David Jeremiah - Facing Life With Humility
Life has its one way of humbling us. When life touches us in every area of our living, sooner or later it will, in some measure, bring us to our knees. Doesn't take very long for someone who's on top to all of a sudden, discover that that's not a permanent position. One of my favorite players in the NFL is a guy named Kurt Warner, wonderful believer who championed and led the St. Louis Rams to the Super Bowl, and he was the MVP of the league and of the game. And the next thing you know he got hurt a little bit and while he was out, the back-up guy took his job. I wonder about the people that won those celebrity idol shows that came in first and now all the people that came in second are getting the record contracts. I can't figure that one out either. That's gotta be very humbling to them. I believe children have been created by God to keep us humble.
A little girl was talking with her dad one day and asked where he used to live when he was little. He said he lived in Chicago. She said, "Was that in the Old Testament or the New Testament"? Even our grown children keep us humbled. Donna and I were playing a game that we've learned to love to play called Phase 10, just the two of us. Our oldest daughter Jan called. She said, "Hi dad, what you guys doing"? I said, "We're playing Phase 10". She said, "Just the two of you"? I said, yeah. She said, "That's cute". I turned to my wife after she hung up and I said, "I wonder what they think we do. Now that they're gone maybe we just stop living, I don't know". Children can really humble you, they really do. Even church is a humbling experience, did you know that?
I read recently a statement written by Mark Buchanan, he writes, "I assume you're like me. I get itchy skinned and scratchy throated after an hour or so of church. I get distracted and cranky when it goes too long. My feet ache, my backside numbs, my eyes glaze over, my mind fogs, my belly growls, find myself fighting back yawns and not fighting them back at all, letting them gape and roar, and I'm the pastor". Actor Tom Selleck said whenever he gets full of himself, he remembers that nice couple who approached him with a camera on a street in Honolulu one day. He said, "When I struck a pose for them the man said, 'No, no, we want you to take a picture of us.'" No matter what goes on or what you're trying to do, you always are facing the issues of humility. Leslie Flynn wrote, "If you're humble, don't write the book on how humble your are with 12 life-sized pictures, then you've just ruined the whole thing".
But I love the story of H.A. Ironside who was the pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago. He felt that he was not as humble as he thought he ought to be, and so he shared his concern and he asked an elder friend what he could do about it. And his friend replied, "What you need to do is make a sandwich board with a plan of salvation and Scripture on it and wear it and walk through the business and shopping area of downtown Chicago for a whole day". Ironside followed his friend's advice and on completion of this humiliating experience, he returned to his apartment. As he took off the sandwich board, he caught himself thinking, "There's not another person in Chicago that would be willing to do a thing like I just did".
And you can see he missed the whole lesson because in putting away the sandwich board, he got proud all over again. Life teaches you humility if you're a willing student. It will teach you anyway, but it can beat you up if you don't cooperate and that's what Solomon is gonna teach us here in the 8th chapter. He's gonna remind us of all of the things that make us humble. He's going to teach us that all of these things that we observe about life are okay. First of all, he tells us that humility is knowing what you don't know. Humility is knowing what you don't know. He begins in the first verse of the 8th chapter by saying, "Who is like a wise man? Who knows the interpretation of a thing? A man's wisdom makes his face shine, and the sternness of his face is changed".
Over and over in the Bible, we are warned against being wise in our own eyes. When this warning is heeded, the result is a happy, humble Christian. Listen to what Solomon says here. He says, "A man who depends on God's wisdom has a shining face, that is his countenance is changed by the wisdom God has given him. He knows what he doesn't know, but he also knows whom he does know. He's not worried about the things that he can't comprehend because he's acquired the wisdom of God and that wisdom has taken the sternness out of his countenance and given him a shining, happy face. He is humbled by his own inability to piece life together, but his stern face is changed to a shining countenance because he knows God and he has discovered God's wisdom for life".
The first step toward true knowledge is the realization of our ignorance without it. Paul wrote these words to the Corinthian believers in 1 Corinthians 8:2 he said, "If anyone thinks he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know". The Bible teaches us that knowledge, while it is important for us to acquire it, is a never-ending pursuit. Let me give you an illustration. When I started preaching here, the statistics at that time said the total knowledge of the world changed every 38 years. In other words, every 38 years, the knowledge that you could acquire was equal to all the knowledge that was existed before that.
Now listen to this, today, the knowledge of the world changes every single year, every single year. And next year it will happen again, and again, and again, and it will keep shrinking down until the information curve can almost be as destructive as a tornado. I face this every day in my life. I'm sure some of you do the same. I love gadgets. I've always loved gadgets, electronic gadgets, special little things and there's so many of them now. And people give them to me because they know that I love them. But it's almost like a curse because when they give them to me, I can't figure out how they work. I used to be able to read the manual, but now I can't even read the manual.
