Obstacles And Incentives To Faith

Obstacles And Incentives To Faith

Chapter Two

Obstacles And Incentives To Faith
Is God A 'Celestial Santa Claus'? 20 The High Cost Of Not Serving God 26
Facing Life's Injustices 21 God's Unfailing Goodness 27
Facing Life's Inequities And Mysteries 22 The Sovereignty Of God 28
Looking At Human Suffering 23 "God Has Everything Under Control" 29
Accepting God's 'Incomprehensibility' 24 Man's Ultimate Accountability 30
Becoming A Wise Man 25 Discussion Questions 31

Proverbs 9:10; Hebrews 10:26-39

Is God A 'Celestial Santa Claus'?

If you had to choose only three words to describe God, what would they be? The three words I would choose to describe God would be these: "God is Love". No greater description of God can be given!

However, in saying this, we must describe what we mean by 'love'. Some say things like this about God: "God is a God of love, therefore, he understands my human weaknesses and sins and he will overlook them. After all, it is his business to forgive"! Or others are heard to say, "God is a God of love , therefore, He will never send anyone to hell"!

It is true that God is a God of love, but as mercy is one manifestation of God's love towards those who respond in repentance to God, so it is also true that judgment is another manifestation of God's love towards those who spurn God's mercy! To reject God's mercy is to reap God's judgment, and both mercy and judgment are manifestations of God's holy love!

Love is not mere sentimentality! There are those who wrongly see God as a 'celestial Santa Claus', one who indiscriminately showers out gifts on all his earthly children, regardless of whether they are 'naughty or nice'. Such people know nothing of the 'fear of the Lord'.

When I repented of my sins, I was motivated not only by God's love which invited me to go to heaven, but also God's wrath which would keep me out of heaven if I failed to repent of my sins! Love may be–and, indeed, is–the chief motivation for repentance ("the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance"). But the strong secondary motivation for coming to Christ is the 'fear of the Lord'–not just the terrorizing fear of hell, but the reverential respect for God who said, lilt is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God".

The 'fear of the Lord' is not mainly referring to the terrorizing fear which results in moral paralysis; rather, the 'fear of the Lord' refers to that 'fear' which is better described as 'profound veration, respect, worship, adoration'.

The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that the whole duty of man is to 'fear god and keep his commandments'. (Ecclesiastes 12:13) The fear of the Lord is the duty of man, and the beginning of all true wisdom.

The book of Ecclesiastes describes the obstacles and incentives to faith, showing the futility of earth's ways and the importance of fearing and reverencing the living God. This book tells us that vie are to fear the Lord in spite of the doubts which assail us because of life's obvious inequities, injustices, and mysteries, and in spite of the fact that God's ways are many times past finding out. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." (Proverbs 9:10)

"God, give me a wholesome reverential respect of you. You hold the keys to life and death and you will judge all men in the end. Help me to respond now to your loving call of mercy, that I may never have to face your call to terrifying judgment!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: The 'fear of the Lord' is a great cleansing agent for my life, cleansing me from flippancy and fantasy and folly!

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Psalms 37:1-24

Facing Life's Injustices

One of the great obstacles to faith is life's injustices. Facing life's injustices caused the writer of Ecclesiastes to become disillusioned (or so at least it seems). Listen to his words, for they sound like the words of a modern-day cynic. "Moreover, I notice that throughout the earth justice is giving way to crime and even the police courts are corrupt… Next I observed all the oppression and sadness throughout the earth–the tears of the oppressed, and no one helping them, while on the side of their oppressors were powerful allies. So I felt that the dead were better off than the living. And most fortunate of all are those who have never been born, and have never seen all the evil and crime throughout the earth." (Ecclesiastes 3:16, Ecclesiastes 4:1-3, Living Bible) Faith in God is greatly challenged when it seems that evil triumphs!

