读经：诗19:23-20:4 林前7:17-35 传4:1-6:12
Don’t Just Survive, Thrive
Some people see life today as the Witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth put it, ‘Double, double toil and trouble.’ My own perspective on life changed when a friend wisely pointed out to me that, in a sense, this life is a series of problem-solving exercises. We will never be without problems in this life. If, in the midst of all the challenges, you cannot learn to thrive in the situation in which you find yourself, you will never find contentment.
The writer of Ecclesiastes says, ‘We should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now’ (Ecclesiastes 5:19, MSG). Learn to enjoy life in the present. If you do not, life will pass you by and you will never enjoy where you are right now.
1. Trust, respect and honour God
Proverbs 19:23-20:4The answer to trouble, according to the writer of Proverbs is, ‘The fear of the Lord’ (19:23a) – that is, living in a relationship with God, trusting in him, respecting and honouring him. He writes, ‘The fear of the Lord leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble’ (v.23).
He goes on to speak of some of the causes of trouble:
Laziness is highlighted in this passage as a cause of future trouble: ‘A farmer too lazy to plant in the spring has nothing to harvest in the fall’ (20:4, MSG; see also 19:24).
Mocking (19:25,29) is a form of cynicism. It is very common in the media today. It can even infect the church, but it is not a good thing. It leads to trouble.
Dishonesty is another cause of trouble. Robbery leads to ‘shame and disgrace’ (v.26). ‘An unprincipled witness desecrates justice; the mouths of the wicked spew malice’ (v.28, MSG).
- Substance abuse
‘Wine makes you mean, beer makes you troublesome – a staggering drunk is not much fun’ (20:1, MSG). So much trouble is caused by people getting drunk. Many of the crimes that occur in society are committed under the influence of alcohol.
- Quarrelling (v.3)
‘It is the mark of good character to avert quarrels, but fools love to pick fights’ (v.3, MSG).
Lord, thank you that it is a relationship with you that leads to life and contentment. Help me to avoid the causes of unnecessary trouble.
2. Be totally devoted to the Lord
1 Corinthians 7:17-35One of the key issues for our generation is the anxiety and listlessness which comes from constant comparison and FOMO (fear of missing out).
The answer to FOMO is found in the words with which Paul starts the passage for today: ‘Don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you’ (v.17, MSG). Paul gives the principle from which all his application flows (vv.17–24). A new Christian should stay as they were when they were converted.
He gives three examples: marriage, circumcision and slavery. (Historically, the first Christians were a small minority and in no position to abolish slavery.)
However, this has a wider application. Those who become Christians should not simply leave their job unless they receive a clear call into some new occupation. (Unless, of course, their occupation involves doing something illegal or immoral.) God calls you in to things, not simplyout of them.
Paul wants to spare people the ‘many troubles in this life’ (v.28). ‘Don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily’ (v.29, MSG). His overriding concern, as he looks at the questions of marriage and singleness, is ‘undivided devotion to the Lord’ (v.35) – the supreme aim of your life.
Paul writes of the advantages of singleness. Of course, Jesus himself was single and he spoke about the fact that, for some, singleness is involuntary, whereas for others it is a choice for the sake of the kingdom (Matthew 19:12). Involuntary singleness is a difficult and painful subject, but it is not what Jesus was speaking about in Matthew 19, nor is it what Paul is speaking about here. Paul is speaking about singleness for the sake of the kingdom. This can be either permanent or temporary.
The disadvantages of singleness are obvious. Perhaps the three hardest things for single Christians are: first, missing out on the companionship of marriage and the loneliness that can result. Second, a lack of sexual fulfilment. Third, not having children.
However, the apostle Paul here also gives two reasons why it can be an advantage:
- The brevity of life
He writes that ‘there is no time to waste’ (1 Corinthians 7:29, MSG), therefore ‘don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple – in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things – your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you’ (vv.29–31, MSG).
He is not forbidding marriage any more than he is forbidding laughter, mourning or shopping. Rather he is saying that everything pales into insignificance besides the glory of serving the Lord. We need a detachment from the things of this world. This may be easier if a person is single.
- Freedom from distraction
This applies especially in times of persecution, which provides the context for this passage, ‘because of the present crisis’ (v.26).
Paul writes, ‘I want you to live as free of complications as possible. When you are unmarried, you are free to concentrate on simply pleasing the Master… The time and energy that married people spend on caring for and nurturing each other, the unmarried can spend on becoming whole and holy instruments of God… All I want is for you to be able to develop a way of life in which you can spend plenty of time together with the Master without a lot of distractions’ (vv.32–35, MSG).
We have a limited amount of time, energy and money. There is no doubt that there are many demands in marriage. Paul calls for a positive view of singleness – whether permanent or temporary. He is saying it can be fulfilling and liberating – as it was for Jesus.
Elsewhere he writes that marriage itself is only a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5). The reality is found in Christ. Both marriage and singleness are gifts. What really matters is ‘undivided devotion to the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 7:35). We often assume that marriage is the best and most obvious way of life to follow. This passage reminds us not to overlook the benefits of singleness. Singleness is equally valid, and can be very fruitful and fulfilling.
Lord, help us to find life and contentment in whatever situation we find ourselves. Help us to lead lives that ‘please the Lord’. ‘May [we] live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord’ (v.35).
3. Enjoy the blessings of work and relationships
Ecclesiastes 4:1-6:12The writer continues his theme of the emptiness of life and its meaninglessness. He sees life as full of trouble, ‘oppression’ and ‘toil’ (4:1–6).
He speaks of the emptiness experienced by those in high positions (vv.13–16). He also speaks of the emptiness of an acquisitive life (5:16–17) and the elusive quality of desire (6:9). In the midst of this rather pessimistic and depressing view of life, he gives some useful tips on how to cope with toil and trouble.
A lack of work is a bad thing: ‘Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves’ (4:5). On the other hand, don’t work too hard: ‘Working obsessively late into the night, compulsively greedy for more and more, never bothering to ask, “Why am I working like a dog, never having any fun?”’ (v.8, MSG).
The optimum is moderate work: ‘Better one handful with tranquillity than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind’ (v.6). He goes on to say, ‘The sleep of labourers is sweet, whether they eat little or much’ (5:12).
The writer goes on to speak of the advantage of relationships: marriage, friendship and teams (4:9–12). First there is synergy. ‘It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth’ (v.9, MSG). Working as a team can be more efficient.
Second, there is the advantage of mutual support. ‘If they fall down, one can help the other up. But pity those who fall and have no friend to help them up!’ (v.10).
Third, there is the advantage of physical and spiritual support: ‘A cord of three strands is not quickly broken’ (v.12).
The key to a strong friendship or a strong marriage is the third cord – what the other passages for today speak of as ‘undivided devotion to the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 7:35) and ‘the fear of the Lord’ (Proverbs 19:23a).
Lord, help us to avoid unnecessary ‘toil and trouble’ and in an undivided devotion to the Lord, not just to survive, but to thrive and enjoy life and life in all its fullness.
‘And I saw that all labour and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another.’
This seems rather a cynical way of looking at things. Envy is destructive, but sometimes a little healthy competition is quite motivating!