Clarification of the Christ

Colossians 1:15-20

colossians 1 15 NIV

I love to look deeper into these verses in Colossians to fully understand what Paul was writing and why. Paul was poetic in his language and using wording that the Israelites used to describe the personification of wisdom. If you look through the Old Testament it is not likely that you will find the phrase “Holy Spirit”. You will however find the term “Spirit of God” which we discover is the same thing, God’s power within us. Likewise “word of God” is not seen in the Old Testament. Once there is a reference to the “word of the LORD” but the majority of the references toward the Word of God are seen describing this personification of wisdom. A different way of saying the same thing. Jesus is the living embodiment of the Word of God.

“He is the image of the invisible God” – Jesus is called the image of God in these verses and in 2 Corinthians 4:4. In Hebrews 1:3 he is described as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being”. Two truths are revealed through the first half of this verse: God has remained unseen “no one has ever seen God” John 4:18 and second, Jesus reveals the nature and character of God for he is the image of God in which humanity was originally created in Genesis 1:26. It is the image that we as the faithful will be transformed into upon Jesus’ return.

“The firstborn over all creation” – Paul borrowed from his Jewish upbringing; firstborn was a Hebrew way of saying someone was especially honored. The nation of Israel was called firstborn (Exodus 4:22), as was David (Psalm 89:27). The word, in these instances, did not refer to their physical birth but to their place of honor before God. So here Paul is saying that Jesus has a place of honor over all creation.

“By him all things were created” seven times in these verses Paul mentions “all creation”, “all things”, and “everything” stressing that the Christ is supreme over all through the power God granted him. The tense at the end of this verse was not translated correctly in the NIV, it says “all things were” however the original language was not past-tense “were” rather present “are”.

“Before all things” like with firstborn this does not speak of time but importance. The Christ is before all things in importance for it is only through him that all things will be restored.

“All things hold together” he will usher in a new age in which sinful man will be redeemed and united with our holy God.

This passage speaks of the importance of the Christ, the place of honor over all things that he holds. Additionally it points to both Jesus’ place of honor over the church and those who will be resurrected to eternal life as well as a chronological order. Jesus was the beginning of the church as we know it. And he was the first, and only one to this point, which God raised to new life. We the faithful will follow suit once Jesus returns.

“All (his) fullness dwell” (his) was added to many translations which adds to the confusion and skepticism that people may have concerning these verses. Before moving forward think about what happens to those who come to God through Jesus. We are filled with God’s spirit, His power and character, at least to a point. But Jesus was filled with the fullness of God, all power and authority were given to him. He also displayed the nature, character, and attributes of God. Paul also had another reason for his choice of words, “fullness” was a popular term among the Gnostics who used it to refer to the combination of all supernatural influences. So Paul used their own word to elevate the Christ above all other religious ideas and systems.

“To reconcile to himself all things” Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection set the stage for not only the faithful to be made new but also all of creation. Unfortunately it does not mean that everyone will be saved from sin and ultimately death. We have free will and we make our own choices. But God does not give up on us. I believe that even those He has already seen reject Him are given daily opportunities for redemption.

It is important that we have a clear understanding of who Jesus is and the reason that we need a Christ, Messiah.

To be continued… (by someone else)

Jeff Ransom

 

(Editor’s Note – Thank you Jeff for finishing off the book of Proverbs with us this week, and giving us two free theme days to think on!  Tomorrow we will begin looking at the book of Revelation – one chapter a day through the month of November.  And in December we will finish off the New Testament with the book of Luke.  So many precious things in God’s Word!  Keep taking it in.)

From a Wise Mom

Proverbs 31

Proverbs 31 1 2 NIV

This proverb is the words of wisdom from a mother to her son, who just happens to be a king. She cautions him against giving into his desires. Her words advise against dulling the senses with excessive alcohol until no longer remembering what he is working towards and ending up mistreating those around him. Wise words for us all. Moderation or in most case, abstaining all together, are key to carrying out the will of God. I must admit though that verses 6 and 7 perplexed me. She is teaching her son one thing but advising something else for others? That made me dig deeper (Strong’s Concordance here I come!). While most versions say “Give” the Hebrew could just as easily translate as “Leave”. This would mean that she is acknowledging that others drink but he ought to avoid it. So that actually makes a lot more sense and hey guess what? I did not have to stretch or twist God’s word to figure that out. Score one for hard work and discernment.

