September 11, 2011
Keeping Your Balance – Part 2
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Ecclesiastes 7: 15-29

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Quest for the Best challenges us to live in fear of the Lord to find meaning, purpose, and fulfillment because our Creator alone holds the answers to our most profound questions about life and eternity.

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Invite you to take your Bible and turn to Ecclesiastes chapter seven. As we come to look at the second half of this chapter, as we continue to work through the book of Ecclesiastes, a series of sermons, I’ve been calling the quest for the best. Solomon’s trying to determine, what is the purpose to life? What makes life profitable, meaningful, significant? And we have been listening to his argument as he looks at the good things and the bad things that are part and parcel of life. And so we come back to Ecclesiastes seven and verse 15. I have seen everything in my day as a vanity. There is a just man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs life in his wickedness. Do not be overly righteous nor be overly wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Do not be overly wicked nor be foolish.
Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp this and also not remove your hand from the other. For he who fears God will escape them all. Wisdom strengthens the wise more than 10 rulers of the city. For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin. Also, do not take to heart everything people say. Lest you hear your servant cursing you, for many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others. All this I have proved by wisdom. I said I will be wise, but it was far from me. As for that which is far off and exceedingly deep, who can find it out? I applied my heart to know, to search and seek out wisdom and the reason of things, to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness, I find more bitter than death.
The woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God shall escape from her, but the sinner shall be trapped by her. Here is what I’ve found says the preacher, adding one thing to the other to find out the reason, which my soul still seeks, but I cannot find. One man among a thousand I have found but a woman among all these I have not found. Truly, this also I have found that God made man upright but they have sought out many schemes. Just one verse from chapter eight at the beginning verse, who is like a wise man and who knows the interpretation of a thing. A man’s wisdom makes his face shine and the sternness of his face has changed. So reads God’s word, CS Lewis said that when it comes to the study of prophecy, we can be like a drunken man on a horse.
We can fall off one side into fanaticism and then we can remount and fall off the other side into disinterest. I think that quote regarding prophecy has a bigger lesson for all of us. One of the challenges in life is to keep our balance, to avoid the extremes. When it comes to prophecy, we want to fall off into fanaticism, but neither do we want to fall off into disinterest. One of the knacks, one of the skills of life is learning to keep your balance and I think that’s one of the themes or one of the goals of Ecclesiastes chapter seven. You see, you and I live according to chapter seven and verse 13 and 14, in a world that’s very uneven, God allows us to enjoy days of prosperity, but then he mixes into those days of prosperity, days of adversity, life is uneven. It’s a mixed bag of pain and pleasure and you and I have got to learn how to deal with that.
You and I have got to learn how to keep our balance in the unevenness of life. Solomon picks up the thought that indeed life can throw us off balance when we look out our window and see that the righteous suffer and the wicked seemed to get off scot-free. We read here in verse 15 of the just man who perishes in spite of his righteousness and the wicked man who prospers in spite of his wickedness. How do you keep your foot and your balance in the midst of a world where wickedness goes unpunished and righteousness goes unrewarded? How do you do that? Well, Solomon encourages us to keep our balance and he reminds us of the role of wisdom in this and we’ve been working our way through an outline. You have it in your bulletin if you want to take notes and I’d encourage you to do that.
Last week we started to look at verses 15 through 18 of chapter seven, what I call the balance of wisdom. You see in these verses, Solomon sets before us the aggravating reality that in life the wicked sometimes are on top. I don’t know that you’ve confronted that recently, but it’s a fact. It’s one of the infuriating facts of life that the wrong people sometimes come away as the winners. Life is not like the movies where the good guy always wins. In fact, that’s why we like to go to the movies, isn’t it? Once in a while. We like to go and escape the world in which we live, which is very uneven and irregular and at times the wrong guy seemed to be winning. We like to go to the movies and escape that for about 19 minutes. We want to watch the bad guys get it in the neck.
In fact, recently Jen and I were on vacation. We don’t go to the movies that often, but we were down at the spectrum. We thought we’d go and see what was on, there wasn’t a great choice. Thankfully there wasn’t a big chick flick. I escaped that one, but there was like aliens and cowboys. I’m going now, not aliens and cowboys, but we settled for Captain America and it was pure fantasy, the comic book figure, but it was good in that the Nazis got killed and the bad guys, they got ground into powder and you came away going, now you know? That was good.
