Radical Forgiveness – Get It!

The Radical Forgiveness Series
  • Forgiveness can be a difficult subject for many of us. We can find it hard to forgive others for things they have done to us. When it comes to our own past mistakes and failures, we can find it hard to forgive ourselves or to grasp that God forgives us completely. It’s easy for American Christians to forget how Jesus said His followers would actually live, and what their new counter-cultural lifestyle would actually look like. We hope that this Series helps you engage and live in freedom as we take a look at what the Bible has to say about radical forgiveness.
1. Radical Forgiveness – Get It! (Acts 3:11-26)
  • We are separated from God by sin which can only be cured by forgiveness from God.
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text?
  • Humans are stained by sin and separated from God from whom they have rebelled and who they have rejected.(Acts 3:14 & 15)
  • God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, as the Savior and Author of life, raised from the dead, through whom forgiveness from sin is offered. (Acts 3:13, 15 & 16, 19)
  • One can receive forgiveness by repenting of one's sin and accepting Jesus' death in his or her place by faith. (Acts 3:16, 19, 26)
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking?
  • Are you aware of your sin, what it really is, and why it separates you from God?
  • Why did God have to send His Son, Jesus Christ, to deal with the human sin problem?
  • Do you confess your sins, repent of them, and ask Jesus to come into your life by faith?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide
  • Interpretation – What is the text telling/showing us?
  • What was the effect on the crowd in the Temple of the healing of the man lame from birth?
  • Why were the people amazed at the healing?
  • How was the lame man healed, and what is the connection between his healing and what Peter had to say to the people?
  • How were the people in the crowd guilty of Jesus' death?
  • What is the meaning and purpose of Jesus' death and resurrection?
  • What was the solution to the people's sin problem that Peter proposed?
  • List the names and descriptions of Jesus that Peter used in his “message.” What do these names and descriptions mean?
  • How did Jesus fulfill prophecy about Himself?
  • What does it mean to repent from sin?
  • What does it mean to have faith in Jesus?
  • Implementation – What should the listener’s response be?
  • What does it mean to you that a person lame from birth was healed in the name of Jesus?
  • Who is Jesus?
  • What is the result of Jesus' death and resurrection? How does Jesus' death and resurrection impact you?
  • What does it mean that God “glorified his servant Jesus?” (Acts 3:13)
  • Do you consider yourself a sinner, and are you under God's indictment for your sin?
  • How did God solve your sin problem?
  • Do you want to be forgiven from your sin? How can you “get” forgiveness from God?
  • Are you ready to confess your sin, repent of it, and turn to Jesus in faith to receive forgiveness and eternal life? If you have not done that, you can do it right now as you read these words. Just go ahead and confess your sins to Jesus, turn away from them and by faith ask Jesus to save and forgive you.
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation – What’s generally going on in this area of Scripture?
These Notes are the first in a three-part Series entitled “Radical Forgiveness.” As a start to the Series, we need to have an understanding of the meaning of forgiveness. From a “dictionary definition” standpoint, the word means to stop feeling anger toward someone who has done something wrong; to stop blaming someone; or to stop feeling anger about something. Suggested synonyms include absolution, exoneration, remission, dispensation, clemency and mercy. Such a definition takes us part way to understanding, but falls short of a Biblical understanding as it excludes anything having to do with sin. Scripture teaches us that forgiveness is indeed all about sin, and so the question is what is sin. Sin is our inner defilement that derives from the rebellion against God that started with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and consequently infected the entire human race (Romans 5:12). Sin is thus an inborn condition in which none of us is righteous or does good, but instead we all turn away from God (Romans 3:10-18, 23) and are thus separated from Him and His holiness, with no way to be reconciled with Him on our own. Moreover, sin carries with it a penalty, namely death (Romans 6:23a). In short, sin is a problem for all human beings; it separates us from God, from others and from self; all those relationships are broken. We can't live with God, with others or with ourselves because we all want to be lord of our own lives.

So the big issue is how can we be rid of sin? How can we be set free from the bondage of sin and have those relationships – with God, with others and with self – restored. Again, Scripture teaches that there is no way that a human can pay off this debt of sin on his or her own, whether by works or by striving in any way. No matter what we might do, we are still stained by sin. And that’s where forgiveness comes in. Forgiveness correctly views sin as something that needs to be removed, and in the removal of sin, forgiveness is that which restores relationships. Thus, forgiveness removes sin (Psalm 103:12), sets sin aside (Colossians 2:14) and puts it away (Hebrews 9:26). Forgiveness hides God’s judgment from us (Psalm 51:9), sets us free from the bondage of sin (Acts 13:38 & 39), and cancels our sin-debt otherwise owed to God (Matthew 18:23-35). And forgiveness restores our relationship with God, with others and with self.

Viewed thus in the Biblical sense, forgiveness must come from outside us; it is not something we can conjure up of our own doing. And where does forgiveness come from? It comes from God, from the holy One Himself out of His mercy, grace and love (Exodus 34:6 & 7). But God’s forgiveness does not come without a cost as the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and those wages must be paid. The payment for sin is death, and that death must be of an offering that is spotless and without blemish so that the blood of that offering will cover sin and bring about the aforementioned effects. My sin requires my death; but my death will not wipe out my sin or provide forgiveness because I am not a perfect sacrifice. The beauty of God’s forgiveness is that He Himself provided the perfect sacrifice in God the Son, namely Jesus Christ, who offered Himself for sin as that perfect sacrifice such that the price of sin is paid in Him (Romans 5:8; Colossians 2:14; I Peter 2:24). God supplied the means by which forgiveness is available through the act of Jesus Christ whose blood covers sin (Matthew 26:28; Ephesians 1:7). Forgiveness is therefore wrapped up entirely in Jesus (Acts 5:31; Ephesians 4:32), and His death allows God to mark the sin debt as paid, and to put away sin and remember it no more (Hebrews 8:12; 9:15). And this forgiveness from God is accessed by one’s confessing his or her own sin, and turning away from it (repentance), and believing by faith that Jesus’ death and shed blood covers over his or her own sin; in other words, that Jesus paid the price I owed for my sin and thus atoned for my sin (II Corinthians 5:21) to make me whole, reconciled to Him (Colossians 1:4), make alive again (Colossians 2:13), hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). In Christ, then, forgiveness brings freedom from the power and shackles of sin (Acts 10:43; Romans 6:18, 22), peace with God (Colossians 1:20), and reconciliation (Colossians 1:21 & 22). In Christ, then, forgiveness brings life both on earth and for eternity (Romans 6:22 & 23).

