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July 24, 2011
Live and Learn – Part 1
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Ecclesiastes 7: 1-14

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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 7. We’re going to begin a two-part sermon on verses 1-14. Let’s take time to read this section of God’s Word together. Hope you’ve brought your Bible. Hope it’s open. Hope you’re eager to learn. Ecclesiastes 7:1. “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth. Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men, and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance, the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools, for like the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool. This also is vanity.
“Surely, oppression destroys a wise man’s reason, and a bribe debases his heart. The end of a thing is better than its beginning. The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools. Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these,’ for you do not inquire wisely concerning this. Wisdom is good with an inheritance and profitable to those who see the sun, for wisdom is a defense as money is a defense, but the excellence of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who have it. Consider the work of God, for who can make straight what he has made crooked? In the day of prosperity, be joyful, but in the day of adversity, consider, surely God has appointed the one as well as the other, so that man can find out nothing that will come after him.”
So reads God’s precious Word. Life is a matter of learning and living. You’d have to agree with that. What do we say? “You live and learn.” Those of us who would make the most of life need to be those who are enthusiastic, lifelong learners, who are eager students of God, eager students of life, eager students of human nature. It is imperative that we go through life with the eyes of our understanding wide open, collecting facts, accepting mystery, listening to others, learning from history, discovering what is time-tested and true, learning what works, and learning what doesn’t work.
I enjoyed a little article I came across by a certain writer entitled Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Noah’s Ark. Number one, don’t miss the boat. Number two, remember that we’re all in the same boat. Number three, plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark. Number four, stay fit. When you’re 60 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big. Five, don’t listen to your critics. Just get on with the job that needs to be done. Six, for safety’s sake, travel in pairs. Seven, speed isn’t always an advantage. The snails were on board with the cheetahs. Eight, remember, the ark was built by amateurs, the Titanic by professionals. Nine, no matter the storm, have faith. There’s always a rainbow.
You and I need to live and learn, and as we step back into the Book of Ecclesiastes and we go through the door of Ecclesiastes 7, we find King Solomon in a reflective mood. He’s perusing. He’s pondering life. He’s taking stock of what life has taught him so far. Providence and experience has taught him a series of lessons that he wants us to learn. He desperately wants to pass on what’s good for us. See, he left a question hanging at the end of chapter 6, “For who knows,” verse 12, “what is good for man in life?” He left that question hanging. What’s good for man in life? And now he sets out to answer it.
In chapter 7, especially in verses 1-14, he shows us what’s best. He shows us what’s better. In verse 1, he tells us a good name is better than expensive perfume. In verse 1, he tells us the day of death is better than the day of one’s birth. In verse 2, he tells us mourning is better than festivity. In verse 3, he tells us sorrow is better than laughter. In verse 5, he tells us a rebuke from a wise man is better than the praise of fools. In verse 8, he tells us the end of a thing is better than its beginning. In verse 8 and 9, he tells us patience in waiting for God’s timing is better than fretting over the elusive things of life. In verses 10-12, upon further reflection, he tells us that affliction may be better than immediate outward good.
There’s a lot of lessons that Solomon has learned and life has taught him, and he wants to tutor us in that reality. What we have, in fact, in 7:1-14, is Solomon returning to his true form. We have a series of proverbial statements, and Solomon’s famous for this. He’s renowned for this. In fact, he was part, along with others, of writing the book of Proverbs. In 12:9 of this very book, Ecclesiastes, we’re told that indeed, the writer, the preacher, the teacher is one who has set out in order many proverbs. And so, Solomon returns here to true form, and he starts to pass on to the next generation some life-enhancing lessons, lessons that have cost him dearly, that he passes on to us free of charge, and he wants us to know that wisdom is a good inheritance.