One sinner or a small group of sinners can cause so much suffering in our world. "Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one rotten apple can spoil a barrelful." (Ecclesiastes 9:18, Living Bible) The tyrants of the world have caused untold suffering! It is said that if Joseph Stalin, a leader of the Communist Revolution, had done nothing else all his life but to write the names of his innocent victims, his life would not have been long enough to finish the job!

Faith in God is further challenged when it seems that so many times righteousness goes unrewarded and evil goes unpunished. "In this silly life I have seen everything, including the fact that some of the good die young and some of the wicked live on and on… There is a strange thing happening here upon the earth; Providence seems to treat some good men as though they were wicked, and some wicked men as though they were good. This is all very vexing and troublesome!" (Ecclesiastes 7:15, Ecclesiastes 8:14, Living Bible) It is no wonder that one great man, George Tyrell, once set it down boldly: "To believe that this terrible machine world is really from God, in God, and unto God, and that through it and in spite of its blind fatality all works for good–that is faith in long trousers". (quoted in Prayer and Life's Highest; Paul Rees, pg. 95)

In light of life's injustices and evil's seeming triumph, it is important to remind ourselves (as the writer of Ecclesiastes reminded himself) that eventually the righteous man will be vindicated and the evil man will be punished. "But though a man sins a hundred times and still lives, I know very well that those who fear God will be better off, unlike the wicked, who will not live long, good lives–their days shall pass away as quickly as shadows because they don't fear God." (Ecclesiastes 8:12-13, Living Bible) "Stop your anger! Turn off your wrath. Don't fret and worry–it only leads to harm. For the wicked shall be destroyed, but those who trust the Lord shall be given every blessing." (Psalms 37:8-9, Living Bible)

"O God, when the wrong seems oft so strong, convince me that you are still the Ruler. Help me not to fret myself because of evil doers, for as surely as you are God, just as surely will all evil doers be punished and all righteous persons be eternally rewarded."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: A just God will right all wrongs and will morally 'balance the books' in the end!

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Isaiah 55:8-9

Facing Life's Inequities And Mysteries

Life's inequities are formidable challenges to some men's faith in a living and just God. The writer of Ecclesiastes faced life's inequities and struggled to maintain his Faith in God. He felt that it was unfair that good men were sometimes not given opportunity by God to enjoy their God-given gifts, describing a situation in which a good man dies prematurely, leaving his good possessions to another to enjoy. "Yes, but there is a very serious evil which I have seen everywhere–God has given to some men very great wealth and honor, so that they can have everything they want, but he doesn't give them the health to enjoy it, and they die and others get it all! This is absurd, a hollow mockery, and a serious fault." (Ecclesiastes 6:1-2, Living Bible) He further feels that life is unfair when he observes fools being elevated to power while worthy men are humiliated. "There is another evil I have seen as I have watched the world go by, a sad situation concerning kings and rulers. For I have seen foolish men given great authority, and rich men not given their rightful place of dignity! I have seen servants riding, while princes walk like servant!" (Ecclesiastes 10:5-7, Living Bible)

The mystery of human suffering seems to be a continuing theme through- out the book of Ecclesiastes. Circumstances of life leave many unanswered (and shall we say, unanswerable) questions! In his autobiography, William Barclay shares some of his unanswered questions regarding the painful death of his godly mother. "She died in 1932, of cancer of the spine, an agonizing death–and left me facing the theological problem that to this day I have never solved. Why should my mother, lovely in body and in spirit, good all through, have to die like that? She died just when I was being licensed a preacher. 'You'll have a new note in your preaching now', my father said to me through his own tears–and so I had–not the note of one who knew the answers and had solved the problems, but the note of one who now knew what the problems were." (A Spiritual Autobiography, pg. 6)

When a rather young couple (with whom I had shared the Gospel and who had become believers) were tragically killed in a car accident (they were hit head on by drunk teenagers), they left a family of several children. I shared some words from William Barclay at their funeral: "What then can we say at a time like this? We can say that God is as grieved as we are, that he is sharing in our sorrow and our grief… We can say that Christianity has never pretended to explain sorrow and suffering. It may often be that in any tragedy there is traceable an element of human fault, human sin; in any disaster the reason may well lie in human error. Yet even when all such cases are taken into account, there remains much that is sheerly inexplicable". (In The Hands of God, pg. 126-127)

"O God, I confess that I don't understand the mysteries of human suffering- -why good men suffer and evil men prosper. But I choose to believe–'in spite of' life's mysteries, realizing that you hold the key to all understanding. I will know 'by and by'."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Because God's ways are perfect, I can find rest for my heart even when my mind is restless with unanswered questions!

