Bible reading for April 19 -- 20
Apr 19 -- Ecclesiastes 6 and 2 Timothy 2
Apr 20 -- Ecclesiastes 7 and 2 Timothy 3
"It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart." (Ecclesiastes 7:2)
CAN'T GET NO SATISFACTION (ch 6). Augustine wrote in his Confessions, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” King Solomon, as well, highlights the vanity of having good things in life but not being able to enjoy them properly nor to find rest in the Giver of those good gifts (vv 1-6). There are many good things in life, but these are not the ultimate good that one finds in life. Rather, it is to find rest (v 5) and enjoyment in God and what he provides for us. We are all headed to the "one place", by which Solomon means the grave (v 6; he is not here speaking of eternal destinies). We all have a "shelf life" or a "sell-by date". Wisdom consists in knowing how to handle our desires (vv 7-9) and how to be content with not knowing how things will turn out (vv 10-12). It is the Lord who enables us to find joy, and to arrive at a good ending. Reflect: think about the restlessness of our age (and perhaps your own heart) and consider Jesus' promise in Matthew 11... "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." What does that rest -- the satisfaction and enjoyment that God gives -- look like in this life? Does it characterize your life?
THINKING ABOUT LIFE, AND DEATH (ch 7). The wise person contemplates all of life, including death. Having a good reputation when life comes to an end is a precious possession (v 1). One should not get caught up in worldly mirth, and so lose sight of the purpose and end of life (vv 2-8). This does not mean we should be morose, but rather, we should choose seriousness over silliness. The Apostle Peter wrote, "...preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 1:3; cf 1 Thess 5:6-8). Solomon writes about the benefits, as well as the limitations, of wisdom (vv 9-19). He also affirms the depravity of mankind (vv 20-29). It may sound like he is looking down on women, but considering his open and closing statements (vv 20, 29) he recognizes all of humanity, male and female, to be unrighteous and sinful. Dr. Constable writes, "The 'man' in view in verse 28 is the 'person' who is pleasing to God (v. 26). The Hebrew word for 'man' here (adam) is generic and refers to people rather than males in contrast to females. Solomon meant in 28b that a person who is pleasing to God is extremely rare (cf. Job 9:3; 33:23). The reference to 'woman' (v. 28c) is a way of expressing in parallelism (with 'man') that no one really pleases God completely. A paraphrase of verse 28b-c is, 'I have found very few people who please God, no one at all really.' The idea definitely is not that one out of 1,000 males pleases God, but no females at all do. This is a good example of Hebrew parallelism that, if unobserved, can lead to a bizarre interpretation" (Thomas Constable, NET Bible notes on Ecclesiastes 7).
"You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2 Timothy 1:1-2)
THE LAST LETTER (ch 1). This is the final epistle that we have from the Apostle Paul, written to his son in the faith, Timothy. It was penned about AD 67 during Paul's second Roman imprisonment and shortly before his execution under Nero. Like Paul, we have "the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus" (v 1). Now facing death, Paul knows that life, and his life, is wrapped up in Jesus. "In him was life..." (John 1:4), and in him we have eternal life. Paul came to faith on the road to Damascus, but Timothy came to that same faith through his upbringing by his mother and grandmother (v 5). At this time, he and Timothy are to trust God for power to be courageous in facing suffering (vv 6-8). The salvation for which they are suffering has been ordained for them since before the foundation of time: "...who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began..." (v 9). Paul is not ashamed, and neither should Timothy be (vv 8, 12). Timothy is to faithfully continue the work: "Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus" (v 13).
PASS IT ON (ch 2). A major concern in Paul's heart is that, not only should the gospel be proclaimed widely, but also that the whole counsel of God (biblical truth) would be preserved, protected, and passed on to others (cf Acts 20:26-30). Timothy (and we) should be strengthened by drawing upon the fount of grace that we have in Christ (v 1). Further, we have the responsibility to pass on the truth to others and to raise up teachers for the next generation (v 2). The images of soldier, athlete, and farmer give us lessons about focus, discipline, and hard work (vv 3-7). Endurance is needed (vv 8-13). The rest of the chapter might be summarized with these words: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (v 15). "Rightly handling" would involve knowing the word of truth, teaching it well, teaching it kindly, gently, patiently, and not getting drawn into fruitless quarrels and foolish controversies. We do all this, knowing that the Lord is the one who can grant repentance and open blind eyes to the truth (vv 25-26).
ALL SCRIPTURE INSPIRED (ch 3). God's word is to be proclaimed, taught, explained, defended, applied, and used in every aspect of life and ministry. We do this because of what the Bible is, the written revelation from God. The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century helped the church recover the absolute authority of God's word. Church councils and leaders may help us understand the Word, as does tradition and scholarship, but Scripture carries its own unique authority within itself. It is inspired ("breathed out, spoken") by God himself (3:16; cf 2 Pet 1:21). And it is sufficient for all of our needs. Author and pastor Kevin DeYoung writes, "We do not follow myths. We are not interested in stories with a nice moral to them. We are not helped by hoping in spiritual possibilities which we know to be historically impossible. These things in the gospel story happened. God predicted them. He fulfilled them. He inspired the written record of them. Therefore we ought to believe them. Nothing in all of the Bible was produced solely by the human will. God used men to write the words, but these men did their work carried along by the Holy Spirit. The Bible is an utterly reliable book, an unerring book, a holy book, a divine book." (Taking God At His Word, Crossway, 2016) So, do you have this high view of Scripture? Think about the words of the following hymn, which are attributed to Martin Luther...
And feelings are deceiving;
My warrant is the Word of God –
Naught else is worth believing.
For want of some sweet token,
There is One greater than my heart
Whose Word cannot be broken.
‘Til soul and body sever,
For, though all things shall pass away,
His Word shall stand forever!
Image credit. "Dr. Martin Luther", painting by F. W. Wehle (1882), Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons. About this newsletter: I post three times a week on my Bible reading, following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson. Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Another resource I recommend is the NET Bible with its excellent notes at netbible.org.