Scroll down to verse 11. “Wisdom is good with an inheritance and profitable to those who see the sun, for wisdom is a defense as money is a defense, but the excellence of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who have it.” Solomon is saying, “Look, every good Israelite wants to pass on an inheritance to his family.” In most cases, it was the land that they had been allotted from the time of Joshua. But sometimes, a family would fall on hard time, and they would sell that land, and they’d have some money as a defense against some desperate times. And then, in the Year of Jubilee, that land would be returned to them every seven years. And so, Solomon’s saying, “Look, an inheritance is a good thing. Money can be a defense against tough times, but better than an inheritance, better than money, is wisdom,” and he’s really saying to every parent and every father and every mentor, “Whatever you pass on to others, pass on time-tested truth, the wisdom of God’s Word.” And that’s what Solomon is doing here.
So, let’s begin to look at this passage, and we’re going to look at it this morning, and we’re going to look at it next Lord’s Day morning. If you want to break up these 14 verses into two sections, you might break it up like this. In verses 1-4, we have lessons from death to the living, and in verses 5-14, we have lessons from life for the living. Now, I’m going to break the passage up into three sections, and we’re just going to cover the first one this morning, verses 1-4. In verses 1-4, Solomon says, “Live and learn when bereaved. Times of loss and sorrow can be a great teacher.” In verses 5-6, Solomon says, “Live and learn when berated.” What are you going to do when you’re criticized? What are you going to do when somebody pulls you onto the mat? Solomon’s going to tell you what to do in verses 5-6.
And then, in verses 7-14 he says, “Live and learn when bewildered.” When the road of life all of a sudden becomes crooked, and you’re thrown a curveball, and you’re not sure what end is up and what God’s up to, Solomon’s got something to say. He’s got wisdom for all of those experiences. When bereaved, when berated, when bewildered. But we’re going to look at the first section, verses 1-4. Solomon says, “Live and learn when bereaved.” Let’s go to verse 1, and let’s read it together again. “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth. Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men, and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance, the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools and the house of mirth.”
In these verses, Solomon comes back to some familiar turf, namely the subject of death. Solomon once again talks about the human condition and its subjection to death. The cold, hard, and harsh reality is that we all owe God a death. He has addressed that in 2:14-16 and 3:19-21. He steals the thunder of the Hebrew writer who will say to us very plainly in 9:27 of his letter, “It is appointed unto men once to die.” That is just a stubborn fact. There’s no getting round of it. There’s only one door that leads out of life.
And so, Solomon in this passage has us confronting the raw reality of our own demise. That’s certain. That’s sure. I want you to imagine Solomon’s taking us on a walk. We’re walking down a particular street, and we’re about halfway down the block, and you can hear coming out of the windows of this particular house a lot of noise, a lot of music, a lot of laughter. You can tell, “You know what? There’s a party going on in there,” and Solomon ushers us past that house. We’re not stopping there. We’re not staying there. He takes us down the street, turns the corner, we’re about a half a block away, and he darts in with us into a funeral home. And there, we’re confronted with a father who’s weeping over the loss of a child, a mother who’s heartbroken, brothers and sisters who are in abject despair, and he says, “Look, sit down and observe. We’re not going anywhere, because it’s better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting. A funeral will improve your life in ways that a festival never will.”
Okay, the Orange County Fair is on right now, and you and I could go to it and have a blast. We could eat ourselves silly, we could listen to live music, play some of the game. Nothing wrong with that, but we won’t come out a better person for that. Those are moments when you kind of get lost, and you forget about the serious matters of life and the weightier issues of death. The Orange County Fair won’t do any one of us any long-term good, but you know what? I’ve attended a couple of funerals this past couple of weeks for members of our congregation. One of our men lost his mother. One of our brothers lost his wife. I found that rather sobering. Looked into a couple of open caskets and reminded myself, my day is coming. That’s sobering, and it’s also sanctifying.