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2 Corinthians 11:22-23, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Looking At Human Suffering

During the double funeral service for the couple which I referred to in the last devotional, I further shared these words with the large host of stunned people who came to mourn: "Christianity offers no cheap and facile explanation. In face of such things, we have often to say: 'I do not know why this happened'. But what Christianity does triumphantly offer is the power to face these things, to bear them, to come through them, and even to transform them so that the tragedy becomes a crown. We can say that God has it in his power to make it up to those who are taken too soon away, and to those to whom sorrow and suffering has tragically come. If God is justice, and if God is love, I am as certain as it is possible to be certain of anything, that there is a life to come. And in that life to come God is seeing to it that the life cut off too soon is getting its chance to blossom and flourish, and the life involved in tragedy is finding its compensation. The eternal world is redressing the balance of the world of time". (The Hands of God; William Barclay, pg. 126-127)

When my brother's 15 year old daughter–a beautiful, vivacious Christian–suddenly died in an accident, needless to say, my brother's heart was broken and grief-stricken, but his faith in God remained strong and enduring. He declared, the night of his daughter's death, "God makes no mistakes". This is not the answer of philosophy Which tries to explain suffering or the answer of Christian Science which tries to explain away suffering, but it is rather the answer of Faith which continues to believe in an all-wise and all-loving God even when circumstances defy reason!

If Christianity cannot deal with the problem of human suffering, then Christianity has no basis for offering hope amidst despair, joy amidst sorrow, peace amidst conflict. What is the Christian answer–an answer that goes beyond the pondered mysteries as described in the book of Ecclesiastes? What was Jesus' attitude toward suffering? "He accepted the fact of human suffering. He neither explains it nor explains it away. If he had attempted to explain it, his message would have been merely another philosophy, for a philosophy has to have an explanation for everything. His was a gospel–Good News–even 'in spite of'. A philosophy explains, but it does not change. The Gospel may not explain, but it does utterly change. Jesus transforms suffering by using it. The victim may become victor… A Christian expects to take things as they come, good, bad, or indifferent, and use them for a witness to Jesus. That puts a positive Yes upon every No that comes to a Christian. Everything furthers those who follow Christ. Just as an airplane goes up against resistance, against the wind, so the Christian rises on the wings of resistance." (The Divine Yes; E. Stanley Jones, pg. 100-101)

"O God, I know there are no easy or 'pat, answers' to the mysteries of life, and especially to the mystery of human suffering. Christianity does not try to answer all my 'Whys', but it does answer the 'Hows' of life–'How' to use life's tragedies to produce lasting good in my life!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I cannot always solve life's mysteries, but I can use life's mysteries (including human suffering) to make me better instead of bitter, to drive me to God instead of driving me from God!

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Ecclesiastes 3:11, Ecclesiastes 8:16-17, Ecclesiastes 11:5

Accepting God's 'Incomprehensibility'

'God' by definition is the Supreme Being who cannot be fully grasped by an finite conception. God says of Himself , "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts". (Isaiah 55:8-9) Throughout the Old Testament, God's incomprehensibility was acknowledged. (Read Psalms 92:5, Psalms 145:3; Job 11:7-9, Job 36:26)

The writer of Ecclesiastes also acknowledged that God's ways were past finding out. "Everything is appropriate in its own time. But though God has planted eternity in the hearts of men, even so, man cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end." (Ecclesiastes 3:11) "In my search for wisdom I observed all that was going on everywhere across the earth–ceaseless activity, day and night. (Of course, only God can see everything, and even the wisest man who says he knows everything, doesn't)!" (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17) "God's ways are as mysterious as the pathway of the wind, and as the manner in which a human spirit is infused into the little body of a baby while it is yet in its mother's womb." (Ecclesiastes 11:5, Living Bible)

