In this sermon, Pastor Dave Capoccia again looks at Solomon’s wisdom for how to regard authorities, but this time from Eccl 8:10-15. Solomon’s counsel is that, despite injustice, you should fear God and enjoy life. Solomon presents this counsel by drawing attention to two difficult realities and two wise responses to those realities:
1. Reality: Justice Is Often Slow (vv. 10-11)
2. Response: Wait for the End (vv. 12-13)
3. Reality: Injustice Will Frustrate You (v. 14)
4. Response: Enjoy Good amid Trouble (v. 15)
I thank the Lord for music or the ability to express our delight in Him and our trust in Him. That’s a gift. Let’s pray. Lord, feed us now. Feed us Your word. Help me to dispense this food faithfully. Work in the hearts of your people for encouragement, for conviction, for instruction. In Jesus name, amen.
One truth I’ve come to appreciate as I’ve gotten a little bit older is the importance of setting the right expectations for the situations and people you encounter in life. I remember a pastor saying one time that expectations are just premeditated disappointments. It might be a little too strong, but it is true that when you set expectations that are too high and not realistic, you inevitably end up disappointed and perhaps also angry and depressed. Yet it is amazing that when you set low expectations that are fair to reality, not only do you tend to get less frustrated, but if your expectations are even slightly exceeded, you can rejoice.
Living in Los Angeles for three and a half years provided a case in point for me. One of the notorious aspects of living in that big city is the traffic. No matter where you need to go in Los Angeles, even if it’s just a few miles around the corner, you can count on the fact that it will probably take you double the amount of time to get there as it would somewhere else. Ema and I sometimes joked while we were living in Los Angeles how nice it was to be able to get together with some friends who lived only an hour away. Only an hour away, Can you believe it? It’s so close. Now, people in Los Angeles know about the traffic problem and they wish it were different. But because the heavy traffic is expected, it’s not as hard to take. In L.A., when you pull onto a highway and see cars bumper to bumper, you don’t say what’s going on, I wasn’t counting on this. You instead say, oh yeah, LA traffic. You learn to prepare. You leave early, bring snacks, get something good to listen to in the car. You try to make the most of a non ideal situation. And if you are expecting heavy traffic and instead find a clear road, You know what that is – that is a gift that you can gratefully enjoy.
Wisely adapting to traffic in Los Angeles is a lot like how we need to adapt to life in general, isn’t it? The book from Solomon that we’ve been going through, the book of Ecclesiastes, it’s really a handbook for setting the right expectations for life. Because of man’s ancient fall into sin, our rebellion against God, life on earth has become fundamentally vain or vaporous. Everything is fundamentally insubstantial, impermanent, and incomprehensible. And all of us, Christians or not, have to live in this broken world and face its frustrations. We all wish that things were different, and they are. Nevertheless, this is the reality in which we live. If you’re willing to adapt to this reality and adjust our expectations, we can live well. We can make the most out of life. And we can even find that elusive of treasures, contentment. We could be content.
By now, in the book of Ecclesiastes, we’ve seen Solomon reset our expectations for life in a number of areas, including work, wealth, pleasure, people, knowledge, wisdom, justice, time, and death. We’re coming into Ecclesiastes 8. Actually we’ve already started it. In this chapter, Ecclesiastes 8, Solomon teaches us how to face the frustrating reality of imperfect and often unjust authorities, rulers. Last time together, we looked at Ecclesiastes 8:1-9, and we heard Solomon’s first exhortation about how to face this unfortunate reality of the world.
What was Solomon’s exhortation? If you want life to go better for you, then obey the authorities that God has set up. Obey authorities, avoid trouble. I gave you some reasons to do that. We went over those last time. If you missed it, check out the sermon on the website, the recording. But submission is only the first main way that we should respond to unjust authorities. We have two more in the next part of our passage and that’s what we’re going to consider today. I’ve actually summarized our text main idea in the sermon title, if you’ve already seen it in the bulletin.
Imperfect and unjust rule is a reality that we will all face in life, even here in America. But how should you respond? If you want to be wise, then despite injustice, fear God and enjoy life. That’s the sermon title. Despite injustice, fear God and enjoy life.