With the foregoing in mind as a context and understanding of both forgiveness and sin, Acts 3:11-26 is a passage that provides us with a picture of the need for forgiveness together with a focus on where forgiveness comes from. The setting for the passage is that the Apostles Peter and John had just healed a man who was lame from birth as they entered into the Temple in Jerusalem through the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:1-10). Peter and John then continued into the Temple, and the man who was healed came with them, “leaping and praising God.” (Acts 3:9). All who were in the Temple recognized him as he had sought alms at the Temple Gate on a daily basis. Out text begins as these three came into the area of the Temple called Solomon's Portico, an area which ran the entire length of the eastern portion of the outer courts of the Temple. (Acts 3:11) The people in the Temple flocked to them in amazement. In terms of the time-frame, Pentecost was over and all the pilgrims had gone, so the people who were in the Temple that day surrounding Peter, John and the healed man, were all Jewish folk at the Temple for afternoon prayers. With all those people present, Peter took the opportunity to speak to them about what had happened. There are several levels to what Peter said, one of which is that he was in effect speaking to the nation of Israel via these Jewish folk. But for our purposes, Peter was speaking to the individuals he faced. And his message was rather simple: they knew who God was and had rejected Jesus the Messiah, and as such were trapped in their sin; Jesus was indeed the Messiah who came as the “Author of life” (Acts 3:15), died and rose again for the forgiveness of their sin (Acts 3:19, 26); the way to receive forgiveness is to repent (Acts 3:19); and in repenting and accepting Jesus death for them by faith, they could be made whole in the spiritual sense just as the lame man was made whole in the physical sense.

So the people Peter addressed that day in Jerusalem were in need, even if some of them did not even realize it (Acts 3:17). They were dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-3), though they were physically alive. They were infected with the disease of sin, as it were, for which there was no cure on earth. They needed their sin removed, and their relationship with God restored. Note that as Jews, they thought that they had a relationship with God just because they were Jews, and heirs of their Jewish “fathers,” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In other words, they thought their birth status gave them life, when all the while they were actually dead in their sin and separated from the God of Israel as a result. (Romans 2:17-27) They didn't “get it” that they needed to “get it” meaning get forgiveness. And that is what Peter was telling them. God provided the way of forgiveness by His Son, the “holy and Righteous One,” who was rejected and killed by the very people who should have welcomed their Messiah (John 1:11). But it was Jesus whom God raised from the dead (Acts 3:15), as foretold by the very prophets of Israel (Acts 3:18, 21-24), to blot out sin because the keeping of the law would not produce that result in that they could not keep the law. This same Jesus, Peter tells them, is alive and it was Jesus who healed the lame man on the basis of his faith. Likewise, Peter called his audience to repent and turn away from their sin (Acts 3:19, 26) to receive forgiveness; and that was the only way they could get it.


So forgiveness is something we humans need to be freed from the bondage of our sin and rebellion from God. And in order to “get it,” we must confess and turn away from our sin, believe in Jesus by faith for the removal of our sin, the healing of our soul, the cleansing from our iniquity, all based on His substitutionary death in place of ours, and then receive His forgiveness. Jesus, called by Peter the servant of God (Acts 3:13), the Holy and Righteous One (Acts 3:14), the Author of Life (Acts 3:15), the Messiah (Acts 3:20), and the One raised from the dead (Acts 3:15), is the only One by whom one can “get” forgiveness and be freed to live. This same Jesus who healed the man lame from birth through the words of Peter, is ready and able to perform the miracle of spiritual healing and the forgiveness of sin along with the restoration of relationship with God the Father as a result. Like He was calling to those Jewish people that day through Peter's words, Jesus calls today, “Come to me in faith and find forgiveness! Come today and I will in no wise cast you out.” Will you come if you haven't already? Jesus is calling. 

Forgiveness can be a difficult subject for many of us. We can find it hard to forgive others for things they have done to us. When it comes to our own past mistakes and failures we can find it hard to forgive ourselves or to grasp that God forgives us completely. It’s easy for American Christians to forget how Jesus said his followers would actually live, and what their new counter-cultural lifestyle would actually look like. We hope that this helps you engage and live in freedom as we take a look at what the Bible has to say about radical forgiveness.

1. Radical Forgiveness - Get It! [Acts 3:11-26]
We are separated from God by sin which can only be cured by forgiveness from God.

2. Radical Forgiveness - Give It! [Luke 7:36-50]
Once we have been forgiven by God, our responsibility is to forgive others as well.

