“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ESV)
What does he say? Here is the sum. Here is the bottom line and final conclusion. What should we do? Two things: fear God and obey his commands.
Fear God: the heart in submission to God
Solomon mentions fearing God six times in Ecclesiastes but this is the most important one.
“To fear God is to take God seriously, to acknowledge him in our lives as the highest good, to revere him, to honor and worship him, to center our lives on him.” (Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes, p. 309) Fear is the attitude of the heart. This fear is not an emotion as much as a valuing. Worship. Treasure. Love. Since life is fleeting and so uncertain, live in the fear of the Lord. How would you know who does and who doesn’t? Is the person walking around with their hands shaking or popping anti-anxiety pills? Fearing God inwardly looks like obedience to God outwardly.
Obey his commands: the life and lifestyle in submission to God
When God is on the throne of my heart, then what he wants me to do is at the top of my list. His priorities become my priorities. His moral desires shape my moral decisions. It starts in the heart. But people often start outwardly and hope it helps them inwardly. That’s backwards. That’s religion. Religion is man working his way to God. Christianity is God coming to man. He does it through the gospel by changing my heart inwardly. Obedience is the outward expression of inward change; inward I’m treasuring, loving, and fearing God.
Why should I fear God? It is not the reality of death or the existence of God that is primary. Look again at verse 14, “For God will bring every deed into judgment with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” There is a final judgment coming where God will evaluate our lives right down to the secret things only we know. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)
You know what God’s judgment means? It means God cares about our lives. God cares about our decisions. Our values. What we do and why we do it. God wouldn’t waste his time judging things that don’t matter. We judge things that do matter. Our lives matter to God.
My family has thoroughly enjoyed the Olympics, especially gymnastics. My three-year-old daughter has jumped and twirled right along with the gymnasts. It’s totally cute.
To watch the gymnastics is to see a very short event. The vault lasts maybe five seconds. Some events are longer. Floor exercise is like a minute or so. But then you have opinions. The people in the stands have opinions. Parents, cheering wildly, definitely have opinions. Greatest vault ever! You have the TV commentators weighing in, guessing what the scores might be. The people watching at home have their opinions. Even the gymnast has an opinion. But there’s only one opinion that really matters—the judges’ opinion.
We saw it over and over, the routine is done. “We are awaiting the judges’ score.” Was it good enough for gold? Everyone’s anxious. The gymnast bites her lip looking up at the scoreboard. Why? A judgment is about to be made. That decision is final. It’s the one that matters. It’s the one that since she was a little girl she has worked and practiced and dreamed about. And it all comes down to what they say, how they evaluate her. What they say determines gold, silver, bronze, or nothing at all.
What do they call gymnastics meets with no judges and no medals? An exhibition. It’s not real because it’s not important enough to bring in the judges and the medals. It’s like the preseason NFL games; nobody really cares because the scores don’t count. This gives us a picture of what Solomon is urging upon us. For 12 chapters he explains how human life is like gymnastics with no judges and no medals. What is human life like if there is no God and there are no scores? Despair. Absurdity. A waste of time. Meaningless.
But wait! Look at verse 13. There is a God and there is a judgment. This means that my life isn’t meaningless. It means my life really matters; so much so that God will judge even the details of my life. Every aspect of our lives, even the little or obscure things are important enough to God to evaluate.
Only Jesus makes possible a positive judgment from God (and rewards too)
If I may push my gymnastics illustration, how good do we have to be for God to judge us as “good”? Perfect. No deductions our whole life. Not one. We can’t pull that performance off.
“None is righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10) What Ecclesiastes hints at, the gospel of Jesus brings to light. How can I be judged morally perfect with no deductions? “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
The cross is the answer to Solomon’s search and yours and mine too. The only way we can receive a positive judgment from God, the only way for us to be perfect with no deductions, is for God to switch our scores. Morally, we are all failures. But there was one moral gymnast who blew everybody away. He did everything perfectly. They would never allow this in the Olympics, but God allows substitute scores. Jesus willingly allowed God to treat him like he was the failure and for his perfect scores and reward to be given to us. This is justification. God declares me to be the perfect moral gymnast which frees him to lavish eternal rewards upon me.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:10) Look at Ecclesiastes 12:14 again: “For God will bring every deed into judgment with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” These verses are almost the same!
On the Ecclesiastes side all we have is fear and obedience and the tepid hope of a positive judgment. After Christ and by faith in him, not only are we allowed the undeserved privilege of reconciliation with God, but we are now evaluated with the real possibility of eternal rewards for faithfulness and obedience in this life.
Because of Christ now everything we do in this life matters. God will reward us and just like that gold medal motivates the Olympic athlete to train and discipline himself, God intends his eternal rewards to motivate us to make our lives matter for him in this few years we have in this life.
So the first question is, whose performance will you be evaluated by God for—your performance or Jesus’ performance? You can be reconciled to God by putting your faith in Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and of all the things Ecclesiastes should urge, that’s the main one.
But let every Christian here see what Ecclesiastes powerfully reveals. Life is fleeting. We are all about to be forgotten in a grave. But with Jesus there is wonderful meaning possible because every day matters. Every day evaluated. Every faithfulness and obedience rewarded. And you have a future forever. Eternal life. No more Ecclesiastes despair there. There all the seasons are for dancing and joy. Nobody gets old there. Nobody dies there. Nothing is vanity there.
Meaningless or meaningful, which eternal path are you on? In Christ our lives can be meaningful, meaningful, all is meaningful. Praise God for the book of Ecclesiastes.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2016 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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