The End of the Matter
Sermon Text: Ecclesiastes 12:9-14
Sermon Theme: The end of the matter — fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
Solomon repeats his text, Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. These are the words of one that could speak by dear-bought experience of the vanity of the world, which can do nothing to ease men of the burden of sin. As he considered the worth of souls, he gave good heed to what he spoke and wrote; words of truth will always be acceptable words. The truths of God are as goads to such as are dull and draw back, and nails to such as are wandering and draw aside; means to establish the heart, that we may never sit loose to our duty, nor be taken from it. The Shepherd of Israel is the Giver of inspired wisdom. Teachers and guides all receive their communications from him. The title is applied in Scripture to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The prophets sought diligently, what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. To write many books was not suited to the shortness of human life, and would be weariness to the writer, and to the reader; and then was much more so to both than it is now. All things would be vanity and vexation, except they led to this conclusion, That to fear God, and keep his commandments, is the whole of man. The fear of God includes in it all the affection of the soul towards him, which are produced by the Holy Spirit. There may be terror where there is no love, nay, where there is hatred. But this is different from the gracious fear of God, as the feelings of an affection child. The fear of God, is often put for the whole of true religion in the heart, and includes its practical results in the life. Let us attend to the one thing needful, and now come to him as a merciful Savior, who will soon come as an almighty Judge, when he will bring to light the things of darkness, and manifest the counsels of all hearts. Why does God record in his word, that All is vanity, but to keep us from deceiving ourselves to our ruin? He makes our duty to be our interest. May it be graven in all our hearts. Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is all that concerns man.
(From “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible”)
- The Preacher truly describes the world as it really is under covenant curse, but is this the ultimate perspective from which life should be viewed?
- Is the Word of God producing stability in your life? The men or women who consistently yield to God’s Word will not find themselves like those who are constantly “…tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14).
- Are you always on guard to seek the Truth in God’s Word? On one hand we have some people who defer to creativity so much that the truth of God’s Word takes a subordinate position. Instead of exposing and communicating what the text of God’s Word says, it becomes an interpreter’s clever opinions that take center stage. When biblical truth is eclipsed, it is impossible to see the full radiance and beauty of God’s Word.
- There are too many books, and people exhaust themselves by trying to keep up with them. Are you allocating you time for what is really important? For we are not warned against the reading of all books other than the Bible. We are warned against the danger of getting immobilized by the various views that are articulated by their respective advocates. It is important to make the Bible the primary source of truth. Too much time with extra-biblical books can hurt many people spiritually, not the least of which is that some have imbalanced or inaccurate teaching about God and the Christian life. Be prudent in what Christian literature you read.
- Are we understanding the knowledge that the Preacher taught is more than accumulation of facts but the revealed will of God? It is impossible to obey God if we are unfamiliar with what the Scriptures say. Obedience to God is not done in the energy of the flesh. Rather, it is “faith working through love.” Obedience to God’s will is not burdensome (1 John 5:3; Matthew 11:28-30) — it is a joy.
- Is the possessed wisdom God has given us being put to good use for the instruction of others?
- Do you have a healthy fear of God which includes the fear of the consequences of disobedience? There may be times of temptation or trial when we may forget some of the better reasons for obeying God, and that is when we really need to think of the consequences (Exodus 20:20).
- Is it hard for us to think about the morbid realities like mortality, death and the coming judgment? Should we ponder them to actually produce wise living?
- What would it be like, asks the Preacher, if things were utterly different from what you thought? What if this world is not the ultimate one? What if God exists and is a rewarder of those who seek him? What if one of his supreme characteristics is his utter, incredible generosity, his willingness to give and give and give again, his utter acceptance of us just as we are? Could it be, asks this provocative and seemingly negative Preacher, that the barrenness and hideous purposelessness of life stems only from the fact that you will not believe in such a God?
