What Time Is It?
Ecclesiastes/Job Lesson 9
SUBJECT: Redeeming the Time
CENTRAL THEME: The wise person stewards time, realizing God controls all things.
INTRODUCTION: Time is one of the most valuable commodities we have. Once it is gone, we can never get it back. It seems like something is always vying for our time. Additionally, constantly being busy has become a status symbol, and we may fear being looked down upon for failing to keep ourselves busy. Consequently, many view time as a taskmaster. However, Ecclesiastes 3 reveals that time is a gift from God. Instead of being slaves to time, time is meant to give us the freedom to enjoy God and glorify Him in the opportunities He gives us as we move from one season of life to the next.
WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE A GREATER QUALITY OF TIME OR QUANTITY OF TIME? EXPLAIN.
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT:
Ecclesiastes 3 contains one of the most famous poems in the Bible. In this poem, Solomon outlined the truth that there is a time for everything, including a time for birth and a time for death (3:2). Knowing that God has ordered creation within seasons and proper times for everything, the Teacher encourages the reader to search for God who exists beyond time and whose purposes are eternal. In fact, God has made this known by establishing eternity in the hearts of all men and women. If all things “under the sun” are vanity and futile, then humans should seek refuge in God and properly enjoy the good gifts of life that He has granted all people.
Chapter 4 provides a powerful reminder to those who might view the pursuit of the good things in life as an end in itself. All people are bent toward a sinful desire to make good things the ultimate things. Solomon urged people to open themselves to the momentary gifts that God grants. He warned that some would be motivated by envy and greed. He argued, “two are better than one” (4:9). The point being, people can work together to accomplish more and can take care of one another in times of need. To work selfishly to gain all the pleasures of the world rather than properly enjoying them as God intended is vanity.
The reality of divine justice and worldly injustice serves as a fence to curb the sinful propensities of people to reach for more than they are granted. Rather than becoming bitter because of what God has not granted, one should enjoy the gifts God has given. Some people are given more than others, and some people suffer more than others, and God providentially controls those things. One might be tempted to equate gifts and suffering with righteousness and wickedness (remember Job’s friends?), but there is a warning in this line of thinking. Human justice is not always complete and lacks the perspective of God. According to Solomon, God will be the One to reward the righteous as well as punish the guilty.
EXPLORE THE TEXT: ECCLESIATES 3:1-15
Objective Statement: Every Christian should understand that our allotted time is a matter of our stewardship. Learn these three lessons showing God is in control of all things.
LESSON #1 – TIME AND PLACE (Eccl. 3:1-8)
1“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; 3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”
Solomon began his exploration of time with the observation that “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” With this, the Teacher summarized the completeness of life. He utilized a specific structure in this poem that is outlined in pairs, ideas that communicate the completeness of his reflections. Solomon listed a series of opposites, pointing out that each has a time and place in life (vs. 2-4).
First, there is “a time to be born, and a time to die.” We are born and we die; both of these times are out of our control. Birth and death are times ordained by God. He has numbered our days.
Second, there is “a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” Plants grow, and they die. For the most part, these things are out of our control. For example, we cannot plant flowers in the dead cold of winter, so this activity is dependent on the appropriate seasons, which are ordained by God.
Third, there is “a time to kill, and a time to heal.” In times of self-defense or national defense, we react to things that threaten us. Again, these are things that we do not necessarily control. We also heal in response to being injured.
Fourth, there is “a time to break down, and a time to build up.” We tear down, and we build because the materials we use are not eternal. These things have their time and wear out, break down, and decompose—all part of God’s creation order.
Fifth, there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” These two are appropriate responses to specific times in life, times that we react to and do not necessarily control when they come.
Sixth, (vs. 5-8), continue there is “a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together.” Bible teachers debate the meaning of this pair. If taken literally, it is probably a reference to clearing a field and removing stones for plowing and planting. The idea of gathering stones would be for the purpose of building walls around the field or the walls of a house. This pair may also indicate a season of war. In the ancient world, one method of warfare was to render farm fields useless by covering them in the countless stones around Palestine. When Israel was at war with Moab in 2 Kings 3, they were instructed to ruin every piece of good land with stones until it was covered. Seventh, (vs. 5b) there is “a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.” This likely relates to the intimacy of a married couple. There are certainly times where the physical relationship within marriage is totally acceptable and absolutely a gift from God. But there may be times when the needs to prioritize ones relationship with God would supersede the physical needs within marriage, and a temporary time of abstinence would be profitable (1 Cor. 7:5).
