Let's turn them to Ecclesiastes Chapter 3. There may have been some of you who didn't even know there was a book of Ecclesiastes until a few weeks ago. We've been in it the last few weeks and we're in the third chapter. We're going to look at the first 11 verses. Now, if you wouldn't mind, take a quick glance at those verses, and you'll notice a word that is repeated frequently. It's the word time. In fact, in verses 2 through 8, the word is repeated 28 times, and altogether it's repeated 30 times. That's the focus of the study-- time.
We are creatures of time. We're constrained by the parameters of time. That's how we live. We, as a society, have noticed that the earth rotates on its axis, and it does it 365 times a year. We've broken up those alternate periods of light and darkness into 24 segments called hours. And then we've broken up hours into 60 increments called minutes, and even further into seconds, and now they measure time in nanoseconds.
We write in journals so we know that to keep the appointment on time. We often look at these things we put on our wrist-- watches. And we use alarms attached to some of those clocks at home. Some of us get up on our own. Others of us have to be reminded, it's time to get up.
US News and World Report did a survey and they found that in a lifetime, the average American will spend-- get this now-- six months sitting at stoplights. You will spend eight months of your life opening junk mail, one year looking for misplaced objects.
I told that to my son last night. He said, probably more for me, huh, dad?
You'll spent two years unsuccessfully returning phone calls. You'll spend four years doing housework, five years waiting in line, and six years eating. Not consecutively, over time. In addition, if you live to be 70, you'll spend 20 years sleeping, 20 years working, 7 years playing, 5 years dressing, getting dressed, 2 and 1/2 years in bed-- I presume over sickness or lounging-- 5 five months tying your shoes. Now there's a case for wearing loafers right there.
But have you noticed that time is elusive, and even-- well, it's relative, depending on age, isn't it? You notice that when you're very young, time creeps by slowly. It takes so long to get through a week when you're a child. Then you grow up to be an adult and time picks up the pace. At walks, even runs swiftly. And then in old age, it flies by the wind. That's how it seems to us. Time just seem so relative, depending on age.
Dr. Leslie Weatherhead calculated a schedule comparing a lifetime of 70 years to a day from 7:00 in the morning to 11 o'clock in the evening, and this is what he said. He said that if you're 15 years old, the time for you, according to the equivalent, is 10:25 in the morning. If you're 20 years of age, the time is 11:34. If you're 25, it's already after 12:00 noon, it's 12:42 p.m. If you're age 30, it's 1:51 p.m. if you're 35 years of age, the time for you is 3 o'clock in the afternoon. If you're 40, it's 4:08. If you're 45-- gulp-- it is 5:16 p.m. If you're 50, it's 6:25 p.m. 55-year olds, it's 7:34 p.m. If you're 60 years of age, it's 8:42. If you're 65, it's 9:51. If you're 70, of course it's 11 o'clock. According to Weatherhead, then anything over that, it's borrowed time.
Now when you think of time in those parameters, you want to make every second possible count, right? A man went to get a checkup and then went to his doctor to get the results, and the doctor had a frown and he said, well, I've got bad news and I've got worse news. Which would you like first? The guy said, well, I guess give me the bad news. He says, sir, the bad news is you have 24 hours to live. The man said, 24 hours. He jumped up, paced the room. I don't have enough time to get my affairs in order in 24 hours. This is horrible. What could be possibly worse news than that? The doctor said, well, the worst news is, I should have told you yesterday but I forgot.
Any second now, this guy's gone.
I've always loved Moses prayer. It's recorded in Psalm 90. He said, Lord, teach us to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom. And that's what this theme is all about. The section of these versus, the paragraph we examined today is how to make wise use of your time. How do you do that? There is another word that pops up out of the section in verse 11. As opposed to time, verse 11 mentions eternity. And that's what we humans are. We are caught between time and eternity. And the best way to spend our time is to have eternity in view.