If you haven’t yet, please open your Bible to Ecclesiastes 8, and let’s look at those verses, verses 10 to 15. I believe the passage is also in the bulletin. Let’s read this text. God says via his servant Solomon,
So then, I have seen the wicked buried, those used to go in and out from the holy place, and they are soon forgotten in the city where they did thus. This too is futility. Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil. Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not link to his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God. There is a utility which is done on the earth, that is, there are righteous man to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility. So I commended pleasure, for there’s nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun.
Our text breaks down into two main exhortations, and I’ve captured those in the sermon title. In verses 10 to 13, you have the first exhortation – despite injustice, fear God. And then in verses 14 to 15, we have the second exportation – despite injustice, enjoy life. Each of these expectations has a two-part structure. They begin by declaring a proper expectation about the reality of injustice in the world, and then explain a wise response to this frustrating reality of injustice. I’m going to use the four parts of this reality, response, reality, response, as the points of my sermon outline.
So let’s start with the first statement of reality in verses 10 and 11. What is an important expectation for life that we must have when it comes to rulers and authorities over us? Number one, reality is justice is often slow. Reality is justice is often slow. Let’s start with just reading verse 10.
So then, I have seen the wicked buried, those used to go in and out from the holy place, and they are soon forgotten in the city where they did thus. This too is futility.
Verse 10 sounds pretty straightforward in our New American Standard translation, but you should know there are pretty substantial puzzles in the original Hebrew text that make this verse difficult to translate. The two main issues revolve around the words translated for us as forgotten and thus, I won’t go into a full technical explanation, but just know that the word forgotten could also be translated praise, and the word thus could also be translated righteously or justly.
In other words, there are three possible senses of this verse. Version one is, as we see it in the New American Standard, the wicked are buried but forgotten in the city where they acted thus. Version 2 is that the wicked are buried but praised in the city where they acted thus. And version 3, the wicked are buried but forgotten in the city are those who acted justly. Which of these possible sentences is correct? Commentators say that it’s really hard to come down on one and say it’s the correct one. It’s hard to say for sure. I lean toward the third version but I admit it’s difficult.
Whatever the exact original sense of this verse, the overall message is clear and that is – in this world true justice does not come quickly, if at all. Notice verse ten starts with so then. What Solomon is saying this verse is directly related to what he previously said in this chapter, especially verse 9. Solomon told us there that he had seen and considered every kind of situation under the sun where people in authority exercise that authority to the hurt of others. And here’s one such situation that Solomon has seen, something that fits in with that observation and something Solomon has seemed definitely more than once. He says I have seen the wicked buried. You may say, okay, what’s the big deal about that? Don’t we want to see the wicked dead and buried? Well you have to remember that especially in ancient times, a proper burial was considered a gift not fit for the wicked. You might remember in Ecclesiastes 6:3, Solomon declared provocatively that a life without enjoying good thing or even receiving a proper burial wasn’t really worth living. Proper burial was considered a very good thing. And there are a number of times in the Old Testament that God declares in judgment against certain wicked persons or groups of people, that their bodies would never find graves, but would instead be food for dogs and birds. The wicked don’t deserve an honorable burial. Solomon says, I’ve seen it. Many times I’ve seen the wicked buried, and not just buried, but buried with great honors.
We see the phrase those used to go in and out of the holy place. This could be talking about the hypocritical worship of those wicked ones. They thought nothing of going to the temple, even while they maintain an open or secret life of sin. Bible has many examples of this, Old Testament and New. Just think of the Pharisees and Sadducees. But this phrase could also or alternatively be talking about the burial ceremony itself. Wicked men is so honored that his body is taken to right before the temple, eulogized, and then transported to be buried in a nice tomb. Can’t get a more honorable burial than that. Solomon says, I’ve seen such for the wicked. And not only that but Solomon adds, and they are soon forgotten in the city where they did thus. Now, if forgotten is indeed the proper sense, here, it might be inclined to think that this mention is positive and say, well at least the wicked’s honor didn’t last long. They were eventually forgotten. But I don’t think that’s the way Solomon wants us to take this because he ends verse 10 by saying this, to its utility, for this too is vanity or this too is vapor. It’s that Hebrew word hevel, which we have seen so many times.
