“Context”–Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

November 3rd, 2013

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11


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Everything is beautiful in its time

Solomon – Ecclesiastes 3:10



Always Timely

Bible Memory Verse for the Week:   (Psa 31:15)  My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me.


Background Information:

  • Tie in with October 20th message:  When Paul wrote his great resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, he didn’t end by saying, “So let’s celebrate the great future life that awaits us.”  He ended by saying, “So get on with your work because you know that in the Lord it won’t go to waste.”  When the final resurrection occurs, as the centerpiece of God’s new creation, we will discover that everything done in the present world in the power of Jesus’ own resurrection will be celebrated and included, appropriately transformed.  (N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 294)
  • (v. 2) To kill” (v. 3) does not mean to commit murder.  Hebrew has a special word for that, as the Ten Commandments attest (Ex 20:13; Dt 5:176; Heb. rāsah).  “Kill” might involve capital punishment as prescribed in OT Law or the slaughter of enemies in the battles which marked OT history in virtually every era.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 102-03)
  • (vss. 2-8) In these verses Solomon sets forth 14 pairs of opposite events, each of which are to occur at appointed times.  The fact that he mentions them in a multiple of seven and begins his list with birth and death is highly significant.  “The number seven suggests the idea of completeness and the use of polar opposites–a well-known poetical device called merism–suggests totality (cf. Ps 139:2-3).”  So even though every conceivable event of life is not named in these verses from Ecclesiastes 3, the whole of life is definitely in view.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 24)
  • (vss. 2-8) In this poem the motif of changelessness and divine control is applied to the widest possible range of human activities.  The literary form comprises 14 pairs of completeness.  These contrary lines couple basic human experiences and their equally basic opposites.  This device is usually called a merism and suggests that the poles that are stated mean to include every similar activity that occurs between them.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 102)
  • (v. 5) The meaning of “stones” (v. 5) may be the most puzzling question.  Some Jewish tradition connected it to the “embrace” that follows and related the casting and gathering of “stones” to engaging in or refraining from sexual intercourse, “stones” being a metaphor for semen.  But none of the other items on the list seems to be figurative, so we should probably look for a literal meaning.  A more reasonable suggestion connects the casting of stones with the ancient practice of rendering a field useless to an enemy by covering it with stones–a form of scorched earth policy (2 Kgs 3:19, 25).  The gathering of stones is best illustrated in Isaiah’s song of the vineyard (5:1-2), which describes the clearing of stony ground and the use of the stones for a watchtower and winepress.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 103)
  • (v. 11) The word olam (NIV eternity) could come from a verb meaning to conceal or to hide; in which case it would be pointing us to the ‘hiddenness’ in things.  Coverdale translated v. 11, “He hath planted ignorance also in the hearts of men”, while more recently it has been suggested that we ought to translate, “He has put in their minds an inigma.”  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 23)
  • (v. 11) The meaning of this verse is not clear in the King James translation just given.  It would be better read: “He [God] hath set eternity in their [men’s] heart, but without giving man the ability to comprehend God’s work from beginning to end.”  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 55)


God takes every event and makes it beautiful in its own time.  And as creatures created in His own image, He is asking us to attempt to do the same.  This attempt (much like the Law) will drive you to Christ.


The question to be answered is . . . Is Koheleth really trying to say what it appears he is saying?


Answer: Yes!   Koheleth understands what few of us ever comprehend.  That Romans 8:28 was first envisioned by Koheleth a thousand years before it ever occurred to the Apostle Paul.  All things truly do work out for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.  God truly does make EVERYTHING beautiful in its time.  This is best seen when we meditate upon and cultivate within the eternity in our hearts.


Ecclesiastes is wisdom literature.  Never forget to treat it as such.   Wisdom = Seeing yourself, life and the world from God’s point of view


The main thing you need to know is wisdom.  Not a pill, not a method, not a tool or a technique, not even 7 steps to health and improvement.  We want to change our heart to match reality which is wisdom. — paraphrase of Tim Keller


One proverb says “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”  The fact about proverbs, though, is that they need to be applied to appropriate situations if they are to reflect true wisdom.  For instance, which is true: “Birds of a feather flock together” or “Opposites attract”?  Of course, either one can be, depending on the situation.  In the same way, the wisdom of submission and faith may have to respond to situations where God asks us to let go of the “bird in the hand” so that we might be prepared for the “two in the bush” that he has for us.  (John H. Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis, 435)


The Word for the Day is . . . Context


What is Koheleth trying to teach us?:

