It is a great joy to be with you again. Tonight I need you to exercise your mind to think. One of my concern, as a pastor, is that we need to study the Word of God to see the connections between chapters. We cannot see separate pieces and leave it without seeing the connections. Like a string connecting pearls to form a beautiful necklace, we have to go through the Scriptures with the sense of connection to see the big picture. So let us quickly review Ecclesiastes on the previous days.
Ecclesiastes Ch.1 starts with “vanity of vanities, all if vanity” in a Hebrew superlative that speaks about the frustration of life – life is empty of meaning. Life without God is a set of contradictions of terms: life is spiritually barren, philosophically sterile, existentially meaningless and ultimately futile. So there are FOUR big questions in life – (1) why life is frustrating, (2) where does life come from, (3) how is life to be lived and (4) what is the secret to live life. And then Ch.2 talks about frustration and futility of life.
Ecclesiastes Ch.3-5 talks about contrast to Ch.1-2. Ch.3 speaks of life without God and life under the Sun. It is a materialistic way of life, a spiritually barren life without God. And then Ch.3-5 slowly introduces a new way of life – a life under the hand of God – which is a contrast of “life with God” and “life without God”. There is a subtle shift of focus in the end of Ch.2 – Ecc. 2:25, “…for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” From here it introduces the idea of him who pleases God.
Life apart from God doesn't have meaning, and now we come to Ch.6. As you recall there is the idea of seasons in life and there is plan in God and He set eternity in our hearts. Ch.4 examines what drives us in life. And Ch.5 talk about worship and idolatry of money.
Some commentators say that Ch.6 is very confusing because we can see the connection of previous chapters but Ch.6 is so abrupt in terms of connection. I would suggest Ch.6 is a summary chapter. It's almost as if the Kohelet says, “Before I move on, let’s summarize the main ideas we have taken so far.” In other words, in Ch.6 he is reviewing the most important idea that is present that in the book of Ecclesiastes so far.
The most important lesson has three summary statements revolving around one main idea. To understand Ch.6 is to understand the last verse that summarizes the main idea for us; Ecc. 6:12, “For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?”
What is about Ch.6, and what is this v.12 about? The idea which summarizes everything is the idea that “life is short, and death is certain”. In other words, we have absolutely no control; we have no control of the day you were born, you have no control on the day you die. Who knows these questions, and who can tell us to answer these questions? Only God knows; only God can tell; only God is in control. For us we don't have control; for us control is just an illusion. So, how life to be lived? This is discussed in Ch.7-12. But before we proceed, we have to focus on Ch.6 to see how Ch.1-5 is connected together. Life is short, and death is certain; so there are THREE counsels in Ch.6 given to us.
A. Do Not Take Life for Granted (6:1-5)
Ecc. 6:2, “a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil.”
The Kohelet says he sees a serious problem in life, so he gives two scenarios –
(1) in 6:2, a super rich man cannot enjoy because death overtakes him. What is the point of being so rich but cannot enjoy these things? And a stranger comes and takes and enjoys everything. There are THREE possible interpretations regarding this “stranger”: (a) as a figure of speech to talk about calamity which took his life away; (b) a foreign invasion or war came, the rich man died, and others took his wealth away; or (c) as an idea we Chinese are familiar, that “rich does not last three generations” – after a few generations the wealth goes to strangers and others’ hands. In any way, we have to understand the idea that no matter how powerful and rich a man can be, he cannot escape death. And after you die, you cannot take your things with you; other people, “strangers”, will come and enjoy your wealth.
(2) the next scenario is the opposite idea: a poor man. It is an interesting idea – it is not about the contrast between the rich and the poor, but a profound idea of a rich man with a short life, and a poor man with a long life. Here is the problem: if you are poor, you would not like your life to be long; it prolongs your suffering. It is described in 6:3, “If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.” “A hundred children” is not to be taken literally; it poetically means “many children”. Having “many children” is not being poor, but in his suffering and with no burial since his children abandoned him, he is not just a poor man but a pitiful poor man with a long life.
A rich man lives a short life, and a poor man lives a long life. The point here is “don’t take life for granted”. Whether you're rich or you're poor, death would come knocking at your door. If you were here in previous sessions, you would remember me saying that in the Book of Ecclesiastes you cannot escape death. This idea is repeated here as a summary statement. So, wise or unwise, rich or poor, death will come knocking. Don’t take for granted of life, don’t take granted of time, because your time is precious, and time is your life.