In addition to staying away from mind numbing substances, she urges him to champion the cause of those less fortunate. To speak for those who have no voice and defend those in need. This is very near and dear to the heart of Christianity. Jesus himself uplifted the most destitute of peoples and worked to save those who others thought unworthy. Going out into the world and making disciples of all nations is, at its heart, administering to the lost and broken. It is what we are called as Christians to do for the glory of God and in the name of Jesus.

I saved the third verse for the end because it ties into the final two thirds of the proverb. She says “women”, plural. That he would be faithful to one woman and save himself the trouble and ruin that would come from chasing many women around. She then gives a thorough description of the qualities of a wife worth pursuing. Many look at this portion of Scripture and see an antiquated view of women, being in their proper place. Yet anyone with that mindset is clearly not reading or understanding what was written. This describes a woman who works hard alongside her husband. She is not the dutiful housewife but an equal. She is shrewd enough to make major decisions such as purchasing land and dealing in various business affairs. She is wise and praised as a teacher. She is a woman of God who is strong in faith and character. She is what I pray for all young women to grow into and what all godly men should be seeking.

Mothers are so wise! God bless them for putting up with us.

 

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

Contentment and So Much More

Proverbs 30

Proverbs 30 8 9 NIV

The author of this proverb, Agur, begins by belittling his understanding. The irony is that his words hold great wisdom. He is not bragging about his knowledge and understanding. He is declaring the LORD our God as unfathomably great. He asks six questions, five of which identify the power of God. The sixth is prophetic of the yet unborn son of God, Jesus. Additionally, his understanding of the perfection of God’s word and the refuge it provides us is astounding. This is a man of great wisdom who humbly recognizes his insignificance before God which in itself makes him all the more wise.

He then focuses on two requests of God; honesty and contentment. He asks that falsehoods and lies be kept far from him. He provides a variety of ways in which lies and deception can bring curses down upon our heads. They destroy our relationships and cause us to spiral ever further from the God who loves us. Entwined in these illustrations are lessons of being satisfied with what we have. Appreciating that our needs are met and being content with that is not easy when there is often so much more that we want. God provides for our needs, the author acknowledged this. Everything beyond our needs comes from our desires which are, more often than not, borne of our sinful natures.

Agur then contrasts contentment with greed. First pointing to leeches which will gorge themselves beyond their needs. Then he personifies four things which are never satisfied. Two of these are actually life-giving; the womb and land. These are bookended by destructive examples; the grave and fire.

Verse seventeen seems oddly out of place and more than a little disturbing. It actually goes with the theme of honesty. The person suffering such a creepy fate has been dishonest in action and words with their family, and likely with everyone else in their life. Ultimately they will be alone and everything they had will be scattered among the people around them.

How do the eagle, snake, ship and couple fit together? Is this what Agur did not understand? I doubt it. Each of these examples can be seen as somewhat mysterious in what path they will take. The eagle is not limited in the great expanse of the sky just as there are few obstacles that the snake could not overcome. Without a rudder and someone to steer, the ship would be tossed at the whim of the sea just as the whims of men and women often make courtship, that is dating for all those not familiar with the term, tumultuous. So how does this fit in with what Agur is trying to convey? It goes back to his self-proclaimed ignorance of, well, everything but specifically of God’s ways and will.

And then we get back to a verse that makes us scratch our head. The mention of the adulteress is actually an example of someone who is neither content with their relationship or dealing honestly with others. Additionally, she is completely without remorse as she sees nothing wrong with her actions. My prayer is that none of us would get caught up in this specific type of behavior but even more so that we would be remorseful of any actions that we take or words that we use which hurt others.

Up until verse 21, Agur has been consistent with themes of God’s power and majesty, honesty, and contentment. Somewhat enigmatic but consistent nonetheless. Beginning with verse 21 though he expands his words of wisdom. First to include the injustices of the world or what he refers to as four things by which the earth cannot bear. Of the four examples the first and last are of one who is raised to a higher position, likely without the benefit of knowledge or understanding of their responsibilities. This type of unfair promotion can lead to disaster in most cases. It is not uncommon though to see someone with little knowledge of how to manage situations or how to lead people placed in a high position. Additionally it is a warning to us not to seek after something we are not prepared or equipped to handle. I guess that goes back to one of the main ideas as well, contentment.

