Whatever your hand finds to do ...

Text Ecclesiastes 9.10-10.11 Time 11/09/05 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We begin with a recap of last week’s message
1. Recognise that life is full of mystery
2. Recognise, however, that we do know two things
1 We know that we will all soon die
2 We know that it is good to be alive
3 Therefore aim to enjoy life despite its emptiness and toil
The next section goes all the way from 9:10-11:6. Tonight we will just focus on 9:10-10:11. You will notice here how Solomon begins to use more and more Proverbs. He produced a whole collection of proverbs and these are not from that collection but are additional to them and appropriate for his purposes here. Three things then
1. Consider this leading principle for life and these balancing considerations
1. Consider this leading principle – the principle of action
Overarching principles can be very helpful. This is what Solomon gives us here – a general rule for life. Verse 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. It doesn’t tell us everything, of course, but when it comes to practical every day living then
1 If a thing is not worth doing well it isn’t worth doing at all. The devil tempts you to, say, commit adultery or to steal. What is his aim? He wants to take you as far in that sin as possible. But we are compromisers. We don’t want to go as far as the devil wants; we just want to think about these things. Forget thinking about adultery, about stealing. Put them behind you.
2 Whatever you do, do you do it with all the zeal and enthusiasm you can muster?
Really pray, really study the Bible, really live it out. That’s how the commandments speak – not love God a little bit but with all your heart and soul, etc. No pussyfooting, no half measures. Nothing lackadaisical. Throw yourself into it.
3 Now is the time
Very soon we’ll be in the grave. There’s no planning, etc, there. Remember the end of Chapter 6 Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Whatever exists has already been named, and what man is has been known; no man can contend with one who is stronger than he. The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone? For who knows what is good for a man in life, during the few and meaningless days he passes through like a shadow? Who can tell him what will happen under the sun after he is gone? We don’t know how long we will live but it won’t be long. Life goes by so quickly. When we’re young we have all sorts of ambitions but by my age you realise you are, more or less, what you are. 2 Corinthians 9:6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously, John 9:4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.
Is this principle part of your thinking? When you wake up, for example.
2. Consider these three balancing considerations to keep in mind
We need to balance this statement with other considerations
1 God’s sometimes surprising providence
Verse 11 I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favour to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. It is tempting to think that the person who does things with all his might is going to be the most successful. However, things are not quite so simple. My father has always had a great love for horse racing. I remember watching it with him when I was young and assuming that the favourite would win. My dad explained how betting works so that you don't get much if the favourite wins. However, the truth is that sometimes the favourite doesn’t win. Remember the story of the hare and the tortoise. It's the same with boxing matches or great battles in history. There have been surprising changes in history when there have been unexpected turnarounds. Life is full of turnarounds. It is one of the things that makes life so interesting. Think for example of Vincent Van Gogh – you know he never sold a painting while he lived and yet his painting snow sell for millions. Have you heard of the Jamaican bobsleigh team? They nearly won Olympic gold! Sometimes the least likely people rise to power – think of Abraham Lincoln born in a log cabin. Time and chance happen to them all – this is not a denial of providence but an assertion of it. There are various ways of understanding this phrase but clearly God is in control of all things. Recently the England soccer team lost to Northern Ireland (ranked 116th in the world) after 78 years without defeat. If we knew that ten in every hundred people we spoke to would be converted, wonderful! But there is no simple formula – pray for an hour a day and revival will come, etc. In 1 Corinthians Paul says I planted the seed …. But God made it grow! Parents say to their children ‘work hard at school and you will do well’ – I understand why they say it but it is not necessarily true. There are plenty of variations.  We live with great mystery.
2 Our general ignorance
Verse 12 Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them. It is not just our ignorance of death. We don’t know when we will die. Arthur Conan Doyle was born on May 22, 1859. I was born May 22, 1959. He died July 7, 1930 – will I live until 2030? I cannot know. Think of fish caught in a net or a bird in a snare. It reminds us of the recent New Orleans disaster and others like it. Hurricanes, floods, acts of terrorism, etc. Everything has changed. The man driving the 31 bus on June 7 2006 couldn’t have known what would happen. Situations can change very quickly. We have to say ‘If it is God’s will …’.
