Enduring Love

In our reading today (Ecclesiastes 11-Song of Solomon 8), we conclude the poetic books of the Old Testament.  Tomorrow we begin the Prophets, seventeen books in all.

In our English Bibles, the poetic books are arranged so that they end on the note of romance with the Song.  In my book I focused on a verse in the final chapter:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
    as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
    jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
    the very flame of the Lord.

Many waters cannot quench love,
    neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
    all the wealth of his house,
    he would be utterly despised.  Song of Solomon 8:6,7 (ESV)

How strong is human love?  Some find it powerful enough to last till the grave.  But not all do.  Jesus said there would be no human marriage in heaven, but the Church, called His body and His bride, will be married to Him (Luke 20:34-36; Ephesians 5:22-33; Revelation 19:6-10).  Human love at its best is a faint picture of the eternal marriage of Christ and His bride.

It is of little consequence that you have not found lifelong love here on earth, as long as you have by grace through faith become part of Christ’s Church.  You will be part of His bride in a love stronger than death.  If you have this hope, rejoice in the coming marriage of the Lamb.

Weekend Readings July 23-24, 2016

Here are our weekend readings along with my selected focus verses:

Saturday, July 23 Ecclesiastes 3-6

Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness.  I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work.  I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts.                                  Ecclesiastes 3:16-18

Sunday, July 24 Ecclesiastes 7-10

 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you.  Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others. Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

Have a great weekend.  Enjoy the Lord with His people.  See you again on Monday.

For more on these passages see Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 Days available on Amazon in either Kindle ($4.99) or print format ($12.99).

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted,  are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Escape from Vanity

We can be free not to live our lives vainly controlled by the fear of man.

Today’s reading: Ecclesiastes 10-12; 2 Corinthians 11:16-32

13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.                                      Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!                                                                                   2 Corinthians 11:19-21

The book of Ecclesiastes closes with a final overarching statement about man’s duty. Fear God and keep His commandments because you will face Him in judgment. It seems to contradict the oft-repeated phrase, “All is vanity.” All does seem to be vain, at times. But all is not really vanity, because, while your hard work may not be fully rewarded and crime may pay in the short run, God is going to judge every deed, not only those which are easily observable but the secret ones, too. Justice will be done, when we meet God after this life is over.

Paul continues to admonish the Corinthians about their gullible trust in fools, those phony apostles who were doing Satan’s work. He stoops to their level, in a sense, by defending himself and showing that his suffering demonstrates the authenticity of his calling by God.

The main reason people “gladly bear with fools” is that they desire to please them. They fear being rejected by others, even those whose opinion clearly is of no consequence. They do not fear God, but fear man so they are easily manipulated, coerced, and led to foolishness. Proverbs 29:25 shows that the way to freedom from this malady is by replacing it with the trust in God.

Do you suffer fools gladly? Turn away from this through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who died for this sin and gives His forgiven, Spirit-empowered disciples a proper fear of God. This is the duty we owe to Him, our Creator and Judge. Those who fear God may suffer for it in this world, but in the end they will be approved by God, the only One whose opinion matters. Your life will not be lived in vain.

Wisdom: True and False

One must beware of the distinction between deception which passes as true wisdom and true wisdom which can be imperceptible and overlooked.

Today’s reading: Ecclesiastes 7-9; 2 Corinthians 11:1-15

16 But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.                                                        Ecclesiastes 9:16

For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.                                                                                          2 Corinthians 11:2-3

Solomon in reflecting on how wisdom works in the real world relates a story of a small city that was attacked by a great army. Through the wisdom of an anonymous resident of the city, a poor man, the city overcame the attack. It is not hard to imagine the great party that the people held. But did they honor their benefactor? Did they erect a monument to the hero? No! He was forgotten. The presumptuous populace didn’t bother to find out his identity or didn’t care about the poor, wise man. We are not told how the wise man responded to the slight, but if he was wise enough to create such a successful strategy for victory in war, he was probably wise enough to forgive the colossal oversight and trust God for ultimate recognition. The city fathers should be faulted for their failure to recognize the presence of greatness in their midst.

The members of the church in the ancient city of Corinth, on the other hand, did recognize and honor deceivers in their midst. The false teachers that had come to them were attempting to draw them away from “a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”   They impressed the Corinthians who failed to see them for what they were, emissaries of Satan, the one who “disguises himself as an angel of light” (vs. 11).  Foolishness never shows its hand. Satan never comes as a horned creature, dressed in red pajamas and carrying a pitch fork. He comes showing what seems to be superior knowledge and wisdom.