Solomon is not comforted by the reality he sees. Rather, he’s frustrated by it. Why would forgetting about the wickedness of the wicked be frustrating? Because there’s no justice. The wicked not only didn’t see justice while they were alive, but there wasn’t even justice on their corpse or memory. Sometimes in the ancient world, long after a wicked person died and was buried with honor, someone seeking justice or vengeance would dig up the corpse, burn it or behead it, and then scatter the remains. It’s not really justice, but it’s something. But Solomon says, many times we don’t even see that for the wicked. Their crimes and their hypocrisy are forgotten, as is justice.
But as I said, the sense here in verse 10 might actually not be about forgetting. It might be instead praising, which is an even worse reality. The wicked are not only buried in highest honors, but even praised after their deaths. They are lauded. Everyone talked about how good they were, how much they want to be like them. Does that ever happen? You bet it does. Some examples in the Bible, plenty of examples in the rest of history. Just look at any of the great dictators of ancient or modern times. In reality, these were ruthless, treacherous, lecherous men, who sometimes killed hundreds, thousands, or even millions, in order to carry out their schemes. What was the end of many of these men? Not only were they given glorious burials and opulent tombs, but they were praised after their deaths, even treated as gods. And every ambitious fellow wanted to follow in their exact footsteps.
Meanwhile, how did the righteous fair? I told you that the sense of this last part verse ten could be – but those who acted righteously were forgotten in the city. And whether that’s the correct sense here or not, it is definitely true according to the rest of scripture. Though the wicked, especially those with great wealth or power, are often given great honor at their deaths and afterward, the righteous frequently are the ones forgotten in the city, just abandoned. And when they die, no one buries them. Their bodies are carrying food.
Recently, in my personal Bible reading, I providentially came across the account of Naboth in 1 kings 21. Remember, Naboth was a righteous man living in the northern kingdom of Israel. He was under a wicked government. King Ahab of Israel wanted Naboth’s vineyard, but Naboth feared God and he refused to sin by permanently handing over his ancestral land to anyone else, even the king. This response depressed Ahab, so his wicked wife Jezebel arranged for false charges be brought against Naboth for capital crimes. Those who arranged these false charges to make them stick, Naboth’s own neighbors, they stoned him to death. And left his body unburied. Wild dogs licked up his blood. Well, wicked king Ahab rejoiced and seized Naboth’s vineyard.
Naboth’s story is tragic but it is not unique. So many other righteous persons in the Scriptures and in the rest of history, even today, they are killed as criminals and their bodies dishonored. Why? Why should this be? Why are the wicked many times honored and the righteous many times dishonored, disdain, even in death? It’s not right, but this is the brokenness of our world due to sin. This is reality. This is what it means to live in a frustrating vapor of vapors world. Thankfully, it won’t always be this way. Christ will come and establish His kingdom of righteousness. But until that time, this is the situation.
But someone may say, but didn’t God eventually judge Ahab and Jezebel over what they did to Naboth? Yes, it’s true, God did. But that judgment came much later. The fulfillment of God’s pronounced judgment on Ahab, Jezebel and their clan didn’t occur until many years later, actually after Ahab died and was honorably buried, and after the rise of usurper king named Jehu in 2 Kings 9. When God’s judgement did come, it was devastating. Not a soul in the house of Ahab survived. Jezebel herself was eaten by dogs. But this took a while. Justice, even God’s justice, is often slow from our perspective. And what is the practical results of this frequently delayed justice? Solomon tells us in verse 11. Let’s reread that verse.
Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.
I think when we come to this verse, often our first thought is of inept governments. Because of our rulers’ corrupt policies or because the justice system is so full of inefficient bureaucracy, punishment according to law becomes delayed, and therefore law is an ineffective deterrent to evil. This is all about foolish governance. Well certainly that is a part of why justice is often delayed, but there is more than evil or ineptitude at work here. We need to remember that wisely and faithfully administering justice, it’s hard. So difficult that even a wise Solomon at the beginning of his kingship pleaded with God for the special ability to rule justly. In 1 kings 3, he said,
who is able to judge this great people of Yours?
