Indulgent, Incompetent, or Industrious?

February 8, 2013 at 9:46 am | Posted in Ecclesiastes | 5 Comments
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Some people work alone. Some people work “for themselves” (“self-employed”). But many people are what we call “employees.” They work for a company or an “employer.” Christians have a responsibility to be good workers or employees.

Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning! Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness!

Ecclesiastes 10:16-17

Good employees are focused on work, not eating and drinking, which Ecclesiastes likens to signs of childishness. If you work for an employer beware of the problem of indulgence – the tendency of an employee to use his employment only for himself and not for his employer’s enterprise.

By much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through.

Ecclesiastes 10:18

Along with avoiding the problem of indulgence, we must also beware of the danger that we would be lazy and downright incompetent. It’s one thing to take your time and do a good job, but it’s another thing to take your time because you’re loafing.

A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things.

Ecclesiastes 10:19

Most companies have a least one employee who is the “life of the party,” and because of his charismatic personality, even his employer thinks it’s cute, but, remember, as an employee your purpose is to make money for your employer.

Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.

Ecclesiastes 10:20

A good employee is not one that never questions his employer, but he is one that is discreet. The desire to be hardworking and to improve the company for which you work will help defeat the temptation to be indulgent (“Who cares? I just work here.”) and to be incompetent (so too much won’t be required of you).

Fortifying the Fulcrum

January 24, 2013 at 10:20 am | Posted in Ecclesiastes | 4 Comments
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Sometimes the key to wisdom is balancing competing interests. Good leaders place themselves at the fulcrum.

If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding pacifieth great offences.

Ecclesiastes 10:4 (emphasis added)

On one side is pride.

There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as an error which proceedeth from the ruler: Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place. I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.

Ecclesiastes 10:5-7

Pliability is on the other side. Rulers must not be too proud, nor too pliable. They must be willing to listen to counsel, but not to be overcome by pressure.

Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.

Proverbs 11:14

Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

Proverbs 27:5-6

Likewise, those who work under leaders must be balanced.

He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him. Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby.

Ecclesiastes 10:8-9

On the one hand, workers must be aware of their position. When you work it is important to consider where you “stand.” When we dig ditches or break through hedges or chop wood or pick up and move heavy rocks, we need to watch our step, but the same principle applies to the work of the ministry, which can be as dangerous spiritually as theses types of physical labor are dangerous literally. The work of the ministry does require some “heavy lifting” and “getting down into ditches” and poking around in people’s lives even though they might bite you like a serpent. But the Lord empowers us to do these things while we watch where we stand.

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

Psalm 1:1 (emphasis added)

We deal with sinners and with scorners, but we don’t “stand” in their “way” and we don’t sit in their “seat.”

If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct. Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.

Ecclesiastes 10:10-11

Workers balance position on one side and preparation on the other. Cutting wood with a dull ax is a problem of preparation, and so is trying to handle a snake that hasn’t yet been charmed. Talking to a babbler is like dealing with a deadly snake when it comes to spiritual matters. It requires preparation. Both of these dangers for workers can be balanced with precaution.

The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want.

Proverbs 21:5

At work and in your Christian walk, take precautions. Be diligent. Think it through. Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread. Precaution will balance out your positioning and your preparation.

Another thing that must be balanced is our communication.

The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.

Ecclesiastes 10:12

Communication can be destructive. Foolish words can hurt others, but here we learn that we can destroy ourselves with our own foolish words.

The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.

Ecclesiastes 10:13

In addition to being destructive, some communication is just downright dumb. In the Bible foolishness is often described as deadly, and “mischievous madness” is just dumb. Once you’ve talked yourself into a hole it’s better to shut your mouth than to try to talk your way out.

A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?

Ecclesiastes 10:14

Balanced on the other side of destructive and dumb communication is determined communication. Determination is a good thing, but it can also be a dangerous thing because sometimes it attracts pride. It is not bad to use words, but it is foolish to be “full of words,” especially when it comes to making bold assertions about the future.

The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city.

Ecclesiastes 10:15

“He knoweth not how to go to the city” was an ancient proverb for someone who was demanding – someone who was so busy bossing everybody around that he wore everyone out and missed the obvious signs about how to get to the city.

The balancing principle for dumb and destructive communication on the one hand, and determined and demanding communication on the other hand, is learning to be delicate. We want to be somewhat determined and demanding about truth, but we don’t want to tip over into being destructive or dumb.

Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

Colossians 4:6

Salt is a little bit delicate. Too little, and the food will be bland; too much, and the food will be inedible.

