September 18, 2011
Keeping Your Balance – Part 3
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Ecclesiastes 7: 15 - 8:1

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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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Well, let’s take our Bibles and turn to Ecclesiastes chapter seven. Let’s break in here at verse 15 of Ecclesiastes seven. “I have seen everything in my days of vanity. There is a just man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his 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 ten rulers of the city. For there is not a just man on the 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. And 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 only I have found. That God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.'” So reads God’s word.
The last time we were together, we were working through the second half of chapter seven. We’ve already looked at verses 15 through 18 under the general thought of the balance of wisdom. Wisdom helps us find our feet. Wisdom warns us, in the light of life’s injuries and injustices, not to overreact and become legalistic in righteousness, not to overreact and think God has gone soft on sin and therefore he’s going to turn a blind eye to your next act of disobedience. Wisdom warns us indeed to not fall into either of those traps. We then started to look at what we call the bulwark of wisdom, verses 19 through 29. Through chapter seven, King Solomon, the teacher and preacher, touts the priceless value and attendant benefits of wisdom. He tells us in verse 19 that, “Wisdom strengthens the wise.” Wisdom fortifies us against the hammer blows of life. It gives us power to overcome adversity and to navigate mystery. Wisdom is a precious thing. We should protect it because it protects us.
Now, what is wisdom? Just to clarify that whole thought and theology, wisdom is a God-given skill and aptitude for living. In fact, one of the Hebrew words for wisdom is hokhmah. If you go back to Exodus 31 verses one through six, the people who built the tabernacle, who constructed it, the craftsmen, those who sewed together the intricate garments of the high priest, they’re described as skillful. They’re described as wise. God gave them an ability, an aptitude, a skill, a craft. That’s our word. Wisdom is the ability and the aptitude to live life well. It’s the ability to act and react appropriately in every given situation. It is the proper application of knowledge. You see, information is about facts, but wisdom is about fitting those facts together in relationship to God’s precepts and God’s providence.
It’s knowing what to do, how to do it, when to do it, according to how God would want it done. That’s what wisdom is and it’s a great skill and according to Solomon here, “Wisdom strengthens the wise.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I think you’d have to agree with me that we need more wisdom in our culture and in our country. We don’t lack information. We don’t lack data. We don’t lack facts. In fact, you and I are living in the rush hour of the super information highway. Progress has furnished us more information in the past 30 years, listen to this, than previous millenniums together. Do you know that every five years since 1955, knowledge has doubled? Libraries grown under the weight of newly written books. High school graduates are exposed to more information about the world than Plato, Aristotle and Benjamin Franklin. Of all the scientists that have ever lived, listen to this statistic, of all the scientists who’ve ever lived, 90% of them are alive today, advancing technology, pushing back the boundaries of medical science and travel and space exploration.
We live in exciting days in terms of facts and figures and data and knowledge. “Knowledge today does not keep any better than fish,” someone said, but listen. For all those facts and for all that information, are we succeeding as a society? Knowledge is up, but I think you’d have to agree living is down. Living is down. For many people, life is coming apart at the seam. We’re seeing increased numbers of suicide, ever expanding lines of anxious people waiting to get in to see the doctor. People are living with despair and general hopelessness. We may be wizards on the computer, but we can’t compute the basic facts of life. We may be able to travel to the moon, but when we get back down to earth, we don’t know which way to travel.
Modern society has hatched a bumper crop of brilliant failures. In fact, I came across this story recently. A few years back, a 17-year-old Californian achieved the perfect score on the SAT test and when reporters asked, “What is the meaning of life?” she replied, “I have no idea. Would somebody tell me?” Knowledgeable? Yes. Smart as a whip? Absolutely. But wise? No. That’s the society you and I live in and you and I can make sense of that when we understand that there is a world of difference between knowledge and wisdom. Education is not informed by the council of the all wise. God makes fools out of us all. As Christians, we’re not against education. We’re high on education. In fact, did you know that two out of three colleges existing in America today were founded by churches and Christians? But we know as Christians the wisdom of this world is not enough, that if you’re just going to take an under the sun perspective, you’re going to come up short.
