Incentive to Service – Ecclesiastes 11:1-6

 

We’ve been looking at this book for several months now. I hope we’ve not been into it for so long you’ve forgotten how gloomy Solomon was at the beginning. At first everything he touched seemed to crumble to dust. Laughter is vanity, work is vanity, rest is vanity – even faith is vanity.” Do you know how often he has said, “All is vanity?” Thus far it has been four times, and he is not finished. ” I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”

But now listen to the man of God, the preacher, the prophet of the Lord. Now he is telling us to stick our necks out for God. He says that Jehovah is sovereign and every act of service shall be rewarded. “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.” These aren’t the words of some young preacher who is just repeating what he has heard. Solomon has learned from first-hand experience about some of the disappointments of life. Yet, the moment he looked “unto the hills from whence cometh his help” his attitude changed.

Think about what is suggested behind these confusing words.

What is this bread that ought to be scattered? For a long time this verse made no sense to me whatsoever. Do you know what happens to thin sliced, white enriched bread when it is wet? Some of you don’t because its been years since you’ve seen white enriched store-bought bread. But have you ever fed the ducks at the park? What happens to the bread they miss for a while? It is almost disgusting to think about bread sitting at the bottom of the pond at Falls Park.

But Solomon’s reference is not to the bread itself, but to the source of that bread. This is about bread in prospect. This is speaking about a farmer who has some first class seed to scatter across his field. This is prospective bread seed which produces bread. But this is not the modern wheat farmer of North America. In fact this may not even be bread as we think of it – whether whole wheat or GMO engineered. This Hebrew word is often translated “food” and sometimes even “meat” in the sense of any sort of food

In many places in the world, farmers depend on spring-time floods to water their fields. They have no irrigation and no dependable summer rain. So the farmer waits for his field to be good and wet in the spring – perhaps even submerged in water. Then sometimes even before he can see the soil, he slogs and sloshes out into his field, scattering seed, knowing that it will eventually reach the dirt, and when the water recedes, the sun will draw life out of that little kernel. He is scattering seed – his potential bread. This may not be our way of farming or planting – this is not the modern method – but it has worked successfully in some cultures for centuries.

But is Solomon thinking only of farmers, seeds and bread? Might he not be thinking of any sort of labor – from baking bread to selling bread in the market place? This could be applied to anything – any task done for the benefit of society – fixing plugged pipes, paving roads, building houses. But since we are addressing Christians, let’s declare that this is service for the Lord – or at least let’s apply it that way. This could be giving a neighbor a tract or inviting him to church. It could be preparing a lesson to teach children, or singing a well-practiced hymn. It might be providing a shoulder for someone to lean on, or an ear with which to hear his groans. This might be copying a sermon to an email or sending DVD to an acquaintance in another country. It might be a meal – bread – prepared and delivered to someone who is ill or injured. How about an earnest prayer for someone from a heart which really cares. We could apply this passage in so many different ways. Every one of us, have seed in our pockets which ought to be scattered for the Lord. Find out what it is and put it to work. But remember that all we can do is scatter; we have no control over what happens to the seed. That is something we leave to the Lord. And yet there is the promise “thou shalt find it after many days.”

What is implied by the casting of that seed? Several times this summer, Judy has mentioned the “volunteer vegetables” in her garden. She has mentioned a variety of tomato which she didn’t plant this year, but was there last year. And in the past we’ve planted potatoes, but not this year, and yet potatoes keep coming back. Of course the reason is that there are seeds we’ve missed at harvest time, or maybe the birds have helped the seeding process. But ordinarily, if we want to have a particular veggie, Judy has to specifically plant that veggie. Weeds, on the other hand, are self-dispersing and self-propagating. They can grow almost anywhere, and it seem that they do just that. That is what makes them “weeds.” But the things that are worthwhile “bread” must be laboriously planted.

