STILL HAVEN’T FOUND WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR?

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.                                                                                                                                             

Ecclesiastes 2 v 24-26

Life is like a toilet-roll just out of reach.

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”  Jim Carrey

When you study Ecclesiastes, you begin noticing it everywhere. Every place you go, every person you meet, you see Ecclesiastes happening. It’s sometimes really hard to get out of your head, rather like one of those tunes that you catch on the radio.

Ecclesiastes is like that because so much of it describes our experience of life. What is that experience? No matter what we go through – the good times and the bad – and no matter what we do or how successful we are or where we go, always hanging over us is the knowledge that one day we will lose it. There’s nothing that we can keep hold of.

This, however, does not stop us from trying. Oh how we try! We try but fail to find something ultimately fulfilling, satisfying and permanent in this world and it leaves us with a sour taste in our mouths. Life is, well, frustrating…like when you drop the toilet paper and it rolls ever so slightly out of your reach. Close, but not close enough to avoid the inevitable.

In the last blog, we saw that the word translated as “meaningless” in the NIV and “vanity” in many other translations, is actually defined in the Hebrew dictionary first as “breath” or “vapour”. And we saw that the thing about breath or vapour is that you cannot hold on to it. It appears and then it disappears. So to live as if things in this life “under the sun” are permanent, is like trying to chase after the wind, or grab hold of vapour, or keep hold of breath. It can’t be done. And trying to do so is futile.

In Ecclesiastes 1:12 – 2:26 is a search for something in this world that is worth taking hold of, something that we can grasp, that we can live by, that doesn’t go away or fade. The writer explores concepts like pleasures, wisdom and work, all the time looking for something  within which he can find meaning. And the reason why he concludes with “Vapour! Vapour! All is vapour!” or “Breath! Breath! All is breath!” is that he finds nothing in this world that we can hold on to forever.

What can we do?

 

The end of the chapter two describes the problem of permanence that we all face in this life. However, it also the hints at the solution.

 

His conclusion is not that eating, drinking and working are the be-all and end-all of life, so just invest everything into that.” He is saying that these good things  – eating and drinking and finding satisfaction in your work – are gifts from God. And it is not just the good things themselves that are God-given gifts; so also is the ability to appreciate and enjoy them! God alone gives satisfaction and joy, and even wisdom.

 

Only God is permanent. Only God is lasting. Only he is not a mere breath. You can hold on to him. You can keep him. He is never taken away. He is unchanging. He is also the creator and sustainer and source of all things. So you can eat and drink and work, and you can enjoy these things as temporary gifts because you know you have God, and he satisfies your desire for the eternal. It is only when we’re with God that we can appreciate our life in this world for what it is – a temporary gift.

The apostle Paul says something very similar. In Philippians chapter 3, verses 7 – 10 he writes, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”

 

Assurance & Justification

Why do Christians struggle with assurance of their salvation? In the last post I explored the Bible’s teaching about salvation generally. In this post I want us to go a little further and think about how that salvation works. At the heart of the Gospel, at the heart of salvation, is the doctrine of justification.

What is Justification?

Justification is one of the most important terms used by the New Testament in order to describe our salvation. It is a legal term, drawing its meaning from the pronouncement of a verdict in a court of law. In God’s economy, to be justified is to be declared “not guilty” of sin and therefore to be free from any fear of condemnation of judgement.

In the New Testament a person is justified by God when he or she turns to Christ in faith and repentance. Jesus’ death and resurrection effectively cleanse the Christian of all their wrong-doing and cover the Christian with Christ’s right-doing so that they are “justified” in the sight of God.

We are not justified by anything that we have done, but rather by grace alone through faith in Christ alone.

Therefore justification means that Christians can walk through this life in the full assurance that when they face final judgement at the end of time, they already know what the verdict will be. It is as if they have never sinned and always obeyed. They are justified.

This glorious reality is given to us as a gift, free and undeserved.

Justification and Assurance.

The connection between the doctrine of justification and assurance should be fairly obvious by now. If you have turned to Christ in repentance and faith then you are justified and should have no fear of being condemned by God.

So why do we fear?

At one level we fear because our faith is weak. It is one thing to clap for the man taking the wheel-barrow across the tightrope, it is another thing entirely to get into the wheel-barrow. It is important to remember that the strength of our faith may affect our subjective experience of salvation in this life (happiness) but it never affects the objective reality of our salvation. Christ is our Saviour, not faith. It is the presence of faith, not the strength of it that matters.

The one who sits in the wheelbarrow on the tightrope, with eyes closed and fists clenched may not be having fun, but he is still in the wheelbarrow. He is safe in the hands of the one who holds him, whether he knows it fully or not. One day, he will see that there is nothing to fear. For now, he just needs to sit tight.

 

 

 

The Wood from the Trees

When we move from Sunday to Sunday and from message to message we can often lose sight of the big picture of what God is teaching us through the letter as a whole. So here is an attempt to take a step back and remind you of the big picture. Hopefully this will help you to hold the individual Sunday messages together in your minds and apply them in your hearts.

Fighting for Joy in Philippians

At the heart of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a plea to fight for Joy in our Christian lives regardless of the circumstances. Rejoicing in Christ together is the key to survival as Christians. If we lose our joy then we will not last. Here is a reminder of the some of the exhortations we have seen so far:

  1. Rejoice over one another because your partnership in the gospel.
  2. Rejoice when your faith is under pressure because the gospel is advanced through our trials.
  3. Rejoice because your unity and courage in the face of opposition is a sign of your salvation.
  4. Rejoice in Christ-like humility and obedience; even if it leads to death.
  5. Rejoice in the Christ-like examples of godly men and women in the church.

Walking by Faith in Genesis

The account Abraham’s life in Genesis is an account of a man given an extraordinary promise and called to believe God against the odds. As Christians we are also called, like Abraham, to walk in the certainty of things hoped for and for things unseen. Here are some of the lessons we have learned from Abraham about what it means to live by faith in God’s promise.

  1. Walking by faith is an adventure of trust and obedience.
  2. Walking by faith will mean that our faith will be put under pressure.
  3. Walking by faith means trusting in God and giving him the glory for his protection.
  4. Walking by faith means resting in the assurance he has provided through his promise and his oath.
  5. Walking by faith means that we trust that God will always do what is right even if it is hard to understand.

Bear Fruit For God

My prayer is that God’s Word would continue to shape and mould us into the image of Jesus Christ and that these simple summaries will be helpful to that end.