Even in the New Testament, Paul declared the incomprehensibility of God. "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 'Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?'" (Romans 11:33-34)

It is true that no man is able fully to understand the ways of God, but on the other hand, we are commanded in Scripture to have the mind of Christ within us! "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 2:5) How is this possible? It is only possible because God has revealed Himself to mankind through the Incarnate Christ–the one who dwelt in our world for over 30 years! What Jesus was in human form–love, compassion, mercy, longsuffering–God has always been in eternity! Jesus Christ is "the image of the invisible God". (Colossians 1:15) "God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus)." (Colossians 1:19) To see Jesus (as He walks through the pages of the Gospels) is to see God! The cross on Mount Calvary is the unveiled cross that had always been on the heart of the eternal God!

So, while mankind can never comprehend all the thoughts of God, mankind can experience the love of God as revealed in the Son of God and as shed abroad in the human heart by the Spirit of God. (Romans 5:5) The Bible often speaks about the possibility–indeed, the necessity–of 'knowing' God. So, while God is 'incomprehendible', He is also knowable and capable of being experienced. According to scripture, it is not presumptuous to claim 'to know' God–and to know Him with all the intimacies of a husband 'knowing' his wife or with all the warmth of a trusting child 'knowing' his loving Father! The Bible teaches both the necessary 'incomprehensibility' of God and the possibility of an 'intimate fellowship' with God!

"How great thou art, O God, Your greatness cannot be fathomed. Your limits are higher than the heavens and deeper than the seas. My finite mind can never comprehend your infinite wisdom. And yet, I thank you that you are not only big enough to rule the Universe, but that you are also small enough to live in my heart!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: My mind is not equipped to understand the mysterious ways of God, but my heart is made to experience the intimate fellowship of God!

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Proverbs 1:20-33

Becoming A Wise Man

The Bible says that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom". (Proverbs 9:10) It is the wise man who fears the Lord, who profoundly venerates, worships, adores, and respects the person and work of God!

We are to fear the Lord in spite of the doubts which assail us because of life's obvious inequities, injustices, and mysteries, and in spite of the fact that God's ways are past finding out. God, by the very definition of 'God', is incomprehensible, and His ways are mysterious. However, God has revealed Himself in the person of His Son–Jesus Christ–in such a way that all men are without excuse if they do not deeply reverence and venerate Him. He cannot be fully understood with the head, but this is no reason not to revere and fear Him, for his presence can be personally known and enjoyed in the heart, through the ministry of His Holy Spirit.

Why fear and reverence the Lord? The book of Ecclesiastes (as well as many other books of the Bible) gives several reasons: (1) Because of man's moral responsibility; (2) Because of sin's moral consequences (Ecclesiastes 12:1); (3) Because of God's Unfailing Goodness (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, Ecclesiastes 3:13, Ecclesiastes 5:19-20, Ecclesiastes 8:15, Ecclesiastes 9:7); (4) Because of Man's Spiritual Capacities (Ecclesiastes 3:11); (5) Because of God's Sovereignty (Ecclesiastes 3:14, Ecclesiastes 7:14, Ecclesiastes 9:1); (6) Because of God's Punishment (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7); (7) Because of Man's Ultimate Accountability (Ecclesiastes 3:15,17, Ecclesiastes 11:9, Ecclesiastes 12:14).

If there are certain obstacles to faith, there are also certain incentives to faith. The wholesome fear of the Lord is one of the greatest incentives to faith. We must now look at the several stated reasons to fear and reverence the Lord.