That’s the whole point of the book of Ecclesiastes, written by a man who has had the finest of education, has gone to the best of schools, but he wants to tell us, “You know what? It’s wisdom that will strengthen the wise. It’s life related to God that ultimately becomes successful.” And throughout Ecclesiastes, as with Proverbs, Solomon will parrot this thought that wisdom begins in the fear of God. Our thinking must begin with the mind of God, because God is the fountainhead of all thought. Knowledge is horizontal, wisdom is vertical, and so Solomon here extols the benefits of wisdom. Wisdom, according to verse 12, is a defense as money is a defense. “Wisdom strengthens the wise,” verse 19. And we started to work our way through these verses 19 through 29, and Solomon brings wisdom to bear upon a number of issues. We looked last week at the malice of gossip. The malice of gossip, verse 21 through 22. “Also do not take to heart everything people say.”
Wisdom would say to you, “Hey, you know what? You need to become hard of hearing when it comes to what others say about you. We live in a fallen world and men will fall in the area of the use and employment of their tongue.” James tells us about that. This is where we stumble, and so you and I will be criticized. You and I will become the targets of gossip. It happens. Solomon recognizes that. Wisdom recognizes it happens, but wisdom would say, “Look, don’t take it to heart. Realize it happens. Don’t chase the source because it happens and you’ve done it yourself. So just let it be.” We quoted Spurgeon from Lectures to my students last week where Spurgeon said, “Every pastor needs a deaf ear and a blind eye.” Every pastor needs that because while a pastor can’t stop the mouths of the gossip, he can stop his own ears listening to the gossip, and that will help him survive.
So wisdom teaches us, “Hey. It happens. You’ve done it yourself. Leave it alone.” In fact, I added one little thought to this myself this morning, to go outside the context. Also reminded myself, “At the end of the day, it’s a small thing. If you go over to 1 Corinthians chapter four, you’ll realize that Paul has become the target of gossip. There are those that are downplaying his ministry, questioning his integrity and look what he says. “Let a man so consider us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required in stewards that one be found faithful, but with me, listen, it’s a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I’m not justified by this, but he who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time until the Lord comes who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the heart. Then each one will have prayers from God.”
Paul said, “Look, I know there are others who are judging me, but it doesn’t bother me. It’s a small thing. I’ve judged myself. My conscience doesn’t condemn me. My life speaks for itself.” And then Paul steps back even from that. He says, “But you know what? I think I know myself, but God alone knows my heart and ultimately he will judge me when that great day comes and hidden things are revealed.” So when it comes to gossip, when it comes to people talking about you or about me, it happens. You’ve done it yourself, and at the end of the day, it’s a small thing. As they say on television sometimes when some court case comes up or some debate over some law, its legality or its illegality, you’ll hear the statement, “Well, this one’s going to go the whole way to the Supreme Court.” Well, Paul’s saying, “Hey, it’s all going to go to the Supreme Court.” And you know what? If you think somebody’s getting away with something, they won’t, and you could be wrong about your judgment of that person and that will be proven on that day.
So wisdom tells us to be careful when it comes to the malice of gossip. Secondly, wisdom tells us to be careful when it comes to the mystery of life. Verses 23 through 25, back in Ecclesiastes chapter seven, Solomon has sought to understand life, but he tells us, “Hey, it’s far from me.” Verse 23, “All this I proved by wisdom. I said I will be wise, but it’s far from me. As for that which is far off and exceedingly deep, who can find it out?” He’s been on a search and he’s been seeking out wisdom and the reason of things, but there are many questions that have been left unanswered. He tells us here in verse 27 and 28, “Here’s what I’ve found,” says the preacher. “Adding one thing to another to find out the reason which my soul still seeks, but I cannot find the mystery of life.” Wisdom empowers us, doesn’t it? It strengthens us, makes us wise, but while it strengthens us, it doesn’t make us omnipotent. Wisdom has its limitations. It can only take us so far in the realm of what there is to know. And so Solomon is saying here, “Despite even God given wisdom, a decisive and comprehensive knowledge of things remains elusive.”
