Read Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:8 to start.
Sometimes I like to start a sermon with a story or a personal anecdote. But today there wasn’t one that came to mind, although this is a very personal topic, and I think a very personal sermon. This morning, I’m speaking to the younger folks in particular, but I hope that there is something here for everyone, regardless of your age. Because this is a topic that affects each and every one of us, and that is the subject of getting older.
Each of us are getting older all the time. Today, I’m a day older than I was yesterday, and so are you. That’s how it goes, that’s how it’s gone ever since God breathed life into the man He had formed from the dust of the ground in the Garden of Eden, and how it’s going to go so long as this world endures, assuming no one ever invents a time machine, but that’s a whole other topic for another day and another place. That’s not really sermon material, and not really relevant to us here today.
Aging and growing up, that is relevant, because it’s real, and it is not something we can ignore. Or at least not something we should ignore. You can ignore the hungry raccoon that got into the kitchen when someone left the patio door open, but you shouldn’t ignore it or it’s going to make a huge mess that someone is going to have to clean up, because you know it’s not going to be the raccoon. You’ll have to deal with it, sooner or later. Likewise, if you ignore the fact that you will get older, you will still have to deal with it. You can’t close and lock the patio door to keep it at bay.
The passage we read from Ecclesiastes talks about aging, and about youth, and about joy. If you look at the first couple of verses, we start with joy. Truly the light is sweet. There is nothing quite like a warm sunny day. Everything seems better when the sun is shining.
I remember when I was a kid in school there was a workbook question about sunshine that I had an issue with. I might have been grade two or three, and it was a fill-in-the-blank question. When the sun is shining, I feel blank. When it’s raining, I feel blank. My response was that when the sun is shining, I feel warm, and when it’s raining, I feel wet. The teacher was not impressed. The expected answers of course are happy and sad. I did not complete those blanks the way I was supposed to, because I did not want to say that the weather should affect my mood so strongly. I remember having a talking to by the teacher because I refused to supply the supposedly correct answers. Yeah, I was a weird kid. Nowadays they probably would have checked me for some sort of mental health disorder. Maybe they still should.
And while to this day I would argue that my answers were valid, it is true that quite often the sun will affect our mood. It is pleasant to enjoy the great outdoors in the sunshine and warmth, much more than in the cold and dark. But sooner or later, the darkness does come.
It’s the end of April, and we’re about a month past the equinox, so at this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, halfway to the North Pole, we have less sunlight than we do in say July. Back in January, we have a lot less sunlight. That affects the mental health of many people, because we are supposed to experience sunlight. It gives our bodies vitamin D, for one thing. Depression is worse for lots of people in the winter, and some of that stems from the darkness. It can be oppressive, to be sure. But it is part of life in this fallen world.
In the same way that we have night and day, we have good and evil, we have times that are light and cheerful, and we have times that are dark and oppressive. That is the result of sin, of rebellion against God. Not even necessarily our own rebellion, although certainly that may well be the case. Man’s rebellion in general leads to darkness, and often we are caught in the wake of the rebellion of others. That is also part of life, we have light, and we have darkness, and we have to expect both. We will all experience them both.
Much like spring moves to summer then into fall and to winter, the seasons of life change, but not in so predictable and consistent a pattern. Life does change, though, perhaps gradually, perhaps suddenly, and in ways that may be small or may be drastic. Seasons do change, and one thing we can certainly count on is that things are not going to remain the same forever in this world.
Maybe you’ve not had much in the way of trouble and dark days in your life recently, and if you are younger, maybe not really at all. Or maybe you have had all manner of difficulty and suffering, perhaps far more than you would ever have expected, far more than you felt prepared to handle. Maybe you are living the days of darkness right now. There have been days recently when I find that’s where I am. There are days when it is hard to find even a small morsel of joy, when it would be a relief to find, to reference the title of no one’s favourite James Bond movie, a quantum of solace. At times such as this, you need to turn to the Lord for strength, and for grace, or you will surely fall, in one way or another. God’s grace can and will carry you through the darkest of days, but even then, the road will not likely be easy or pleasant. There will be days of darkness, and they will no doubt be many.
That is in stark contrast to the pleasures of youth as we see in verse 9, which advises the listener to let their heart be cheerful and to rejoice in their youthfulness. It says young man, but really this is for any person who is young, or still feels young. For that matter, I would suggest that this applies to anyone who considers themselves to be young, and who acts like a young person, despite the date on their birth certificate.
There is a lot of fun to be had while young, because the young have, on average, more energy, better health, fewer prior commitments, and less responsibilities. That combination allows for a lot more time to be spent on having fun, and even more, when you are young, there is much to learn and for most children, learning can be fun. When you start off knowing hardly anything about almost everything, there is much to learn and the joy of discovery is without equal. Nothing beats the excitement of learning new information, developing new skills, figuring out how things work, how things are interconnected. I see this in my own children all the time, from the youngest to the oldest, because learning is exciting and joyous, and the young have so much of it to do.
