’s just like when you go in to your son or daughter’s room and ask, “Do you know what time it is? You’re late, you need to get up and get going!” When that has happened to us, we might get that adrenaline rush along with panic and rush around to get out the door to work or school (or church). We know what time it is and we are laser focused! That same has to be for the Christian, we have to constantly be reminded “what time it is.” We must seek with God’s help and with the help of our godly friends to keep that sense of urgency. Time is of the essence.

What is your life?

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”–yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
(James 4:13-17)

Today’s passage is a reminder for us that life is short, we are but a mist that will soon vanish away. God is eternal, so as we look to the temporary work here under the sun, we need to look to Him who is beyond the sun. We must look to things eternal for our perspective as we deal with things temporal.

My business pursuits may seem so important and pressing, but my integrity and character and my eternal soul will last far longer than whatever business I am engaged in today. God wants us to work, have jobs, make business plans, and go out and try to make a living. He’s not against that at all, just read Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. What He is warning us against constantly in Scripture is to keep our head in heaven while we are taking care of matters here on earth.

My choices and plans are constantly to be run through the filter of the Lord’s will and His purposes. As we plan and look to the future of our business and our jobs, we need to line up our business plans with God’s plans. “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will do this or that.'”

For when dreams increase

Because much talk comes from dreams and things of no purpose. But let the fear of God be in you.
(Ecclesiastes 5:7, Bible in Basic English)

For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.
(Ecclesiastes 5:7, English Standard Version)

You and I may have all kinds of ideas and “dreams” that come to our mind, but that does not mean they are all good ideas or great directions we should travel. Those ideas and dreams can lead us in a thousand different directions, and we have to develop discipline in how we deal with those ideas and plans.

There are many directions we can go in our business and in our homes, and many new things we can buy or try. What can happen is that we can dive into 20 or 3o things that sound like a great idea to do, and we end up not doing anything well at all.

We could learn a lesson from Nehemiah. It seems that in chapter 1-2 he spent months praying and developing a plan for rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. And when he returned home, he did several days of surveying Jerusalem with just a few people (Nehemiah 2:11-15). He wasn’t talking to a lot of people. He developed a firm plan, and then spoke to the leadership.

Nehemiah didn’t just stroll into Jerusalem, stand on the rubble, and confidently proclaim to all that he had an awesome idea about rebuilding the walls. He was disciplined and formulated the details of the plan in prayer before he started talking much about it.

Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode.
(Nehemiah 2:12)

Again, just because you have a good idea that pops into your head doesn’t mean that it is a good idea to share with others. That good idea might take you and others in the opposite direction from the last great idea you had. Take time to be silent, take time to pray, take time to plan. Ask wise counsel from a very select few.

The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit. Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.
(Proverbs 16:1-3)

Christians Rebuild, Raise Up, and Repair

They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
(Isaiah 61:4)

At our congregation we just wrapped up a special series of lessons by Andy Cantrell on Finding Our Purpose from the Past. Andy did such a marvelous job of opening our eyes to what God prophesied about the Christian in the Old Testament. In those passages we were shown what God was going to do for us and what God was going to do through us.

One of those passages we looked at last night was Isaiah 61. Andy helped us to see through Isaiah 61:4 that the mission of the Christian is to rebuild, repair and raise up. We are helping to rebuild and restore the broken lives of others. God has taken us out of darkness and brought us into light. Just like Jesus, He raised us up from the dead to walk in newness of life. Jesus came to preach good news to the afflicted, to heal the brokenhearted, and to free the prisoners (Isaiah 61:1-3). All of this of course was intended in a spiritual sense.

So if God did this for us, what can God do through us? If He rebuilt our broken lives, what does He want to do with us? He wants us to see the broken lives of others and help those poor, brokenhearted prisoners turn to the saving and healing power of Jesus.

Do we see the poor and the brokenhearted and the captive all around us? Do we see them at work? Do we see them at school? Do we notice them in our neighborhoods? Do we care enough for them to help them see Jesus? Are we going to take our calling seriously as re-builders and repairers?

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.
(Isaiah 61:10-11)

Solomon and the Greek Philosophers

I was looking over Paul Earnhart’s notes on Ecclesiastes that my son received when at a Bible camp several years ago. There was a really cool observation about Solomon and how he was not like a Greek Philosopher. I’m going to include just a small section of this outline for your consideration today.

Solomon does not write as a Greek philosopher.

  • He is not a Stoic – he believes in enjoying God’s gifts (2:24; 5:18).
  • He is not an Epicurean – he believes in divine judgment (11:9; 12:14). Pleasure is not an end in itself.
  • He is not a Cynic – he believes life has purpose and meaning, that God is in control and that there will be a righteous and just conclusion (2:26; 7:18; 8:12).
  • He is not a pagan – he reveres one God, knows His commandments, and urges the serious worship of God (5:1-7; 12:13-14).