Agur then reminds us that wisdom and understanding are not reserved for anyone. Young and old, big and small may seek after these great treasures. His specific examples are of course of the small creatures and the wisdom found in how they act. The contrast however is of larger creatures and their “stately bearing.” The imagery used is of pride and arrogance. Perhaps a reminder of humility in our own positions, whatever they may be. Given how this proverb concludes that would certainly seem to be the final lesson.

So what have we learned from Agur, other than that he has a pretty cool name? Humility is greatly valued, especially in light of our amazing God’s power. He was in awe of the gift of God’s word that has been given to all men. He esteemed honesty and contentment as the greatest gifts to request from God. And he reminds us that it is not our age or size that matters but our willingness to seek after wisdom that counts.

 

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

Sucked into Sin

Proverbs 29

Proverbs 29 16 NIV

This chapter of proverbs continues the thoughts from the previous one – speaking on the contrasts from the wicked and the righteous. Proverbs 28 and 29 give us wonderful examples, not only of recognizing sinful ways but, of the habits that could sneak into our own lives. Many a good man and woman have been corrupted in time by the allure of sin. Additionally, it is noted in this proverb that those who we surround ourselves with can lead us into sin. We must choose carefully who we associate with and be wary that they do not drag us into sin and away from God.

In my youth I hung out with people that did a lot of things that I knew were not good. Drugs, alcohol, and other activities were happening all around me. I hung out with them because I liked being around them but I never let myself fall into their ways. I always thought that made me okay but all it would have taken is one encounter with law enforcement and I would have been found just as guilty as the rest. Wow! That hit me like a ton of bricks when I first realized that. God was watching out for me but I was really pushing the boundaries of His grace and I realize that now. In that I am reminded that we are not to put our God to the test. Yet that is exactly what I was doing for years. He truly is merciful and gracious!

One last thought from this passage that actually ties back to what I wrote about for Proverbs 27 concerning anger, check it out if you missed it. Giving full vent to our anger as this proverb points out is bad. Yet I said before that it is good. No, not is good, but may be good and can help. Verse 11 says that a wise man keeps himself under control. Anger released rationally, controlled, is what I spoke of the previous day. This is talking about rage. Rage is uncontrolled, irrational, and violent. There can be no compassion or concern in rage but you can have both while angry. Understanding this is important for our relationships. That is why we have the saying, “Count to ten before speaking.”

In closing, I urge you to be aware of the various ways in which we can get sucked into sin. Be careful to not place yourself into a situation where you become guilty by association. And remember that we were created for relationships. They are vitally important to our God and to our daily existence. Treat them with the care that they deserve.

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

In This Moment – Our Relationships

Proverbs 27

Proverbs 27 1 NIV

How often do you think about tomorrow? What is it that you think of? Are you hoping for certain things to happen, praying for a specific outcome? Are you dreaming of what might be?

The implication from James 3:13-14 and 4:13-15 as well as Matthew 6:34 is that tomorrow is promised to no one. Ecclesiastes 9:11 tells us that time and chance happen to everyone. With billions of people each doing their own thing for their own reasons it is easy to see how true that last statement is. So we truly cannot boast about tomorrow for we do not even know if it will come to us and if it does, what it will bring.

We are to prepare for tomorrow, but not presume it. When we dream of tomorrow we may find ourselves imagining our own plans being better than God’s. Additionally, thinking to the future is more often than not the primary source of our anxieties. So again I say, prepare for tomorrow but always trust in our incredible God’s will. If He has called you to Him it is to succeed in His will, not to fail in it.

Of the 27 verses of the 27th Proverb, 16 deal directly with relationships (2-6, 9-11, 13-18, 21-22). It is telling of the importance of relationships to our amazing God. He places the greatest emphasis on our relationship with Him and one another all through the Scriptures.

The three points on relationships that this chapter of proverbs focuses on is a humble heart, the sting of honesty, and the destructiveness of things left hidden.