Please give me an understanding heart. It’s not so easy, and even competent and honest civil servants need time to do their work. Consider, despite our many scientific advances in communication abilities, it still takes considerable time to discover that a crime actually took place in our country, and still more time to determine what the crime was, who committed the crime, where that person is, how you can track him down, how you can arrest him, how you can convicted him, what the appropriate punishment should be, and how should one deal with the various appeals of his conviction. Furthermore, governments have limited resources, while criminal and civil cases are endless. Those in authority don’t have the ability to listen to or go after everyone at once. Then when you add in various levels of corruption and inefficiency and incompetence, you have a recipe for slow and imperfect justice in every land. It’s a problem in the ancient world, and it’s still a problem today. Some places better, some places worse, but there’s nothing new under the sun.
Both on the human level and on the divine level, for good reasons and for bad reasons, justice on earth is frequently slow. And of course, this brings about a sad result, which Solomon tells us at the end of verse 11,
therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.
In other words, in the very core of human beings, because of slow justice, people are greatly emboldened in wickedness. When they don’t see punishment, when they don’t see the consequences, people become confident that they can get away with evil. It’s like we read in Psalm 73 and other places of the Scripture. God doesn’t see me. God doesn’t care. What does God know? He’s hidden Himself. Look at all the benefits we’ve received in doing evil. Look at all the spoils. Let’s do more. There’s a good chance we won’t get caught. Even if we do, it won’t be for a while. Let’s have fun while we can.
Of course, when talking about God’s delay of justice, His patience not to judge sin immediately is meant to lead us to repentance, to give us time to return to Him. He says, I could judge you right now, but I’m giving you time. But what do people do with that? Many people, including us sometimes, we use the patience of God as an excuse to sin more, thereby showing our deep corruption and storing up for ourselves greater judgment when the time of judgment comes.
So here’s the painful reality that we must face. Justice is often slow in the world and sometimes won’t appear until long after someone dies. The result is that many people will be bold and emboldened to pursue evil. Surely we want to improve the speed and accuracy of justice where and when we can. It’s not just we threw up our hands and say, okay I guess we’re not going to do anything. If we have ability to improve things, we should. But we need to have the right expectations for life. No society will be fully just or administer justice quickly like they should, even ours.
But how should we respond, if this is the reality. How should we respond if such is the case of life? Maybe we should get in on doing evil. It’s a dog eat dog world. We’ve got to do evil to others before they do evil to you. Is that how we should respond? Such a response does not represent true wisdom that Solomon is about to show us. If the reality is that justice is often slow, the wise response is actually number two – wait for the end. Number two, our response should be to wait for the end. Look at verses 12 to 13.
Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God.
These verses are quite profound and they reveal that Solomon is no cynic. He is a man of faith. Notice the beginning part of verse 12, Solomon posits for us a hypothetical extreme. He says, there may be some sinner out there who gets away with evil a hundred times and seems to profit greatly from it. He noticeably lengthen his days by sinful treachery. His life seems to be the perfect argument against fearing God. It’s no punishment, all profit. What’s the point of following God? Even if there is such a one, Solomon says, even if you parade a thousand such persons, still I know, he says.
This phrase still I know, it’s very interesting because it is the only time in Ecclesiastes that Solomon uses the participle form of the verb to refer to himself. More literally translated, the Hebrew is saying – still I am knowing. Participles, they emphasize continual action. So despite what Solomon sees, he keeps knowing. He keeps bringing back to mind a sure truth, probably because he needs to. What’s that truth? That it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. The phrase who fear Him openly is more literally translated who are fearful from before His face, that is God’s face. This isn’t necessarily talking about obvious public piety, but rather genuine sincerity. The people that Solomon is talking about as God-fearers, they’re not merely those who fear God before men, but who fear God before God’s own face when no one else is. Solomon affirms, for such it will be well for them.
You might be saying, what are you talking about, Solomon? You just showed us that justice is slow, the wicked are often honored and the righteous dishonored. How can you say it will be well for those who fear God? Show us how that’s true. Explain when that’s going to happen. I don’t think Solomon can specifically explain. With these notorious examples of evildoers around him who get away with evil, his eyes keep suggesting there’s no ultimate profit in fearing God, still Solomon hold by faith to something his eyes don’t see but his heart continually knows. There is a God. He is a righteous judge and a time of justice is coming. We’ve talked about this before in Ecclesiastes. Solomon can’t tell you when that judgment is or how it’s going to look. He didn’t have other revelation at that time to clarify that for him. We have more. But Solomon knows that when the judgment comes, the truly deciding factor will not be popular opinion, public works of piety, or what kind of burial you had, but instead whether you feared God before His face or not. For those who genuinely fear God, with an affectionate reference with which God is due, their judgment will go well. It will be good for them in the end. Whatever happens to them in life, it will be good for them in the end. But for those who do not genuinely fear God, for the evil man, it will not go well. We should pause and ask which one of those categories are you. Before God’s face, do you really fear Him?