I.  There is an appropriate time for everything under heaven. (Eccl 3:1-8)


The standard Greek translation of the OT (Known as the Septuagint) uses the term kairos (time viewed as opportunity) for this passage rather than the term chronos (time considered as duration).  In the divine economy there is a suitable occasion or appropriate opportunity for everything that happens.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 81)


Every man is to consider himself as a particular object of God’s providence, under the same care and protection of God as if the world had been made for him alone.  It is not by chance that any man is born at such a time, of such parents, and in such place and condition…Every soul comes into the body at such a time and in such circumstances by the express designment of God, according to some purposes of His will and for some particular ends.  (William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, 322)



The Midrash Qoheleth Rabbah explains a time to cast away stones as a metaphor implying the act of marital intercourse, and a time to gather stones as meaning that there is a time for refraining from this act.  The rest of the verse would seem to support this interpretation, and Williams, among others, accepts it as probably correct.  (Abingdon Press, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. V, 44)


Perfect peace does not exist on earth.  The verse is arranged chiastically: love: hate: war: peace.  “Love” and “hate” represent personal feelings, while “war” and “peace” represent sociopolitical conditions.  (Duane A. Garrett, The New American Commentary, Vol. 14, 298)


If you look carefully you will see that these eight opening verses gather around three major divisions that correspond to the divisions of our humanity: body, soul, and spirit.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 45)


Everything must come in its appropriate time.  If you get it out of sync you are in trouble.  Try to plant a crop in the middle of winter when snow is on the ground and it will not grow.  Half of the problem of life is that we are constantly trying to run this schedule ourselves.  But God has already planned the schedule.  There is an appropriate time for everything.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 45)


II.  No one knows what time it is under the sun. (Eccl 3:9-10)


He is not saying that we should only make peace, or only hold on to things, or only gather things together.  He is saying that the whole gamut of human options is available to us, and the challenge is to know which option is appropriate here and now in this very situation.  Life is this moment, and this moment, and this moment.  No matter how similar one moment may be to a million others, still it is not any of them.  It is itself.  It is now.  It is new.  And it requires a fresh response.  (Rami Shapiro, The Way of Solomon, 133)


The ways of God, though timeless, are beyond our knowing.  Surely that should keep us humble.  (Abingdon Press, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. V, 48)


When young couples fall in love and get married, they are convinced that God has made everything beautiful in His time.  But ten years later, when little children are underfoot, bills are due, a job has been lost, and a medical scare has been diagnosed–we wonder what happened to all that beauty.  Marriage has lost a little luster, parenthood is less glorious, and homebuilding is more sweat than sweet.

Men and women leave their marriages in times like these simply because they’re unaware of God’s presence in the rugged times as well as the smooth.  Our challenge is to recognize that everything has a time, a season, a reason, and to trust God to bring sense and unity on His schedule.  Then not only will the beauty be there, but it will be far more beautiful for the hard polishing.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 58-59)


To everything there is a season–a fixed time–a predetermined purpose, in which–and not on man’s care, thought, or effort–everything depends.  Of this purpose we know nothing.  But “known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world”  (Acts 15:18).  His eye has been upon everything, great and small, from all eternity.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 48)


III.  In time God will make everything beautiful. (Eccl 3:11a)


If we were given the right to choose, we would have no unpleasantness at all in life.  But that would ruin us.  God knows that people who are protected from everything invariably end up impossible to live with; they are selfish, cruel, vicious, shallow, unprincipled.  God sends these things in order that we might learn.  There is a time for everything, the Searcher says.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 48-49)


Far from being a fatalist, the Preacher has come to a proper appreciation of the sovereignty of God over time and eternity.  Life is not uniformly bad but includes both positive and negative experiences.  From this beautifully balanced poem we learn many important truths about God, about his Son, and about our own stewardship of time, which may be our most precious possession.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 79)


God is the King of Time.  He regulates our minutes and our seconds.  He rules all our moments and all our days.  Nothing happens in life without his superintendence.  Everything happens when it happens because God is sovereign over time as well as eternity.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 80)


All that is done here below is ordered by God at a time appointed, and is done without any dependence on man’s approbation, according to God’s ordinance, arrangement, and providence.  (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the OT: Vol. VI, 255)


The author means to say, of time–(1) that everything has its fore-determined time, in which there lies both a determined point of time when it happens and a determined period of time during which it shall continue; and (2) that every matter has a time appointed for it, or one appropriate, suitable for it.  (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the OT: Vol. VI, 255)


God, states Koheleth, has made everything beautiful–an allusion to Gn 1:3, 12, 25, 31–in its time.  The exact quality of the word translated to that which is appropriate.  Each event fits into its appointed place.  (Abingdon Press, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. V, 46)


British media expert Malcolm Muggeridge, who became a committed follower of Christ, wrote the following in his book A Twentieth Century Testimony: “Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction.  Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained.  In other words, if it ever were to be possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo jumbo, as Aldous Huxley envisaged in Brave New World, the result would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal and trivial to be endurable.  This, of course, is what the Cross signifies.  And it is the Cross, more than anything else, that has called me inexorably to Christ.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 59)


Ill that God blesses is our good,

And unblest good is ill.

