“Fear God and Keep His Commandments”

 

Ecclesiastes 12:9-14 (text); John 10:14-18, 25-30
© August 4, 2013 • Download this PDF sermon

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ: This is our last sermon on the Book of Ecclesiastes. We have learned a lot about life from this book. The Preacher opened with familiar “Vanity of vanities!” and closes with the same words in verse 8 of our text today: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.” These serve as bookends for emphasis.

"Native of Palestine working with an ox and an ass Holy Land" by Snapshots of the Past (click picture to enlarge)

"Native of Palestine working with an ox and an ass Holy Land" (taken 2007), by Snapshots of the Past (click picture to enlarge)

Some people think that verse 8 is the end of the book; that other writers added verses 9-14, because the Preacher is referred to in the third person, not “I.” Others even think of two additional authors. Verses 9-11 were written by someone who agrees with the Preacher that all of life is vanity. Another author wrote 12-14 to correct the Preacher, that life is not meaningless when there is fear of God.

“Fear God” is just one of the many words made popular by this book. Other well-known prose are: “vanity of vanities”; “the sun also rises”; “there is nothing new under the sun”; “to everything there is a season”; and “remember your Creator.” Here, in verse 13, we have another one: “the end of the matter.” These words introduce the conclusion of his research about life.

The Preacher used many proverbs to teach life’s knowledge and wisdom to his readers or listeners (verse 9). We have studied a few of them in this series. These he calls “words of delight” and “words of truth.” Indeed, those who have read the book delight in its truths about life “under the sun” (verse 10).

These words are like two common things. The first is “goads,” which are like shepherds’ pointed sticks to prod sheep or cattle to walk along the right paths. An ancient goad is like today’s cattle prod, which is a long stick, usually pointed, commonly used to make stubborn cattle or other livestock move by tapping, striking, or poking them on the flanks. Some prods use a relatively high-voltage, low-current electricity to “goad” the animals. For Christians, the words of this book, like all other books of the Bible, are like goads that guide us not just to paths of delight, but of righteousness. Sometimes, they inflict just enough pain on us so we learn from our sins and sufferings when we stray from God’s true words.

The second analogy to the Preacher’s words is that of “nails firmly fixed.” The words of God are driven into our heart and minds like nails; they are not easily forgotten. Would it be easy to forget the words “vanity of vanities,” or “there is nothing new under the sun,” and other sayings in the book? No, because they are delightful truths, and are firmly driven and fixed in our minds.

The Preacher warns his audience about knowledge that are not found in his book (verse 12). He comments that there is no end in the making of books. Guess how many books are published in a year? Over 2,000,000! You would think that the world will be a good place by now, full of knowledge from books, but it is not. Because only a small fraction of these millions of books gives us true knowledge and wisdom. Man’s quest for knowledge will never end and it wearies the mind, but only the Bible and books based on the true gospel of the Bible impart true wisdom.

Today we will concentrate on verses 11 and 13-14. “The end of the matter,” the conclusion of the Preacher about life is this: Fear God and Keep His Commandments.” This is the most important thing in our life, “the whole duty of man,” because of two things: first, Because He is Our Shepherd; and second, Because He is Our Judge.

Because He is Our Shepherd
The Preacher says that these words of delight and truth “are given by one Shepherd.” The shepherd uses a pointed prod to guide the sheep along the right paths. If the shepherd doesn’t do his job, the sheep will wander off the path into dangerous valleys of death because there are wolves who would deceive them with false teachings.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He knows each one of his sheep, and all his sheep know him. They know his voice, so they would not be deceived by the voice of false shepherds. Jesus says that because they all know him as their Shepherd, they all follow him. So if you’re one of the sheep of Jesus, you would follow his voice, his words, and his commandments. If you don’t, then it means you’re not one of his sheep. There is no such thing as sheep who don’t follow Jesus’ commandments.

This is why the Preacher tells us “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (verse 13). The whole of man’s life is to fear God and obey his commandments. We learned earlier that to fear God is not to be terrified by God, but to stand in reverence and awe of God.

But what do God’s people do with this awe and amazement of his works? Stand in frozen amazement? No, what follows is faith, then obedience. The Israelites believed God’s servant Moses after they saw God’s mighty power. And God demanded obedience from them after they believed in him and in his prophet Moses. This is why God was very displeased with them after they repeatedly acted in unbelief during their journey to the Promised Land. If they truly trusted the LORD, they would have obeyed his commandments.

This is why faith and works are inseparable. Christ points out this unchangeable relationship when he says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit …” Every Christian has been chosen and appointed by Christ to bear fruit ((John 15:5, 16). Paul commends the Colossian believers because their faith “is bearing fruit and increasing” (Col 1:4, 6). In this well-known verse, James does not contradict Paul—in fact, he reinforces it: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas 2:17).

The words of wisdom of the Preacher are the words our Great Shepherd. In Chapter 1, he taught us that wisdom is meaningless if it is worldly wisdom. The only wisdom that matters is that which is from Christ, because in him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). The sheep hears the Shepherd’s voice of wisdom and calls them with his words of eternal life.

Hard work and toil have meaning only when we work as if for Christ. It is Christ himself who performed the greatest work of all: that of living as a man, dying on the cross, and rising from the grave to save us from sin and death. The Shepherd does all the work of leading the sheep to safety and feeding them. Because of his saving work, we are able to look forward to our heavenly rest, as God rested from all his work on the seventh day.