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There was a man, Jack Bennett, who has a beautiful childhood memory. When he was a little boy, he always climbed over the fence to visit his neighbor who is an old man. This old man, Harold, always invited Bennett to come over and spend the afternoon with him. So Jack’s childhood memory was full of happy afternoons spent with this old man. This old man has a golden box on his writing table, and when Bennett asked about it, the old man said, “Inside this box, there is the most precious thing in my life.” But the old man had never told Bennett what this “most precious thing” is.
Years have passed, and Bennett left home; he is now busy with this career and his own family and children, and his wonderful childhood becomes a distant memory. One day, in his office, Bennett received a phone call from her mother that the old man is dead, and asks Bennett whether he will come to his funeral. Bennett is busy, but he eventually comes for the funeral. When he goes into his neighbor’s house for the last time, his childhood memory flashes in his mind. Everything was exactly the same as he can remember, but the little golden box is missing. Perhaps the old man gave away the box to somebody, so the old man’s secret is now lost forever.
After the funeral, Bennett flies back to his home, and life goes on as normal. Two weeks later, a package comes to his office; when he opens it, it is the little golden box. There was a note written to say that, as the old man’s demand before death, this box is to be sent to Jack Bennett. In his curiosity, he opens the box to see what the most precious thing is in this old man’s life. When he opens the box, it is a pocket watch – time was the most precious thing in this old man’s life. When Bennett opens the watch in his hand, he touches the rim and sees an inscription: “Jack, thank you for your time together. Harold.”
Bennett is deeply moved. He suddenly realizes that the most precious thing in the old man's life was the little boy’s time. He puts the watch back into the box, and tells his secretary to cancel or change all his appointments, because he is going to spend some time with his children.
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Time is precious, and don’t take time for granted. Don’t waste your time, but to invest your time. To invest your time, you must establish your priorities in life. Make time to go to a quiet place in a quiet moment to list all the important things in your life, because priority is about value that you must ask yourself what are the most important things in my life, and you prioritized them. I tell the leaders of mentors not only to write down a to-do list of important things in your life, but also to put them into your calendar, because if you don’t put them into your calendar, you will either forget about them or will not do them at all. So you have to determine the important priorities in your life, and establish them in your calendar or schedule.
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One day, when we were in the kitchen for breakfast, my 18-year-old daughter leaned over to me and said, “Daddy, we have 28 more.” “Darling, 28 more of what?” “28 more father-and-daughter time.” Since they were young, no matter how busy I was, I made time for our father-and-daughter time and father-and-daughters time since I have 2 daughters. I scheduled time individually and together; and I made the schedule one year in advance. In my kitchen calendar, I took my father-and-daughter time a year in advance. Someone may say, “How come you are so free to do that?” Actually it is the opposite: it is because I am very busy and I fly around a lot; I have to log in these events on a calendar so they know the time that is logged in for them. Time is life, and life is precious. And I am glad that my 18-year-old daughter wanted to hang around with the father and even counted the number of times we have left.
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Dear friends, there is something you need to grab – don’t take life for granted, don’t take your time for granted. The older I get, the more I realize how precious time is. When you are in 20s, you don’t realize it; when you are in 40s, you can sense a change. Next year I will be 60 years old, and I would like to live my life intentionally. I've started living my life intentionally since I was a young man. So my counsel to you is you have to prioritize what are important to you, and put them in your schedule, so that you can invest your time well. Life is short, and death is inevitable.
B. Do Not Take Wisdom for Granted (6:7-9)
The second counsel is: don’t take wisdom for granted. In Ecc. 6:8, there is a question, “For what advantage has the wise man over the fool?” Of course, there is a lot of advantage of being wise. But the point in the context of Ch.6 is, there is no difference between the wise of the foolish because they all end up the same place. It is already stated in 6:6, “do not all go to the one place?”