And all is right that seems most wrong,

If it be His sweet will.   –Frederick W. Faber


In His time, in His time,

He makes all things beautiful in His time.

Lord, please show me every day,

As You’re teaching me Your way

That You’ll do just what You say in Your time.


The 14 couplets of 3:2-8 cover the whole range of human activity.  Over it all the Preacher sees God in complete control.  It is a warrant at the same time for both humility and confidence.  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 78)


The Teacher here points to God’s control.  Solomon is showing that everything is in God’s hands.  God is, in the words of one commentator, “the Governor of this world and the Former of history, who makes even that which is evil subservient to his plan.”  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 35)


The gray conclusion helps us understand Koheleth’s point.  The whole range of life is beyond human control, though by nature we have to share in these activities.  Our toil is basically profitless because God has so planned and controlled the events in our lives that all our efforts make almost no significant change.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 103-04)


We live according to God’s determination, announced Koheleth, not ours.  We live in time, conscious of it virtually every minute, but it is God’s planned time that dictates our important activities and significant events.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 104)


God’s ways are good–“he has made everything beautiful in its time” (v. 11)–so proposes the Preacher.  We must read this text in terms of emphasis and reach back to “to everything” in the introduction to the poem (3:1); its scope is the opposites in life sketched in verses 2-8.  “Beautiful” (Heb. yāpheh) may mean “pretty” or “handsome” (see Sg 1:15-16), but here as in Eccl 5:17 it should be translated “appropriate, proper.”  “Its time” ties back to the repetitive use of the word in 3:1-8.  This means that “everything” speaks not of creation but of divine activities in human lives.  The whole line then is a summary of the message of the poem and is remarkable evidence of Koheleth’s positive attitude toward God’s sovereignty.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 106)


That which to us seems most unpleasant is yet, in its proper time, altogether becoming.  Cold is as becoming in winter as heat in summer; and the night, in its turn, is a black beauty, as the day, in its turn, is a bright one.

There is a wonderful harmony in the divine Providence and all its disposals, so that the events of it, when they come to be considered in their relations and tendencies, together with the seasons of them, will appear very beautiful, to the glory of God and the comfort of those that trust in him.  Though we see not the complete beauty of Providence, yet we shall see it, and a glorious sight it will be, when the mystery of God shall be finished.  Then every thing shall appear to have been done in the most proper time and it will be the wonder of eternity, Dt 32:4; Ezek 1:18.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 997)


IV.  God has given man an eternal perspective to motivate his quest to seek God and discover significance and meaning for his own life and the lives of his fellow man.  (Eccl 3:11b)


Koheleth here speaks of “the divine quality which God has placed in man, [and] probably thinks of the image of God in which man is made in Gn 1:26-27.”  (Abingdon Press, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. V, 47)


Knowing that we are caught between time and eternity can help us find our way to God.  Up to this point in his quest, Qoheleth has failed to find anything on earth that can fully satisfy the human mind or heart.  But this still leaves open the possibility of finding satisfaction in God and in his Heaven.  So rather than giving up on our desire for understanding, we should conclude instead that our longing for eternity proves that we were made for another world.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 92-93)


“The sweetest thing in all my life,” Lewis wrote in one of his novels, “has been the longing…to find the place where all the beauty came from.”  Elsewhere he describes this longing as “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 93)


Thinking about eternity helps us retrieve [perspective].  I’m reminded of this every year when I figure my taxes.  During the year, I rejoice at the paychecks and extra income, and sometimes I flinch when I write out the tithe and offering.  I do my best to be a joyful giver, but I confess it is not always easy, especially when there are other perceived needs and wants.

At the end of the year, however, all of that changes.  As I’m figuring my tax liability, I wince at every source of income and rejoice with every tithe and offering check–more income means more tax, but every offering and tithe means less tax.  Everything is turned upside down, or perhaps, more appropriately, right side up.

I suspect judgment Day will be like that.  (Gary Thomas, “Wise Christians Clip Obituaries,” Christianity Today, October 3, 1994)


“What does the worker gain from his toil?”  Why bother to do anything if God is going to do as he pleases anyway?  The king offers several answers.