In Chapters 2 and 9, the Preacher then turned from the pursuit of wisdom and work to pursuing the pleasures of life. And his conclusion was the same: life’s pleasures are meaningless, a chasing after wind. But when we persevere in following our Great Shepherd, we will have pleasures forevermore because we will “enter into the joy of our Master” (Matt 25:21). When we are lovers of God instead of lovers of pleasure, our joy in Christ is full (John 15:11).

In Chapters 3 and 11, the Preacher thinks about life and death, and concludes again that all is vanity. Since we are all destined to die anyway, what’s the use of life? What’s the point of being good and doing good in this life, when there is no justice? Is there really life after death? But Christ teaches us to pursue justice and righteousness in this world, because we will all appear before his judgment throne on the last day. On that day, the Shepherd will strike down all the wolves in sheep’s clothing, as well as thieves and robbers who would hurt his sheep.

The many uncertainties in life are his thoughts in Chapters 10 and 11. The world is full of evil and disasters, and we don’t know what will happen next. God does not tell us all the details of our lives, so we worry about our jobs and finances. But Jesus encourages us not to worry about what we will eat, drink or wear, but to trust in God’s providence. We are to seek first his kingdom, and he will do all the rest for our life on this earth. Our Good Shepherd leads us, protects us, feeds us, and will give us our eternal dwelling-place (Psa 23).

Again in Chapter 12, the Preacher thinks about old age and death. He says that life is vanity because we will all die. He has beautiful words about getting old and death, but these do not take away the pain and mourning over death. We are reminded that our spirits go back to God when we die, and afterwards comes Judgment Day, when we receive the rewards of faithfulness and obedience to the words of our Shepherd.

Because He is Our Judge
In verse 14, the Preacher also says that we are to fear God and keep his commandments because God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” We learned this earlier in Chapters 3 and 11. Every word, deed and thought will be brought out before God’s Judgment throne.

All those who think they are wise are fools before the eyes of God. All who glory in abortion rights and homosexual rights will be found guilty of violating God’s laws against murder and sexual immorality (Rev 21:8). All who think they are wise in saying, “There is no God,” will be called fools, and “call his wickedness to account” (Psa 10:4, 15). All who condemn God for being unjust in his mighty works of saving his people will themselves be condemned as “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (Rom 9:22). All those who teach that there is no Creator will also be called fools and sent to the most terrible place God created for those who deny him (Rom 1:18-23). All who do not believe that God’s Word is inspired, inerrant and infallible, as well as all false prophets who deceived many will be found guilty of lying. All who preach false gospels such as the televangelists will be stripped of their prosperity and be deprived of all delight and comfort in hell (2 Pet 2:1-3). Jesus warned us about all these false teachers and false prophets in the last days.

Those who don’t want to work because they think that work and toil are meaningless will be judged. The slothful will also suffer poverty in hell. Paul himself warns them: those who are too lazy to work, and depend on others, should not eat (2 Thess 3:10). When they fail to provide for their families because of laziness, they are worse than unbelievers, because they never consider work as a gift from God (1 Tim 5:8).

Some people make the pursuit of personal pleasure their first priority in life, apart from serving and living for God. After death, there is no pleasure or joy for those who have no fear of the LORD. Instead of joy, there is only “a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire” that awaits them (Heb 10:27). Instead of gladness of heart, there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth. On that day, God’s wrath on rebels will be like his punishment against Israel, “I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation” (Amos 8:10).

Others pursue God-less pleasure because they view life as short and temporary. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Life is so short that God-less pleasure is also fleeting. Life is full of uncertainties, so why worry about tomorrow? Why worry about Judgment Day, since no one really knows? Is there really hell? Has anyone come back from hell, or even heaven?

For them, thinking about life, old age and death is not important. Remembering the Creator must be put off till the day they die, because they want to enjoy life as much as possible. Fearing God and obeying his commandments dampen their earthly passions and desires. For these people, Jesus will be a fearful God. They will literally fear God, not in an awesome and reverential way, but in a terrifying way because of Judgment Day (Rev 6:15-17). That day will come when both body and soul of all who have no fear of God will be reunited and cast into hell. For them, resurrection will be a fearful resurrection unto eternal death in hell! (John 5:28-29).

 

Beloved friends, Jesus is your Good and Great Shepherd. His words are your goads to guide you all the way to your Promised heavenly dwelling-place. He is always watching and protecting all his sheep. No one is able to snatch his sheep out of his Father’s hand. He searches for anyone who has strayed and lost his way in this wilderness. As your Good Shepherd, he himself became your blameless and spotless sheep, dying as a sacrificial Lamb for all his sheep.

Christ himself—the sinless, perfect Judge—was judged by God in order to give you perfect righteousness in him. On the cross, God the Holy Judge poured out his wrath on him as your Substitute, in order that the righteousness of Christ may be counted to you who are sinners. When he offered his broken body and shed blood on the cross, God showed his mercy and justice to you, because Christ is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:25-26).

What else is there for you to do so we may have eternal life? Repent of your disobedience against God’s commandments, and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. For those of you who already believe, fear God and keep his commandments just the same! Because this is the end of the matter in your life, both in this age and in the age to come.

 

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