I’ve had to read some dense philosophy and theology books over the years for courses I was taking. For a doctoral course this past spring, I read one so intricate, there were numerous times I wondered if it was a farce, a parody of a book. In fact, the author frequently made statements that, in an attempt to write original academic work, seemed obviously contradictory, such as a concept which he called “the closed openness,” or another which he called, “the nearness of distance.” He was dead serious. There were so many of these seeming contradictions that I decided to make a class discussion post admitting that I was suspicious. What I came to find out was that hardly anyone else in the class read that book. You see, we had the option of picking between reading that book or another one. Only after getting deep into that book did I learn from my classmates that most of them had picked the other book because the other book was way shorter and easier to read! Clearly I picked wrong.
I mention that difficult book, because we’ve come to the end of Ecclesiastes, and I wonder if we have understood the wisdom of the Teacher. As the Teacher, the author of Ecclesiastes, writes in Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter.” He has covered a lot of ground through these 12 chapters. I know that sometimes the Teacher has come across a bit dark, with his favorite word, “Fleeting.” How many times have we heard him say that life is short, fleeting? But he’s had a good reason for reminding us that life is short. His ancient wisdom is just as powerful today as it was 3,000 years ago when he wrote: live joyfully now. Over and over we’ve learned the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, that we should seek to live lives of joy and meaning. But now we’ve arrived at his conclusion. What will he say? What is his conclusion of the matter? Whatever he has to say in this conclusion, it is almost as if he saying, “Listen up, everyone, I want you to remember what I’m about to say at the end. This is important!”
Look at Ecclesiastes 12, verses 9-10. The final section of the book starts there. In these two verses we learn the heart of the teacher, and the purpose for Ecclesiastes. Here it is in the translation of Ecclesiastes by my Old Testament seminary professor, David Dorsey:
“9 Not only was the Teacher wise; he also taught people what he knew. He pondered things, researched and wrote much on the subject of wisdom. 10 The Teacher sought to explain things accurately, and to write honestly and truthfully.”
Notice that the Teacher did not want to keep wisdom for himself. He wanted his wisdom to benefit others. So he went deep, researching, thinking, pondering, writing, and teaching.
The Teacher also did not want to be confusing, but to explain wisdom in such a way that people could understand it, apply it to their lives, and benefit from wisdom. We may think we have truth, but if we cannot communicate it so other people can understand it, then we have failed. Truth will always be truth, but we are responsible to communicate it in such a way that people can grasp it. Remember that section of Ecclesiastes where we talked about the need to be “receivable”? The Teacher recognizes this, and his writing in Ecclesiastes is a powerful example for us. The Teacher has made it possible for us to access his wisdom. Likewise, you and I are bearers of the truth that God loves all as we walk into 2021. We need to remember that we carry this message of truth. How are we doing in conveying the message of truth? Are we making God’s truth accessible for people to receive?
I’m not just talking about content, but also about the methods we use. Communication studies tell us that the content of a message, the actual words we use, conveys only a small percentage of the actual message communicated. Other factors play a much more important role, such as tone of voice and body language. If our fists are clenched and our posture is tense and we are yelling angrily, “I love you!!!”, the person we are talking will likely get the message, not that they are loved by us, but that we are feeling very negative about them. The non-verbal parts of our communication are far more powerful than the words. Thus our actions really do speak louder than words.
When we have such an important message of truth to convey, as we Christians do, then our tone of voice, our body language and the actions of our lives communicate that message far more loudly and far more clearly than our words. Consider a business owner who identifies as Christian, so that all the employees and patrons of the business know the owner is Christian. But the owner yells angrily at the employees, creating a chaotic atmosphere. Employee turnover is high. The owner is very difficult to work for and work with. What truth about Christ and Christianity is that owner conveying?
Or think about it from the other direction. My wife, Michelle, waitresses at a local coffee shop, and she says that the talk among the employees is that the Sunday after-church crowd is some of the most difficult to serve. They tend to be more particular, and they tend to tip less generously. Think about the truth that conveys to the non-Christian employees of that business?
That is not to say that the truth is always going to be easy to receive, warm, welcome, and comforting. In fact, as the saying goes, the truth hurts. Not always. But sometimes the truth really does hurt, which is exactly what the Teacher says next, as we will see in the next post!