If there is something that you are really good at you are probably accustomed to receiving praise for it. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that we need to remember not to let it go to our head. If you let it, it can inflate our ego. A brilliant writer receives critical acclaim but it is likely that their talent was developed and nurtured by their parents, numerous teachers, and peers. The passion to do what they do is fueled by hundreds of authors that have come before them. Likewise a superstar athlete has family, teachers, coaches, trainers, teammates and even their competition to thank for honing their abilities. As you can see there is nothing that we do that we could honestly boast about. Everything we do and are capable of comes from others guiding us and believing in us. Ultimately this is all traced back to our LORD and Creator. In His image we are strong and creative. We are intelligent and powerful because of Him.

The second point made in this proverb deals with the pain of honesty and how good it can be for us. It can hurt when someone tells you, “You sing horribly!” Well, not so much for me because I already know that. But you get the picture. When someone tells you in such a point blank manner or preferably in a more caring way a truth that you need to hear that is for your benefit. Sometimes it is an honest remark about something we said or how we acted that we know was not right. We need to be called out from time to time over our words and actions. This is what the Bible calls a rebuke, a correction of what we do and say.

One of the honest expressions this passage speaks of is anger. Anger can be cruel, to the one who is angry as well as the one at which the anger is directed. But a sudden outburst of anger may allow us to clear the air. It can move us into a place of reconciliation and forgiveness so that healing can begin. The point is that open and honest communication is not always nice and polite. Sometimes it is not possible to be honest in a demure, quiet way. There are times when honesty hurts. Actually, most of the time honesty hurts. But can we truly grow and mature if everyone around us is sugar-coating and shielding us from the reality of a situation?

The third and final point I took from this proverb goes hand-in-hand with honest communication, burying things away. I mentioned the point of anger and the author continues by asking the rhetorical question, “Who can stand before jealousy?” Jealousy, envy, and the like are like smoldering embers. The heat is held inside, never dying down and ready in an instant to ignite at the first opportunity. They are not easily vented or burned out. While anger may subside soon after being released, jealousy and envy grow stronger the longer they are held. They feed off of our relationships, slowly burning them away to nothing. Be careful of what you hold inside for this is the very reason we have the expression, burning bridges.

There is so much more within this wonderful passage that we could have covered. The significance of being in this moment and trusting God for what may come as well as the importance of relationships is what really stuck out to me. So remember, not only do we owe God but many others for all that we are capable of. Honesty hurts but, when coupled with compassion, is helpful. And finally, be careful what you hold hidden inside for it can destroy your relationships and do great harm to you as well. We were created to be in relationship with God. Our Savior, Jesus, spoke of how vital our relationships are. He simplified the incredibly convoluted system of 613 laws that man had in place to two – love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. The heart of these is relationships. Never forget that.

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

Trust Conquers Uncertainty

Eccles 10 2

Ecclesiastes 9:13-11:6

“An example of wisdom that greatly impressed me.” Wisdom that greatly impressed the man that chose wisdom over all of the world’s riches? Okay, you have my attention. It was wisdom that impressed him and saved a city from a superior force. But fools neglect and forget the wise. In times of trouble the wise find themselves surrounded by the lost and afraid, looking for direction. But as soon as they feel safe again they cast off the wise and get back to their hollow lives.

Forget about the wise. Besides it only seems to take a little bit of foolishness to nullify all that the wise do. Whether it is a wise man doing himself harm from his own stupidity or being harmed from someone else, we have seen this and have likely experienced it firsthand. “One sinner destroys much good.” Foolishness is so common. It almost seems incomprehensible that people continue to act the way they do. But I guess that it is easier to believe the unbelievable, to follow the fools way that appears flat and smooth rather than to face the hard truth, to take the difficult path of wisdom and honor. Jesus said it best when he said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few will find it.” Matthew 7:13-14. The great value of wisdom is lost on the foolish.

Despite what many might think, verse 2 has nothing to do with our modern political party system or whether you are conservative or liberal. The people of Israel understood that the right hand of God is a place of authority and protection. The wise, who we have described as godly, would seem to naturally be inclined toward the right while fools go in the opposite direction. What’s more, the fool flaunts his stupidity. It says he “walks along the road” and “shows everyone how stupid he is.” If you doubt the truth in this I suggest you take an objective look at social media! “Preach it brother!”

