Fear God: Ecclesiastes 12:9 -14
As the old adage goes, you save the best for last.
This is why at a concert the biggest hit is the song that closes the show and dessert is saved for the end of a meal. The same is true in Ecclesiastes. The entire book has thus far explored the meaning of our fleeting life, and now gives us the bottom line for how to keep life aligned with God’s will.
Before giving us his grand finale, big idea, Solomon reminds us of who he is. Ecclesiastes 12:9-10 says, “Keep this in mind: The Teacher was considered wise, and he taught the people everything he knew. He listened carefully to many proverbs, studying and classifying them. The Teacher sought to find just the right words to express truths clearly.” We are reminded that not only is Solomon wise, he was appointed by God as a teacher who spent his entire life researching the meaning of life. Subsequently, this should encourage us to trust his life of study and listen to his wise counsel for our soul. In the same way, when we meet with a skilled doctor we should trust their analysis of our physical well being based upon their lifetime of preparatory study. In life, we all need wise counsel. None of us is born with innate knowledge and wisdom. To learn and grow, we have to allow someone to teach us and speak into our life. To earn our trust and open our ears, Solomon reminds us who he is as the wisest, richest, and most powerful man in the history of the world, after Jesus Christ.
In the ancient world, a good shepherd would have to create a bit of pain to compel sheep who were wandering off in to danger to get back on a safe path. Comparing wisdom from God to that experience, Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 12:11, “The words of the wise are like cattle prods—painful but helpful. Their collected sayings are like a nail-studded stick with which a shepherd drives the sheep.” Sometimes, God uses a bit of pain to keep us from experiencing even greater pain. Examples would include feeling pain when our hand is near a flame, which compels us to move our hand before more serious harm occurs. Sometimes, wisdom brings a bit of pain, but this pain is sent from God in love to get us out of harms way.
One of the most important things we can pursue in life is wisdom. This truth has been a mega-theme of the entire book of Ecclesiastes. But, at some point we need to simply obey what we know to be true. We can research an issue for so long that we begin to suffer from the paralysis of analysis. Life comes without guarantees, and at some point overthinking and over-researching does not bring any progress in our life. For this reason, Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 12:12, “But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.” Admittedly, I am a bit of a nerd. I have around five thousand books on my shelf. I have tens of thousands of additional books on my laptop. Every day, there are more books published (not to mention articles, blogs, podcasts, etc.) that I find interesting to learn from. The only problem is, I can spend the rest of my life reading everything and doing nothing. Knowledge is what we know. Wisdom is what we do.
What should we do to live a godly life? At the end of his life, history’s second wisest man after Jesus Christ gives us the bottom line, saying in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, “That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.”
Fear and obey God.
Life with God is this basic.
Everything begins and ends, rises and falls, succeeds and fails, based upon your fear of God. Proverbs 1:7 says, “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” Wise counsel, ample resources, relational support, and even knowledge are of no help to a person who does not fear God. To fear God is just that – to live with a constant deep belief that God sees and knows all, and that you will give an account to him.
Your life, and mine, are driven by fear. The question is not if we will fear, but who we will fear.
To fear the Lord is to consider God above everything and everyone else. To fear the Lord is to do what is right in God’s eyes, even if it means that the outcome will likely not be in our best interest. If we do fear the Lord, then we are guided by the following kinds of questions that help us make godly and wise life decisions:
- What does the Bible say?
- What godly people can I seek for wise counsel?
- How can I best glorify God in this situation?
- What does God want me to do?
The default if we do not fear the Lord, is that we fear someone else instead. This is what Proverbs 29:25 means saying, “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety.” To fear people is to hold a person or group of people (parents, friends, spouse, coworkers, etc.) above everyone and everything else. To fear people is to do what other people want you to do, demand that you do, or pressure you to do even if it’s not what God wants you to do. If we do fear people, then we are guided by the following kinds of questions that cause us to make ungodly and unwise life decisions:
- What do other people say?
- Who can I find to agree with what I want to do?
- How can I hide this from God and godly people?
- What do other people want me to do?
Biblical counselor Ed Welch says,
Fear in the biblical sense . . . includes being afraid of someone, but it extends to holding someone in awe, being controlled or mastered by people, worshipping other people, putting your trust in people, or needing people. . . . the fear of man can be summarized this way: We replace God with people. Instead of a biblically guided fear of the Lord, we fear others. . . . When we are in our teens, it is called “peer pressure.” When we are older, it is called “people-pleasing.” Recently, it has been called “codependency.”
Who do you fear? Who do you simply require the approval of? Whose praise of you means the world to you? Whose criticism or rejection of you would destroy you? Which person(s) are you different around, adjusting yourself to fit their expectations and becoming who they want you to be, rather than who God made you to be? Who do you sin for? These questions help us to uncover any areas in our life where we are fearing someone other than God.
Questions For Personal and Group Study Ecclesiastes 12:9-14
- In your own words, what does it mean to fear God?
- What fears, other than a fear of God, have driven your past decision-making? What was the result?
- What people are you most likely to fear? Why?
- Is there any area of your life that you are not obeying God?
- What does it look like for the fear of God to enter in to the areas of your life where you are struggling to obey God?
- In your past, can you give an example of where you chose to fear and obey God and were able to at least live with a clear conscience?