Notice the phrase, he will not lengthen his days like a shadow. This is a curious phrase for two reasons. First because Solomon just told us that an evil person might lengthen his days with evil. And second, lengthening days like a shadow seems like a vain action. I mean, shadow disappears quickly. But Solomon says that evildoers will not lengthen his days like a shadow. take a shower. This doesn’t make much sense. What’s going on here? To the first observation, Solomon is not truly contradicting himself, but saying two complimentary truths. Though on the surface, a person may seem to lengthen his day by evil, such as not actually the case. All days are determined by God. And as we saw last time in Ecclesiastes 8:8, evil will not say those who practice it. No one has the power to use evil to save themselves. If it seems like they do, it’s only because God is showing undeserved patience. He says, I’ll let you get away with that. I’ll let that work out for you. In other words, evil may apparently lengthen days. And in one sense it does, but in another sense it doesn’t. It doesn’t truly lengthen the days. It’s all in God’s hands.
Onto the second observation, the words like a shadow are probably best understood as an interjection and not intended to describe the lengthening of days itself. The sense would therefore be, Solomon here in this verse, he will not lengthen his days, rather they will be like a shadow. Actually there’s something worth noting about the lengthening of shadows. Both Psalm 102:11 and Psalm 109:23, they use the metaphor of a lengthening shadow to describe imminent death, impending ruin. This actually make sense, because let’s say you’re using the sun as a light source. When is the shadow longest? Right before the sun goes down, when the light source is almost totally horizontal. That creates the longest shadow. But when the sun disappears, which it’s about to do, what happens to the shadow? It’s gone. Therefore, I think Solomon is actually making a point about those who don’t fear God. They will not lengthen their days, not truly. All they can do is lengthen their shadow. And remember that the longer a shadow looks, the surer you can say the judgment will suddenly and totally overwhelmed that person. Didn’t Psalm 73, Asaph in psalm 73, say the same thing? If you just look at how some of the wicked prophet, you will see no point in fearing God. But if you remember the end and God’s unknown time of sudden and overwhelming judgment, you will see that it is better for those who fear God. Like Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16, some who suffer now will be comforted later. But many who are comforted now will spend forever in torment.
So we’ve seen the first reality and response showing us that despite injustice, we should fear. The reality is justice is often slow, but the wise response is to wait for the end.
Let’s look at a second pair of reality and response now, starting in verse 14. And these two will go more quickly. Another reality we need to prepare for, expect, is number three – injustice will frustrate you. Injustice will frustrate you. Look at verse 14.
There is futility which is done on the earth, that is there are righteous man to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility.
By this point, we should be ready to accept the idea expressed in verse 14 because it’s just like what Solomon showed us in verse 10. In fact, Ecclesiastes 8:14 sounds an awful lot like Ecclesiastes 7:15, where Solomon told us that he seen the righteous die young and the wicked live long. So in one sense, Solomon is just repeating himself here for emphasis, but in another sense Solomon is applying what he said before in Ecclesiastes 7 to human authorities. Don’t be surprised, Solomon says, when you see human authorities, including governments, treating righteous persons like wicked persons, and wicked persons like righteous persons. I’ve seen it, Solomon says, and so will you.
But even though Solomon has, in one sense, come to terms with this reality, in another sense he has not. He is not fully okay with this. Solomon is still greatly grieve and frustrated. And we can tell this by the way he writes verse 14. Notice, verse 14 both starts and ends with references to futility, that is again hevel, the Hebrew word meaning vanity or vapor. Every time in Ecclesiastes Solomon says if something is vapor, understand he’s not just passionately pointing out, oh this has vapor-like qualities. Rather, he’s drawing attention to how something is incredibly agitating in life. You can’t get a handle on this vapor. It continues to elude you and bother you. So it is, Solomon says, with unjust ruled. Twice he says this. You’ll never be able to get over the frustrating fact of injustice, that authorities, established by God, upheld by God, accountable to God, they would abuse their God-given authority to punish the good and reward the wicked. This will continue to bother you, as it should if you love justice at all like God does.
