The Final Sermon of the Preacher
Alexander the Great conquered the world and then sat down and wept because there were no more worlds to conquer.
Sir Edmond Hillary conquered Everest, the highest point on earth. When asked what he felt as he looked down from Everest, Hillary answered that there was a rush of joy for a moment. However, that joy was quickly replaced by a feeling of emptiness. Where could he go from there? What mountains remained to climb?
On earth, you can only conquer so much. You can only climb so high. Then what? Almost instantly, what you have done begins to fade. It begins to lose its joy. The things of this world, however grand they may be, cannot satisfy.
Solomon penned a whole book on this topic. We know it as Ecclesiastes. Solomon reached the top. He was the son of David, Israel's greatest king. He had wisdom, unlike any before him; and, unlike all after him, except for One. He had riches. Silver was in Jerusalem like stones. He had fame. People traveled from all over the world to see and to hear him. He had a thousand beautiful women at his immediate disposal. He could go almost three years without having the same woman on his arm more than once. He had men servants and maid servants. He had musicians. He had houses and vineyards. Yet, he says that all this was vanity (Eccl. 1:2, 14; 2:1, 11, 15). He felt empty. Ecclesiastes was written to help men to avoid the mistakes he made. It is the final sermon of a preacher. He gives the conclusion of the whole matter in chapter twelve. He begins by telling young people to remember God (Eccl. 12:1). He continues by telling them to fear God and to keep His commandments (Eccl. 12:13). As we sometimes sing, "There's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey."
I encourage you to pursue your dreams. If you are going into business. I hope that you own a Fortune 500 company. If acting or music is what you love, I hope that you star on Broadway or perform at Carnegie Hall. If you are into athletics, I hope that you win a Super Bowl and get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If you are into politics, I hope that you one day sit in the Oval Office. If you are a writer, I hope that you win the Pulitzer Prize. However, I want you to know that the day that you achieve those honors, they will begin to fade.
The only things that can ultimately satisfy are tied to God. They are things that are tied to the world to come. They can give you a richer and fuller life now. They can give you the richest and fullest life of all in heaven (Mk. 10:30). In God's presence there is fulness of joy and pleasures evermore (Psalms 16:11). There are many things that I can exaggerate. I can exaggerate a movie, a book, or a restaurant. You can see them, read them, and taste them and be disappointed at my appraisal. However, I cannot exaggerate heaven. It is beautiful beyond description. It is too wonderful for words. There will be no disappointments there. No one is going to look around and think, "I imagined it would be better than this." There will be "no wishing for elsewhere to be." I simply cannot exaggerate heaven. I can't make it better than what it will be. Words fail me. It will be more beautiful. It will be more comforting. It will be more joyous than I can describe. When you see it, you will say like the Queen of Sheba, "The half was not told me" (1 Kings 10:7).
Conquer all that you can in life. Climb the highest mountain. Enjoy life's fleeting victories and joys. However, if you want to taste a victory that never fades and enjoy a view that never diminishes, Remember God! Fear God! Obey God!
Those who build houses have a blueprint that they follow. In like manner, God has given us a blueprint that He wants us to follow in building His house. In His word, God has revealed three simple truths relative to this blueprint.
It Is An Expensive Blueprint
Blueprints are generally very expensive. If you have ever had one drawn up, then you know this to be the case. In like manner, the blueprint that God has given us came at great expense. It was paid for with the blood of Christ. In instituting His memorial supper, Jesus took the cup and declared, “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Mt. 26:28; cf. Heb. 9:18-20; 10:28-29; 13:20). The price paid for this pattern reveals the importance that God placed on it and that we should also.
It Is An Extensive Blueprint
Blueprints are often are very extensive. They detail the inside and the outside of a house. They detail the location and size of rooms, windows, doors, and closets. They spell out virtually everything. In like manner, the blueprint that God has given us is very extensive. Peter wrote, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Pet. 1:3). In like manner, Paul wrote, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17; cf. Phil. 3:16, 18; Col. 3:16-25). God has clearly spelled out what He wants us to do.
