Fear the Lord and live life…(real meaning)

16 06 2013

DAY TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FOUR : Ecclesiastes 4 v. 1 – 6 v. 12; 1 Corinthians 7 v. 17 – 35; Proverbs 19 v. 23 – 20 v. 4
Three_Strands[2]

ECCLESIASTES:
Oppression, Toil, Friendliness – The writer takes note of all the oppression he can see:
‘I see the tears of the oppressed…no comfort for them…the oppressors have all the power…
I declared that those who are dead must be happier than those who are alive still…
But better still, those who have not yet lived – they have not yet seen ‘the evil that is done under the sun’.

The writer observes that all work and achievement is driven by jealousy (‘envy of his neighbour’) – more meaningless chasing after wind:
‘The fool folds his hands and ruins himself…
Better one handful with tranquillity than two handfuls with toil…chasing after wind

The writer observes something else which troubles him, more meaninglessness:
‘A man all alone…no son or brother…no end to his toil…’yet his eyes were not content with his wealth’
‘For whom am I toiling…and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ – miserable meaningless living.
Two are better than one…if one falls, his friend can pick him up…pity the one who falls and has no-one to help him up.
Two who lie down together keep each other warm…how can one keep warm alone?
‘Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.’

Advancement is Meaningless – The writer concludes that it is better to be a poor and wise youth than an old but foolish king.
The king can no longer heed warnings; the youth may have come from prison or been born in poverty.
‘all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king’s successor.’
However those who come later will not be pleased with the successor – all meaningless chasing after wind.

It doesn’t matter where you’ve come from, success is fickle – and therefore devoid of real meaning, if that’s what you’re building your life upon.

Stand in Awe of God – There is a call for people to be careful in their motives as they go to the house of God – people should go to listen, rather than to ‘offer the sacrifice of fools’.
Rather than being hasty in uttering anything (with heart or mouth) before God, there should be an acknowledgment that ‘God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.’
Dreams can reflect the number and weight of cares being carried – so too can foolish speaking reveal much through its many words.
People should faithfully follow through on commitments made to God – ‘fulfil your vow’.
Better not to vow at all than to vow and not follow through. We must be careful not to let our mouths lead us into sin, or to protest that we didn’t mean what we’d said.
‘Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.’

Riches are Meaningless – The writer notices the poor oppressed, their justice / rights denied – the officials are colluding and only looking after each other; the king gets richer through the profits from the fields.
‘Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied – it’s all meaningless.’
The more that goods increase, the more consumers consume – it’s all of no worth, just a sight for sore eyes.
Hard workers sleep well, however much they’ve eaten; abundantly rich men suffer insomnia.
The writer observes a ‘grievous evil’:
there is an accumulation of wealth which harms its owner, or is calamitously lost, so that if the owner has a son, there’s nothing left to inherit.
‘Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labour that he can carry in his hand.’
Another grievous evil the writer observes is summed up by ‘as a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind?’
The writer comes to the conclusion that it is good enough for people to eat and drink and be satisfied with their work ‘during the few days of life God has given’ – content with our lot.
It is a true gift of God when He allows people to gain wealth and possessions to enjoy, and to be happy in their work.
‘He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.’
Another evil is to see people acquire wealth, possessions and honour and then not be able to enjoy them – someone else reaps the benefit – it’s all meaningless.
‘A man may have 100 children and live many years, but if he cannot enjoy his prosperity, and doesn’t receive a proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.’ As we all go the same way, the writer suggests that it would be better to never have seen the sun, than to live even a thousand years but be unable to enjoy all that we’ve worked for.
‘All man’s efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied’ – what advantage does anyone really have? People’s appetites are always changing, growing, and it’s all meaningless.
There’s nothing new – everything has been before; ‘the more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?’
‘For who knows what is good for a man in life, during the few and meaningless days he passes through like a shadow? Who can tell him what will happen under the sun after his is gone?’
undivided devotion

1 CORINTHIANS: (Marriage cont.)
Paul urges the Corinthians to be content in whatever state they currently find themselves – circumcised or not (‘circumcision is nothing…keeping God’s commands is what counts’), slave or free (‘if you can gain your freedom, do so’…’he was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman…he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave’), virgins or married.
‘Each one should remain in the situation which was in when God called him.’
Paul refers to a crisis (v.26) – he is clearly responding to pressures people are feeling to marry, not marry, divorce, and he urges the Corinthians to not change their circumstances, but to live out their faith where they are.
‘Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.’
‘Those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.’ – Paul may be making the point that marriage in itself doesn’t solve problems or avoid troubles; in fact, when individuals bring troubles or needs into a marriage, it can feel harder in the working it out. Paul’s point in the remaining verses is for those who feel pressured into marriage, that the unmarried have greater capacity to be concerned only about the Lord’s affairs, whereas the married carry a concern for their spouse and ‘the affairs of this world’. Paul wants the unmarried to see the ‘gift’ they are – ‘free from concern…devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit’.
He urges that time is short, that the Corinthians should not be distracted by marriage issues, grief, pleasures, materialism, ‘the things of this world’, because this world is passing away, and there is a need to live ‘in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.’

