The wisdom and power of God are known through faith in Christ. True satisfaction and lasting peace are not found in money, career, sex, fame, building monuments to the memory of ourselves or political power – they are found in knowing Christ. Satan will tempt many people to deny Christ with these things; however some are religious and want a form of knowing God. Satan has got this covered too; he is a master of counterfeit religion.
Counterfeit religious systems exalt themselves with an outward show of righteousness often through sets of rules, making mountains out of mole hills and losing the ability to discern what is truly important. The system usually promotes itself at the expense of others. Beware of committing yourself to systems where one individual or school of thought is promoted and all else rejected – such a system probably knows little of the power of Christ.
But don’t be deceived, we all have the ability to promote our views over the Lord’s ways, we all need humility before God, and to know His power in our lives!
Human Effort Should Be Directed According to Godly Knowledge (7:15 – 18)
Don’t Let Temporary Security Be Your Motivation for Righteousness (7:15)
“In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing.” Ecclesiastes 7:15
God is worth worshipping and adoring for who He is. Even if all is taken from us in this life, it would still be a privilege to know God. Who else is perfect in love, steadfast in their faithfulness, will never leave us or forsake us and will give us the grace to bear any trial? God does provide for His people, even on occasions using miracles to provide for them, but faith in God is not a guarantee of long life and health. Indeed there are countries where expressing faith in Christ is the surest route for an untimely death – but knowing God is worth it!
Job was a man who suffered a great deal. Living before Christ, and almost certainly before Moses (Job sacrificed animals to God himself, not going through the Aaronaic priesthood) Job knew little of the life to come. He certainly did know there was a life to follow after death (Job 19:26,27) but did not have the clear view we have. His lack of clear view can be deduced from the lack of description in the book of Job about what life will be like beyond the grave. Job lost his material possessions, his children and his health. Yet in the midst of suffering Job worshipped God for who He is, not for what He could gain from God. We have a clearer view of eternal life from New Testament revelation, and we know that if a Christian dies, they go to eternal bliss. How much more should we be willing to worship God even if it means the loss of material wealth?
Zeal Without Knowledge Easily Leads Us Astray (7:16,17)
“Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?“ Ecclesiastes 7:16,17
At first, the command to not be overly righteous seems puzzling. We cannot love or honour God too much, indeed we are told to love God with all our soul, mind and strength (Matthew 22:37,38). The danger lies in zeal for the wrong things, not in excessive zeal in right things; it is going too far in an inappropriate or wrong area. This inappropriate zeal can be an attempt to go beyond God given standards of holiness, or an inappropriate use of God’s standards.
Examples of inappropriate use of God’s ways are where boldness can become brashness or generosity becomes indiscriminate waste. A false humility becomes weakness or an excuse to avoid serving God because we dwell on our weakness, but willingly forget the strength that God gives. We should not shrink from principle, but it is wrong to court needless offence.
Some people seem to desire to be more righteous than the Lord Jesus. They do not meet with sinners, and make it an absolute rule that alcohol should never be drunk. The Bible is clear, we should not get drunk, and the danger of alcohol is that we lose self-control. It is wise that ex-alcoholics should not drink, and if you have people with a drink problem coming to your home then I would definitely advocate that alcohol should be removed. But if we decide to ban alcohol because it is sometimes abused, then we should also ban eating because equally some people abuse food (a more socially acceptable abuse).
Group A of believers decides to become more “conservative” than group B of believers. Now group B have become the new liberals although they have not changed at all! To regain the titles of “sound” and “respectable” group B now faces the challenge of having an even stricter view of the Christian life, and the pressure to be more righteous than God increases.
When there will always be more than we can ever know about God (He is infinite and we are finite), why does scripture tell us not to be overly wise? Again I think the key here is not to go beyond the revelation God has given us. Where scripture is silent on an issue we need to respect the fact that God has left a matter open, often for either personal or cultural interpretation. However where God is silent, some people are desperate to provide an opinion.
Beware the opinionative confidence that lays down the law and finds fault with every opinion not its own. Proving others wrong does not prove yourself right. Often people that spend their time criticising others are hiding the emptiness of their own opinions. False teachers argued endlessly over myths (things of doubtful truth) and endless genealogies (irrelevant things) at Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3). This was often done by the false teachers to gain their own following or to promote their own fame within the church. They had no discernment to identify what was important and what was irrelevant. Some seek to make their followers clones of themselves, without allowing freedom where scripture permits the freedom to exist. The key here is simple – where scripture leaves room for personal preference don’t lay down an arbitrary rule!