True knowledge is a notion deep and wide and unfathomable. Our best day still leaves us with informed ignorance when it comes to those things that we have sought to grasp. True wisdom lies beyond human grasp. Knowledge is exceedingly deep. Verse 24, the NEB translation puts that verse like this, “Whatever has happened lies beyond our grasp, deep down, deeper than man can fathom.” Listen, God’s ways are not our ways. We’ve quoted that a number of times in this series. Isaiah 55 verses eight through nine, and then in Romans 11, verse 33, we’re told that, “God’s ways are past finding out.” It’s interesting. In Psalm 77 in verse 19, the psalmer says that if you were to try and trace, connect all the dots of God’s dealings in your life, the outworking of his providence, it would be like trying to track footprints in the sea. It can’t be done. It can’t be done. And part of wisdom is realizing the limitations of wisdom. Part of wisdom is realizing the limitations of wisdom. We believe in the sufficiency of scripture, don’t we? As evangelical Protestants, we believe that the canon is complete.
We’ve been given a special revelation from God that takes us from the dawn of creation to the sunset of history, tells us who we are, where we’re from, tells us that we’re in a mess, but there’s a fix in Jesus Christ. This book is comprehensive. The law of the Lord is perfect. It’s able to equip us on the every good word. We believe in the sufficiency of scripture and what we mean by the sufficiency of scripture is that the Bible teaches us all that we need to know, but we do need to remind ourselves that there are other things that we could know but God has not allowed us to know, and there are things that we cannot comprehend in our finiteness and in our fallenness. Deuteronomy 29, verse 29, “The revealed things belong to us and the secret things belong to God.” God has revealed something of his mind and he’s done it in a full way. We have a sufficient record of who God is, who we are, who Jesus Christ is, and what he came to do.
But listen to me. As Protestants, let’s not make this mistake, even after we have given attention to scripture and come away with a clear, cogent, confident theological formulation about life and the life to come. If I might borrow an image from the gospels where the woman touches the hem of Jesus garment, when you and I have done due diligence and studied the word of God, even if we went from Genesis to Revelation and nailed it all down, we have only touched the hem of his great wisdom. That’s Solomon’s reminding us here. Deep, deep, deep. Our mental arms are too short to fully embrace the divine mystery. There is a cloud of unknowing that’s between us and God. Our understanding of things will always be spotty. Full knowledge of things lies beyond this life. When Shimon Peres was Israel’s prime minister from 1984 to 1986, and in 1995 he assumed the role of acting prime minister following the tragic assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. When he was asked what he thought of that, he said, “Many will try to explain it. I believe you don’t have to explain everything. Many of the things that happen in life, symbolic or otherwise, let them remain as they are, a question without an answer.”
Isn’t that true? There are some things in life that are simply a question without an answer. You’re left scratching your head. God’s ways are past finding out, and wisdom teaches us that wisdom is limited. Part of wisdom is knowing the limitations of wisdom, that wisdom can equip us to live life skillfully and successfully, but wisdom will not inform us comprehensively of all that is happening and taking place. But as Paul’s saying, 1 Corinthians 13:12, “We know in part.” We’ve got blind spots. At first, that doesn’t seem good because we want to know. Don’t we want to be fully informed? We want to put the pieces together. We want to make sense of the senseless. At first look, that’s not good. I don’t like that. We know in part. Somebody needs to write another chapter so that I can get the full story, but at second look, I would suggest this to you. It’s not bad. In fact, a couple of weeks ago I wrote a devotional entitled The Blessing of Not Knowing It All, and I just want to come back to that for a few moments.