3. Radical Forgiveness - Live It! [Colossians 3:1-17]
Forgiveness isn't just once in awhile ... it's all the while!

For the Young and the Old: The Conclusion

The Meaning of Life Series
  • What happens when we seek ultimate meaning outside of relationship with the Creator God? What happens when we're desperate for the answers to life but can't seem to find any? What happens when our souls get wearied from the constant pursuit of pleasure and possessions? These are enormous questions of life and meaning that Ecclesiastes grapples with in the timeless complexity and messiness of reality. In the end, the ancient philosopher recalibrates our hearts, minds, and lives to pursue meaning in the Ultimate God because God alone holds the key to the meaning of life.
10. For the Young and the Old (Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:14)
  • Can we find meaning in being alive and vibrant in our old age?
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text?
  • Life goes from young to old, and God needs to be in the midst of one’s life from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 11:8 & 9)
  • Old age is inevitable, is part of life, and ends in one’s death; so turn to God early on, in your youth. (Ecclesiastes 12:1 & 2)
  • The truth of life, and the source of wisdom is from God, so in life one should fear God and follow His ways. (Ecclesiastes 12:, 13 & 14)
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking?
  • Wherever you are on your life’s journey in terms of your age, have you put God into the midst of your life?
  • How are you approaching your life and the fact of your aging? Are you living life fully no matter your age?
  • Do you fear God and keep His commandments?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide
  • Interpretation – What is the text telling/showing us?
  • What does it mean to say “Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 11:7)
  • Why should one rejoice in his or her youth? What does it mean to rejoice in one’s youth?
  • Describe the reality of on-coming age and aging? What should that inevitability mean for the living of your life now?
  • What does it mean that “God will bring you into judgment?” (Ecclesiastes 11:9b)?
  • What does it mean to “remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body?” (Ecclesiastes 11:10)
  • Why does the Preacher tell us to “remember” our Creator in the days of our youth?
  • Describe the effects of on-coming age. (Ecclesiastes 12:3-5). What is the eventual outcome of old age and what does it mean?
  • What was the Preacher’s objective in writing this book? How did he approach his task, and what is the intended impact of his book on us?
  • What is the Preacher’s conclusion from all he has studied and thought about?
  • Implementation – What should the listener’s response be?
  • What is your approach to life, no matter what your age is?
  • How can you enjoy life in a way that honors God’s gift of life to you?
  • Why should you focus on God at the center of your life? Have you done so?
  • What is the source of meaning in your life?
  • How do you remove vexation from your heart and put away pain from your body and why is doing so important?
  • How are you experiencing the process of aging? How can you maintain a life of enjoyment in the midst of growing old? What things might you do to achieve that purpose?
  • What have you learned from this overall study of the book of Ecclesiastes? What words of truth have presented themselves to you in the study?
  • Have the words of truth in Ecclesiastes “goaded” you into action? Into making any changes in your life, in your mindset, and in your attitudes? What are those changes? If you haven’t made any changes, should you, and what should they be?
  • How can you live to fear God and keep His commandments?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation – What’s generally going on in this area of Scripture?
At the end of the last Notes, we saw that the Preacher closed with the admonition, “In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand ...” (Ecclesiastes 11:6) In other words, live life every day from start to finish and allow God to work His way. In these Notes, the final ones in this Series, the Preacher, in a way, is going to continue that thought, but from a different angle. Specifically, he’s going to speak of youth and the inevitably of aging and the ultimate outcome of death. How should we live in that life process, with the end in sight? And in his observations on the matter, the Preacher will bring his work to a close with his final conclusion.

In chapter 11, verses 7 and 8a, the Preacher tells us that vitality of life and living should be the norm for all of life, especially when one is young. Life is pleasant and is to be enjoyed, and one’s enjoyment is perfectly acceptable as after all, life is from God and meant to be enjoyed, as the Preacher has already pointed out (Ecclesiastes 3:22). Yet the young need to keep in mind that old age will come, and with it the darkness; just as the sunset and the night follow after the sunrise and the daytime, so death follows at the end of one’s life … so, vanity! But in the context of what the Preacher has already written, the implication of verse 8 is don’t miss out on life while you are young and growing older; just know that the rhythm of life includes the end. So the young especially should live life to the full, remembering to do so with responsibility as God is the judge (Ecclesiastes 11:9) in the sense that He will want an account of how one availed oneself of living with joy the life that God gave. At the same time, the young need to know that life will include its problems and difficulties, its pains and sorrows, its temptations and vexations. So much as possible, these things are to be avoided when they can be avoided by one’s good choices. In other words, enjoying life does not mean irresponsibility and bad choices which lead to difficulties and pain. While such will come as a part of life, “remove vexation” from your heart and “put away pain. (Ecclesiastes 11:10)

The Preacher continues to speak of one’s approach to life while young, saying that a person should find God and even faith in God while young. (Ecclesiastes 12:1) In other words, don’t wait until you are old when it might be too late for you because of your own frustrations with age. The aging process is inevitable and it saps a person and limits us in varying ways, and can rob us of a mind that will find rest in the Creator. So, find God “before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain.” (Ecclesiastes 12:2) The Preacher then proceeds in verses 3 through 8 to catalogue what happens with age. The list is startling in its accuracy even as it is poetic in its presentation. The Preacher says that arms and legs tremble and grow weak (the “keepers of the house tremble” and “the strong men are bent” Ecclesiastes 12:3); the “grinders” (one’s teeth, it seems) don’t work because there are few left (Ecclesiastes 12:3); the eyes grow dim (Ecclesiastes 12:3); the ears don’t hear as well (Ecclesiastes 12:4); it’s harder to speak (“the sound of grinding is low” Ecclesiastes 12:4); though one still wakes up at the sound of the birds singing, one can hardly hear it (Ecclesiastes 12:4b); one becomes afraid of heights and of crowds (“terrors are in the way,” Ecclesiastes 12:5); hair grows white (“the almond tree blossoms” with white blooms in mid-winter in the near east. Ecclesiastes 12:5); movement becomes slow (the “grasshopper drags itself along,” Ecclesiastes 12:5); and sexual desires and potency fade (Ecclesiastes 12:5b). All of the foregoing happen “because man is going to his eternal home and the mourners go about the streets.” (Ecclesiastes 12:5b). So the Preacher calls out again, “Seek God now” before the “silver cord is snapped,” the “golden bowl is broken,” the “pitcher is shattered,” or the “wheel broken at the cistern.” (Ecclesiastes 12:6. Some commentators suggest the foregoing represent parts of the body – cord = spine; bowl = head; pitcher = heart; wheel = inner parts and digestion tract. Such an interpretation might be pushing things, but the point is clear, the pictures point to endings). Life will come to an end, and dust return to dust; the gifts of life are fleeting and we will end at God’s throne, before the One who gave us the life to live in the first place. The end comes, and so … “vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 12:8)

