When I was a senior in college my friend enlisted my giant biceps in order to help his parents move. Of course I jumped at the opportunity because I knew it meant eating some of his mom’s incredible home cooking. So we set out one Saturday to his parent’s new place and started unloading boxes and furniture. The move was going smoothly and we were almost done. And then it all happened. It started with a small discovery.
At the back of the moving truck lay a 1980’s wide style skateboard with an emblem of the Ninja Turtles painted on the underside. It was almost too good to be true. So I did the only reasonable thing one would do when finding a skateboard on a moving truck. I attempted to ride it down the 15-foot ramp. Now I am no Tony Hawk but I am a pretty coordinated individual – or so I thought.
As my friends egged me on and I stood confident at the top of the truck it never crossed my mind that any of this would go wrong. Several torn tendons and a broken wrist later I can say it all went wrong. The worst part was when I went to the doctors to get it placed in a cast and he informed me that I would be in a cast that extended from the palm of my hand to the top of my shoulder – utterly humiliating. When I got back to my apartment my girlfriend (who is now my wife) asked me slightly condescendingly, “So did you learn anything from all that?”
And with confidence I could say, “Yes – yes I did learn something. Don’t be an idiot.” After all that this was the culminating lesson that I learned. Similarly, in the final chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes, the writer Solomon has come to his culminating lesson. Once all the chasing after the wind and under the sun stuff is over here’s what he’s learned: Fear God and do what He says.
That’s it? Yep that’s it. What Solomon has learned in all his endeavors is that everything is vanity except for fearing the One true God and keeping His commandments. Are you disappointed? Were you expecting something grander – maybe something more Dr. Phil’ish with three easy steps? Well that’s not what we see here but what I want to briefly show you is that if we understand the implications of Solomon’s concluding lesson we will find our greatest hope and greatest joy in life.
The problem is when we hear things like “fear God” and “keep commandments” our natural inclination is to rebel. To say “I don’t need God” and “I’m certainly not doing anything He asks me.” This innate rebellion is in all of us (Rom. 5:12, 18). It’s what led Adam and Eve to forsake God in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:6). Like our ancestral offenders we are inclined to live life according to our own choosing – apart from revering our Creator and living the life He desires for us to live. As sinful fallen human beings we naturally dislike authority and we naturally like living for ourselves (Rom. 1:21-23) – sound familiar I know it does in my life.
But the dilemma we find here in Ecclesiastes 12 is that Solomon says this just wont do. If you are familiar at all with the previous 11 chapters then you know that Solomon has tested everything – money, power, sex – and still comes to the same conclusion: the only thing that brings fulfillment in life is to Fear God and keep His commandments. That means that no matter how hard we try to ignore God and either implicitly or explicitly live in rebellion to Him we will never find satisfaction in life.
Well then what are we supposed to do? If our natural inclination is to rebel against God and if that life leaves us in a state of utter hopelessness – how are we to do as Solomon’s concluding lesson instructs? How are we to “Fear God and keep His commandments”? Lucky for us Solomon tells us at the beginning of the chapter: “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth” (ESV).
One of my favorite writers and biblical scholars D.A. Carson writes, “To ‘remember’ God is not simply to recall the bare fact of his existence, but to abandon all illusions of independence and self-sufficiency as God regains his rightful centrality in our lives. God made everything, he alone sees the entire pattern, he is the One who has put eternity into our hearts (Eccl. 3:11). He is the One who made everything good, and we are the ones who have done so much damage with our schemes (Eccl. 7:29).”
Solomon is saying that we need to go back the gospel (in a manner of speaking) because it’s in the gospel that we are given the full picture of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 1:9) and His grace extended to us in the forgiveness of our sins (Eph. 2:8). Interestingly, though, Solomon puts a timetable on this. He says we need to do it now (“in the time of your youth”). Often as young people we think that there is still plenty of time to deal with that “God stuff” later but for now I’m going to live it up. Wrong! Here the Bible says that we are to consider the truth of the gospel now before it’s too late.
So have you remembered God lately? Have you wrestled with the truth that each of us has sinned and God’s wrath is upon us (Rom. 3:23) but God has brought us back to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 5:8-9)? Solomon says that when we capture this truth in our heart we too will learn to fear God and keep His commandments. The great thing is that Solomon has already learned the lesson for us. We don’t need to find our hope in money or our joy in our occupations. Solomon has already done all that and said its vanity. The only thing that matters – the only thing that leads to a life of true fulfillment is to remember God and as a result fear God and keep His commandments.
Oh and take it from me you don’t have to ride down a moving truck ramp to find out if that’s a stupid idea – it is.