Ecclesiastes 9:11, Matthew 24:12-13
A Non-Existent Scripture?
I could get in a lot of trouble here, because I’m preaching from a scripture that doesn’t exist.
We all know that the race is not given to the swift but to what? – “he that endures to the end” but that scripture doesn’t exist. What does exist is the two separate scriptures we just read. They were combined to make the “non-existent scripture” that we all quote. But I believe there’s a reason these two scriptures were combined, and it has to do with staying committed.
We all remember the Boston Marathon this year, on April 15th, when two terrorists set off two explosions near the finish line that killed three people and wounded 260. You probably don’t remember May 25th,.
That’s the day when about 3,000 runners who didn’t get to finish the marathon because of the explosion, came back to Boston to run the final mile. It was over a month after the race had ended for everybody else. This race wasn’t about the time, it wasn’t about the medals, it wasn’t about the press and the photographers or the prize money, it was just about getting to finish. The husband of one of the runners who crossed the finish line that day said, directly to the terrorists: ““Somebody that thinks that they’re going to stop a marathoner from running doesn’t understand the mentality of a marathoner,” and placed a medal around his wife’s neck.
The Mentality of a Marathoner
Today, I want us to get the mentality of a marathoner. A marathoner is not going to let anything distract them from crossing the finish line. If you’ll remember the day of the actual Boston Marathon, there were victims wounded by the explosions that had people carry them across that finish line. Can you imagine what kind of focus that must have taken? I want you to think about that this morning as I believe God has a simple message for you and it is stay committed to the finish.
You see, Like a race, our lives have a precise beginning time and a distinct ending point and like it or not we are all in a race from birth to death. There are many scriptures in the Bible that describe life as being like a race. Paul tells us in Hebrews 12:1 that we need to run with patience the race that is set before us. In I Corinthians he tells us to “run that we might obtain” the prize. We sing songs like “I’m running for my life. And Lord I’m running trying to make 100” and we encourage each other to “run on and see what the end is going to be.” Why? Because one of the biggest challenges in this faith is to stay focused and stay motivated. Everybody’s in this race but everybody runs for different reasons. Some people run just to look good while they’re doing it. Some people run to stay in shape, some people run as a hobby but other people run for the sense of accomplishment that comes when you finish the race. I believe that’s the “mentality of a marathoner.” It’s the kind of mentality that takes a long-term view of the situation. The marathon may be 25 miles long, but they’re not thinking about what may happen at mile 5 or mile 20, they’re thinking about crossing the finish line. It’s not even a competitive mentality, the marathoner isn’t concerned about whether the person next to them is running faster or slower, a marathoner sets the pace that they know will get them safely across that finish line. A marathoner starts the race thinking about the end of the race, and is committed to doing whatever takes to get there. If I don’t finish the race until a month after everybody else, that’s ok, just let me finish. Even if you have to carry me across the finish line, just let me get across the finish line. Is anybody committed like that this afternoon? Because that’s the kind of mentality we need to have.
The Danger of Not Being Committed
One of the most dangerous things we can do as Christians is to be in this race and not be committed to the finish. You’ve seen people who have lost their commitment. They’re just perpetually dissatisfied. They have an attitude of – there’s no use in trying, nothing’s ever going to work for me. There’s no use in praying, nothing’s ever going to change. It’s not fair. I’m sick of giving my all and seeing everybody else get what they want while I’m stuck here. I’m tired of seeing everybody else be successful and I’m still stuck. I’m tired of seeing everybody else’s happy relationship and I’m still alone. I’ve been working hard all this time and what do I have to show for it? No matter how hard I try, I’m still struggling with this illness, I’m still dealing with my crazy family and life is just unfair. I don’t know if anyone has ever been there – if not, just file this message away for future use, because the time will come. I want to spend a little time with King Solomon here in the book of Ecclesiastes because I believe Solomon hit mile 22 of his race and came across some major hurdles that tripped him up. I believe Solomon lost his eternal perspective on life so he got dissatisfied and he lost his focus. So I want to spend a minute talking about those challenges because I don’t want them to hinder us. If I had to give this message a title it would be “committed to the finish.”
