Read: Ecclesiastes 10:1-4
There are many sayings that would agree with the Preacher’s words in Ecclesiastes concerning the weight of folly to wisdom and sin in the midst of rightness. The Preacher here starts by talking about how a single fly can cause ointment to stink, then proceeds to describe fools. What seems apparent is that everyone knows a fool when they see one. The fool is constantly making a fool out of himself by choosing the “left” (in Hebrew thought the left was associated with weaker and wrong things), he demonstrates the fact that he is a fool by having a lack of direction, and the fool is hot tempered and speaks readily when a rulers temper flares. There are probably hundreds of other comparisons made between fools and wise men in the Bible. The Preacher is just illustrating a couple of ways fools broadcast their foolishness, and in each case even the smallest bit of foolishness can outweigh wisdom and honor.
The motif of a small thing ruining the whole is also found in the New Testament too. In Matthew 5:29-30, Jesus talks about one’s eyes and hands that participate in sin. He says in metaphorical terms that one should cut off that which causes them to sin rather than let the whole of the body be ruined by it and face punishment in hell. Jesus’ words seem harsh as he is talking about maiming one’s self, but Jesus does this to get the attention of his hearers. Just a little bit of sin and folly in one’s life can lead to a world of harm. James 1:15 talks about how lust leads to sin and then how sin when birth brings death. Because of the dire consequences of sin and how just a little sin can corrupt, sin needs to be dealt with harshly and not glossed over.
Christians are not perfect people as they still struggle with sin even after they receive salvation by grace through faith. But knowing the price Jesus paid for sin and just how destructive sin can be, Christians should be wary and alert of sin and also be humble. 1 John 1:8-9 says that the one who says he is without sin a liar. On the other hand, one should be humble and confess sin and deal with it. Likewise, God is faithful and cleanse one for all unrighteousness. God wants humble people with whom he can work!
Lord, help to rid myself of sin and folly so it does not ruin me!
Read: Ecclesiastes 7:15-18
Excessive righteousness and excessive wickedness stand in contrast to one another as do excessive wisdom and excessive folly. In the Bible, the ones most often associated with excessive righteousness are the Pharisees. They had created rules to supplement the rules that were in the Law so that they were sure not to violate the law. They had become sticklers for doing the law perfectly such that they really missed the point. Likewise, there were those who threw the law to the wind and did whatever they wanted to such that they were excessively wicked. The Preacher is not encouraging people to be slightly wicked or even saying that a little wickedness is okay, rather that wickedness with no regard for the law is unacceptable as it leads to destruction. In the same manner, the Preacher says one should not be overly wise or overly foolish. Being excessively wise is being wise for wisdom’s sake and being excessive foolish is being foolish with no regard to wisdom at all because it to is destructive. When one goes to the extremes, one’s life is effectively wasted and the preacher is telling people to not waste their lives in trivial or destructive pursuits.
The Preacher is telling people to avoid extremes in a manner of speaking. He sees one as grasping two things and holding onto them and bringing them to God. If one were to grasp two ropes pulling with equal force opposite directions, one would remain in the middle. If one holds something heavy in one hand and something of equal weight in the other, there is equilibrium and such is actually easier to carry than something that is not balanced. This sort of imagery is what the Preacher is using to illustrate the matter of grasping wisdom alongside folly righteousness alongside wickedness. One needs to be in touch with both to avoid the dangerous extremes.
Paul, before becoming a Christian was the sort of legalistic Pharisee mentioned earlier. He had a zeal for the law and a zeal for persecuting those who he did not agree with, namely the church. But when he converted, he took on a more level-headed approach to obeying the law. In Romans 12:1-3, Paul encourages the Christians at Rome to present themselves as living sacrifices and to do so in a manner such that they don’t think of themselves more highly than they ought to, rather being sober minded (i.e. living wisely) and doing as to not create false piety (Colossians 2:16-22). This is all done in light of God’s mercy. At the same time, there is another extreme Paul warns against: sinning in light of grace. Jesus’ death is not a license to sin, rather quote the opposite. Christ fulfills the demands of the law and upholds the law in doing so. One should be all the more compelled to live according to it (Romans 6:15-18).
Living out one’s life in a manner that does not drift towards one extreme or another requires vigilance against the extreme. One should heed the advice given by the Preacher by being aware of wickedness and righteousness at the same time and being aware of wisdom and foolishness at the same time. It is in this balance, one will be able to live in a way that does not destroy or needlessly waste one’s life.
Lord, help not waste my life in trivial or dangerous pursuits!