But does the frustrating fact of injustice mean that you are doomed to a life of agonized fretting? Not at all. Rather, the proper response to injustice’s prevalent frustration is, as we’re going to see in verse 15, number four – enjoy good amid trouble. Number four, enjoy good amid trouble. Look at verse 15,
So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun.
This is the fifth time in Ecclesiastes we’ve seen the call to enjoy life. And it’s the second time that Solomon has made this call after speaking about injustice. The other time was Ecclesiastes 3:22. Notice though, as we see these repeated calls, this is the most confident sounding yet from Solomon. The first three calls started merely with, there’s nothing for better for man and he should enjoy life, which is kind of like, well this is the best we got. But then the fourth call, which is in Ecclesiastes 5:18.
It started with this, here’s what I’ve seen to be good and fitting:
which is kind of an upgrade. It’s not just the best we got, but it is something good in of itself, something even fitting and beautiful. And now notice how Solomon begins here. He says, so in light of the frustrating thing I just said, I commended pleasure, or we could translate it, I praised joy. It’s not just good and beautiful but it’s worth commending and praising. What is so worth commending and praising? Joy and enjoyment and the happy partaking of the good of life. This includes eating good food, drinking good drink, making merry with friends, simple gifts of life. Now understand, I have to say this every time, this is not a call to nihilistic hedonism. That should be clear from what we’ve already seen in Ecclesiastes, especially chapters one and two. You’re looking for something, some experience, some pleasure to satisfy you. The more you seek it, the less satisfying it will be. That’s vain. It’s not a call to nihilistic hedonism. Rather it is a reminder that just as God has ordained for us days of trouble, toil, and injustice, so He has also ordained for us good in the midst of that, which we should gratefully receive and enjoy. God gave us many gifts. God gave you, each one of you listening today, many gifts in your life, things like food, drink, beautiful weather, companionship, the church, opportunities to serve God, music, cute animals, and whatever else is good. Not so that these things could become your life, that you’d find full satisfaction in them, you won’t, but so that they can assist you in your life.
Notice that Solomon says that this we just spoke about joy. It will stand by man in the toils throughout the days of his life. You can’t get around the toil aspects of life. There’s no fixing this broken world until Christ comes. You can’t get around the injustice aspect of life. None of us can. It’s part of the curse of sin. But you can still embraced your portion. You can still humbly make the most out of whatever good God has given you in your life, and He’s intended you to do so.
Do you have an unjust and incompetent government? So does everyone else, to one degree or another. Do you live in a society that is filled with embedded systems of oppression? Don’t be surprised by that. That’s just the way it is in this broken world. We long for things to change, and in God’s good time it will. But in the meantime, don’t let your concern over your society, its authorities, or its future prevent you from enjoying the good that God has given you right now. After all, inordinate concern or worry about issues like politics is another form of worry. And all the Scripture exhortations about worry apply. If I may be retool slightly what Jesus says about worry in Matthew 6 to emphasize this point. Who have you, by worrying, can add a single cubit to his lifespan or single good law to his land? We don’t ultimately have that power. God does. Why are you worried about authorities? Look at the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. They don’t even have official authorities over them. God takes good care of them. Are you not much more valuable to God than birds and flowers? Are you not under His same sovereign care? do not say, who will rule us next, what kind of laws will our rulers make, and who protect our rights? For the gentiles eagerly seek all these things, yet God knows that you need such things. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things, whatever you really need, will be added to you. Do not be worried about the authority situation tomorrow. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Now don’t misunderstand. You’ve got to get this qualifier. I’m not saying, Solomon is not saying that we should have absolutely no concern for the future, or no involvement in or no awareness of politics or no effort to fight social ills or keep our authorities ruling justly. If, like Esther, there’s something legitimate you can do to influence authorities in a meaningful and positive way, or to substantively improve your situation and the situation of your brethren, then do it. God may have raised you up for such a task in time. Think also that exhortation that Paul gives to slaves in 1 Corinthians 7. He says, if you are not able to become free, don’t worry about it, but if you are able to become free, do it.