And then you come out into the world and realize, wow, that’s not what we face now outside the movie experience because that’s the world in which we live. Well, how do you deal with that? Well, Solomon warns us if we’re not careful, we can fall into two extremes. We looked at one of them last week, what I call a false assumption in verse 16. Well, you know what? To escape that then we need to double up on our righteousness. And Solomon says, hold on a minute. If true righteousness doesn’t protect you against the hard knocks of life, against the hammer blows of human experience going over into extreme legalistic righteousness won’t do it either. That was the point. And so he warns us about a false assumption in verse 16, but then he comes back to warn us about a false presumption in verse 17.
Okay, here’s one ditch you don’t want to fall into. Don’t become overly righteous in the face of the inequities and injustices of life. On the other hand, don’t fall into this other ditch which is, you know what? Since the bad guys are winning, it looks like God doesn’t care about what you do. And Solomon says, no, that’s a trap, also. Don’t be overly wicked. At the other end of things, Solomon warns that God’s failure to swiftly punish the ungodly is not a green light to sin. If we might borrow from the New Testament, we need to remind ourselves you will reap what you sow.
God is not mocked. If we sow to the flesh of the flesh, we’ll reap corruption. If we sow to the spirit of the spirit, we’ll reap eternal life. So Solomon says, hey, don’t throw caution to the wind. Don’t be thinking that God’s got soft on sin just because the righteous perish in their righteousness and the wicked prosper in their wickedness. Because remember, God is sovereign. God takes that all in his stride and weaves it all into his plan. And remember what we said, that the righteous sometimes suffer because of their righteousness, Job [inaudible 00:08:51].
So this is the warning here not to do that. If we’ve got to avoid impatience and anger and nostalgia and religious zeal in the face of life’s challenges, we’ve also got to be careful about want and wickedness, letting down our guard. You see, this was the mistake that was made in Noah’s day. They went about doing their thing to the noise of hammers and chisels and saws as Noah built his ark because there was a coming storm. But you know, what do you do with a person who’s building a boat in the middle of the desert? You laugh at them and then you become wanting in your wickedness and you don’t see that the clouds are forming off in the distance and there’s a storm rolling in and Jesus said as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days during which the Son of Man returns.
This is the mistake that the sinner makes. That God’s delays are God’s denials. In fact, the apostle Peter warns us doesn’t he? And warns them, doesn’t he? In second Peter chapter three, he warns them about falling into this trap. That just because the Lord hasn’t visited the earth with his judgment as promised that the day of the Lord has not yet come. Peter says, but it will come. And he says, you know what? The heavens and the earth will pass away and we’re not to forget that with the Lord one day as is a thousand years, verse eight, and a thousand years is one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise. What’s the point? Well, earlier on in the chapter in verse three, we read about the scoffers who will come in the last days walking according to their own lusts and saying, where is the promise of his coming?
We’ve been hearing this since our fathers were on the earth. They’ve fallen asleep and they fall of the idea that God’s delays are God’s denials. And Peter says, hold on a minute. God does not slack concerning his promise. You have mistaken his grace, his mercy, and his patience for the fact that God has gone soft on sin. Nothing could be further from the truth and that’s the point Solomon’s making here. Don’t mistake God’s long suffering for license to sin. Don’t be overly righteous, don’t be overly wicked. Don’t be thinking you can avoid suffering by becoming extreme and legalistic in your obedience to God and don’t be thinking that just because God’s wrath has not come, that somehow it’s never going to come and therefore you know what? You have a blank check to sin as much as you want in the way that you want, grave mistake.
In fact, here’s the point that King Solomon would make. His only uncertainty about God’s judgment was its timing. His only uncertainty about God’s judgment was its timing. How often has it been said? But it needs to be repeated that the wheels of God’s justice might grind rather slowly, but they will grind surely. In fact, if you go to the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon knows that judgment is coming. As I said, it’s certain, the time of it, uncertain, Ecclesiastes three and verse 17, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked for there is a time there for every purpose and every work under the sun. In chapter eight in verse 12, we read, Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and his days are prolonged, yet I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before him, but it will not be well with the wicked, nor will he prolong his days, which are as a shadow because he does not fear before God.
