BY OPPORTUNISTIC FAITH AND JOYFUL CONTENTMENT WE CAN LIVE BOTH A PRODUCTIVE AND ENJOYABLE LIFE
We need balance in our lives. Some people concentrate so much on being productive and achieving something … they seem to have no enjoyment of life. Others are so consumed with enjoying life that they seem to waste opportunities to invest in being productive for God’s Kingdom. God has designed our lives to be both productive and enjoyable.
I. (:1-6) FIVE SECRETS TO A PRODUCTIVE LIFE – EXERCISING OPPORTUNISTIC FAITH
A. (:1) Aggressively Invest Your Resources for the Widest Possible Blessing –Expecting Your Generous, Sacrificial Investment to Yield Unexpected Dividends – Trust God to reward you / The way to Reap is to Sow Aggressively
1. Counsel: Strategically Bless as Many People as Possible
“Cast your bread on the surface of the waters,”
Bread = that which has value to you and others; that which provides sustenance; instead of hording it for yourself and making sure you have enough security and provision for your later years … invest it in ways where you must trust God for the results – Pragmatic person would respond: “You will never see that bread again; it’s gone forever!”
[This is a key verse for me for Internet ministry of distributing Bible commentaries]
1) Agrarian society – speaking of sowing and reaping
Yuen Who Voon: In an agrarian society, seeds speak a different language to the people. To the sower, the seed gives hope of a bountiful harvest, whilst to the farmer’s wife, the seed can be processed into bread for food today. One can sow the seed or use it to make bread, but one cannot do both with the same seed. This is the “sower-eater” dilemma.
2) Commerce – shipping of goods
Brian Atwood: In the first verse of Ecclesiastes 11, Solomon describes the risks taken by merchants in his day. They would “cast their bread upon the waters.” That is, they would put their merchandise on boats to be shipped to foreign ports, hoping for a profitable return “after many days.”
But consider these facts:
– In Solomon’s day, an awful lot of ships wrecked. Merchants would often take a total loss.
– Pirates frequented the seas. Cargo was stolen.
– Ship captains were often dishonest.
– There certainly weren’t any insurance policies to cover losses.
– And to top it off, there was a long wait to see if you were going to make any money.
Why would merchants take these risks? Because the reward was great!
By using this illustration Solomon is encouraging his readers to be risk takers. Not only does this scripture encourage us to be risk takers – but it encourages us to be high-risk takers!
3) Common proverb of the day
Stedman: The idea expressed there is one of openhanded generosity. Give freely, wisely, but generously to the needs of those about. This phrase, “Cast your bread upon the waters,” was a proverb in Israel for what looked like wasteful expenditure. No one would take good bread and throw it in the river; he would be regarded as a wastrel for doing that. But here we are enjoined to do that very thing. This is not encouraging us to be spendthrifts, to thoughtlessly and carelessly give away our money, spending it like a drunken sailor. What is meant is, be willing to take a chance where a real need is evident.
Application is the same:
Are we hoarding or investing?
Are we more concerned for providing security for ourselves for the future or investing by faith and trusting God for the future?
Are we satisfied with some very narrow use of our spiritual gifts or do we have a large vision for blessing many people?
Wiersbe: Solomon used two activities to illustrate his point [life is an adventure that must be lived by faith]: the merchant sending out his ships (vv. 1-2) and the farmer sowing his seed (vv. 3-6). In both activities, a great deal of faith is required, because neither the merchant nor the farmer can control the circumstances. The ships might hit a reef, meet a storm, or be attacked by pirates and the cargo lost. Bad weather, blight, or insects might destroy the crop, and the farmer’s labor would be in vain. However, if the merchant and the farmer waited until the circumstances were ideal, they would never get anything done! Life has a certain amount of risk to it, and that’s where faith comes in.
4. Promise: Patiently Look for God to Bear the Fruit
“ for you will find it after many days.”