You and I need to embrace that idea. Wisdom informs us of the limitation of wisdom and we need to understand that. We need to embrace that. We need to make peace with that, and actually understand, “You know what? There is a blessing to not knowing it all.” I like the story of the mother who was waiting for her little girl to get off the bus after her first day at school and when she got off the bus, the mother asked, “Well, what did you learn today?” The little girl replied, “Nothing, I guess, because they’ve told me I’ve got to go back tomorrow.” Life has a way of bringing us all back again and again and again to the reality of our own ignorance. Even at the height of our knowledge, Augustine said, “It is a learned ignorance. Doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture doesn’t make us as wise as God or as knowledgeable as God. There are still things that remain a mystery and mystifying.” In fact, Warren Wiersbe, in an article about the blessing of not knowing it all said, “The wiser a man becomes, the more ignorant he knows himself to be.” Isn’t that the truth?
And so you and I need to embrace this thought that we don’t know at all. And you know what? If you step back from that, there’s a blessing in that. I wrote a couple of things. It’s good that we do not know it all, for that keeps us humble. Keeps us dependent upon God, keeps us looking heavenward, keeps us searching the book, keeps us praying to the Holy Spirit, because we don’t know it all. Knowledge lies somewhere beyond us, outside of us. You see, according to 1 Corinthians 8:1, knowledge has a way of making us proud. See, the more we know, we think ourselves better than others that don’t know. And so not knowing it all keeps us all humble. It should make us easy to live with. It should keep us from acting like we’re God. It should free us up from having an opinion on everything. Have you ever met that person that’s got an opinion on everything? That’s got all the theological knots untied, got all the issues of life nailed down. They’re obnoxious. They’re proud. They haven’t accepted the fact that they only know in part.
In fact, it’s good that we don’t know it all because it makes us kinder towards others. Not knowing the whole story of a person’s life should make us very slow to judge another person’s actions. That’s Paul’s point in the passage he read in 1 Corinthians 4. It’s a very small thing that I should be judged of you. I’ve judged myself. My conscience is clear, but you know what? I’m not even sure I know myself. My knowledge is partial. You’d think I would know myself best since I am myself, but as a finite fallen creature, I’m sure there are blind spots even that I don’t see about myself. So I’m going to leave it to that day. And so when you and I grasp that, I think it keeps us humble and I think it makes us kinder towards others. We’ve only got a snapshot of a person’s life, so be careful in your judgment. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
Some years ago, I came across a quote by C.S. Lewis and I thought this was helpful. He reminded you and me to be kind to someone who’s fallen at the point of temptation. Someone falls and feels and we stand over them in condemnation and we snarl and we sneer and we go, “Why did you do that? I wouldn’t have done that. How could you have done that?” C.S. Lewis says, “You know what? We see him at the moment he fell, but do we know how long he put up a brave fight before he fell? Be slow to judge. Be generous in your judgment. Be kind. Remind us not to be glib in our answers. Be slow to speak.” Job’s friends were great for Job until he opened their mouths and then they were no friends at all. They fell into that trap. They had their little theological formula. Job, God bless his righteousness, “You’re being cursed. So what’s wrong with you?” They had these glib, trite answers. Vance Havner says, “I get a little weary of those dear souls who have all the dealings and doings of providence cataloged, figured out, and they give their glib little answers to your headache. They haven’t been very far.”
God just doesn’t operate on our own timetable and some of his operations don’t even add up on the computer. The little boy who didn’t understand why God put so many vitamins in spinach and didn’t put more in ice cream had a pretty good idea that it doesn’t work out like you think. We don’t know it all. So stay humble. Stay dependent. Be slow to judge. Be kind in your judgment of others. Don’t be glib in your answers. Tell you another benefit of not knowing it all, it causes you to live one day at a time and that’s the way we’re meant to live anyway. Life by the inch is a cinch. Life by the yard is hard. And Jesus told us in Matthew 6:34 to live one day at a time. There’s enough trouble. There’s enough issues. There’s enough things to do today without loading your plate with tomorrow’s menu. Imagine God showed you the future. He showed you the next five years, which includes all your disappointments, all your illnesses, all your issues. Would that make you sleep a bit better tonight? We can hardly handle two days, let alone five years.
