INTRODUCTION – Ecclesiastes is a great book for those of us who tend to be too black and white, too anal, too uptight, too dependent on formulas, or just too unlike Christ!
I want to confess that it is not the easiest book to understand, much less apply or heed. Parts of Chapter 8 are especially challenging. One of the things that helped me this week was my reading on Wednesday in Thomas a Kempis’s “Imitation of Christ” re: the study of scripture and how to handle difficult to understand portions. Here’s what he said, “Our curiosity proves a hindrance to us, for while reading the Scriptures we sometimes want to stop to debate and discuss, when we should simply read on. If you wish to derive profit from your reading of Scripture, do it with humility, simplicity and faith; “
I think what I would add to that is that with books like Ecclesiastes it is very important to focus on what you can understand, and to trust that when you come back to it year after year, more of its mysteries will be unfolded to you. Sometimes we are not ready for understanding a particular passage, but we might be in a month or a year or two.
I want to reiterate what Mark has shared with us about this book and that is that the preacher of Ecclesiastes does not offer us formulas. But he does offer us wisdom. And that’s what I want to talk to you about this morning .
Let’s read vs. 1 of chapter 8 together. “Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter? A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam.”
Because this is an obscure verse, probably not on most people’s memory verse list, I would like to read it from a few other translations.
“Wisdom puts light in the eyes, And gives gentleness to words and manners.” The Message “Wisdom brightens a man’s face and changes its hard appearance.” NIV “A man’s wisdom makes his face shine, and the hardness of his countenance is changed.” Amplified
One of the major themes of the book of Ecclesiastes is that of wisdom. It appears in almost every chapter in some form or another.The word “wise” appears 24x’s; “wisdom” 27 x’s.
So what is wisdom? Well the Bible doesn’t really define it. It speaks much of its value; It speaks much of our need for wisdom. It speaks much of how to obtain it. It speaks often – as this verse does – of the fruit of wisdom. It speaks of the consequences of not obtaining and walking in wisdom.
So any human definition needs to be weighed with the balance and revelation of scripture. But one way we might think of what wisdom is – is this: 1. Wisdom is the ability to think like God thinks. To think His thoughts. To have His values. To feel about things like He does. To assess things like He assesses them. In short it is to have the mind of Christ, who is for us wisdom.
Wisdom solves all kinds of problems. And the problem we are introduced to here is that of being stern, harsh, rigid, or grumpy or mean.
You see, wisdom delivers us from the mindsets and things that cause us to be stern or mean. Some of those things are: Satan’s lies, fear, suspicion, dread, anger, insecurity, worry, control, a sense of being threatened or challenged, etc. Wisdom enables us in the most stressful of circumstances – – to lock in on who God is, on what He has done for us and what He has promised to do for us, and on what is true about us regardless of our present adverse circumstances – – and thus wisdom enables us to respond in gentleness, kindness and calmness even when we are being challenged or crossed or persecuted or threatened. Wisdom enables us to smile, to relax and trust, to not react, to walk in the joy of the Lord.
I want to say this morning that in the kingdom of God – sternness or meanness is never appropriate or justified……. Sadly in our culture we have just assumed this is the way authority figures have to be. And one of the things that has reinforced that is stern and mean people are often placed in authority, and are successful, and we value the success that they bring or the money they bring in or the things they accomplish– and because of all of that – we tend to turn a blind eye to their ungodly sternness and anger and the grumpiness they walk in.
This is why when the apostle Paul gave instruction on what kind of men we should appoint as elders in the churches he said among other things that they must not be pugnacious (which means eager or quick to argue, quarrel or fight), but gentle, peaceable, self controlled, and not self –willed, not quick tempered, etc.
Ever had a parent or older sibling or teacher or coach or pastor or spouse relate to you out of stern-ness? Especially when you cross them or ask them for something or do something wrong in their presence? Some of you have actually endured this for many years and it has left its mark on you.
Well the good news this morning is “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.” Prayer time for healing from trauma and abuse from stern authority figures
Now it may be that some of us here this morning are realizing we have a tendency ourselves to be stern at times. So if wisdom illumines a man or a woman and causes their stern face to beam or shine, how do we grow in that wisdom? Allow me to suggest five stepping stones towards walking in this kind of wisdom.
1. Let’s begin where God says to begin: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, ….Prov. 9:10 Feeling like God feels about sin and evil and rebellion and unbelief is fearing the Lord. Caring more about what He says and how He feels than we do about what any human or human organization or entity says or thinks is fearing the Lord. That’s why David prayed, “Establish Your word to Your servant as that which produces reverence or fear for You.”
2. Let’s make humility one of our greatest pursuits – realizing it opens the door for wisdom and for God’s grace to be poured out on us “When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom.” Prov. 11:2 What does humility look like? Agreeing with Jesus and really feeling that “apart from Him I can do nothing”. And agreeing with the apostle Paul that “In my flesh dwells no good thing”.
Shakespeare had it right when he said, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool” (in his flesh)
3. Ask for it. James says in ch. 1 vs. 5, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” God is the giver of wisdom and He gives it in response to our persistent asking, which demonstrates that we really value it and want it.
4. Fourth, let’s get familiar with what true wisdom looks like: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” James 3:17
5. Fifth, you may need to renounce some generational sin patterns in this matter of sternness. Many of us have grown up in families and extended families where one or more of our parents and perhaps uncles and aunts or grandparents were stern and grumpy and easily angered and offended.
We like to say that God is in a good mood. And praise God that’s true. But for many of us our most formative years were surrounded with parents, older siblings, and relatives who often were in a bad mood, and that sinful trait has been passed on to us. So you may need to find some time to pray with someone you can trust and out loud renounce those generational sins. If that is something you have not done before, you might start with a simple prayer like this, “Father, I repent for the sin of being stern or mean to others. In the name of Jesus – I renounce and break the effects of the generational sin of sternness and grumpiness in my family. I declare it has no hold on me any longer. I am dead to this sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. I embrace gentleness and kindness and the joy of the Lord as my inheritance in Christ.” Amen.
Furthermore if you had relatives like this, you may need to forgive them for their sternness and meanness towards you if you haven’t already. Jesus in the Lord’s prayer or the model prayer makes it clear that when we ask God for forgiveness we must also be ready to offer it to those who have sinned against us.
Communion – – No matter how deeply affected we have been by sin patterns in our clans, Jesus’s blood can break every one of these pattern in us, cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and impart the very life of Christ to us. Let’s read I Corinthians 11:23-28 together as we prepare our hearts to partake of communion together.