“Go, eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.” ~Ecclesiastes 8:7-8
There are those seasons in life when the days seem to stream by quickly…too quickly. This week has been like that…busy, full, long, and yet over already…. Many older people have told me that as one gains years, the faster the time seems to fly. I am yet young, it is true, but I do believe them. One time I had a long conversation with a lovely one hundred year old woman. She told me that when one gets to be old, not only does time go by so quickly, but also that it is hard to not live in the past – and that living in the present was something she had to work at every day. However, it seemed to me that this godly old lady most definitely was living in the present, seeking to honor God however she could where she was currently. I was very glad that I had the opportunity to get to know her a little bit. She was an interesting person….
Anyways, by my own nature and personality, I tend to be a future-oriented person, so I sometimes need to stop and remind myself of some of the lessons I learned from that little one hundred year old Christian woman. One of those lessons is to remember to take the time to enjoy the blessings that God has given to me. But let me rephrase that – the blessings which God has absolutely showered upon me. Even though Ecclesiastes, with its “dark sayings and riddles,” may be better known as a somber book, I often find it refreshing and a joy to read. I used to be saddened every time I came across it – now I turn there purposefully, especially when I know I need my head screwed back on straight and my perspectives on life sorted out – again – in a more Biblical fashion.
One thing that is impressed upon me about the book of Ecclesiastes is the Preacher’s focus on the fact that we are God’s people and that God is God; and especially how he is the one who cares for us in every way. We do not have to slave throughout our lives in fear, as do those who worship demons – we are, rather, to labor in hope, in joy, building up what has been broken, cultivating what is there to be cultivated and disciplining what there is to be disciplined, knowing that history is not repeating itself in a futile, pagan cycle of life, but is working out to the glory of God and that our place in history is just that – a place in God’s history.
This reminds me of another verse in this book: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (1:9) As the apostle said so many years after the preacher wrote his book, there is no temptation we endure that is not also experienced by our brothers in Christ. Surely this is one way that there is nothing new under the sun. Nations rise and nations fall. Peoples aspire towards nobility wherever the revelation of the law of God goes – and then they transgress and fall. Individuals draw near to God, repent, obey, and he blesses them – and then they sin, despite his bountiful blessings.
Yet, for all this – all this which seems futility to those who would make their own way, to those who would make their own mark on the world and would see their name handed down for generations because of their own power, those who name their land after themselves, only to die and leave it behind to those who will not remember them – for all this, we, as God’s people, are called to live in hope, to live in a new song of praise, to live in joy – why? – for he has already accepted our works, he has already approved what we do. The words “in Christ” usually follow up verse 7 every time I read it or think upon it. For, as the New Testament makes very clear, that is how it is. In Christ – in Christ Jesus alone – we stand accepted before the Father. Our works, done for his glory, imperfect though they be, futile though they may seem to us when we look around at the swirling sin, raging unrepentance, the sorrows and griefs all around us – we are accepted in Christ Jesus and counted as holy in the eyes of the Almighty God.
And thus it is that we are to live in this world – as dying, yet alive; as alive, yet dead already. In Christ, we are accepted, made righteous, brought near to where we can praise the God of creation, worshipping him in the beauty of holiness, filled with hope and confidence that his law will be kept, his word sealed by its fulfillment, and assured that ourselves – our whole selves, body and spirit – will be brought near before the presence of Christ at the last day by the power the word of his never-failing covenant.
Therefore, the end of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.