Celebrate Life!
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Celebrate Life!

Ecclesiastes 11:1–10  (ID: 2302)

Uncertainty can be paralyzing—but the Bible provides instruction to guide us as we look to an unsure future. Turning to the wisdom literature of Ecclesiastes, Alistair Begg urges us to heed its practical guidance. God has placed us where we are, and He has called us to action. Even when the conditions do not seem ideal, belief in Christ should inspire God’s people to celebrate life in obedience and trust.

Series Containing This Sermon

Dangers, Toils, and Snares

How to Find Peace amid Life’s Greatest Trials Selected Scriptures Series ID: 22702

A Study in Ecclesiastes

Chasing the Wind Ecclesiastes 1:1–12:14 Series ID: 12101

Sermon Transcript: Print

Now we’re going to read from Ecclesiastes 11:1:

Cast your bread upon the waters,
 for after many days you will find it again.
Give portions to seven, yes to eight,
 for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.

If clouds are full of water,
 they pour rain upon the earth.
Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north,
 in the place where it falls, there [it will] lie.
Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
 whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.

As you do not know the path of the wind,
 or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
 the Maker of all things.

Sow your seed in the morning,
 and at evening let not your hands be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed,
 whether this or that,
 or whether both will do equally well.

Light is sweet,
 and it pleases the eye to see the sun.
However many years a man may live,
 let him enjoy them all.
But let him remember the days of darkness,
 for they will be many.
 Everything to come is meaningless.

Be happy, young man, while you[’re] young,
 and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart
 and whatever your eyes see,
but know that for all these things
 God will bring you to judgment.
So then, banish anxiety from your heart
 and cast off the troubles of your body,
 for youth and vigor are meaningless.

Now, if you keep your Bibles open on your lap…

Father, we pray now that with the help of your Spirit, we may be able to study the Bible in a way that is true to its teaching and challenging and helpful to our lives. We seek your help in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Last time, in chapter 10, we said that the material fell under the cautionary note, which we summarized as “Be sensible.” When you read from 10 into 11, you discover that that cautionary note has given way to what is largely an invitation to be enterprising. Indeed the “Be sensible” is now replaced with a summons to the reader to “be bold.” “Be bold.” And if you read to the end of chapter 12, you will sense the quickening of the pace as our author moves to what he refers to in 12:13 as “the conclusion of the matter.”

And as I read these verses again and again, I found myself scribbling down on my pad beside my Bible, “Be bold,” “Be happy,” “Be warned,” “Be godly.” These staccato exhortations emerge from the text—at least, I think they do. And you’re sensible people; you’re going to have to study along with me to see whether this is accurate.

He’s about to remind his readers that “[too] much study wearies the body”[1]—which, of course, some of us as parents have been hearing from our children as they prepare for their finals this next week. There are too many books and not enough time. He understands that. And so it is imperative that you seize the moment. “You’ve got to give a little, take a little … let your [old] heart break a little. That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love.”[2] And it’s also the story and the glory of life itself. If you want a heading for the whole chapter, in two words, with an exclamation mark, it is this: “Celebrate Life!” “Celebrate Life!”

And what I’d like to try and do is work through these verses in a way that provides a summary which is not pressed down upon the text but which I hope you will see emerges clearly from the text. The structure is as follows: I’m going to give you three statements followed by a qualifying statement, followed by three more statements, followed by three more statements, followed by a qualifying statement. So, it goes three, one, three, three, one. Three, one, three, three, one. Okay? Well, I’m not impressed with it either. There’s no reason for you to grin back. I’m only telling you what I’m doing.

“Go for It! Diversify! Stick with It!”

Verse 1, and the first of the three: “Go for it!” “Go for it!” Now, this is not a phrase that I brought across the Atlantic Ocean. This is a phrase that I’ve learned since I arrived here. It’s an American phrase that has been given to the world, but it’s a good phrase. And of all peoples of the nations in the earth, Americans know how to “go for it.” And that is what we find in this rather curious piece of advice with which chapter 11 begins: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.”