When King Solomon wrote the scripture we read in Ecclesiastes, you can hear a feeling of powerlessness in his voice. He says I’m looking around and noticing that this race called life is pretty pointless because no matter how fast you are, there’s no guarantee you’ll win the race, no matter how strong you are, there’s no guarantee you’ll win the battle, stuff just happens. You can’t control it, you don’t have any power to make things happen the way you want them to happen. Bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, life is unfair, and very random. So enjoy today and don’t worry about tomorrow, whatever will be will be.
These are not the words of someone with the mentality of a marathoner. King Solomon is not sounding like he’s thinking about getting to the finish, he has let the frustrations of today push him to the breaking point. And unfortunately we read in the scripture that when King Solomon’s race ends, he doesn’t finish all that well. Listen to this sad passage from 1Ki 11:4 “For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, [that] his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as [was] the heart of David his father. ” “And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as [did] David his father.”
You see, at some point everyone’s race will end. But how many know there’s a big difference between finishing the race and just giving up? God sent me this morning to make sure you don’t give up. Because we’re only at mile 17. This is a message for somebody who may be struggling with a little bit of restlessness – there may be a little bit of frustration about how the race is going and it’s throwing us off focus. We’re going to clear that up right away. Because it’s a frustration that can distract you from your commitment to finish. The stakes are high. If you give up, you forfeit your prize. Jesus said if you put your hand to the plough and look back, you’re not ready for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62). But if you finish, you can say like the Apostle Paul: 2 Ti 4:7 “I have finished [my] course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” The Lord wants to re-orient our thinking this morning and get us into the mentality of a marathoner so we can re-focus on getting to that finish line.
King Solomon: The Man Who Had Everything?
Let’s go back to the scriptures we read. As we said earlier, the book of Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon. And King Solomon was a very interesting person who lived during a particularly interesting time. He was the original “Son of David” he was the son of King David. He ruled over Israel during its most prosperous and peaceful time. King Solomon didn’t have to spend his life killing Goliaths or staring down Philistine armies, or defeating the Moabites and the Amalekites and the Syrians. King David had fought all those armies and won. When Solomon became king, Israel was a united kingdom with all of the tribes living in peace with each other and their neighbors. All that was left for Solomon to do is to wonder about the meaning of life, and write a few books of the bible. So he wrote Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and much of the book of Proverbs, and he fell in love and he collected riches. And King Solomon was very good at those last two things. They say King’s Solomon’s annual tribute/tax collection from the nation of Israel was about 660 talents of Gold – that’s about 50,215 pounds of gold a year (there is a talent to pound converter on the internet). So by my calculations with today’s gold at about $1,200 an ounce that’s about $965 million dollars a year. And that doesn’t include any other sources of income Solomon may have had. Now here’s what Solomon spent it on, I Kings 11:3 says King Solomon had seven hundred wives, and three hundred concubines. I guess he could afford them. That’s a thousand women, available to him any time of day or night. He could be with a new woman every day for years before he ever saw the same woman twice. In the end these women got him into a lot of trouble, as you can imagine, because many of them were idol worshipping women who turned Solomon away from God.
Solomon also built the famous “Solomon’s temple” using thousands of tons of Gold and silver, cedar trees from Lebanon – (Lebanon has the most famous and beautiful cedar (lebanese flag is red white with a big cedar in the middle), bronze, and gems. 1 Kings says King Solomon made himself an ivory throne overlaid with gold that had six steps leading up to it. In fact the whole temple was overlaid with Gold.
