Two weeks ago, I flew up to Canada to be with Darren (one of the bloggers here on PS23). His mom died from cancer about a week previous. I would have preferred to visit Canada under different circumstances, but being there with my friend for the funeral/memorial service was good. The service was gospel-centered and filled with hope that Darren’s mom is with her Savior.
Now, of course, during the time with Darren’s family, my mind was on death and its inevitability for us all. It is a simple fact that 10 out of 10 people die and one day each of us will be in the same position as Darren’s sweet, godly mom. This got me asking a question that I then proposed to my youth when I returned: knowing that I will die, how should I live now? Is there a present impact knowing my eventual death? To answer this question, I went into God’s Word and found that He does indeed answer with a yes. I opened up thebook of Ecclesiastes with my students to have them God’s answer. I would like to share that answer is shorter form (if you’d like to hear the whole teaching, you can find it here).
Ecclesiastes begins with a declaration that all is futile, puzzling, or fleeting (“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity,” 1:2). And throughout Ecclesiastes, King Solomon focuses on the apparent lack of human advantage in life’s labors “under the sun” (1:3). He characterizes life on earth as endless cycle of sunrises and sunsets (1:5). Now, at the end of the book, he looks beyond his gloom and vanity to see God. Solomon realizes that life’s certainties (like death) and life’s uncertainties (like accidents and disasters) cannot be predicted, thereby proving his statement in Proverbs 27:1, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”
So what does Solomon do about death? In chapters 11-12, Solomon gives instruction and exhortation on how to live knowing you will die.
REJOICE IN YOUR LIFE (11:1-8)
Life has many decisions to make. Ecclesiastes 11:1-8 tells us that many of those decisions will involve some level of risk, meaning you will have to make a decision without all the “necessary” information. “Cast” (v. 1) is better “send” or “let loose.” Solomon is referring to the business of shipping off goods in ships. A port master sends out ships with goods, not knowing how much will sell and how much he will make, until many months/years later when those ships return. The same is true when a farmer plants his crop (v. 6). He does not know which seeds he plants will grow. Yet, both men go about their business, even with the risks involved. They are not just rolling the dice on fate, but making the best calculated, intentional, informed, “to the best of my knowledge” decisions, but still knowing the outcome is out of their control, just like the rain (v. 3, which you can sort of sometimes predict), and like the direction a tree is going to fall (v. 3, which you cannot predict).
The point is our lives are fairly unpredictable, but you need to make decisions, risky, informed-to-the-best-of-your-knowledge decisions. You cannot wait for perfect conditions, because if you wait, you will have regrets of not doing something. That is exactly the point of vv. 5-6 says. Don’t get bogged down with every little decision, or you will constantly live with anxiety and regrets. God intended you to enjoy life (vv. 7-8). Therefore, don’t let indecision or not-fully-informed decisions knock you off enjoying life. Life is full of up and downs, so make decisions to the best of your ability and then enjoy the outcome; either because it worked out, or because you learned from it and can do better next time.
REJOICE IN YOUR YOUTH (11:9-10)
To be youthful in Scripture is to be mostly healthy in mind and body, have your eye sight, and can get around without the help of others. In other words, “youth” as defined by Scripture is anyone who is not elderly. But youth will not always be the norm. Everyone can expect their “youth bubble” to one day burst and (as I talk with older saints) it will happen faster than expected.
Therefore, v. 9, “let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes.” This last sentence literally says, “follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes.” Sort of sounds reckless, huh? It sounds like the opposite advice that any adult gives to youth (and as a youth pastor, I would agree). But this is exactly what Solomon says: follow your heart and your desires. Whatever you want to do, do it. However you want to live your life, live it that way and enjoy! As I reflected on this verse, I remember my dad used to ask me, “what do you want to do?” If I asked about college, he’d ask me what I want to do. If I asked about being a part of choir or drama or a Bible study, etc., he would ask what I want to do. I find him following the same pattern as Solomon here.
Now, if Solomon left it right there, it would sound contradictory to his other wisdom that tell us to deny our hearts, because they are wicked and full of sin (Prov 6:14, 18; 11:20; 12:20; cf. Jer 17:9). But Solomon did not leave it there: “Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things.” In other words, you will stand before your Creator one day to give an account for why you did the things you did. Therefore, whatever you desire, make sure it is the desires of God, because “whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but whoever walks in [God’s] wisdom will be delivered” (Prov 28:26)
Therefore, v. 10, “remove vexation” (that is, grief and anger) from your body and enjoy your youth while you have it. It is a gift. It offers so many opportunities that you can choose that you cannot choose in old age. So take advantage of youth! Use your sharp mind to learn. Use your strong physical body to go & do. All the while seeking to please God. And this leads naturally into …
REMEMBER YOU’RE A CREATURE = HUMILITY (12:1-7)
“Remember also your Creator” reminds us that we are mere creatures. We are not God. God is God. When we neglect this simple fact, then our lives are filled with confusion, pride, regret, anger, grief, and depression. In other words, remembering our Creator in our youth is to say that we need to be humble. God sustains our lives and we must live for Him while we are youthful, because one day our bodies will wear out (vv. 2-7).
- 12:3, we go from strong youthfulness to weak trembling and to being bent over in weakness. Our teeth (“grinders”) become fewer with age, and our eyes (“windows”) get worse and worse.
- 12:4, our lips (“doors”) stop saying as much and eating becomes less because our teeth slow down. Sleeping is really light, and the ears become harder of hearing.
- 12:5, we will be afraid of falling and being taken advantage of (“terrors”). Our hair turns white like the blossoms of an almond tree, our vigor for life is gone (“grasshopper drags himself), and we know death is close (“mourners”).
- 12:6, we eventually fall and break and become physically cracked and unrepairable. Then we will return to dust and our spirits back to God.
All this to say: knowing that death is coming, seeing the unavoidability of old age and death, we need to remember our Creator, to remember to be humble before Him, to use our physical and mental strength to live for Him. And this thought leads right into …
REMEMBER “THE WHOLE” (12:9-14)
These are verses we know best. But now, in their context, do you see why they are such wise words. Because life is fleeting and will lead to weakness and death, we need to live for “the whole”—that is, “the whole” of life.
13 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.
Knowing God, our Creator, is the key to living this life. By knowing God you will live as He intended, in obedience. You will live a wise and enjoyable life. You will be godly so long as God is your focus and God is your obedience. That is the whole of your life. That is the purpose. To live before Him daily, learning of Him in His Word and following Him in obedience, all the while waiting until the day that you see Him face to face.
You see, all the concerns of life are irrelevant at the end of life. Therefore, we must live for God now, because what will last for eternity beyond this temporary life is the fear God and obedience to Him. Your unavoidable death should lead to pursuing God with your whole life and that is followed by a life of obedience to God. Of course, the only way this is possible is first through obedience to the gospel—that is, you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as your substitute for your sinful life, and that He is also your Master/Lord. You begin to fear God by knowing His Son Jesus. Do you know Him? Do you follow Him?