Charles Bridges, commenting on this in an earlier day, suggests that we ought not to think of it in terms of bread as a finished product but rather in terms of the grain or the seed which, when thrown into the loamy bed of the river, apparently going away never to be seen again, actually emerges later on in a luxurious harvest.[3] And he suggests that we ought to think of it in those terms.

I’m not so sure that that’s right. Because the idea of throwing bread on water only to find it again is clearly a most unlikely circumstance. Every so often you see parents and grandparents down with their children by the river in Chagrin, and they’re throwing bread on the water. Of all the things that they may have as expectations, the one expectation they do not have is what is described here in verse 1—namely, of finding it again. The ducks are going to come and gobble it up, or it’s going to disintegrate; it’s eventually going to absorb so much water that it sinks and goes away. But they do not have a plan for finding the bread again either somewhere downstream or of it ever coming back to them. Therefore, it’s a striking and a curious statement, isn’t it? “[Throw] your bread upon the waters, [and] after many days you will find it again.”

Well, it is the very unlikely nature of it which makes it so powerful. It is a reminder of what God is able to do. When we are prepared to take whatever he has entrusted to us of life, of talent, of resource, of time, and throw it out onto the water of life, the promise of God’s Word is that it will return to us as per God’s design.

Now, in very ordinary terms, verse 1 is saying, “You will never see a return from an investment until first there is an investment. You only get out of life what you put into it. If there are risks in everything, it’s better to fail in launching out than in simply hugging resources to ourselves.” It’s what he’s saying. Far better to make a go of it, far better to go for it and to see what will return.

Now, we can’t delay on this verse, although we could spend the morning on it. It’s a call to Christian resourcefulness. It’s a call to generosity. It’s not a unique call to the Old Testament. Indeed, Jesus himself had a great deal to say along these lines. Remember, on one occasion he says to his disciples, “Launch out into the deep. What are you paddling around here for in the shadows? Go out into the deep.”[4] He told the story of the master who left resources with his servants, and when he came back, one had multiplied it in one way and one in another. But the one who received his rebuke was the individual who said, “I was afraid, and I hid it in the ground.” And Jesus says, “You don’t want to be doing that.”[5]

So, for example, we take money and we give it to the poor. Do we expect ever to see it again? No! But what does Solomon tell us in Proverbs 19:17? The man “who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.” In other words, there is actually an investment factor in taking what is ours, casting it out on the water.

In the sowing of the Word of God, in telling others about the nature of faith: we may find ourselves on a journey, speaking to a companion, and it becomes very obvious to us very quickly that the individual whom we’ve just met has very little interest in what we’re saying. They put their head down into their magazine, they’re trying to be polite, but they’re really dismissive of our explanations of the difference that the incarnation has made, the wonder of Christmas, the joy of knowing Jesus, and so on. And we cast our bread upon the water, and we say, “What a futile exercise that was!” Well, it may well be that one day, in a different realm, we will meet the same individual, who, having left us, got on the second leg of their journey, flying to the West Coast, and sat down next to another weird person just like us, who started on the exact same song. And before this individual knew it, they were being confronted by a story that they’d never heard, they were being introduced to a gift that they had never received, and the bread cast out on the waters was going to come back.

It’s the same in teaching the Bible. Those of you who teach in any circumstance, whether large or small, you sow the seed. “The sower went forth to sow. And when he sowed, some seed fell on stony ground, and other seed fell among thorns, and some of the seed was snatched away, and a little bit of the seed found good soil.”[6] That’s the experience Sunday after Sunday after Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. It never quits! You throw your bread upon the waters, reminding yourself from Isaiah 55 that God’s Word never returns to him empty but always accomplishes its purpose.[7] It’s a reminder here in this verse.

Some of you, when you go home today, will take bread out of the freezer. How weird is that? Frozen bread. Frozen bread! We go to great lengths to get to the baker at the right time, when it’s just emerging from the oven, so that we can stand there and enjoy all of our senses being drawn to these marvelous loaves. Then we hasten to put them into our cars, rush home, and jam them in a freezer so that we can chip them apart with mallets of destruction sometime later. “Well,” you say, “but if we don’t freeze the bread, we’ll have moldy bread.” That’s because you hoard your bread! If you eat your bread or share your bread, you don’t have to freeze it, and it doesn’t get moldy. Scattered bread, that’s what he’s talking about. Go for it! Scatter it!

