Of Being and Time
Introduction: My wife and the Holy Spirit sometimes seem to be partners! For example, when I drive to church to teach this lesson, I will be anxious to take as little time as possible. I leave my home on time, but I want to move right along. If two drivers slow me down by (for example) driving beside each other so no one can pass, this irritates me and I will have something important to say to improve their driving manners. If the traffic lights are not timed, I'll talk about that too. As my wife points out, only she gets to hear the lecture on driving manners, timed lights and the relative intelligence of other drivers - and she has heard the same lecture too many times to count! Why do I do this? As my wife points out, it makes no sense. What my wife and the Holy Spirit are working on is my misguided sense about time. Hurry up with everything! Our lesson this week is about time, so let's clock in!
- Read Ecclesiastes 3:1. Do you like having seasons or would you just as soon cancel some seasons? (My wife loves the fall and early winter. She likes cooler temperatures, likes the beauty of fall, and loves the Thanksgiving-Christmas time of year. I like summer and dislike winter.)
- If you agree with me about cancelling winter, what would you do about some of the winter activities that you like? (Solomon is making that point. Certain seasons of our life allow us to do different things.)
- Would it be fair to compare your life to the seasons of the year? (We often see this, spring is when we are young, summer when we are 20-40 years of age. Fall is 40-60. Winter is 60-80.)
- Like the seasons of the year, are certain activities more appropriate to certain seasons of our life?
- Read Ecclesiastes 3:2-3. Do we really have any control over our time? (When I was talking about driving and time in the introduction, one major reason for my frustration is that I really have little control over my driving time. I cannot control other drivers or traffic lights. This text refers to other matters over which we have little control of the timing.)
- Read Ecclesiastes 3:4. Last week we studied laughter and whether it was good or bad. What does this text suggest about laughter? (Solomon reaches the conclusion we did - that laughter has its time and place. It is not a goal, it is the result of a life well lived.)
- The "activities" mentioned in this verse are emotions. How much control do we have over our emotions and the timing of them?
- Read Ecclesiastes 3:5-8. Some of these activities make me wonder. When is the correct time for scattering stones, or tearing or hating? (At least some of these words may be symbolic. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says that "casting stones" is a Hebrew metaphor for the marriage act. "Tearing" is a reference to tearing your cloths because you are sad. Mending refers to the time when your grief has passed.)
- Above the Sun
- Our criticism of Solomon so far deals with his focus on things here on earth, while rarely making any note of heavenly considerations. Read Ecclesiastes 3:9-11. What is man's burden, according to Solomon? (That a desire to live eternally, to know about matters beyond this world, exists in the human heart - but we cannot understand eternity.)
- How much do we need to understand eternity? How much do we "need to know?" (Solomon has been consistently arguing that everything here is meaningless. If that is your view, then eternity would be incredibly important to you.)
- Is there some other way you could interpret Solomon's statement that we are burdened by our inability to understand "what God has done from beginning to end?" (Some things in life simply do not make sense. I remember visiting a church where a lady invited me to her home to explain to an older couple why their parents and children were all killed in the same automobile accident. Needless to say, such an explanation was beyond me. It would be nice to understand God's workings from beginning to end, but we need to accept the "burden" of trusting God while we still live in a sinful world.)
- Read Ecclesiastes 3:12-14. Many people do not find satisfaction in their job. How important is job satisfaction? (Since Solomon says this is a gift from God, we should look for those gifts, pursue those gifts. This is where Luke 12:31 comes in, seek the kingdom of God first and these other gifts will come your way.)
- When Solomon says that "nothing can be added" to God's work or "taken from it," is he including the work of humans? We cannot add or detract from God's work?
- If you say, "no," tell me what we can add to the work of God? (Read Ecclesiastes 3:15. I think this gives the sense of Solomon's statement: that in the big scheme of things, humans do not change what God has done. In the details of life, however, I think we are God's partners to do His will.)
- The commentary, "Be Satisfied," notes that the last phrase of Ecclesiastes 3:15 ("and God will call the past to account") is literally translated "God seeks what hurries along." Is God part of the details of our life? (Yes. We may not be changing the "big picture," but God is part of our every day life.)
- Read Ecclesiastes 3:16. What is wrong with our world? (That justice and judgment are displaced by wickedness.)
- Read Ecclesiastes 3:17. What is the cure for that problem? (That God will execute judgment and justice.)
- This gets us back to an old issue: would a loving God execute judgment on humans? What would be Solomon's answer to this question? (Yes! The implication is that judgment shows a loving God. It is not the opposite of love, it is part of love. A life without justice is simply unfair. Part of God's promise to humans is that He is fair - more than fair in fact.)
- If you agree that judgment is good (except, of course, when it is executed on you), what practical lesson can we learn from Solomon saying there is a "time" for judgment? (In Ecclesiastes 3:16 Solomon says that he finds wickedness in place of justice and judgment. Even though we may find that things are unfair right now, there will be a time for judgment. God will put things right.)
- A member of my class sent me a note commenting on the "time" issue and saying that Jesus came to earth in God's time. If you were Adam and Eve, would you have understood the delay?
- Are we better able to anticipate the time of God's Second Coming and final execution of judgment? (This is part of the "burden" of Ecclesiastes 3:10 - Jesus' life, death and resurrection give us certainty of His Second Coming, but we do not know when. We do not understand the entire plan in any detail. (If you think I'm wrong, consider how badly God's people misunderstood Jesus' first arrival.))
- Read Ecclesiastes 3:18-19. My dear dog (of 12 years) died a few months ago. Is this an object lesson for me?
- Solomon calls my "dog destination" a test. What am I being tested on? ( Ecclesiastes 3:12 tells us to do good and be happy while we live. In one sense it is a test to know that your happy life will come to a not so happy conclusion. My dog had a miserable end. On the other hand, without God giving us eternal life, we have the exact same end as a dog. (By the way, since the Bible says there are animals in heaven, I'm hoping that my old dog has the same destination as me - heaven!))
- Read Ecclesiastes 3:19-21. I wanted you to look again at verse 19. Solomon says man has no advantage over the animal. Is that consistent with the rest of the Bible?
- Put verse 21 together with verse 19. What is Solomon saying? (He first says there is no life after death, and then he softens that by saying, "Who knows?")
- Read Ecclesiastes 9:5. A lot of people who believe that death is an unconscious sleep until the resurrection, base their belief on this text. Is Solomon a reliable guide for truth about the afterlife? (If you rely on Solomon for your views about life after death, you need to find a new source. Solomon teaches in this same text that there is "no further reward" after death. "Soul sleep" people do not believe that!)
- Friend, read 1 Corinthians 15:12-22. What is our glorious hope? (Paul agrees with Solomon that without the hope of eternal life our faith is useless. Worse than useless, because it gives us the false hope that there is life after death. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, friend, you have the promise of eternal life if you determine to be "in Christ." Will you make that decision today?
- Next week: More Life Under the Sun.