And Solomon would say that’s good. It’s good sometimes to waken yourself out of the silliness of what life can become and really waken up to the realities. Solomon’s not being gothic here. Solomon’s not being morose. He’s just being realistic. Elsewhere, he’ll say, “A merry heart is a good medicine. A merry heart is a continual feast.” You read about that in the Book of Proverbs, but I think Solomon is reminding us, “Look, life is to be enjoyed.” In fact, in the chapter before, he told us again to eat and drink and enjoy God’s good gifts, but he is saying this, that good times must never be premised upon pretending that bad things don’t happen. Okay? Enjoy the good times, but remember that death is stalking you all the time. You need to be sobered up to that reality.
And then, he would probably say that but it’s the bad times that makes the good times better. It’s darkness that makes the light all the more luminous. It’s hatred that makes love all the more glorious. It’s death that makes life all the more precious. Death is the appointed destiny of all living creatures, and we need to take that to heart. Did you do any sober reflection this week on the brevity of your life and the certainty of your death? Did that motivate you in any way to action? Did it curb your appetites? Did it make you choose something in the light of eternity? Not in the press of the moment, not on impulse? Psalm 90:12 says, “Number your days so that you might learn wisdom.” That’s true, isn’t it? Death has a way of prioritizing life and minimizing stuff.
An open grave, and I’ve stood by one just recently, an open grave reminds us that life is not the 99 cent store where everything is of the same value. You can go to the 99 cent store, there’s nothing for 50 cents, nothing for five bucks, it’s all 99 cents, but life’s not like that. There are some things more precious, more pressing, more important than other things, and death helps us switch the price tags of life.
So, let’s come to this section, verses 1-4. There’s two things I want to say. Actually, Solomon wants to say, and I’m going to say it for him. He’s written it, but I’m going to speak it. Death interprets a man’s life, verse 1, and death instructs a man’s life, verse 2-4. Death interprets a woman’s life. Death instructs a woman’s life. Let’s look at verse 1. “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth,” and that’s an interesting statement there at the end of verse 1. What does Solomon mean when he says that the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth? Sounds rather pessimistic. I mean, given the harsh realities of life, and Solomon has cataloged them from the beginning of this book, is Solomon saying, “You know what? Death comes as a release. It’s an escape hatch from this frustrating world of ours.” I think that’s too pessimistic.
Remember, this book is headed to a very positive conclusion. Fear God, keep His commandments, for in this, man finds his whole duty and his whole delight. I don’t think Solomon’s being overly pessimistic here. He doesn’t have a death wish. I’ll tell you what I think Solomon’s saying. Solomon’s not saying that death is better than life as such as much as he’s contrasting the book ends of life, the day of your birth, the day of your death. And he reminds us of this solemn fact, that if the day of your birth proves to be better than the day of your death, then your life has been a waste. I think that’s what this verse is saying.
Let me say that again. If the day of your birth proves to be better than the day of your death, then your life’s been a waste. The day of your death should be better than the day of your birth, because you see, when we’re born, all people can do is anticipate the good that we’re going to do, the things we’re going to accomplish. Hopefully that son, hopefully that daughter’s going to make something of their life, but only time will prove it. Only the passage of time will help us to see if people have abused the gift of life that God has given them or really done something for God’s glory and for the advancement of humanity. That’s the point. Our death interprets our life. The ink dries at death, and then we get to read how a person lived, and we can then come to a firm conclusion, they were good, or they were bad. That’s what’s going on here?
In fact, when you link the end of verse 1 to the beginning of verse 1, that’s exactly what Solomon’s saying. He’s saying, “Look, when you come to the end of your life, you want to die with a good reputation. You want to die with a noble name. You want to die with a lingering legacy. A good reputation is better than expensive perfume, and the day of one’s death than the day of one’s birth.” You see, when a person is born, you can only measure his life in terms of its potential. When he dies, you can look back on what he actually accomplished.
And you and I need to remind ourselves of something, our name and our deeds, which ultimately comes together in a reputation. Our name and our deeds live longer than we do. Like the lingering fragrance of perfume, our name lingers. Our legacy hangs around and either affects the next generation for good or for ill. Have we sat them a high bar to reach to? Have we shown them the paths of righteousness? Have we taught them the gospel of Jesus Christ? Have we taught them what’s important and what’s not important?
