“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under Heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silent, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity in a man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; Also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure and all his toil–This is God’s gift to man. I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that the people fear before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.”
Recently I googled time travel movies, and I was surprised at how many there are. So just to edify all of us, let me show you a few examples of some of your favorites like the 1954 movie “Brigadoon.” I’m sure many of you loved that one with Gene Kelly. In 1960 there was “The Time Machine.” That is one very cool time machine. In 1980 “Somewhere In Time,” and 1989 a rich intellectually stimulating movie called “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure in Time Travel.” 1991 brought “Terminator 2 Judgment Day.” We also have in 1993 “Groundhog Day,” in 2001 “Kate and Leopold,” in 2006 “Déjà vu” and in 2009 “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” I have not seen that movie, but I’m assuming it is a precarious thing to be married to a time traveler if you want any kind of predictable date night. In 2014 there was “Edge of Tomorrow,” “Interstellar,” and “X-Men Days of Future Past.” These are movies about trying to save humanity without getting lost in time. And yes in 1985, 1989, and 1993 we had “Back to the Future 1,” “Back to the Future 2,” and “Back to the Future 3.” They got more painful as they went along.
So why are there so many time travel movies? You say well, they sell well. Why? I’m going to suggest two things. One is, and I may be wrong here, but it seems to be that we have a yearning to be free from the bondage of time. Could you just imagine being able to go anywhere in the past and visit events that have occurred or fast-forward to events in the future? So there is this built-in yearning to be above time. Secondly, I think there is a fear of being caught in the wrong time, or bound in another time, which most of these movies build their tension off of. That fear of getting to go to another time. But then who’s going to get stuck in that. The Bible reveals where this yearning comes from. If we are created by a God and made in His image, who is both above and in time, it should not surprise us that this is somewhat of a perpetual yearning.
Let’s talk about our God. He is eternal, we are not. We can by His grace enter into through Jesus some eternal kind of life, but God is timeless in His being as Grudem points out. He’s timeless in his being, he has no beginning and no end. He created time. He is not subject to it or bound by it. For example, Revelation 1:8, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord,’ who is and who was and who is to com, the Almighty.’”
Psalm 90 says, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting.” You are a God who is not bound by successive moments in time. He sees everything vividly, graphically in HD at all times. He is not limited by any kind of successive flow of ideas as Psalm 90 verse 4 describes, “For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is passed, or as a watch in the night.” That’s a three or four hour assignment for a soldier to stand at a post, so you’re talking about a very short time. It’s as if it were a millennium to God. And then 2 Peter 3:8 says one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as one day, so God is timeless in his being. But you can’t stop there.
Secondly, God sees specific events in time and acts in time. So He is both above and in time.
For example, Ephesians 1:4 says He chose before He created. Galatians 4:4 says when the fullness of time had come God sent forth His son. Psalm 139:16 says “Your eyes saw my unformed substance, in Your book were written every one of them the days that were formed for me.” So God has the ability to see us before we were born and intended to write out the days that would be our lives. So He is above time, but he is seeing and acting very personally in time.
I think this is the main message of Ecclesiastes, God is the Lord of time. Are you familiar with the old hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns”? It’s such a good hymn because gives examples of the kinds of crowns we are to crown Him with. Crown him the Lord of life, crown Him the Lord of love, and then the one we always skip because the words are so antiquated is crown Him the Lord of years. So we’ve rewritten the verses and we’ll sing it later. But I wonder if we can do that. As we open up God’s word and we hear how we are bound in time and God is not. That is a brain-blowing concept. But it comes right down to how we view the mundane minutes of our lives, the season that we’re in right now and in that moment. Will we crown Him the Lord of our time? Our lives? Ecclesiastics is going to call us to that part of stop pretending, which is the theme of Ecclesiastes. In this case is let’s stop pretending we are the ruler of our days and let’s crown Him as he rightly is; the Lord of years, and days, and moments and minute.
So two big sections in Ecclesiastes 3. Verses 1-9 are simply our experience. In time we are time bound, and there are 14 pairs. Before we look at those briefly, I want us just to make a couple general observations about these 14 pairs.
First of all, the pairs communicate all-inclusiveness in the Semitic languages. The pairings of opposites picture completeness like when you say high, low; north, south; from start to finish; or born, die. You’re also including everything in between.