“No Deposit, No Return” – title one preacher gave this passage
What reward have I received? No joy of interaction … not seeing people grow and respond …
Application: What resources has God committed to you?? How are you investing those?
B. (:2) Wisely Allocate Your Resources Across Different Ventures – Avoiding putting all your eggs in one basket – mitigating the risk factor in light of the uncertainties of life; Sow widely, not narrowly; Sow abundantly, not sparingly
1. Counsel: Strategically Spread Your Resources in a Number of Key Directions
“Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight,”
Seven = number of perfection of completion; even go beyond and divide your portion to eight
It would be presumptuous to put all of your eggs into one basket; cf. investment portfolios
2. Caution: Misfortune May Hit Where You Least Expect It
“for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.”
You give now to others because you have abundance and they have need; what about when misfortune strikes you; who will come to your aid??
2 Cor. 8:7-15; 9:10-11 – key passage – if we knew our OT better … when we study the NT we would illustrate the truth by these OT examples
Application: Why are you limiting what God can do through you to one area? Why are you failing to be generous to as many as possible?
C. (:3-4) Take Reasonable Risks – Not waiting for ideal circumstances
(Chiastic Structure: A B B A) — Best to take these two verses together …
Some people come up with some wild interpretations here .. But Solomon is making one main point
1. Certain Obstacles are Inevitable – Deal with Them
a. Expected Cause and Effect Relationships –
“If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth;”
Difficult to tell here whether rain is viewed as a good thing = The blessing of rain is essential for the harvest – you can expect it … but no guarantees … Deal with the hand that is dealt you – Or is rain viewed as a negative thing = prevents you from working in the fields and gathering the harvest; or maybe even a symbol of God pouring out His judgments. In either case the application is similar: You can’t be overly cautious and try to put off work because of your guesses about the weather … do what is in your power when you have opportunity
Leupold: Since “the evil that shall be upon the earth” has just been referred to, it is best to regard this verse as a further reference to this evil. Since “clouds” are elsewhere in the Scriptures referred to as visible tokens of God’s coming judgment, cf., Isa. 19:1, Ps. 97:2; 18:11; Rev. 1:7, we have ample ground for here, too, thinking of God’s judgments as we find these judgments to be the “evil” referred to at the close of the preceding verse.
[OR: God has blessed you so that you can bless others?? So Stedman below]
[Stedman: The first reason is that we are to give generously because it is the natural outflow of a full life; like clouds that are filled with rain and empty themselves again and again and again upon the earth.]
b. Isolated and Unpredicted Events – Wind knocks down trees
“and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies.”
Again, deal with unexpected circumstances that are out of your control and move on.
[Spurgeon: Use your opportunities now … once your tree has fallen, no more chance to change direction – speaking of being saved or not]
[Stedman: “Bloom where you are planted.” That is, it is God who controls the fall of the tree out in the forest; whether it falls to the south or the north is within the scope of divine providence to determine, but where it falls, that is where it is to be. This is Solomon’s way of saying to us, “Where God has put you, in your present circumstances, that is where you are to give. Meet the needs around you. Supply the needs of those with whom you come in contact.”]
2. Don’t Let Future Uncertainties Rob You of Present Productivity
a. Sow while there is opportunity
“He who watches the wind will not sow”
b. Reap while there is opportunity
“and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.”
Jeff Strite: A Georgia farmer, ragged and barefooted, was standing on the steps of his tumbledown shack. A stranger stopped for a drink of water and just to pass the time of day he asked: “How is your cotton coming along?” he asked. “Ain’t got none,” replied the farmer. “Did you plant any?” asked the stranger. “Nope,” was the reply, “afraid of bollweevils.” “Well,” continued the stranger, “how is your corn?” “Didn’t plant none,” came the answer, “’fraid there weren’t going to be no rain.” The visitor persevered: “Well, how are your potatoes?” “Ain’t got none. Scairt – of potato bugs.” “Really, what did you plant?” pressed the stranger. “Nothin’,” was the calm reply, “I jest played safe.”