This is a powerful, powerful section in chapter 7. If you die with a good name, then death holds no terror, and the day of your death will be better than the day of your birth. But if you die with a bad name, having wasted God’s good gift, having never turned to faith in Jesus Christ, having never lived for the glory of God, having never left a Godly heritage to your children, left them some financial security, loved them, led them. If you die with a bad name, then the day of your birth is better than the day of your death, and in some ways, you will wish and others will wish you had never been born. That’s Solomon’s point. Death interprets life.
Like the lingering smell of perfume, has the person left a good reputation? Does their life amount to a sweet smell, or does their life amount to a foul stench? What’s your legacy going to be? How are you going to be remembered? Are you going to give the pastor something to say at your funeral, or is he going to be scrambling to find some nice things to say in very kind of indistinct language? Or can he truly say that that person was a lover of God, a believer of the Bible, a lover of the lost, and one who shared the love of God with neighbor and friend and enemy alike?
When you and I die, will our name smell like Chanel 5 or toilet water? To be quite honest. Haven’t quoted Wiersbe in a while, and I love him, so he’s due, and here he is today. Ecclesiastes 7. Wiersbe says this, love this, “The memory of the just is blessed, but the name of the wicked shall rot.” That’s a verse out of Proverbs 10:7, and Wiersbe says this, “Mary of Bethany anointed the Lord Jesus with expensive perfume, and its fragrance filled the house. Remember that? Oh, Judas didn’t like that. ‘Hey, what’s going on? It’s a waste of money.’ Leave her alone. Jesus is enjoying it. And Jesus told her that her name would be honored throughout the world,” says Wiersbe, and it is. On the other hand, Judas sold the Lord Jesus into the hands of the enemy, and his name is generally despised.
When Judas was born, he was given a good name, Judah, which means praise. It belonged to the royal tribe in Israel. By the time Judas died, he turned that honorable name into something shameful. That’s the point. “A good name is better than rich, expensive perfume, and the day of one’s death than the day of one’s birth.” See, Mary’s act, her spontaneous, outrageous love for Jesus Christ, we still think about it today. When we think about Mary of Bethany, we remember, “That’s a good woman.” What do you think of when you think of Judas? You think of a sad, sniveling snitch. A betrayer of the very Son of God. You wouldn’t name your dog Judas, let alone your children. That’s Ecclesiastes 7:1.
Interesting, this week when I was studying, I learned that in the city of Geneva, where John Calvin was holed up during the Reformation in Europe, as Protestantism spread, they had an interesting habit. They had an interesting custom and tradition in the city of Geneva among the Protestants of Switzerland. When a child was born, they mourned, and when someone died, they celebrated. And it seems to be back to front. Seems to be upside down, but here’s their rationale. In fact, there’s a theology that lies behind it. Here’s their point. See, when a child is born, it’s born “shapen in iniquity.” It’s born, according to the psalmist, “Separated from God from its mother’s womb.” It’s born a child of Adam. It’s a child of wrath. According to John 3, the wrath of God abides upon those who are born. They’re born with a sin nature. They’re born separated from God, and that’s something to be mourned, because if things don’t change, they will experience the judgment of God. Someday, they will fall headlong into a Christ-less Hell.
What parent would wish that for their child? What fear, foreboding, grabs the heart of every parent in Geneva? The child is born, but the child’s not saved. It’s a child of wrath. It’s a son of Adam. But hopefully, at some point, that child, having known the Scriptures, is made wise unto salvation. That person, boy or girl, man or woman, closes in with the offer of God’s mercy through faith in Jesus Christ. Realizing what God had done in Jesus Christ for them on the Cross, they put their faith where God put their sin, and the Damocles’ sword of God’s wrath is lifted, and there’s therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ, and they begin to live for God’s glory. They redeem the time, and then comes their death, and the people celebrate, because he or she who was born a child of Adam is now dying as a son and daughter of God. Heaven awaits them. That’s the point.