You scattering your resources, the finances that God has given you? You prepared to throw them up on the waters, scattering your life, the gifts that God has given you, casting them out on the waters? Buried treasure brings strong condemnation.

Verse 2: “Diversify!” Verse 1: “Go for it!” Verse 2: “Diversify!” That’s the significance of the statement here: “Give portions to seven, yes to eight.” You don’t know which one is going to work. You don’t know which one will bomb. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Spread your investments around. Seize with enthusiasm the variety of opportunities. Be creative!

Now, again, we can apply it on every level. Let’s just think of it in terms of the wonderful opportunities of sharing our faith. Paul is a terrific example, isn’t he? In first Corinthians 9, he says, “In order that I might share my faith as widely as possible, in order that I might win as many as possible, I determined that to the Jew I would become a Jew, to the gentile I would become a gentile, to those who are under the law I would become under the law, to those who have no law I would be like one who had no law. And the reason I would do all of this,” he says, “was in order that I might diversify my opportunities.”[8] And think about it in relationship to our church life: how we do what we do with what we’ve been given.

Don’t allow the inevitability of things in life to thwart initiative or endeavor.

Going for it. Diversifying. Jump down to verse 6: “Stick with it.” “Stick with it.” “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle.” There are different stages in life. In the morning of our lives, there are opportunities that we can fulfill. In the noontide of our lives, the same. And in the evening of our lives, our hands ought not to be idle. Launch out in new directions.

You’re told that you’re old, and so you conform to sensible expectations: “Come along now, Dad, put the blanket over your knees. Take your bath chair and sit in it. Let me wheel you around the mall.”

“No! I want to jump out of aeroplanes!”

“No, but you can’t jump out of aeroplanes. You’re an old man. You can’t even jump off your garden wall. What are you talking about?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

You never know when you’ll make a breakthrough. You never know when your project will succeed.

Some of you are getting ready to go fossilize in Florida with the rest of them, down there with the newly wed and the nearly dead—one of the most dangerous places in America in which to drive a car. Now, don’t feel bad because you have a home there. It’s just probably jealously on my part that provokes this in me. But you know what I mean. Of course, you may relocate, and that would be fine. But make sure that when you do, that you don’t let your hands become idle in the evening of your days. Make sure that you are prepared to keep going, to keep looking, to keep taking initiative, to thinking imaginatively and creatively. And indeed, the kind of person we will be in our old age is largely determined by the kind of person that we are now. Some are waiting for their retirement, when they will take up basket weaving, when they will then go to their art class, when they will take the various opportunities that are before them. But at the moment, they just go straight down this same track. I’ve got news for you: you’re gonna keep going down your track.

Go for It, Diversify, Stick with It

“Go for it, diversify, and then stick with it.” That’s the three. Here comes the one. The qualifying line is this: do not wait for ideal conditions. Do not wait for ideal conditions.

Now, that seems to me what’s being said in verses 3, 4, and 5. In verse 3, we have a story of inevitability: “When the clouds are full of water, you get rain. When a tree falls, whether it falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie.” Yeah! Don’t allow the inevitability of things in life to thwart initiative or endeavor. Don’t stay inside just because it’s raining. Get an umbrella and go outside. Don’t miss the adventures. Don’t miss the adventures!

Are you adventuresome? Is your life at all an adventure? Do your children believe that they’re on an adventure with their mom and dad? Do your friends say, “This is fantastic! I love going places with him! The ordinary becomes extraordinary! The routine takes on significance! This guy can make a coffee and a newspaper appear as if we were drinking the most amazing potion while reading the finest poetry. And in fact, look at what we’re reading!”

Inevitability marks many lives: “Oh well, looks like it’s going to rain. Oh, look, the tree fell. Hm. Well, it’ll be there for a while, won’t it? Yes. Yeah, well, I think I’ll just sit here, watch the rain, watch the logs, become a log.” Don’t allow inevitability to paralyze you.

