Commentary by Walter Albritton


April 30, 2006


There is a Time for Everything


Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 14-15


Key Verse: For everything there is a season, a time for every matter under heaven. – Ecclesiastes 3:1


          This familiar passage of scripture has never been one of my favorites. It is certainly true. I agree with the writer’s observations. But what bothers me is the author’s attitude; there is no passion, enthusiasm, or hope. What we have here is stoicism at its best – or from my perspective, its worst.

          Life is bland enough at times without our making it worse by becoming detached or indifferent to our emotions. Lecture me if you must about the virtue of stoicism – how we can find peace by mastering our emotions. I have heard the argument that passions distort truth and thus hinder our pursuit of truth. However, I insist that life without passion is hardly worth living.

          Detachment may work for some people but for me, such rigid indifference is somewhat like being dead while yet alive. There is enough apathy in the world; what we need is more sympathy. There is so much pain and so many hurting people that the need for compassion is staggering.

          People who are truly alive – especially genuine Christians – cannot be indifferent to pain and remain true to Christ. Our attitude should be like that of Albert Schweitzer. Asked why he chose to live as a missionary doctor in impoverished Africa, he replied, “There is a great load of pain in the world and I decided that I must get under my share of the load.”

          A Christian oncologist advised his nursing staff: “You were not hired for your ability but for your attitude. You are here not to earn a paycheck but to serve our patients and to do so with compassion.” He made it clear that he judged the effectiveness of his nurses by their ability to deliver compassion to their patients.

          Moderation or self-control is a good thing; it can be a blessing in many ways. We all need more of it. Yet restraint can lead to boredom if we are not careful. Imagine that the first eight verses of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, were a sermon. The congregation would be half asleep before the preacher got to verse 6. Read it yourself and you can feel the monotony building as you read each sequence: “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. . . . “ 

          The Preacher begins this passage with the contrast between a time to be born and a time to die. Persistent questions emerge from both these realities, our birth and our death. As adults we yearn to know why we were born; what is the purpose of life and our own life? Then sooner or later we must deal with the dread of death. What happens when we die? Is the grave the end?

          Frankly, these burning questions make us look for answers. And when we search for answers we will not find much of an answer in Ecclesiastes. About all the Preacher does is shrug his shoulders and say, “Who knows?” That offers us no help at all. Little wonder then that we turn with joy to the affirmation of our Savior who says, “Because I live, you shall live also.”

          Perhaps that is why we love the words of Jesus so much. What a contrast to these of Ecclesiastes! Think for a moment about some of the powerful, challenging words of our Lord: “Follow me;” “Go into all the world;” “Your sins are forgiven;” “Seek and you will find;” “Love your enemies;” “Bless those who curse you;” “Stretch out your hand;” “Rise up and walk.” As you read the gospels, you realize our Savior was a man of passion, emotion, conviction, and enthusiasm for the Kingdom of God.

          Examine each contrasting statement in the Ecclesiastes passage. Such a study can be helpful as you consider the various seasons of life and the perfect rhythm of the world God has created for us. You can reflect with profit on our need to remember that there is a time to keep silent and a time to speak, or a time to love and a time to hate.

          The Preacher does help us to consider the fleeting nature of time. While we are alive, we have a certain amount of time. We are not sure how much; we know that our time is limited and that eventually it will run out. We can allow that to motivate us to make the best use possible of the time we have. We can remember that any time is always the right time to do the right thing, to honor Christ in whatever ways we can, and to make a difference by using our time wisely. 

          So meditate on the Preacher’s rather unemotional observations. Let the Spirit give you fresh insights about the use of your life, your time, and your opportunities. Then do two things more. First, give thanks for the passion and compassion that God releases in us when we yield our lives to serve Jesus Christ. Thank God for giving you the capacity to feel the pain of others and to do what you can to share his love with hurting people. Thank Him that you are not detached and indifferent but alive and passionately committed to the living Christ.

          Second, cap off this study by letting Maltbie Babcock set your heart on fire again with his magnificent hymn:


          This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears all nature sings,

          And round me rings the music of the spheres.

          This is my Father’s world; I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees,

          Of skies and seas; his hand the wonders wrought.


          This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget that though the

          Wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world; why should my heart be sad? The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! God reigns; let the earth be glad!


          We can learn and grow by reading Ecclesiastes. But thank God that is neither the end of the story nor the end of the Bible. We can go on to Jesus! We can let him awaken us from lethargy and give us the passion to make a difference in the world. We can resist stoicism and live as much as possible like Jesus did.

When we imitate his lifestyle we will resist becoming aloof and indifferent; instead we will find ways to care deeply about the least of our hurting brothers and sisters. Like Schweitzer we will try to shoulder our share of the world’s pain.

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