Make it your aim to be well-informed of biblical truth so that you are never drawn away from love for Jesus Christ, the Man who by His eternal wisdom delivered the city of His people from the imposing army of the evil one. Reject all counterfeit messengers and their phony gospel. Distinguish true wisdom from false. Things are not always the way they seem.

 

Pleasing God

God’s opinion of us is what matters.

Today’s reading: Ecclesiastes 4-6; 2 Corinthians 10

4 When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow.                                                                               Ecclesiastes 5:4

18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.                                                                         2 Corinthians 10:18

There is a common fallacy being foisted upon the unsuspecting public in our society today. It goes, “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less.” As with all fallacies, there is some truth, but along with it is a dangerous, unbiblical implication. It is true we cannot by our actions manipulate God, or make Him change in any way, but this mantra seems to say, “What you do doesn’t matter. God doesn’t care about your personal behavior. Sin all you want. God still loves you. Neglect the means of grace. God still loves you. If you make an effort to serve Him, he won’t even notice. He loves you just the same.”

Solomon warned his readers about being casual in their relationship to God. The Lord “has no pleasure in fools,” he told them. It does matter if you make a vow to God and then delay to keep it. God is not pleased with such foolishness. “God is the one you must fear,” he declared (5:7).

Paul also was concerned about pleasing God. The Apostle had been denigrated by others who took pride in themselves. That gave him the context to propound his view of whose opinion matters. Clearly, all that matters is how the Lord views you. All the accolades or criticisms of the world do not affect God’s evaluation. The commendation we should seek is God’s and He knows what is really going on in our outward behavior and in our hearts.

Does God care whether we are faithful or not? Yes, absolutely. We do not earn our forgiveness, but we do show evidence of it by the level of seriousness we give to our vows and spiritual disciplines. God is not a cruel taskmaster. He is no demanding tyrant. Yes, His love is secure, but He calls us to grow in holiness and to be faithful to the means of grace which He has provided. Seek to please God.

Why Life is Not Vain

The gospel of Jesus Christ shows us why the earthly life of believers, while far from as complete as it will be in glory, is also not vain as Solomon thought.

Today’s reading: Ecclesiastes 1-3; 2 Corinthians 9

20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?                    Ecclesiastes 3:20-22

10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.                                  2 Corinthians 9:10-12

Solomon, who, I believe, wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, had the time, money, and motivation to invest in the pursuit of the meaning of life. But he came up with a rather bleak picture. His conclusion, after all that study and experimentation, was that “All is vanity.” The best humans can hope for, he concluded, is   “…to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;  also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (3:12b-13).  Somehow it feels like something is missing, something that transcends this world. Certainly, Solomon grasps this too, as he says, “…[God] has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (3:11)

But God’s self-revelation continued with the coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the announcement of the Kingdom of God. Paul writes to those in Corinth who have heard this message and who are trusting in God’s Son for salvation. He tells them that their faith expressed in generosity for the poor is actually sowing a harvest of righteousness that results in praise and thanksgiving to God.

When God’s people use the resources He supplies to serve others, this action produces win-win results for all. Genuine needs are met. Those who give are blessed. God is glorified. Far from being a vain, useless enterprise, generosity and good works produces lasting fruit. Take opportunities to give today. May the eternal, triune God be glorified and may you be blessed!

Enduring Love

Today’s reading: Ecclesiastes 11:1-Song of Solomon 8:14

My selection: Song of Solomon 8:6,7

6 Set me as a seal upon your heart,

as a seal upon your arm,

for love is strong as death,

jealousy is fierce as the grave.

Its flashes are flashes of fire,

the very flame of the Lord.

7 Many waters cannot quench love,

neither can floods drown it.

If a man offered for love

all the wealth of his house,

he would be utterly despised.

My reflections: True love between a husband and wife must endure a lifetime of trials and stresses, many waters and even floods. Will it last? That is the question many a young person has asked standing at the threshold of adult life.

Experience shows that sometimes that apparently endless love of youth endures the trials of life and sometimes it does not. What is the difference? Mere physical attraction is not enough. The strength and beauty of youth fades away with time. Ecclesiastes 12 paints a dramatic portrait of the body wearing down and desire failing.

