Life’s Enigmas (Part 5)

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. (Ecclesiastes 11:9 ESV). We return to the eleventh chapter of the Preacher’s writing and find the second practical step in achieving joy in life. We are to live wisely. He says, “Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.” I am not sure I would have ever told my congregations to follow this path of life. Perhaps there are some people who could do this without destructive consequences; however, great care would need to be taken with this kind of preaching in general. Moses certainly wouldn’t have done this. He characterized his audience as “stubborn, unbelieving, and rebellious” (cf. Numbers 14:11), and because of this he charged them “not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes” (cf. Numbers 15:39). The Apostle Paul struck a balance when he wrote to the Ephesians telling them to live “making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (cf. Ephesians 4:15-16). In our reading today the context is a bit different. The rest of Ecclesiastes strongly clarifies that the Preacher is by no means commending an unrestrained, worldly pursuit of pleasure. He is addressing the wise and not the fool. Understanding the way of wisdom then helps us make this application in our lives. Here are some of the characteristics of a wise man: First, the wise have a good sense of timing. It is another way of emphasizing delayed gratification. It suggests that the wise person seeks what is tangible and attainable rather than to give in to wandering, unhealthy desire of envy or covetousness. Second, the wise understand the balance of grace and personal responsibility. We must be sure to make every step, every decision, every click, every purchase, every glance, knowing “that for all these things God will bring you into judgment” (v. 9). Duane Garrett explains that “awareness of divine judgment turns the pursuit of joy away from crossing over into sins.” Because life and work is a gift, and because God alone brings joy we are accountable to how we engage it. Third, the wise understand the “fear of the Lord.” The Lord will hold us accountable for every word and every deed, and this fact must color how we pursue joy. At the core, what the Preacher is calling for is a daily ethic grounded in the fear of God. For the Preacher, to rejoice is to find God-given and God-approved, heart-felt pleasure in God and his gifts amidst both prosperity and adversity. Present joys supply a foretaste of eternal pleasures beyond judgment, and past joys help fuel hope for brighter...

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