Here’s what Solomon’s saying, and he’s saying to you and I, don’t become emboldened in your sin, just because you live under a cloudless sky. God is long suffering. God is merciful. He has not rewarded us according to our sins. He allows us to live, even in our rebellion he shows mercy, as he did in the days of Noah, as he will do in the last days. God is holding on to the last minute so that more might come to faith in Jesus Christ. But don’t you mistake long suffering for license. Don’t you mistake delay for denial because the sinner’s engagement and enjoyment of wanting wickedness is but the calm before the storm. When sin is finished, it brings forth death. James chapter one, verses 13 through 15, you see the folly of the wicked mirrors, the words of the man who fell from the roof of a skyscraper and somebody heard him saying as he went past the 18th floor, so far so good.
We laugh. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? But that’s the way the world lives. That’s the way the unbeliever acts. So far so good when they’re in a free fall, the damnation, the ugliness of sin and the price tag that goes with it may not be seen at the beginning or the middle, but at the end. The broad road leads to destruction. Matthew seven verses 13 through 14, CS Lewis said something very interesting. Always follow a thing out to its bloody end. It’s a good statement. And Alexander McCartney said, the main thing about a road is where it goes. Listen to me, my unsaved friend, you who are without Jesus Christ. Yeah, you’re on the broad road and you’re having a ball. There’s a whole lot of people on the broad road. It’s broad, it’s accommodating, it’s easy, but the thing about a road is where it goes and you’re headed to an encounter with a living God who is thrice holy.
And if you die without Jesus Christ, you die uncovered, unprotected, and you will face the blast furnace of his hot anger. Don’t be overly wicked, don’t be wanting in your wickedness. Don’t say so far so good because God is long suffering, not willing to [inaudible 00:15:29] perish, but the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. I was thinking about this recently, I was watching an old war movie, a submarine movie, and it gets to that exciting part where our guys are trying to get under some German or Japanese ship and the depth charges go off and plop. They go into the water and there’s a quietness. And I was thinking, you know what, that’s just like sin. Sin’s like a depth charge. Because you see when a depth charge hits the water, for a time it offers no threat. If you’ve watched those old movies or maybe the newer movie like U-571 and they can hear that dropping into the ocean and they know it’s coming down and there’s silence and there’s tranquility, but you know what?
They’re all holding on to some part of the ship bracing themselves for impact because at some point the depth charge will go off. Is it a hundred feet? Is it 200 feet? Is it 300 feet, my friend? That’s sin. Sin is a depth charge. Maybe not this year, maybe not in the next six months, but next year you better brace yourself for impact because when sin is finished, it brings forth death. And by the way, just as a footnote to this, that’s why you and I as believers need to sit tight. When we look out on a world and we don’t like what we see and it bothers us, the headlines and the news and wickedness seems to be prospering and the righteous seem to be suffering and the wrong people are on top. Well, I need to sit still, David read it earlier in the service, Psalm 46 firsthand, be still and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations. Assured by the knowledge that we have read the last chapter of the book, we win. Here’s what I was thinking about. Maybe the best way to, I love to draw analogies and apply this in concrete, whereas it’s a bit like watching a movie you’ve watched before, but you’re watching it with other people. I’ve done that, maybe with Junior with the girls. I’ve watched an action movie, one of those gripping thriller things, edge of seat kind of movie that it’s exciting to watch and I’ve seen it. I know how it all works out. And so in the middle of the movie or third way through, the villain’s winning and it looks like all is lost and you’re sitting there and smiling on the inside going, girls, don’t worry, don’t worry. Wait till we get to the end. Sit tight.
I think that’s the way it is for us as Christians. We know the end of the movie. Sit tight, let it unfold. God is the author. Righteousness will reign, heaven will rule. Jesus will come back again, Satan will be doomed. Wickedness will be punished, righteousness will be rewarded. Even so come Lord Jesus, don’t become overly wicked. It’s foolish. So here he strikes a balance. Here we see the balance of wisdom. Let’s move on a little into the verses 19 and following. I don’t think I’m going to get the whole way through this, so we’ll start at least on the second thought here, what I call the bullwork of wisdom, the bullwork of wisdom. This is verses 19 through 29. Throughout chapter seven, King Solomon, the teacher, [inaudible 00:19:02] the priceless value of wisdom and its attendant blessings. Look at verse 12, for wisdom is as a defense, as money as a defense, but the excellence of knowledge that wisdom gives life to those who have it.