Whether or not it was Solomon’s intention, it certainly was that of our Saviour – that we sow the seed He’s given to us. We have been given certain talents or abilities. Why? To make money you say? That could very well may be. But what is the Christian supposed to do with his money? Use it for God’s glory. Maybe you have been given a green thumb. You can grow anything. Can you find a scripture which tells you to hoard your produce? Maybe your surplus beans or strawberries can be used for evangelistic purposes. You could share even your knowledge of seed-casting and seed-harvesting. Maybe you’ve been blessed with free time. What do you think the Lord will say when you stand before Him at the Bema, trying to explain the time you’ve wasted. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things DONE in his body, according to that he hath DONE, whether it be good or bad.” If we have hands and seeds then we are to be seed-casting.

We have been taught certain Biblical truths. Have they been given to us for our benefit alone? “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” Always have a fresh cup of cold water, because there are always thirsty people around us. Be prepared, be willing; be available to serve the Lord – isn’t this one lesson from this chapter?

And where are we encouraged to cast this seed? Upon the waters. This sounds like pure silliness and uselessness to the untrained ear. The trained ear may hear a typological reference to humanity – the sea of people around us. But there may be another more direct application. While the field is covered with water, it looks hopeless to the unbelieving farmer. What if that water rushes off the land and carries the seed elsewhere? What if the water stays too long and the seed rots? If the seed actually germinates but the water stays, it might weaken the plant. Seed-planting in water is uninviting work, unappreciated labor – an unpromising expense of energy. But that is exactly the kind of work for which the Lord is looking. The kind of service which pleases Christ is the service which is built on faith.

Many are afraid to speak for Christ because they are afraid to offend. Hey, is that so-called friend worthy of you, if he is offended at Christ? And let’s say you speak to one hundred people and 75 vow never to let you speak to them again. But 24 of them remain friendly toward you while rejecting your witness. There is certainly no harm done. But then there is that one person, who receives the seed and sprouts with life. “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.” Should our service for the Lord be somehow linked to personal praise or reward? Must our service be in the major leagues with the spot-light upon us? It is the little unobserved things which mean the most in the sight of Him who sees everything. And besides, which quenches more thirst – Niagara Falls or a cup of water?

We are encouraged to serve Christ not concern ourselves with the results.

And don’t forget – there are still promises involved – we shall find our bread after many days.

The Lord always honors service which is done for Him – whatever it might be. Do you recall the widow and the two mites which she dropped into the treasury? That woman was not only praised at the time of her service, but she has been forever remembered. And the same can be said for Mary who gave the Lord her alabaster box of ointment And so it is with the little child who puts in her 25 cents into the box each week. She might think that no one notices or cares. But she is wrong – the Lord doesn’t miss a single penny of it. The average savings account doesn’t give much interest and produces little short-term profit. But when that little bit of savings is continued for years, the compound interest can become considerable. Some children of God shall reap amazing profits on mere nickels and dimes faithfully given. Treasures laid up in heaven have never been mislaid, lost or embezzled.

So what else should we learn from this?

Aim to sow only the best seed. There is no law that says a farmer must plant only wheat or only rye. He may plant a field of oats, and two fields of summer wheat and another of peas. But in each case he tries to grow only the best he can. Our Chris Martenson refuses to plant anything but organic seed, because it is the best. Christian, what does the Lord want out of your life? What kind of service? The answer to that question is different for you than it is for me. But the quality of the answer remains the same. Don‘t be satisfied with accidental planing – work at the best crop possible.

And another thing is that it is up to the Lord to give the harvest. Paul planted, Apollos watered but the Lord gave the increase. Man has not yet made a single seed of any kind – God made all of them. It is the Lord who gives them life and vitality – each is a marvel of divine engineering. And yet every farmer knows that once it is planted, it is still in the hands of the Lord. He may turn it withersoever He will. All the Lord asks of us is to sow the kind of bread that He can bless.

Verse 2 tells the Christian not to limit the opportunity for the Lord to work Solomon says, If you think 7 is enough do 8. The more uncertain the situation, the more need there is to perform. “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.”

Something else to keep in mind is to use the right test in evaluating your crops. It is true that if we cast our bread it shall be eventually be found. But there is no guarantee that the finding shall be in this life. You may labor and serve, pray and perform, sing and worship with all your heart, and never see a soul saved. But the Lord knoweth them that are His and He knows what they have done in His name. We must let him to the judging and bless the reaping. We simply obey and serve in faith.