PROVERBS:
‘The fear of the Lord leads to life. Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.
The lazy person can’t even lift his hand from the dish to his mouth!
The mocker should be dealt with harshly (flogging?), that the simple might gain some wisdom.
Even the ‘discerning man’ should experience rebuke, that he might gain knowledge.
The son who brings shame and disgrace is the one who robs his father and drives out his mother.
My son, if you stop listening to good instruction, you will be led on a path further and further away from sound, knowledgeable words.
Witnesses who are corrupt are ridiculing justice…wicked mouths gulp down evil.
Mockers beware – you will pay for your folly
Fools beware – watch your back!
Wine produces mockers, beer produces brawlers – the unwise are led astray by both.
Don’t anger a king – his roar is lion-like, his anger can be deadly.
‘It is to a man’s honour to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel’.
That lazy person (sluggard) never ploughs at just the right time, so he looks in vain for the harvest!

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What’s the point….of life (Eccl.)…of marriage / singleness (1 Cor.)

13 06 2013

DAY TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY-THREE : Ecclesiastes 1 v. 1 – 3 v. 22; 1 Corinthians 7 v. 1 – 16; Psalm 94 (cont.)

ECCLESIASTES Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes, some say, is a strange book to find in the bible – it is a challenge to the self-made man and woman who seek to better themselves, who seek meaning and purpose in a life without God. Vanity, vanity. All is meaningless. Where are we to find true identity, meaning and purpose?

Everything is meaningless – The words of this book are attributed to ‘The Teacher’, son of King David (Ecclesiastes is a Greek word translated ‘preacher / teacher’).
‘Everything is meaningless – utterly meaningless.
What is there to gain from all our hard work, the heat of the day?

People come and go, one generation follows another, but ‘the earth remains for ever’
The sun rises and sets, the wind blows here and there (north and south, round and round),

All the streams flow into the sea (yet it never seems to be full)
Water always returns to where it began.

Everything is tiresome! Eyes are weary of seeing, ears of hearing.
Everything that has happened will happen again

there is nothing new under the sun’.
No-one can claim anything new – it has already happened, already been.
Nothing and no-one is remembered forever. Everything is meaningless’

Wisdom is meaningless‘I was king over Israel in Jerusalem – committed myself to study, devoting myself to exploring the wisdom which reveals all heaven. It’s a weighty burden from God, and having seen all, it’s all meaningless – ‘chasing after the wind’. The more wisdom you have, the more you suffer; the more knowledge, the more grief’.

Pleasures are meaningless The writer tells how he sought after pleasure / happiness for meaning – all in vain.
‘Laughter and pleasure are foolish…cheering yourself with wine, embracing folly…testing out every activity…
…great projects like building houses, planting vineyards, gardens and parks…constructing reservoirs…buying slaves…acquiring herds and flocks (more than anyone in Jerusalem before me)…amassing gold and silver…gathering singers…attracting a harem – ‘the delights of the heart of a man’
‘I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me…In all this, my wisdom stayed with me’.
‘I denied myself nothing…I refused my heart no pleasure…delighting in my work, the rewards of my labour…
‘Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done…everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind…nothing was gained under the sun.’

Wisdom and Folly are meaningless – Then the writer tells how he sought after wisdom – all in vain.
‘I turned my attention to wisdom, madness, folly…what more could I do…
I found that wisdom is better than folly, light is better than darkness…
Those who are wise use their eyes well…fools walk in darkness…
But I discovered that ‘the same fate overtakes them both’.
My heart pondered the fact that if the same fate befalls the wise and the foolish,
there’s no gain in being wise…it’s meaningless.
The wise and foolish alike will not be long remembered, easily forgotten…both will die.’


Toil is Meaningless –
Then the writer considers the uselessness of work – it’s all in vain.
‘I hated life…work was hot under the sun, grievous…meaningless…pointless because ‘I must leave them (work projects) to one who comes after me’…and he might be a fool, yet he’d have control over all I’d poured my effort into…
My heart began to despair…‘a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill…and then leave it all to someone who has not worked for it…meaningless, and ‘a great misfortune’.
What do we get for all this hard toil…pain and grief…sleepless nights…all meaningless.
‘A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work…this is from the hand of God…eating and enjoyment of life come from Him. To the man who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness…sinners gather and store up wealth only to hand it over to the one who pleases God…it’s all meaningless, vapour-chasing!’


