LIVING BEYOND THE HORIZON “Time and Opportunity” BY DR. JOHN STEPHENS January 28, 2018 TO CATCH THE SERMON Click here to listen to the audio-only version. (Good for when you’re in the car or doing something else.)
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S.W.A.P. – A Simple Method of Bible Encounter with Today’s Sermon Text S-SCRIPTURE 1
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. 9
What gain have the workers from their toil? 10I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. 11He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds [i.e. “permanence”], yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, NRSV)
W-WHAT (DOES IT MEAN)? Summary Ecclesiastes says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” In life, we must understand time and learn to use it in meaningful ways – these are vital disciplines of nurturing life. Time, like every other commodity entrusted to us by God, must be nurtured with wisdom. Of course, in a certain sense, time cannot really be managed – but what we do within the parameters of time can be managed. How do we nurture our life within the time we have? How do we make the most of time? Opportunities are gifts. Do we meet them with eagerness and readiness? Ephesians 5:15-17 encourages us to make the most of every opportunity. We must take the opportunity to evangelize, empathize, and energize – to reach others with the Gospel. Can we proactively use our time and opportunities given to us as gifts? Commentary
In Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, the teaching sometimes comes to its real point in its closing line, with everything leading up to that last line. In this case the significance of the last line is also underscored by the change in the form of the last line. Every other line has included two verbs; at the end of the poem, nouns take the place of verbs: … 8a time to love (verb), and a time to hate (verb); a time for war (noun), and a time for peace (noun). Yet if the poem were designed as an exhortation to peace-making rather than war-making, one might have expected the move to be the other way around, from nouns to verbs, and one might have expected it to make clear that peace-making is preferable to war-making. Further, Ecclesiastes doesn’t elsewhere go in for moral exhortation of the kind presupposed by this application of the poem. That’s why the 1960s hit song by The Byrds — Turn, Turn, Turn — needs to add the exhortation to “turn.” Ecclesiastes doesn’t issue one. 2
The context in which the poem is set underlines the point. The chapter begins with the declaration that there is a time or a moment for all the activities the poem describes, and it follows up the poem with the long reflection on the way God has made everything fitting in its time. Birth and death, weeping and laughter, silence and speaking, and so on, along with peace and war—they are all part of human life as God has created it, part of human life “under the sun,” as we experience it. These are not exhortations but descriptions. (The allusion to stones perhaps refers to the deliberate ruining of an enemy’s fields and the correlative clearing of the stones and/or the collection of them for use in building.) In most cases, perhaps in all, one of the pair of verbs denotes an activity that is preferable to the other, and one effect of the poem is then to rub people’s noses into the reality of human life. Death is as integral to it as life, slaying as healing, repudiating as giving oneself (the latter are words commonly translated hate and love). The equal status of the positive and the negative is further suggested by the random order in which they appear—sometimes the positive comes first, sometimes the negative comes first. In other words, Ecclesiastes itself isn’t evaluating them as positive and negative. They are just realities. The evaluation comes in the prose reflection. The sovereign God’s lordship lies behind all these activities, but he hasn’t made it possible for humanity to make sense of them as aspects of some whole. Somewhat enigmatically, our writer declares that God has put “permanence” into our minds. The Hebrew word appears in the common expression “forever,” but that expression can refer merely to a person’s lifetime rather than denoting something that lasts for eternity. Here, it suggests that God has put into our minds a yearning to understand the big picture about human life and about God’s activity in the world. The writer implies that there is such a big picture; but from our position within the context of earthly life “under the sun,” we cannot perceive what it is. All we see is the apparently random collocation of the contrasting activities that the poem describes. Fortunately, we know that God knows what the big picture is and that we can trust him for it. His realization doesn’t make the writer inclined to despair and suicide. Once more, it makes him urge people to settle for what we can have and do—enjoy our life, do what is good, eat and drink, enjoy the fruit of our labor, and accept the gifts God has given us but also the limitations God has placed on us. The enigmatic last phrase perhaps also refers to entrusting the past to God.
W-WHAT (CAN I OBEY?) What do YOU hear God calling you to obey in this scripture?
A-APPLY Light 1. What was your favorite season as a child? Why? Share a favorite memory with someone from this season. Deeper
1. The NIV translation of v. 11 reads, “God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” Reflect on what it means that God has set eternity in your heart. How might that affect how you face today? Deepest 1. What “time” is it for you, i.e., what “season” are you currently living in? Does belief in God’s sovereignty, even when life doesn’t make sense, free you to enjoy life? If so, how? If not, why not? 2. If you haven’t already done so, complete your “2018 Estimate of Giving” by clicking here.
P-PRAYER Lord, sometimes life doesn’t make sense. This happens, that happens. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. But through it all, I’m learning to trust you. I’m learning that all things can work together for good for those called according to your purpose. Continue to teach me. In your name. Amen.
If You Want to Read Next Week’s Scripture: Mark 1:29-39
(This material is written by Rev. Bob Johnson, adapted from commentary by John Goldingay, the David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament in the School of Theology of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. It is intended to be supplemental and not necessarily to reflect the thought or intent of the preacher of the day.)