So if there’s something practical you can do, then take advantage. But if you find yourself continually distraught over some unjust authority, whether it’s a parent, a teacher, a boss, a governor, or president, or congress, if you’re continually distraught and agitated, you’re doing it wrong. If you find yourself gobbling down every doom announcing and fear-mongering headline, let’s face it, those things are given for a reason so that you’ll keep on reading. If you find yourself doing that, you’re doing it wrong. If you find yourself spending the majority of your time and energy and thought to change your life situation, especially your submission authority relationships that are just so annoying. If that’s what’s consuming your life, you’re doing it wrong. You will end up distracted from serving God, as everyone else does, who is consumed by worry and what was ultimately behind worry, idolatry. Life’s frustrations will get to you. You won’t be able to secure the ideal life circumstances you seek. And even if you do, you won’t be able to hang on to them. They’ll disappear so fast. Meanwhile, in your vaporous quest, you will remain continually unhappy. And you’ll probably make others unhappy too.
I shared with you before some words of one Christian author. Christians should never accept injustice, but we must accept the fact of injustice. If you are willing to face the reality of life as God described it, that justice is often slow and injustice will be prevalent and frustrating. Then you can fear our God and enjoy life. You can wait for the end. You can enjoy God’s good amid trouble. You can set the right expectation regarding the authorities you encounter. You won’t be so startled when you see your rulers acting foolishly and unjustly, or even when they persecute Christians.
You say, oh I expected that. You can take a reasonable but not worry-filled precautions. you don’t want to be naive. Also, when you see an authority or government exceed your expectations and actually do justice, rewarding the good and punishing the evil like they’re supposed to. You know what you can treat that as – a gift, a gracious gift from God. What should you do with that gift? Thankfully enjoy it and revere the One who gave it to you, not because the gift is ultimate but because the Giver is.
Well as you know, it is our nation’s birthday. America has a lot of problems, in government and culture. Many of these problems may, probably will, get worse. But as Greg prayed, we’ve experienced a lot of good in this nation. God has been very kind to us in America. Compare the situation, we have here as best you can to situations in other countries. Believers in countries like China or the middle east or Canada, they have it worse than we do. And yet, they are content. As for us, we often complain. Oh, this government. It’s true. We do want to see justice, but let’s be thankful for the good that we have. Let’s not focus on what we don’t have, but we do have, because it is a gracious gift of God. Thank the Lord for this nation, for what we enjoy in it. Let’s worship God in holy reverence for His kind gifts, via living in America, whatever else it is, remembering that God can sovereignly choose to give or take away, but that shouldn’t take away our joy. For whatever we may suffer right now, this is not our home. God will make it right for His people in the end, for those who genuinely love and fear Him through the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what we’re waiting for. And God will vindicate our faith.
Let’s pray. Lord, thank You. Just as I said, thank You for the good You have done us in this country, the good that you’ve done for people throughout the couple centuries that this country has existed. Lord, you know there have been some terrible injustice has committed here, and there continue to be. Our government frequently fails, our rulers are frequently foolish and evil, and yet You have still done so much good to Your people. We pray that You’d be gracious to this country, that there would be more justice here. Speedier justice, better rule, people in government who actually fear You and love what is good.
Take care of your people. We don’t long for persecution. We don’t long for suffering. We ask God for it is Your will that You’d protect our freedoms and our rights. But God, if You choose to take those away in Your sovereignty, how can we complain against You? You always do what is good for Your people.
And God, we also want to remember that as much as we long for justice, we are so glad that You are patient, that You even delay justice because that means we had a chance to be saved. You didn’t judge us immediately like You could have. You had mercy on us, and You drew us to repentance. Lord, for any today who are continuing to tread on Your patience, who don’t fear you, who don’t submit to you, don’t pay any attention to you at all, who have a form of godliness in the outside, yet on the inside they just serve themselves. Lord, I pray that they would repent today. It will not go well for them in the end. You will bring about your justice at the proper time. For those who fear You, God, that is a wonderful thing. But for those who don’t, it is a terrible thing. Lord, bring justice in your good time, but thank You for Your mercy. Thank You for Your mercy. Have mercy on this nation. Bring revival, just as Greg prayed earlier. And help us to be about the work of making disciples. Our time here is passing quickly. It is indeed like a vapor. But let us serve and enjoy You the whole time of our toilsome sojourn. In Jesus name. Amen.