Eighth, there is “a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.” There are times when it is totally appropriate to save things and even “keep” them. It’s fine to do that. But there are other times when we are “to lose;” and even “cast [things] away” (vs. 6). Each of these couplets speaks to the temporary nature of all things.
Ninth, (vs. 7) says, “A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;” It was a custom to tear one’s clothing; “rend” in times of sorrow and grief—clothing that would need to be sewn when the time was right. Also there are going to be times when we are in difficult times, when it’s appropriate to be silent because it is just hard “to speak.” After a time, we are able to talk about things reflectively.
It is important to note that the Teacher began this poem with the bookends of birth and death. He then summarized the time between birth and death in the last two lines of the poem (vs. 8) as “a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.” Much like the cycles of nature in chapter 1, in the rhythm of our lives between birth and death, we experience the panorama of seasons involving different emotions, experiences, and events. We know they are coming, but we do not know when these seasons will come.
There is a sense in which we have little say in the seasons of life we face, so how we face them is important. Generally speaking, we have two responses to the seasons of life. First, we can view our time as oppressive. That is, we have no control, and we fear what will come next. So we pull away and become bitter. Second, we view time as an opportunity. That is, an opportunity to trust that God is in control and to know that all things are working toward our sanctification, depending on how we respond. We can fall into His arms and become an instrument for good. If we view the experiences of our lives as oppressive, we will take the stance of a helpless victim and become bitter toward God. But if we view our experiences in this life as opportunities to bring God glory in how we respond to and act, in time it changes everything.
According to Romans 8:28-29, we could argue that God uses all things in our time to work together for our good, namely, to conform us to the image of His Son. Every season of life is designed to be used by God—whether it is learning patience and faith in the times of suffering or learning joy in the times of laughter. Paul encouraged us in Ephesians 5:15-17 to make the best use of our time by understanding what the Lord’s will is. God intends for us to redeem our time for His purposes. Believers must use time as God made it to be used: doing the right things at the right time.
HOW DOES UNDERSTANDING THAT GOD ORDAINS DIFFERENT TIMES IN OUR LIVES FOR HIS PURPOSES HELP US RESPOND TO THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES BETTER?
LESSON #2 – ENJOY LIFE (Eccl. 3:9-13)
9 “What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth? 10 I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it. 11 He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. 12 I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. 13 And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.”
Up until this point, the Teacher has said nothing about the “how” and “why” of time. He has merely offered a reflection on what is. But then he set his mind on who establishes these times and why the times are set the way they are.
It is God in His sovereignty who has set the times. “He hath made every thing beautiful in his time” (vs. 11). God has also “set the world in the heart” (vs. 11b) of mankind. In other words, in every situation we are called to look beyond the here and now—through the trajectory of eternity. There is a divine, eternal, design for our lives. Moreover, most of the time we cannot fully understand God’s design “from the beginning to the end” from our limited perspective.
You can illustrate it this way: kids often enjoy playing with building blocks. These blocks often come with sets specifically designed to build a certain pre-designed product, a product that is displayed on the box and in the instructions. As the box is opened, all the child has is a pile of blocks. At the same time, the instructions show what the end product will look like. In order to achieve this end, one must follow the designer’s instructions. The difference between real life and building blocks is that we are not the ones with the blueprint laid out before us; God is. We have the individual pieces in our hands. We have a general idea of what the finished product is going to look like but not in its fullness. There are seasons in our lives that will shape how we become what we become, and most of that is out of our hands; it is in God’s. This is why Solomon said that “no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end” (vs. 11c).
We don’t need to understand the seasons of life to live faithfully. This is difficult because it means at least two things. First, God’s providence in our lives over time, makes us aware of our helplessness without Him. Second, God’s sovereignty over time makes us aware of our dependence on Him. We do not know what will come or when it will come. Therefore, in light of our helplessness and our dependence, our only response is to stand in awe of God and live according to the directions He has given us for a life of faith found in His Word. When we consider the set times of God that He has ordained for life, we are humbled to see the hand of God over all of our time. We are dependent on Him. He has authority; we are subject to Him. He controls the times; we are subjects who respond in time.