Secondly, verse 4: don’t allow uncertainty to paralyze you. Isn’t that what he’s saying? “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” The farmer who sits saying, “You know, I think it’s tremendously windy. If I throw the seed up this morning, the chances are none of it will go on the ground. I think it’s all going to blow away.” If he continues to think in that way, he will never have a harvest, because he will never plant. In the same way, “whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.”

Think of the many opportunities that have been lost on account of diffidence. How many opportunities have been lost because we fail to take the tide at the flood, as Brutus says to Cassius, or one says to the other, in Julius Caesar? “There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to [greatness].”[9] But if you miss the tide, you’re going to be paddling out there for a long time waiting for the next wave. And in my experience in fifty years of life, there aren’t a lot of waves come along—not the kind that will rush you off into a whole new opportunity. And if you constantly sit waiting, watching, wondering, analyzing, doing all of the pros and the cons and the ups and the downs, you’ll be sitting there on the day you die still with your lists: left-hand side, “maybe,” right-hand side, “possibility,” the dos, the don’ts, the pluses, the minuses. Of course it’s good to do that, but you can’t allow that to paralyze you.

As a small boy, for the first five years of my life, I spent all of my time essentially in the company of my mother. She stayed home to look after me, to instruct me. I’m thankful for that, and in the washing pursuits I was around. And especially in the west of Scotland, where it rained so much, as soon as the washing was done, there’s a very short window of opportunity to hang it out, dry it, and get it back in. And it was like a lottery along the backyards of the neighborhood, as you see Mrs. MacDonald: “Oh, she’s already ventured. She’s got hers out. Wow! I was looking at the clouds. I thought it was going to rain. I think I’ll wait till ten o’clock.” And some days, all you had left was a big pile of laundry that never made it out to the breeze, and it never rained. What happened? We were watching the clouds.

Are you making the most of very opportunity? Ephesians 5:16: “making the most of every opportunity.” “Making”: sounds like endeavor. “The most”: sounds like extent. “Opportunity”: sounds like things that come our way. “Making the most of every opportunity” that is represented within the framework of this church here, in all that is represented for the chances of evangelism and edification—learning about the Bible, growing in Christ, and so on. Or have you gone through 2002 saying again, “Well, you know, I think it’s not an ideal time for me to get in that class. I think perhaps after the first quarter of the year, that’ll be the time. It’s not a good time for me to broach this subject with my boss. I mean, I think after the first six months, it’s”—whatever it is. Where are you? You’re actually further behind than you were this time last year! You’re waiting for ideal conditions. There are no ideal conditions!

Don’t allow inevitability to paralyze you. Don’t allow uncertainty to paralyze you. Few great enterprises have waited for ideal conditions. Don’t get caught up in the maybes and the might-have-beens. Tackle what is. Grab what’s in reach. As Roosevelt—Theodore, that is—said, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” “Well, I can’t do very much. And if I wasn’t here… If I was there… And, of course…” So you do nothing.

Verse 5. If verse 3 is about inevitability and verse 4 is about uncertainty, verse 5 is about mystery:

“You do[n’t] know the path of the wind,
 or how the body[’s] formed in a mother’s womb,
… you can[’t] understand the work of God,
 the Maker of all things.”

Okay. Some things we will never fully comprehend. But we mustn’t let them prevent us from getting on with life. Don’t allow the unknown and the unknowable to paralyze you. You know enough to proceed. Proceed!

You see, this is bad for some people’s blood pressure, chapter 11. Some of you are sitting, you’re already holding onto your chair. You don’t like this. Because it all seems so out there, and you have built your life in this structured little book that you keep with you. You’ve got it all written in. You know when you brush your teeth. You know where you put your brush. You know when you do this, and when you stand up, and when you sit down, and you’ve got it all [makes ticking sound]. You’re driving everybody nuts—including yourself! It’s time to let it go! That’s what he’s saying. Life is passing by. This is not a dress rehearsal. This is it! This is the journey. You don’t get a second go at this. So do not wait for ideal conditions to go.

