In conclusion, let us consider a few ways in which we witness the Holy Spirit’s work in our holiness. First, the Holy Spirit’s work in our holiness is witnessed in delivering us from the “desires of the flesh” (2:16). Since our flesh has been crucified, the Holy Spirit turns our desires from the things of the flesh to the things of the Spirit. This doesn’t mean that the desires of our sinful flesh are eliminated. Surely, the desires of the flesh lurk in the dark recesses of our sinful flesh, but the Spirit leads us away from those dark corners into the light. The Holy Spirit directs us to what we rightly “want to do” (5:17) in Christ. And when we do this we build holy habits, not by self-reliance but Spirit-dependence.
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If God has created us to work for his glory, how should we then work? First, Solomon says, enjoy your work and the fruit of it, because both are a gift from the hand of God. Rather than fretting over what would become of all his work, Solomon learned to consider God’s gift of today: to eat, to drink, to enjoy what God has given. In looking back on the perils of his work and the subsequent fruit of his labors, Martin Luther did not recount how arduous his work was but instead said, “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank … beer with my friends … the Word [did its work].” Work hard, find enjoyment in it (as best you can), and then enjoy a meal and good drink with friends, thanking God for his gracious providence, “for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment”? (2:25).
What Does It Profit?
What Solomon faced is not unique but common to us all. How often do we look for significance in the wisdom and ways of this world, when all that we need we have in Christ. How often are we frustrated with this life, because it’s not heaven? How often do we pursue gain in this world forgetting that the way of the world is death but the way of the cross is life? Jesus said,
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:34-36).
Indeed, the greatest gain is given: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The Folly of Worldly Temptations
Looking back on his life, Solomon saw clearly the brevity of life, the futility of worldliness, indeed the vanity of all under the sun. The story of his life told a tragedy of misspent blessing, but it need not be repeated. What is the story of your life telling? Is it one of faith, surrender, and dependence upon our Lord, characterized by forgiveness and love? Is it worthy of Christlike imitation? Or does it tell the story of vanity, striving after the wind, nothing gained under the sun?
What Is Your Life?
One day, not too many years ago, when all my children were still at home, my oldest son told me that his Sunday School teacher was beginning a new study on Ecclesiastes. I was elated. Ecclesiastes is my favorite Old Testament book, if not my favorite book in the Bible. Unfortunately, my son didn’t share my enthusiasm. After prying a little deeper, I found out why. His teacher had given the class a one-sentence summary of Ecclesiastes: “Life stinks and then you die” (except he didn’t say “stinks”).
A Godly Example
If God provides for the child dedicated to him, through you, what does this supporting role look like? It’s rooted in dependence upon the Lord’s provision. Parenting is tough enough, but raising a covenant child in a fallen world to the glory of God is impossible but for divine grace. By divine grace, you will faithfully pray for your child. By divine grace, you will teach your child the doctrines of Christianity. But if you are to bring your child up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord but do not set before your child a godly example, your teaching will fall on deaf ears and your praying will avail naught.
Pierced for Our Transgressions
And so it did, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The gospel does not promise us a life free from snorting bulls, roaring lions, and chasing dogs but tells us the good news of our greatest need, that a worm, such as I, has been reconciled to God by the death of his Son and saved by his life (Rom. 5:10), that I might glorify and enjoy him forever!
As the Lord has revealed himself and his will in his Word, we know his character and his covenant to keep us. Knowing that “he who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6), we have confidence that in Christ we will persevere to the end. But in the day of trouble, it’s easy to lose sight of this truth, feeling as if God is hiding, only to reveal himself after death. But just as our feelings do not dictate the truth, so God does not hide from us but always preserves us, not for our merits but his righteousness. For, in his steadfast love for us, he has not only crushed our ancient foe but redeemed us as his own.
Momentary Affliction, Eternal Glory
In the moment, it is easy to think of our troubles as enduring, but they will pass away just like the world as we know it. The Lord “laid the foundation of the earth” long ago, but it will perish. He formed the heavens by hand, but they will wear out “like a garment” (25-26). But he who made heaven and earth is ageless, he doesn’t wear out, and he will never perish, and neither will all who trust in him. This is why we must not think of our troubles as unending or seek to find solutions in what will perish. We must look to the Lord in our time of need, for ourselves but also for one another. For though our afflictions are momentary, in Christ we look together toward an eternal glory.
Conviction, Contrition, and Community
With three synonyms (“transgressions,” “iniquity,” and “sin”), David confesses the totality of his sin. He no longer hides what could never be hidden. Great is David’s sin but not greater than the forgiveness of the self-revealed One, who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). David does not offer to work for a wage but to be given grace, knowing that his sin is before him (and everyone else who has ever read this psalm). His prayer is not that his sin be blotted out of human history, but that by God’s grace it would be forgiven. And so it was. Such is the merciful forgiveness of God.