I just thought that was a great observation about Solomon. It made me think of the apostle Paul in the book of Colossians and how he spoke of those who were being “cheated” by man’s philosophy.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
(Colossians 2:6-8)

Solomon’s wisdom did not come from Solomon, nor did it come from the prevailing thinking of His day and that is why it is so wise!

The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these… 
(Ecclesiastes 12:10-12)

Thank you brother Earnhart.

Using Wisdom Wisely

We are studying Ecclesiastes in our adult Bible class right now. Very good discussions. Two comments were made last night that really stuck with me and I will paraphrase them for you this morning.

One comment had to do with Solomon being so wise, but not doing the right things with his wisdom. He was the wisest man ever to live (except Jesus), and yet look at all the foolishness he chose to follow. It comes down to the choices we make, regardless of how much knowledge or wisdom we have. We can be real geniuses with all kinds of awards for intellect and tons of letters behind our name, but God may call us a fool for the path we have chosen. Solomon was wise, but late in life, his heart was not loyal to God (1 Kings 11).

Another comment had to do with Solomon being the wisest person on the planet, so to whom did he turn for advice? Where did Solomon go for advice? We see his regret in Ecclesiastes as he seems to describe himself as an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more (Eccl. 4:13). Did he not see anyone as his equal? Did he not respect the wisdom of anyone else because he had so much wisdom? We don’t know, but we do know that Solomon had the clear wisdom of Scripture before him, and the prophets of God who tried to teach him. He was very wise, but He later in life didn’t listen to the wisdom of God revealed in the Word, nor did He listen to those who were sent to correct him. I’ve found a lot of folks who are always in teacher mode, and have a hard time being taught. We may consider ourselves wise, and we may really value the input we give to others, but are we wise enough to listen to the advice godly people are giving us?

Great thoughts shared by the brethren in our class last night. That’s why I love Bible class.

Not swayed

And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?”
(Mark 12:14)

What did these Jewish men recognize about Jesus?

  • That He was true.
  • That He did not care about anyone’s opinion.
  • That He was not swayed by appearances.
  • That He taught the way of God in truth.

Of course their motives were sinister and vindictive, but the character of Jesus was clearly known to them.

Men, will others be able to say this about us?

  • That we are true (sincere, not fake, genuine)?
  • That we don’t get all worked up by what others think?
  • Do others see that we don’t cave in to peer pressure? Do they see us as those trying to keep up appearances?
  • Do others recognize that what we say comes from the truth of God’s word? Do they see us as not standing on the sand of our own opinions and desires but on the rock solid foundation of God’s word? They may not agree with our conclusions, but they can see what we believe is our source for our answers.

When we down to the core of what a real man or a real woman should be, it needs to include this list of qualities that others clearly saw in Jesus. Even as they were trying to destroy Jesus, they could not deny these aspects of His character.

Looking Intently in the Mirror

Thank you to Nathan Booth for getting the website techie stuff sorted out this morning. Sorry for the delay in sending out this article.

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. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
(James 1:21-25)

The word here is described as:

  • A seed implanted in the heart.
  • A mirror that reveals and exposes your character.
  • The perfect law of liberty.

We also see how we are to be doers and not hearers only.

  • If we hear but don’t do, we are deceiving ourselves. If we plant a good seed in the ground, but fail to remove all the weeds competing for the same resources, then the good seed is not going to be productive. That’s why James says to get rid of the filthiness and wickedness. Only then can the implanted word “save” our souls.
  • If we hear but don’t do, we are like one who looks intently into a mirror but then walks away and forgets what the mirror told him. The mirror tells it like it is, and I do not always like looking in the mirror. If the mirror tells me I need to lose weight and take better care of myself, what do I do with that info? Do I walk into the kitchen and eat a pound of bacon? You see, James tells us that studying the Bible can actually end up deceiving us. Not that the Bible deceives us, but that we deceive ourselves thinking we did something great by merely studying the Bible. So I read the book of James…great! What did I do with the information I studied in James? That’s what matters!
  • If we hear but don’t do, we will not be blessed. If we hear and do and “persevere,” then James says we will be blessed in our “doing.” I love how James calls the God’s Word the “perfect law of liberty.” LAW and LIBERTY don’t fit well together in our thinking. It is like chocolate and broccoli! We want to think liberty is being able to do whatever we want. Freedom from restrictions, absence of restraint, nobody telling us what to do, no inhibitions, no rules…that’s freedom! That’s actually slavery, because that’s where it ends up. With that mindset, we become enslaved to debt, pleasure, substances, people, etc. God’s rules, His perfect Law, brings liberty. Freedom is in following Him. Liberty is in being liberated from the chains of selfishness and lust.