Because God has placed eternity in our hearts, we realize that life under the sun is not all there is. Since God remains in control of time, believers can enjoy the time God grants them on earth, knowing that eternity awaits them. Time is a gift, and believers should make the most of the time granted to them by God. Here Solomon answered the question that was asked in verse 9, namely, what does a worker gain from his toil? In verse 12, Solomon stated: “I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.”
No person can understand the times that God has set, let alone control them. If one cannot fully understand the time that God has set, if we are ultimately dependent on God and not in control, then isn’t it best to enjoy the present for what it is? Therefore, the Teacher urges his readers to consider the hand of God in the world around them. God has given us a sense of past and future, and food, drink, and enjoyment in our toil. In the allotted time that God has provided for each one of us, it is imperative that we are GOOD STEWARDS of that time (Eph. 5:15-17). We are to view life—the good and the bad—as a gift from God and use it with eternity in view.
WHAT ARE A FEW INTENTIONAL AND PRACTICAL WAYS THAT YOU CAN ENJOY THE TIMES THAT GOD HAS GIVEN YOU AS A GIFT IN THIS TEMPORARY LIFE?
LESSON #3 – GOD WORKS (Eccl. 3:14-15)
14 “I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him. 15 That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.”
There was a Scottish minister by the name of Alexander Whyte who was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so dark and gloomy that one church member thought to himself, “Certainly the preacher won’t think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this.” Much to his surprise, however, Whyte began by praying: “We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.” This is a perspective on life that is rooted in the goodness of God and the good gifts He has given us to enjoy in this life. In spite of our current situation, there is a sense in which we know there is nothing better for us than to rejoice and enjoy the good life.
The truth is, God is personally involved in the everyday affairs of His creation—in sustaining all things and working all things toward His perfect goals. In that security, we can enjoy life as a gift as we eat, drink, and labor (v. 13). As strange as it may seem, this is a call to actively pursue good things in life. In a sense, these verses are all about perspective. Though life can sometimes feel like a dark and gloomy day, God has given us good things that break through the clouds like the morning sun. There are still rainbows in our fallen world. They are often the simple things, the things we take for granted. How we view time affects how we live our lives. In God’s providence, our joy is offered in the time of the lives that we have.
Even though humanity is the grammatical subject of this section of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher made it clear that God is the One who determines. God is the primary Actor in the natural world, and we are dependent on Him. The clock of time is powered by the providence of our sovereign God. We make real, responsible decisions every day, but in reality we know that the seasons of life are almost completely out of our hands. In this, we learn to accept that we have very limited access to the big picture. Perhaps God intends us to be like children who trust their father to know what’s best because we cannot see what He sees, and we cannot know what He knows.
The question is, do we trust God? Our lives are full of broken characters, unexpected joys, jarring interruptions, unexplained contradictions, unanswered questions, and unfinished chapters. We will not always be in the seasons we are in, but they are being used by God to prepare us for the seasons that we have yet to experience. It is only God who knows exactly where everything is meant to go, in which order, at what time, and why.
In this sense, Solomon reminded his readers that God is not bound by time. In contrast to the futile accomplishments of humans, everything God does endures. What God has done may not be improved upon or diminished. So what is God’s ultimate purpose for the occasions and seasons in our lives? It is so that we “should fear before him” (vs. 14). It is to have what the Bible often calls the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is a deep-seated reverence and awe for God that causes men to want to please Him at all costs.
MAKE A LIST OF THE GOOD GIFTS THAT GOD HAS GIVEN YOU IN THIS LIFE (FAMILY, FRIENDS, RESOURCES). SPEND SOME TIME THANKING GOD FOR THESE THINGS AS A WAY TO REFOCUS YOUR HEART ON THANKFULNESS.
Remember our Objective Statement: Every Christian should understand that our allotted time is a matter of our stewardship. Learn these three lessons showing God is in control of all things.
LESSON #1 – TIME AND PLACE
LESSON #2 – ENJOY LIFE
LESSON #3 – GOD WORKS