Lest we think that the Preacher has concluded that there is no meaning in life, it seems that instead he has just pointed to the truth that life is fleeting and ends in death, yet it is worth living for God. And the following verses support this interpretation. In verses 9 and 10 of chapter 12, the Preacher (in the third person; or possibly through the comments of a disciple), reminds the reader that he, the wise one, has undertaken his study with great care, to write of the truth, and to do so for the benefit of his reader. Such words are not to puff himself any more than the words of a Prophet of God point to the Prophet. Rather, the Preacher simply states the reality of who he is and what he has done, and then notes that they are from “one Shepherd.” (Ecclesiastes 12:11) By saying thus, the Preacher underscores that his book is the word of God, that wisdom and his own wisdom is from God, and the purpose of the words of God are to goad one to action. And what action? The Preacher will give the answer in verse 13, but before doing so warns the reader that one could do more study but it will get him or her nowhere. The ultimate wisdom is to be found in God and the keeping of His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13) which, as he has written, is to live life with God at the center, knowing that He will judge everything in the end (Ecclesiastes 12:14)

So the Preacher’s search for meaning has taken him to God. The search has shown that man can’t find the answers to life on his own, but that the search will peel back the truth that God knows all, that He has given us life to live and enjoy, and that wisdom is found in Him. The Preacher has already indicated that while we don’t know everything, indeed we know enough to be responsible for what we do in light of what we know, and that God will be the judge of our life and the way we live it. And further, the Preacher has already indicated that everything is in God’s sight and in His control. So his conclusion is, “fear God and keep His commandments.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). And to the Christian who knows now, as the Preacher did not, that Jesus is the Wisdom of God, the lesson of Ecclesiastes is that one should come to Jesus in whom is life and meaning. And we know from God's word that if we come, we can be sure that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38 & 39) Praise the Lord, in Christ we have meaning and purpose! Everything is not vanity after all!




A Fool and His Folly

The Meaning of Life Series
  • What happens when we seek ultimate meaning outside of relationship with the Creator God? What happens when we're desperate for the answers to life but can't seem to find any? What happens when our souls get wearied from the constant pursuit of pleasure and possessions? These are enormous questions of life and meaning that Ecclesiastes grapples with in the timeless complexity and messiness of reality. In the end, the ancient philosopher recalibrates our hearts, minds, and lives to pursue meaning in the Ultimate God because God alone holds the key to the meaning of life.
9. A Fool and His Folly (Ecclesiastes 9:11-11:6)
  • Can we find meaning in life through collecting power, cheerful activity, and common destiny?
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text?
  • We do not know what life will bring or when it will end. (Ecclesiastes 9:11 & 12)
  • The way of foolishness, which is life without God, leads to nowhere but folly. (Ecclesiastes 9:18b; 10:3, 12 & 13)
  • Live each day, morning to evening, trusting that God will accomplish His purposes. (Ecclesiastes 11:6)
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking?
  • Is life simply about time and chance without meaning and direction?
  • Why should one life the way of wisdom instead of the way of the fool?
  • How can one live each day not knowing how everything will turn out?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide
  • Interpretation – What is the text telling/showing us?
  • What good is it in the end to be swift, strong, wise, rich, intelligent or full of knowledge? (Ecclesiastes 9:11)
  • Why is wisdom better than folly?
  • Does it matter if your wisdom applied in life goes unacknowledged or unappreciated? Why or why not?
  • Make a list of the advantages of wise living and the disadvantages of foolish living. Which way do you pick?
  • How does the wise person live in the face of possible negative outcomes?
  • What are the words of the wise person like as compared to the fool?
  • What are the advantages of a wise leader in terms of outcome of his or her leading?
  • Why does it make sense to live in light of God's being in control of everything?
  • Implementation – What should the listener’s response be?
  • What part do time and chance play in life, or do they play no part?
  • How can you life a life of wisdom in the face of a world full of folly?
  • How should you react if and when your life of wisdom is not appreciated?
  • What are the advantages to you personally in living the life of wisdom?
  • What should your daily life look like in a practical sense if you follow the way of wisdom?
  • How can you tell if a person is living the life of folly (i.e., the life of a fool)?
  • What should be your approach to and attitude towards those in authority, toward your leaders?
  • How should you, in wisdom, approach your relationships, your handling of money, your work, and your words?
  • What do you see as the application(s) to you in your daily life of the verses covered in these Notes? What changes do you have to make to lead a life of wisdom more faithfully? Ask God to help you make those changes.
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation – What’s generally going on in this area of Scripture?
In chapter 9, verse 10, we were left with the Preacher saying that despite not knowing or understanding the meaning of life, one should not only live life while one has the opportunity, as it is God’s gift, but live it with zest as if at a celebratory party, enjoying work, food and drink, family and even clothing, and live it with God’s full approval, as the opportunity will be gone when one dies. (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10) But once again in verse 11, the up and down nature of the Preacher’s presentation shows up and he provides the counterpoint to what he had just said. Specifically, the Preacher says that life is unpredictable and even unfair, and success is not guaranteed even in living life with wisdom, as “time and chance happen” and things change suddenly at “an evil time.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11 & 12) In other words, one simply does not know what will come. As an example, the preachers cites the circumstance of a city under attack that was delivered by a poor, but wise man, and yet no one remembered the poor man or his wisdom. (Ecclesiastes 9:13-15) Yet, the Preacher’s underlying theme is that one should nevertheless live in one’s daily circumstances with wisdom, as wisdom is still better than the alternative (foolishness), even if the outcome is not assured, and even when the loud-mouth ends up undoing the good results. (Ecclesiastes 9:13, 16-18) In short, in life, wisdom trumps folly.