So why am I telling you all of this? Because King Solomon, was the quintessential “man who had everything.” He was living the lifestyle of the rich and famous. The Queen of Sheba and her entourage traveled hundreds of miles by camel and foot just to see if he really had as much money and wisdom as everybody said he had. He was son of the greatest King Israel ever had and he was born into what we would consider an easy life. He had everything that you’ve been told to strive for in this world, he was handsome and rich and married (a few times) and yet he was still totally dissatisfied with the race.
If you look around at the movies and the magazines and the websites – they seem to tell you that the main goal of life is to be thin, to be pretty, to own a humungous house with a 5 car garage, have a gorgeous wife and get as close as you can to the lifestyle of somebody like a King Solomon. I imagine if Solomon were alive today, there’d probably be a reality show somewhere. “The real concubines of Jerusalem” or something. Because everybody wants to get a glimpse of the lives of the rich and famous to see if all that money can really by happiness. But what do we end up finding out? The rich and famous have attitudes, and they deal with drama, craziness lies and backstabbing just like everybody else. They have reached what the world says should be the “finish line” – but as we can see from King Solomon you can have everything and still not be satisfied with the life you’re living. I’m sure many of the rich and famous have done the same thing Solomon did when he was writing the book of Ecclesiastes. You sit down and look at your life and everything else that’s happening “under the sun” and think to yourself this is all meaningless. It’s pointless.
Solomon put it this way, “All is vanity.” Vanity means futile, empty, like a vapor or breath that quickly disappears. He called life the “Vanity of Vanities” meaning it’s the ultimate in worthlessness. And as if to prove the point, that great temple Solomon built, with all of its gold and silver, was raided and thieved for years after Solomon died, and the Babylonians eventually burned the whole thing to the ground in 586 BC. A vapor – here today and gone tomorrow.
It can be a challenge for us as finite, limited human beings living in 24 hour days to understand that from an eternal perspective, life under the sun, with all of its ups and downs, is just a fleeting moment. And whether you are rich or poor, everybody’s trying to use their “moment” to live a life that’s successful, or makes some kind of statement, or leaves some kind of impression on this world before we die. We’re trying to give our lives some value, and make it more than just a vapor.
A Life With Value
And that’s a good thing. Think about the people who have given their lives amazing value by dedicating them to a particular cause that transformed our world. You think about the life of Nelson Mandela, one man who changed a nation, and changed the world. He taught us the true value of freedom and equality. Things he was easily willing to spend 27 years in a South African jail for. Today we think about the people like Edith Windsor who challenged the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act so that legal marriages in states like ours could be recognized by the Federal Government. We think about our pastor and her work, and so many others who have used the moment of their life to make this world a better place. But if you look at their lives more closely, you will see that they had something else in common, and it’s something we can use to move the obstacle of dissatisfaction out of our way. They were satisfied because they didn’t measure their success by the world’s standards, or by their neighbor’s standards and they stayed committed to the finish.
They had what you could call an “eternal” perspective. That’s the key to overcoming all the obstacles that come up in this race. It’s a perspective that focuses on the ultimate goal. It’s the mentality of a marathoner. You don’t give up after 18 years in jail or 10 years with cancer or when the lower courts turn down your case. You keep pressing to the finish. You cannot allow today’s frustrations to ruin your tomorrow. You must be focused on the eternal benefits. Amen?
In a city like New York, it’s so easy to feel like you’re falling behind. It seems everybody is getting what they want at a faster pace than you and then when they get theirs, they forget that you could use a little help. Somebody else won the powerball lottery, or got the promotion you wanted. Somebody else somebody else got a new car and suddenly your 2002 Honda is making you look like you’re losing the “race.” All you have to do is walk down the street in midtown at a normal pace and you’ll start to feel like everybody is rushing past you. It seems like everybody thinks the race is given to the swift, so everybody’s speeding. Oh and it happens in the church too. You get restless. Why aren’t things moving as fast as you want them to? Why hasn’t anyone recognized my great gifts and talents yet? Why aren’t we a megachurch yet? Why aren’t we holding conferences in different cities and fish frys and music concerts, and going on trips around the country? Why doesn’t the world know our name? These are the times when we have to start adjusting our perspective, get over that hurdle and get back into the perspective of a marathoner. There’s nothing wrong with trying to be the best, as long as you’re trying to be the best at what God wants you to be – not the best at what the world wants you to be. The question becomes whose race are you running? And who are you running it for?