Solomon spends a lot of time in these passages reminding us that life is not fair. We may work hard and not get the results that our works merit. Someone else may get all the benefits of what we do while not contributing to it themselves. And of course there are dangers all around us, accidents do happen after all. He urges us to see the dangers, to be aware of them. Preventing us from falling into a pit, literally and metaphorically. The fool though will walk himself right into a pit, into “wicked madness.”

I want to take a moment to address 10:19, specifically “money is the answer for everything.” This is how my NIV puts it and this is a great example of a red flag moment in Bible reading. I personally look at this and I am stunned by most of the commentaries I read concerning this verse. At best they say this is Solomon’s wry humor or his attempt at sarcasm. At worse it is a passage that feeds all the prosperity preachers out there. “You may be struggling to pay your bills right now but God will provide a great bounty, a time of plenty. God knows what you need.” Yes, God does know what you need! We need a relationship with Him, with His son Jesus, and with one another. We need to be like the flowers of the field and be content with what we have. So why does Solomon say this? The original Hebrew reads something more like the NEB version, “money is behind it all” or the NIrV, “people think money can buy everything.” I find it interesting that the young reader version of the NIV is so dramatically different from the standard version on this passage. Apparently kids can handle this truth better than adults can.

Solomon urges us to be diligent and trust in God else we find our heads in the clouds and daydreaming. We cannot get caught up playing with “what ifs” and “what could have been”. We can only affect what we can and trust God to handle the rest.

God has asked His people to trust Him from the very beginning. He has made promises and He has kept those promises. He has worked in and through various people and revealed Himself in many ways. And then the world went dark. For 400 years God was silent, still working but not revealing as He had been. That all changed when an angel of the LORD appeared before Zechariah letting him know that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son. That son, known as John the Baptist, would herald in the time of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus, the son of God, knew what he must ultimately do. He could only go to the cross with confidence if he fully trusted in God. After he ascended to the right hand of God the world once again seemingly went dark. …

Indeed it is dark for those who lack trust in God, who do not have a hope through His son Jesus. God calls for trust. Solomon wrote God’s words to teach us how to trust. Jesus’ sacrifice was a display of trust. We remember that sacrifice and know that his was the only death that actually has meaning, for Jesus’ death is the one that gives life.

-Jeff Ransom

What We Deserve

eccles 9 10

Ecclesiastes 8:2-9:12

Solomon begins here with examples of improper decorum before a king. In his great authority he can do whatever he pleases, his word is law. So who in their right mind would say to him. “What are you doing?” We see this same idea applied to God in Job 9:12 and Isaiah 45:9. So Solomon says to obey the king, be loyal and not rebellious. Do not do something that is bad or wrong just because you do not like or agree with someone. Seems like common sense but we see it every day on the street level all the way up to those with the greatest wealth, power, and influence. There is even a saying that goes with it, “You cut off your nose to spite your face.”

So do not ask, “What are you doing?” but submit, for “whoever obeys will come to no harm.” This is the way of the wise. The wise person has a better chance of knowing the best course of action and when to act, knowing the proper time and procedure. And yet they still find misery as none knows what the future holds. Misery because we do know that there are consequences for our wickedness. And just as no one can control the wind or delay death, no one can escape the consequences for our wicked, sinful ways.

Life is not fair! … Solomon talks about the wicked being buried. In this context it implies that they receive undeserved respect. A proper burial given to an undeserving wretch. False believers who say the words and make a show of faith. So much so that they receive praise, but they are wicked none the less. They reach this status when justice is not dealt out in proper time. He may commit a hundred crimes and yet live a long life. Worse, he is adored by others who wallow in their own sin, rejoicing that this glorious example has been set for them to work towards. But there will be judgment! The righteous, God-fearing man will have life and the wicked … death!

Life is not fair! … Righteous men get what the wicked deserve and the wicked get what the righteous deserve. Circumstances and choices can lead to what might appear to be unrighteous judgment. Verse 13 tells us that justice will come … in time. Until then, verse 15 points to the wisdom of trusting God and enjoying the many ways in which we are blessed. See, we do not see the “big picture” that God does so we cannot fully understand why things happen when and in the ways that they do. It is better to accept what we are capable of and not stress ourselves with what we are not.