It’s a good custom, isn’t it? The time to celebrate is death, because the life has been lived, and if there’s a good name, if there’s a good reputation, if there’s a legacy, then it’s time to celebrate. Anything else is premature. But death not only interprets life. Secondly, death instructs life. This is verses 12-14, “Better to go to the house of mourning than go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all men, the living take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning. The heart of the fool is in the house of mirth.”
As we have said, Solomon is making an argument that it’s better to attend a funeral than a festival. The open mouth of a grave provokes you to think, doesn’t it? Sorrow matures us. I’m sure you’d agree with me. Is it not true that you learn more in the night than you ever do in the day? You learn more about yourself and about God and His grace and what He’s done for us in Jesus Christ in adversity rather than prosperity. See, feasting helps us forget. Funerals provide a wake-up call. An example, write these verses down. I’ll just give you the skinny.
In Daniel 5:1-6, Belteshazzar, he’s having the party of a lifetime. There’s a thousand guests. The music is loud, the atmosphere is boisterous, wine is flowing, food galore, but halfway through the party, Belteshazzar says, “You know what? I forgot. Somebody go and get the cups that we took from the Temple in Jerusalem when we invaded Israel. Go and get some of that gold and silver utensils.” The goblets are brought, the cups are brought. Some of the furniture of the Temple is brought, and it’s profaned, and wine is poured into chalices, and wine is drunk in the name of other gods to the glory of Belteshazzar.
God wastes no time, and a hand appears against the wall, and with a finger, that hand begins to write on that wall. The music stops. The place shivers in fear. Belteshazzar doesn’t know what to do. His wise men can’t understand the writing. Then they bring Daniel. Daniel interprets it, “Hey, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. God is about to tighten the noose around your neck, Belteshazzar.” The thought of death stops the party, stops that raucous expression of human pride and pleasure.
That’s what death ought to do. It ought to sober us up, especially those of us who are intoxicated by this present world. Let me challenge you to forget about a romantic walk this week on the beach. I want you to take a realistic walk through the local graveyard. Solomon would encourage you to do this. Go and read some headstones. Go peruse some of the memorials. Learn how young many have died. Ask yourself, “Is everybody going to Heaven?” Because it seems like it when you read all the headstones, but can that be true? And if you listen, you’ll hear voices crying from the abode of the dead telling you to seize the day, telling you to be done with petty squabbles, telling you to forgive quickly, telling you to reach the lost aggressively, telling you to live redemptively, telling you to love your family, treasure your friends, pity your enemies, and run to Jesus Christ, because every funeral anticipates your funeral.
We’re told in Psalm 90:12 to number our days and apply our heart unto wisdom. I remember when I was back pastoring in Northern Ireland, I heard about a funeral service that Pastor Boggs of Tobermore Baptist Church in Ulster took, and at the funeral, he said as they stood by the graveside, “I have a single message for one person today. A single message for one person, that is, the next man to die.” And then, he went on to preach that famous text from Amos, “Prepare to meet your God.” That is the message that comes out of Ecclesiastes 7:1-4. It’s a single message to a single person, the next person to die. Prepare for life by thinking often of your death. Living under the shadow of death is a liberating experience. It challenges you to make wiser choices. It challenges you to live redemptively.
In fact, it instructs us in a number of things, three in all. It teaches us death is certain, life is serious, and sorrow is good. Let me show you these in the verses, and we’ll be done. Death is certain. We’ve kind of touched on this, but let me just reinforce it. In verse 2, what do we read? “Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men.” Again, we’re told here, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,” because there he will be confronted by his own mortality. In Psalm 39, in verse 4, the psalmist prays this, “Lord, make me to know my end and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am. Indeed, you have made my days as a hand’s breadth, and my age is nothing before you. Certainly, every man at his best is but vapor.”
