THE BETTER AND THE BEST

Ecclesiastes 7:1-14

When we speak of the "deeper things" of Scripture, we normally think in terms of doctrinal disputes and the splitting of theological hairs. But these are childís play when contrasted to the difficulty of putting godly principles into practice.

The most simple principles become profound when applied to daily living. How do you develop and keep a good reputation when people are saying bad things about you? How do you take it and not lose your cool when someone says bad things about you - especially when they are true? How do you avoid the pitfall of anger? How do you come to understand what God is doing in your life? These issues of daily living are the true deep issues of Christianity.

Throughout this chapter, we are going to see one word repeated again and again. It is the word "better." Life is made up of a series of choices. Some of these choices are bad and some of these choices are good - or at least better. The point of this passage is that you might choose that which is better.

 

THE VALUE OF A GOOD REPUTATION

A good name is better than a good ointment,

And the day of oneís death is better than the day of one's birth. (Ecclesiastes 7:1).

These two lines form a couplet. Although it may not appear to be the case at first glance, they form a single thought. The second line of the couplet takes the concept given in the first line and expands upon it.

A good name is better than a good ointment.

This refers to the quality of a good reputation. A good reputation is better than a good aroma. You can smell good on the outside, but it is the pleasing aroma of a good reputation that is better. You can live down a bad body odor, but it is difficult to live down a bad reputation. A reputation is one of those qualities which we usually donít value until it is lost.

But you arenít born with a good reputation. It doesnít come automatically. It comes over time. And once ruined, it is extremely difficult to repair. This brings us to the second clause of this couplet.

And the day of oneís death is better than the day of one's birth.

How does this relate to the value of a good reputation? It relates because a good reputation doesnít matter on the day of your birth, but it DOES matter on the day of your death.

At the day of your birth, anything is possible. But on the day of your death, what you have done with your life is now set in stone. It can no longer be changed. And that goes for your reputation, too.

 

THE VALUE OF MOURNING AND SORROW

It is better to go to a house of mourning

Than to go to a house of feasting,

Because that is the end of every man,

And the living takes it to heart.

Sorrow is better than laughter,

For when a face is sad a heart may be happy.

The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning,

While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure. (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4).

This goes against the thinking of today. Most people would rather go to a house of feasting than a house of mourning. We live in the age of escapism. We have amusement parks where we go to escape from the way life really is.

Even the word "amusement" is indicative. It is a compound word. To "muse" means to "think. The "a" prefix negates the quality of the word. "Amuse" means to do that which will stop you from thinking.

The preacher says that it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of laughter. Why is this true? It is because we will all eventually end up in the house of mourning. "That is the way of every man." Death is the destiny of every man. Either you will die or else one who is close to you will die. It is inevitable. And the one who has never been acquainted with the reality of mourning has a more difficult time in handling such a loss.

The wise man has come to terms with the brevity of life. He doesnít live as though life on earth will last forever. Neither does he hide his head in a hole in the ground. He recognizes its presence. And in this he is contrasted to the fool.

The Wise

The Fool

His thoughts are in the house of mourning.

His mind is in the house of pleasure.

Takes the brevity of life into account.

Pretends as though this life lasts forever.

This is not to downplay joy. The Bible gives us some very real reasons to rejoice. But laughter and pleasure can be superficial as they mask an empty interior.

I walked a mile with Pleasure,

She chatted all the way,

But left me none the wiser,

For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow,

And ne'er a word said she,

But, oh, the things I learned from her,

When sorrow walked with me!

It is often in sadness and mourning that we learn the truly important lessons of this life.

 

THE VALUE OF AN HONEST REBUKE

It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man

Than for one to listen to the song of fools.

For as the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot,

So is the laughter of the fool; And this too is futility.

For oppression makes a wise man mad,

And a bribe corrupts the heart. (Ecclesiastes 7:5-7).

No one likes to be rebuked. We all hate being told that we are wrong. But we are better off if we ARE told that we are wrong so that we can fix whatever we were doing and do in better.

Verse 5

Verse 6

Verse 7

Wise man versus the fool

Focus on the fool

Focus on the wise man

Better to listen to the wise man

Listening to the fool is painful

Oppression & bribery make the wise foolish

The "madness" mentioned in verse 7 is not anger. It is the puíel imperfect of a root word that normally refers to "praise." But there are occasions when it takes on the opposite meaning. When you praise someone, you lift him up and declare how glorious he is. The opposite of lifting one up is to bring him down and declare him to be a fool. That is the meaning here. It refers to foolishness (see also Job 12:17; Psalm 5:5; 73:3; 75:4; 102:8; Isaiah 44:25 for the same root word ). Here is the point.

Oppression

Results in

Foolishness

A Bribe

A corrupted heart

 

THE VALUE OF PATIENCE

The end of a matter is better than its beginning;

Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit.

Do not be eager in your heart to be angry,

For anger resides in the bosom of fools.

