Last week we began talking about the reality of aging and death from Ecclesiastes 12. We ended up talking mainly about vv. 2-8 and the indications of the breakdown of the body prior to death. Those verses said:
2 before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, 3 in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, 4 and the doors on the street are shut–when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low–5 they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets– 6 before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, 7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. 8 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.
Today we want to add two more practical points to this, focusing less on what happens to us and focusing more on what we are to do about it. That is primarily found in verse 1 of Ecclesiastes 12:
“Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’”
Now, before we get to Solomon’s important command that begins chapter 12, let’s take a moment to ask ourselves how we should treat the elderly. Shamefully, our valuation of old people is not very high in our culture. Very often we stuff them away in nursing homes and forget about them.
But the Bible is very clear that we are to treat older adults with respect and honor. The fifth commandment tells us to honor our parents, our moms and dads. Not just when they’re young but elderly too.
Exodus 20:12 says, “”Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”
The book of Proverbs, another book full of God’s wisdom for everyday life, says there’s something special about the elderly—that there’s a kind of glory about them.
Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.”
That doesn’t mean that everyone who has gray hair is good, but that gray or white hair may be a sign of a life of wisdom and obedience to God. Another book full of wisdom born out of trial is from the man Job.
“Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days,” he says in Job 12:12.
Job is saying that those who have seen a lot of years, and made it through the fire, have something to offer us…wisdom (Deut. 32:7). He’s saying they deserve our attention. One way we can respect the elderly is by listening to their stories and advice.
Now, what is to be our response to aging? How should we live today, knowing that one day (Lord willing), we will grow old? Let’s go back to verse 1.
“Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’” (12:1)
Now for the grand object set before him–thy Creator. For he who created the universe is the Creator of man–not only of the first man, but of all men, whose birth–however natural–was only wrought by his Omnipotent and Sovereign influence. For not only did he “form the spirit in man” (Zech. 12:1), but his body also–so fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14-16). (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 284)
It was George Bernard Shaw who said: “Youth is such a wonderful thing. It is a shame to waste it on young people.”
And this is essentially the point Solomon is making: Don’t waste your youth. While you are in the prime of life, employ all your energies and abilities in serving your Creator. This is the time to do it. Don’t waste it.
Years ago, at the Passion Conference in 2000 John Piper gave a message that “moved a generation.” He was speaking to young people.
This is the transcript from seven minutes of that message. I would encourage you to look it up on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sIqvQmT5IU) and catch his passion. Piper said:
You don’t have to know a lot of things (referencing Phil. 3:8) for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by a few great things.
If you want your life to count, if you want the ripple effect of the pebbles you drop to become waves that reach the ends of the earth and roll on for centuries and into eternity, you don’t have to have a high IQ or a high EQ. You don’t have to have good looks or riches. You don’t have to come from a fine family or a fine school. You just have to know a few great, majestic, unchanging, obvious, simple, glorious things, and be set on fire by them.
But I know that not everybody in this crowd wants their life to make a difference. There are hundreds of you — you don’t care whether you make a lasting difference for something great, you just want people to like you. If people would just like you, you’d be satisfied. Or if you could just have a good job with a good wife and a couple good kids and a nice car and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and quick and easy death and no hell — if you could have that, you’d be satisfied even without God.
That is a tragedy in the making.
Three weeks ago, we got word at our church that Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards had both been killed in Cameroon. Ruby was over eighty. Single all her life, she poured it out for one great thing: to make Jesus Christ known among the unreached, the poor, and the sick. Laura was a widow, a medical doctor, pushing eighty years old, and serving at Ruby’s side in Cameroon.
The brakes give way, over the cliff they go, and they’re gone — killed instantly.
And I asked my people: was that a tragedy? Two lives, driven by one great vision, spent in unheralded service to the perishing poor for the glory of Jesus Christ — two decades after almost all their American counterparts have retired to throw their lives away on trifles in Florida or New Mexico. No. That is not a tragedy. That is a glory.
I tell you what a tragedy is. I’ll read to you from Reader’s Digest what a tragedy is. “Bob and Penny . . . took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their thirty foot trawler, playing softball and collecting shells.”
That’s a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. And I get forty minutes to plead with you: don’t buy it. With all my heart I plead with you: don’t buy that dream. The American Dream: a nice house, a nice car, a nice job, a nice family, a nice retirement, collecting shells as the last chapter before you stand before the Creator of the universe to give an account of what you did: “Here it is Lord — my shell collection! And I’ve got a nice swing, and look at my boat!”
Don’t waste your life; don’t waste it.
Again, Solomon said:
“Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’” (12:1)
Remembering is a conscious act of keeping God in mind. Atheists forget about God, they don’t like to retain the knowledge of God in their minds (Romans 1:28). We are not to be like them, but keep our minds focused on God.
Like David says in Psalm 16:8, “I have set the Lord always before me.” In other words, I keep my eyes on him, my ear is attuned to His voice, my heart is affectionate towards him, my mind just keeps thinking about him.
That isn’t easy to do. The Scripture calls this meditation. We are to meditate upon His Word and His works. As we inform our minds we inflame our hearts.
Ecclesiastes 12:1 is Solomon’s version of Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…” Make it your priority, Jesus is saying. Solomon is saying, make it your priority to remember your Creator.
“How easy it is to neglect the Lord when you are caught up in the enjoyments and opportunities of life. We know that dark days (11:8) and difficult days (12:1) are coming, so we had better lay a good spiritual foundation as early in life as possible. During our youthful years, the sky is bright (11:7), but the time will come when there will be darkness and one storm after another.” (Warren Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1143).
