Bible reading for weekend April 23 -- 25
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Apr 23 -- Ecclesiastes 10 and Titus 2
Apr 24 -- Ecclesiastes 11 and Titus 3
Apr 25 -- Ecclesiastes 12 and Philemon
"The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd." (Ecclesiastes 12:11)
WISDOM WRAP-UP (ch 10-11). The book winds down with a collection of proverbs relating to authority (dealing with rulers), work, and speech. When we read of kings and other rulers in the Bible we should think about the one truly good King to come (whom Solomon calls "the Shepherd", 12:11). It's important to learn to relate properly to authority in this life, since we will live forever under the glorious authority of Christ (Psalm 2; Phil 2:9-11). We are again reminded of our limited knowledge (11:3-5). "...where the tree falls there it will lie" might be paraphrased today as, "it is what it is", namely, many things are beyond our understanding and control. The greatest mystery still unsolved by scientists today is the nature of human consciousness (11:5), or in biblical terms, the relation of spirit and body. We are told in 12:7 that we are composite beings, that we have a bodily life in this world, in common with animals ("dust"), and a life created in the image of God, which is accountable to God ("spirit"). This also explains the dual considerations in Ecclesiastes of vanity (life under the sun) and value (life before God).
THE END OF THE MATTER (ch 12). The book concludes with a call to "remember also your Creator in the days of your youth" (12:1). Evil days are coming, and by evil Solomon means days of difficulty, pain, and more limitation. Solomon uses metaphors to describe old age (12:1-7; see Constable's notes here.) Our earlier years are the best time to form good habits, pursue wisdom, memorize Scripture, build character, and to learn respect, purity, self-control, proper speech, and a good work ethic. If you wait until you're older, you may wait too long and find that life is even harder than it was in youth. The "Preacher" (Heb., Qoheleth, vv 8-9) is Solomon in his role as a teacher. God has given these words of wisdom (vv 9-12) for the purpose of provoking us (like a goad) and stabilizing our lives (as with nails). Wisdom does not guarantee success in every undertaking but it does nail down the right direction in life. The bottom line for Solomon is, fear God and keep his commandments (vv 13-14). We should enjoy life as God has given it, but we must always remember our limitations (both in knowledge and abilities), and that we stand accountable before God. Even for the believer life often doesn't make sense, seemingly futile at times, but the best advice is, "Trust and obey, for there's no other way / To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey" (hymn by John H. Sammis).
REFLECT. So, how does wisdom help you avoid pessimism on the one hand, and naive idealism on the other? In what way does the book of Ecclesiastes speak to the unbeliever, and then to the believer? How does this book help you personally to have reasonable expectations in life?
"...who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." (Titus 2:14)
GOOD WORKS (ch 2-3). A common theme in Paul's letter to Titus is the necessity and importance of good works and character (1:16; 2:7, 14; 3:1, 8, 14). Sometimes evangelical Christianity is presented in a way that seems to downplay good works. But the issue is in the manner of, and motive behind, our works. Our works cannot save us or be the basis of God's mercy toward us (3:5; Eph 2:8-9). But good works are the expected fruit of salvation (2:14; cf Eph 2:10). Good works and Christ-like character are the applications of good doctrine. Read more here about what constitutes a good work.
OUR GREAT GOD AND SAVIOR. Paul says we are "...waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ..." (2:13). This verse is one of those places where Jesus is called God. In Greek this construction, an example of the Granville Sharp rule, means that Jesus Christ is the one referred to as being both "God and Savior". Of course there are other places where this truth is declared (John 1:1; 20:28; Phil 2:6; 2 Pet 1:1). Jesus had to be fully human to be a true substitute for humans before God. And he had to be fully God so that his death and his righteousness might have infinite and eternal value before our holy God. Only in this way can we be redeemed!
A RUNAWAY SLAVE (Philemon). While Paul was under house arrest in Rome (c. AD 61) a runaway slave comes to see him. Paul leads Onesimus to Christ and is preparing to send him back to his master Philemon, who is also Paul's friend. Slavery in some form has been accepted in most cultures throughout history. It was a way to spare prisoners of war from death and also a way for many to work off debts. But it has always been liable to abuse and cruelty. Slavery is not an ordained institution like marriage and family, but Paul advised slaves to serve their masters well as a testimony to the Lord. He qualified that, however, by adding "Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity" (1 Cor 7:21). What we have in Paul's letter to Philemon is the beginning of the end of slavery in the west. The gospel changes relationships! If a master or a slave were to become a Christian then this fundamentally changed that relationship. And Paul is seeking reconciliation between the two and the forgiveness of debts. Down through history the Christian faith, when taken seriously, has uplifted human freedom and dignity.
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. Subscribe at buttondown.email/Sandy. 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.