A Little Bird Told Me

January 9, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Common Expressions, Ecclesiastes | 5 Comments
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When I first started teaching Sunday School, the plan was to take a book of the Bible, and just teach through it sequentially each week. That, for the most part, is what I’ve done. However, I also wanted to mix in some variety, and, as I began to study the Bible more comprehensively, I was surprised to find how many common idioms came from the pages of Scripture, or at least were brought to mind by certain verses. I started calling these “common expressions,” and I would try to cover a new one each week. “The handwriting on the wall” and “the blind leading the blind” were two easy examples. My thinking was that when the students heard these expressions in everyday life, they would be reminded of Biblical principles, and possibly even seize an opportunity to steer the conversation toward the Gospel – especially those students who weren’t comfortable just blurting out, “If you died today where would you spend eternity?

As time went by it became harder and harder to come up with new common expressions, but during a time when we were studying the Book of Ecclesiastes, I discovered that Ecclesiastes Chapter 10 contains a relative cornucopia of “common expressions.” So far, I have written about “a fly in the ointment” and “his heart was in the right place.”

Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.

Ecclesiastes 10:11

The Bible frequently warns of the danger of running off at the mouth. As a Christian, I need to let the Holy Spirit control my tongue, and I need to analyze what I’m going to say before I blurt out whatever is on my mind. Is what I’m about to say going to hurt someone? Is it just going to be vanity? Or is it going to build someone up – encourage or edify them?

Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.

Ecclesiastes 10:20

Here’s the third common expression from Ecclesiastes Chapter 10: “A little bird told me.” This is what people say when they are sharing a juicy bit of gossip about a common acquaintance and don’t want to admit the source. There’s no wisdom in talking about anyone behind his or her back – but especially someone in a position of leadership over you. In the “under the sun” world of competitiveness, selfishness, and manipulation, it’s foolish to think that what I tell a co-worker about our boss won’t get back to the boss. This applies in church, families, and other organizations as well. There are certainly more spiritual reasons to avoid gossip, but the Bible doesn’t ignore the practical reality that it will probably come back to bite you even in an unspiritual context.

His Heart Was in the Right Place

December 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Posted in Common Expressions, Ecclesiastes | 11 Comments
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It has been estimated that somewhere between 70% – 95% of the people in the world are right-handed as opposed to left-handed. The right side was the side of honor and favor in ancient Hebrew culture and most of the time in the Bible (Exodus 15:6, Deuteronomy 33:2, I Kings 2:19, Psalm 16:8-11, Psalm 44:3, Psalm 89:13, Psalm 118:15-16, Isaiah 41:10-13, Matthew 22:44, Matthew 25:33-34, Luke 22:69, Acts 7:55-56, Hebrews 1:3, I Peter 3:22, Revelation 5:7). I am not certain of the reason for this, but it may be that (in recognition of the predominance of right-handedness among human beings) the right hand is the more dextrous, and therefore more “skilled,” hand when speaking generically.

One of the things we must not do, however, when interpreting and expositing Scripture, is to foist our modern colloquialisms on the ancient text in order to try to make it say something that it does not really say. This is one of the types of what is referred to as “proof-texting.” Here is an example:

A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart at his left.

Ecclesiastes 10:2

Does this verse mean that a Christian should be politically conservative rather than politically liberal? While we could argue that the verse might indeed have some bearing on that question, it would not be right to use the verse to “prove” that smart people vote Republican and fools vote Democrat. The idea of labeling politically conservative folks as those on the “right” or “right wing,” and politically liberal folks as being “left-wingers” or “on the left” probably comes from the days of the French Revolution, not the days of King Solomon.

The better interpretation of Ecclesiastes 10:2 has to do with those who exercise Godly wisdom. When our hearts are inclined to God’s wisdom, we will be more skillful and adept at handling the issues, problems, and challenges that life throws into our paths. Fools, however – those who reject Godly counsel and wisdom – will tend to flail around clumsily with whichever worldly concept happens to be popular that day, and muck things up big time.

What Ecclesiastes 10:2 brings to mind for me is not the idea of conservatism versus liberalism, but the expression we use when someone has good intentions, but accidentally achieves a bad result. We like to use this excuse for a person in that situation: “At least his heart was in the right place.” As Christians we know that our hearts can not be trusted to lead us in the right direction (Jeremiah 17:9), but we also know that God evaluates our behavior on the thoughts and intents of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12), more so than the outwardly visible appearance of our actions (I Samuel 16:7).

Follow your heart;” “listen to your heart;” and “trust your heart,” are the mantras and messages of all kinds of Disney-entertainment-style idiocy, which is pervasive in our culture. If we are wise, we will train our hearts to stay on the right hand side of God – the side of His lovingkindness, power, protection, and provision.

A Fly in the Ointment

November 26, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Posted in Common Expressions, Ecclesiastes | 8 Comments
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Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.

Ecclesiastes 10:1

The “apothecary” in this verse is what we would call a perfume-maker or possibly even a pharmacist. Ointment was used in Bible times for ceremonial anointing, perfume, and even medicinal salve at times. The popular expression, “a fly in the ointment,” comes from this verse, and it means a hidden defect or flaw in something that otherwise would be beneficial. Sometimes, just a tiny little mistake can cause a great deal of harm.