We are in God’s hands. He alone knows what awaits the righteous and the wise and all that they do. “All share a common destiny – the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.” … Death! Death is the destiny we share and the answer to the question, “What does the future hold, what awaits us?” Solomon refers to this as “the evil in everything.” It cuts down the young and old alike. Death does not care whether you are good or bad. Some believe that because death is so arbitrary that it is excusable to rush into sin, to relish in it all their days. It is where we get sayings like, “Live like there is no tomorrow, live life to the fullest” and of course the most popular one in recent years, “YOLO, you only live once.”

For the wicked I guess this is pretty much true. They have no hope for the eternal life promised by God through His son Jesus so this is all that they have. But the living, those who have life through Jesus, they have hope. But in death we will know nothing. No longer able to learn or grow and in time we will be forgotten. God will not forget you though. We can believe this, we can trust it. He did not forget Saul who became Paul. He did not forget Peter, who denied Jesus. He did not forget Ezra, Nehemiah, Joseph or Job. He will not forget you!

Life is not fair! … I hear this all the time from people of all ages. I used to say this myself in frustration, thinking of the ways that I have been hurt or wronged. I stopped saying it when I took Romans 6:23 to heart, “For the wages of sin is death.” If life was fair and was as immediate as our impatience would hope it was, we would be dead the moment we sinned for the first time. In other words, man-kind would be extinct! If we got what we deserved we would not exist! Instead we have received mercy and compassion that goes beyond our comprehension and that we do not deserve.

I for one am grateful, not for what I deserve but for what I do not.

-Jeff Ransom

Wisdom In…Wisdom

Eccles 7 2

Ecclesiastes 7:1-8:1

In Solomon’s time, perfume or oil was a symbol of joy and prosperity and often used as a metaphor for one’s reputation. Solomon combines these ideas with birth and death. He suggests that it is better to have a good name or reputation at the end of your life than to have a joyful and favorable beginning which, by one’s own actions could result in nothing. “The day of death is better”, in his second letter to Corinth and in his letter to Philippi, Paul reminds us of how true this is for those found in Christ. But Solomon’s point is valid for everyone as he explains that we generally learn less from the good times than the bad.

Solomon was pretty big on wisdom so he wrote about the wisdom of reflecting on the brevity of life, “Death is the destiny of every man.” He said that the “living should take this to heart.” or reflect on it. The heart was considered the seat of reflection and of moral decision and action. Seems like the opposite of what most people think today. Anyway, here he recommends that we not only reflect but do so soberly rather than delving into foolish pleasures. Through serious reflection we may achieve some level of moral and spiritual growth or maturity. Moses understood this as he said “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” These words, this message, is desperately needed in this day that emphasizes and encourages self-centeredness. It is common for us to laugh at troubles rather than face them, to joke about what we should take seriously. People are living life like it is an all-you-can-eat buffet that will never run out. This is the fool’s way but the wise live life in light of life’s brevity. Not cautiously or in excess but with purpose and meaning. There is also wisdom in listening to and taking to heart the warnings, corrections, and rebukes of the wise. It is in this that we learn and grow.

With that being said, let us heed the words of a wise man. Solomon warns against adversity and prosperity bringing temptations – temptations that draw us away from wisdom and God. Drawing us into foolishness. Adversity and prosperity alike may lead one to become impatient or be provoked to anger, or complain about where they are, longing for the “good old days.” Each of these is contrary to the trust we ought to have in God. But he was not condemning either of these. He had already made a case for how we can learn more from adversity than times of plenty and he was also in favor of prosperity. In both cases though, wisdom is present. The wise learn from adversity and enjoy the fruits of their prosperity.

It is the wise who would “consider what God has done.” Some try to find fault in God’s ways. The fool is blinded to the ways in which God works through the good and the bad. It is a matter of perspective and … ours is limited. Solomon warned against depending on our perceived righteousness while living wickedly. Those who become “holier-than-thou”, the “high and mighty”, are often the first to fall. Over righteousness occurs when we begin to think too highly of ourselves. We lose the humility that helps balance our relationships … with God, Jesus, and each other. He suggests that we try to strike a balance in life. “Did Solomon just tell us to be a little wicked?” not at all. He is just acknowledging that we are already wicked by our fallen nature. We cannot escape it but we can work to counteract it.