A Time for Everything –
Then the best-know passage of this book, outlining the ebb and flow of life.
‘There is a time for everything, and a right season for every activity under heaven:
a time for birth and for death; a time for planting and for harvesting; a time to kill and to heal;
a time for tearing down and for building up; a time for weeping and for laughing; a time for mourning and for dancing;
a time for scattering stone and for gathering them in; a time to embrace and to refrain; a time for searching and for giving up;
a time for keeping and for throwing away; a time for tearing and for mending; a time for silence and for speaking;
a time for loving and for hating; a time for war, and a time for peace.’

So, again, what’s to be gained from all this hard work? What a God-given burden.
‘God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.’
There may be nothing better than to be happy and to do good, eating and drinking and finding satisfaction in work – the gift of God.
Everything that God does will endure for ever….men will revere Him.

Nothing’s new – it’s all been before, and will come round again.
I observed something else – instead of judgment and justice, wickedness abounds;
and my heart responded
‘God will judge both righteous and wicked – a time for every activity…God tests all people…aren’t they just like the animals? The same ‘fate awaits both humans and animals – both die. ‘Man has no advantage over the animal’. It’s all meaningless.’
Dust to dust – all go to the same place.
‘Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth’?
The most that can be said, then, is that people should enjoy their work – ‘that is his lot’.

marriagecare

1 CORINTHIANS
Marriage –
 Paul continues his teaching to the church in Corinth, outlining marriage as a way of combatting the previous issue of sexual immorality. Marriage is the framework within which we are to remain sexually pure / holy.
Clearly, the Corinthians had asked whether it was good to unmarried (or something similar). Paul endorses the state of singleness, but also ‘since there is so much immorality’, he is clear that ‘each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband’. Obviously lines had been crossed, and Paul spells it out simply for them. Each husband and wife should attend well to their marriage, ‘fulfilling marital duties’. A husband’s body is no longer his own, but belongs also to his wife, and vice versa.
‘Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer’ – there is a time to fast from sexual activity in marriage for the purpose of drawing closer to God (and through Him, to each other).
Depriving one another too long, though, might allow Satan to tempt one or the other, and test out your self-control.
Paul does say he wishes all men were like him, ‘as I am’, presumably ‘single’ – perhaps the strong belief that Jesus was returning soon, that the end of time was fast approaching, meant it was not necessary in Paul’s mind for men to marry and raise children. Perhaps he feels more free to be on his missionary journeys because of his singleness….he reminds his readers that all men are different – each with their own ‘gift’ / calling from God.

Paul encourages those who are unmarried or widowed to be content in their singleness, unless ‘if they can’t control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion’. It’s amusing to think of marriage being for those who can’t control themselves, and great to think that marriage is the right place for passions to burn rightly / safely.

Paul then calls for faithfulness and commitment in marriage – wives should not leave their husbands, nor husbands divorce their wives – if it does happen, they should remain unmarried or be reconciled. Paul does have a high view of marriage, and of the need to rescue marriages where possible, or remain single into the future.

Paul next addresses those who are married to unbelievers – if husbands or wives are married to unbelievers who ‘are willing to live with them’, then they must stay with them. Paul talks of a sense in which unbelievers are ‘sanctified through their believing husband / wife’ – a whole family, children included, are influenced by and benefit from the holy walk of the one partner. All the more reason for couples to stay together.
There will be situations where the unbelieving spouse leaves, and then the believer is ‘not bound’.
‘God has called us to live in peace’.
And the real hope for couples can be found in Paul’s words:
‘How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?’.


PSALM 94 (v. 12 – 23)

‘My Lord, my God, those You discipline well are truly blessed, those who are taught and follow Your laws.
They receive from You: freedom from trouble, and a pit to trap the wicked.
My Lord, my God, You do not reject Your people, or forget those who are Your inheritance.
Your judgement is absolutely right – all the ‘upright in heart’ will follow Your ways.

Who is there to rise up against the wicked? Who will stand against evil?
If my Lord, my God, had not come to my help, I’d have been long gone.
I cried out to be rescued, and Your love lifted me.
Your comfort brought joy to my anxious soul.

My Lord, my God, surely no corrupted throne can align itself with You –
it brings heartache and misery every time it issues a decree –
drawing others together to attach the righteous and kill the innocent.
My Lord, my God, You are my fortress, my safe refuge, my rock.
You will get them back, destroy their wicked plans,
Finish them off, once and for all.’