Secondly, there is rhythm and repetition. This poetry is written so that a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to pluck up, the very rhythm of the poetry communicates the message of seasons. Our lives are like that. There is a seasonal repetition. There’s a cadence. Thirdly, there’s also a disorderliness. We’re not talking about the structure of the poem, but the content. There is an absence of comprehensive logical arrangement of the subject matter in the poem. The first part seems like it should be at the beginning, a time to be born, a time to die. But then you would think it would be a time to go to elementary school and a time to get a job. But it doesn’t do that at all. It just flows out in an avalanche of things that go on in our lives, and there’s a disorderliness. Now some commentators would try to argue for an order, and I’ve looked at zillions of them, and none of them make complete sense to me. There seems to be a disorderliness to the subject matter that is reflective of our lives. The way they work out in no predictable order which highlights the fourth big idea, there is that complexity.
Life is complex. It is not always straightforward. We can imagine birth, happy childhood, marriage, kids, job, career, retirement, peaceful death, and it doesn’t flow that way. Life is a little more complex. So let’s look quickly at this poem for everything. Verse 1: there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. Time to be born and a time to die. Time to plant a time to pluck up what is plant. A Time to kill and a time to heal, a time to break down and a time to build up. Verse 4 seems to be a response to that time to weep. Time to laugh. Time to mourn a time to dance. And there’s a bunch of gathering and giving up. A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together. Time to embrace, time to refrain from embracing. Time to seek, time to lose; time to keep, time to cast away. Then reconciliation or separation. Time to tear. Time to sew, a time to keep silence. Time to speak. Time to love, a time to hate. Time for war, and a time for peace. Just as the beginning is an obvious beginning, a time to be born a time to die, the end is a chaos I’m familiar with that a way of poetic structure that is different from the rest you would anticipate he would say a time to love and time to hate, a time for peace, and a time for war. But it doesn’t. It’s love, hate, war, peace.
As he’s wrapping up his poem, he raises a question. What gain has the worker from his toil? He’s saying if you keep doing these contrasting things, if you keep experiencing one thing that negates another thing, at the end you end up with zero. It feels like a negation. What gain is there? It doesn’t feel like any.
Now what’s interesting in these first eight verses is how popular they are not just for Christians. At times they are read at funerals of non-Christians. There are a few musical groups that have taken a hold of this passage. Are you familiar with any? The Byrds. Their hit song was in 1965. Remember that. It is amazing they stuck right to the scripture. They flipped a few words out of order, added turn, turn, turn, but other than that, they generally walked right through this passage. But you notice they stop at verse 8. It always happens. This is significant because the poem is describing accurately our experience in life, and it is seasonal, but what happens after is the prose. The prose explains the poetry, and we must not stop at the poetry. So let’s let God himself explain what the poetry means. God’s design for time verses 10 through 15. And by God’s design for time I don’t mean now is God’s design in contrast to what was just described. The whole thing is God’s design. But here he is explaining His design.
I think there are four big things that God does in relation to time that will lead us to crown Him the lord of time. Number one: God has given this to us. Verse ten, “I have seen the business that God has given to the children of a man to be busy with.”
Notice everything I just described is attributed to God as the source of this gift called time. God has designed these successive moments in time to such an extent that we could conclude we have time to do exactly what he calls us to do. Just think about that for a second because some of us I know I live every day with a sense of not having enough time to do what I need to do. And here he is saying no, He gives us the time we need to do what he calls us to do, and notice as Bouvier has said, “There is no time for doing nothing.” In all those seasons we are never not doing something. That doesn’t mean you never rest or sleep. But that is something Solomon is not a nihilist. He’s not for a nothingness. God has given you an appropriate time to do exactly what he’s called you to do.
Now let’s test that theory right now. Can you receive this moment right now in time as a gift from God to you? In your heart, can you say “God, thank you for this time, this minute. Right now, this moment to gather with my brothers and sisters to worship you, to hear from you, to fellowship with my brothers and sisters afterward.” You might say “Why are you thinking we need to be thanking God for that?” Because I think some of us don’t live in the present. We have a really hard time with that. Even right now some of you are thinking about what has happened in the near past with regret, or what you need to do in the coming week, and your mind is racing in schizophrenic directions. God is saying, now is a gift. Take it. Receive it. Thank Him for it. Can you do that? Like right now, thank you. Imagine what that will do as you walk through your week. And you’re right where God wants you to be doing what God wants you to do in that moment of time. So it’s a gift.