Some people think that philosophy or enlightenment gives us the answer to life. We have seen in previous sessions that this human wisdom is not the answer. In this review of Ch.6, the same idea is communicated: don’t be fool; wisdom, enlightenment and human philosophy cannot save you from death. Don't assume that the answer is in wisdom. You must understand that in the world today we don't value wisdom as much as the ancient Jews; in essence we never because we don't value wisdom so much, thus we never take wisdom for granted. In other words, we might not assume that enlightenment does not come from wisdom and hence wisdom is not important. But to the ancient Jews, it is the opposite. To them, the pursue of wisdom is the highest pursue of man; so they took it for granted and assumed they will find the answer there. But the Kohelet tells us not to be fooled by it; wisdom is not the answer because it cannot save you from death. What advantage does it brings to you? Nothing, because it cannot save you from death, and we all end up at the same place.
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Death is an existential reality of life. In Gen 3:9, God asked Adam, “Where are you?” This is not a geographical question because God knows where Adam is. It is not that God suddenly could not find Adam and has to ask about his geographical location. This is a profound question with a deep theological consideration. The context to this question is a statement God has made – God said, of this fruit of this tree you should not eat, because the day you eat you shall surely die. Did they die from chewing the fruit? No, they took the forbidden fruit, but they did not “die”. They were still breathing, living human beings. They still made cloths from fig leaves. But there is something to understand about death. In essence, death means “to separate”. When your love one dies, s/he separates from you. When God asked Adam “where are you”, it means God has separated from Adam; Adam is spiritually died. This is a deep and tragic reality. Men rebel against God, and men die.
One may say, “I did not do horrible things”; “Only one bite then die? This is unfair.” This is like a sign on an electric fence, “Do not touch.” If you touch the fence, you get electrocuted, and you die. You may say, “It’s just one touch; it is so unfair.” But it is not that touch to kill you; it is the electric current that kills you. Similarly, it is not the chewing of the fruit that kills you; it is the disobedience of God’s Word that kills you. And because of this disobedience, it commits a cosmic treason against the most high God. This is the deepest problem in humanity – sin and death.
Then there is the greatest promise given by the Scripture: in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory…” This “Word” is Jesus. He came and died on the cross; and in His death, we no longer die; in His death, we have life. Death is the greatest bad news for humanity, and Jesus is the greatest good news for humanity. In Him, we have life because of the power of the cross. G. K. Chesterton once said, “The cross cannot be defeated. The reason for that cannot be defeated is because the cross is defeat. The cross is the point of death; it is the defeat of humanity, the shame of humanity, the curse of humanity. And Jesus embraced this death, this defeat unto Himself. He absorbed this death and death can no longer defeat us.” What a power of the cross!! This is the glory of our Savior. That is the message of the gospel: Jesus saves!! The greatest need of church is to rise to this call of God, and to come to thank Jesus for His Salvation. And the call of God is only belief. As we believe, our life will be radically changed by God.
What moved me in my Christian life is the death of Jesus for me. My most favorite hymn is “And can it be that I should gain”.
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
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The love of God found me. I am the 3rd generation of Christian. I told you before I was a naughty boy that I back-slided. But by the grace of God, I came back from my back-sliding.
In the 4 years of high school, from 12-16 years old, I completely back-slided. A classmate of mine, who was in the same debating team with me, asked me if I wanted to go to a Christian school for a Christian service. I felt strange because she was not a Christian, but she was asking me to go to a Christian meeting. I went to the meeting not because I was interested in the meeting but I was interested in her; and she invited me simply because I have an English name so that she thought I was a Christian and would be available to come along. In the service, we sat far behind, and we were laughing and joking when the preaching was going on. Finally, after the meeting, I escorted her home as a gentleman. She asked me a question, “Is what the preacher said true?” Needless to say, I said, “Yes, it is true.”
The reason why I said “it is true” although I was back-sliding is because I didn’t want her to go to hell. I didn’t mind going to hell; at that time I thought there would be a party in hell. And I thought Heaven was boring – I could not stand for praising God for million years. But what if I was wrong? What if hell is damnation in judgment? I didn’t want this sweet girl to go to hell because of me. So I told her, “It is true, you better believe.” The she asked me, “How do you know it is true?” Since I was the leader of the debate team, I knew that every statement must be able to be substantiated; however, I didn’t know how to prove the preacher’s words to be true. So I went to find a Christian teacher and asked the question, and I relay the answer to this girl. She asked more questions, and I relayed more questions to the teacher, and I relay answers back to this girl. After a few turns, in Oct 1974, this girl prayed to receive Christ to become a Christian.