The Gift of Wisdom

7 06 2013

DAY TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY-TWO : 2 Chronicles 1 v. 1 – 17; 1 Corinthians 6 v. 1 – 20; Psalm 94 v. 1 – 11

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2 Chronicles 1
Solomon Asks for Wisdom – David’s son, Solomon, establishes himself as king, for the Lord God is alongside him, helping him become ‘exceedingly great’. Solomon speaks to all Israel (commanders, judges, leaders, heads of families) – getting everyone to the high place at Gibeon, God’s Meeting Tent, which Moses had made. David had brought the ark of God from Kiriath Jearim to the place prepared, having pitched a tent for it in Jerusalem. The bronze altar (made by Bezalel, Uri’s son) was still in Gibeon, in front of the Lord’s tabernacle – and that’s where Solomon and the people met before the Lord. Solomon offers a thousand burnt offerings on it.
When, that evening, God appears to Solomon, He asks him what Solomon would like Him to give.
Solomon’s answer is fantastic:
‘You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. Now Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed…you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of Yours.’
God shows His delight in Solomon’s prayer, glad that his heart’s desire is not for wealth, riches or honour, nor death of enemies, nor a long life. God grants Solomon then, the wisdom and knowledge he’s requested, but also wealth, riches and honour beyond all others.

Following this, Solomon went to Jerusalem from Gibeon, and he reigns over all Israel. He accumulated chariots (1,400) and horses (12,000), kept in chariot cities and Jerusalem. ‘He made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig.’ Solomon’s horses came from Egypt and Kue (purchased by the royal merchants), and a very expensive chariot came from Egypt (600 shekels of silver, and a horse for 150). The merchants also exported items to the surrounding kings (Hittite and Aramean).

How often, when we ask God for ‘main thing’, do we find He supplies much, much more. Remember Jesus’s ‘Seek first the Kingdom, and all else will be added to you’.
What are we chasing after today?
What are we asking God for today?
Wisdom / knowledge for leadership is a very good place to start.

1 Corinthians 6
Lawsuits Among Believers – Paul continues to write to the Corinthian church about their divisions and how they should manage things better. Paul questions why disputes are taken so readily to the law courts, ‘before the ungodly’, rather than being sorted out in-house, ‘before the saints’. These saints will be called to judge the world, and are therefore competent enough to judge on more trivial matters.
‘Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life.’
The church should appoint its own ‘judges‘, even ‘men of little account’ – it is inconceivable to Paul that there is no-one in the fellowship who could make a judgement over a local dispute.
It’s such a bad witness to have ‘one brother go to law against another – in front of unbelievers’.
As a fellowship, they’ve already lost (credibility, integrity, honesty?) if people are seeking lawsuits through the courts. It would be better to be cheated against, to be wronged, than to be the one carrying out / carrying on the cheating and wrongdoing through court.
Those who do wrong (‘the wicked’) will not inherit the kingdom, Paul reminds them. Neither those who are sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom.
‘But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.’

Paul reminds them who they are, in Christ, and is troubled about the lawsuits for two reasons, it seems – (i) we’ve failed badly as a fellowship if we can’t resolve things within, calling the ‘saints’ to judge and (ii) it’s a terrible witness to the ungodly.
1cor-6-19

Sexual Immorality – Paul tackles the view that once a Christian, anything is permissible – Paul reminds the Corinthians that not everything is beneficial, and there is a difference when people let things / issues ‘master’ them, when they give in to temptations. For example the saying, ‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for food’ is so temporary, both the stomach and its food will pass away. Our bodies are not ‘for sexual immorality’, as if that’s their purpose, but rather, ‘for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body’.
As God raised Jesus from the dead, so He will also raise us.
‘Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?’
How abhorrent, then, to prostitute our bodies – we should rather unite ourselves with the Lord, becoming one with Him in spirit, than for ‘the two to become one flesh’ immorally.
Paul urges the church members to ‘flee from sexual immorality’, because this is a sin against one’s own body –
‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?’

Then, once again, Paul reminds them whose they are:
‘You are not your own, you were bought at a price – therefore honour God with your body.’

How vital it is for us to remember whose we are, who we are in Christ, as the motivation to seek to honour God, and to be holy as He is holy.

Psalm 94
My Lord, my God, my avenger
My Lord, my avenger, shine on
My Lord, earth’s judge, rise up
pay back the proud
end the jubilation of the wicked

Let’s look at the wicked…
they pour out arrogance,
they crush Your people,
they oppress Your chosen inheritance,
they murder widows and foreigners,
they strike down orphans
they deride, ‘Ha ha – the Lord’s blind, Jacob’s God is not acting, not paying attention’.

Let’s look at the truth…
you are senseless, foolish people – when will you become wise?
God created and implanted ears – He values and is good at hearing!
God created and formed eyes – He values and is good at seeing!
God created nations – He values and is good at discipline!
God is the great teacher – He values and imparts knowledge.
My Lord, my God, knows the thoughts of everyone – each feeble, futile thought.