It Is An Exclusive Blueprint
Blueprints by nature are exclusive. As already noted, they specify sizes and locations. By specifying certain things, they rule out other things. In like manner, the blueprint that God has given us is exclusive. For example, when God told Noah to build the ark of gopher wood, He ruled out all other kinds of wood (Gen. 6:14). In like manner, when He told us to sing and make melody in our hearts to Him, He has ruled out all other instruments (Eph. 5:19; cf. Num. 7:4-9; 2 Sam. 6:1-13; Lev. 10:1-2).
Realizing these simple truths should cause us to prize, protect, and practice the pattern that God has provided. We must never neglect or reject it.
POINTING FINGERS AT OTHERS
See if any of this sounds familiar: the prime minister or president blames the legislature and the legislature blames the top ruling figure in the country. The national government blames the state/provincial governments and the state/provincial governments blame the national government. The coach blames the players and the players blame the coach. The teacher blames the parents and the parents blame the teacher. The husband blames the wife and the wife blames the husband. The overseers blame the congregation and the congregation blames the overseers.
When we say “pointing fingers,” we refer to placing the blame for something on someone else. If a blatant mistake occurs, some activity does not go well, or if something is left undone that should have been done, people often begin pointing fingers.
Finger-pointing is not something that is limited to one gender, one culture, one financial class of people, or those from one level of educational training. It is something that folks from all walks of life do, and it knows no geographic boundaries.
Finger-pointing has been around since the population of the earth was only two people! After Eve and Adam violated God’s instructions by eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they began making excuses. And in this case, their excuses involved pointing fingers at someone else, as if blaming someone else for their misdeed somehow would erase the reality of their own sinful conduct.
After the transgressions took place in the Garden of Eden, God asked Adam, “Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat” (Gen. 3:11)? What was Adam’s response? “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (3:12). Adam admitted that he ate the fruit, but, at least in part, he was pointing a finger at someone else. He pointed a finger at Eve, saying she gave him the fruit. And, his words also had “the ring” of blaming God for giving him the women who gave him the fruit.
Well, what about Eve? She, too, did some finger-pointing. When Jehovah asked her, “What is this that thou hast done” (3:13), she admitted that she had, in fact, eaten the fruit, but her complete statement was, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (3:13). Instead of taking full responsibility for her failure, she pointed a finger at the serpent.
In the next book of the Bible, we again read of a person who sinned against God, but rather than “man up” and show remorse for his evil-doing, he tried to place the blame on someone else. We are talking about Aaron, the first high priest of Israel and older brother of Moses. What sin did Aaron commit? He led the Israelites in building and worshipping a golden calf. Moses’ question to his elder brother was, “What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them” (Exodus 32:21). Aaron’s wimpy, finger-pointing answer was, “Thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief. For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us. ... And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf” (Exodus 32:22-24). At whom did Aaron point a finger? At “the people.” Aaron gave a cowardly, nonsensical, blame-others response. God’s people deserve better leadership than that!
In contrast to the finger-pointers in the world, when King David messed up by committing adultery and other evil deeds, rather than blame someone else, he “told it like it was.” With no stipulations or attempt to minimize his guilt, David declared, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Samuel 12:13). His sin was ugly, but his spirit of repentance and taking responsibility for his grievous error was beautiful.
The Bible says, “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). It also is written that the God of judgment “will render to every man according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:6). When we stand before the judgment seat of the risen Son of God, pointing a finger at others will not remove the guilt of any transgressions we have committed.
If a sin was committed, but we had no involvement in it, we are not responsible for it. On the other hand, if we broke God’s law or failed in some manner when others were counting on us, let us be mature enough to admit our fault, take responsibility for our action, and strive to do better in the future.
HOW TO MEASURE YOUR SOUL
“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19).
Each of us has a soul or inward man which is to grow and develop into maturity — into manhood and womanhood. The fact of the reality of the soul is mentioned numerous times in the Bible. In speaking to his disciples, Jesus taught to “...fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). The Son of God also stressed the value of the soul and compared its worth to the physical things of this world. “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul” (Matt. 16:26)? Furthermore, by inspiration the apostle Peter, concerning the importance of man’s soul growing into maturity, exclaimed that we should “as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” and exalted Christians to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 3:18).