Those who are older can still learn, and should continue to learn. There may be subjects that you know inside and out, but certainly there are some that you do not, or at least not very well. And no one can truthfully say that they know God’s Word so well that they do not possibly need to know more. For that matter, no one who knows God at all can rightly claim that they know Him well enough that they need learn no further. We all have more to learn, and we should continue to enjoy that through our lives.
I will add a caution, though. We didn’t read all the way down to the end of chapter 12, at least not yet, but in verse 12 we read of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. That does not sound particularly joyous to me.
Often though, learning becomes a chore and a matter of drudgery, or for some it even becomes a thing that they dread. There are those who have poor experiences in school, perhaps with certain subjects or certain people, and it has robbed them of the joy of learning. And some people become consumed with study to the extent that it is detrimental to other areas of their lives.
Of course, learning is only one of the joys of youth, one of the better ones, to be sure, when applied rightly. There are many other aspects of life to be enjoyed, things that are new and exciting in particular when you are young. There isn’t time to list all of them, but we can all probably think of things that we used to enjoy quite a lot when we were young, or maybe still do, particularly if we are still young. And we should enjoy things, as verse 9 says, we should let our hearts be cheerful. But we do need to remember that God will judge our actions, our choices, regardless of whether we are young or old. Just because you are not old you do not get a free pass for sinful behaviour. Wrong is wrong, sin is sin. Being youthful is not an excuse for being foolish.
Often people pretend that this is so, that we can get away with all manner of wickedness and irresponsible behaviour because of a young age. But if you are old enough to know better, then you are old enough to do better, even if you might consider yourself too young to care. Saying “I’m still a kid” or “I’m still a teen” or “I’m only in my twenties,” well, that doesn’t wash with God. And at what point does one start to accept responsibility for youthful indiscretions? You might be familiar with the expression “Boys will be boys,” but so will lots of middle aged men. We don’t often embrace the obligations of maturity, but that does not mean that God excuses our poor choices because we don’t feel ready to start acting like we’re grown up. Verse 9 ends with the strong warning that if you do whatever you want then God will bring you into judgement. Enjoy your youth, but if you live with wicked abandon then there will be consequences. There is no free ride.
In verse 10, we see a reminder that youth is fleeting. It may feel like it takes a while to grow up, and those of you who are still quite young might feel that adulthood is a long way off, but it will be here before you know it. The same verse advises to put away sorrow from the heart, but the Hebrew word used there might be better translated as anger, or wrath, and to put away evil from the flesh. These are good advice at any age, but it’s wise to start young. Dealing with anger, with a bad temper, at an early age, is much easier than doing so when someone is older. I had a terrible temper as a child, and I had to work hard to curb that while I was young. Even now I get unreasonably angry on occasion, just ask my wife and kids.
Putting away fleshly desires and evil intentions, the sooner the better that those are gone. Childhood and youth are vanity. They do not last. The evils of youth should go as well. The joys of youth do not last. The
All of us, apart from the youngest ones here, no doubt have things that have passed out of our lives, or people that were our friends that we no longer see or spend time with, or whom we do not enjoy as once we did. I remember playing games with friends as a child, and doing so many times, but there was a last time I played hide and seek or tag or 500 up or foursquare or any other game with any particular group of friends, and then we never played it again, or I never hung out with that friend again. I know my own children have experienced that same thing, no doubt you have as well. Time moves on, and so do we. And so we should.
Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, at chapter 13, verse 11, (1Co 13:11) When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
When we get older, there comes a time to act like it. If you see an adult who plays with toys and acts like a toddler, you would say that person has a problem. If you see someone who is in their mid twenties, or maybe early thirties, or older, but still behaves like a teenager, well, assuming that this isn’t a cast member of a high school based TV show, then that’s actually rather sad and pathetic, and maybe somewhat creepy. Life continues, and we learn and grow and mature, or at least we should. That is the proper order of things.
The point of my sermon this morning is not to tell you to grow up, nor to act your age. There is a time to do that, and it’s not up to me to make up your mind for you if you are not ready to do that. That’s something that you can only decide for yourself. I can point you in the right direction, I can share my own experiences and knowledge to hopefully help you avoid mistakes, perhaps some of the same mistakes I’ve made in the past, or that I have seen others make, but we each make our own path in this life. We each make our own decisions, our own mistakes.
A mistake that I have seen all too often is found by neglecting the first verse of Ecclesiastes chapter 12. (Ecc 12:1) Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth. We’ll pause for a moment. There is no time like today to follow God. So many people think they want to follow God’s ways at some point, but not quite yet. Soon, but not today. They want to, as they might say it, live a little. Generally that really means they would like to sin a little. Or maybe a bunch, at least on a temporary basis. It won’t be that bad, and because they are young, the consequences won’t be so serious. And maybe the consequences won’t be serious. But maybe they will.