Secondly, God has made everything beautiful in its time. Verse 11, “God has made everything beautiful in its time.” Now the hard part here is which word? Everything echoes for all of us. I mean we have no problem saying yeah there are some things that are beautiful in their time. But let’s test this theory. So if you look at the list he just gave us, what we tend to do is to look through this list and decide what is beautiful and what is not, and we almost approach this like a menu. We walk into the restaurant of time and we say, “I’ll take born. I want to be born, I don’t really want to die. I want to plant. I like planting things, but I hate weeding. I don’t want to pluck anything up. I hate working in my garden. At the end of the summer when it’s covered with weeds and everything’s dying, I don’t want to be cleaning. I don’t want do that. So I’ll skip that. A time to kill.” Some of us have a hard time with that because we’re gentle souls. When would there be a time to kill? I think the entire nation would answer that question. Yes, right now. When you’re a security guard and you have a weapon on your hip and there are teenagers being killed in Parkland High School and you’re standing outside. No. Now is the time to go in and kill the killer. Because there’s a time to kill. There’s not a time to stand outside and say I’m a gentle soul, and not save the lives of innocent teenagers who have no way of defending themselves.
So this is what God is saying. There’s a time for these things He calls us to, and it’s not our job to say no. “I’m not into that verse 3 break down/build up.” God will call you into times where you are actually being broken down or maybe being part of confronting a situation that needs to be broken down so that it can be built up. And if you said, “No I’m only positive and never have anything to do with anything negative,” that’s not what this is saying. God has made everything beautiful in its time, and there is a time to cast away and there’s a time to gather. There’s a time to embrace, and there’s a time where embracing is wrong. So imagine the Lord of time giving us this gift of time. These successive moments granting us the wisdom to live out our calling in whatever moment of time it is. And He somehow, like a master chef who takes a variety of ingredients that would in and of themselves be horrible tasting, takes the sweet and savory and salty and spicy and mixes them together in such a way as to make a beautiful meal.
So from the right perspective we can’t see it up close, but God is making beautiful out of our successive moments in time. Something very painful and tragic, yet enjoyable. Will we crown Him the Lord of time? Will we trust Him? And in His time. This isn’t a call for us to try to figure it all out. It’s a confidence that the Lord of time will do His work.
Thirdly, God has put eternity into our hearts. We are made in the image of an eternal God. We are wired to want more. We don’t want to want more. We don’t want to just be in time, we want to be above it. We desperately want to see the picture on the front of the puzzle box of our lives. We want to see before we sign up for this thing called life. We want to see what picture it’s going to make, and that yearning is from God because we are made in His image.
Hence the time travel movies. We yearn to be above time. But look at the verse. It goes on to say perhaps one of the most frustrating verses in the Bible. He has made everything beautiful, in its time. Also he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
He’s giving you the yearning to see the beginning from the end. We are not mules with our head down pulling plows, we want to see. We want to know. We want to taste it. We want much more than this life can offer and God has put that in our hearts but we will not in this life know the beginning from the end. Does that frustrate you? It frustrates me. I was reading an article this week where the guy talked about it. He said this; “God should contradict you, confuse you, and make you mad.” So you respond check, check, check. So if you are spiritual, God should contradict you, confuse you, and make you mad. What was he talking about? He was talking about the fact that in any relationship where you have rational individuals, there will be times where you will be confused or contradicted. Just think of any marriage. Hello, there will be times where you will be contradicted by your spouse, or confused, or upset because relationships do that, right?
Well now imagine being in a relationship with the God of eternity who is high above us and perfectly holy and so different. That’s what the root of the word holy means – so different from us. So the only way you will go through life never being confused or frustrated by God is to create a god, and I think this is what we’re doing today. We’re creating a God in our own image, and then he perfectly agrees with us. But we’re worshipping ourselves. We’re bowing before the mirror of our own image. And that’s what this passage is saying. God has put a desire in you that will only be satisfied in Him, but it will not result in this life, in a perfect understanding of what He’s doing from beginning to end. That’s a recipe for frustration unless we crown Him Lord of Time.
God has given us joy in service and toil as a gift. He has put eternity in our hearts, but verses 12-13 say “I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live. Also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil. This is God’s gift to man. I’ve put this yearning. It will not be satisfied. It will take you right into eternity, but yet I’ve called you to be joyful to be good, to do good, to enjoy the mundane things of life like eating drinking and taking pleasure in what I have provided for you. We’re going to talk a lot more about that next week.