The first lies in the magnificent statement, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.”  Deep within each of us God has placed a longing for that which lasts forever, a longing which life’s fleeting experiences are unable to satisfy.  Coupled with this longing is an awareness in each of us that this life is not the end.  In spite of the apparent futility of human endeavor, man senses that what he does has lasting repercussions.  Yet without the gospel of Christ man has no way of knowing how to reach God and eternal life.  And the longing for eternity becomes nothing but another irritation and frustration under the sun.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 36-37)


First Conclusion: Our entrapment in time is another indication of our mortality (v. 9).

Second Conclusion: Our labor is thus a lifelong affliction with no eternal results (v. 10).

Qualification: Yet every aspect of life is appropriate in its time and should be accepted as such (v. 11a).

Counterqualification: But we long for eternity and cannot be content with time alone (v. 11b).  (Duane A. Garrett, The New American Commentary, Vol. 14, 298-99)


“Beautiful” here means “appropriate.”  If we can accept life as it is, even the hard parts will be bearable.  Yet there is a catch.  We feel like aliens in the world of time and yearn to be part of eternity.  We feel the need for ourselves and our work to be eternal and yet are grieved to be trapped in time.  We also desire to understand our place in the universe against the backdrop of eternity.  But we cannot find out what God has done from beginning to end.  That is, we are not able to discern any plan or pattern to all of this.  God’s purposes are outside our realm of control or investigation.  We thus have a sense of alienation and bewilderment in time.  (Duane A. Garrett, The New American Commentary, Vol. 14, 299)


In further reflections on human mortality, Ecclesiastes asserts that because we are creatures of time and occasion, we must live in harmony with the ebb and flow of life (3:1-8).  Although we have eternity in our hearts (3:11), timeless bliss is not ours in this world, and we must learn to live appropriately in both good times and bad times.  (John H. Walton, Zondervan Ill. Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Vol 5, 509)


The ‘eternity’ in man’s heart must be connected with the ‘eternity’ of v. 14.  “Eternity’ was important in Israel’s heritage.  An eternal life had been lost (Gn 3:22), and ‘eternal covenant’ inaugurated (Gn 9:16) by an eternal God (Ps 90:2).  An eternal priesthood (Ex 40:15) and an eternal kingdom (2 Sm 7:13) were bestowed by a God eternally merciful (Ps 111:5), giving his people eternal joy (Isa 35:10).  The eternity of God’s dealings with mankind corresponds to something inside us: we have a capacity for eternal things, are concerned about the future, want to understand ‘from the beginning to the end,’ and have a sense of something which transcends our immediate situation.  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 81)


After bemoaning time’s meaningless cycles, he says, about God, “he has made everything beautiful [that is, fitting] for its time, but he has also put eternity into man’s mind [or heart, or spirit].”  We experience only time, yet we desire eternity, timelessness.  Why, for Heaven’s sake?  Where did we ever learn of this thing called eternity, to desire it?  Why, if our existence is totally environed by time, do we not feel at home in it?  (Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life, 48)


In his physical structure, his bodily functions, and his susceptibility to disease and death, man resembles the animal.  But he is distinctive in that he thinks about eternity while the animal does not.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 58)


Walt Whitman, envying the carefree existence of the animals, said in Song of Myself, “They are so placid and self-contained.  They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins; they do not make me sick discussing their duties to God.  Not one is dissatisfied…not one is respectable of unhappy over the whole earth.”  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 59)


Impermanence should drive people to God–the only One in Whom permanence and unchangeableness resides.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 29)


When one labors to plant only to have plants pulled up, for example, he recognizes that his labor here has no lasting benefit.  So, this is supposed to drive him to look to the future–after his death when he goes to the God Who created him.  Then, at last, will he know permanence.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 31)


The longing in the human breast for the eternal judgment when wrongs will be righted, when Rom 8:28 will be fully understood, and when there will be no more such change as is described in verses 1 through 8, lies within the heart of every true believer.  So, all the unknowable, the incomprehensible, the misunderstandable ought to make us long all the more for eternity.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 32)


The author means to say that God has not only assigned to each individually his appointed place in history, thereby bringing to the consciousness of man the fact of his being conditioned, but that He has also established in man an impulse leading him beyond that which is temporal toward the eternal: it lies in his nature not to be contented with the temporal, but to break through the limits which it draws around him, to escape from the bondage and the disquietude within which he is held, and amid the ceaseless changes of time to console himself by directing his thoughts to eternity.  (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the OT: Vol. VI, 261)