First, because of man's moral responsibility. God has given responsibility to mankind to search out and to explore wisdom. Wisdom is avail able to all and makes its appeal to all, but each person must heed wisdom's call and find wisdom's ways. (Proverbs 1:20-33) Diligence in seeking God's wisdom involves wholehearted concentration, devotion to truth, and honesty. The truth of God objectively has been revealed to mankind, but the truth subjectively enjoyed involves the teachable spirit and the disciplined search for wisdom. There is no substitute for patient persistence. We ought to fear God, for God has laid upon each human being the responsibility to search out and to find the truth, and those who fail to apply themselves to that task of searching for wisdom will be held responsible before God someday.

The possibility of knowing God and of being able to 'think His thoughts after Him' is a great incentive to faith. However, God will not be found by the casual and careless, but He will be found by the diligent. Says God, "You will find me when you seek me, if you look for me in earnest". (Jeremiah 29:13)

"O God, pour out the spirit of wisdom upon me, and make me wise. Help me always to reverence and respect your will and ways."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: To spurn the counsel and reproof of God is to court the wrath of God; to submit to the will of God is to enjoy the wisdom of God!

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2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:7-8; Ecclesiastes 12:1

The High Cost Of Not Serving God

There are both positive and negative incentives in maintaining a strong faith in the living God. Contemplating sin's moral consequences is a negative incentive to maintain faith, and contemplating God's unfailing goodness is a positive incentive to maintain faith. He must look at the former first.

Why maintain a profound reverence and respect for the living God? Because, if you don't, life will come apart at the seams! Your days without God will become so unbearable that you will eventually declare, "I find no pleasure in them". There is "pleasure in sin for a season"–but only 'for a season', for sin's pleasure turns soon into sin's miseries, like a green leaf turns into a brown and shriveled leaf! To live against God is to live against yourself, for you were made by God and for God. To go against the grain of God's will and way is to go against the grain of reality, and you can't go against the grain of reality without going against the grain of your own being! To refuse to serve God is to deny yourself joy and pleasure, for there is no lasting or real pleasure except in the will and the plan of God. To remember your Creator is to respect yourself, for it is in the remembrance of your Creator that you find realization of your own personhood. Finding the Saviour, you find your own truest self. Everyone in this life gets either negative consequences for wrong moral choices, or positive results for right moral choices!

Why fear and reverence and obey the living God? Because we are living in a moral universe that favors those who remember the Creator of the Universe and that resists those who reject the Creator of the Universe! If God is for you, who can be against you, but if God is against you, the whole world could be on your side and you would still be a loser! "God resisteth the proud but giveth grace unto the humble." To reject the Saviour is to 'cut your own throat'! The way of the transgressor is hard–'hard' because no one was created to live without fellowship with the Creator. It is like a fish trying to live without water; like a stomach trying to exist without food; like a pair of lungs trying to function without oxygen! As the heart was made for love, so the soul was made for God, and the soul of man remains restless until it rests in God!

Said one man to me–a man who had been brought up in a devout Christian home, but who had resisted God for years–as he was seeking to become a Christian: "I was made to be a Christian. I am tired of trying to live a life of deception"! The brilliant 19th century actor, Oscar Wilde, who won highest academic honours, fell to the temptation of unnatural vice, and finally came to prison and disgrace. In spite of his brilliance and literary fame, he sowed seeds of sin and eventually reaped a harvest of shame. He wrote, "I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore, what one has done in the secret chamber, one has some day to cry aloud from the house-top… I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace". (quoted in Victory Through Surrender; E. S. Jones, pg. 13)

"O God, help me never to forget that I live in a moral universe. Help me to remember that if one 'sows to the wind' he will "reap the whirlwind', that no one can really break the moral law of God; one can only defy that moral law, and in the process, get broken morally."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: There may be a high cost in serving God, but there is a higher cost in not serving God.

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Psalms 136:1-9

God's Unfailing Goodness

Why fear and reverence the living God? Not only because of the negative consequences of sin which you want to avoid, but also because of the positive results which you want to enjoy because you are serving the Lord!

Fear the Lord, not only to avoid the misery which sin brings into life, but also to enjoy the pleasures which serving God brings to life. Over and over, the writer of Ecclesiastes notes that God is a God of grace and good gifts, that He is a God who gives meaning and satisfaction to man amidst life's toils.