Now remember, Solomon called himself, in chapter 1, verse 1, the preacher, the philosopher, the seeker. He was a great scholar, very wise. But he was the scholar turned party animal, turned builder, turned agrarian, turned acquirer, turned Mister burned out on everything he tried. In chapter 3, he observes life. He makes an observation. After the observation, comes a question, and after the question, two conclusions. In this chapter, he notices in observation, the balance of life. That's what verses 1 through 8 are all about-- the balance that life seems to offer, good and bad.
He follows that by a bewildering set of questions, three altogether. We'll principally look at one this morning. And then finally, the beauty in life when you add something to those ingredients.
Let's then begin in verse 1 down to a verse 8, with these observations of the balance of life. Solomon asserts, to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven, a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to pluck what is planted, a time to kill, a time to heal, a time to break down and a time to build up, a time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, a time to dance, a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones. There is a time to embrace, as well as a time to refrain from embracing, a time to gain, a time to lose, a time to keep, a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to sew, a time to keep silence, a time to speak, a time to love, a time to hate, a time of war, a time of peace. Altogether he lists 28 life activities, 14 positive, 14 negative, both juxtaposed to each other, seeming to cancel each other out altogether.
Now, for those who are literarily inclined, the style he chooses is called Hebrew parallelism or Hebrew poetry. Rather than words rhyming, thoughts rhymed or contrasted. And precisely, it's called antithetical parallelism. He states an activity, then the opposite, then another activity, then the opposite. And he does that in 14 sets, all the way down through verse 8.
Something else to notice before we examine each one. Notice that this is under heaven activity. He says there is a time for every purpose under heaven. This is all of the stuff that life is made out of. That's the theme of this. This is the balance of life.
Verse two, let's look at it. There is a time to be born, there's a time to die. Now today, oh, roughly 365,340 people will discover it is their time to be born, and today, this same day, about 147,276 will discover it's their time to die. More people are being birthed on planet Earth, obviously, than are dying. But according to God, there is a time in it. Now, for the believer, birth and death is not an accident. It's an appointment. Actually for anyone, that's true. Who of us chose the day of our birth? Anybody? Any of you, pre-womb, make a decision, I'd like to be born that day. The sun's out. You didn't have control over your birth any more than you know the exact end of your days. Only God knows the terminus of your life. As the scripture says, it is appointed. Isn't that the word that's used? It is appointed for every man to die once. There is an appointment. This is not a fatalistic approach, simply a world view of Providence. God is in sovereign control.
All of us can echo David's prayer in Psalm 139. He wrote and prayed, all the days ordained for me were written in your book. Now, though you cannot choose the day of your birth-- that is, your physical birth-- you can choose, if you wish, the day of your new birth. Jesus said for anyone to get into heaven, they must be born again, his words. You have to have a spiritual rebirth. That comes by a choice that you make. And maybe, just maybe, today's your day to be born.
You've heard that saying perhaps, born once, die twice, born twice, die once. It's very true. Everybody is born physically once, but not everybody is born spiritually, born twice. Well, if you're only born physically but not spiritually, born once, you'll die twice. You'll die physically and you'll die eternally, spiritually. But if you're born twice, physically, and then born again, you'll only die physically, at best, but you'll live eternally. So born once, die twice, born twice, die once. Maybe today's your day to be born again.
Same verse, next phrase. There's a time to plant, there's a time to pluck that which is planted. These are farming terms. And I doubt we have very many farmers among us this morning. We may have some weekend gardeners, but farmers really understand this, as do gardeners. There are seasons to plant. There are seasons to cut, to prune, to aerate, etc. We cooperate with the balance of seasons. We know that our Earth is tilted 23 and 1/3 degrees on its axis in relationship to the sun, which gives us four seasons. As it makes its 365-degree or time spin around the sun, at that angle, we get four seasons and we cooperate with them. We don't go out and plant seed in the middle of a snow storm. Its very unprofitable. We cooperate with the season. Now I know there are greenhouses and ways to extend growing times, etc. But the point of this verse is simply there is a balance in the food production due to the seasons.