That’s something you and I need to think about more often than we do. The presence and the problem of death stands at the heart of the human experience, and I’d encourage you not to ignore that. It’s not to become overly morbid or introspective so that you can’t eat and drink and enjoy God’s goodness, because Solomon commands us to that. But perhaps, the good times are all the more good when they’re set against how quickly life goes, how suddenly death comes, how swiftly things change. Death is certain, and we must not live life in the denial of the true nature of things. We’re all going to die, so get about the business of living. Living for Christ. You and I may try to ignore death, but death will not ignore us.
Going to the house of mourning not only teaches us death is certain, it teaches us that life is serious. What do we read? “Better to go to the house of mourning,” verse 2, “than the house of feasting. This is the end of all men, and the living will take it to heart.” The living will get serious about living, because the sand of time is sinking. We must not close our eyes to the truth that our days are numbered, that the clock is ticking down, that life is not a dress rehearsal.
Listen. Listen to me. Every father who has a family, every husband who has a wife, every person that has a ministry, and we can switch those around to make sure we’re covering everybody this morning, you don’t have forever to get your act together, so get on in the business of living. Do something about your family. Do something about your marriage. Do something about your ministry. It’s time to serve the Lord. It’s time to give to the Lord’s work. It’s time to evangelize the lost. It’s time to be more serious about your Bible study. It’s time to have some ministry in the church. It’s time to invite your neighbors to a gospel meeting. You don’t have forever to get your act together, because the sands of time are sinking.
Life deserves careful action. Isn’t that what Paul says in Ephesians 5:15-17? “Walk circumspectly, redeeming the time.” The word circumspectly carries the idea of premeditation, preemption. Think about what you’re about to do next. Is it within the will of God? Do you hear the tick, tick, tick of the clock? Do you see the Grim Reaper off in the distance? He’s never far away. Life is serious. It’s not to be lived on a lounge chair. You can’t loiter on your way to heaven. In fact, I was interested as I thought about this to connect two words in the gospels relating to our Lord Jesus.
In John’s gospel, there’s a word that’s often used of the Lord Jesus, that His hour was not yet come. It’s a special word you’ll only find John using, and he was really setting the context of Jesus’ life against the backdrop of His impending death. His hour was not yet come. And then, on the eve of the Crucifixion, in John 17, Jesus prays, “Father, the hour has come where I’m going to glorify you on the earth.” And Jesus began to walk up Calvary’s hill, having told Pilate, “For this reason was I born. This is the moment I’ve lived for, to die for all mankind, to give my soul a ransom for many.”
Now, then, if you go from John’s gospel over to Mark’s gospel, there’s a word that Mark uses 41 times, much of it related to Jesus. In the old King James, it’s the word straightaway. In a new version, it will be immediately. Mark uses it to describe, our Lord Jesus was always about the business of life and ministry, because the hour was not yet come, but it was coming, and therefore, there was no time to waste. Life is serious. That’s what’s good about going to the house of mourning. When you go to a funeral, you’ll be reminded not to dilly-dally your way through life. You can’t take a six-month hiatus. You can’t go into hibernation. All that you ought to be doing, you need to be doing and doing it now, because death is certain. Life is serious.
I read some time ago about the crash of an Eastern Airlines jumbo jet in Florida over the Everglades. The plane was the now-famous Flight 401 bound for Miami from New York City with a heavy load of holiday passengers. And as that huge jumbo jet approached Miami airport for its landing, the light that indicates the proper deployment of the landing gear failed to come on. And so, in talking to the tower, the pilot pulled up and decided to circle, and as they were circling, one of the crew members began to take a look at this little light. Fiddled with it. Wondered if it just wasn’t screwed in right. Was there a short going on? Maybe the landing gear was deployed, and they could have landed. Maybe not.