In the remaining verses covered in these Notes, chapter 10:1 through 11:6, the Preacher underscores the conclusion that “wisdom trumps folly” by using a series of proverbs that show the outcomes of folly as opposed to those of wisdom. In chapter 10 verse 1, the Preacher says that even a little folly can spoil wisdom, the implication being that one should be careful even in exercising wisdom. Verses 2 and 3 say that the wise one follows the good (“to the right”) whereas the fool heads towards the bad (“to the left”) and demonstrates his foolishness even as he walks along an apparent middle path. The wise one uses care with authorities (Ecclesiastes 10:4), even if wisdom does not lead to success (Ecclesiastes 10:5 & 6); he makes preparations in life even, and especially, in the things that can cause damage (Ecclesiastes 10:8-11). The wise one is also careful in speech (Ecclesiastes 10:12-14). In the matter of speech, the words of a fool go nowhere and accomplish nothing, and they are particularly meaningless in light of the reality that those words are spoken with no knowledge of the future. One thinks of the “talking heads” of today’s radio, television and other broadcast media, in which are individuals who speak about things as if they know what will happen and what outcomes will prevail, when in reality they no nothing of the future. Inevitably, such “talking heads” are proven wrong, as that concerning which they speak with such confidence simply does not come to pass. The work of a fool thus wearies even the fool and gets him nowhere. (Ecclesiastes 10:15)

When it comes to leaders and authorities, those who are fools lead accordingly. Such foolish leadership allows underlings to play when they should work (Ecclesiastes 10:16), opens the door to bad consequences as a result of sloth and inattentiveness (Ecclesiastes 10:18), prefers merriment over responsibility (Ecclesiastes 10:19), and thinks that money solves everything (Ecclesiastes 10:19). The wise leader, on the other hand, leads by example and works when appropriate, and uses food not for merriment but for strength (Ecclesiastes 10:17). The wise one who is not a leader respects authority, whether good or bad, and recognizes that because all one’s words will somehow be found out, criticism and curses concerning such authority is to be avoided (Ecclesiastes 10:20). Wisdom thus recognizes that “a bird of the air” will carry one’s voice, and the wise one will thus be circumspect in speaking.

Life is unpredictable, says the preacher; complete understanding cannot be gained nor can all knowledge be discerned. Yet the wise person will live each day as best as possible in all situations, taking into account what can be understood and known. And in fact, the ways of the wise, as opposed to the ways of folly, apply to every day, practical things, as the Preacher points out in chapter 11, verses 1 through 6. Indeed, the Preacher speaks of wisdom as applied to investing, to agriculture and trade, and to having children, all of which certainly deal with real life. Verses 1 and 2 essentially say that the wise person will go ahead and invest (“cast your bread upon the waters”) and there will be return (“you will find it after many days”), and in so doing, will spread the investments around (“give a portion to seven, or even to eight”). These two proverbs seem to be the foundation for two more current sayings: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained;” and “Don't put all your eggs in one basket.” Good, practical advice indeed! In agriculture, conditions will seldom be perfect, so one shouldn't wait to proceed, whether planting or harvesting. (Ecclesiastes 11:3a, 4) In trade, one doesn't know where the competition will arrive, and what the outcome will be no matter the planning, and thus what comes will come. The wise person, however, will proceed notwithstanding. (Ecclesiastes 11:3) How babies grow in the womb is not understood (of course, that process is better understood now than it was when Ecclesiastes was written, though there is yet mystery in it), but people still have babies. (Ecclesiastes 11:5) One simply cannot know God's plan and how He works, nor fathom His ways. Yet the wise person will continue to live, sowing seed in the morning and evening, essentially leaving things in God's hands, and such living will be in the moment, in the now, in full reliance on God since He is the One “who makes everything.” (Ecclesiastes 11:5b, 6)

In all the foregoing, we have further confirmation of the Preacher's conclusion, namely that while a person may not be able to understand life, with all its inequities, paradoxes, uncertainties and mysteries, one can and should still live a life in light of God's existence and His will, a life that in following the way of wisdom, as opposed to folly, will accomplish God's purposes in some way. Thus, the Preacher ends this section with the admonition, “In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand ...” (Ecclesiastes 11:6) In other words, live life every day from start to finish and allow God to work His way. The wise person will do well to heed this admonition. One wonders if these words at least partially formed the backdrop for Jesus' words to His audience as he taught on the mountainside one day,

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:25, 33)

Fortunately, today we have these words from Jesus and many more that inform how we should live life in relationship with God, seeking to accomplish His purposes, knowing now that those purposes are wholly wrapped up in Jesus. The Apostle Paul puts it thusly:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:1 & 2)

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)


Life is not meaningless after all. Even while we do not understand everything or how God works, we know that He has provided life for us in Christ, delivered from “the domain of darkness” and transferred into “the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.” (Colossians 1:13 & 14) Praise God that He has given us meaning and purpose!