In verse 3, there's a phrase that bothers some of us. There is a time to kill as well as a time to heal. That is, now keep in mind, think of this from an ancient Israeli perspective. There is a time for warfare. There is a time for self-defense. There is a time for capital punishment, as was written into their law. A time to kill, a time to heal.
Even in our own physical bodies, there is this death and rebirth. I'm not speaking reincarnation here obviously, but physiologically. Doctors tell us that every seven years, our cells die out and new ones come into being. Every one of our cells dies and then a new cell comes up, except for our brain cells they tell us, although we wonder sometimes, don't we?
That means every seven years is a new you, a brand new you, and isn't it interesting though that those new cells somehow have the memory from the old cells transmitted to the new ones? So you're still related to yourself. That's good news.
It says there's a time to break down and a time to build up. I think of the big I when I read this verse. That's that interchange in the middle of town, I-40 and I-25. They bring in the demolition crews followed by the construction crews. And in a few years, that will all happen again because things wear out. It happens in urban renewal. Old buildings are destroyed, new ones are built. Have you ever seen-- probably only on television we see them-- those dynamite demolitions? They put dynamite in and they time it in sequences what will go off first so that the building collapses perfectly. It's really cool to watch. But they don't do it just because it's cool-- although it is cool to watch. They do it to remove something old, to put in its place something brand new. And this is also true in our physical lives as well. There's a time we grow, we mature, we get strong. That's youth. Bones grow, muscles enlarge, we grow taller. But then there is a time where we stop, we slow down. You might say we shrivel. The growth stops.
I was reading not long ago that age-- listen to this-- 19 is our pinnacle for development. You'll be at your peak at age 19. And that experts tell us after age 19, it's degenerative. It puts a whole new perspective on age. After 19, man, it's all downhill. And we notice the breakdown, especially we notice it around middle age. Trust me.
Words start getting smaller on the page.
Steps start growing larger as you go up them. Voices of people a few years down the road get softer. It's called breakdown. That's all it is. There's a time for it. It's a natural process.
Verse 4, there's a time to weep, there's a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance. Now there's a wide range of emotion packed in that verse because God has given us a wide range of experience and abilities to handle experiences. We have muscles in our face that cause us to smile and to laugh, and I'm convinced we need to do more of it. It's good for us to laugh. Experts tell us that. When you laugh, it releases tension. It exercises vital organs. It relaxes tissues in your body. You need it. It's good for you. There's a time for it.
There's also a time to weep. Now, there was a generation, I think it was even before my generation, when if you were a male, after a certain age, they told you don't cry, big boys don't cry. Well, whoever said that didn't know their medicine because big boys still have lacrimal ducts and lacrimal glands to shed tears. God put them there. We ought to cry under certain circumstances. Pent-up emotions during sad times are unprofitable. One doctor said that suppressed sorrow can wreak havoc on your nervous system. And this physician spoke of a patient that had died of ulcerative colitis because she suppressed grief when her father died. There's a time to let it out. Yet though there are times for laughing and crying, that's just the point.
There's a sense of timing built into it. Have you ever laughed at the wrong time? Like sixth grade during a test or at a funeral perhaps? I'll tell you something I did when I was a kid. I was getting punished for something. I forget what it was, but I do remember the belt that my father took off his ways and said, turn over. And he was going to teach me a good little lesson. And some thought, some weird thought flew into my head, and I laughed out loud, right as he was punishing me. And it just wasn't good timing.
I learned that there's a time to laugh. Because he didn't just want to stop my behavior, he wanted to stop my attitude.
Verse 5, there's a time to cast away stones, there's a time to gather stones. You almost need to visit Israel to understand verse 5. Jesus said, if these hold their peace, the rocks will cry out. That's all you see. It's the stoniest place I've ever visited in my life. There's an old Jewish legend-- it's just a legend-- that when God created the earth and gave stones to an angel to pass out around the Earth, he tripped in Israel and they all fell there.