We are made to be curious over our destiny, to wonder about our fate, to concern ourselves with where life is leading.  Yet we can do so little about it.  That was where the frustration sharpened for Ecclesiastes.  Within humankind (“their” = “sons of men” in v. 10) is the urge to know the future; God has placed that urge there.  But we have no capacity to satisfy that urge.  It is a sharp thirst beyond our power to quench.  We yearn to be free enough to contribute to our destiny; we sense that there is a destiny that needs shaping; yet we do not have the freedom to do much about it, because God is the One who determines the times of our life.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 106)


V.  Discerning grounds for God’s actions and the appropriate times requires comprehensive knowledge. (Eccl 3:11c)



When life hands us situations we cannot understand, we have one or two choices.  We can wallow in misery, separated from God.  Or we can tell Him, “I need You and Your presence in my life more than I need understanding.  I choose You, Lord.  I trust You to give me understanding and an answer to all of my whys, only if and when You choose.  (Tom Bisset, Good News About Prodigals, 127-30)


The significance of this section is that man is responsible to discern the right times for the right actions; and when he does the right action according to God’s time, the result is “beautiful” (v. 11).  A parallel is Eph 2:10, where it is said that God created us in Christ Jesus for good works, which he has “prepared in advance for us to do.”  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1160)


Admittedly, God has his proper time for every event, but we naturally want to grasp the whole plan he has for our lives.  What is the point of it all (v. 9)?  We have to accept two facts that belong to man as he is.

First, we have to take steps to discover and fulfill the duties to be done each day (v. 10).  Doing the right thing at the right time yields a beautiful sense of fulfillment (v. 11a).

Second, one thing that elevates us above the animal world, in addition to the God-given sense of eternity, is the desire to understand the whole.  This accounts for all science, philosophy, and human knowledge, as well as theology.  However much we see things as units of knowledge and experience, we must try to bring these units into a meaningful whole.  This is an aspect of our creation in the likeness of God, who alone embraces the whole.  Before the Fall God communicated to our original progenitors all they needed for living.  The Fall occurred when they chose to have their own knowledge of good and evil and to be in charge of their own lives.  By cutting themselves off from God, they were left to go along day by day without clear direction, no longer living in the light of God’s whole plan.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1162)


He has put into his heart a vast desire to study, and great power to comprehend it in all its order and beauty–except that the field is so wide–the capacity so limited–life so short–our knowledge of the past so imperfect, and of the future so clouded, that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.  Indeed much of his work is begun in one age, and finished in another.  The development therefore is necessarily imperfect.  Many things seem to lie in a confused heap.  But when one part is compared with another–when all is put together, and God’s work viewed as a whole–all is beauty and order.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 68)


Though he has resolved to understand ‘all’ that is under the sun (1:13), there is that within him which makes him realize he can never comprehend God’s plan in its entirety (from beginning to end, NIV).  This is the nearest he comes to Augustine’s maxim: ‘You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they can find peace in you.’  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 81)


According to one old commentator, Ecclesiastes 3 demonstrates “the wise, and regular, and orderly administration of One, who sees the end from the beginning, and to whom there is no unanticipated contingency; and whose omniscient eye, in the midst of what appears to us inextricable confusion, has a thorough and intuitive perception of the endlessly diversified relations and tendencies of all events, and all their circumstances, discerning throughout the whole the perfection of harmony (Ralph Wardlaw, Lectures on the Book of Ecclesiastes, 49).  To put it very simply, God does everything at just the right time.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 81)


Everything under heaven is thus changeable, but in heaven there is an unchangeable state, and an unchangeable counsel concerning these things.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 995)



CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: How does being IN CHRIST make a difference?:

A-  Being IN CHRIST gives us access to Christ’s wisdom (the perfect balance between truth and grace, between Law and mercy) that allows us to live a life of wisdom that is able to make sense of this world and live a life that is meaningful and permanent and not empty and transient. (Lk 1:17; 1 Cor 1:18-2:16; 12:8; Eph 1:17; Col 1:9; Jas 1:5; ) 


Life, in and of itself, even God’s good world with all its good, God-given gifts, is unable to deliver meaning and joy when it is appropriated in a piecemeal fashion.  This, as will be argued later on, is the meaning of the prologue: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”; namely, that no single part of God’s good world can unlock the meaning to life.  Life, in and of itself, is unable to supply the key to the questions of identity, meaning, purpose, value, enjoyment, and destiny.  Only in coming to know God can one begin to find answers to these questions.  (Kaiser, Walter C. Jr., Everyman’s Bible Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 17)


Our deepest longings will never be satisfied until we come to a personal knowledge of God and of his Son Jesus Christ, who is “the beginning and the end” (Rv 21:6).  When we find our way to him, we are finally able to say, as Charles Bridges once said, “I have found more in Christ, than I ever expected to want.”  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 93)


If it is true that God is sovereign over time and that Jesus always makes perfect use of time, then we should trust God to know the right time for everything.  This is one of the reasons why David was able to “bless the LORD at all times” (Ps 34:1); he knew that whatever time it was, God was still in control.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 85)


Life is not empty and random and godless, but full and precisely aligned and God-ordained.  It’s not that your most important work is meaningless; it’s that your most trivial movements are also significant.

