Vain Worship – Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

  With what we know about his father, we might assume that if Solomon were alive today, he would have been raised in church. David had his spiritual ups and downs like every other human being, but he was essentially a man of God. He was often on the road, even living among the Philistines and other unbelievers, so there weren’t churches, synagogues or the tabernacle to attend three times a week. Even after he became king, he didn’t have the opportunity to drive a couple miles to be greeted by a few good brethren at the Baptist Church. But if he had the same opportunity you and I have, he would have been here just as often as we try to be. And Solomon would have been raised in the same way as your children have been raised. But second generation Christians have a much harder time serving the Lord than the first generation. Their commitment is different – or at least it comes from a different direction. Usually, they were not at the ground floor in building the congregation and calling the pastor. And their faithfulness and loyalty is different from that of their parents. Solomon, as a child of God, was a man after God’s own heart as David had been. But being of a different temperament and nature, his tastes, outlook and life-style were different from his father’s. And so we have heard Solomon suggest some dissatisfaction with his life. “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and,...

Friends – Ecclesiastes 4

  Solomon, the royal preacher, is musing about life – its qualities, problems and purpose. He has tasted, tested and eventually rejected a great many things which lesser men think are important to life. He deals with the same things men and women are pursuing nearly 3,000 years later. Look around you – does the average piece of advertising really illustrate the important things of life? I saw an ad the other day for a new kind of snack, which appears to be just like a dozen others, but in a lighter, fluffier form, and therefore less expensive to make, but which will probably cost even more. Do we need another kind of snack food? And what about bumper stickers? What do we learn about life by studying the back-end of cars? If not on cars, then perhaps today’s t-shirts reflect the true meaning of the American dream. We are told that If you have tasted everything else, but not the new Diet drink, then you have not tasted life. And then we come to the beer commercials, the car commercials and Carribean Cruise commercials. Solomon says, “Wait a minute, I’ve done all of those things and a hundred more.” “I have found that everything I have ever done, outside of Jehovah God, has been vanity and vexation.” In this chapter 4, the divinely-gifted wise man says, “Here is one true necessity for a well-spent life – “ Good companionship is essential; fellowship is important. “Two are better than one.” On a very cold day, how can a single person really be warm? “A three-fold cord cannot be broken.”...

Folly or Faith? – Ecclesiastes 3

  One of the problems in studying Ecclesiastes is we often don’t know which Solomon is speaking to us. Is this Solomon the undeniable intellectual genius – the super-smart child of Adam. Or is this the other son of Adam – the sinful, self-filled reprobate. At times it is the Spirit-inspired, Heaven-bound saint of God – the child of his father David? Sometimes when the strange dog barks, it is hard to tell if he’s glad to see you, or if he’s hungry. At times this book appears to be contradictory. In one breath its words take us to the palace of God. It lifts us up on angels wings and shows us the Merciful and Mighty Messiah. And then in the next breath it seems to carry a stench – up from the gutters of Calcutta. Take verse 17 as an example: “I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.” Indeed, these are the words of God’s preacher – “Ecclesiasticus.” But then we have to listen to a whole lot of despair. Verse 19 – “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.” When we put them together what do we have? Verse by verse we have to ask...

Turn, Turn, Turn – Ecclesiastes 3:1-10

  In this chapter Solomon makes a change in his writing style. He drops the autobiographical form of the first two chapters and temporarily waxes philosophical. He could have put this to music and added another million dollars to his already fabulous fortune. Although what he says is obvious, the way in which he puts things catches people’s attention. “Turn, turn, turn.” I’m sure that the folk rock band, the Byrds, would not appreciate my outline. But let’s consider God’s sovereignty, our tenacity, and the resultant opportunity. First there is God’s SOVEREIGNTY. Would it be a good idea after church tonight to go home to our gardens and plant orange tree seedlings? The weather has changed; we are not going to have any more single digit temperatures for at least six or eight months. Despite the warmer days, planting orange or grapefruit trees, would not be a good idea. Because with a great many other things in life there are seasons which must be respected. I don’t care what tomorrow’s forecast might say, the weather in the Northwest is not conducive to growing certain fruits and crops. Solomon speaks of “seasons.” A season is basically a rule of time. Perhaps we could use the word “dispensation” in our conversation about seasons. Sometimes the seasonal rules are painfully strict. And at other times the rules are bent without seriously breaking any bones. The next six months of 2018 might be very mild, but don’t donate your winter parka to the thrift store, because winter will return, unless the Lord returns first. A “season” is a RULE of time – and...