Now the manual's come out in four different languages and they might as well all be in a foreign language because I don't understand the terminology. I can't read the diagrams, and I right now I have a box with a gadget in it that I got last Christmas, not from any of you, but from someone, it's in my closet unopened because I read the manual that I saw and I realized I don't have time to learn how to use that. I guess it's supposed to be a timesaver, but it doesn't save any of my time. And what is really frustrating is my grandson, David Todd, understands it better than I do. He knows how all of the things work. He tells me where to plug the cords in because he's grown up.
What are you gonna think about these kids we're raising who are gonna have to deal with the change of knowledge every single year for the rest of their life on an accelerated basis? The fact of the matter is, wise is the man who knows what he doesn't know. Humility is coming to grips with the fact that what we know is such a small infinitesimal part of the total knowledge available to mankind, that if anyone ever thinks they're educated and that makes them a candidate for pride, they just need to go back and think about the statistics I just shared. Solomon tells us that when we have true wisdom, it comes from God and we don't have a stern face worried about all that we don't know. We have a shining face because we know the God we do know. Secondly, humility is living with what you don't like.
All of us are caught in a universe that are controlled by others than ourselves and every day we have to get up to the realization that today, we are going to have to do some stuff we don't want to do, live in a way we don't want to live, and experience experiences we'd rather not have. Solomon uses this sill station in verses 2, through 7. Let me read the Scripture. He says, "I say, 'Keep the king's commandment for the sake of your oath to God. Do not be hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand for an evil thing, for he does whatever he pleases. Where the word of a king is, there is power; And who may say to him, 'What are you doing?' He who keeps his command will experience nothing harmful; A wise man's heart discerns both time and judgment, Because for every matter there is a time and judgment, Though the misery of man increases greatly. For he does not know what will happen; So who can tell him when it will occur"?
Now, that's a long and wordy paragraph, but let me just wrap it up for you in a few words. Nothing can be more humbling than to be in a situation over which you feel no control. Solomon here uses the illustration of a king or a magistrate who is in power and as a citizen under his power, you don't want to obey his authority. Listen to Solomon's Word, "Keep the king's commandment for the sake of your oath to God," not because you like the king. In other words, even when you don't understand what in the world the king is doing, and you're not even sure you agree with it, humble yourself before his authority for the sake of your allegiance to Almighty God.
This reminds us of what Paul wrote to the Romans over in the 13th chapter, remember that? He said, "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves". Now, of course, Paul and Solomon are not telling us that we should do things that violate God's standard. The book of Acts teaches us that it is better to obey God than to obey man.
If the authorities put us in opposition to God's direct will, we should disobey the authorities to obey God, but most of our problems are not like that. Most of our problems, with authority is, we think the speed limit should be higher. Living with what you don't like, anybody else have to deal with that? Every day you get up, and you go out into the world, and you do not have control of what's going on, and there's a whole bunch of stuff that you have to deal with that you don't like, and you have to live with it. And you know what happens when you do that? It humbles you. It teaches you humility. It causes you to realize that you are not in control, that you're not even sure what the questions are, let alone what the answers are, and you recognize your dependence upon Almighty God. Humility is knowing what you don't know and living with what you don't like.
Now, thirdly, humility is accepting what you can't change. I don't know if there's any control freaks in this auditorium, but I whether suspect we have a few. If your husband is a control freak, would you raise your hand? No, no, but you know what? It is frustrating to get in a situation where you have been in control and all of a sudden, you're not in control. And so much of life as we understand it, and as we learn about it, and as we experience it, is uncontrollable. We just think we have a handle on it and then it goes south. Notice, that Solomon gives us some illustrations of that in these next verses, verses 8 through 14. The first illustration he gives us is death. Verse 8 he says, "No one has power over the spirit to retain the spirit, And no one has power in the day of death. There is no release from that war, and wickedness will not deliver those who are given to it". Solomon says, there's something about life that you can't control. You know what it is? It's death. You don't know when it's gonna come or what the circumstances will be. The searcher reminds us that there are some things over which we have no control, death is certainly one of those things.
There's an old legend that I think about a merchant in Baghdad who one day sent his servant to the market. Before very long the servant came back, he was white and trembling and in great agitation. He said to his master, "Down at the marketplace today, I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned around, I saw it was death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture. 'Master, please lend me your horse for I must hasten a way to avoid her. I will ride to Samarra and there I will hide and death will not find me.' And the merchant lent him his horse and the servant galloped away in great haste. Later the merchant went down to the marketplace and saw death standing in the crowd. He went over to her and asked, 'Why did you frighten my servant this morning? Why did you make a threatening gesture toward him?' 'That was not a threatening gesture,' death said, 'it was only a start of surprise. I was surprised and astonished to see him, for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.'"