Now then I had a problem. I didn’t want to date a Christian; they are boring. So I started wondering what to do. Then she asked me a question that changed my life:
“If Jesus is true, and the Bible is true, why is your life LIKE THAT?”
It was like an arrow shot into my heart. And I begin to think about the question, “If Jesus is true, and the Bible is true, why is my life LIKE THAT?” So I turned around; in Dec 1975, I was baptized. In my heart, I said, “If Jesus is not LORD of all, He is not LORD at all; and I make Jesus LORD of all my life.” And she and I begin to serve the LORD together; at 22 we got engaged, and at 23 we got married. So that's my wife and my best friend.
But the LORD has a sense of humor – He used me as the back-slider to lead her to Christ, and used her as a young Christian to lead me back from my back-sliding, and joined us together to serve Him. LORD is good.
C. Do Not Take God for Granted (6:10-12)
The 3rd counsel is “do not take God for granted”. Ecc. 6:10, “Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he.”
In the context of Ch.6, that “stronger” one is death. But praise to be with God; in the presence of god, death is defeated. The presence of God makes all the difference, and on the cross of Jesus there is life. Surely you cannot defeat death, but when God is on your side, He has defeated death for you. God comes in his fullness and his grace and his glory.
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Many people look at the gospel in Christianity like fire insurance, and way too many Christians think that gospel is only relevant after you died; many Christians believe in Jesus who is not relevant before you die and only relevant after you die. It is because we see our belief in Jesus is merely a fire insurance. Someone thinks that they can enjoy their life; when death is near, then I believe in God. But Ecclesiastes tells you that you cannot really enjoy life without God; although we enjoy it temporarily, there is still emptiness within our enjoyment. You can enjoy your new car until the first scratch on the car. You buy a gadget, you enjoy it; but when a newer model comes out, you don’t have enjoyment anymore. Nothing satisfies our emptiness inside except God. Don’t take God for granted. He is not just for the after-life; the relevance of God is for here and now, and He gives us joy and grace and glory in living for Him. If you believe in Jesus, your life will be changed by Him.
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One day, my wife's grandmother came to us and asked, “Is your Jesus dress in white?” We have been trying to share the gospel for years, but she refused to believe. So when she asked, we asked her back, “Why do you ask?” She said, last night she had a dream.
“I dreamed of myself being very sick. I was holding a big glass with the medicine inside. Because I was so weak, the glass slipped from my hand, so the glass was shattered and all the medicine was spoiled. I started to cry. Then I heard there was a voice coming from the Heaven, calling my name. When I looked up to the Heaven, I saw someone dressing in white. He said to me, ‘don’t worry; believe in Me, and I will save you, I will heal you.’ Then I woke up from my dream. So is your Jesus dress in white?”
“Yeah, yeah, Jesus dresses in white.” We immediately replied.
And then she was baptized, and her life was completely changed. Her son was poisoned, and her husband ran away, so she has been a bitter woman for a long time; but when Jesus comes into her life, everything is changed.
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Jesus has the power to change. So I encourage you and Chinese churches to arise with the Truth and thrill that gospel is real; and if the gospel is true, preach the gospel. The reason why many thrilled to preach the gospel is because they are not thrilled or changed by the gospel. How can you preach something if you are not thrilled by it? I went into an Apple Store, and I found many “Mac-evangelist”. They are called “evangelist” because they were thrilled by the Apple products. We must be thrilled by the gospel of Jesus, and pray for the opportunity that God give you to share gospel. Don’t be preoccupied by the temporal-ness of life. Be investing your time for the eternal. And there are only THREE things eternal: God, the Word of God, and the gospel which is about the Salvation in Him.
Preach the gospel, pray or more opportunities, because He want to give you the opportunities. A hundred million years from now, only one thing matters – who is in Heaven and who is in Hell – who believes in Jesus, and who does not believe in Him. Do you realize that, if you are a Christian and if you die tonight, when you open your eyes and find yourself in Heaven, forever and ever you have lost the opportunity to share the gospel with another unbeliever? In Heaven there are no unbelievers. So at the moment you die, you don’t have any opportunities for you to share gospel. Now you have the opportunities; now your love ones are still here with you, so pray for them, share gospel with them. Just like Ann’s grandmother, we keep sharing gospel to her until she had that dream. Don’t lose heart; keep sharing the gospel.