And to plant anything, you have to cast away stones to reveal the topsoil, and then you gather up the stones to build retaining walls to terrace for more agriculture. Then it says there is a time to embrace, a time to refrain from embracing. He might just be speaking about greeting. There is a time to say goodbye, a time to say hello. It was done with A familiar embrace, or the wave, Shalom. Or he could mean-- it's equally as true-- there are times when we must comfort someone via an embrace, encourage them. There are other times you may need to push that person at arm's distance and grab them firmly, lovingly, and say, stop it, that's not right, you shouldn't say that, you ought not to do that. There is a time for that.
Verse 6, there is a time to gain and there is a time to lose. There is a time to keep and there is a time to throw away. My garage comes to my mind in this verse. My closet, throw it away, get rid of it. I think this verse is true sometimes for jobs, for locations, for relationships. We need to change, we need to get rid of, we need to add. I think this verse is true for politicians.
And for preachers. For all of us, change is good. Skip down to a verse 8 before I get in trouble.
There is a time to love, and get this, there is a time to hate. Mark that. There is a time for war and there is a time for peace. I've always been amused that as a culture, we sing love songs and we sing songs about peace and we protest war and hatred. But do you know there's a time, an appropriate time to hate? Isn't it interesting that David wrote, hating with a perfect hatred? Can I give you an example? When William Wilberforce was younger, he was converted to Christianity by a man named John Newton, who was a drunk, became saved, and wrote a song called Amazing Grace. When William Wilberforce became a believer, he also became socially aware, and he began to hate the British slave trade. He was determined to abolish slavery that Great Britain had undertaken. In 1833, he finally succeeded in doing so.
Abraham Lincoln is one like him. As a young man, he observed the first slave block in New Orleans. And he wrote that a hatred welled up inside of him. He hated what man could do to man-- oppression, violence. And he started loving these people in such a way that he determined to abolish slavery. And the same goes for the next one. There's a time for war, there is a time for peace.
I've seen the bumper sticker, visualize world peace. Yet I don't know how much good that really does to just visualize it. In fact, here's the hard truth. Here's the bottom line. In fact, sometimes peace, in certain regions, can only come about by war. Theologians, as well as sociologists and others, call this the just war. When a tyrant runs roughshod over people's rights and murders them and oppresses them, sometimes the only way to restore peace is by ending that through a war. And then when enough force is meted out, there's a time to pull back, a time for peace.
So what a balance in these verses, 28 life experiences, negative, positive. It sounds like that song in Fiddler on the Roof, Sunrise, Sunset. Swiftly fly the years, one season following another, laden with happiness and tears. That's it. That's what Solomon observes, the balance of life.
If you notice verse 9, he moves now from periods to question mark. This is not the observation of the balance of life. It's a question about the bewilderment of life. What prophet, he asks, has the worker from that in which he labors? If you'd skip down-- though we'll look at it more next time-- look in verse 21. There's another question. Who knows, he asks, the spirit of the sons of men, which go upward of the spirits of the animal, which goes to the earth. And then the end of verse 22 is the third question. Who can bring him to see what will happen after him? After observations, he naturally-- like any scholar would-- asks questions about what he notices.
Isidor Rabi was a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize some years ago, back actually in the 40s. He was a physicist, brilliant scientist. And his friend asked him how he became a great scientist. He said, well, every day after school, my mom would ask me about how my day went, but she never was curious about how much I learned. Rather, she said, son, did you ask any good questions today. He said that's how I got to be a good scientist. I asked good questions all my life.
And Solomon asked great questions. The question in verse 21 and 22 is where am I going. What happens? There's a time to be born, a time to die, but after death, where do you go? We'll look at that next time.
The question really before us in verse 9 is what do you gain. It's a good question. He puts it this way. What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? Now you should be familiar by now with that question. It's the third time he's asked it in the book, and we've told you each time what it means. The word profit means something that is gained or left over after the experience is done. What is gained? What is left over?
Put it all together in your mind. He's observing the balance of life, yet what he observes in the balance of life at the same time is bewildering to him. There seems to be a self cancellation. There's 14 good things, 14 bad things. Every positive is a negative. Every plus has a minus. Every experience is juxtaposed by another one. Do the math. It's simple. 14 minus 14 equals? Zero. Or as Solomon, who was fond of saying, what's the word he uses over and over again? Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. Or like we said last week, cotton candy, cotton candy, all is fluff. There's nothing substantive. That's the question that he has.