There’s a blessing in not knowing it all. There’s a blessing in not knowing what’s behind the curtain or over the hill or beyond the wall. I think there’s another benefit to not knowing it all. It causes you to trust the one who does know it all. Romans 8:26, “When you don’t know what to pray, the Holy Spirit prays for you.” What a blessing. We covered that in our series on the Holy Spirit. But we often forget. That’s the context of Romans 8:28. Romans 8:26, “We don’t know,” but then Paul says, “But we know that all things work together for good.” We don’t know what’s around the corner. We don’t know why God allows this and allows that, why the righteous die in their righteousness and the wicked live in their wickedness, but we know that all things work together for good. We trust the Lord in all of that. And then finally, it sweetens the thought of heaven, doesn’t it? When you live in the shadowlands, to borrow C.S. Lewis’s picture, you long to see God face to face. We know in part, but then face to face, the question marks will be straightened out into exclamation marks.
God will tell us why he did this and why he allowed that. C.S. Lewis said, “Some of our first words in heaven will be, ‘Of course.'” That’s true. And until then, we’ll trust the one who knows it all. Until then, we’ll be humble and dependent. Until then, we’ll walk by faith and not by sight. Until then, we’ll try and be as kind in our judgments and as wary in our answers and thoughtful in our responses. Wisdom tells us something about the malice of gossip. Wisdom tells us something about the mystery of life and wisdom tells us something about the menace of sin. Quickly verses 20 and then 26 through 29, “According to our text, there’s not a just man on the earth.” That’s verse 20. “For there’s not a just man on the earth who does good and does not sin.” Paul will quote this in Romans 3 to underwrite the doctrine of total depravity, the fall of man into sin. Man is not a moral being on an upward track. Man is flat on his face morally. He’s fallen. He’s corrupt. He’s depraved.
He doesn’t do what he ought to do and he does what he ought not to do and that’s why the world’s all messed up. That’s why life under the sun, at times, is frustrating because there are all sorts of traps, all sorts of temptations. Solomon talks about women here whose heart is a snare. He may be referring back to Proverbs two verses 16 through 19 in Proverbs five, six and seven where he talks about the seductress, the immoral woman, the temptress. More than likely, but he’s just speaking out of his own experience. It’s interesting that he talks about the fact here in verse 28 that he can’t find a faithful woman among a thousand. Well, if you go to 1 Kings chapter 11 verses one through six, he’s got 300 wives and 700 concubines. I wonder if he’s speaking out of his own experience. I don’t think he’s saying in broad brushes that, “You know what? You’ll find an odd faithful man and no faithful women.” He’s just speaking, “Hey, there’s traps. You’ll face the menace of sin.” We know from 1 Kings 11 verses one through six that his wives and his concubines turn his heart away from the Lord.
The world is full of wickedness. Why? Why? Why do we have murder? Why do we have rape? Why do we have thievery and robbery and embezzlement? Why do children not obey their parents? Why do we have corrupt governments that feed off the poor and the disadvantaged? Warlords? While man doesn’t know as much as God, he thinks he knows and he acts independently and willfully apart from God. And that’s why the world is upside down, for there is not a just man on the earth who does not sin. And according to verse 29, “Truly this only I have found. That God made man upright and they have sought out many schemes.” That’s an interesting thought, isn’t it? It’s a bit of a contrast with verse 15 where we wrote, “What God has made crooked, no man can make straight,” but it’s interestingly, man has managed to bend what God had made upright. I think this is an allusion back to the creation narrative of Genesis one through three. “Man was made perfect. Man was made upright, morally strong, morally pure, in a relationship with God. Everything was heaven on earth until man became wise in his own eyes and he stopped reading God’s script and he wrote his own story.”
