The Book of Ecclesiastes
Grace Community Church
May 7, 2017
Wisdom Trumps Foolishness Part One
If you're visiting us this morning we are in a study of the book of Ecclesiastes, and let's turn together to chapter 8. If you aren't sure where it is, open your Bible to the middle which should be the book of Psalms and then go right two books and you'll come to Ecclesiastes.
For the next several chapters Solomon is going to do what you'd expect the wisest man on earth to do: he's going to expound on the benefits of wisdom and the advantages wisdom has over foolishness. Wisdom isn't the same thing as intelligence or education. A person can be uneducated and yet very wise. And a person can be highly educated and still be a fool. Wisdom is, as one person put it, the art of living skillfully. It's living well. So in the next 3 chapters Solomon is going to talk about the benefits of living wisely, as well as the limitations of wisdom. Wisdom has its limitations - it can't see everything, it doesn't know everything, and sometimes things go wrong for people seeking to live wisely. But even so, Solomon says, wisdom is always better than foolishness. Wisdom trumps foolishness every time. But what's important to keep in mind is that life can't be boiled down to a do this and you'll always get that kind of formula. Proverbs does that, but that's because Proverbs is speaking about principles and practices in broad terms not precise terms. Let me give you an analogy.
A couple weeks ago I was running a little late for the STPRC fundraising banquet and I was depending on my Apple maps to guide me to the Elmira Country Club. Things seem to be going great, as it takes me up a quiet road and I see signs of a golf course on my left, when all of a sudden, on this quiet residential road, it says, park your car, you'll have to walk from here. I'm running late, I'm in a jacket and tie, and Apple Maps wants me to park in front of someone's house and walk a half mile across a golf course, avoiding sand traps and water hazards along the way, to get to the Country Club. I'm pretty sure there's a better route that will take me right to the Country Club parking lot. I'm only using Google maps from now on!
When it comes to our GPS devices, it's not good enough to say, "park your car, you can walk from here." We expect them to get us to a precise address, not a general vicinity. Wisdom is a map for our lives but it doesn't take us to an exact address, it guides us in the right direction. Wisdom doesn't guarantee that everything will come out a certain way, and it certainly doesn't guarantee that life will be easy. When we walk in wisdom, we might still have to walk through the sand traps and water hazards of life, but wisdom is taking us in the right direction. Foolishness takes us in the wrong direction. And that's the big point: not that wisdom always makes everything great or foolishness always makes everything terrible - but the direction of each is predictable and the course of wisdom is better than the course of foolishness every time.
Title: Wisdom Trumps Foolishness -Part One
(No political commentary intended) - Let's pray.
Who is like the wise?
Solomon begins the chapter by extolling the benefits of wisdom. Wisdom sets a person apart in a way that power or money or fame doesn't. Who is like the wise? The wise person has an ability to interpret life in a way that is true and accurate. The foolish interpret life too, they write books and do Ted talks and have philosophies and explanations galore. But their interpretations and explanations are out of sync with reality. They are out of step with reality as determined by the reality-maker, God. The fool's perspective on life is like counterfeit money - it may look good, but as currency it's worthless.
Wisdom brightens our faces - it leads to a better, happier life. Wisdom doesn't lead to a grumpy personality or a dour attitude. It isn't always serious. Being a Christian doesn't mean being miserable. As we have seen, that doesn't mean we are always happy, or that there aren't real heartaches and sorrows that enter our lives, or that we don't feel those sadnesses deeply. But in the big picture of life there is a cause and effect. Wisdom leads to a better life, foolishness leads to a life that is folding in on itself. The foolish person may start out positively giddy but as the consequences of their folly start coming in, their face falls. Life wipes the grin off their faces. The wise have a brightened countenance because the consequences of wisdom lead to good results. We are blessed as we live life skillfully and that brightens the face!
Wisdom helps us navigate difficult relationships vv. 2-6
We don't have to worry about kings here in America but the principle that Solomon is giving here is dealing with difficult and challenging relationships. In Solomon's day, the king was the highest earthly authority, his word was law, and to displease him in any way could mean instant death. So it's safe to say that in Solomon's day that was the most dangerous relationship cause if it went sideways, you were in big trouble. There is an argument from greater to lesser here. If wisdom can help us relate well to a king, then wisdom can help us relate well with anyone. Kings had the last word on everything. Verse 4 tells us that: a king's word is supreme, who can say to him, "what are you doing?" You don't argue with someone who has the power to say, "I disagree with you. Guards, take this man away and execute him." That's a pretty compelling argument! No matter how boneheaded a king was, no one could question him without seriously risking their life. No one told the king what to do. No one contradicted the king. Growing up where everyone does what you say and no one contradicts you produces pretty self-centered people. Most kings were like Kim Jong Un - irrationally self-important and self-centered. So it took great wisdom to navigate the relationship with a king.