Commitment is the difference. The bride says “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm…” She is right to require this. Only this kind of permanent seal that affects both the heart and the body will endure until death breaks it.

My challenge: If you are in love, are you committed? Can you say, “I have set you as a seal upon my heart, as a seal upon my arm,”  that is, my heart is yours,  my body is yours. Will your love endure the flood waters that are sure to come? Do not enter into marriage without that commitment. To the already-married, I say, search your heart and determine to make this kind of commitment to your spouse, if you have not already.

Tomorrow’s reading: Isaiah 1:1-4:6

Overlooking a Curse; Forgiving an Offender

Today’s reading: Ecclesiastes 7:1-10:20

My selection: Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.

My reflections: Solomon says one should not be too concerned about the random comments of people. If you listen long enough you will hear the most bizarre things. Someone, who should honor you, will instead curse you. But wait, says the wise king, you have done this, too.

The point, Solomon is making, is you should ignore a lot of what is being said about you, because you need others to ignore some of the things you have said about them.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ we learn that God does not merely overlook sins, but He forgives sinners who repent. The Lord amplified this concept of forgiveness in His parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35). One who is forgiven ought to show forgiveness. Forgiveness should promote more forgiveness. To overlook offenses is good but to forgive them is godly.

My challenge: Beware of taking to heart all you hear. Remember: a fool will allow anger to become “lodged” in his heart (Eccl. 7:9). Overlook. Forgive as you have been forgiven.

Tomorrow’s reading: Ecclesiastes 11:1-Song of Solomon 8:14

Disillusionment with Heroes

Today’s reading: Ecclesiastes 3:1-6:12

My selection: Ecclesiastes 3:16-18

16 Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. 18 I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts.

My reflections: The writer of Ecclesiastes, probably King Solomon, had suffered a loss of idealism, that there exists in human society pockets of pure goodness and uprightness. He no longer believed that familiar cliche “man is basically good.” His heroes were unmasked. He began to see men as no more than beasts. This is partly true, because, like beasts, men die.  But unlike beasts, men (and women) face the judgment of God.

Controversy rages today among historians and biographers over how we should view our so-called national heroes like Thomas Jefferson. Was he a great, wise, noble founding father or a despicable, immoral, exploiting slave owner? Should we admire him or denounce him? As Christians, we can neither idolize any human figure nor completely disregard God’s providence working through fallen human beings to bring about His purposes. Jefferson was more evil than some of us previously realized, but also one whom God, in His providence, used to complete His purposes in establishing our nation.

My challenge: God will ultimately judge every human being. Meanwhile, we may not excuse ourselves from accountability to Him by hiding behind someone we deem worse than us. To each of us is given a talent to use wisely for His glory and His kingdom. Use it well today. Jefferson could not hide and neither can we.

And remember, the real “hero” in human history is the God-Man, Jesus Christ, in Whom there is redemption from sin and guilt for all who believe in Him (Ephesians 1:3-14).

Tomorrow’s reading: Ecclesiastes 7:1-10:20

An Excellent Wife; A Grateful Husband

Today’s reading: Proverbs 31:1-Ecclesiastes 2:26

My selection: Proverbs 31:10-12

10 An excellent wife who can find?

She is far more precious than jewels.

11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,

and he will have no lack of gain.

12 She does him good, and not harm,

all the days of her life.

My reflections: I am fairly certain that a vast number of wives who read this chapter do not feel adequate to meet the standards of this multi-talented, consistently-disciplined super woman. Probably there never has been any single woman who completely fulfilled this description day in and day out over the course of a lifetime.

My challenge: Depending on your personality, wives, you will either be challenged or frustrated by Proverbs 31. Let it not frustrate you.  As a believer in Jesus Christ, you are accepted in Him despite your imperfections. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). His mercies never come to an end, and they are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).  Do let Proverbs 31 challenge you in a healthy way. You have His Spirit to produce fruit beyond your own ability. [John 15; Galatians 5].

I am also fairly certain that many of us, husbands, who read this passage, need to show greater honor toward our wives. Let us not use this passage as a basis for finding fault with our wives, but as a reminder of all that they do to make our lives and homes a taste of heaven. After all, the woman described here has a husband who is wise and influential in his community and that may not fully describe us either (vs. 23). Let this passage remind us that our wives deserve praise, probably more than we currently give them. Remember “a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (vs. 30).

Tomorrow’s reading: Ecclesiastes 3:1-6:12