A Tug of War Between Life and Death

The Meaning of Life Series
  • What happens when we seek ultimate meaning outside of relationship with the Creator God? What happens when we're desperate for the answers to life but can't seem to find any? What happens when our souls get wearied from the constant pursuit of pleasure and possessions? These are enormous questions of life and meaning that Ecclesiastes grapples with in the timeless complexity and messiness of reality. In the end, the ancient philosopher recalibrates our hearts, minds, and lives to pursue meaning in the Ultimate God because God alone holds the key to the meaning of life.
8. A Tug of War Between Life and Death (Ecclesiastes 8:2-9:10)
  • Can we find meaning in life through collecting power, cheerful activity, and common destiny?
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text?
  • The wise one will live in obedience to God as He knows all. (Ecclesiastes 8:2-8)
  • It is well for one to live in fear of God for He is sovereign over all. (Ecclesiastes 8:12 & 13)
  • Though all will die one day, only God knows when, and one should live life to the fullest as a gift of God until that day. (Ecclesiastes 8:15; 9:4, 7-10)
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking?
  • Why is it crucial to live in obedience to God?
  • What do one’s circumstances direct or not direct how one should live? What should direct how one should live?
  • All will die, both good and bad; how then shall we live the life we have been given?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide
  • Interpretation – What is the text telling/showing us?
  • How is living under a king a picture of living under God?
  • Is your life guided by unseen forces over which you have no control?
  • What is the implication of the reality that similar things happen to good and bad people, and that often, the bad seems to get the best of things?
  • Why would one say that it is vanity that the evil sometimes receive what the righteous should receive, and vice-versa?
  • In the face of the inequities and unfairness of life, how should one live?
  • Can the meaning of life be discovered by the wisdom of man? (read I Corinthians 1:18-31; 2:6-16)
  • What is the advantage of living as over against death?
  • Should the presence of evil determine how you live your life?
  • How should on live in the light of the reality of death?
  • Implementation – What should the listener’s response be?
  • How should you live in light of who God is? How do you live in light of who God is?
  • Do you know what will happen tomorrow, or the next day, or next week or next month? Who does?
  • How does wisdom respond to the reality that no one knows what tomorrow will bring?
  • What does the presence of evil and the seeming advantage of evil in terms of life’s rewards lead you to decide how you should live your life? Should you just live for yourself and get what you can any way you can simply because you’ll just die in the end?
  • What does it mean for you to fear God? How does that fear of God affect how you live your life?
  • Why should you live each day as if it is a gift from God?
  • Do you think you can know and understand enough to live a meaningful life? What is that knowledge and understanding?
  • All humans will die one day, though none knows when. Who does know when you will die? Do you trust yourself and your life to the One who knows when you will die? Why?
  • Why is there hope in living? Why is a living dog better than a dead lion?
  • In light of Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, how will you choose to live your life and why?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation – What’s generally going on in this area of Scripture?
The up-and-down nature of the Preacher’s search continues in this installment. In the immediately preceding Notes, the Preacher set out some “ways of the wise;” ways to live life in spite of not knowing all the answers, or even very many of them. The ways included living seriously, thoughtfully and with humility, not focusing on the past, and seeing things through to the end. And these ways were in the context of knowing at the least that God is in control of all things, whether they seem good or bad from the human perspective, and that God does have a plan and purpose. The issue, as we would put it in New Testament terms, is one of faith. But even in this, the Preacher wrestled with the problem of evil and evil people, concluding in chapter 8, verse 1, that the problem is not God or from God, and thus one must continue to live the ways of the wise simply because they are from God, and doing thus keeps meaninglessness, which is the outcome of the human only perspective, at bay. So, the Preacher clings to God, and that makes his face “shine.” (Ecclesiastes 8:1b)

In Chapter 8, verse 2, the Preacher continues the thought of living the ways of the wise, comparing it to living in a way that seeks to please the king. Using this earthly example, the Preacher says that the king, like God, is not accountable to his subjects (Ecclesiastes 8:4). Moreover, the subjects do not know the future or its outcome either in general or as it pertains to them; however, at the least, they do know that obedience in the present will most likely please the king. (Ecclesiastes 8:5-7). Therefore, it is wise to live in such a way, even to the end, meaning until one dies (Ecclesiastes 8:8).

But in living the ways of the wise, the Preacher notes that there will nevertheless be inconsistencies and things that seem unfair and unjust, including oppression (Ecclesiastes 8:9), the evil person honored in life though forgotten at death (Ecclesiastes 8:10), the delays in the execution of justice (Ecclesiastes 8:11), the good receiving bad while the bad receive good (Ecclesiastes 8:14), and long life for the one who does evil (Ecclesiastes 8:12a). During life, the foregoing are troubling, and indeed are vanity, says the Preacher (Ecclesiastes 8:10, 14). Yet, even in the midst of such thinking, the Preacher knows, and clings to, the fact that the one who fears God will receive His ultimate approval (Ecclesiastes 8:12b, 13) which will not be the case for the one who does not fear God (Ecclesiastes 8:13). While not writing about what will happen in eternity and in the future, all of which is in God’s hands, the Preacher is saying that God is to be trusted, and that whatever is to be in the future is not only in His hands, but will be right. Indeed, the Preacher seems to be clinging to this reality again as a measure of holding meaninglessness at bay.

The Preacher is still at a difficult place, facing vanity in the person of evil people and in the reality of evil results. But where does he go? The Preacher again goes to his recurring theme: in the fact of apparent meaninglessness, live life and enjoy it as a gift of God, even in the work and toil of each day (Ecclesiastes 8:15). But even in this conclusion, the Preacher parenthetically reminds his readers that he has studied all these things and put his mind to understanding and seeking wisdom, only to find more questions than answers even as one lives life as a gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 8:16 & 17) So we again see the up and down, the push and pull, of the Preacher’s search; from a purely human approach, he still cannot seem to get fully away from the conclusion of vanity.