3 The public’s scorn and amnesia
We don’t tend to think of this. Solomon starts on what we expect to be a story of heroism but that’s not what it is about as we see. Verses 13-15 I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. You think to yourself – I wish I’d been that man. No, says Solomon, it wasn’t like that at all. But nobody remembered that poor man. After they’d got over the shock, he was forgotten. A few years passed and people couldn’t even remember his name! Verse 16 So I said, Wisdom is better than strength. But the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded. Wisdom is a truly great thing, no question – it teaches you what to do as here - but it doesn’t solve every problem. It is no good thinking that if we were wise, all our problems would be over. We are in God’s hands and we must look to him. People’s memories are very short – politicians bank on this. People forget things. Otherwise, we would all be increasingly wise but sadly things are forgotten and wisdom is scorned and despised. ‘Nobody likes a smart Alec’ they say.
2. Further matters to keep in mind for life
Two further points about wisdom’s limitations need to be noted
1. Keep in mind foolishness’s disproportionate influence
9:17 The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. All around us the world is shouting at us – various media, advertising, etc. It's loud and it's brash. We hear a noise – we are drawn. What’s going on? It is very easy to be drawn after foolishness. But Solomon says don’t listen to the noisy man raging at the front, listen rather to the quiet man at the back, speaking words of wisdom. See (18) Wisdom is better than weapons of war. It’s not a matter of these things. But one sinner destroys much good. He uses a proverb (10:1) As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honour. Picture it. The point is not so much that one foolish act can spoil a life of wisdom but rather that one fool or just a few fools can undo all the good that wise men have brought about. Make no mistake – at all levels there is a struggle going on between the wise and the foolish. 10:2 The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left. The right stands for strength. There’s strength in wisdom but the heart of the fool is all in the wrong place. What a mess it makes. Verse 3 Even as he walks along the road, the fool lacks sense and shows everyone how stupid he is. You only have to look at a fool ... – but so often we don’t and we don’t see. So fools can be very influential indeed. No matter how many wise you have, one fool can make a terrible mess – in a company, a government, a family, a church. What a disproportionate impact a fool can have! For example, it is clear from Scripture that homosexuality is wrong. Think how few practice homosexuality and yet how much impact they have. What a disproportionate and unhelpful influence they have.
2. Keep in mind wisdom’s power to strengthen and its limitations
Solomon goes on with an example of wisdom in action. Verse 4 If a ruler’s anger rises against you, you’re in trouble with someone further up the chain do not leave your post; calmness can lay great errors to rest. Again we are being called to heavenly wisdom. Wisdom demands diligence, demands that we are faithful, that we press on. We mustn’t panic. As he says, calmness can lay great errors to rest. If we panic every time the truth is under attack we are not going to make much progress. Think of all the things that have been thrown at the gospel – modernism, Marxism, Freudianism. They have come and they have gone. Take Marxism or modern psychiatry. It is so easy to panic – some certainly did. They ran round like headless chickens. We need to stay calm. When people attack, stay calm. However, at the other extreme, we mustn’t become complacent either. Do you know that phrase "nothing has ever changed at Princeton" – it can have a good meaning or a bad one. Verses 5-7 There is an evil I have seen under the sun, the sort of error that arises from a ruler: Fools are put in many high positions, while the rich occupy the low ones. I have seen slaves on horseback, while princes go on foot like slaves. Let’s be faithful but faithfulness isn’t going to solve all our problems. We must be realistic – faithfulness doesn’t guarantee success. What about that statement Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 7 How do you know you will convert your husband …? How realistic Paul is. All sorts of anomalies will exist. When Jesus came think who was in leadership then. A sense of reality is so important. Be soberly faithful and cry out to God. We feel so powerless and frustrated sometimes. We wan t a revolution. But we must stay calm.
3. Final principles of wisdom to keep in mind at all times
1. Keep in mind the need for a balanced approach
In verses 8 and 9 we have a series of activities where a danger is involved. Verses 8, 9 Whoever digs a pit may fall into it; whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake. Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them; whoever splits logs may be endangered by them. The wise person doesn’t say I’m never going to dig a pit, etc, because it is too dangerous. Rather he recognises that there is danger in these activities and so he takes care. Take spending time with unbelievers as an example. Somehow we need a balance between telling them and not being influenced by them so that we go astray. Or take the need to be praying, reading the Bible, etc, and the need to find time for everything else. What about bringing up children? We need to teach them well without ramming it down their throats. With giving – there is a straight physical element but a spiritual one too.
2. Keep in mind the advantage of thorough preparation
Verse 10 If the axe is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed but skill will bring success. Do it with all your might, it says, so he hacks and hacks and hacks. He would be wiser to stop and sharpen the axe. Doing it with all your might involves preparation not just rushing into things.
3. Keep in mind the dangers of procrastination
The other side of the coin is here in verse 11 If a snake bites before it is charmed, there is no profit for the charmer. It's easy to say ‘I’m going to ....’. Think of perpetual students for the ministry for example. That is not good.