Wisdom to Change Your World

Wisdom to Change Your World

I wonder how much you think these wise people have changed the world: Aristotle, Pythagoras, Marie Curie, Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton, Florance Nightingale, Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, Archimedes, Oprah Winfrey? The last one was said tongue in cheek!

Perhaps as a teenager or young man or woman you've got a passion to change the world; to make a difference. Maybe as big a difference as Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg or Pakistan's Malala. Or may be you don't quite want to change the world – maybe it's just the situation you're in that you want to change. May be our situation is so dire that we're desperate for something to make a big change. Do you wish you could find something to show you what to do, to change the situation we find ourselves in, to guide us in relation to our circumstances?

Well we're going to find out some advice which will help us view our situations and our circumstances and for that we turn to the book of Ecclesiastes which we're working our way through in these evening meetings. You may remember that the writer of Ecclesiastes is called the Teacher and through the book of Ecclesiastes he teaches us what life is like when we don't have all the answers. And that the key to living life in this fallen world is to get on and fear God. The Teacher describes several things as 'vanity' or in the modern translations as 'meaningless'. He means it's a vapour, it's breath, it's a puff of smoke, it's quickly gone, it's futile. It doesn't mean that life has no meaning. It means that we can't fathom it.

Last week we saw the pros and cons of wisdom; what wisdom can and can't do. We saw that Wisdom Is worth having. Wisdom is valuable like money in that can protect us.

Wisdom can help us spot sin from a distance. Wisdom is precious. And so on but we also saw last week that wisdom can only help us so far. Wisdom cannot get us out of the constraints of this fallen world. Bad things still happen. Wisdom doesn't stop them.The world doesn't work as it should because of sin and one day, thank God, Jesus will return and put all that right but in the mean time we still have to live here, in this fallen world. We have to live within the constraints of it. With fruitlessness, fleetingness, injustice, and with the bad things as well as the good things which God sends us and ultimately with death. Wisdom doesn't protect us from all the bad things in life but it does tell us how to live through them. Wisdom doesn't solve all our problems, but gives us the better perspective to live through them.

And we continue in that same vein in tonight's passage.

So with that in mind let's turn to our passage for the evening Ecclesiastes chapter 8. Last week we covered 7:1 to 8:1 so tonight we're covering verse 2 to the end and we'll look at it in three parts v1-9, v10-14, and then a brief conclusion in v15-17.

Verse 2-9 Cope with Evil Authority.

"Obey the king's command, I say, because you took an oath before God.
Do not be in a hurry to leave the king's presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases.
Since a king's word is supreme, who can say to him, "What are you doing?"
Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure.
For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man's misery weighs heavily upon him.
Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come?
No man has power over the wind to contain it; so no-one has power over the day of his death. As no-one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practise it.
All this I saw, as I applied my mind to everything done under the sun. There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt."

Just imagine the situation; a ruler is a tyrant. He doesn't care about anyone else and makes others peoples' lives a misery. He's a ruler and he's Powerful but he's foolish. The King or ruler or dictator makes foolish decisions and it's others who pay the price – it's others who have to put up with the consequences. I wonder if it's like that under Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe or North Korea's Kim Jong Un. There have been plenty of other bad leaders in history. In our verses the Teacher may be providing a typical example for us or it could be specific advice to an individual e.g a particular advisor to a particular king – someone who is in the king's presence verse 3

"Do not be in a hurry to leave the king's presence."

He'll make daft decisions, but it seems you can't do much about it except you should do what you can not to be implicated in his evil causes.

"Do not be in a hurry to leave the king's presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases.
Since a king's word is supreme, who can say to him, "What are you doing?"
But it seems there's not much you can do about it. You haven't got the power. You haven't got the position or the authority. Especially in the days this was written. I can't imagine peaceful protests were a culturally acceptable norm! There's not much you can do. You can't exactly challenge the king. However wisdom will show you the time and place.
Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure.
For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man's misery weighs heavily upon him.
Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come?
Basically keep your head down, even though it's hard. Wait. There is a time and a place. Keep your head down, it may be hard , but wait. There's a time and a place."

Cope with evil Authority – Wait for God's Time

It can be a misery. It can be really hard when you're under the authority of someone powerful but foolish. The wise can see that he's wicked and always will be; wickedness won't let him go (verse 8) and the wise can see that the abuse of power is hurting himself or others (verse 9)

"No man has power over the wind to contain it; no-one has power over the day of his death. As no-one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practise it.
All this I saw, as I applied my mind to everything done under the sun. There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own [Or to their] hurt."

