Our study of the book of Ecclesiastes has been helpful as we learn that life on earth is vanity (fleeting and frustrating) apart from a personal relationship with God. So far, we have learned of the vanity of: wisdom, pleasure, toil, relationships, religion, wealth, and justice. These things are not necessarily bad, but are unable to provide us a life of relevance and meaning apart from Jesus Christ. We have also learned that we can have a life of meaning through Jesus as we: Embrace God’s appointed seasons, recognize God’s assigned authorities, and enjoy life. In Ecclesiastes 9:13-11:10 we have proverbs that compare and contrast the paths of Wisdom and Foolishness. It is difficult to organize this section but two important themes appear regularly: “wisdom” (9:13, 15-18; 10:1–2, 10, 12) and “folly” (9:17; 10:1–3, 6, 12-15). We learned earlier that wisdom is vanity “For with much wisdom is much sorrow; as knowledge increases, grief increases” (Ecc 1:18). We also learned that “there is an advantage to wisdom over folly, like the advantage of light over darkness” (Ecc 2:13). Foolishness is deadly. Ecclesiastes 10:1 tells us: “Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil ferment and stink; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.” Today we shall hear the call to avoid being a fool by examining our words and work.
Our words are powerful and they reveal our heart. Jesus said, “A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart” (Luke 6:45). Jesus also said, “I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak” (Matt 12:36). Sticks and stones may break my bones but words may break my heart. You may have been taught that “words can never hurt me”, but words may actually hurt a lot more than sticks and stones. A broken leg takes six to eight weeks to heal, but a broken heart usually takes much longer. This is because our words speak what is in our heart.
The Words of the Fool
A fool’s words reveal his foolishness. Ecclesiastes 10:3 says, “Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense, and he shows everyone he is a fool.” Proverbs 17:28 tells us “Even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent.” Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions.” A fool’s words bring him harm and harm to others. Ecclesiastes 10:12-14 says “the lips of a fool consume him. The beginning of the words of his mouth is folly, but the end of his speaking is evil madness. Yet the fool multiplies words, no one knows what will happen, and who can tell anyone what will happen after him?” The fool’s words are: vain (Job 16:3), Irritating (Prov 15:1), Hasty (Prov 29:20), Irreverent (Mal 3:13), Insincere (2 Peter 2:3), Proud (2 Peter 2:18), and Malicious (3 John 10).
The Words of the Wise
The words of the wise reveal his wisdom. Ecclesiastes 10:12 says, “The words from the mouth of the wise man are gracious.” The psalmist adds to this: “The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom; his tongue speaks what is just” (Ps 37:30). The words of the wise are: Timely (Prov 15:23), Pleasant (Prov 16:24), Appropriate (Prov 25:11), Gracious (Ecc 10:12), Inspiring (Ecc 12:11), and Comforting (Is 50:4). Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that Christians live together with Jesus; “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing” (1 Thess 5:11).
While what you say is important, what you do is no less important. Actions speak louder than words. It is easy to say something, but it requires more from you to actually do something. James put it this way: “If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it?” Our work reveals whether or not we are foolish or wise.
The Work of the Fool
A fool’s works reveal his foolishness. Ecclesiastes 4:5 says, “The fool folds his arms and consumes his own flesh.” This is a Hebrew idiom that means that a foolish person refuses to work (is lazy and loves to sleep) and therefore wastes away (ruins himself). The main problem is that the fool refuses to work or simply does the bare minimum required. Ecclesiastes 10:18 says, “Because of laziness the roof caves in, and because of negligent hands the house leaks.” The “struggles of fools weary them” (Ecc 10:15) and “If the ax is dull, and one does not sharpen its edge, then one must exert more strength” (Ecc 10:10). The work of the fool is self-focus and primarily concerned about personal, immediate benefit.
The Work of the Wise
The work of the wise reveals his wisdom. The wise work diligently and intelligently. In Ecclesiastes 11:1 we see that the wise will “send your bread on the surface of the waters, for after many days you may find it.” In verse 2 we are told “give a portion to seven or even to eight, for you don’t know what disaster may happen on earth.” Walter Kaiser said of these verses, “Since we cannot comprehend the totality of God’s providential acts, the only proper course of action is to be diligent and wholeheartedly involved; some of this activity will succeed even if all of it does not.” The wise may not know all that will happen, but know that God calls them to good work and they enter into it joyfully. The wise work hard and make good investments as they prepare for the future.
Pursue the Lord
Let us cast aside foolishness and seek to be as wise as possible. We must do so knowing that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov 9:10). We should seek wisdom that is rooted and grounded in the Lord Jesus Christ. We must see the benefits and limitations of wisdom in this world that is fleeting and frustrating as we look to Jesus who will bring the world to come. As the Psalmist said, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, Lord, my rock and my Redeemer” (Ps 19:14). Let us also work wisely. Jesus said, “My Father is still working, and I am working also” (John 5:17). Join this work and glorify God.