The Pros and Cons of Wisdom

The Pros and Cons of Wisdom.

You may recognise this poster; "Keep Calm and Carry On"

Some of you may be old enough to remember it; It's the original 1939 Keep Calm and Carry On motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for the Second World War!

Wikipedia tells us that although 2.45 million copies were printed, the poster was hardly ever publicly displayed and was little known until a copy was rediscovered in 2000 at Barter Books, a bookshop just up the road from us in Alnwick. We're told that it is "a memorable evocation of Victorian stoicism—the "stiff upper lip" self-discipline, fortitude and remaining calm in adversity..."

Well how helpful is this stoicism? How helpful is wisdom? Tonight we're looking at the pros and cons of Wisdom from Ecclesiastes chapter 7. You may remember that the writer of Ecclesiastes is called the Teacher. He has lots of wise things to teach us and sometimes he can say seemingly contradictory or controversial things to make us think – to pull us up sharp and face reality and that's exactly what he does in this chapter. So let's have a look at Ecclesiastes chapter 7 p472. We're going to have a look at his in five sections and the first is

Wisdom shows us Fun and Frivolity vs. Realism and Reality

Verse 1 begins with a word play in the Hebrew between (name and perfume) Shem and Shemen – a bit like saying better is Name than Nard. Ecclesiastes 7:1

"A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth."

You may remember that names in the Bible have meanings and the names are supposed to show the person's character– what they are like. (Jacob means "Grasps the heel" which was fitting for a deceiver who figuratively and literally grasped the heel of his brother.) So having a good name or more importantly a good reputation which shows our character - shows what's on the inside is more important than the nice smell of the latest Channel or Hugo Boss on the outside. A good reputation tells more of what we are really like than how we appear externally. I wonder which one we are naturally more concerned about. And as our reputation / our character is more real and serious than anything we can wear so is a funeral compared to a birthday. Think about it. At births or birthday parties we're in celebration mode and we don't tend to think seriously about our own death. One is more frivolous and the other is more sobering. It brings us back to reality. And this isn't negativism. This is realism.

Verse 2

"It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart."

And verse 3 says for the same reason a bit of sadness can be good for the heart. We're not to go round with a dour sour faces all the time. The teacher has already said in earlier chapters to be glad in the things God has given you and enjoy the job satisfaction when you can. But seeking party after party after party is just a foolish distraction from what life's about. If we only want celebrations then ironically we're missing out.
Let's read verse 3-6

"Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
It is better to heed a wise man's rebuke than to listen to the song of fools.
Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools. This too is meaningless."

Would you rather suffer the rebuke of a wise person or go to a pop concert? I'm not saying never go to a pop concert, but which is better for you? Are you careful what nonsense you listen to on the radio or watch on the TV? I don't know if you've ever seen thorns on a fire but you can imagine it can't you – there's not much to them. Like thorns which crackle and burn to nothing quickly, without giving much heat to cook with, so is the company of fools, who also make a fair bit of noise but don't amount to much. And so these verses are not saying that fun is bad but to beware whether it's at the expense of reality or not. Well there's some wisdom for you. And verse 7-10 has some more – they tell us how to live with a few hard circumstances of life:

Wisdom Helps us Live Wisely through Life's Difficulties

Let's read verse7-9

"Extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart.
The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.
Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools."


Verse 7 tells us not to give in to extortion or bribes. And 8&9 are basically saying patience and humility are linked together and are on the side of wisdom and they are better than pride and anger which also are linked but are on the side of foolishness. I'm not talking about God's righteous anger but I wonder if you've noticed; when we quickly get angry it's a form of impatience, and it's quite selfish. It's pride. We're wanting things done our way in our timescale and it's foolish. And it might be that this anger is directed toward God. Perhaps you can relate to being impatient with God. Perhaps asking when injustice will end or resenting God in what he's allowed to happen in life. In other words questioning his Sovereignty, questioning the one who is control of the past, present and future – see v10;

"Do not say, "Why were the old days better than these?" For it is not wise to ask such questions."

There's more detail we could go into but let's move on to these verses conclusion about wisdom: verse 11-12.

"Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun.
Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: that wisdom preserves the life of its possessor."