So what can our wisdom do about it? Well these verses tell us to do what we can, but to remember what we can't do. What does our position allow? How much power do we have? And most of us are probably not in authority and can't do anything about it. Now a king in those days is not the same as a boss or even a politician in the west today. I don't think this relates to every employment situation. People can move jobs with some degree of ease in this day and age in our society but some people are trapped and powerless and wisdom tells us how to cope with evil authority in those situations; to do what we can but wait for God's timing. Do what we can but wait for God's timing.

Please don't hear this as cold and hard hearted. The Teacher cares for his readers. He cares for the original readers and he cares for you and me. That's why he's imparting this wisdom and that's what God is saying to us in those situations. He says he knows what the evil ruler is like. He's knows the misery can weigh heavily. He knows how hard things are for you but try to remember that the wisest thing may be to keep your head down and wait. Wait for the right time and of course whilst you're waiting pray. Don't pray madly to make yourself sick. Just plan when and how often to bring it to God. Do pray continually, but if every second you're sending arrow prayers in panic then you'll just worry and make yourself ill. Some things may be huge but they'll take time. Do what you can but wait for God's time.
Now this might not apply to you right now but it might apply to someone else at some point in your life and you can share this wisdom with them so it's worth remembering.

Cope with evil Authority – Wait for God's time

Verse 10-14 Cope with Injustice.

"Then too, I saw the wicked buried--those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless.
When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong.
Although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God.
Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.
There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless."

Hang on – verse 10 "the wicked being buried" - how is that meaningless or futile? Well being buried was an honour and so here the teacher sees the wicked, the hypocrites who served God in order to get praise from man. He saw them being buried; being treated with honour. Well, that's not fair, that's not right is it? And he continues to see injustice after injustice after injustice. The wicked not getting their come-up-ance in this life and even worse the bad receiving good and the good receiving bad – totally the wrong way round! And it's heart breaking isn't it? The Teacher says it's meaningless or futile (end of v14) It's heart breaking if you care about justice.

I remember a TV documentary about the story of middle class boy swapping places with a poor boy who found that the police and the law in this country did not always provide fairness. And the boy who'd had the sheltered upbringing was devastated that all he'd been led to believe that if you work hard and play fair you'll get treated right. His world came crashing down when he saw the effects of injustice in this sinful world.

It's heart breaking if you know what right and wrong is and if you know what the word "deserve" means. And the Teacher reassures us; the wicked may not get justice in this life but oh boy they will in the next! God is fair. God is Just. God knows who deserves what and he will deliver justice when he returns: verse 12 and 13.

"…I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God.
Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them,…"


Ultimately there is a perfect justice that will be done. While we can't rely on man to deliver justice we can rely on God.

So Cope with Injustice – Wait for God's Justice.

So wisdom isn't going to help us overthrow all the tyrannical rulers nor bring in a new order of world peace. Wisdom isn't going to change the world. Wisdom isn't going to change the world but the good news will. That's what will change the world – the Good News. The Gospel. The great news of God's grace to us through our Lord Jesus. The Gospel can change a tyrannical ruler. The Gospel can change those engaged in injustice. The Gospel can change our circumstances. The Gospel can change our situation but wisdom probably won't. So when we're reading Ecclesiates or any of the Bible are we reading it to get wisdom so that we can have comfy life? Are we thinking, "If I follow the Bible's advice then all will go well with me" (just look at the example of our Lord's life) or "If I follow the Bible's wisdom then I'll be guaranteed happiness"? The Bible does give us great wisdom but the Bible is not primarily here to teach us wisdom but to tell us the good news. Wisdom cannot get us out of this fallen world; we've got to live in it. Wisdom can only show us so far. It would be good to have more wisdom and we should ask for it but don't pin your hopes on it. Wisdom isn't going to change the world. The Good News will do that. It has been doing so and praise God it will continue to do so long after we've gone.

So what advice, what wisdom does the Teacher give us to conclude with?

Verse 15-17 Compare our Works to God's Works.

"So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.
When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man's labour on earth--his eyes not seeing sleep day or night--
then I saw all that God has done. No-one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it."

This is not the Atheist's hedonistic view of "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die". This is; if we can enjoy the fleeting things of this world recognising them for what they are i.e. fleeting things, but also gratefully recognising they are from God then we will be content; we will have inner joy, even amidst the injustices of this world. If we can to enjoy our works we do in this world recognising them for what they are i.e. fleeting works, but also gratefully recognising they are from God then we will be content. It's about Comparing our works to God's works and when we do that we find we can't compare – perhaps we can only contrast our works to God's works. When we Compare our works to God's works we just can't understand.

"then I saw all that God has done. No-one can comprehend what goes on under the sun."

Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.
Wisdom can only show us so far. Why? Because we don't need to know. We don't need complete wisdom. We do need the Good News.

Wisdom won't change the world. The Good News is doing that.

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