Number 5. God’s work endures forever. And we get into some hard stuff here, so hang with me. Look at verse 14. I perceive that whatever God does endures forever. Nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it so that people fear before Him. So what He does is unchangeable. Nothing can be added to it. Nothing could be taken from it. God has done it. But he does it so that people fear before him. By fear before him he doesn’t mean that we wake up in the middle of the night in sweat and shakes from fearing God, he’s talking about the fear of God. In this context he is talking about looking at life through the eyes of God, and crowning Him Lord of time so that we’re not trying to just roll our sleeves up and muscle our way through this. Because nothing He does can be changed, nothing can be added or taken from. And then verse 15.
What he does is unlosable. That which is, already has been, and that which is to be already has been, and God seeks what has been driven away. Now this word “driven away” is tough to translate, but it really means passed by, gone by, or forgot. So in the midst of the seasons of life where there are, as we talked about last week with no enduring remembrance, God seeks out what has been forgotten. What has been driven to the past, to the shadows He seeks it out. And it is unlosable in the memory of God.
So let’s see if we can bring this all together. There are two things. Number 1; what do we do with this? Trust God with the timing of your life.
See it’s possible to read the first nine verses and to see the seasons of life, but try to trust in karma, or mother nature, or scales of justice, or human ingenuity. The chapter as a whole will not allow us to do that. God is making everything beautiful in its time. We will show you a contrast so you can see how this has been developing throughout the book of Ecclesiastes.
Time to be born…die
Has been… will be
Has been… is to be
God seeks what has been forgotten
You see what happened?
If you look to yourself, there is no fundamental constant in your life, and you will live an insecure life. But if you look to God, His memory is our fundamental. God is constant. He will not forget. Some of you are reading through the Bible right now in your yearly reading through the Old Testament, and you see it over and over again where right at a very dark time you wonder what is going to happen, and God remembers Noah. God remembers Abraham. God remembers Rachel. God remembers Hannah, and His remembering is not just like, “Whoa, totally forgot about that.” No that is not it. It’s not, “Oh I’m working with some people in another galaxy, and I forgot all about this guy.” No, His memory is active. He will not forget His covenantal love. He will not break covenant with His people. He never forgets. A tear He even keeps in his bottle (Psalm 56:8).
God’s memory is our stability. And again it’s not past. You think, why is that so significant in light of the seasons of life? Well think about our lives. We start our life without a memory. We go through our lives desperately trying to remember things, keeping memory books, posting on Facebook, doing as much as we can to remember. But as we begin to go through seasons of aging, we begin to notice that things we thought we would never forget seem to be elusive. And then we walk through something like dementia, or Alzheimer’s and we come face to face with the vulnerability of our memory. How quick our life comes and it goes.
This is what Solomon is saying. Let’s stop pretending that we’re going to be able to remember everything forever, or maintain where we are forever. That can lead us to panic to fear. But what Solomon is calling us to do is to crown Him the Lord of time. His memory is our constant. He will never forget. He will never forget us. He will never forget anything you forget. There’s one thing He will forget. What’s that? Your sins. Praise God.
He says I’m never going to forget anything about you, I’m even putting your tears in my bottle, but I will not remember your sins. Your faith is in Jesus Christ. He doesn’t forget anything. And so you may be in a season right now where you’re watching dreams pass by, expectations you thought were going to come about, and it just can feel very mechanical, maybe even hopeless. God is saying to you, I’ve got this. I’ve got you. And so we, like the thief on the cross who had no other hope and nowhere else to turn, turned to Jesus and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come to Your Father’s kingdom.” And if Jesus remembers you, it doesn’t matter who else forgets you. That’s it. It doesn’t matter how famous or infamous. You are remembered.
That stabilizes us. As the psalmist said in Psalm 139:17; “How precious to me are your thoughts, Oh god. How vast is the sum of them. If I would count them more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with the.” So you see what he’s saying. Like the most precious thing about me is not the picture I can conjure up of myself that could be delusional. The most precious thing about me is the thoughts You think about me. And there are actually more. If you go to the beach and you try to count grains of sand, you can spend the rest of your life and you couldn’t count the thoughts He has towards you. That is your hope. That is my God’s memory. So trust God with the timing of your life.
Secondly, receive today as a gift from God.
You can see there’s this big confidence that God is up to something good. But then it works its way right down into the minutes of our lives. He has given us this gift of today. But I wonder for many of us if we’re having a hard time receiving the gift of now because we have so many expectations full in our hands that we don’t have room to receive what God has given us. Zack Eswine says “Many of our frustrations rise from our blindness to the change of season or to the pain or joy of them, and we struggle to adjust our expectations.”
