Read: Matthew 5:1, Matthew 7:24-29
The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most famous sermons of all times and the most well known texts in the Bible, chock full of nuggets and saying that are immediately identifiable with Jesus. Categorically speaking, the Sermon on the Mount is wisdom literature similar to the Old Testament genre exemplified by Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or Job. Wisdom literature was seen as a commentary on the Old Testament law that helped one live out the Old Testament law “skillfully”. In fact, the Hebrew for wisdom mean just that: skillful. Jesus ends the Sermon with a parable concerning two men, one foolish and one wise. The wise man builds his house on the rock and it stands while the other builds his house on sand. Jesus likens the rock to his teachings, saying the one who puts into practice what he says is wise and his house (that is his life) will stand against the metaphorical storms.
Matthew notes that what got people’s attention in the sermon though was the way he taught. Traditionally, the scribes would make lengthy appeals to respected rabbis in their sermons to give authority to the message. Jesus was not appealing to anyone else, rather something entirely different. He says a number of times “You have heard…”, then follows it with “But I say…” (Matthew 5:21, Matthew 5:27, Matthew 5:33, Matthew 5:38, Matthew 5:43). Jesus was speaking against many of the traditions that had been given to the people by the scribes and he was doing so on his own authority.
One of the struggles in the Sermon though is the relationship of the Sermon to the Law. Some of what Jesus says seems to abrogate what the Law says while other things he says seems to uphold to the Law in its entirety. Knowing that this tension exists, it is probably best to handle each topic in the Sermon on a case-by-case basis with full understanding that Jesus himself says in the Sermon that he came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). A close examination will show each in light of this statement and how the it applies to the life of the believer today.
The Sermon and the closing remarks on the sermon echo the Old Testament of how righteousness leads to a fruitful life. Psalm 1 speaks to one who meditates on the Law being as one planted by a stream and all that he does prospering. Christians therefore do well to understand the Sermon and how it relates to the Law and apply to their lives so that they may prosper and be like the wise builder!
Lord, let me build my life on what you say!
Read: Ecclesiastes 10:15-20
The Preacher gives various points concerning wisdom towards the end of Chapter 10:
- The fool who can’t find his way home after a longs day of work shows his foolishness. The point of the proverb is not that that the fool is stupid or forget his way, rather that he worked himself so hard that he does not have the energy to get home. A fool as such works harder, not using wisdom to more efficiently complete a task that a wiser person could do with less effort.
- On the same token, the Preacher rails against inexperience on the part of a king. He pities the land that has a young, inexperienced king to the one who has a wise and mature king. Such rulers play before work rather than working before play.
- In all this though, the Preacher says it not wise to insult or talk poorly about the King – even if the king is a fool – because of the possibility that gossip mongers will spread the words around.
- The Preacher speaks to merriment and how money can be a buffer for people. While such things are not inherently bad, these things have their proper place and usage
- And once again, the Preacher rails against laziness. He says that a lazy will have a dilapidated house with a leaky roof.
These points of wisdom draw to a close the principle treatise the Preacher set out to write concerning how the Preacher learned wisdom, how he learned its limits, and how one can aptly apply it. The Preacher in his experience sought wisdom for the purpose of becoming wise, but in this realized that the wisdom for wisdom sake we vanity. Rather than do this, the Preacher concludes that it is best to fear God and keep his commandments. For the Preacher, this was the conclusion (Ecclesiastes 12:13). For the Proverbs, it was the principle premise (Proverbs 1:7). Wisdom in the right context has purpose. The Hebrew word “חכמה” carries with it the idea of being skillful as a master craftsman would be at his craft. Wisdom in the context of the fear of the Lord is to enable one to live skillfully before God according to the commandments God has given. Aptly applying wisdom to one’s life can help one obey God in many practical ways.
Lord, help me to take wisdom and apply it aptly in my own life!
Read: Ecclesiastes 10:11-14
The fool has one of two things: action without wisdom or words without wisdom. In either case, there is something without wisdom. Earlier, the preacher had given a number of warnings as to why one should think before acting. By way of analogy with a snake charmer, the preacher illustrates action without wisdom. If a snake bites a person, there is no reason to call in the charmer to charm the snake. The preacher points out that once one has acted, there is no reason to call in one who is wise because the damage has already been done. Likewise, fools talk way too much and there words are destructive. On the other hand, the words of a wise person are calm (Proverbs 16:21-24), few (Proverbs 10:19), and build up a person (Proverbs 12:8). What appears to the case for both words and deeds is that without wisdom, destruction is certainly the outcome.
James in his book of wisdom talks about words being spoken by the tongue (the part of the body associated with speech) to a great extent. James talks about the power of the tongue comparing to the rudder of a ship that steers the ship in a particular direction or like a bit in the mouth of a horse that directs the beast in a particular direction. He says it is like a fire that can set a forest ablaze (James 3:1-12). The sort of power that tongue has is huge, and this power can be destructive or it can be a blessing. James says that the tongue can utterly corrupt the one wielding the words. Paul in Colossians 4:5-6 encourages his readers to be wise in the manner they deal with outsiders and to let their conversation be seasoned with grace. Using words appropriately to build up, teach, and bless others truly is the wise way to use words.