J. Vernon McGee insightfully said: “In view of the fact that nothing under the sun can satisfy the human heart, Solomon says, ‘Get back to God.’”
Ultimately God is the only satisfier of our wants and desires and heaven is the place where we will fully experience it.
Psalm 16:11 says, “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
We experience some joys now, but our experience rarely reaches our expectations and no joy in this life lasts forevermore. But our joy in heaven will be complete and constant, full and forever.
C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, says it like this:
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same. (C. S. Lewis; Mere Christianity, 120)
A life without God can produce a bitter, lonely, and hopeless old age. A life centered around God is fulfilling; it will make the “days of trouble”–when disabilities, sickness, and handicaps cause barriers to enjoying life–satisfying because of the hope of eternal life. Being young is exciting. But the excitement of youth can become a barrier to closeness with God if it makes young people focus on passing pleasures instead of eternal values. Make your strength available to God when it is still yours–during your youthful years. Don’t waste it on evil or meaningless activities that become bad habits and make you callous. Seek God now. (Tyndale House Publishers, Life Application Study Bible, 1149)
A life of obedience and devotion to God is the only way to lasting happiness. When a young person combines the enthusiasm, idealism, and energy of youth with a deep devotion to the Lord, he has all the ingredients for a wonderful life. Free from feelings of guilt and fear, he is at peace with himself, God, and the world. He experiences a sense of fulfillment as he does the will of God, and looks forward to a lifetime of joyous service followed by eternal glory with his Savior. (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 149)
Just as Solomon reluctantly remembered that God would judge his life (11:9), now he remembers that God is his creator, the source of everything. Both realities remind us that we are not our own. God made us and expects of us that we live our lives in a way that would honor and glorify Him. He has a right to expect that.
After chapters filled with dissatisfaction and despair, Solomon finally tells us the necessary ingredient for experiencing joy in our lives—remember your Creator. Meditate upon Him, His glory, His power, His will, His lovingkindness.
Although there will be “evil” days and you will have “no delight in them,” if you have Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you can find delight in Him.
Celebrate the good things of life, but remember that they are from your Creator and are on temporary loan. Don’t pretend that you are self-made or self-sufficient; you have a Creator.
Here Qoheleth is calling us to live a God-centered life, making the God who made the universe our first and highest priority. In fact, this is the key to all the other things that he has called us to do in this passage. The reason we are able to rejoice in our long years of life or else in our youth and strength is because every day is a gift from our Creator God. The reason we need to walk in holy ways is because our Maker is also our Judge. The best remedy for any pain or vexation is to cast our care upon the God who made us and knows all about us. Everything that the Preacher says in this passage assumes and requires the close presence of God.
To remember God is to live our whole lives for him. It is to be mindful of God in every circumstance — including him in all our plans, praising him for all his blessings, and praying to him through all our troubles. Such remembrance, writes Derek Kidner, is “no perfunctory or purely mental act; it is to drop our pretense of self-sufficiency and commit ourselves to Him.”
Commit yourself fully to God. That is the way to find joy and meaning in this life, and eternal joy throughout eternity. The joy of living can continue throughout life, even into the debilitations of old age, but only if you keep remembering your Creator, only if you keep your heart set upon Jesus Christ.
If we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior before we die, then our life beyond death will be more exhilarating than we could ever imagine (Rev. 21:1-22:5). However, if we die before placing our faith in the Messiah, then our earthly life will have been lived in vain (Eccl. 12:8), and our life beyond will be one of torment in hell (Matt. 8:11-12, 13:49-50; Luke 16:22-28; 2 Thess. 1:8-9; Rev .20:10-15). This is not a pleasant thought, but it is nonetheless the truth. (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 121)
The best time in life to do this is when we are still young enough to give a whole lifetime to God’s service. Do not wait until you are so old that you do not have much desire to do anything because life has lost its pleasure. Rather, give your life to God now, while you still have enough passion to make a difference in the world. Remember God when at home and at school. Remember him when outside in his creation or indoors in the kitchen or the bedroom. Remember him at work and at play — playing baseball or playing the violin. Do not forget about God, but remember him in everything you do.
The call to place God and His will uppermost in your thinking during childhood stands in sharp contrast to the philosophy of many. All too often people say they will sow their wild oats in their youth and then turn over the rest of their lives to the Lord. (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 148)
I love what Letty Cottin Pogrebin said in her book Getting Over Getting Older: Why hope to live a long life if we’re only going to fill it with self-absorption, body maintenance and image repair? When we die, do we want people to exclaim “She looked ten years younger,” or do we want them to say: “She lived a great life”?
Hopefully you will want people to say, “She lived for Jesus Christ.”
So make that decision to live for Christ now. Don’t keep putting it off.
Be encouraged by this as well: your Creator remembers you, even if you do not always remember him. The security of our salvation does not depend on our remembrance of God but on his promise to remember us. So, the psalmist prayed, “O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me” (Ps 71:17-18).
Philip Ryken tells this story from his past:
By the time he was in his early nineties, my grandfather found it hard to remember much of anything, including, on occasion, who he was. This was extremely distressing for him because he knew that he was confused but didn’t know why. “I can’t remember who I am!” he said to my mother. “That’s okay, Dad,” she said, “I know who you are, and I can take care of everything you need.” (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 271-72)
Your Creator has a hold of you and will take care of you.