Suicidal Sovereign – Ecclesiastes 2

  For several weeks recently, I was looking for insurance protection for the church. At first, I was looking for nothing more than accident or liability insurance against slip and fall accidents. I came close to buying a commercial package which any business might buy. But then I ran into a couple of good agents who handle nothing but insurance for churches. And I bought a reasonably priced policy which includes everything from personal accidents to fires and to ministerial liability. Ministerial liability? This is something for which the local coffee shop doesn’t need insurance, but churches do. For example, families are suing churches and pastors, who counsel people whose lives are falling apart. Let’s say that a man addicted to pornography comes to me, seeking my help, and I give him advice about how to overcome his sin. But then, after three months of counsel, the man kills himself, leaving a note declaring that his pornography addiction made him so depressed that he decided to take his own life. Surviving family members of such suicides have begun suing the pastors who failed to deliver their loved ones from their sins. I know that such law suits are unjust, but this is life in the ungodly, lawsuit-prone, United States. Settlements have reached into the millions of dollars. This is just one example. The actual details might involve a failing marriage or drug abuse or any number of other things. Now, we (or I) need to have insurance to cover such a problem should it ever arise. This is where my introduction begins to touch on Ecclesiastes 2. Even though...

An Experiment in Riotous Mirth – Ecclesiastes 2:1-2, 10-11

  Because I want to maintain some consistency in our study of Ecclesiastes, this afternoon, we shall look at a subject and text which I addressed about a year ago. I sincerely hope that some of you will remember a point or two that you’ll hear today. One of the fears of every sincere pastor is that people only appear to be listening to his messages. Perhaps through a little osmosis, a point or two will creep into some hearts, but if there isn’t a distinct effort to hear the still small voice of God, the Lord will not be effectively heard. One way to deal with our mental and spiritual weakness is repetition. Please bear with me – yes, you have heard much of today’s message before. I was 11-years-old in the 1960. That essentially means that I grew up in that tumultuous period of time – as did some of you. Those were the days of Viet Nam, war riots, and race riots, LSD, hippies and a great deal of turmoil. And more than one of my high school class-mates became drop outs. Not only did some drop out of school but some dropped out society. Some moved south and became beach bums, and others moved to the hills and became ski bums. It was not uncommon in those days to hear someone say that he or she was going off to “find himself.” My sister did just that, eventually flying off to Switzerland, as did at least one of my classmates. Those were days when Hindu gurus were as common as houseflies, and my sister found...

The Sorrow of Wisdom – Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

  I am getting in way over my head in our theme for this evening. But, as you know, that is not particularly unusual; I do that quite often. As God’s wise man often does, Solomon is going to talk to us about wisdom. Am I qualified to comment on the wisdom of Solomon? Certainly not in myself. On the other hand, should I never preach about subjects about which I am not a personal expert? Should I never condemn adultery since I have never committed adultery? The fact is, I can address that subject because I have in my hands the unadulterated Word of God. When what I say about adultery comes from the Bible, I can speak with authority, even though I’m not speaking out of experience. And like the subject of adultery, or drug abuse, or murder, I’m speaking this evening about something about which I’ve only read a few things, now and then. “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” Remember that WHEN Solomon says this, he’s speaking as man out of fellowship with God. That does not mean he can’t be lead of the Spirit, and speaking the mind of God. But personally, he is only coming back to the Lord, whom he left for a period of sin. Now, he has one eye on heaven and the other on earth, but the heavenly eye has some sand in it. He’s in the middle of the lake; his outboard motor is down and he has only one oar. He just keeps going around in circles, despite all...