Can you see how good wisdom is? Wisdom helps us live through life's difficulties. Wisdom shows us how to live. Wisdom is good. Having this wise way of living, this knowledge, this wise outlook on life is good for us. Money can provide a kind of security and protection and so does wisdom but wisdom is better. And so, so far I hope we can see some of the benefits of wisdom.

But wisdom can only take us so far

Verses 13-18 Wisdom only Shows us So Far

Wisdom is good but has its limitations

Verse 13-14

"Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked?
When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other."

Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future.

Sometimes we just have to accept that's the just way it is

I have met many poor people who just accept the bad stuff that happens; "life's like that it's just the way it is" in the famous words of Run DMC. Which is good but it's not quite that simple. One problem with the wealthy is that they are used to having the power and protection which wealth brings; and the control over life that it brings. And particularly with technology today, offering this promise of control over our lives, human beings in the west are just stunned when things don't turn out the way we want. And we get frustrated when our idol of wealth lets us down. So should we just accept that "life's like that it's just the way it is"? Well no. It's not fate and stoicism just doesn't satisfy. It's God who has made it like that. He sends the good and the bad. These are key verses to understand. When times are good enjoy them. But when times are bad remember God has sent them too. I.e. God holds the key to whether times are good or bad. When they are good be happy and be grateful to God. When they are bad don't moan at him or question him or get angry at him. That is wisdom, but that wisdom does not alter the situation. It doesn't change life circumstances or the difficulties. It just alters our view. It changes our perspective. Do you see what wisdom can and can't do? Do you see what Wisdom is good at and what it's incapable of, its benefits and its limitations, it's pros and cons?

Wisdom; taking God into account, living life in reference to God, doesn't change the situation. It doesn't necessarily remove the suffering for example, it just helps us to live through the situation. As we see in the next verse. Injustice will continue (v15)

"In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness."

And in our next couple of verses we are meant to see the irony: v16-17

"Do not be over-righteous, neither be overwise--why destroy yourself?
Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool--why die before your time?"


Pretending to be super wise won't get us anywhere; being super self-righteous won't work – you'll still die. And being extremely wicked and foolish will also end in death.

And verse 18 doesn't tell us to walk a balance between being good and bad - being morally in the middle or a little bit of both, but that the wise person sees clearly the errors of extreme self-righteousness and extreme evil. Keeping those in mind avoids them by living a life that fears God: verse 18

"It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes."

Basically be wise by recognising that you don't have the wisdom to fathom all mysteries and be wise by fearing and obeying God. That's what wisdom does; it doesn't let you in on all of God's plans. It can only take you so far. Wisdom doesn't show you everything God is doing but it does show you how to live a life of fearful obedience of God. That's why wisdom is such a good thing. Wisdom is so powerful. And it's so powerful because it has a better view.

Verse 19-22 show us that Wisdom has the Better View

Verse 19

"Wisdom makes one wise man more powerful than ten rulers in a city."

The wisdom of someone who lives in the fear of God is so much greater than the wisdom of ten powerful rulers. Wisdom sees life the way it really is, life in relation to God. Like we read earlier in v13-14 with realism - seeing life as it truly is; life with God sovereign over everything, in charge of good and bad. Going through life with that knowledge is far greater than ten successful powerful people who view life as if God doesn't exist. In other words the Christian worldview, brothers and sisters, is far greater than any secular worldview ever. Don't fooled. Don't be taken in, and don't be timid. The Christian view is 100% right and true.

Wisdom also knows that we are all sinners.

Verse 20  

There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.

Except for one man! Our Lord Jesus who never sinned and by whose righteousness we can be friends with God. Wisdom knows that we're all sinful. It knows what's in the heart of man.

Wisdom also knows how to protect the heart of man.

Verse 21

"Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you —"

The ESV translation helpfully says "don't take it to heart". Wisdom is so useful. It knows how to protect our hearts. Some of us need to be more sensitive but some of us need to be thicker skinned. My kids were watching TV this week and there was a blogger who was giving advice to kids who were trying to make it as professional singers and, as most bloggers are, she was used to getting negative comments on her website and the one bit of advice she gave the youngsters was, "Don't listen to all the bad things people say." "Don't listen to all the bad things people say." You see this is what people are like; we live in a sinful world and people say hurtful things, whether intentional or not. And we need not pay attention. This might sound odd but there can be a form of selfishness in taking to heart everything people say. Sometimes we can wallow in self pity. We can take it to heart and subconsciously enjoy it. Why? Because it's all about me!