He came up with his own schemes, according to verse 29, and that landed us in a world of trouble. Instead of living the one life that God had prescribed for our eternal joy, humans in their rebellion sought out multiple alternatives. They have and they do continue to write their own story and it always has a disastrous last chapter. “For there’s a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof is the way of death.” That’s Solomon’s point. You know what’s wrong with the world? You are and you need fixed. You were once upright, but you’ve fallen short of God’s glory and now the fix is to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who is upright, morally pure, who died in your place and gave his life for you. A correspondent to the London Times, quite a while back, was researching and reporting on the many problems that society faced then. And in the article, he ended with this statement, “What’s wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton wrote a famous reply on that day. He wrote a letter and it said, “Dear editor. What’s wrong with the world? I am. Faithfully yours, G.K. Chesterton.”
That is what’s wrong with the world. We are, but God didn’t give us up. Jesus Christ come into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved, that we might be made straight again, upright again through his righteousness, through his death, through his love displayed on the cross. Let me get to this last thought. We’re done here. We’re going to spill over into chapter eight and verse one, the blessing of wisdom. We’ve looked at the balance of wisdom, the bulwark of wisdom. Now the blessing of wisdom. Look at verse one of chapter eight, “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.” That’s the blessing of wisdom. “Wisdom is good with an inheritance,” verse 11. “Wisdom is the defense as money is a defense,” verse 12 of chapter seven. “Wisdom strengthens the wise,” verse 19, “and wisdom brightens the face,” chapter eight in verse one.
A life that’s lived in the fear of God and faith toward God through Jesus Christ is a life that has been brightened by God’s wisdom. Walter Kaiser notes, “It can dispel the gloom,” speaking of wisdom, “and brightens man’s otherwise hard looks.” See, we live in a fallen world. We live in a world that’s menaced by sin and messed up by sinners. There’s a lot of sadness and injustice in this world, but hold on a minute. As we look out on this world, you’ve got these people who’ve got bright faces. They’ve got radiant lives. Who are these people that are bucking the trend? These are the people who have enjoyed God’s wisdom. These are the people who have been given an insight on life. They know who God is. They know who they are. They know what they can become through faith in Jesus Christ. They know a lot of things and it helps them have a brighter outlook on life. We can make a lot of this or we can make a little of this. Given the time, we’ll just make a little of this.
The point is wisdom and knowledge of God through wisdom allows us to enjoy something of God’s favor. Numbers six, verse 25 says, the aaronic benediction, “Lord, make your face to shine upon us.” When his face shines in us, our faces shine. Psalm 34, verse five says what? “And they looked to him and they were made radiant.” My friend, when you know God, it should make a difference in your life. It should change your outlook because it gives you a different perspective. Life takes on a different complexion, and I think that should register on our faces. It should make a difference in our lives. Moses met God and his face shone, Exodus 34, verse 29. It was said of Stephen in Acts six, verse 15, that he had the face of an angel. I don’t want to make too much of this. I don’t think the whole point of this is just that you and I go around with some kind of happy face all day long.
But the point is that sometimes there should be a lot more happiness, a lot more brightness about us than there is at times. Because, you see, we’re well-informed. We’re well instructed. We know how the story ends. We know we’re loved. We know we’re kept. We’ve got a sufficient record of life and how it ought to be lived. We know that God loves us in Jesus Christ. We know we’re indwelled by the Holy Spirit. We know that we have great and exceeding promises. When you know all of that, when you have wisdom centered upon Jesus Christ, because that’s the focus of the New Testament, in him is treasured up all the wisdom of God. When you know God through Jesus Christ, it will take away that stern look. It will take away that sad disposition. It will remove that unhappiness and it will bring a brightness and a gaiety and a joy to your life. If I may put it like this. When Jesus is in the heart, Jesus will be on the face. What about that for a thought? Let me have a look.