Unstraightened Crookedness – Ecclesiastes 1:15

  Here in Ecclesiastes Solomon is describing a spiritual journey. It was HIS journey – which began under the tutelage of his godly father David. But Solomon was detoured and led away from the Lord by the lusts of his flesh. Generally speaking people are not free to sin or not to sin. Rather they are slaves to their own flesh – which means they are more prone to sin than not to sin. Every baby is a drug baby – with addictions in their blood – they are addicted to sin. And despite good parents and education, more often than not we all prefer the detours which take us away from godliness. While he was away, Solomon was tasting every possible sin – and crossing every conceivable line. When the Lord finally brought him to his senses, he looked back at the path he had been walking and tried to describe it. That description is what we find in the Book of Ecclesiastes. As he speaks to us in chapter 1, Solomon is still looking at life through only one eye. If you ever lost one of your senses, like sight or hearing, you’d survive, but your life would be different. If I broke my glasses and I couldn’t find an old pair, my life would get complicated in a hurry. At the very least I would misinterpret things going on around me. Perhaps a better illustration might be the loss of a single lense out of my glasses. With only a monocle, I would loose my depth of vision – I wouldn’t be able to judge distances....

Vanity of Vanities – Ecclesiastes 1:1-18

  How many Christians, do you suppose, have really studied this book? I wonder how many have even read this book more than a time or two. We are going to try to remedy that oversight beginning this evening. One reason why Ecclesiastes isn’t read more than once is due to it’s strange presentation. Most people haven’t got the slightest idea on how to read this book. First, unlike most of the Bible, it can be depressing. The Jews were not even sure they wanted it in their scriptures. And at times it seems to teach exactly the opposite of the rest of the Bible. Verse 4 is an example – “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.” Generations succeed one another – I get that. But, the earth abideth for ever? Doesn’t the Book of Revelation say that the world as we know it will be burned up and cast away? The key to the understanding of this book is found in the biography of Solomon. The penman of Ecclesiastes is David’s royal son. Verse 1 – “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” Most of your Bibles have a subtitle under “Ecclesiastes” which says, “The Preacher.” The title “Ecclesiastes” is a Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew word which is traditionally translated as “Teacher” or “Preacher.” Haven’t we been hearing a lot of Solomon’s meddling, I mean “preaching,” in his Book of Proverbs? Ecclesiastes might be looked upon as a sequel to Proverbs – or is it more accurately a prequel? When...

The Adrenalin of Battle – Ephesians 6:18

  This afternoon we will finish our little study on the panoply of the Christian – the armor of God. Paul has been painting a picture of the best-dressed soldier of Christ. His medium as been watercolors, rather than crisp, clean oils or even pastels. I say “watercolors” because the picture is metaphorical – allegorical. While generally accurate, the details of each piece have been left to our own eye and the light in which we are currently standing. We could probably study this same scripture again in a year’s time and come up with things we haven’t considered yet. It’s not because the scripture has changed, but the darkness of the day of battle changes. So we’ve looked at the breastplate of righteous, the girdle of truth, the shoes, the helmet of salvation, the shield and the sword of the spirit. Notice that our translators have not put a full stop at the end of verse 17. They have used a colon rather than a period, telling us it was Paul’s intent to add verse 18 to the rest of the armor. But he doesn’t explain what part of the panoply or what role prayer plays in all of this. At first glance prayer seems to me to be out of place in the context of the armor. It’s certainly NOT out of place in the larger context of our wrestling match against principalities and powers, but is prayer our night-vision goggles or a sniper’s rifle? I have never read of any Christian author using it this way, but I have a suggested explanation. Most commentators simply explain...

The Sword of the Spirit – Ephesians 6:17

  One of our hymns asks, “Am I a soldier of the cross?” For the child of God, the answer must be “Yes!” for this is our calling as long as we live in this world. Paul told Timothy – & through him he told us – to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” The Word of God knows nothing of soldiers retiring after three tours at the battle front. The Christian has been called to a continuous, unrelenting battle up to the death. When the children of Israel crossed the Jordan and entered the land of promise – “a land of milk and honey” – they also entered a new kind of life – but it was not a life of peace and ease. They continued to fight the enemy, for there were as many adversaries in the land as out of it. And in the New Testament the believer’s relationship to Satan is much the same. Paul did not present the idea that Satan will cease to fight against the person who has trusted Christ. Nor did he present the Christian life as a tranquil, placid existence. Rather, Paul’s instructions anticipated a life of continuous conflict. And the more we resolve to be faithful to the Lord Jesus the greater the conflict will become. While our future prospect is that of being transported out of this earth into a new sphere in the heavenlies, as long as we live on his earth we will be in the midst of conflict. We now come to the offensive part of our panoply. Thus far we have...