And so, as it began to circle, the engineer was looking at this. Then, the copilot began to look at this, and then the pilot began to look at this, and unknown to all of them, it’s amazing to think that the plane began to the descend until it crashed into the swamp area of the Everglades with the loss of many lives. These guys are fiddling around with a 75-cent bulb, and all the while forgetting to fly the plane. You would think as a pilot, whatever else you’re going to do, fly the plane, buddy. How easy in life to get distracted. How easy in life to get caught up with things that, you know what, aren’t of lasting value. Whatever else you’re doing in life, make sure you’re living it, not wasting it, because death is certain. Life is serious.
Finally, in closing, sorrow is good. Look at verse 3. “Sorrow is better than laughter. A sad countenance makes the heart better.” And as we’ve said, Solomon’s not a sourpuss. He knows how to have a good time. He’s already told us on many occasions, eat and drink and enjoy God’s good gifts. But there are times when laughter will turn to mourning, and there are times, according to James 4:9, where laughter needs to turn to mourning. We need to give up on the silliness and get serious. Regardless of whether it’s circumstantial or a choice, we need to move from laughter to mourning. And the road of life will take us through the vale of tears, but sorrow will improve the heart. Sorrow is not pleasant, but it is profitable. As we’ve said, you’ll learn more in the night than you will ever learn in the day. That’s why Bob Jones, Sr., who was the visionary of Bob Jones University in South Carolina, he’s famous for this statement, “Never forget in the light what God taught you in the dark.” God teaches us a lot of things in the dark.
In fact, this verse 3 can literally be translated, “By sadness, the heart is made better.” And that’s true, isn’t it? It’s a parallel thought, because hard times leads to sober reflection and triggers moral improvement. Sorrow has a way of sobering us up. Sorrow has a way of putting everything into perspective. Sorrow has a way of registering the true value of things in our lives. Sorrow has a way of throwing us upon the mercy and the compassion and grace of God. Solomon has said that a merry heart is a good medicine, but he also would say here in Ecclesiastes 7, “A sad heart is a good teacher.” Sorrow is superior to mirth, because it’s conducive to the acquisition of wisdom. Life is a brutal teacher, and it’s often in the sad and sorrowing times that we learn our greatest lessons. Embrace them. Don’t run from them. In Romans 5:3, we’re told, aren’t we, to persevere and let tribulation produce patience and patience virtue. In fact, Paul says there, “We glory in our tribulations.”
Interesting thought. We embrace our trials. It’s not that we’re masochistic, it’s not that we like to become the punch bag for life’s blows, but the Christian realizes that God is sovereign in suffering, and there are great lessons to be learned in the dark room of suffering. Sorrow improves the heart. Sorrow refines the life. Listen to these words by Spurgeon. “I confess and am afraid that all the grace I have gotten out of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours might almost lie on a penny, but the good that I’ve received from my sorrows and pains and griefs is altogether incalculable. What do I not owe to the hammer and the anvil, the fire and the file? Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house.”
There’s some language in that I think Spurgeon stole from Samuel Rutherford, who ended his life in exile from his beloved Scotland, hounded by the King of England because he wouldn’t acknowledge the king’s rule over the Scottish Church, and he’s famous for that statement. “I thank God for the file, I thank God for the furnace, and I thank God for the hammer.” Because, you see, sorrow is better than laughter, and going to the house of mourning better than going to the house of feasting. Let’s pray.
Lord, this has been a good Word to our souls this morning, and we thank You for this admonition, to be done with the silly, the passing, the temporary, the fleeting. Lord, help us to view life from the perspective of our last day. Help us to live as if today we’re our last day because someday it will be and we want to live without regret. We want the day of our death to be better than the day of our birth. We want our reputation to be good. We want our legacy to be Godly. Therefore, stir us up. Help us to redeem the time, for the day is evil.
Help us to know what the will of God is and to do it, or help us to ponder our demise and our death often, because it is a liberating force in our lives. We pray for those who have not yet come to Christ. Help them to realize that it’s appointed unto men once to die, then the judgment. O God, help them to flee from the wrath to come. Help them to seek the Lord Jesus Christ today while He may be found and call upon him while He is near, because death is certain, and life is serious, and time is precious. For these things we ask and pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.