Perhaps God has called you into a new season of life, and right now you’re fighting. I don’t want to do that. I want to be in a perpetual time of “It’s time to laugh.” He may have a different season. I remember the first time this occurred to me. My wife and I had not been married long, and I was a youth pastor in Chicago. She was a teacher and we were having a blast with the teenagers up there. On weekends often we would gather with a group of couples who were our age, close friends, and we would have these intense game nights with a lot of laughter until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. And that went great for a while until we all started having kids. So I remember going to bed at like 2 to 2:30, thinking I would sleep in and my kid wakes up at 5:30. Wait a second, we just went to bed, and my kid is thinking, ”Yay it’s weekend!” And it begins to occur to you, I think we’re in a new season of life. I think we’re going to have to adjust our expectations to this new season of life. Perhaps some of us are at the threshold of a new season of life as a young person God is growing into a young woman or a young man, accepting that responsibility and stepping into and embracing that from God, not just dependent on those around you.
Maybe some are entering into a life of singleness again, parenting, midlife crisis, or empty nest. A season of disability, or caring for parents. There are so many. A season of illness and weakness. There are so many seasons of life. God calls us to an end. Please don’t misunderstand. This passage is not calling us to be passive but to actively embrace the seasons as from the hand of God and to steward them. Wow. Good Lord how do You want me to steward this? To receive it as from you, to use it for Your glory. You are Lord of my time.
Two months ago I was reading the letters and papers from prison written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and in a letter on December 18, 1943 Bonhoeffer wrote a friend. So just to orient us, it’s December 18, 1943, the war is raging, and Bonhoeffer was arrested for opposing Hitler. He was hanged April 9, 1945, right before the war ended.
But at this point, he was writing a friend. He’s explained to the friend that he thinks he will not be released. He’s battling homesickness. And yet this is what he writes:
“The first and invariable effect of such longing, this homesickness, is an itching desire to abandon the daily routine with the result that our lives become disordered.” Now just think about that. You’re sitting in prison for doing the right thing, resisting the Nazi regime, which was horrific. And he’s saying this longing to be in a different place than you are can cause you to abandon your daily routine.
What is he talking about by daily routine? He goes on to explain sleeping in past 6:00. What he was talking about is not allowing the desire to be in a different time and place to knock you out of the routine of life, a healthy routine that God has called you to. And then he goes on to describe, “A good piece of self-discipline is to do a daily dozen exercise every morning and to have a cold wash down which is a real support to one’s morale.” He’s in prison. He goes on to explain the danger of self-pity, a longing to be home in heaven.
And then he wrote this:
“For I am sure we ought to love God in our lives (Don’t just race over that. In our lives right where we are) and in all the blessings He sends us. We should trust Him in our lives, so that when our time comes, but not before, we may go to Him in love and trust and joy. But speaking frankly, to long for the transcendent when you are in your wife’s arms is, to put it mildly, a lack of taste, and it is certainly not what God expects of us. We ought to find God and love Him in the blessings He sends us. If He pleases to grant us some overwhelming earthly bliss, we ought not to try and be more religious than God Himself.”
So he’s writing from prison and he’s saying, if God blesses you, receive that. Don’t be more religious than Him, and love Him in the midst of that. But also, if God puts you in prison, don’t capitulate, embrace that. He went on to describe finding satisfaction in God and longing to be ultimately home.
But then he closes with this,
“But everything in it season. And the important thing is to keep step with God and not to get a step or two in front of him. Nor for that matter a step or two behind him either. It is arrogant to want to have everything at once. Marital matrimonial bliss and the cross and heavenly Jerusalem where there is no longer marriage, nor giving in marriage. To everything there is a season.”
Everything has its time. And he goes on to quote Ecclesiastes 3.
(Prayer) Father. As the Psalmist said, our times are in your hands. Our times are in your hands. You are the Lord of time, so Father we pray right now as your Spirit has taken Your Word and is currently applying it in hundreds of different ways right where we are, may we respond with humble hearts of worship. May we crown You the Lord of years. You created and rule over the seasons of our lives. You have given us today now. So we turn from bitterness. We release false expectations. Our confidence is that you are making all things beautiful in time. You will not forget. You will fulfill all Your promises. You will never cast away. We pray.