Look at verse 19. Wisdom strengthens the wise more than 10 rulers of the city. Solomon is saying, look, wisdom gives us a leg up. Wisdom fortifies us. It enriches our life like money cannot. So having talked of restraint, don’t be overly wicked and don’t be overly righteous. Solomon goes on to say to his audience that wisdom will empower them, that it will be a powerful force and factor in their life. It will act as a bulwark against the hammer blows of life. What’s his analogy? Verse 19, wisdom strengthens the wise more than 10 rulers of the city. Now, the rulers of the city were powerful men, right? They’re the movers and shakers of a community or a region. Their status is one of importance and significance. But here’s what Solomon says, although invested with power, those rulers, a single wise man grounded in the fear of God can outshine all of them, that he can win the day, he can protect the future through clear directions and wise decisions.
In fact, Solomon will tell us a story. Go over to chapter nine and verse 13, to prove his point, this wisdom I have also seen under the sun and it seemed great to me. There was a little city with a few men in it and a great king came against it, besieged it, and built great snares around it. Neither was found in a poor wise man and he and his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that same poor man. Then I said, wisdom is better than strength. Nevertheless, the poor man’s wisdom is despised. His words were not heard. Words of the wise spoken quietly shall be heard rather than the shout of a ruler of fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war and one sinner can destroy much good, but there’s this old guy, the city’s surrounded by a mighty king, and this old man in his wisdom helps that city get out of its trouble.
Wisdom can do that for you and me. It can fortify us, it can provide us answers and arguments in the face of life’s questions and challenges. In fact, we’re going to see probably not much this morning that wisdom makes us wise to the malice of gossip. Wisdom makes us wise to the mystery of life and wisdom makes us wise to the menace of sin. Let me, maybe, just take the first thought here and be done this morning. Let’s look at the malice of gossip. Verse 21, 22, wisdom’s going to help us deal with life. It’ll help us balance ourselves in the midst of life’s unevenness and it will help fortify us. It will be a bullwork against the hammer blows of life. And he begins to see wisdom at work. And in verse 21, what does he say? Also, do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you, for many times also your own heart has known that even you have cursed others.
Wisdom would inform us that we all need to be hard of hearing when it comes to what others say about us. Why? Well, because we’re in a fallen world, that’s for sure. Look at verse 20, for there is not a just man on the earth who does good and does not sin. Okay? So bear that in mind and come over to James chapter one and you’re going to see where man’s fallen is sometimes is to be seen most cruelly and most clearly, chapter three of James, my brethren, let not many of you become teachers knowing you shall receive a stricter judgment for we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he’s a perfect man. We live in a fallen world, we’re going to stumble, we’re going to mess up, we’re going to foul up.
And one of the areas you and I are going to do it with is speech, the use of our tongue, communication. None of us are perfect. That’s not a standard we should hold ourselves to. Many of us will stumble in this area. And so Solomon comes with a little bit of a practical advice, become hard of hearing because you’re going to hear stuff about you that others say in a fallen world where people stumble, especially in the arena of the tongue, and you need to know how to deal with that. It was Pascal, right? The French philosopher who said, if all men knew what each other said of the other, there wouldn’t be four friends in the world. Some truth to that isn’t there? Few of us escape the world without the scars and the wounds that are inflicted by a sharp and a cutting tongue.
In Proverbs chapter 12 in verse 18, we read about how cutting the tongue can be. There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword. Anybody got any puncture wounds from a sharp tongue this morning? We’ve all been the target of criticism. We will all be the target of complaint. But here’s what Solomon says, don’t keep score. Okay? Don’t keep score. He’s telling us here that it’s not a wise thing to take to heart everything people say. Don’t keep score because you can’t control what others say and you have a few skeletons in your own cupboard, basically. Should the master of the house go down and put his ear to the door of the kitchen and hear his servants cursing him and he gets all [inaudible 00:25:13] and gets very self-righteous. But if he just took a moment, maybe he’d remembered that the day before he had cursed one of his servants.