- Have you ever said, “I mean to have my fling, and I shall turn over a new leaf when I am older?” How deadly is it to run such a dreadful risk? Perhaps you will never be older. Probably, if you are, you will not want to turn the leaf. If you do, what a shame it is to plan to give God only the dregs of life! You need Him, quite as much, if not more, now in the flush of youth as in old age. Why should you rob yourself of years of blessing, and lay up bitter memories of wasted and polluted moments? If ever you turn to God in your older days, nothing will be so painful as the remembrance that you forgot Him so long.
- Are you ready for the “Day of the LORD” when we are brought to account? God is concerned with our social as much as with our religious life. As the creator, God is lord of all areas of life and expects to be obeyed in everything.
1) Other Words for Obedience
What advantage is there in saying “Be kind, be dutiful, be cheerful” over saying “Obey the laws of God?” There is this great practical advantage that, while in the last resort the one rule of life is as comprehensive as the other, and just as difficult, it is more definite, more portable, and does not sound so difficult. It is the very advantage which our Lord’s memorable summary, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself,” has over the Law and the Prophets. Bid a man keep the whole Mosaic code as interpreted by the prophets of a thousand years, and you set him a task so heavy, so hopeless, that he may well decline it; only to understand the bearing and harmony of the Mosaic statutes, and to gather the sense in which the prophets-to say nothing of the rabbis-interpreted them, is the labor of a lifetime, a labor for which even the whole life of a trained scholar is insufficient. But bid him “love God and man,” and you give him a principle which his own conscience at once accepts and confirms, a golden rule or principle which, if he be of a good heart and a willing mind, he will be able to apply to the details and problems of life as they arise. In like manner if you say: “The true ideal of life is to be reached only by the man who comprehends and obeys all the laws of God revealed in the physical universe, in the history of humanity, in the moral intuitions and discoveries of the race,” you set men a task so stupendous as that no man ever has or will be able to accomplish it. Say, on the other hand, “Do the duty of every hour as it passes, without fretting about future issues; help your neighbor to do his duty or to bear his burden, even though he may never have helped you; be blithe and cheerful even when your work is hard and your neighbor is ungrateful or unkind,” and you speak straight to a man’s heart, to his sense of what is right and good; you summon every noble and generous instinct of his nature to his aid. He can begin to practice this rule of life without preliminary and exhausting study of its meaning; and if he finds it work, as assuredly he will, he will be encouraged to make it his rule. He will soon discover, indeed, that it means more than he thought, that it is not so easy to apply to the complexities of human affairs, that it is very much harder to keep than he supposed: but its depth and difficulty will open on him gradually, as he is able to bear them. If his heart now and then faint, if hand and foot falter, still God is with him, with him to help and reward as well as to judge; and that conviction once in his mind is there forever, a constant spur to thought, to obedience, to patience.
(From The Expositor’s Bible)
2) The following is from “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture” 29 Vols
SERMON ADVICE. (By Ambrose): Therefore let your sermons be flowing, let them be clear and lucid so that by suitable disputation you may pour sweetness into the ears of the people and by the grace of your words may persuade the crowd to follow willingly where you lead. But if in the people, or in some persons, there is any stubbornness or any fault, let your sermons be such as to goad the listener, to sting the person with a guilty conscience. “The words of the wise are as goads.” Even the Lord Jesus goaded Saul when he was a persecutor. Consider how salutary was the goad that made of a persecutor an apostle, saying, “It is hard for you to kick against the goad.”
GOOD COUNSEL. (By Augustine): What could be briefer, truer, better for the soul to know? For this is all a person is—a keeper of God’s commandments. Not being such, he is, so to say, nothing at all, because instead of being constantly reshaped to the image of the truth, he remains bogged down in the likeness of shadow.
RESURRECTION FOR ALL. (By Nilus of Ancyra): Nor is a resurrection declared only for the martyrs, but for all persons, righteous and unrighteous, godly and ungodly, that everyone may receive according to his dessert. For God, says the Scripture, “will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.”
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