Theme: Time and Chance Keep Moving On
1) Don’t worry about dangers or rewards
2) Build your wisdom in God’s Word
Ecclesiastes 9:11-18 Again I saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, or the battle to the strong, or bread to the wise, or riches to the discerning, or favor to the skillful; rather, time and chance happen to all of them. 12 For man certainly does not know his time: like fish caught in a cruel net or like birds caught in a trap, so people are trapped in an evil time as it suddenly falls on them. 13 I have observed that this also is wisdom under the sun, and it is significant to me: 14 There was a small city with few men in it. A great king came against it, surrounded it, and built large siege works against it. 15 Now a poor wise man was found in the city, and he delivered the city by his wisdom. Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 And I said, "Wisdom is better than strength, but the wisdom of the poor man is despised, and his words are not heeded." 17 The calm words of the wise are heeded more than the shouts of a ruler over fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner can destroy much good.
We were sitting at the dinner table this past week and Micah was talking about his upcoming birthday. Although he’s only turning 5, he said he wished he was 28 years old. I told him that I’d change places with him. He could be 29, and I would be 4. If he wants to be older, he can, and I wouldn’t mind going back to childhood for a while. After pausing to think about it, he said, “No, I think I’d rather be 8.” It’s funny how quickly opinions change, especially those of a small child. But there’s a certain amount of truth to the desire to change places once and a while.
I’m sure Micah was thinking, when I’m older I can eat what I want, watch TV when I want, and do what I want. I won’t have to ask permission for anything or share toys with my sister. To a 4 or 5 year old that certainly sounds pretty good. I’m sure you thought the same way as a kid too. I think we all envied the independence that our parents had and there were plenty of times when we couldn’t wait to grow up. But from my perspective, it would kind of be nice to be a kid again sometimes. No bills to worry about, no obligations, no stress, no deadlines to fulfill, and none of the heartache that seems to come with adulthood. Just like when we were kids waiting to be older, sometimes when we’re older we wish to be younger again.
The reason we long for different things in life is because we get used to what we have. But no matter how much we change our lives to try to fill in what missing or to provide what we desire, we will always want more. That’s the point that Solomon makes in our text with the reminder that no one can escape time and chance. The true key to happiness is finding peace and contentment with what God has given us today. But to do that you can’t worry about the past or the mistakes you’ve made. You also can’t focus only getting attention and fame for the present. The key to peace and contentment is to learn from God’s wisdom; the wisdom of salvation in Jesus Christ.
We focus on this today because at the beginning of a New Year people take time to pause and reflect on their lives. As you do this for yourself, remember this message. You can’t escape time and chance; but you can have peace. We ask the Holy Spirit to bless us with wisdom through these words today, just as he blessed Solomon.
Time is no mystery to us. It's usually the time aspect of life that we focus on the most. Days, weeks, months, and years keep moving steadily. Nothing we do can halt the process of time. That reality is abundantly clear to us at the New Year. Another year on this earth, another year older, another changing season; all things that are true. But, are we also another year wiser? That alone is not a guarantee.
The aspect that Solomon highlights which we often overlook, however, is chance. That too, like time, is a constant in this world. But we must properly understand what is meant by chance. When we hear chance we often think of things that are completely random without any order. There are certainly many things in life that feel completely random and chaotic, but at no point does that mean that God has lost control. He is always in control. Chance is used in our text to describe how these things feel from our perspective. Yes, there are many things in life beyond our control and power, no matter how well we try to plan and prepare. But these things never supersede God’s power. Nothing catches Him off-guard and no event is too much for Him to handle.
Solomon describes the effects of time and chance in several illustrations. It doesn’t matter how swift, strong, wise, discerning, or skillful you think you are, time and chance can trip you up at any moment, like a fish caught in a trap or a bird caught in a snare.
Because of sin, we live in an evil time. It doesn’t matter what the exact date is, or how new or fresh our outlook on the New Year is, we live in a cruel world where terrible things happen because of sin. And often, from our perspective, those terrible things can feel like random acts of chance, because we have so little control. This thought is really a central them in the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s why Solomon opened the book by saying this: "Absolute futility," says the Teacher. "Absolute futility. Everything is futile." What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Can one say about anything, "Look, this is new "? It has already existed in the ages before us. 11 There is no remembrance of those who came before; and of those who will come after there will also be no remembrance by those who follow them. I have seen all the things that are done under the sun and have found everything to be futile, a pursuit of the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:1,9-11,14).
This theme of futility or vanity runs through the entire book. It’s not really a very uplifting message, especially at the beginning of a New Year, but isn’t it so true? We strive and fight daily in our jobs, trying to scrape out some semblance of a good life here on earth, but in the end it really doesn’t matter. Time and chance move on. One day no one will remember us, let alone anything we did on earth. As Paul told Timothy, “We brought nothing into this world, and we can certainly take nothing out (1 Timothy 6:7).” Solomon’s point is that the pursuit of earthly wealth and riches is really futile. In the end there is no point in it. Having temporary pleasure and security means nothing in the grand scheme of things, if in the end all is lost for eternity.