Wisdom helps us navigate our most challenging and even hazardous relationships. It doesn't guarantee that every relationship is going to be great if we just do this and that, because half of that depends on the other person. But wisdom helps us be healthy in our relationships. The other person may not be healthy at all in how they relate to us but with wisdom we can maintain our health in how we relate to them. So again, wisdom doesn't deliver us to the exact address of "I have a great relationship with everyone!" but it can get us to the vicinity of "I am healthy in how I relate to everyone."
The key principle here is found in the second part of verse 5 and verse 6: …the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. 6. For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter…
We can't have a "one size fits all" mentality when dealing with people and situations. We can't deal with everyone and every situation the same way. There is a right time to say or do this, and there is a right time to say or do that. Daniel was unwavering in his commitment not to obey the king's edict that no one was to pray and he was thrown into the lion's den for his conviction, but when dealing with food that his convictions wouldn't allow him to eat, Daniel didn't stand up with defiance and say, "I'm not going to do this!" Instead he spoke with tact and wisdom and he won the heart of the royal attendant and presented a plan that not only met his needs but was considerate of the attendant's concerns as well. He understood the attendant's concerns and addressed them and got the attendant on his side.
Jesus was cornered with a question by the authorities whether Jews should pay taxes to the Romans or not. It was designed to be a no win question - if he said no, the Romans would label him the leader of a rebellion. If he said yes, he'd provoke the anger of the Jews who resented the tax. He answered with care and wisdom, by asking for the coin that the Jews used to pay the tax. Seeing it, he asked who's image is this? Caesars. Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God. It was brilliant - Jesus didn't compromise what he knew to be truth, and he didn't lash out reactively against the Pharisees. He countered their subterfuge with wisdom. Wisdom helps us to navigate the complicated nuances of relating to people.
Wisdom is respectful of authority - obey the king's command…because you took an oath before God. (vs. 2)
God calls us as Christians to have a respectful and submissive attitude towards authority. Honoring God doesn't mean dishonoring human authority.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.The authorities that exist have been established by God.2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. Rom. 13:1-2
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 1 Pet. 2:13-14
This is the base line attitude every believer should have towards authority: a heart posture of submission. That's not weakness, and it's not strong to be rebellious. The strongest men and women are those who know how to submit to authority. You will never be a good leader if you can't be a good follower.
But there's a bigger theological reason why we should be subject to authorities. The first sin in the universe was an angelic rebellion against God. Lucifer wanted to throw off God's rule and enthrone himself. So God's not going to bless that attitude in us. One way that we submit to God is by submitting to the authority that God has placed in our life. Whether that authority is good authority or bad authority doesn't matter. There are limits to that submission, and we'll look at that in a minute, but it's not enough to say my boss is a lousy leader, or an unkind man so I'm gonna buck him every chance I get. God won't bless that. So we are to be respectful of authority.
Wisdom doesn't escalate things with a difficult person too quickly - Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. (vs. 3)
The idea here isn't so much about how long you need to visit the king before it's ok to say goodbye. The Hebrew for leaving one's presence carries a sense of disaffection or cutting ties. Of leaving your post, ending your support of them. We can apply this to our relationships by recognizing that wisdom doesn't escalate conflict quickly. It's not in a hurry to cut off relationships.
Have you ever met someone who always seems to be in conflict with ten different people at the same time? It's like they wear gasoline for cologne or perfume, and the smallest relational spark sets them off. I've known people who go from church to church, and always seem to leave a trail of relational fires behind them. It doesn't necessarily mean that they are always wrong, or always the problem, but there's a good chance that they tend to escalate things too quickly. They detonate bombs when they should be trying to defuse them.
Proverbs 15:1 says A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
When I was pastoring Lamb's Chapel on Long Island, one Sunday about four new families began attending on the same day. As I got to know them, they had been long time attenders at a church just down the road but things escalated between them and the new pastor. At first I was concerned that they were maybe trouble-makers who were all about stirring up trouble, but as I got to know them they were such solid, loving people. I met with the pastor who was a young man and brand new at pastoring and he had a very confrontational personality. If you disagreed with him about anything he basically showed you the door. It was a shame because good people got hurt from his "that escalated quickly" approach.
God uses difficult people in our lives to work patience, love, kindness, and tact into our character, so that we're not tinder boxes ready to go up in flames at the smallest offense or conflict. Don't be quick to escalate things quickly, and don't be quick to cut ties with someone because they are hard to get along with, or hard to love. God teaches us many wise lessons in that kind of relationship. And remember, you might be that hard-to-love person for someone else. Let's seek to walk in the wisdom of grace and patience towards one another.
