Tag Archives: Reading the Bible

Embracing your lot and toil

In the sermon on Sunday, February 4, I attempted to explain that as humans we crave meaning, and that Ecclesiastes teaches we must learn meaning from the bottom up like creatures, rather than from the top down like gods. Hopefully the reason for this is self-evident: we are creatures, not gods. Recognizing and embracing this reality is essential in our pursuit of virtuous freedom, which is a key element in our fight for joy.

One of the main themes of Ecclesiastes is that human life is “meaningless.” Yet it doesn’t mean meaningless in the way we normally use that word. When we say meaningless, we usually mean “without any meaning,” but that is not what Solomon means. The Hebrew word translated “meaninglessness” is a word that literally means “vapor.” If everything is vaporous, that means that it is insubstantial and temporary.  Consequently, if life is insubstantial and temporary, then pursuing it as though it was ultimate and eternal is foolishness. It is to pretend life is something that it isn’t. The word we used to use for this was “vanity.” And if you look at an older translation of the Bible, that is precisely how the word is translated.

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Think about it. What is the opposite of spiritual substance? Vanity. To treat what is insubstantial and temporary in life as though it is ultimate and eternal. You might reasonably think that the solution for this is to trust in God, and that is Solomon’s solutionbut not in the way we might think. He argues that the ultimate meaning of many of the things in our lives are not revealed by God, nor discernible by science, philosophy, or human reflection. He even goes so far as to say that we long for these ultimate meanings, yet we can’t reach them. He calls this the “burden God has laid on men” (Ecclesiastes 3:10) and he tells us that this frustration is for our healing and maturity. He says that “God does this so that men will revere him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14).

I think that means something like this: if we understood the meaning of everything from beginning to end, we would think that we were part of eternitythat we are ourselves the ultimate meaning. He says at one point when discussing wisdom that “God made man upright, but we have gone after many schemes” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). That is, we are not good enough for ultimate wisdom. We are idolaters who seek to ourselves be gods. Therefore, if we were able to figure out all of ultimate meaning it would destroy and damn us.

So God withholds it. He frustrates our idolatrous desire to understand all things in order to feel good about our lives. He allows us to believe in himself as a person, and then forces us to grapple with our creature-hood by embracing the ordinary. The vocabulary he chooses for this is our “lot” and “toil”: the real situation of our daily lives (lot) and the work of our daily purpose (toil).

We start with faith by believing in the God who holds in himself ultimate meaning. Life may be full of vaporous vanity, but God is substantial and completely worthwhile. Still, our faith in him does not give us access to all of his knowledge and therefore all of the meaning we desire. God calls us to discover our meaning from the bottom up, trusting him to reveal himself in the midst of our lot and toil. This requires enormous faith,  because he is demanding that we find meaning in precisely the thing we wish meaning would allow us to escape.

It is only in embracing our lot and toil that we will find satisfaction and happiness in the things that actually make up our lives as creatures. God claims that it is in this experience that we not only find joyful satisfaction; it is also where we find knowledge and wisdom. The pursuit of anything else is the pursuit of vapor. And the pursuit of vaporous vanity will never produce substance.

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Can I do this work any faster?

You might wonder if that means we can’t study, reflect and learn our way into satisfaction, wisdom and meaning. I think we can, so long as we do it while embracing the toil and lot of our real lives. In fact, this is precisely what the rest of the book of Ecclesiastes is. It is a series of reflections on what makes up our real lives and how we should engage with those things as creatures rather than as gods or idolaters.

There are a number of examples of how to embrace our lot and toil in the book of Ecclesiastes, but I will discuss nine in subsequent blog posts. I am not saying that there are only nine parts of our lot and toil discussed in the book of Ecclesiastes. These are just nine examples I have pulled out to demonstrate how we can combine study and reflection with the practice of daily embracing our lot and toil with joyful satisfaction.

As we go through these nine examples, I would encourage you not just to read the passages and reflect on them, but to also journal about how they specifically relate to you embracing the realities of your own real life. Don’t just think theological and philosophical thoughts. Think intensely personal thoughts focused on daily repetitive application. Some of those thoughts should be hurtful and humiliating. They should reveal how unsophisticated our sin often is. Some will also be a beautiful as we realize how much we have overlooked all that we have to be thankful for. Yet you must also trust that God is with you in every step of finding satisfaction in the lot and toil of your vaporous life under the sun. It is not only he who gives you this life, but is also he who “lengthens your days like a shadow” into eternity (see Ecclesiastes 8:13).

The Virtue of Humility

Over the summer, we looked at the lives of the first kings of Israel: Saul and David. There were many differences between them. Saul was large and looked like a massive warrior. David was smaller, younger, and taught himself to fight as a shepherd in the country. Ultimately, they were both warriors and both kings. And in one way or another, they both believed in the God of Israel. But though they both believed in God, it would be wrong to say that they both put their faith in him.

In fact, the most fundamental difference between the two was a difference of the heart. This is what God explicitly says to Saul in 1 Samuel 13:14:

But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.

 

God made clear that David would be different in two ways. First, his heart would be for God rather than for himself, his own power, and his own survival. Second, David would obey the Lord, and if he ever failed, his repentance would be real.

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Continue reading The Virtue of Humility

Proverbs: Wisdom and the Tongue

This morning, our lead pastor Nic Gibson spoke about the impact of wisdom on the power of the tongue. Here are the verses and the lists referenced in the service. Let’s pray for God to convict us when we use our words for harm – and to empower us to use our words for giving life.

What Proverbs says about wisdom and the tongue:

(18:7) A fool’s mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul.

(29:20) Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

(18:13) He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame. Continue reading Proverbs: Wisdom and the Tongue

Further Study on 1 John 5:4-21

On Sunday, Pastor Nic lead us through the last sermon in the 1 John series, Secure Standing. We looked at a few verses that are considered some of the most difficult to interpret in the New Testament.

D.A. Carson preached a sermon on 1 John 5:4-21 that will further clarify the truth in this passage. You can download his sermon here!

 

What Does the Bible Say About Prayer?

Prayer will always have an element of mystery to it. We can’t completely figure out how it works or how we interact with God’s will through prayer. But we do know that God tells us to pray, and that He reveals a picture of what prayer should look like in the Bible. This is a resource to get you started in exploring what the Bible says about prayer.

Continue reading What Does the Bible Say About Prayer?

How to Read the Bible Out Loud 

Gordon Fee, in his book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth states that the Bible was written more to be listened to than read. That is, when the authors wrote it, they imagined people hearing it read out loud more than they thought of it being read off of the page. Before the printing press, books were enormously expensive and reading out loud was extremely common and something of an art form. It’s one of the reasons why Paul commands Timothy not to neglect the public reading of Scripture (1 Tim 4:13). That is how most people heard the Bible.

Although that is not entirely true today, do not underestimate how powerful a good reading of Scripture can be. I firmly believe what one South African seminary professor said: “If we read the Scriptures properly, a sermon is hardly necessary.” He wasn’t against preaching. He just understood how powerful Scripture can be when read for impact. If you read the Bible correctly out loud, people will actually hear the message the text declares. They will find themselves hearing things they had passed over. They will get a different sense of emphasis and a deeper sense of the gravity of the message.

So how do you do it? How do you read the Bible for maximum impact?

Continue reading How to Read the Bible Out Loud