When all is said and done, the Preacher concludes, all die – the good, the bad, the wise and the fool – and all are equally still in God’s hands (Ecclesiastes 9:1 & 2), and one’s circumstances are not the measure of whether or not God is in control or whether or not God loves you and will provide for you in the end. Should one then live for whatever pleases him or her, even doing evil instead of good, because after all, it doesn’t matter anyway since it all ends at death? (Ecclesiastes 9:3) The Preacher rejects this thinking and instead insists that where there is life, there is hope (Ecclesiastes 9:4), and that only in life can there be anything with meaning since in death there is nothing. (Ecclesiastes 9:5 & 6). So, says the Preacher, not only should you live life while you have it, as God’s gift, but live it with zest as if you’re at a celebratory party, enjoying your work, your food and drink, your family and your very clothing; live life to the full while you have the opportunity from God, with His full approval, as that opportunity will indeed be gone when you die. (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10) And no matter what the circumstances are, says the Preacher, “a living dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4) even though the latter was the supposed king of the animal world.

Thus, the “tug of war” continues; there’s vanity, and futility, and evil; but there’s life and hope. And it seems that whenever the Preacher ends up at the point of vanity and meaninglessness in his pursuit, to a place where he could just as easily give up, instead he comes down on the side of life, of God, and of hope (Ecclesiastes 9:4a). The Preacher doesn’t necessarily know the how, why, what or when of that hope; he just clings to it. But those who are in Christ and have given their lives to Jesus, know the how, why, what and when of hope. There is no mystery any longer, as God has made known His will and purpose, and it is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27) God, in His great mercy “has caused us to be born again to a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (I Peter 1:3) Life has meaning, and it is summed up in Jesus Christ in whom is life. God does not want us mired in meaninglessness, for He is the God of meaning and of purpose, and once saved by grace in Christ, a person is made new and has meaning and purpose in a life given to Him, in a life of service to and for Him out of love for what He has done, and in a life that points to Him in everything. So, the Preacher may be clinging to hope out of desperation; but we who are in Christ bask in hope in His love given us through His grace. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13) Amen!  






The Ways of the Wise

The Meaning of Life Series
  • What happens when we seek ultimate meaning outside of relationship with the Creator God? What happens when we're desperate for the answers to life but can't seem to find any? What happens when our souls get wearied from the constant pursuit of pleasure and possessions? These are enormous questions of life and meaning that Ecclesiastes grapples with in the timeless complexity and messiness of reality. In the end, the ancient philosopher recalibrates our hearts, minds, and lives to pursue meaning in the Ultimate God because God alone holds the key to the meaning of life.
7. The Ways of the Wise (Ecclesiastes 7:1-8:1)
  • Can we find meaning in life through running wise diagnostics?
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text?
  • There is meaning in leading a life led by wisdom centered on God. (Ecclesiastes 7:1-6, 11, 18)
  • There is evil in the world and in man. (Ecclesiastes 7:20, 29)
  • God is greater than any human wisdom. (Ecclesiastes 7:13 & 14)
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking?
  • What does the life led by wisdom look like?
  • If man is evil, how does one yet life the way of wisdom?
  • What does it mean to say that God is greater than any human wisdom?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide
  • Interpretation – What is the text telling/showing us?
  • What is important about retaining a “good name?”
  • What is the advantage of a deep, serious life as over against a life of frivolity? Why is the former better than the latter?
  • What is the benefit of wisdom and the way of wisdom?
  • How is wisdom a shelter?
  • What are the limitations of wisdom? How far can wisdom take one towards the answers of life?
  • Why is it not necessarily productive to look back at “the old days?”
  • Why should one not live at the extremes of life? What are the extremes the Preacher sets forth? (Ecclesiastes 7:16-18)
  • What is the state of mankind? (Ecclesiastes 7:26-29)
  • Why is it so hard to find a righteous man or a righteous woman?
  • How does wisdom make one's face shine? (Ecclesiastes 8:1)
  • Implementation – What should the listener’s response be?
  • Describe the ways of wisdom as it plays out in your life?
  • In what ways do you lead a serious, thoughtful life? In what ways do you lead a frivolous life?
  • What is it about the “good old days” that hinder living in the present?
  • How is wisdom good with an inheritance? How is wisdom a protector?
  • Should the fact that you don't know your future in detail bother you in the living of life every day? Why not?
  • How can you avoid the extremes and why should you?
  • What should your approach be to listening to the gossiping words of others, or the criticism of others?
  • How should you view other people without God? What is their state without Him?
  • How should you live amidst people who are not perfect?
  • How can you live the way of wisdom and how can doing so make your face shine?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation – What’s generally going on in this area of Scripture?
Chapter 6 has left us on a low note, the last three verses seeming to say that life is so short and uncertain that we can’t even know what is good and how to live; it’s all vanity and all of
us are just going to die anyway, our lives having been determined by God. So live however you like, for it just doesn’t matter; “[f]or who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 6:12) The Preacher has left us in a dark, depressing place, to be sure. But the real question is whether the Preacher will stay there, and whether, by extension, we will stay there.

The good news is that in chapter 7, the Preacher shakes out of the depression. He does not leave us in meaninglessness, with no direction. The Preacher has already looked to God for meaning (Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:12; 5:1 & 2, 20), and with that overall context, he now proceeds to give us a series of proverbial sayings that speak to how to live life, sayings that are literally the “ways of the wise” which will serve one in good stead in life, and which are, ultimately, the ways of God as opposed to being the ways of man. Even if they do not provide all the answers to life and its meaning, these sayings give direction and offer a shelter from the lack of answers; these sayings are good, for the now and for the future. So what do these proverbs say?