Ruth Bell Graham used to have an inscription over her kitchen sink: “Divine service conducted here three times a day.”  She understood that whatever we do–even washing a dirty pot–is worthwhile if done in God’s will and for Christ’s glory.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 57)


B-  It is Christ’s eternal perspective that addresses the eternity in our hearts so we can enjoy a life that transcends the impermanence and transitory nature of this world. (Rom 8:18-25; 2 Cor 4:7-5:10; 1 Thess 4:13-18;  Pt 1:3-9)


This knowing is divine and occurred in eternity.  All of time was spread out before the omniscient mind of God, and throughout its extent God knew every one of his own in advance, knew him affectionately and effectively, already in eternity knew him as his own from the moment of the inception of his faith until his death in this faith.  This excludes all those who believe only for a time and become apostate before their death.  For in eternity, before the mind of God, all time and all that occurs in time were finished and complete.  God’s foreknowing cannot be restricted to any point in time; it covers all time in one act.  (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, 557)


This immense confidence rests (in Rom 8:28-30) on the certainty of our redemption, which began before time with God’s foreknowledge and will end beyond time with our glorification.  This certainty is described in verses 29, 30 in what commentators have called “the golden chain.”  Notice that the emphasis is on God doing everything.  (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Romans, 168)


The Christian Way — The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.   A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food.   A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water.   Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex.  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)


He was not trying to destroy all hope, but to direct our hopes to the only One who can truly fulfill them.  Solomon affirms the value of knowledge, relationships, work, and pleasure, but only in their proper place.  All of these temporal things in life must be seen in light of the eternal.  (Tyndale House Publishers, Life Application Study Bible, 1133)


Whereas God has a complete view, all we have is a point of view.  Our limited perspective is unable to span the mind of God.  This has been part of the Preacher’s frustration from the beginning.  He is looking for meaning in life but finds it hard or even impossible to understand.  “The human being has ‘eternity’ in his heart–his Creator has made him a thinking being, and he wants to pass beyond his fragmentary knowledge and discern the fuller meaning of the whole pattern–but the Creator will not let the creature be his equal” (H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Eccl, 83).  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 92)


Man is the only worshiping animal.  What makes us different cannot be explained by evolution.  We are different because we long for the face of God.  C.S. Lewis said, “Our Heavenly Father has provided many delightful inns for us along our journey, but He takes great care to see that we do not mistake any of them for home.”  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 51)


Love Christ, and then the eternity in the heart will not be a great aching void, but will be filled with the everlasting life which Christ gives, and is.  The vicissitude will really become the source of freshness and progress which God meant it to be.  Everything which, when made our all-sufficient portion, becomes stale and unprofitable, even in its time, will be appareled in celestial light.  It shall all be lovely and pleasant while it lasts, and its beauty will not be saddened by the certainty of its decay, nor its empty place a pain when it has passed away.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, 2 Kgs – Eccl, 349)


C-  It is because of the Holy Spirit’s insight, secured by a life in Christ, that allows us to know that one day we will see that EVERYTHING truly is beautiful in its time. (Rom 8:23-28; 2 Cor 1:21-22; 5:5; Heb 11:13-16, 39)


God redeems the evil that befalls us.  (RC Sproul, The Gospel of God: Romans, 147)


Those who are called are those the Holy Spirit convinces and enables to receive Christ.  Such people have a new perspective on life.  They trust in God, not life’s treasures; they look to their security in heaven, not on earth; they learn to accept, not resent, pain and persecution, because God is with them.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Romans, 166)


He (Paul in Rom 8:28) now draws this conclusion from what had been said, that so far are the troubles of this life from hindering our salvation, that, on the contrary, they are helps to it.  (John Calvin, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, 314)


What Paul (in Rom 8:28) affirms is that God co-operates in all things for good with those who love him.  This leads to the discovery that even “the sufferings of this present time” become a source of blessing.  There is no sentimental attempt to persuade ourselves that evil things are actually good.  They remain what they are; but though bad in themselves, they have lost the power to defeat us.  No matter how bitter circumstances may be, we can learn to discover in them God’s co-operation.  Actually, it is in the things which seem most to deny his goodness that we often find him most indubitably present.  “This I know is God’s own Truth,” wrote Dr. Edward Wilson, Antarctic explorer, “that pain and trouble and trials and sorrows and disappointments are either one thing or another.  To all who love God they are love tokens from Him.  To all who do no love God and do not want to love Him they are merely a nuisance.”  (Abingdon Press, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX, 524-5)


