For Reflection

Before we fully close the book on Ecclesiastes, I’ve got one last devotional for us. With any preaching series, there are other connecting topics of interest that we’re not able to fully explore in the main sermons. Often, these corresponding topics manifest through the question, “But what about…?” David Powlison calls these “BWAs”, and they’re important for us to engage, especially if they concern an area of Scripture that seems to contradict the main message of a sermon passage. To finish out the series, let’s briefly explore two BWAs of Ecclesiastes: But what about self-denial? But what about the Great Commission? The Sage of Ecclesiastes spends a great deal of time telling us to enjoy ourselves (for example, 2:24, 3:12-13, 3:22, 5:18, 8:15, 9:7-10, and 11:7-10). But what about Christ’s teaching on self-denial (Mark 8:34), or Paul’s, who also seems to push us toward self-denial (Philippians 3:19-20)? How might we sum up the New Testament teaching on self-denial? At its heart, it’s a call to forsake your love of the world, because you’ve found the best love of all — God and His Kingdom. Because you own the “pearl of great value,” you no longer need the world for fulfillment. You can share with others, even to your hurt. You can even learn to suffer, as it draws you closer to God. At the same time, the New Testament encourages us to embrace our lives here as an act of faith. Your Heavenly Father feeds and clothes you. Jesus took time for refreshment and self-care, and he encouraged his disciples to do the same. Jesus calls us to renounce our love of the world, not the simple pleasures of life. Contentment bridges the gap between self-denial and enjoyment. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Philippians 4:11) So, when it’s time to feast, feast with joy in your heart, not guilt, and share some with those in need! And, when it’s time to fast, don’t grumble against God, but accept your circumstances with thanksgiving. Sounds a lot like Ecclesiastes. Enjoy today while you can. It’s not a call to total hedonism or total asceticism; it’s a call to a properly ordered life — putting God first, and then receiving the day as God’s gracious gift. “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm 118:24) With this encouragement to enjoy our lives, we might also wonder, but what about mission? What about evangelism? Deuteronomy 4:5-6 describes the people’s mission in the Old Testament: it was a mission of magnetism. By keeping God’s holy law, they demonstrated God’s holy character to the neighboring nations. Or, to put it in the language of our 1 Peter series, the people of God were (and are now) called to attractive holiness. Of course, this includes evangelism, but it also includes a broader “all of life” witness. Ecclesiastes forms us for this “all of life” witness; the book aims to make us wise. And part of wisdom involves proper enjoyment of our earthly lives. With as much material wealth as our culture has, I don’t think that many of our neighbors truly enjoy themselves. The quest for more signifies a restless heart. “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). Our quiet, simple enjoyment of God’s created world will look attractively holy to those who restlessly long for God, yet fill that longing with the things of the world. Ecclesiastes offers us the wisdom of properly-ordered love; and this properly-ordered love frees us from attachment to the world, for enjoyment of the world. Ought we invite others to share our faith? Absolutely! But, they also need to see that our faith unlocks the meaning they crave in life. In this way, Ecclesiastes prepares us for attractively holy, “missionally magnetic” lives. For Reflection: — What are a few of your “BWAs” for Ecclesiastes? Feel free to reach out to Pastor Billy with any lingering questions. For more on God’s mission as magnetic, see Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God.