Now, having asked that, the next two verses is the third slice of this paragraph. From conclusions-- oh, excuse me-- from observations to questions, now to a conclusion. He says in verse 10-- and you will notice he inserts God now in his thinking-- I have seen the God-given tasks-- that's the first mention of God-- which the sons of man are to be occupied. He-- that is God, second mention-- has made everything beautiful in its time. Also he-- third mention-- has put eternity in their hearts, except no one can find out the work that God-- fourth mention-- does from beginning to end. Do you see now that after an observation, question, now he inserts God into this equation of 14 minus 14, and he comes up with a different answer.
You see, it's this simple. Without God, life doesn't make sense. It's a joke, a very bad joke. Without God life is a set of disconnected events and circumstances that are not related to each other, and the best way to go through them is to just grit your teeth and go for it, hope that you make it out the other end. With God, It's very different. Because in time, there is also this element, verse 11, of eternity. So you can live your life just in the experiences of verses 1 through 8, or you can live your life in the experiences of verses 10 and 11. I'll put it this way. Medical science can add years to your life. Only Jesus can add life to your years. Put God in the equation and it's like oh, OK, now life makes sense, and there's a beauty to it. Not to bewilderment, a beauty.
You could sum up the beauty in two ways. Temporal beauty and eternal beauty. Look at verse 11. That's where we'll camp and we'll close. He-- that is God-- has made everything beautiful in its time. The word he is to be emphasized. God can do that. This suggests divine supervision, control, sovereignty. Something God does with the experiences and the events of your life. God can do this. And what can he do? Well, it says he makes all things what? Beautiful. If you have a new American standard, it says appropriate. I know it doesn't sound as beautiful as the word beautiful, but it's a good translation. God makes all things appropriate. A better translation-- he fits them together. I like that. He fits them together.
How many times have you had an experience-- or we call it an accident-- and we look at that experience, that accident isolated from the rest of life, and we go why did that happen, this is absurd, this is pointless, it's meaningless, it's ugly, it's random. You know why we say that? Because we're only seeing a piece of the puzzle and not the whole picture. God sees the whole picture. We're holding this piece of the puzzle and it's disjointed. Go home if you have a puzzle, a picture puzzle, and take a single piece out and try to figure out exactly where it fits. You'll have a hard time doing it. In fact, that piece is pretty ugly all by itself. It may have a little color or part of a design, but the sides are irregular. It's only when it fits in the whole picture that you look at it and go, oh, it's beautiful.
There was a little boy who was trying to put together a puzzle. He tried for hours, couldn't do it. His dad came in and five minutes had it all put together. Of course the kid was frustrated. How'd you do it? Dad said, I looked at the front of the box. And so in my mind, I worked from the picture. All you saw were the pieces.
We look at the piece, the accident, the event. We don't understand. It's horrible. But God can make, yes, that bad event woven together beautifully. It fits. Ask Joseph. Remember he was the kid that was sold because of jealousy by his brothers to the Midianites? They dug a pit, put him in a pit. What do you think he was thinking when he was in that pit? He was thinking, oh, great, praise God for this pit. I frankly doubt it. I think he was saying, this is the pits.
I think he saw the piece of the puzzle and said, why, God, would you let this happen, this is random, ugly, horrible. And then he went from bad to worse. He went into the midianite camp, taken down to Egypt, sold to Potiphar, worked in Potiphar's house, falsely accused, put in an Egyptian prison. And again, he thought, oh, my life is horrible, this is ugly, this is random.
But then a couple of guys had a dream in that prison. He interpreted them eventually, a longtime eventually. The King heard about it. He had a dream. Joseph came and interpreted the King's dream, Pharoah's dream, which made Joseph eventually the prime minister of the world and he saved the world from a famine. Had not he been put in a pit and sold to the Egyptians, he wouldn't have heard a dream to make him the prime minister of the world to save it. When you put all the pieces together and you allow God into the equation it's like, oh, that's cool, that's beautiful, that's fitting, it's appropriate in its time.
