Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 17 2019 - Ecclesiastes 2 – Pleasures and work

The writer of this fascinating book puts himself into the shoes of Solomon, the richest of Israel's kings and noted for his wisdom, to try to understand what human life is all about.

As part of this experiment he devotes himself to seeking out pleasurable experiences to see if they will satisfy his longing for meaning. He tries out laughter and alcohol, as many do today, but he came to the conclusion that laughter is madness (v. 2). Like alcohol, it may provide a temporary escape from the hard realities of life but it does so only for a moment and leaves the pain undiminished – the laughter of the clown frequently masks their tears.

Next he contemplates great building projects, seeking to leave his mark upon the world (vv. 4-6). He imagines himself as rich as king Solomon with gold and silver, male and female servants and everything else the heart could desire, including a reputation for greatness (vv. 7-10). Yet, when he considered it all, "everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun" (v. 11).

He gained no satisfaction and sense of lasting purpose from what he accomplished because, in the end, death will rob him of everything he has. What's the point in cultivating wisdom and seeking understanding if the wise man and the fool share the same fate? He admits that, "wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness" (v. 13), in that it enables the wise person to live well, but death comes alike to all and empties the best of lives of significance. As the generations roll on, the wise man and his achievements will soon be forgotten along with the folly of the fool (vv. 15-16).

And what of all the things one has worked so hard to possess – the fancy car, the fine house with all its attractive furnishings, works of art, accumulated investments …? You can't take it with you; it all has to be left to others who may not value them at all (vv. 17-19). That seems to make all the effort that has gone into accumulating them meaningless; a chasing after the wind. Such thoughts lead our author to despair (v. 20): "What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless" (vv. 22-23). All you get from days of anxious toil is sleepless nights!

So the Teacher concludes that the best thing is to enjoy all that God gives, even the work God has given you to do with all the wisdom, knowledge and happiness that may be enjoyed while life lasts (vv. 24-26) – even though in the end it is meaningless.

The Teacher's verdict on life is echoed by many writers down the centuries, including contemporary writers, who consider that human life ends at death. For Instance, Richard Dawkins has written,

In a universe of blind physical forces … some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we would expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

Praise God that we have a better hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. His resurrection from the dead gives meaning to human life and to everything we do. We take to heart the words of the apostle Paul at the end of his wonderful chapter on the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ when he concludes, "Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58). Note his words "not in vain"!

Father God, we thank you for the Lord Jesus who has "destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." May your Holy Spirit fill us with joy and peace in believing. And may he bless the work of our hands so that generations to come will also rejoice in your saving goodness. 

Jun 17 2013 - Acts 11:1-30 – Rejoicing in the grace of God

When Peter returned to Jerusalem he was immediately involved in controversy. There were many among the Christians in Jerusalem who argued that if Gentiles were to be accepted as followers of Christ they needed to be circumcised – "They need to become like us." This is the beginning of a controversy that will dominate a significant part of Paul's ministry – but that is still to come.

Peter's visit to Cornelius does not seem to have led to significant evangelistic activity among the Gentiles. But those who had been scattered by the persecution following the death of Stephen spread the good news about Jesus wherever they went – though only among Jews. The news eventually reached Cyprus and Cyrene. Some converts from these regions travelled to Antioch where, seeming to ignore the ground rules, they spoke of Jesus to both Jews and Gentiles. The church at Antioch appears to have been the first church made up of a real mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard what had happened in Antioch they wanted to know what was really going on and sent Barnabas to find out. Here again we meet this remarkable man who had a heart for the encouragement of other believers. We read that when Barnabas arrived at Antioch he rejoiced to see signs of the grace of God and encouraged these young disciples to go on following Jesus. And to help them grow in knowledge of Christ, Barnabas went off to Tarsus, looking for Paul and dragged him back to Antioch to help with the instruction and encouragement of these disciples. Here Paul learned to minister to Jews and to Gentiles.

Can you imagine the situation Barnabas encountered at Antioch? Here was a church made up of very young Christians from a variety of backgrounds. He could have easily seen a truckload of problems in the making. Many of the Gentile converts may have had little knowledge of the Bible – of the Old Testament. They may have responded to what they had heard and have come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, but did they really understand the gospel? What’s more, Jewish believers and Gentile believers came from very different cultural backgrounds; would they really be able to follow Christ together without falling out with each other?

But Barnabas was not preoccupied with possible problems; he saw that God was at work and he was eager to join in the work of God. He wanted to do all that he could to encourage these young believers. More than that, he dragged Paul out of premature retirement and pushed him into the ministry that was to occupy the rest of his life. All because he had an eye for where God was at work and a heart to work with God and to promote others in the work of God.

Our churches need more men and women with a heart like that of Barnabas. All too often we avoid working with those who, should they be drawn into the life of the church, will bring all manner of problems with them. Is it any wonder that many churches are getting smaller and smaller and may, within a generation, close down altogether. We need fresh eyes to see what the grace of God and transforming power of the risen Saviour can accomplish with the most unlikely of people.

Lord, deliver me from a spirit of suspicion and make me more like Barnabas. Give me an eye to see where you are at work and a heart that is devoted to working with you. Give me an eye also to see how I may encourage others in the ministry for which you have equipped them without being jealous for my own ministry and my own reputation.

Peter Misselbrook