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, 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’.


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.’




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