Now, of course, the correlative statements, you have them reverberating in your head, and they need to be there. But I loved when I discovered that Catherine Bramwell-Booth, who was the [granddaughter] of the founder of the Salvation Army, when she was interviewed on her birthday—her hundred-and-third birthday!—by the BBC, one of interviewers said to her, “You know, Mrs. Booth, haven’t you discovered in the course of your life that there are a lot of things that you just don’t understand and you can’t explain?” She replied, “There are mysteries that we will never know the answer to, but even so, you can enjoy life.” A hundred and three years old! “Well, yes, there are mysteries, but even so, you can enjoy life.” Not endure life, enjoy life!

The invisible God is made visible in the lives of his children.

Do you enjoy life? Tell your face about it! Do you enjoy life? You see, I’m not sure that the message is out there in any realistic way amongst our pagan friends and neighbors that remotely would convince them that belief in the living God and in Christ whom he has sent, that belief in this Christ, actually causes an individual to celebrate life. And the invisible God is made visible in the lives of his children. Therefore, what kind of God does our society see when we apparently are just managing to “get through,” just trying to “get by,” just endeavoring to “get it over with”?

You say, “Well, that’s interesting.” I thought that Jesus had said something about “I am come that you might have life, and that you might have it in all of its fullness.”[10] “Well, yes, he did, but we haven’t done that chapter yet. We’re not there yet.”

Enjoy, Be Happy, Relax

Now, do you think I’m fabricating? Three, one. Here comes three more.

Verse 8: “Enjoy!” Now, I don’t like it when people bring me my salad, and they put it down, and they say, “Enjoy.” I’m not even sure that it is the right use of English. But I’m using it anyway, just to try and be nice. “Enjoy!” It really should be “Enjoy it,” I think, or “Enjoy yourself.” I’m not sure enjoy can stand by itself. I should have found it out. But anyway… It doesn’t matter. Some English teacher will sort me out before the day is done. “Enjoy!”—verse 8.

Verse 7. Look at it: “Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.” “Light is sweet.” ’Course it’s sweet! You go to bed, and it’s dark. It begins to get dark at five o’clock, quarter to five. How do you feel? You’re like, “Oh man!” You’re already ticking it off for the change of the clock. You wish your life away. Can you imagine if you lived in Alaska? But there’s something about the light that is sweet. “It pleases the eyes to see the sun.”

Can’t you see the writer pouring himself a coffee and singing along?

I see skies of blue, red roses too,
I see them bloom for me and you,
And I thinks to myself,
What a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow
So pretty in the sky ….
I see friends greeting friends, saying, “How
do you do?”
They’re really saying, “I love you.”

And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.[11]

Now, that’s what the writer is saying: “This is wonderful! Enjoy it! But enjoy it in such a way that you understand that your enjoyment is not superficial; it’s realistic.” Notice, it is not an unending enjoyment. That will be heaven. Because our days on the earth are limited. That’s the significance of the opening phrase of verse 8: “However many years a man may live…” By themselves, temporal things can never satisfy us fully, because God has set eternity in our hearts.[12]

We need to be honest enough to admit, as verse 8b pronounces, that “days of darkness still come o’er [us],” and “sorrow’s paths [we oft may] tread”;[13] that, in the words of the hymnwriter, “I thank thee, too, that all my joy is touched with pain.” One of my favorite verses out of a hymn:

I thank thee, too, that all my joy
Is touched with pain,
That shadows fall on brightest hours,
And thorns remain;
So that earth’s bliss…

And there is a bliss in earth.

So that earth’s bliss may be my guide,
And not my chain.[14]

See, we’re not chained here. Our citizenship is somewhere else. The anticipation of all of that shines, as it were, down onto our earthly pilgrimage. Therefore, enjoy!

Verse 9: “Be happy!” “Be happy!” Who? “Young man.” When? “While you[’re a] young [man].” What should I do? “Let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart … whatever your eyes see.”

Now, what is he offering here? Well, he’s offering a dimension of freedom that has a goal worth reaching, a freedom that has a “well done” for which to strive, a freedom that finds fulfillment within the framework of God’s parameters. Absent that, this kind of approach is swallowed up by triviality, or worse, by vice. And again, you have to read into chapter 12 to set in context an exhortation such as this. “Be happy, young man, while you[’re] young.”