Verses 1 through 6 basically tell us to be serious in life, not frivolous. Here are their messages:

verse 1 says, “Preserve your reputation”
verse 2 says, “Face the issue of death and eternity”
verses 3 and 4 say, “Allow sorrow to bring you life insights”
verses 5 and 6 say, “Be open to constructive criticism”

In short, they say, “The wise man will live life with a measure of solemnity, and an intentional avoidance of thoughtless behavior, always with humility and with the ultimate future in mind. Life is more than totally in the moment; there is always tomorrow, next week, next year, and even eternity. That future must have an impact on one's present behavior.” As an example of the sense of these verses, one commentator had it right when he wrote the following about the saying concerning sorrow: “A sorrow shared may bring more inner happiness than an evening with back-slapping jokers.” We know that the Preacher is not excluding joy and happiness by offering these sayings as the ways of the wise, because he has already written, “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.” (Ecclesiastes 5:18) Rather, the Preacher is providing a setting for that enjoyment, a setting that takes life seriously and one's lot in life as having an arc of goodness to achieve.

But the Preacher continues on. Verse 7 says, “Do not seek advantage via your position; remember that bribery undercuts your character.” Verses 8 and 9 say, “See things through to the end, including your life. Patience is helpful and anger leads nowhere.” Verse 10 says, “Don't focus on the past as doing so keeps you from the present.” Verses 11 and 12 say, “The wise one will use well an inheritance knowing it was not earned; and wisdom provides security and preserves life.” Then verses 13 and 14 sum up by saying that the foregoing ways of the wise are sensible from the human perspective, but actually take God into account, knowing that God is in sovereign control over all things, including what seems to us to be good and what seems to us to be bad. We must live in what He provides us and trust in that provision in life. This approach is (again) not fatalism, but rather at least understands that there is a God, that God is sovereign ruler over all, that God has a plan and purpose to everything even if it is not knowable by us, and that God has given us life to live. These thoughts ring true to the believer in Christ who does know the future, it having been revealed by God. However, that believer has more to go on than merely clinging to a God who is somehow distant. The Apostle Paul wrote to this point in his letter to the Romans. Hear what he wrote:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:18-30)


The call of those verses from Romans is to trust in God and the reality that He knows the end from the beginning and everything in between. The issue for us, then, is one of faith, and more particularly, faith that sees beyond the now to the end in light of who God is, even without our knowing how things will work in the midst of those two ends. The author of the book of Hebrews wrote of this:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:1-3)

The Preacher does not see ahead to the end, but knows enough to life in the now in light of God and His plans. So the Preacher writes of faith even if he doesn't call it that.

But in verse 15 through 22, the Preacher confronts the question that comes up in light of the prior admonition to “do good in this life,” that question being “Why do good in this life if there's no reward for it, but instead even negative consequences?” (Ecclesiastes 7:15) His response, while not an answer to the question per se (that is, in terms of providing a solution), is that while we may not know the end, we shouldn't live at the extremes of “overly righteous,” which is “do-goodism” which undercuts relationships and results in extreme judgmentalism, or “overly wicked,” which is foolishness that can even lead to an early death. (Ecclesiastes 7:16 & 17). Instead, the Preacher says the way of wisdom is that one should put God at the heart of life and thus avoid such extremes. (Ecclesiastes 7:18. Cf. Philippians 3:8-10) Yet, though wisdom is to be sought and lived out, and though it provides strength in large measure (Ecclesiastes 7:19), even the wise person must recognize that wisdom has its limitations as no one is perfect (See Romans 3:10-18). So in that light, the wise one doesn't listen to gossip or the idle words of others, recognizing that he or she has spoken such words himself or herself. (Ecclesiastes 7:20-22) Nevertheless, human wisdom in itself is not able to provide answers to the profound questions of life and meaning; it runs up against the reality of life and evil in its attempt to find meaning, and instead finds these problems to be unsolvable. (Ecclesiastes 7:23-25) Especially galling is the reality that people are not only imperfect, they are evil. The Preacher was not able to find but one man in a thousand who was upright, and no women, and the latter including women who scheme to trap men! (Ecclesiastes 7:26-28) One wonders if this latter observation comes from King Solomon's experience with his multitude of wives, most of whom were foreign and who he presumably married to allow him to keep up with other potentates of his world and to secure treaties with foreign powers (I Kings 11:1-6). These women turned his heart from God and led him astray. But the point is that the wise person is extremely rare, and that reality only serves to underscore the issue of the presence of evil.

So where did the ways of wisdom leave the Preacher in the end? Again, even though there are ways of wisdom that make for some meaning in life when followed, when all is said and done, the Preacher found only meaninglessness. However, he recognizes that the problem is not God or from God (Ecclesiastes 7:29). Thus, in Ecclesiastes 8:1 he can say that though wisdom doesn't provide the explanation of things, because it is from God after all, wisdom and the way of wisdom “makes his face shine” and ameliorates against the hardness of the way of man which, ultimately, leads only to meaninglessness and destruction (See Proverbs 14:12). It seems, then, that the Preacher is working hard to hold on to the center of meaning, which he continues to insist is found in God, despite the fact that he cannot reach that point through wisdom that comes solely from man. So, the Preacher keeps searching life through wisdom, arriving at meaninglessness only to reject it as the final end to his life's journey. There is thus no solace for the Preacher in knowledge, which is limited, or in people, who are foolish and evil; there is only fearing God (Ecclesiastes 7:18). To the believer, the good news is that we don't have to cling to God out of sheer desperation. Rather, we know that God has reached out to us (John 3:16; Romans 5:8), that God has literally become one of us in order to give us meaning and indeed, in order to save us (Romans 5:6-11, 17). And we know that God cares for us (I Peter 5:7), loves us (Romans 8:37-39), and has plans for us which, even though we don't know the details (I John 3:1-3), we can rely on because He is good (Psalm 107:1; Mark 10:18), He keeps His word (Numbers 23:19; Deuteronomy 7:9; II Timothy 2:13), and in Christ He is always with us (Matthew 28:20). Surely knowing these things should make our faces shine. (Ecclesiastes 8:1b)