The Psalmist declares repeatedly that God's loving kindness continues forever. (Psalms 136) God gives mankind all things richly to enjoy. He is the Giver of all good and perfect gifts–gifts like food, drink, clothing, material wealth and possessions, love of family, contentment in labor, wisdom, knowledge and happiness. God is always on the giving end and man is always on the receiving end.

God's goodness is manifested in many ways. He is the giver of food and drink. "I decided that there was nothing better for man to do than to enjoy his food and drink, and his job. Then I realized that even this pleasure is from the hand of God, For who can eat or enjoy apart from him?" (Ecclesiastes 2:24, Living Bible) Man should "eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of his labors, for these are gifts from God". (Ecclesiastes 3:13)

God is the giver of wisdom and knowledge and joy. "For God gives those who please him wisdom, knowledge and joy." (Ecclesiastes 2:25)

Health and wealth and contentment in one's daily work are all gifts from God. "It is very good if a man has received wealth from the Lord, and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and to accept your lot in life–that is indeed a gift from God. The person who does that will not need to look back with sorrow on his past, for God gives him joy," (Ecclesiastes 5:19-20)

Domestic happiness is a God-sanctioned and even a God-given gift. "SO go ahead, eat, drink, and be merry, for it makes no difference to God! Wear fine clothes–with a dash of cologne! Live happily with the woman you love through the fleeting days of life, for the wife God gives you is your best reward down here for all your earthly toil." (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9)

One of the strongest motivations for repentance of sin and for serving the Lord is the goodness of God. The goodness of the Lord is meant to lead people to repentance. The goodness of the Lord should be a strong incentive faithfully to serve God, amidst all the changes and chances of life and in spite of all of life's injustices, inequities, and mysteries. In light of God's shower of blessings upon undeserving mankind, anything less than gratitude and love in man's response constitutes a gross sin!

"God, you are unfailing in your goodness to me, giving me all things richly to enjoy. In serving you, there is a joy that is "unspeakable and full of glory", a contentment that is deep and meaningful. What a motivation to serve you!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: The God of all grace will grace my life with heaven's best gifts–as I serve the Giver!

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Isaiah 40:12-31

The Sovereignty Of God

Thus far we have looked at three reasons or motivations for respecting and reverencing the living God: because of man's moral responsibility, because of sin's moral consequences, because of God's unfailing goodness.

Why fear the living God? Because, fourthly, God "has set eternity in the hearts of men". (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Man is built for eternity! There is within every man a 'God-shaped vacuum' which seeks to be filled with God alone! Man cannot live by bread alone, but must live by the eternal Word of the eternal God. Man is overbuilt for time–he is built for eternity. Someone said that "Men are born thirsting for infinity". That thirst for infinity is evidence that God "has set eternity in the hearts of men". (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Inherent in every man is a basic desire to live–and to live happily and permanently.

If man is basically a spiritual being, created with capacities which call for a spiritual fulfillment, it is easy to see that only those who serve the divinely-created capacities and aspirations call for a fulfillment which God alone can give. God has "set eternity in the hearts of men". (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Nothing can fill the God-shaped vacuum but God himself. Eternal capacities can only be filled by the Eternal One. This is another positive incentive for man to serve the living God.

Why fear or revere the living God? According to Ecclesiastes 3:14, Ecclesiastes 7:14, Ecclesiastes 9:1, because God is Sovereign! By this term we mean that God is in complete control of His world, of history with its events, and of human beings with their experiences and choices. It is true that God has created human beings with freedom to choose and that humans can and often do choose wrongly, that is, make choices that are against the will of God. Pharaoh, in the Old Testament, for instance, 'hardened his heart' against God by resisting God, in that he did not allow the children of Israel to leave Egypt. However, the Bible declares that "God makes even the wrath of men to praise Him". That is to say, that even though men reject God's will and try to go their own way, God in the end will have the 'final word'! God can use even the evil of men to accomplish His ultimate will! God used the evil actions of Joseph's brothers to accomplish His purpose. Said Joseph to his repentant brothers who had treated Joseph so wrongly: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives". (Genesis 50:20)

God used the evil acts of men who crucified Jesus as the means, whereby God made possible the salvation of mankind. Dark Friday was turned into Good Friday because of Bright Easter Sunday Morning! The day of mankind's most evil cruelty–the crucifying of the Son of God–turned out to be the day of mankind's brightest hope–the salvation of the sons of men! The darkest day of tragedy turned out to be the brightest day of triumph!