For these reasons, Christians should first be willing to consider the words of the wise before jumping into action. Having wisdom can prevent unnecessary harm and it is therefore wise to ask for wisdom and to seek it out. Likewise, one should not be anxious to speak either. Being hotheaded or a babbler can lead to destruction as well. Letting one’s words be calm, few, and for the purpose of encouragement and blessing results in a much better outcome that letting words fly unreserved.
Lord, let wisdom guide my action and words!
Wisdom before action almost goes without saying. When the Preacher talks about a sharp ax requiring less effort than a dull ax, so does taking the time to learn and think about a given state of affairs before acting on those affairs. The Preacher describes several scenarios in which applied wisdom would bring about better ends.
- He talks of one laying a trap for another to possibly fall in. It is might be better to think twice before doing such a thing. Plans can backfire.
- Putting a hole in a house might let out something that can in turn to bite you. This is proverbial for having partners in crime – if a person is willing to commit a crime, there’s nothing that makes him trustworthy, so it would come as no surprise if such a person were to double-cross another. One might think twice before casting lots with such a person
- Quarrying stones and falling trees is dangerous work because stones and trees can fall on the worker. Caution and wisdom are needed to prevent accidents from happening.
In these proverbs, the preacher is encouraging one to think the scenario first before acting, considering the risk.
The New Testament encourages believers to use their heads when they are interacting with nonbelievers (Ephesians 5:15-17, Colossians 4:5-6, Matthew 10:16-20). In these cases, the New Testament encourages one to be wise in his or her action as snakes as shrewd but be gracious and innocent like doves. One should never let his or her guard down when dealing with those who are not like minded, rather one should keep is eyes open and mind sober, always relying on the Spirit for what to say and being ready to give a defense of the hope that one has within (1 Peter 3:15-16).
Lord help me to think before I act in all things!
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 8:1,16-17
The Preacher’s accolade to the wise is poetic without a doubt. There are none like the wise because the wise have ways of explaining things and bringing light to situations that no one else can. The purpose of wisdom is outlined in Proverbs 1:1-6. It describes wisdom has being useful for knowing what is right and fair, giving guidance, and for understanding parables and proverbs. In short, wisdom is useful for knowing how to live skillfully in accordance with the ways of God. The Preacher recognizes this, saying the wisdom illuminates a man’s face and makes a hard face not so hard.
But at the same time, the Preacher recognizes the limits of wisdom too. He says that the works of God are unknowable and when the wise claim to understand the works of God, they really do not. There are some things that are simply not knowable. Job recognized this when God laid his case before Job. Job confesses that he spoke of things he cannot understand. He heard and “saw” God – that is he understands that he cannot understand God and all that God does (Job 42:1-6). The ones who search God out will only go so far. There does come a point when one basically has to admit that there are some workings of God that are simply, as Job put it, to wonderful to know.
Even though not everything of God is comprehensible, this is no excuse to be slack in getting to know God better and trying to ascertain wisdom for the purpose of living one’s life according to God’s standards, because the purpose of wisdom is just that. Paul considered all a loss compared to the greatness of knowing Jesus (Philippians 3:7-11). Knowing Jesus takes time. Christians should, however, realize that there is a limit to what one can ascertain about God. Not all of life’s questions are necessarily answered when one believes in Jesus, but what can be sure is that the one who knows Jesus knows the one who knows the answers. Rather that speculate about the unknown, one would do well to understand and apply what has been given in God’s word so that one can live skillfully!
Lord, I want to know you!
Read: Ecclesiastes 7:27-29
God created man upright, but men pursue their own schemes, so the Preacher says. These words resonate with what the Preacher had said earlier concerning the issues of righteousness (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Truly righteous people don’t exist, but even those that come close the Preacher thinks are hard to find. He is unable to find righteous people among thousands of people. When God created man, man was in a relationship with God and without sin. But it wasn’t long before man was tempted and fell, and ever since the first sin, men who were created by God to live according to God’s ways, have lived according to their own ways. The Hebrew the word translated “schemes” or “devices” carries with it the idea of a machine, craft, or invention of sort. Rather than use the God-provided devices, man invented his own and uses them.
The Preacher arrived at this conclusion basically by eliminating all number of other things. He was trying to discover why men were not righteous by reasoning from any number possible explanations. As mentioned, he also looked for righteous people and failed to find any. The conclusion he makes is rather simple and rather apparent – man does not follow God, but apparently the Preacher didn’t want to accept the obvious explanation. Paul in his case against all of humanity noted that no one seeks God and that all have turned away (Romans 3:1-20). He quote from the Old Testament verses that say no one seeks God (Psalms 14:1-3, Isaiah 53:1-3). The Jews had the Law and the Gentiles had conscience to tell them this truth (Romans 2:15). There can be no mistake about it. Rather than worship God, man made for themselves other things and pursued those instead, and this has been what the Preacher sees as a fundamental problem of concerning the relationship. Men claim to be wise in their own eyes by inventing folly and following it, which has dire consequences (Romans 1:20-32).