We are not righteous in and of ourselves. The great part about being on this side of the cross is that we know that we can be made righteous through the blood of Jesus. This knowledge brings wisdom. Wisdom makes one powerful but it does have limitations. In itself, wisdom is inadequate to provide us protection or offer salvation. Additionally, we are not able to gain full wisdom. Solomon, yes that Solomon, said that true wisdom was far beyond him.

What he did discover though is that true righteousness and true wisdom does not exist among men. In his searching he finds that there is only one upright man among a thousand it says and none among women. This speaks to the rarity of such a person but if Scripture and experience have taught us anything it is that such a person is all but nonexistent. In fact I question whether this statement was more prophetic than observational. Could Solomon’s one upright man have been speaking of the coming Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus the Christ? The reason for man’s universal depravity is his own doing, not God’s. “God made men upright.” He made us perfect and we screwed it up. We follow our own schemes thus we lack true uprightness, true righteousness, and true wisdom. And we fail to please God.

Solomon asks many questions in this book. Some that we find in this reading will be answered when Jesus returns. At his return we will have true righteousness, true wisdom. Then we will be changed and made new. Into the glorious creations that He intended us to be. In knowing God, pleasing Him, we gain wisdom but in growing closer to Him through His Son we gain life everlasting. Do you see the wisdom in this?

To be continued …

Jeff Ransom

A Legacy?

eccles 5 10

Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12

Do not be surprised if you lose the fruits of your labor to a higher authority. Solomon lays out a hierarchy of power and thus was born the phrase, “there is always a bigger fish.” Well I doubt that phrase came from Solomon but you get the picture. Some actually use verses 8-9 of chapter five to say that Solomon did not write this book, that he would never paint his own rule in such a poor light. Have these people ever read the rest of the Bible? It is full of people acting stupid and not sugar coating it. They fully disclose the heights of their idiocy because they were compelled to write the truth. Solomon may have been generalizing but we see in 1 Kings 12 how the Israelites demand Rehoboam to reduce their oppression, to lighten their load. This suggests that Solomon’s governors made financial demands of the people in order to support Solomon’s extravagant lifestyle. So I am thinking that his government was not excluded from this ugly truth.

But what did his wealth gain him? What does it gain anyone? The covetous are characterized as never satisfied. The more they have, the more they want. They never have enough. It is like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with water using a teaspoon with a hole in it. Additionally, the more you have the more avenues by which you could lose it. When one suddenly comes into a large sum of money they instantly find themselves surrounded by relatives that they never knew existed. It is no wonder that Solomon says there is no sleep in the abundance of a rich man. Between striving for more and keeping an eye on what you have to protect, it sounds like a miserable life to me. Solomon argues that the only results for increased wealth for a covetous person are increased anxiety and increased vigilance, not increased enjoyment.

All of this striving is meaningless! You chase after it and you protect it yet it could be the very reason you lose your life. And if all of that did not suck enough, Solomon realized that you cannot take any of it with you when you die. We all enter the world with nothing and we all leave it with nothing. The realization of this can cause great “frustration, affliction, and anger.”

But Solomon realized that God gives us life and labor and the fruits that each produces. God also gives us something that we cannot find anywhere else, true joy! This is a gift from God: that He enables us to enjoy the fruits of our labors and to be happy in our work. He grants us contentment as nothing else on earth can. However, he warns us that God can provide the materials but not grant the ability to enjoy them. It is a blessing from God, a gift, not a right or guarantee.

Solomon pities the one who does not know joy from their work. He characterizes it as a life devoid of meaning. And yet there numbers are great. So many have appetites that are never satisfied. Constantly searching, impatiently looking for something new, something better or something that is not certain. In contrast “what the eyes sees” is at hand. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” never made sense to me until I read this. (Go ahead and get the “nothing makes sense to you” jokes out of the way now.) Ready to continue? Good. This continues Solomon’s theme that is woven throughout the book; that of being content with what God has blessed us with.