"O God, even though wrong seems so strong, You are Ruler yet! You are loving enough to allow mankind freely to choose among moral alternatives, and yet you are powerful enough to interweave mankind's wrong moral choices into the fabric of your ultimate and eternal will and purposes!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: If God can make even the wrath of men to praise Him, how much more can He make the love of men to praise Him! I will love Him

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Ecclesiastes 3;14, Ecclesiastes 7:14, Ecclesiastes 9:1; Romans 8:28

"God Has Everything Under Control"

The sovereignty of God is one of the chief motivations for reverence and fear of God. If God is going to have 'the final word' at the end of life (regardless of the wrong moral choices of mankind on earth), then it is wise to be 'in step' with God on earth rather than 'out of step I with God in eternity! If in eternity every knee shall bow before God and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is God, then it is wise to bow the knee and to confess with the lips now–in other words, to revere and reverence God now!

Ecclesiastes 3:14 notes that God is Sovereign, for He is Controller over His own works: "I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it, so men will revere him". The actions of man, good and bad, based upon man's free will choice, cannot ultimately alter God's eternal purposes! Do what you will, but God will ultimately have his way–this is a good motivation to fear and to reverence the living God! God permits mankind to choose to go against His perfect will, resulting in sin's havoc, but God will exercise His Sovereign Power when He brings all sin to judgment. Even mankind's wrong moral choices which God permits cannot ultimately altar God's eternal purposes–the establishment of an eternal kingdom of righteousness! "Every thing God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it, so men will revere him." (Ecclesiastes 3:14)

The Sovereignty of God is described in the book of Ecclesiastes in terms of God being the Controller, not only over His own works, but also the Controller over man's life. (Ecclesiastes 7:14, 9:1) "When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future." (Ecclesiastes 7:14, Living Bible)

Man can choose wrongly, but God will sovereignly determine the negative moral consequences which that man must suffer! Man can choose rightly, but God will sovereignly determine the positive moral results which that man will enjoy! A moral universe demands the exercise of both the free will of man and the sovereign will of God. The two may seem contradictory, but in reality the two are complementary to a proper understanding of moral realities within a moral universe. God has both a perfect will and a permissive will. "Since everything that happens is necessarily within the bounds of God's will, yet (according to scriptures) much that happens is contrary to the will of God, it is evident that the will of God has two aspects, rather than one… Thus, it is evident that there are two aspects of the will of God with respect to sin: His permissive will allows it, but His perfect will forbids it and will bring all sin into judgment." (Life in the Son; Robert Shank, pg. 349-348) Man may choose freely because God permits the exercise of free will, but God will justly punish and reward ultimately because God, as Sovereign, exercises final control in a moral universe! "So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God's hands." (Ecclesiastes 9:1)

"O God, because you will punish willful sin and reward willing obedience in the end, I am motivated both by fear and love to serve you, all the days of my life!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: "My times are in Thy hands, whatever they may be, pleasing or painful, sad or glad, as best may seem to Thee."

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Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Man's Ultimate Accountability

Why revere and fear God? Not only because God is sovereign and thus will finally 'balance the books' and have the 'final say' at the end of life, but also because God will bring judgment and punishment for wrong- doing during this present lifetime.

God is in heaven and we are on earth, but this does not mean that God is far removed from this earth and oblivious to mankind's moral actions. There is an 'all-seeing Eye' watching every move of each human being, an 'unseen Person' listening to every conversation, and an all-knowing Judge scrutinizing every secret motive hidden in every man's heart!