You cannot program the end of your life. You do not run from death. It is out of your control, and I'm not trying to be morbid about this, it's just the way it is. And, you know, the wealthier a person gets, and the more stuff they have, and the more toys they have, and the more control they have over life, the more they sometimes believe there's something they can do to ultimately defeat the last enemy, but there is nothing. Death is out of our control, have to accept it. You can't do anything about it. Some of you lost loved ones this past year and we've mourned with you, and prayed with you, and encouraged you, and we will continue to do it in every way, but there comes a time after a period of mourning, after a time of weeping, that you have to recognize that this time is over and you have to go on with your life or you become controlled by that over which you have no control, death.
And then he gives us another illustration in verse 9 he says, "Not only does death illustrate this, but distress does as well". He said, "All this I have seen, and applied my heart to every work that is done under the sun: There is a time in which one man rules over another to his own hurt". Don't be surprised when you're mistreated by those who may be in authority over you. Don't be surprised when you are hurt by someone you once trusted. According to Solomon, that's life. That's just the way it is. Life is filled with distress and wise is the man who understands and accepts that.
We need to learn how to change what we can change and live with that over which we have no power. Change the things you can change but ask yourself, when you think about all the things that distress you, how many of these things do I have control over? Which of these things can I change? If you can change them, work at changing them, but if you can't, just accept them and don't let it ruin your life because that's what happens to so many people. And I could give you so many illustrations, but I haven't time. You know where I'm talking about. There are just some things in life you can't change. You gotta learn to accept them. Here's the third illustration, deception. Verse 10 he says, "Then I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of holiness, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done. This also is vanity".
Warren Wiersbe has a comment here in his book on Ecclesiastes. He says, "In verse 10, Solomon reports on a funeral he had attended. The deceased was a man who had frequented the temple, the place of the holy, and had received much praise from the people but he had not lived a godly life. Yet, he was given a magnificent funeral and an eloquent eulogy while the truly godly people of the city were ignored and forgotten". Doesn't that happen sometimes today? You turn on the TV and you see some gangster, some Mafia guy and he's got this humongous funeral with flowers, and limousines, and all the dignitaries, and they talk about him like he's just, he just came down here on a pass from heaven, and he's an evil guy. And they bury him and everybody knows he's not what he should be.
I remember the story about two brothers, they were very wealthy and one of them died. The brother who still lived wanted the pastor to say something nice about his brother and he said, "I will give your building program a hundred thousand dollars if you will tell the people at my brother's funeral that he was a saint". The pastor took the hundred thousand dollars, gave it to the treasurer, and they deposited it in the church account. The day came for the brother's funeral and the living brother was sitting there in the front row waiting for the pastor to eulogize his brother. And the pastor got up and as he was talking about the man who died, he said, "The man whose remains are in that coffin was a crook. He was an evil man. He stole from people. He robbed people. He did so much he never got caught for. He was a wicked evil man but next to his brother, he was a saint".
Isn't that the way it is? Solomon says sometimes you see this stuff going on, you can't control it and you just have to accept it. Don't get all bent out of shape over it. You can't do anything about it. That's the way life is. Life sometimes is very deceptive in the way it plays out. And then he adds one other thing and he takes a couple of verses to prove this and that's defiance. Here's another thing you can't control, watch this, this is so contemporary. This could be written right off of the paper today. Verses 11 through 14 he talks about defiance and he says, "Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. Though a sinner does evil a hundred times, and his days are prolonged, yet I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him. But it will not be well with the wicked; nor will he prolong his days, which are as a shadow, because he does not fear before God".
Solomon says sometimes when we look out at life, we see people shaking their fist in the face of God and they're saying, "I've lived like this all my life. Nothing's happened to me yet and nothing's gonna happen to me. I'm the master of my soul, the captain of my life". We see that. We see that often. We see wicked people, antagonistic toward God, and it looks like they're getting away with it because the Bible says, "Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the sons of men believe they can continue to do evil". How foolish of us to think that God is confined to our own clock? He works on a different timetable, and he hasn't paid all his debts yet, did you know that? One of these days, there will be a reckoning. Don't be fooled by the apparent success of wicked, evil men.
Well, we've learned from this passage of Scripture that humility is knowing what you don't know, living with what you don't like, accepting what you can't change. Here's the fourth one, this is kind of a positive one, humility is enjoying what you can't explain. Notice verse 15, "So I commended enjoyment, because a man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry; for this will remain with him in his labor all the days of his life which God gives him under the sun". I'm sure you remember if you've been following along, this is the fourth time Solomon has said this. This is the biggest surprise I have had in studying the book of Ecclesiastes. How many times Solomon says, enjoy life.