When Jesus is in the heart, Jesus will be on the face. Wisdom brings a shine to a man’s face and a joy to a man’s life. As I thought about that, I thought about one guy. Thought about a man by the name of Ivan Thompson. Got to know Ivan as an evangelist, then got to know him as my pastor. Ivan was a character. He had a wonderful testimony. He came to faith in Jesus Christ by going to a worship service against his own will. His wife was always bugging him to go to the evening service at Abbott’s Cross Congregational Church in Belfast. And one night, he caved in, but what he did was he changed the clocks by about 15 minutes so that they would arrive late and he would have an excuse not to go in. And he did arrive late, about 10 minutes after the service had begun, and he looked through the doors that were hanging up and saw the place was full. Said, “Look, I don’t want to go in there. Let’s go home.”
And before he had finished his sentence, an usher was doing his job. Grabbed him by the hand and trailed him right down the middle of the aisle to the front row of that service. He heard the gospel, was wonderfully saved. And I want to tell you something about Ivan Thompson. He died of a brain tumor just about two years ago. He never got over it. By day, he delivered office furniture and carpets and stuff, but by night, he was an evangelist and a very effective evangelist. He spoke the people’s language. He had a heart for the lost. He had a great gift of communication and humor. In fact, when you would go with him to one of his meetings, he would pick you up in the truck. There was only room for two people up in the cab. So you went into the back with all the other seats and all the desks and all the carpets.
And sometimes he didn’t have that thing tied down as well, and you’re going from one wall of the truck to the other until you got there. In fact, Ivan gave me my break in ministry. First Sunday morning service I ever preached, that was at Tandragee Baptist Church. He was meant to speak there, but he’d come down sick and he said, “Philip, would you take it?” God used him. For a time, he became a pastor. And to be quite honest, I’m not sure that was a good fit for him because it was a settled ministry. Ivan was a real evangelist at heart. He loved to preach heaven and hell. He loved to preach the grace of God and the mercy of Jesus Christ. He loved to rejoice in the joy of sins forgiven. But working with chronic complainers in the church just wasn’t his thing. And he didn’t suffer them too well.
I know of one story where at the end of an evening service in his church, a man came up who he knew had something on his mind that he should have kept there, but he wanted to share it with his pastor. And so Ivan ushered him into a room, closed the door, and then he said to the deacon, “In about 15 minutes, let him out and tell him I’ve gone home.” Left the guy just sitting in the room for 15 minutes and he headed home. He said he didn’t want anything to do with that stuff. There was another time he went into a service and was met by these two ushers that were like cardboard cutouts and like dummies at a Madame Tussauds museum. And he looked at them and he thought they were such a bad advertisement for the gospel. He said, “You know what, brother? Would you land me your face for Halloween?”
Rough? Yes. Rude, crude? You could make an argument. But you see, for Ivan, he couldn’t understand unhappy Christians. He couldn’t understand complaining in the light that you’d been redeemed and plucked as a [inaudible 00:39:25] from the burning and forgiven by the grace of God and the mercy of God. When you met Ivan, you knew he was in the room because you could hear laughter. You could sense the life of God in his life. That’s the way it ought to be. That’s the way it should be, because wisdom centered on Jesus Christ on the cross is wisdom that brings a shine to a man’s face and a joy to a woman’s heart and gives us a whole new outlook on life. Let’s pray.
Lord, we thank you for our time in Ecclesiastes chapter seven. Thank you for reminding us that there are some things better than other things, that the house of mourning is better than the house of feasting. That the rebuke of a wise man is better than the laughter of fools. Thank you for teaching us to live with tensions and paradoxes in life, that life is a rather uneven path, but God is faithful. There are days of prosperity. There are days of adversity. There are questions that have no answers, when the righteous die in their righteousness and the wicked live in their wickedness. Lord, help us to leave those unanswered questions with you. Help us, Lord, to embrace the mystery of your providence and the mystery of your dealings with us. And Lord, we pray that amidst the world menaced by sin, destroyed by disobedience, may we add some bright faces to the picture. May our lives reflect something of the radiance of redemption and the glory of knowing Jesus Christ, for we ask and pray these things in His name. Amen.