Are you saying that to your sons, your grandsons? “Son, I want you to be happy.”

You say, “Well, that sounds like Norman Vincent Peale. It doesn’t sound like the Bible. What do you mean, ‘Be happy, don’t worry’?” No, this is the Bible! Be happy! Do you remember when we used to sing in the ’70s, “Happiness is to know the Savior, living the life that’s in his favor. Happiness is…” Or whatever it is. “Happiness is the Lord.”[15] Be happy!

Of all people on the face of the earth, the believer ought to lead the world in the enjoyment of life and in the experience of happiness. The believer ought to enjoy art more than any other individual. The believer ought to enjoy a sunset better than anybody, ought to be able to enjoy a trip to the Cleveland Orchestra at a level that is distinct from anything anyone else can know, because they have discovered that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”[16]—that there is the good, the bad, the new, the perfect. And here in this continuum of life, they are acknowledging the wonder of what God has provided. Again, in the hymnwriter:

Heav’n above is softer blue,
And the earth around is sweeter green!
And there’s something lives in every hue
That Christless eyes have never seen;
And birds with gladder songs o’erflow,
And earth with deeper beauty shines,
Since I know, as now I know,
That I am his, and he is mine.[17]

So different, isn’t it, from Hamlet, who stands and says, you know, “What a stale, flat promontory, is this,” you know. “What use to me, this life? What’s the point?”[18] he says. The believer says, “Oh, well, there’s every point. You’re supposed to enjoy. You’re supposed to be happy.”

Of all people on the face of the earth, the believer ought to lead the world in the enjoyment of life and in the experience of happiness.

Verse 10: “Relax!” “Relax!” “Banish anxiety from your heart.” Look at who the advice is given to: to young people. You say, “Oh, well, wait a minute! We don’t need this one. I don’t need to go home and tell my teenagers to relax. They already did a PhD in relaxing. We don’t need to get them anymore relaxed. We need to give them something else. Please, let’s change your last point. It was pretty good up till now, but you’ve really lost it here.”

Well, yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it? It used to be that casual, when you were young, casual meant, “Well, let’s take my jacket off, I’ll take my tie off and roll my sleeves up.” But casual now… It takes your daughter an hour and a half to get casual! She has to go up for a very long time to get casual.

“No, no, casual is this.”

“Oh, no, no, Dad. That’s not casual. That’s, like, retro casual. But casual is…” You know.

“Hey, honey, relax, would you? Just relax.”

Talk with teens. They’re stressed. Relationships bedevil them, family life forsakes them, rootlessness consumes them, and suicide attracts them. And the Bible calls out to them, “Listen: I don’t want you to be careless, but I want you to be carefree. I’m not calling you to indifference. I’m not calling you to irresponsibility. But I’m issuing a call when you’re young. You won’t always be young. So don’t idolize being young. Don’t dread not being young. Just enjoy being young. If you dread its loss, it will spoil the experience. And if you try and perpetuate its experience, you will look like a clown. Therefore, leave your clown clothes at home. Get rid of the black leather vest. You look weird in it.”

Don’t Forget the Finals

Enjoy. Be happy. Relax. And the final line: “Don’t forget you have finals.” “Don’t forget you have finals.” Isn’t that what we say to our children? “Now, I know you’re going out, and I hope you’ll have a wonderful time. I want you to live within all the parameters that God has set. I want you to enjoy your friendships. I want you to enjoy your leisure time. I want you to experience all of the opportunities that are unique to this period of life. This period of life will never come around again in this exact way. You will never have this freedom, the companionship of peers in this way. It all changes. It doesn’t necessarily get worse, but it definitely changes. You can no longer go out with the boys in the same way. You can never go out with a crowd of girls in the same way. Eventually, everything takes on a different complexion. Therefore, I want you to go out, and I want you to have a fantastic time. But don’t forget: you’ve got finals. You’ve got finals.”