The Helmet of Salvation – Ephesians 6:17

I assume that none of us are under any delusions – this armor is figurative, not literal. I have known pastors who asked their membership to pretend to put on each piece. Together they pulled down the helmet of salvation and strapped on the breastplate of righteousness. The intention was to make every realize that despite being figurative, this is figurative of something real. I have heard of churches where the membership was told to put on the Christian armor as they were getting dressed in the morning. It was an effort to make people realize that they are in a spiritual battle every day of their lives. But since this is allegorical, it tends to make interpretation a bit difficult. As I tried to point out that the preparation of the gospel could be interpreted different ways. I think that it is preparation for evangelism, which necessitates a knowledge of the gospel intellectually, not just being in a state of salvation. And this helmet of salvation involves similar interpretational problems. Isn’t this letter being addressed to people who were already children of God? Paul is not exhorting his readers to trust Christ for salvation. No Roman soldier would think of going into battle without a helmet to cover his head. At that time this helmet was probably a cap made of leather onto which metal plates had been fastened. A few helmets were made of solid metal – cast in the form of a head-covering, but that was most likely too expensive for the common soldier. But whatever the external form, its purpose was the same – to...

The Shield of Faith – Ephesians 6:16

  The word “shield” is relatively common in the Bible, being found sixty-six times in the Old Testament. Not only is it fairly common, but it is also fairly complicated. It can refer to many different related things: Sometimes a shield was made of metal and sometimes it was of the skin of an animal. Sometimes it was a piece of military equipment, but at other times it was a decoration. Sometimes it was real and literal and sometimes it was used figuratively. And then we come to the New Testament. The prevalence of the shield in the Old Testament is magnified by it’s rarity in the New Testament. Ephesians 6 is the only place where we find it in the New Testament. One of the curious things about the shield is its application to the Lord. Roughly a third of the references talk either about the shield being given by God or actually being God. “Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy gentleness hath made me great.” You can use a concordance to find these references, but I’ll just read a few verses. “Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.” “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” And then there is that other point – the Lord is our shield. “After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am...

The Shoes of Gospel Preparation – Ephesians 6:15

  When Aimy Zeweniuk was here a few weeks ago, she came up to me and said, “I really like your shoes; can I have them?” She was joking of course about taking my shoes – because they were obviously too big for her. But she was not joking about admiring my brown wingtip brogue dress shoes. If she could find a pair in her size she’d buy and wear them. Emphasis on fashion has shifted over the years. It used to be that men wore wingtips but women didn’t, and now it’s the other way around. And shoes used to be nothing more than protection from stones, thorns and burning sand. But now they are fashion statements, and those fashions change from year or year, season to season. Paul showed he had some concept of the importance of footwear for the soldier as well as the traveler. I wonder how he became aware of the Roman military panoply. Were his comments based on general knowledge, or had he made some specific observations? After he has told us to be sure our waists are girded with truthfulness and we are wearing the breastplate of personal, practical righteousness, he says, having “your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” In Paul’s day, Romans, as well as Jews, normally wore lightweight sandals consisting of a leather sole tied on the feet with leather thongs. Sometimes they were decorated with metal or even jewels. But when a soldier was sent into battle, he laid aside his lightweight sandals and put on a pair of heavy, thick-soled shoes. Sometimes there...

The Breastplate of Righteousness – Ephesians 6:14

  I am surprised once in a while by one the Lord’s minor miracles. Three weeks ago, the Lord laid on my heart a review of the Christian’s armor, and today that brings us to “the breastplate of righteousness.” Next Wednesday, our on-going devotionals from Proverbs brings us to chapter 10 verse 2 – “Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death.” And a few weeks ago Brother Stewart began reading a great commentary on the Book of Romans. He pointed out to me that I should look at the word “righteousness” as found in Romans 3. Among several other verses there we read – “God hath set forth (Christ) to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” It’s as though the Lord wants me to look at a single subject from several different angles. And here in Ephesians we find it in the context of our day-to-day living. “Stand fast therefore, having your loins gift about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness.” In the Roman army, it was a commander’s responsibility to see that the soldiers who went into battle under his command were adequately equipped to meet the enemy. And as we have seen, Christians have been called as soldiers of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have a faithful Commander, the Captain of salvation, who has provided all the armament we...