You say, "Pastor, you're talking about death, distress, defiance, now you're telling us to enjoy life"? That's the whole deal. Solomon says, "You can't change any of that. It's gonna happen". So, don't get caught up pursuing all of these unanswerable issues, just accept the fact that some of those things are the way life is and enjoy the life Almighty God has given you. Can I get a witness? He's given us so much good between the time we are born and the time we die. And sometimes if we're not careful, we get so energized over these issues, we don't get our arms around that we don't enjoy the thing God has given us.
Oh, I hope you hear this. God has not called us to a morbid existence because of the of the issues of life we don't comprehend. God has called us to enjoy the things we have. He tells us that we're to enjoy life and delight in the fruit of our labor, that means if you have money and you're a good steward, enjoy what you have left. This is not eat, drink, and be merry like the world, but this is the positive faith outlook of the children of God who understand that life is a special gift from the Almighty and he gives us ritually all things to enjoy. So, as believers, we don't sit around and mope over the things we can't explain, we rejoice in what we have from a gracious and loving God.
I hope you understand that. Don't sit around and mope. Get out and enjoy life. God has given you this life and I tell you what, I say this again, and I hope you don't misunderstand it. I'm not trying to return to a period of time in my life when I had to learn this but if you've ever had your life threatened, when you come back from that experience, every day becomes special. It is a gift from God. Finally, the last thing Solomon teaches us is that humility is discovering what you can't discover. It's discovering what you can't discover. Did you know there's some things you cannot find out?
He said, "When I applied my heart to know wisdom," verse 16, "and to see the business that is done on earth, even though one sees no sleep day or night, then I saw all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. For though a man labors to discover it, yet he will not find it; moreover, though a wise man attempts to know it, he will not be able to find it". You say: Pastor Jeremiah, why is that? Why is there so much in this world we can't discover? We're turning over knowledge now every year and yet the Bible says there's so much we'll never discover. Oh, we'll keep trying and some of the things we thought we would never discover before, we're discovering now but there are always be much that we can't discover.
The French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in this famous pensees, this statement, listen carefully to what he said. He said, "If there were no obscurity in God, man would not feel his own corruption. If there were no light, man could not hope for a cure. Thus it is not only right but useful for us that God should be partly concealed and partly revealed. Since it is equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness, as to know his own wretchedness without knowing God". You say, "Boy, that's heavy, that's heavy".
Let me say it again so you don't miss it. "If there no obscurity, man would not feel his corruption. If we could understand all about God, we wouldn't see how sinful we are. If there were no light, man could not hope for a cure. So, it is only right and useful for us that God should be partly concealed and partly revealed since it is equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness as it is for him to know his own wretchedness and not know God".
Pascal has told us that God didn't just accidentally forget to tell us something. God has concealed things from us. He knows the secrets. We can be discoverers but we will never make the ultimate discovery because God is undiscoverable in his ultimate nature. He is infinite and we are finite, and that's why we bow before him in worship. We're talking about humility and we've talked about all of the things in this world that we can't comprehend, all of the question marks. And then I want you to think for a moment that Almighty God, wanting to redeem us and bring us to heaven, went to his Son Jesus and said, "I want you to go down to that world full of questions, that veil of tears, and become one of them".
And Paul, writing to the Philippians, said, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the form of a man". And it goes on to say, listen, "He humbled himself even to the death on the cross". Almighty God's Son Jesus Christ became the ultimate illustration of humility. He left heaven for this place. Your worst day in heaven, if there is such a thing, will be a hundred times better than your best day on earth. Almighty God sent his Son down here to walk among us so that he could help us understand this isn't all there is.
There's something better. There's something more. There's something beyond this. There is a place where all the questions are answered, and where all the issues are resolved, where all the sicknesses are made whole, and where all the tears are dried away. That place is called heaven and God sent Jesus down here to help us know we can get there. One of the reasons why we're so caught up in materialism in our world today is we've forgotten this isn't the end. If I thought this was all there was, I'd be out buying every gadget I could find doing everything I could to just milk life for everything it was worth in a selfish centered way, but I know there's something beyond this life.
God sent his Son here to tell me about it and he's the one who said, "Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. I go and prepare a place for you, and if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself; that where I am," said Jesus, "there you may be also". Have you come to know him? My friend, you don't want to just look at this life and say, "Is that all there is"? No, that's not all there. There's something much better. Almighty God has prepared a place for you and he's waiting for you to make your reservation. You do that by putting your trust in Jesus Christ.