All things work together for good not by inherent force, not by fate or chance, but by divine control.  Thus not only does the divine Spirit help us in our weakness, but divine Providence works with us “for good in all things.”  This comforting conviction is strengthened by experience and observation, but it is founded upon faith in the constant care of a loving Father.  (Charles R. Erdman, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, 102)


We would expect that Paul (in Rom 8:28-30) has particularly in mind the “sufferings of the present time” (v. 18; cf. Vv. 35-37), but the scope should probably not be restricted.  Anything that is a part of this life–even our sins–can, by God’s grace, contribute toward “good.”  (Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the NT: Romans, 529)


The OT story of Joseph is a striking example of the mysterious and the wonderful way in which God makes the evil done to us eventuate for our good.  Another instance is the story of the persecution precipitated by Saul.  It scattered the great congregation at Jerusalem to distant parts, it seemed to be a calamity but served only for the good of the church by planting it in a hundred new places to flourish more than ever.  (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, 551)


It is God who makes “all things work together” in our lives “for good” (eis agathon), ultimate good.  According to his purpose (kata prothesin).  Old word, seen already in Acts 27:13 and for “shewbread” in Mt 12:4.  The verb protithēmi Paul uses in 3:24 for God’s purpose.  Paul accepts fully human free agency but behind it all and through it all runs God’s sovereignty as here and on its gracious side (9:11; 3:11; 2 Tim 1:9).  (Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. IV, 377)


“We have the world so much in our hearts, are so taken up with thoughts and cares of worldly things, and are so exercised in our travail concerning them, that we have neither time nor spirit to eye God’s hand in them.”  The world has not only gained possession of the heart, but has formed prejudices there against the beauty of God’s works.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 998)


On what else does he (Paul in Rom 8:28-30) base this knowledge?  Probably on two additional grounds: (a) Experience; that is, the effect on him of knowing how God had dealt with him and with others in the past.  See such passages as Gen 46:30; 48:3, 4; Dt 5; Jo 24:1-15; 1 Sam 7:1-12; 2 Sam 23:1-5; 1 Ki 8:22-24; Is 63:9; Acts 26:1-23; Gal 2:19, 20.  And (b) Acquaintance with specific biblical passages which teach that in God’s providence all things result in blessing for God’s children, evil being overruled for good (Gen 45:5, 7, 8; 50:20).  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Romans, 278-9)


Only in the case of those who love God is it true that all things work together for good.  This is clear from such passages as the following: Ex 20:6; Dt 7:9; Neh 1:5; Ps 37:17, 20, 37-40; 97:10, 116f.; Is 56:6, 7; 1 Cor 2:9; 8:3; Jas 1:12; 2:5.  All these references emphasize the importance of loving God and/or delighting in him.  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Romans, 280)


God orders his providences so as not to cancel out secondary causes.  He does not annihilate the actions of the human will, which are undertaken freely.  In the Genesis text we see that Joseph is aware that his brothers not only sinned against him and committed something that was really evil, but they also sinned with intent, with malice aforethought.  They had conspired and schemed to get rid of their brother of whom they were so jealous.  We have in this text the appearance of what we call intentionality.  As rational beings, the brothers of Joseph fully intended to bring harm to him, so their sin was intentional.  But Joseph said that despite their intentions and their efforts to bring them about, God was involved in the whole thing.  God was acting, and his intention was purely righteous; there was no mixture of evil in it.  His sovereign providence in it was altogether good.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Romans, 278)


The man without faith has no such assurance and must view life as the epitome of futility.  H. G. Wells, the English novelist, historian, and sociologist, made this statement near the close of his life:  “The experiment will be ended, and each one of us will be dissolved into nothingness, like crystals down a drainpipe.”  How wonderful to be a Christian, and to exclaim triumphantly with Solomon, “Everything is beautiful in its time!”  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 57-58)


What he promises us in 8:28, then, is not that every difficult experience will lead to something good in this life.  The “good” God may have in mind may involve the next life entirely.  He may take us out of a secure, well-paying job in order to shake us out of a materialistic lifestyle that does not honor biblical priorities, and we may never have as good a job again.  He may want to set us free from an engagement to be married because he wants to use us in a ministry that would be difficult or impossible for a married person.  Remember that it is by sharing in Christ’s sufferings that we eventually will be able to share in his glory as well (8:17).  (Douglas J. Moo, The NIV Application Commentary: Romans, 278)