Don't pay attention to every word people say. It doesn't mean don't listen! It means we know ourself that people say stupid things, and we should know because we're one of them; verse 22

"for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others"

The teacher is wise enough to know that no one is righteous, that no one is sinless, and he's also wise enough to know that 100% wisdom is impossible for us to attain. For all of us except him. Let's read on verse 23-8:1

Wisdom Spots the Sinners and the Sinless

"All this I tested by wisdom and I said, "I am determined to be wise" --but this was beyond me.
Whatever wisdom may be, it is far off and most profound-- who can discover it?
So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things and to understand the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly.
I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare.
"Look," says the Teacher, {Or leader of the assembly} "this is what I have discovered: "Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things--
while I was still searching but not finding--I found one upright man among a thousand, but not one upright woman among them all.
This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes."

NIB Ecclesiastes 8:1 Who is like the wise man? Who knows the explanation of things? Wisdom brightens a man's face and changes its hard appearance.

Now let me briefly deal with a couple of issues: This is not anti women. In a couple of weeks in chapter 9 we'll see the Teacher's positive view of love in marriage. In verse 26 he uses the example of being lured. One could argue that men are the stupid ones who are more easily enticed into sexual entrapment. Here the temptress has the heart of a hunter. The heart / the core of her being is that of a predator, like a praying mantis. Entrapment is her game and the point the Teacher is making is that wisdom will help you spot the deceit, the underhandedness; you'll see the trap before you get too close. Wisdom will help you spot sin from a distance and keep you from falling – it will help you to obey.

Secondly verse 27 onwards again is not anti women. It's anti all of us. The one in a thousand (of v28) is his way of saying, there's only one wise one and that's him – the Teacher. Ultimately it's Jesus who is the wisdom of God 1 Corinthinthians ch1:24-25 and 1:28-30.

Wisdom Helps Spot the Sinless. It Helps spot Jesus.

Look at verse 29. God made us sinless and we, each one of us, chose to sin. God made us upright; with hearts that were faithful to God's ways, upright moral hearts that were obedient, but we have deliberately gone our own way.

 "... but men have gone in search of many schemes."

We've actively gone off the rails. He says 'look' in v27 and the King James version rightly has a 'behold' or 'Lo' at the beginning of verse 27 and 29. He's saying, See. Look. Wisdom is showing you that it's plain to see; no one has the wisdom that God has, that knowing the future and what good or bad times are coming. 8:1a Who is like the wise man? Who knows the explanation of things? That kind of wisdom is for God alone.

But what is plain to see and what the Teacher has been showing us in this chapter is that: the wisdom that is accessible to us shows that everyone is sinful, that there is one sinless man to look for, that there are sins to watch out for, and that when good times come we should enjoy them as gifts from God and when the bad times come we should trust and obey. We should keep calm and carry on. That's why 8:1 ends the way it does; verse 1b Wisdom brightens a man's face and changes its hard appearance. Knowing that God is sovereign, that he's in charge doesn't change the situation but does change our perspective, and it can show in our faces, from hard and frustrated to calm, trusting and bright.

Wisdom is useful. After all wisdom is powerful, wisdom is protecting, wisdom is perceiving. But it won't show us all of God's plans for our life, but praise God, it does help us see God's plan in the lord Jesus.

So after exploring God's word together this evening is there anything we need to repent of? Perhaps wanting people to see our appearance rather than caring about our character? Are we living life unwisely? Do we get easily angered? Are we impatient? Are we proud? Are we taking to heart too much? Are we trusting in our own perception of God's workings? Are we questioning God's ways? Is there a new way to look at life?

Wisdom can't change life's situations but it shows us the way to live this life.
Wisdom can't change life's situations but it can change our perspective.
Wisdom can't change life's situations but it can help us see the Lord Jesus.

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