Can you imagine spending days or weeks perfecting the perfect concoction of spices, herbs, and oils, only to have the whole batch give off a disgusting odor because a miniscule, unobserved fly had landed in it and started to decompose? That’s what a little sinful foolishness can do to your testimony. Trust, honor, integrity, and character – and especially a reputation for wisdom – are things that are built up and cultivated slowly over time. However, they can be lost in an instant. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to guard our hearts, minds, eyes, and ears, and let’s keep our Bibles poised like holy flyswatters, always on alert for the tell-tale buzz of temptation.

Arise: Naboth’s Vineyard, Ahab’s Vice, and God’s Vengeance – Part 3

December 2, 2009 at 11:23 am | Posted in Arise | 12 Comments
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In Part 1 and Part 2 we met:

I. The Pious Patriarch (Naboth)
II. The Pouting Potentate (Ahab)
III. The Poisonous Puppeteer (Jezebel)
IV. The Pestering Prophet (Elijah)

Elijah tells Ahab in I Kings 21:19: “… Thus saith the LORD, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.”

And concerning Jezebel:

The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.

I Kings 21:23

Here we see an example of the Preeminent Precept. It is a precept that is key to the understanding of the whole Bible. The Preeminent Precept is that God is holy and God is just, and He shall judge righteously. Under this preeminent precept there are three principles I want to look at very briefly:

No. 1. God is not mocked.

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

Galatians 6:7

Don’t be fooled. Don’t let anyone else fool you. And don’t fool yourself. No one “gets away with” sin. Ahab and Jezebel tried to make a mockery of God. They sat on thrones and ruled over men and women – but there was One Who ruled over them – and held them accountable.

Following up on the guarantee that God will not be mocked is the principle of sowing and reaping. We reap what we sow. And the second principle under the Preeminent Precept is:

No. 2. Sin contains its own seeds of destruction.

Things done in the Spirit – love, joy, hope – have seeds of life in them. Sin has its own seeds – seeds of death. Drugs and alcohol seem like such harmless fun – but the Bible says at the end they bite like an adder – a poisonous snake. When you take a drink or use drugs, you’ve grown a flower which looks harmless, but it will bloom into deadly poison.

Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.

Proverbs 23:31-32

When you decide you are jealous of someone or you want to hurt someone else out of spite, you are taking a bite out of a piece of fruit that may taste sweet, but it will make you as sick as a dog.

Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him.

Proverbs 26:27

He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.

Ecclesiastes 10:8

If you decide to step outside God’s boundaries of sexual purity, and flirt and fool around and experience a little emotional pleasure or physical pleasure, then you have scattered some seed on that side of the fence, and the branches will grow out into every part of your life, and cause God to have to come and hack them down and throw them into the fire.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

I Corinthians 6:9-10

Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

James 1:15

1. God is not mocked.
2. Sin contains its own seeds of destruction.
3. God will repay.

… it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

Romans 12:19

When Cain slew Abel – the first murder – Abel’s blood cried up to God from the ground. All throughout the Bible, the cries of the oppressed, the helpless, the wronged, cry out to God. He hears them and He is just and righteous, and He will make things right. The blood of Naboth and his sons cried up to God from the earth… and God determined to repay.

Be very careful about your actions in this life. You can do wrong to someone in this world in such a way that the earthly powers can not make it right. But you can not wrong someone and cover it up in such a way that God will not find it out and avenge the wronged person. You will have to “get over yourself,” because you can not “get over” on God.

The Preeminent Precept is preeminent because it must be grasped for a proper understanding of the Gospel. We don’t always grasp God’s perfection, and His fairness, and His justice, and His holiness – because we don’t have anything to use for comparison. We ourselves are so tainted with sin that we see “fairness” through a dark and cloudy lens of self-interest. God is light – but we have attempted to reduce the dramatic contrast of the Light by making ourselves seem bright, too. Until we see how black with sin our own heart is – until we see the hopelessness of the midnight of our soul – until we realize that we are buried in a pit of sin and unrighteousness – we will never fully realize how bright and shining and gloriously radiant God is.

Ahab had a glimpse of this:

And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly. And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son’s days will I bring the evil upon his house.

I Kings 21:27-29

But Jezebel did not. Three years went by. As she and Ahab sat around the royal dinner table enjoying the herbs from the garden which used to be Naboth’s vineyard, did Ahab jump every time he heard a dog bark?

The preeminent precept is that God is just and holy and righteous, and that He will judge sin. It held true in the case of Ahab and Jezebel. God’s promises always come to pass.

We have seen:

I. The Pious Patriarch
II. The Pouting Potentate
III. The Poisonous Puppeteer
IV. The Pestering Prophet
V. The Preeminent Precept

In part four we will look at:

The Poignant Payment


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