Many interpreters insist that it has a very specific meaning in this context: eschatological glory.  The “good,” these scholars argue, is “defined” in vv. 29-30 as consisting in our ultimate conformity–in heaven–to the image of Christ and the glory that will then be ours.  While, however, Paul’s focus is on this completion of our salvation, we should probably include in the word those “good” things in this life that contribute to that final salvation and sustain us on the path to that salvation.  Certainly Paul does not mean that the evil experienced by believers in this life will always be reversed, turned into “good.”  For many things that we suffer will contribute to our “good” only by refining our faith and strengthening our hope.  In any case, we must be careful to define “good” in God’s terms, not ours.  The idea that this verse promises the believer material wealth or physical well-being, for instance, betrays a typically Western perversion of “good” into an exclusively material interpretation.  God may well use trials in these areas to produce what he considers a much higher “good”: a stronger faith, a more certain hope (cf. 5:3-4).  But the promise to us is that there is nothing in this world that is not intended by God to assist us on our earthly pilgrimage and to bring us safely and certainly to the glorious destination of that pilgrimage.  (Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the NT: Romans, 529-30)


The crowning illustration of the way in which evil acts may work together for the good of others is in the culmination of all evil which poured itself out against the sinless Son of God and thereby worked together for the eternal good of all who are saved in the redemption which resulted from His crucifixion.  Satan meant the death of Christ as his ultimate and angriest thrust at God; but God turned it into salvation from sin, and through that death took multitudes from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of His dear Son.  Men meant it as the final gesture of the enmity which the carnal mind holds against God (Rom 8:7), but God turned the fruit of that very hatred into the plan of salvation which showed His love to the universe and made it possible for us to become sons of God forever.  (Donald Grey Barnhouse, God’s Heirs, 155)


The Hebrew word translated appropriate may also be rendered beautiful.  Our lives may sometimes look like a confused collage of clashing colors; but if we were to step back and consider them from God’s vantage point, we would view them as an ordered mosaic of complementary hues.  Only the divine perspective can reveal the meaning and worth of our lives.  On its own, the human perspective will see only vanity.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 27)


If people ask, “Why did God make evil?” the proper reply is that everything God made is good.  Only unmaking can produce evil.  If the further question is asked, “Why had goodness to be of such a kind that it could be parodied by evil?” the only reply is that it is a mystery.  That is the kind of world we live in.  Just as ours is a world where three-legged men with eyes in their shoulder-blades are inconceivable, so a world where goodness is unpervertable is inconceivable.

The Christian must always be ready to accept that there are unfathomable mysteries.  There are bound to be where there is an unfathomably omnipotent and mysterious God.  St. Augustine tells of a questioner who asked, “What was God about before he made the world?” and was answered, “He was making hell for those who pry into his mysteries.” (Harry Blamires; On Christian Truth, 77-80)


I received a letter from a businessman friend of mine in Dallas, a very thoughtful man.  He gave me his thinking along this line, saying that there were five types of people whom he had learned from in life: “heroes, models, mentors, peers, and friends.  He continued:

     I have added another:  Enemies.  They have a very important place in our lives.  Enemies are the opposite bank of our existence.  We define our position partly by theirs, as light is the opposite of darkness, of course.  They plumb the depth of our Christian maturity, exposing our self-centeredness, self-righteousness, and arrogance.  They attack and expose our motives, for seldom do we form an enemy out of a mere mistake of fact or even opinion.  Enemies are personal, not positional.

Therefore, as a personal matter we are commanded to love them.  This command is like a spiritual thermometer stuck into the depths of our feverish little souls.  It is interesting that the Jewish historian and sociologist Hart puts this command as the greatest difference between Christianity and all other world religions.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 49-50)


Worship point: Worship is proportional to your understanding of God’s ability to take everything that happens in your life and make it beautiful in its time.


Spiritual Challenge: Trust in the Lord with all your heart.  Don’t look at events, circumstances and times from your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him.  And he will not only make your ways straight, but He will make you wise as well.


God takes every event and makes it beautiful in its own time.  And as creatures created in His own image, He is asking us to attempt to do the same.  This attempt (much like the Law) will drive you to Christ.



Quotes to Note:

Society just could not function if everyone denied human responsibility.  Solomon discussed the relationship between man’s freedom and God’s providence in Eccl 3:1-15.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 51)


Solomon included this long list of life situations to demonstrate that man’s range of choice is circumscribed by external conditions.  Man seems to be more a victim of circumstances than the master of his own destiny.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 54)


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