People, then, have basically two options: follow God’s inventions or follow their own inventions. Christians should follow God’s. Following God’s inventions are reasonably easier anyways for a number of reasons. First of all, God’s inventions already exist. One does not have to “reinvent the wheel” so to speak. Second, they are made by a perfect being that has infinitely more wisdom and knowledge than man. Third, God’s inventions are made by the one who made man. It would be reasonable to think that the one who made man knows man better than man knows himself. These are probably just a few of the reasons why it is more prudent to follow God.
Lord, help me to know and follow your ways!
Read: Ecclesiastes 7:20
Righteousness, simply defined in a scriptural context, is being without sin. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes notes that no one is righteous, and this fact is reiterated over and over in the scriptures (Romans 3:23, 2 Corinthians 6:36, 1 Kings 8:46, 1 John 1:8, Psalm 130:3-4, Proverbs 20:9). The Preacher qualifies this, saying that no one continually does good and without sinning. There are those who do indeed live lives that are well enumerated with good deeds, but the Preacher is saying that even such people still sin and are not righteous for this reason. When Paul declares in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, he is making the same sort of observation. Even those who live according to the ways of God still have a sin problem. Paul infers this from by citing several verses from the Old Testament (Romans 3:10-18). He says that no one is made righteous by observing the law, rather that the law is in place to make one aware of their sin (Romans 3:19-20).
But there is hope that comes from faith in Jesus. Faith in Jesus is what “justifies” a person. When one is “justified”, he or she is declared righteous in God’s sight. God sees those who are justified as he would look upon one who has never sinned before. Paul explains that the law demands a price for sin, which is death (Romans 6:23). The law requires that every person that has ever sinned pay the penalty of death for his or her sin. What Jesus provides for sinners though is a way out, a way to be made righteous. Jesus, on behalf of sinners, died on the cross in their place. This death satisfied the requirement of the law that demands death (Romans 4:25). Sinners are then presented with two options: trust in Jesus who is able to make one righteous, or trust in one’s own righteousness when one stands before God
If all have fallen short of God’s standard, then there is really only one option that makes any sense, and that is to trust in Jesus. . Note, that when one “trusts” one is not merely accenting to some facts about Jesus. One is relying on Jesus to make them righteous, and this is what the Bible is talking about when it says “faith”. Faith is not believing something without evidence or reason to believe it as many think it is. It is rather trusting in a person to do something he or she has promised to do. God does indeed love people and he does not delight in the demise of the wicked. He would rather people repent and believe that condemn them to die because of their sin (Ezekiel 18:23). But those who choose not to believe in Jesus are nevertheless subject to God’s judgment and will be dealt with according to their sins. As for the Christian though, they will be judged according to their faith in Jesus because Jesus has made them righteous. But being declared righteous before God does not mean that one is able to do as he or she pleases. Rather one is made a “slave to righteousness” (Romans 6:14-19). One should go about the work of telling others how they too can be made righteous before God by trusting in Jesus!
Lord, I am made righteous by you! Help me live in a manner worthy of your righteousness!
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!
Read: Ecclesiastes 7:11-12,19,23-25
The value of wisdom cannot be overstated, and the Preacher in Ecclesiastes seems to recognize this. He compares wisdom to three things. First he compares it to an inheritances, calling it a “good thing”. When one inherits something, he or she does not necessarily have to work for it or earn it — it is simply given to the one because of the person’s relationship to the one bequeathing the inheritances. Wisdom is like this too. It is freely offered to all those who will hear it and receive it. One does not have to work hard to ascertain wisdom, just simply listen to the wise (Proverbs 13:20). Second, the Preacher compares wisdom to the sun — it blesses everyone. There is no limit to the reach of wisdom and it does not discriminate against those who wish to receive it. For this reason it does bless everyone. Only the fool disdains wisdom. Third, the Preacher compares wisdom to money saying that both are as a shelter. The contrast though is that wisdom “preserves” one’s life. Money and wisdom can buffer one against harm, but wisdom, unlike money, can actually save one’s life. When the buffer is gone, only wisdom will remain, and it is hear that only wisdom can work.
But the Preacher had given staunch warning about wisdom for wisdom’s sake The Preacher isn’t putting down wisdom in general, rather the pursuit of wisdom for wisdom’s sake. Proverbs speaks of wisdom in great lengths, saying that is useful any number of things (Proverbs 1:1-6). Proverbs 1:7 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, rather than the end of it. Ecclesiastes concludes the matter after pursuing all other things to an end (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Proverbs starts the book with the fear of the Lord. Wisdom for the purpose of serving the Lord is always better. James 1:5 says that one should ask for wisdom and the Lord will give it (Proverbs 2:6), and one should ask for it in all things so that the Lord can teach one how to live skillfully.
Christians should ask for and implement wisdom for the purpose of becoming more like Christ in his or her life by living in accordance with the ways of God. Wisdom is readily available to all who will receive it from those who are wise and from God’s word. One should apply his or her self to obtaining wisdom so that he or she can live skillfully in all matters!
Lord, help to walk with the wise so that I will become wise!