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There was once I was preaching in Colorado Springs and flew over to San Francisco to transit back to Singapore. My plane was delayed, and there was only a few minutes for transit, so I have to run to check-in. But the gate was closed when I arrived. The stewardess then helped me to rebook the next flight in the next morning. I sat in the empty airport, and I asked God, “What’s next? Nothing happens by chance. LORD, here am I, what would you like me to do?”
Then I saw an American passing by; he was looking so sad. I asked him,
“My friend, did you miss your flight?”
“Yeah, I missed my flight.”
“Me too. First time?”
“Yeah, first time.”
So I introduced myself, “My name is Edmund Chan, a pastor in Singapore. May we talk?” I said I am a pastor because I wanted to clarify expectation first.
So we found a quiet place, and we had some coffee and talked. I shared gospel with him. Within an hour, this man prayed to accept Jesus in his life. After then, he said, “Ah, I now know why I missed my flight.” But I said to him, “No, this is me who now know why I missed my flight!!”
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A few years ago, a member of my church went to the cinema to watch “the Passion of the Christ”. In the afternoon, the hall was empty, and she was sitting there, waiting for the show to start. But on 4pm, the show has not started yet. The only person in the cinema besides her was a lady sitting the same row a few seats away. So they started talking, and she shared gospel with her. In the empty cinema, the lady prayed to receive Christ. Only after that, they realized they were in the wrong cinema. Wrong cinema, but a divine appointment by God. When God give you the opportunity, share the gospel. It is the most precious truth for humanity. It is the best investment in your life, because you invest your life in eternity, and life is changed for all eternity.
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In Singapore, in the bus terminal there was a lady who came back from working; she was tired, and it was late. A young man approached her to sell life insurance. She politely refused as she was tired, but the young man still selling. So she thought it was a divine appointment. So she asked him, “Are you selling me life insurance? Do you know the best life insurance?” And there, she shared gospel to him, and he accepted Jesus in his heart. Then she asked him, “Do you want to pray to Jesus?” He looked around, and said,
“My supervisor may be nearby.”
“Never mind, you can pray eyes open.”
So, this young man prayed and accepted Jesus in this busy bus terminal.
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God give many opportunities to share gospels. There are so many testimony, and let me share with you one more.
I always tell my church members to get the opportunity to preach the gospel, and they should ask for it from God. But you must be willing to do so even you have the opportunity. Many Christians can never share gospel for 20 years. There was a church member who made such a prayer, asking God to give her the opportunity to preach the gospel. On Monday, when she was in the office and having a break, she met a colleague who asked about a church. So she took the opportunity to share the gospel with her colleague, who then received Jesus. This is wonderful.
When she was walking back home, she walked through a playground and met a mother. She again prayed to God, and God lead her to talk to the mother, and then this mother received Jesus also.
When she was finally home, her auntie called her on the phone. Her auntie thought of paying her a visit, so she thought this may be a divine appointment, so she shared the gospel again. And her auntie received Jesus also.
In one day, she shared gospel to three persons.
She says, “It works! God give us opportunities!!”
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Don't neglect the power of the gospel. The Chinese churches and Chinese-speaking world must arise with the power and grace and the glory of the gospel of Jesus. Because we don’t live for time; we live for eternity.
I am going to pray for you that in your heart you would say, “God, I am willing. Use me.” Because Jesus has come to change our life. And He wants to use you.
Heavenly Father, we humbly ask of you, use us. Give us the opportunities to share your wonderful gospel; and when the opportunities come, give us courage to share your gospel.
If this is your prayer, please response to God. If you say to God, “I am willing. Use me for the eternal; use me to preach the gospel.” Stand up, and pray to God. Say to the LORD, “Use me.”
Heavenly Father, I pray for everyone who stands up for You. I pray for your anointing of the Holy Spirit to come upon each one. I pray that LORD you fill them with Holy Spirit, with the joy of Salvation, and the joy of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. LORD Jesus, come in and change our life.
By Jesus’ name. Amen.