Do not say, "Why is it that the former days were better than these?"

For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this. (Ecclesiastes 7:8-10).

Our Western society has lost its taste for the long haul. We want everything NOW. We crave instant coffee, fast food, immediate gratification, and instant entertainment. Our computers and our modems are faster and we chaff at the idea of waiting for anything.

Verse 8

Verse 9

Verse 10

The Patience of waiting until the end

The Primacy of Patience over Pride

Anger - the opposite of Patience

Patience with the Present versus Wishing for the Past

Anger resides in the fool

Impatience is not from wisdom

 

1. The end of a matter is better than its beginning (7:8).

No one ever won a race because of their great beginning. The prize goes to the one who finishes the race. Do you remember to parable of the sower? There were several different seeds which were sown. Growth began in several different areas. But only one completed the journey to arrive at the harvest.

2. Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit (7:8).

The contrast here is an unusual one. When we think of a haughty spirit, we think of pride. The opposite of pride is humility. But the Preacher says that the opposite of pride is PATIENCE.

This tells me something about impatience. There is a correlation between impatience and pride.

Patience

These are Opposites

Impatience

Humility

Pride

Proud people are by nature impatient people. They think that they have it all together and they are impatient with anyone whom they perceive not to measure up to their own private standards. They project the idea, "I am more important than you are and so I am going to be impatient with you."

Have you ever noticed that the proud person does not endure? What happens? He receives what he perceives to be an affront to his dignity and his pride kicks in and turns him away.

3. Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools (7:9).

There is also a correlation between impatience and a tendency toward anger. Impatient people are prone to anger. And an angry person is a foolish person. This brings us to the following progression:

Pride

®

Impatience

®

Anger

®

Foolishness

The opposite is also true. Humility leads ultimately to wisdom.

Humility

®

Patience

®

Peace

®

Wisdom

 

4. Do not say, "Why is it that the former days were better than these?" For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this (7:10).

Nostalgia can be fun, but not when the past brings dissatisfaction with the present.

"I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words...When I was young we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly impatient of restraint."

The preceding quote is attributed to Hesiod, an 8th century BC Greek poet. It reflects the problem with nostalgia. Nostalgia too often sees the past through rose-colored glasses.

Do you remember the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness? Every time they faced hardships, they would mumble and complain and say, "Why didnít we stay back in Egypt? Things were so much better there!"

We are to enjoy the NOW. Remember that today is tomorrowís "good old days." To find dissatisfaction with today is to find dissatisfaction with the day that God had provided. The Psalmist said, "This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24).

 

THE VALUE OF WISDOM

Wisdom along with an inheritance is good

And an advantage to those who see the sun.

For wisdom is protection just as money is protection,

But the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors. (Ecclesiastes 7:11-12).

Wisdom is compared with wealth. They are both good. It is good to have wisdom. And it is good to have wealth. And it is even better to have BOTH.

Wisdom is good

Having both is good and an advantage

Wisdom protects

Wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors

An inheritance is good

Money protects

Money cannot do this

Both wisdom as well as wealth offer a certain amount of protection. Wisdom offers protection from acts of foolishness. Wealth offers the kinds of protection that money can buy - protection from poverty.

However, there is one advantage that wisdom has over wealth. Wisdom preserves the life of the one who possesses it. The wise man knows how to lengthen his life by wise living.

Rich people donít live longer. Oftentimes they live shorter. Just look at the famous celebrities who have died from drugs and alcohol and foolish living.

 

THE VALUE OF ACCEPTING WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN

Consider the work of God,

For who is able to straighten what He has bent?

In the day of prosperity be happy,

But in the day of adversity consider -- God has made the one as well as the other

So that man will not discover anything that will be after him. (Ecclesiastes 7:13-14).

The Preacher asks a rhetorical question: Who is able to straighten that which God has bent? The answer is not given because it is obvious. No one can undo what God does. He is the ultimate Doer. If He bends a thing to His will, there is no one who is able to straighten it.

What is the point? There are times when you just have to play the cards which you have been dealt. Remember that it is God who is the dealer. What you have has been given by Him.

In the Day of Prosperity

Be Happy

In the Day of Adversity

Remember that this also comes from God

God is in control. There is nothing that ever comes into your life which is out of His sovereign design. And that is a message of comfort. All things that come your way first passed through a nail-scarred hand.

This is not fatalism. It is not given so that you might say, "I have no control over my life so I am going to sit back and watch it happen." We make real decisions that have real impact upon the way we live.

This is not said to make us fatalistic. This is said in order that we might recognize that there are both good things as well as bad things which happen in this life. We can give thanks is ALL things because they ALL come from the hand of God. This is also said to give us FORTITUDE. Youíve probably heard the prayer that asks...

Lord, grant me the courage to change what I can change, to accept those things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.

The Preacher is telling us that there are some things that we cannot change. Thatís the bad news. But the good news is that they were brought into my life by God Himself. And I can take comfort in that fact.


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