Application: Where are you making excuses for failing to step out in faith and trust God and get busy in building His kingdom? Why are you procrastinating?
Why are you scared to take risks? – “All authority is given unto me … Go .. Make Disciples”
D. (:5) Don’t Try to Unscrew the Inscrutable – leads to being overly cautious and paralyzed – you don’t have to have everything figured out – Trust God to work
“Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.”
Cf. Jesus using this thought in his conversation with Nicodemus in John
You might object: I don’t see how my investing in the kingdom will really make much of an impact … What can God possibly do with this mysterious teaching ministry over the internet? I can’t see the process or the results?? When I witness, I don’t see any amazing conversions … doesn’t seem like it matters …
How about if the obstetrician threw up his hands and said .. I’m not going to use my skills to help with this delivery of this new life into the world … I don’t fully understand how it all works … I know the facts of life … but they don’t make a lot of sense to me … How does God create a new life … How do the bones form and grow?? I give up ..
Application: Takes faith to minister and leave the results to God
Must live by conviction: God’s Word is powerful; your labor is not in vain in the Lord; can’t walk by sight .. but by faith; God is the one who creates life; God is the one who brings forth fruit .. He wants us to Abide in Him – not to have a comfortable, risk-free life … but to bear fruit … have a productive life … and bear fruit abundantly ..
E. (:6) Seize Every Opportunity for Productive Living – Give yourself every chance for success; don’t limit yourself by laziness or procrastination; leave the results in God’s hands – Trust God to bring forth fruit
“Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.”
cation: Think of the context of witnessing …. You want to witness by your life … great … Do it … but don’t neglect speaking up in the workplace and confronting evil as lights in this world; you are not big on street preaching … OK … but how about giving out a tract … how about supporting missionaries … How can you sow seed in the morning and in the evening – all day long, every day; through all the seasons of life .. as a teenager … as a retired grandparent …when you feel like it …. When you don’t feel like it .. when it’s easy … when it’s not so easy …
II. (:7-10) FOUR SECRETS TO AN ENJOYABLE LIFE – PRACTICING JOYFUL CONTENTMENT SEASON BY SEASON – STARTING IN YOUTH
A. (:7) Appreciate Every Day You are Alive
“The light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun.”
Connection between light / sun and life in the Scriptures
Enjoyment does not come from our possessions … but from our attitude … and our ability to appreciate God and His good gifts
B. (:8) Prepare for Death — by Counting Your Blessings Every Day
“Indeed, if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many. Everything that is to come will be futility.”
You are not ready to live until you are ready to die; Death is coming
Could be talking about difficulties we encounter in this life; but more probably a contrast with death; we will spend more days in the ground than above it …
C. (:9) Pursue Your Dreams — Take Advantage of Each Season of Life – Yet with Balance Guarding Against Indulgence
“Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things.”
Chad Forrester: One things for sure, we’re not getting any younger. Time is surely linear. Someone described the seven stages of man’s life like this: spills, drills, thrills, bills, ills, pills, wills. If you’re going to do something with your life now is the time, now is your window of opportunity.
Ps 39:4-5 says
“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered— how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.” NLT
Wiersbe: “Walk in the ways of your heart” (NKJV) is not an encouragement to go on a youthful fling and satisfy the sinful desires within (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:20-23). It is rather a reminder for young people to enjoy the special pleasures that belong to youth and can never be experienced again in quite the same way. Those of us who are older need to remember that God expects young people to act like young people. The tragedy is that too many older people are trying to act like young people.!
D. (:10) Practice Contentment — Try to Mitigate Emotional and Physical Distractions – Tempus fugit —
“So, remove vexation from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting.”
Vexation: combines anger and resentment – we don’t think things are fair that we are experiencing; we resent the hand God has dealt us; opposite of contentment
Godliness with contentment is great gain
We will not always be dealing with ideal circumstances and conditions