Take for example those who stipulate that worship using modern instruments is wrong. If God had required us to worship Him with particular instruments then He would have done at least two things. First this would be clearly declared this in His word, and secondly He would have ensured in man’s development that the required instruments appeared at the appropriate time on the earth. Yet in God’s word we find no such declaration. Instead the matter is left open, I suspect to allow God to be worshipped both across the globe and across history. In fact I would go as far as saying that in the same way Paul removed all unnecessary barriers when reaching different people groups (1 Corinthians 9:19 – 23), a modern worship style should be used to reach a modern generation. Not only is laying down a law that only a traditional worship style should be used going beyond scripture (being overly wise) but it also hinders evangelism to modern man and certainly is not in the apostolic mould!
When individuals add to God’s word, declaring “rules of holiness” where God does not, or declare authoritative opinions where God does not, trouble is bound to follow. As our text states, “Why should you destroy yourself?” Some bring needless trouble upon themselves by making matters of conscience things which are doubtful or are irrelevant. The argumentative types were to be thrown out the church after their second warning (Titus 3:10).
“Men make themselves martyrs to trifles magnified unduly” Charles Bridges
He Who Learns True Knowledge Avoids the Errors of Inappropriate Zeal (7:18)
“It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.“ Ecclesiastes 7:18
There is danger on every hand – who can direct us through the maze? God can! We will face a temptation at times to seek to go beyond God’s word, which can lead to problems of its own. We will face the opposite temptation to forget or break God’s word by our wilful sin. What will deliver us from these temptations? Having humility, being the one who, “fears God” is the key to the solution. Make scripture, the word of God, your guide. Don’t break it, don’t try to add to it, simply seek to obey what is says! Don’t endlessly compare yourselves to others, seeking to be the most “sound” or “respectable” in your beliefs, instead focus on God, make Him your priority! What He thinks about you is what matters. We need to recognise the danger, in all our hearts to a greater or lesser degree, of being the outwardly righteous Pharisee policing religious belief and practice around us. What we all need is the humility to allow God to direct us.
We Need Wisdom’s Strength – Especially With the Tongue! (7:19 – 22)
Seek Wisdom’s Strength – You Will Need It! (7:19,20)
“Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city. Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” Ecclesiastes 7:19,20
When the scripture says wisdom brings strength, what does it mean? One way in which power comes through Godly wisdom is because wisdom brings influence. People who seek power without wisdom get into a lot of fights. Others do not readily accept their judgments or opinions and are reluctant to follow an individual who seeks to lead but lacks the judgement or ability to do so. Power in the church does not come from titles, robes, prestige, or man’s rules, it comes from a Godly life exercising wisdom and holiness. When a knowledge and humility before God’s word is displayed, when there is clear concern for the good of the Christ’s cause – God’s people will respect and listen to such individuals!
We all need to seek this wisdom, without exception. Why? Because “there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins”. Everyone sins, we are all prone to excesses. We are all prone to make foolish decisions, no matter how great our track record has been before, it is no guarantee of future wisdom. We need believe this, acknowledge this is true of us, and it will drive us to our knees and depend on God. There is no safer place to be than rejecting our own understanding and leaning fully on God’s word and ways (Proverbs 3:5-8).
Wisdom’s Strength Is Especially Needed With The Tongue (7:21,22)
“Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.” Ecclesiastes 7:21,22
There are times when others say things about us that they should not. Equally there are times when we say things we should not about others. As James puts it in his letter:
“but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:8
Often when someone offends us, or when we offend someone, there is a predictable pattern of behaviour which is followed. When we say something wrong we want grace, i.e. we want forgiveness. When someone says something wrong about us we want law, i.e. we want them to be punished. As others forgave us, we need to forgive others, and perhaps grow a thicker skin!