Treasures and riches may change in form but there is nothing new under the sun. The most sought after treasures in 2016 will be vastly different than those in Solomon’s day. I-phones, tablets, sports cars, didn’t exist for Israel, but they had their own pursuits. All cultures do. What we should ask ourselves is what is worth striving for. What should I spend the majority of my time, money, and talents on? Are careers, mortgages, or investments really any different? To Solomon, they are all futile.
The same is true of the non-material pursuits as well. Solomon tells a story to teach us about this. It’s a simple tale about a poor man who saved a city from destruction. We don’t know the man’s name, but that’s the entire point. He is unmemorable, but it’s what he did that remains. He showed true wisdom and saved many people; that’s all that matters. The lesson we learn from this story is that we don’t do the right thing so that we will be remembered. The poor wise man certainly wasn’t remembered, but his legacy didn’t change the fact that in the moment of need he responded the right way. Material blessings are not the only things that succumb to time and chance. Glory and honor fade with time too. Seeking only those things leads us down the same path of futility.
We shutter at the sound of Solomon’s words, not because they’re false, but because they’re so true and applicable today. If we had to summarize the point in one sentence, it would be that shaping and living our lives according to the things of this world leads to nothing. It is futility and vanity, but it is precisely the trend of the world we live in. And we Christians are not immune.
The two extremes aren’t easily avoided. On the one hand, we are tempted to get so frustrated with the current state of affairs in the world that we give up and despair in cynicism. That attitude says that nothing ever changes, life is cruel, there’s no point in having any hope. The other extreme leads us to believe that life’s struggles can be solved, or kept at bay, by enjoying the good things that are offered. This is especially tempting for us in America who have access to a lot of good things. And part of the difficulty is that life does have many blessings that come directly from God. In other parts of Ecclesiastes Solomon instructs the reader to enjoy these things, for God wants us to enjoy them. But when the blessings of life become our only source of joy, or when they block out our time with God, the end is futility. They can help us feel joy for a time, but there is no lasting peace in them, for all things of the world are subject to time and chance.
The key to hope and peace is to pursue wisdom. We know why Solomon pinpoints wisdom; it was the unique gift given to him by God. We need to remember this. When Solomon talks about wisdom, it’s not the wisdom that comes from a university classroom, or 30 plus years on the job. It’s not the wisdom of philosophers or the wisdom that leads to new social movements or governments. There was one source of wisdom for Solomon and that source was God. Solomon was blessed to see wisdom from God’s perspective because God shared it directly with Him through a unique and miraculous way. We haven’t had the same encounter with God, but we do have an equally powerful blessing of being able to learn from God’s wisdom in His Word.
Only the wisdom from God has power against the constants of time and chance. Solomon wrote about this in another book, from the first chapter of Proverbs, The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7). It’s very easy to boast in our own accomplishments or our riches, and think that we don’t really need God. Indeed, that’s the sad display of a heart that rejects the truth of God’s Word. But in such a philosophy there is no hope against time and chance. The longer we’re in the world, the more we’ll have moments when the harsh reality of sin strikes us down and our seemingly powerful ego will be brought low. No one has escaped this and you’d be foolish to think that you’d be the first.
As we begin a New Year, the best change we can make is to grow in God’s Word. As we grow in the Word God’s wisdom unfolds the beautiful array of His glory in Christ. In the Word, we learn of Jesus who makes us wise for salvation through faith. The Word teaches us what makes the wisdom of the cross different from the fixed philosophies of man. The wisdom of the cross gives us hope in a world that seems to go on in changeless futility. And with that wisdom from God our faith is established and sustained.
Yes, in the end, it’s all about faith, and that’s especially clear around the New Year. You may ask yourself, “What reason do I have to believe that things will get better?” “Why can I have faith and what is my faith in?” Do you live by the principle that things are always better on the other side of the fence? Is change the reason for your faith? Or does happiness come from new possessions? Will life get better with a bigger TV, a smoother car, or the latest smart phone? Is that where your faith is? Or is the key in how well you’re recognized for your accomplishments? Do you hope that you are better appreciated or more well-respected this coming year? Is that the source of your faith? Is that will lead to hope?
There are many options, that’s for sure. But take a lesson from the wisest man in the history of the world, in the words given to Him by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Both faith and hope come from one and only one source of wisdom. That God has, in His Son, brought you back from the death of your sins, and through it has changed your life. You are a new creation; the old has passed away. Your faith and hope are found in Jesus. Through faith in Him you have hope of life that will never end in heaven; sometimes what we call the competition of our faith. What a wonderful change that will be!
But through faith in Jesus you also have hope for today. Not because it’s a New Year. This hope was with in 2015 as well. Also not because of your accomplishments. Solomon is right at the end of our text when he says that a sinner can do a lot of damage, and you and I have. But faith in Jesus is real because He is real. He came; He was born; He lived; He fulfilled; He suffered; He died; and He rose again. That is the wisdom of the cross; true Godly wisdom; because it actually happened and it actually changes us. And it works today. When we’re unsure about the future, faith in Jesus gives us hope that God has a plan. When we feel like we’re not receiving recognition like we should, faith in Jesus give us hope that it doesn’t matter what others say. When we worry because every day feels the same and it never seems like we’re improving, faith in Jesus gives us hope that we are new creation through the power and grace of His Word.
All people have hope and faith in the New Year, but not all have hope and faith that can stand the test of time and chance. You do though, the wisdom of the cross in Jesus Christ. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.