Solomon ends the chapter with a number of questions, all of these point to the One True God. He created the universe and every living creature. He has blessed us above all the rest of creation. Blessed us with an awareness of our Creator and knowledge of the promise of salvation for those who come to Him through His son Jesus. He knows what was, what is, and what will be. He alone is the Almighty, the All-powerful God Yahweh. None can stand against Him and none can hope to change His mind with many words. He knows what is good and He has revealed this to us through His word and the life, ministry, sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.

All of this points to the gift from God who enables us to enjoy our works and that which we have produced. To be content with what we have and not striving after the hollow and decaying things of this world. This is the legacy that we have access to. To draw closer to God through His son and see every moment and circumstance of this life as a blessing. To enjoy life and labor with gladness in our hearts.

To be continued …

Jeff Ransom

Stand in Awe of God

Eccles 4 4 (1)

Ecclesiastes 4:1-5:7

Solomon, as cheerful as ever, writes about what he witnessed around him; the tears of the oppressed, power on the side of the oppressor, and no comfort for the oppressed. Who are the oppressed today, in our world, our country, our community? People are oppressed based on ethnicity, religious beliefs, economic status, gender, you name it. Some appear to less oppression than others but it is an illusion. We are all subjugated to one great oppressor, sin! Solomon rightfully says that we have no comforter … here on earth at least. He reminds us to look at what role we each play in the oppression of others for we cannot be a comfort if we are part of the problem, whether we realize it or not.

The dead! The dead are free from oppression … and happiness … and joy … and living. Peter wrote that it is only those who trust in God that may see the good that can come out of suffering. Thank you Peter for being a ray of sunshine! He says this though because we have a hope in Jesus of an eternity where sorrow and suffering will be no more. Peter was, as we are, on the other side of the cross so to speak so we have a better understanding of the impermanence of this life and its troubles and of the future promise of life in the coming kingdom.

But for today, greed and envy are tremendous motivators for oppression. When people strive for more wealth and power they rarely care for who gets pushed aside, trampled on or abused. It is a grabbing after that which will only give momentary happiness. Solomon suggests that it is better to have one handful with tranquility. … Yeah I read that and did not get it at first either. He is saying that we should not over reach or overextend ourselves. His wisdom guides us to be content with what we have, with what God has provided.

In chapter four Solomon gives two examples. The first is of a rich man whose insatiable thirst for more isolated him to the point that he had no partnership. He did not share with anyone and one day realized the immensity of that loneliness. In contrast, Solomon commends sharing in relationship. There are advantages in this as he points out. In companionship we find greater profit, a good return from our labor. We are able to help one another in difficult times when we are together. He pities those who have no one to help them when they fall. Together we can provide each other with comfort but there is no one to comfort the selfish and greedy. Companionship also affords greater protection when facing dangers. He goes further with that by saying that two is good but three is even better.

The second example is that of a poor but wise youth who succeeds the foolish king. He comes from nothing and it is implied that he was imprisoned at one point. But he rose to power and everyone followed him. He had it all! In time the people grew tired of him and he lost everything. All of his striving after money, power, and adoration was ultimately meaningless. It all comes and goes like the wind.

You might look at the opening verses of chapter five as advice or instruction on proper worship, the proper attitude, appropriate practice of prayer, and the respectful payment of vows. The reality though is Solomon is warning against straining our relationship with God. He warns against making rash vows. Rash vows become the “sacrifice of fools” and the “speech of a fool”. He advises us to be thoughtful before coming to God with an oath or vow. To consider our own limitations and our motivations. We ought to weigh all things against God’s word so that we know that it is good according to His perfect will. “What is the big deal about making vows?” A vow is a promise and for the God who always keeps His promises, breaking our promise is detestable to Him.

Whether facing oppression or battling against the sins of greed and envy, trying to stay humble enough to be content with what we have or avoiding quick words and rash vows, Solomon always returns to our Creator God. ”Therefore stand in awe of God”, trust in Him and His providence. In awe of Him rather than standing in awe of ourselves. Then we can face the troubles and strife with great endurance. Then we can rise above our baser nature. We can find contentment and dare I say … meaning!

To be continued …

 

Jeff Ransom