Being Corrupt, We Need the Power of God (7:23 – 29)
The Wise Know There Are Limits To Their Wisdom (7:23 – 25)
“All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, ‘I will be wise,’ but it was far from me. That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out? I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness.” Ecclesiastes 7:23 – 25
The wise man’s cry is, “Who Can Find It Out?”, There are things hidden from us. God is infinite in wisdom, understanding and knowledge. We are not. He does not need to disclose everything about His works and ways, nor does He choose to do so. As the word of God through Moses says:
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Deuteronomy 29:29
There are things we know, and other things which are less certain. To liberals all things are uncertain, to Biblical extremists all things are certain; they know exactly how and when Christ will return! It takes wisdom, humility and understanding to discern where the scriptures permit a healthy difference of opinion, and where no deviation should be taken from God’s clear message. While preparing this study (originally a sermon) I was under time pressure to get prepared for the service the next day. Two Jehovah’s Witnesses called at my door. I suspect they have a system to their door to door visitation. Whenever I say I believe in God I usually get the same response, one of seeking to build bridges, when they declare it is good to meet someone of faith. Being short on time my response was simple, “Unless you are correct in your belief in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ you will lose your soul on the Day of Judgment. Unless you believe that the God-man Jesus Christ lived under the law as man earning the righteousness we cannot, and died on the cross taking God’s wrath for your sin, you will lose your soul in Hell for all eternity.” At point they had to admit there were differences in our beliefs. Some things are very clear in scripture and cannot be compromised on.
Solomon had turned his intellect onto the subject of, “the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness”. Perhaps especially these areas would not yield to wisdom because they are inherently without reason. There is a component of sin which is irrational. Desire, the emotions, dominates the mind. Why does a man trade his career for transient benefits of wealth when he steals from his employer? Or why does a man trade his happy home life for passing pleasure when he has an affair? This is not rational behaviour!
Where Wisdom has Limits the Power of God Prevails (7:26)
“And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her.” Ecclesiastes 7:26
This is perhaps an example of where reason fails, but the power of God can still work to preserve the obedient child of God. Reason tells us to avoid the immoral relationship of which the end is more bitter than death. Reputations are ruined, home life destroyed, many cares and troubles brought would be upon ourselves which can affect our work performance or ability in other areas on life. The mind tells us to avoid the immoral relationship – yet the emotions can still desire it! But where desire often reigns supreme, and hence wisdom and rational behaviour are forgotten, God can still work. The individual who avoids temptation, seeks God’s help and is wise in their relationships with others, preventing the emotional desire growing in the first place, will be preserved by the Lord.
By Nature We Are Corrupt (7:27 – 29)
“Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things—which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.”
Ecclesiastes 7:27 – 29
The sad truth of these verses is that both men and women reject God, and create their own sinful schemes instead. Sin makes us schemers for self promotion, to control each other, or to try and manipulate God. The worst examples of this sadly can be found in the professing church. Yet true Godliness does not come from church leaders putting people on guilt trips for this or that duty. It does not come through manipulation of the congregation or by continually requesting money. True godliness comes from the heart. If we love the Lord we will pray, read our Bible, support the Lord’s work, tell others about him, and we know that we love Him because He first loved us.
Yet this does not stop man seeking to further his own cause through setting up a scheme of false religion. False religion often ends up being a scheme, a system of thought to think and a set of rules to follow. There is an outward appeal, an outward show of godliness, yet it denies the real power of God which comes through the Holy Spirit and not a system. It is no sin for us to have a set of rules, not in the Bible, that we find value in following. But it is wickedness for us to impose our rules (which go beyond the Bible) onto others, restricting their freedom, and putting them in the straight-jacket of our beliefs. People that impose their system on others put themselves in the place of God – and if God does not fit the system they have manufactured, God loses. The Pharisees were very religious, and when Jesus did not fit their system they killed Him.
Creating our own system of belief in God, our own scheme, is a temptation we all face, because none are inherently righteous before God. There is no one who is inherently righteous themselves, and there is no righteousness without the Lord Jesus Christ. False religion seeks to obtain righteousness through a system that bypasses Jesus. There are Protestant systems of righteousness equally as much as there are Roman Catholic systems. Gaining righteousness through religious systems is a heavy burden that God never laid on His people. The Lord Jesus gives us a new heart, breaks the power of sin, gives new life through the Holy Spirit living in us. Thanks be to God!
Lessons From Chapter 7:15 – 29
Humility is needed to make sure our enthusiasm for God is directed by His word
By ourselves we can become proud, confuse our opinion with scripture, have an incorrect emphasis in our Christian lives and cause needless offence defending the truth in a manner which is wrong. But humility before God, and obedience to His word will guide us through the dangers.
Wisdom gives strength – especially in the church!
True strength and power in the church comes from a Godly life, revealed in wisdom and holy living – God’s people will respond to these things. Where someone has a sincere humility before God and a passion for His glory and the good of His people, this is truly attractive to God’s people.
Having corrupt natures means we need to know the power of God!
There are limits even to Godly wisdom – we are not God and we will never have His understanding – but where reason fails the power of God can prevail. True spirituality comes from knowing and being obedient to Christ. It is not found in following an outward system of rules or agreeing with man made statements not founded on scripture.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.