Wisdom knows when to step back on the relationship - Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases (vs. 3)
There is a time to stand for God and disconnect with a bad cause. We see that in Shadrach, Mishach, and Abednego when the cause was to bow down and worship the idol that Nebuchanezzar set up or when Daniel was commanded by the king not to pray. They were like, this is a bad cause and we're not going along with it. They were willing to cut ties with the king even if it cost them their lives.
When someone asks you to do something immoral, illegal, or something that clearly goes against God's word then, to paraphrase Shadrach, Mishach, and Abednego, you don't even need to pray about it. It's time to pull back on the relationship, and not stand with them in that wrong thing.
There are people whose lives are destroyed by associating with the wrong people. The Bible often warns us not to throw in with evil people. Psalm 1 opens by saying how blessed the person is who doesn't walk or stand or sit with those hearts are set on doing evil and who scoff at the things of God.
One of the sad realities of life is that there are relationships that the only way to maintain health is to draw distinct boundaries, to pull back from them, sometimes even to not associate with them. If you can influence them towards godliness, do it, but sometimes they're not open to your influence, sometimes they're going to do what they're going to do and want to suck you into it and wisdom says, pull back. Don't be associated with that. Jesus did it with the Pharisees. He didn't hate them. He loved them. A few of them actually became followers. But he kept them at arm's length because their hearts were so bent towards evil.
If you study the Pharisees, one of the characteristics of the Pharisees you'll see is that they played a lot of head games. Their questions weren't sincere questions. They were trying to trick Jesus. They were trying to catch him up in a wrong word or action. They refused to even consider the clear evidence that he was the Messiah, because they had a self-centered agenda. There are people who use relationships for their own self-centered purposes. They play head games - you never know what they're really thinking or what they're really after. They manipulate, they guilt, they flatter, they lie, they blame, they twist things inside out for their own convoluted purposes.
It can be confusing for Christians to know how the Lord wants them to respond to this. Well intentioned Christians can think that loving such a person means that they have to live in the framework of those head games. There can be this idea that, "yeah, I know they're manipulating me, but I'll go along, keep the peace, and just keep loving them." It's a good thing to be a peace-maker, it's not a good thing to be a "peace-at-all-costs-maker". Jesus didn't accommodate the Pharisee's and lawyer's head games, he drew very clear lines and boundaries and those lines and boundaries didn't make things more peaceful, it provoked conflict and alienated him from them even more. Calling someone a whitewashed sepulcher or a brood of vipers can do that. And listen, Jesus' actions didn't result in them changing their minds - they hated him right up to the end. The boundaries and lines he drew was for the benefit of his integrity and walk with God and for the sake of those who followed him.
If you know someone who plays head games - manipulation, guilt, whatever - it might be a co-worker, it might be one of your parents, it might be a friend; love them. Pray for them. Do everything you can to preserve the relationship. Don't be quick to distance yourself or cut ties with them. Never give up on them. But chances are you will need to draw lines. You will need to establish boundaries for the sake of your own health. I wish I could tell you that if you do that, it will take you to the address of a great relationship with them - they see that they've been manipulating or controlling, repent, and everything ends happily ever after. But it doesn't always work that way. But wisdom realizes this: it's not loving to accommodate their mind games. It's not loving to allow a person who manipulates to manipulate you. It's not. The Pharisees never saw that. King Nebuchadnezzar did eventually see it. We can't know.
There isn't a "one size fits all" answer to our relationships, except that we are to love. But even love looks different in different situations. One of the mistakes we can make is to think that love gives people whatever they ask for, and that is not true. Wisdom says there is a proper time and procedure for those relationships and "The wise heart will know the proper time and procedure."
As we close, is there a relationship in your life that God is bringing to mind right now? Maybe you realize that you're one of those guys that escalate things quickly. You see burnt bridges throughout your life. Or maybe you are thinking of a relationship that you know is unhealthy and you are wondering what to do about it. I don't want to give you a one size fits all answer this morning. I want to close by pointing you to Christ.
This chapter opens with the question, who is like the wise? Another question would be, who really is wise? Solomon was the wisest dude alive but he did some really foolish things. Human wisdom will always fail. But Christ's wisdom will never fail. Jesus didn't choose us because we were wise. Just the opposite. 1 Cor. 1:27-31 says:
27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,29 so that no human beingmight boast in the presence of God.30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Jesus doesn't just give us righteousness and redemption and wisdom, he is all those things to us. We are righteous in Christ. We are wise in Christ. Coming to Christ in humble faith and repentance is the beginning of the greatest kind of wisdom, and in response Jesus becomes our wisdom as well as our redemption and righteousness and sanctification. So go to Jesus in faith and ask him to be your wisdom, to live out his wisdom through you.
As James tells us when we lack wisdom in any given situation, we should with faith ask God who gives generously without reproach. As we close, take that relational situation and present it once again to God and ask him for wisdom. Christ's wisdom. Then trust him as he leads you. Let's stand together as we sing At The Cross.