As we consider God’s teaching in regard to the soul, we might find it good to ask, “What size is our inward man?” Are we growing spiritually as we ought, or are we still mere babes in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1; 14:20)? It would be well for each of us to consider and discern the progress of our inner growth. It is something that can be measured...not as a box might be measured with a ruler or tape. We cannot see the soul, except in the mirror of God’s word. But we can determine the size of the inner man by the measure of its manifestation.
The size of the soul may be measured by determining the height of its ambitions. Big souls are always ambitious souls of high ideals and worthy goals. We must never be found guilty of becoming the “one talent man” of Matthew 25. Because he felt he could not do big things in the sight of the Lord, he did nothing. Christians should continually strive onward with their eyes focused upward. “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you...Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Matt. 28:19,20; Mark 16:15,16). Christ came to do big things and gave us a big job.
The size of the soul may be measured by the depth of its convictions. Hebrews 11:1 speaks of a “conviction of things not seen” (ASV). This has always been a characteristic of God’s great people, with his honor roll of faithful followers forever recorded for our learning. Daniel was another example of our Father’s expectations, proving himself to be a man of deep convictions and faithful to the will of Jehovah. “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank” (Daniel 1:8). Big souls have convictions concerning right and wrong, truth and error, and matters of duty.
The soul may be measured by the length of its love. Consider the measurement of God recorded in John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” God so loved the world. “So” is an adverb of degree. It tells how much God loved the world. He went so far as to give his only begotten Son. And when we read this, it should bring to our minds a much-needed question: How does our love measure up in regards to God, the church, and the lost? 1 John 4:19 should be emblazoned within our hearts and thoughts. “We love him, because he first loved us.”
The size of the soul may be determined by the weight of its influences. Matthew 5:14-16 relays a command to be carried out by every Christian. “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” How much light do we radiate? One of the Lord’s parables brings forth a closely related reminder. “The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened” (Matt. 13:33). Are we leavening for others through our actions and our words? What is the weight of our influence for those around us?
May we each ask ourselves the soul-searching question: “How big is my inward man?”
FAITHFUL, ONE HUNDRED PERCENT
Dr. Seuss wrote some wonderful children’s stories. Even adults can sometimes be entertained and educated by the stories. In Horton Hears A Who,Horton the elephant declares, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent.”
I have to admit that this quote made me think. Am I faithful one hundred percent? Are you faithful one hundred percent? If we are not careful, we can settle for something less than one hundred percent faithfulness. We might settle for ninety-nine percent faithfulness; or maybe, over time, with even a little less than that.
Perhaps, you are thinking that one hundred percent faithfulness isn’t necessary. Maybe, you are thinking that one hundred percent faithfulness isn’t even possible. Let me make clear that I am not talking about sinless perfection. Only one man, Jesus Christ, has ever achieved that (Heb. 4:15). The rest of us have sinned and fallen short of God's glory (Rom. 3:23). I am not talking about being sinless. I am talking about being faithful (Rev. 2:10). We all need to live in such a way that one day we can hear our Lord say, "Well done, Thou good and faithful servant" (Mt. 25:21).
Faithfulness is both possible and necessary. In the book of Numbers, God makes this truth very clear. We read, “And the LORD'S anger was kindled the same time, and he sware, saying, Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob; because they have not wholly followed me: Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite, and Joshua the son of Nun: for they have wholly followed the LORD” (Num. 32:10-12). Please note that God divided the spies into two categories. The first category was made up of the ten spies who did not wholly follow God and the second category was made up of the two spies who did. Those who wholly followed the Lord were allowed to enter the promised land. Those who gave less than one hundred percent faithfulness were denied entrance. Where would you have been numbered? Where would I have been? We each need to examine ourselves and make sure that we have not settled for something less than complete faithfulness. Paul wrote, "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (2 Cor. 13:5). We need to make sure that we are one of the few who find life and not one of the many who find destruction (Mt. 7:13-14).