This verse is the equivalent of one of the favorite verses of all of you, Romans 8:28, right? It's the equivalent of that. We know that all things work together for good to those that love God and are called according to his purpose. By the way, Joseph, toward the end of that experience, saw the big picture. When his brothers came, who had sold him as a slave and faced him off, and were certain that Joseph would be really mad, remember Joseph's gracious words? He said, well, as for you, you meant this for evil, but God meant it for good to save many people alive as it is this day. He saw the big picture.
God can do that. He makes all things beautiful in it's time. Listen, the beauty in your life comes when you begin trusting a sovereign God to weave together all of those random events. You may not see it now, but trust him. It's beautiful. It will be. You'll get the picture eventually.
Warren Wiersbe said, life is something like a doctor's prescription. Taken alone, the ingredients might kill you. Properly blended, they bring healing. There's another conclusion also in verse 11. Notice it. It's an eternal one now. Also he-- God-- put or placed fashioned, put eternity in their hearts. That's humanity's hearts. Except no one can find out the work God does from beginning to end. Let me suggest an alternate translation that I have found. Also he has put eternity in their hearts, without which no one can find the work that God does from beginning to end. That's really the idea. You put God in the equation and 14 minus 14 doesn't equal zero. It equals a whole lot of possibilities. God can weave the events together.
And more than that, there is something eternal a part of us. There is something within humanity that evolution cannot understand, science cannot figure out. That's our restlessness. That's this part, the eternal part of God put within man. No other species is restless like we are. No other species asks the questions that we ask. Animals are satisfied once needs are met.
I have a black dog at home. Not a bright dog, but a happy dog. It's a dog. We have a mega cat at home as well. I told you about that cat, has her own bedroom by now. It's this big, big, fat cat. Both of these animals love to eat. And once you feed them, pet them a little bit, they just lay around and they're very satisfied. You can't do that with the human. After the needs are satisfied, the human will get up and go, why am I here, what's the purpose of life, what's beyond these walls. Not a dog. It is amazing. You come home, everything the dog, (panting sound) happy to see you. Well, you did that yesterday and the day before and the day before. It doesn't get old. They're satisfied. Not human beings. We are restless. We have a curiosity. That's because you have an eternal capacity that prompts you to probe.
Parents, that's why your kids ask-- remember that age-- daddy, why, who made God, daddy, why is the sky blue, mom. You have all these questions. That's the eternity that God put in our hearts. This is why Solomon was restless. This is why Solomon was bored. And this is why Egyptians, Babylonians, Americans, Celts, druids, Chinese, Europeans, everybody has generally, sociologists have noted, a belief in immortality. There's got to be something more. God put eternity in our hearts. That's part of the fashion of God. That's why Saint Augustine prayed, thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.
So if you notice life, there's a balance. Yes, seasons, regularity. It's observable. But then why, what's the profit, what's the gain? These goods seem to cancel out the bad and the bad cancel out the good. What's the purpose? What's the gain? What's the profit? Well, twofold. In life, in time, sovereign God, If you put him in the equation, will fit all of the events so it's beautiful in its time. And secondly, God made you an eternal creature, which means nothing temporal will satisfy you. I want you to let that truth of verse 11 sink in. God put eternity in your hearts. That means he fashioned you for not just here, but for there forever, which means the more you try to stuff your life with temporal things, the worse it gets. You need to stuff it with eternal things.
I love the prayer that Duncan Matheson prayed. He said, Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs. We need to pray that before the day is over, before the service is over. Lord, stamp eternity on our eyeballs. We're always looking at time to born, time to die, time to plant, time to weep. Get beyond that.
Do you know how to live your life? By spending your life for something that will outlast it. That's how you do it. Change the focus of the pursuit. Just remember that next time you sit around and you think, wow, I'm spending 20 years of my life sleeping, 20 years of my life working, 5 months tying those shoes. Just remember, you weren't made just for that. You were made for eternity.