You remember the time when somebody said something bad about you and you either heard it directly or heard it indirectly, that it hurt you. You’re right, but did you remember maybe 30 minutes later that the day before you called your son or your daughter stupid? See, there’s no real prophet. Here’s what Solomon’s saying. There’s no real prophet to running a rumor down to the ground or trying to find out who said what and when. Because one, it’s a distraction, and two, it can become an occasion for hypocrisy because which one of us is perfect? Isn’t that what James says? We’re going to stumble in this area. We need to be mindful of that. Always remember that much of what is said about you is not true and therefore it shouldn’t hurt you because the person they’re speaking about doesn’t exist. How can it hurt you when they’re talking about somebody else?
Because they’re not talking about you, the person you know yourself to be. One wise man said he didn’t insult me at all. In fact, he was talking about another man, the man he thought I was. It’s a good piece of advice. And there’s a second thing here. Always remember that you are the greatest critic of yourself and therefore others can never be as hard on you as you could be on yourself. One man said, I never worry about people who say evil things about me because I know a lot more stuff about me than they do, and it’s 10 times worse.
It’s a good piece of advice. See, this is practical. This is wisdom. Solomon’s saying, look, you’re in a fallen world. You got to keep your balance. And one of the areas you got to keep your balance is, you know what? Tongues will talk, but don’t go listening to everything your servants say. You’ll hear them cursing, it’ll upset you, and then you’ll get distracted or you’ll get hypocritical and you’ll forget that you yourself have not been that good with your mouth. That’s why I love the words of CH Spurgeon. Here’s where we finish this morning. Every pastor needs to read Lectures to My Students by CH Spurgeon. It’s an old classic. These are the lectures he gave to the pastors in London when Spurgeon pastored in the metropolitan tabernacle. And I read this section many, many years ago as a young pastor, and I think it’s kept me sane, and it has allowed me to survive the ministry because people talk about pastors, don’t they? A lot.
Spurgeon said to every pastor, and I think it’s good for anybody, every pastor needs a blind eye and a deaf ear, he said. A blind eye and a deaf ear. And in fact, in his lectures to his students, he says this, having often said in this room that a minister ought to have one blind eye and one deaf ear, I have excited the curiosity of several brothers who have requested an explanation. What do you mean a blind eye and a deaf ear Mr. Spurgeon? Listen to this, a part of my meaning is expressed in plain language by Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes chapter seven in verse 21. It’s where we’re at here. Also take no heed unto all the words that are spoken less thou here thy servant curse thee. The margin says, give not thy heart to all words that are spoken.
Do not take them to heart or let them weigh with you. Do not notice them or act as if you heard them. And then he goes on, you cannot stop people’s tongues, therefore, the best thing you can do is to stop your ears and never mind what is spoken. There is a world of idle chitchat abroad, and he who takes notice of it will have enough to do. It’s a great quote, it’s a good word to you, to me, pastors or people alike. Have a blind eye and a deaf ear as you go through life. Don’t become overly righteous. You know I’m going to fix him. I’m going to fix that. You know what? We’re in a fallen world. Life is messy. Relationships are messy. The wrong people at times seem to be on top, the righteous suffer, the wicked get away scot-free. What’s going on?
Well, you and I need to sit tight and know that he is God. And just on a practical level, have a blind eye and have a deaf ear. Let’s pray. Lord, we never cease to be amazed at the practicality of the Word of the Living God. We’ve turned to an ancient book that takes us back to the days of horses and chariots and the temple of Solomon. But oh God, does it not speak to a world of jet planes and rocket ships? Lord, we look out on our world and it is a world of unevenness and imbalance. We know we live in a cursed world. We know that things are not what they ought to be. And wisdom would remind us of that. There’s not a just man on the earth who does not sin. And Lord at times we get upset at the wickedness of the wicked.
Help us to sit tight and I pray for those who, Lord, have not yet come to faith in Jesus Christ. I pray that they would not mistake your long suffering for a license to sin. For the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night and then sudden destruction, help them to prepare for eternity. Help them to prepare for the storm that’s brewing. Lord, our tongue is a small member, but what evil it inflicts like the bit in a horse’s mouth, like the rudder of a ship. It does more than it looks. Lord, not one of us hasn’t stumbled. Lord, help us to be practical and wise. Help us to, Lord, know how to handle gossip and malice speech. Help us to become hard of hearing. Help us to have a blind eye and a deaf ear for our own good and for the good of others. For these things we ask and pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.