There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. We could turn back a few pages and read that in the book of Proverbs, written most likely by the same person who wrote Ecclesiastes. We find that same verse twice in Proverbs, in chapter 14 and again in chapter 16. Must be important if it is repeated. When we think that we can wait until later before following God, before remembering our Creator, when we go our own way, when we do what we think is right, when we think it’s right, we run into a lot of risk. There is the risk that we do irreparable harm to ourselves or to others, whether that be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. There is the risk, the very common risk, that we never get around to remembering our creator, and so go through life living by our own ways, which are not God’s ways, and so we grow further and further from Him, and lose any desire to ever seek Him. And there is also the risk that later never comes.
Over the last couple of weeks, two young men in this area, one from Cardigan, one from Fortune Bridge south of Souris, have passed away unexpectedly. One was 16, the other 17, and while I didn’t know either of them personally, I certainly know people who do. One of those boys used to work with my own son, and he had been to Emmanuel Camp at least once in the past. The other is the grandson of a former co-worker of mine. Both were healthy, well liked, and were certainly described as good kids. I don’t know the spiritual state of either of them, and while there may be cause for optimism, I simply don’t know. In any case, they have no further opportunity to follow God, to turn to Him and serve Him, to do anything at all about their eternal soul. This time last month, I don’t think that anyone expected either of them to be gone. But gone they are.
That verse at the start of chapter 12, I didn’t finish it a couple of minutes ago. Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
It is an evil day when a young person dies for no good reason, to be sure. It’s an evil day when anyone dies before their time. But there are lots of other evil days that will come, or indeed have already come. We might think that we lived through some evil days over the last three years, and no doubt we have, but there are people in Ukraine right now, and in Haiti, and Sudan, and Yemen, to name a few, who are experiencing days and weeks and months far more evil than we have ever known. But evil days will come, challenging times, of some type or another, to each of us. And as time moves along and we get older, these only tend to become more frequent.
Things run down and degrade over time. We talked about the joy of learning earlier, and how that can fade. Let us look at those next few verses at the things that fail. From the end of verse one, enjoyment and pleasure, those run down. We talked earlier about the joys of childhood in particular. The things that were once fun and delightful become worn and dull and uninteresting over time. The light we see, from the sun, the moon, and the stars, as we age our eyesight becomes worse, and while the light does not actually fade, we appreciate it less. Our bodies also make less vitamin D as we get older, which is important for health, and which we make from absorbing sunlight, as mentioned earlier. In verses 3 and 4, we see that courage and strength fail, that work fails, diligence and watchfulness fail, hospitality fails, the doors shall be shut in the streets, resources fail, sleep and rest fail, as will happen if you are waking up at the crack of dawn because birds are chirping, and entertainment fails as well.
When you go your own way, life can easily become a burden. Frankly, when you follow God diligently, life still becomes a burden, because things in this life, the things of this world, are temporary. Our lives are temporary. In the long term, our riches, our achievements, our grand schemes and accomplishments, they do not last and they do not matter. Sooner or later we all go to our long home. Our bodies return to the dust, and the spirit and soul goes to our Maker.
The chapter ends with a proclamation at verse 13 (Ecc 12:13) Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecc 12:14) For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
The world will tell you to live for yourself, and to live for today. Our own bodies desire that, our society pushes for that, but that is not why we are here. Selfish, self-centered living leads to a shallow and unsatisfying life, and if you have tried it, you will know it. It’s something that you learn as you get older, or something that you should learn. It’s the lesson to be gained from striving for temporary things that will never truly satisfy, and hopefully learned before countless years are wasted, or it’s too late entirely.
We were made in God’s image, we are His possession, and if you have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, then you are owned twice by the Lord, once by reason of creation and again by redemption. We are here to serve Him, not ourselves.
God knows where you are, both in here (point to head) and in here (point to heart). As the verse and the book of Ecclesiastes says at the very end, He will evaluate what we do, whether it’s public knowledge or the deepest, darkest secret.
I don’t know how you are doing spiritually. I can venture a guess, but I can’t tell for certain if you are walking close to God or if you are pulling away from Him. Ultimately, that’s between you and God. Maybe you are doing well, and I trust that is the case. But maybe it only looks that way. You might be able to put up a brave front, put on a good display, and look like you are doing well, while on the inside you are a spiritual dumpster fire. You might be able to fool your family, your friends, your classmates and co-workers. You might even be able to fool yourself. But you cannot fool God.
Remember now thy creator. This world is temporary, this life is temporary, and we don’t know when our expiry date will be. It might be a long way in the future, or it may be very, very soon. Be prepared either way. You don’t know when it may be too late.