Verse 9: “God will bring you to judgment,” a judgment that is absolutely factual, absolutely fair, absolutely final. So “cast off the troubles of your body,” verse 10. “Cast off the troubles of your body.” The Authorized Version translates it, “Put away evil from [your] flesh.” “Put away evil from your flesh.” Sin is foolishness, is disobedience to and rebellion against the one who has made us, who loves us, who sustains us, and who will finally assess us.

Now, notice in conclusion that this positive approach to life is resting on something far more substantial than cheerfulness or courage or even sound morality. We’re gonna have to wait till our final study to get to “the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments.”[19] “But I tried to keep his commandments. I tried to fulfill my duty. And I realize that I have broken his commandments. Therefore, I have a predicament: How, then, am I to meet God on that final day of assessment?” Well, the answer is that God has come and has met with us in the person of Christ, and that he has kept the law perfectly, and he has borne the punishment finally so that we then may find in him the life that is really life.[20]

So much of this is addressed to youth, and the bridge is addressed to youth. We have, in the last decade, lost young people from our church—one of them young Ryan Lawrence, as some of you will remember. From his journal as a young man, just in his late teens, he had written, “I would rather die living than to live dying.” And as you know, of course, he fell to his death in an amusement park owned by members of his family, his girlfriend surviving.

When his friends at Hudson High decided to take a phrase that would summarize his life, they took it from the Dave Matthews Band, and their phrase for Ryan was “Life is short but sweet for certain.”[21] For Ryan, life was short—real short, and real sweet. Why? Because actually, he took hold of the exhortations here.

Are you enjoying yourself? Does anybody that knows you and cares about you think for a nanosecond that they’re on an adventure with you? Does the watching world have any interest in finding out what makes me tick because of the vibrancy of life and reality and enjoyment and initiative and enterprise that pervades my existence? Do I qualify to be alive, or is the limit of my senses so as only to survive? Hey, celebrate life! L’chaim! Mazel tov! Slàinte mhath! This is the Bible.

Father, forgive us that we are such miserable representatives of the vitality that we proclaim in the Lord Jesus Christ—our faces all buttoned up, our lives all sequestered away, all of our investments strangling us; reading the columns in the paper, worried that it won’t be there, challenged left, right, and center, unwilling to launch out into the deep, afraid to throw the bread of our lives, of our money, of our talents out on the water of life; as a church, stereotypical, structured, controlled, everything understandable. And here this great cry from your Word: “Come on, go for it! Diversify! Stick with it! Enjoy! Be happy! Relax! Don’t allow inevitability to paralyze you, uncertainty to defeat you, mystery to preclude your involvement in your advance.” Stir us up, O Lord, we pray, that we may lay hold upon life—the life that is really life in the Lord Jesus Christ.

And may his grace and mercy and peace shine upon our hearts and fill our homes. And stir us, Lord, we pray, to the great adventure that you have set before us all the days of our lives, and then to see you in heaven and to enjoy you forever. We bless you and we praise you in Christ’s name. Amen.

[1] Ecclesiastes 12:12 (NIV 1984).

[2] Billy Hill, “The Glory of Love” (1936).

[3] Charles Bridges, An Exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes (New York: R. Carter and Brothers, 1860), 323.

[4] Luke 5:4 (paraphrased).

[5] See Matthew 25:14–30.

[6] Matthew 13:3–8 (paraphrased).

[7] See Isaiah 55:11.

[8] 1 Corinthians 9:20–23 (paraphrased).

[9] William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, 4.3.

[10] John 10:10 (paraphrased).

[11] Bob Thiele and George David Weiss, “What a Wonderful World” (1967). Lyrics lightly altered.

[12] See Ecclesiastes 3:11.

[13] Francis H. Rowley, “I Will Sing the Wondrous Story” (1886).

[14] Adelaide A. Procter, “My God, I Thank Thee” (1858). Lyrics lightly altered.

[15] Ira Stanphill, “Happiness Is the Lord” (1868.) Lyrics lightly altered.

[16] Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10 (NIV 1984).

[17] George W. Robinson, “I Am His, and He Is Mine” (1876). Lyrics lightly altered.

[18] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1.2 (paraphrased).

[19] Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NIV 1984).

[20] See 1 Timothy 6:19.

[21] Dave Matthews, “Two Step” (1996).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.