Therefore, Ecclesiastes 5:1-3 commands you to live carefully, to "guard your steps", "to go near to listen" and "not be quick with your mouth". This scripture implies that we are to fear the Lord, for God will bring punishment to irreverent men of hasty words.

Ecclesiastes 5:4-7 further exhorts us to "stand in awe (fear) of God" because God will bring punishment to indifferent men of rash vows! There is a strong motivation to fear and reverence God when we realize that God will punish irreverent men of hasty words and indifferent men of rash vows. (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7) (Read the following: Matthew 5:37, Matthew 12:36-37; Psalms 19:14)

Ecclesiastes 3:17,Ecclesiastes 11:9, Ecclesiastes 12:14 teach us that man is ultimately accountable for his moral actions. "God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:14) It is not all of life to live or of death to die, but after death comes the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27) There is a hell to shun and a heaven to gain. Moral choices in life determine one's moral destiny in eternity! It is a fixed destiny. (Ecclesiastes 11:3b)

Death is both inevitable and unpredictable! "Death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart." (Ecclesiastes 7:2b) "No man has power over the wind to contain it; so no one has power over the day of his death." (Ecclesiastes 8:8 a) "Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectantly upon them." (Ecclesiastes 9:12) The writer exhorts us, in light of the inevitability of death, to remember and to revere our Creator. (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7) The worldly man who dies not believing in a hereafter will have the grimmest of all grim days to face when he dies and then faces God at the Great White Throne Judgment. (Revelations 20:11-15) "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:31) Therefore, the conclusion of the whole matter is this: "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil". (Ecclesiastes 12:13b-14)

"O God, help me to fear you so much that I will walk obediently before you, and to love you so much that I will fellowship intimately with you. If I am ready to die, I am then ready to live–and to live abundantly!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." (Proverbs 9:10)

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Discussion Questions On "Obstacles And Incentives To Faith"

  1. What is the primary and secondary motivation for responding to God in repentance of sin?

  2. What is meant by the Biblical phrase 'the fear of the Lord'?

  3. What Biblical truths should a believer call to mind when he observes or experiences life's injustices and evil's seeming triumph?

  4. What were some of the specific inequities in life that greatly distraught the writer of Ecclesiastes?

  5. What is the Christian answer to the problem of unexplained tragedy and human suffering?

  6. In light of the fact of the incomprehensibility of God, is it presumptuous for a mere human to claim personal knowledge and intimate fellowship with the eternal God? Why or why not?

  7. Name seven reasons or incentives (according to the book of Ecclesiastes) to 'fear the Lord'.

  8. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: "We are living in a moral universe that favors those who remember the Creator of the Universe and that resists those who reject the Creator of the Universe." Give scriptural support for your answer.

  9. Illustrate from your personal observations or experience the truth of the following statement: "There may be a high cost in serving God, but there is a higher cost in not serving God."

  10. What are some of the specific positive results and benefits (according to Ecclesiastes) from serving the Lord?

  11. What evidence is there that God has "set eternity in the hearts of men" and that there is a "God-shaped vacuum" in the heart of man which nothing can fill except God Himself?

  12. What is meant by "the Sovereignty of God", and how can God's sovereignty be maintained and, at the same time, man's free will be exercised? (Illustrate the dynamic interplay of these two realities, using the examples of Pharaoh and Joseph in the Old Testament, and of Jesus in the New Testament.)

  13. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: "Man can choose rightly or wrongly, but God will sovereignly determine the negative moral consequences or the positive moral results, in His moral treatment of free moral agents".

  14. What is meant by "God's perfect will" and "God's permissive will"?

  15. In light of the fact that God will bring punishment to irreverent men of hasty words (Ecclesiastes 5:1-3), and to indifferent men of rash vows (Ecclesiastes 5:4-7), what should the sincere believer be motivated to do?

  16. What basic truths regarding Death does the book of Ecclesiastes teach us?

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