Under the Sun or Above the Sun?
Solomon’s was looking at what’s happening “under the sun.” He’s looking at things from an earthly perspective. Strangely enough, in Ecclesiastes Solomon calls himself “the preacher.” Ecclesiastes chapter one verse one reads: “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” The word ecclesiastes comes from Ecclesia – which means a gathering, or assembly, for instance a church is an “Ecclesia” of believers. In Hebrew the word is Koheleth which refers to somebody who bears the responsibility of gathering people – a Preacher. So Solomon gathers this ecclesia and declares himself to be the preacher and the message he give us is this — everything is meaningless??? What happened to the Solomon who wrote the book of Proverbs – from the perspective of a teacher giving good advice to his son? What happened to the Solomon who bragged from the perspective of a good lover in the Song of Solomon? In Ecclesiastes most of what we hear is the inner thoughts of a very dissatisfied man. He’s frustrated about the world’s injustice to the poor, and crooked politics, he complains about materialism and the wicked getting away with whatever they want to, and he wonders what’s the point of life since death is sure to come and nothing ever really changes. It’s clear this “Preacher” is not looking at things from an eternal perspective. In fact the Lord is barely mentioned in this book. What Solomon has done is something that happens to all of us at some point or the other. You get focused on how things look right now and you get frustrated. The problem is, when you get restless you get dissatisfied and dissatisfaction is a dangerous thing.
Listen carefully. Dissatisfaction is the enemy of commitment. And God wants your commitment. When you’re dissatisfied you become envious of what other’s have. One day you can be envious of someone else’s success, the next you can be envious of someone else’s relationship, or their health and their energy or their intelligence and business smarts, or what ever. You start to feel dissatisfied because you can’t make things happen at the pace you want it to or the way that you want it to. The problem is, when you’re dissatisfied, you start to abandon what you’ve committed to and try to find something better somewhere else. Something more like what somebody else has got. You get jealous. Everybody else’s partner starts to look cute just because you had a bad argument with your partner and you’re feeling dissatisfied. Everybody else’s life looks perfect because you think yours is falling apart. But the problem is not everybody else. The problem is you’ve abandoned your race because of a short term problem and lost your eternal perspective. You’ve abandoned the path that God set you on. You’ve devalued God’s will for your life and made the assumption that what somebody else has is better. You see, everybody comes across some trouble in this race. How well you handle the trouble depends on your perspective. Do you have the mentality of a marathoner?
God wants you to be committed to the finish. Pastor spoke last week about God being our “ish” our husband. This is the kind of relationship God expects to have with us – one that lasts even well beyond “til death does us part” – it’s a commitment that extends into eternity. God says in Jeremiah 31:3 that He loves us “with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” He draws us with lovingkindness and woos us like a divine suitor because He wants a relationship that is more than a vapor. It’s a relationship fueled by worship and built on love and faith. God wants to build something with us that’s going to last longer than Solomon’s temple. He wants us to be with Him forever, long after the race of our life on this earth is done. Long after this world is destroyed and iniquity abounds – as our scripture in Matthew says – and the love of others has waxed cold. Long after all of that —— eternity stretches out. And God wants to spend that time with you. So He committed Himself to you, as your “ish” and He asks for that same commitment in return, a commitment that says I trust you God, I respect your plan for my life. I’ll go where you lead me. I won’t get distracted. We cannot fall into the trap that Solomon did and start analyzing all the things about life that happen “under the sun” because the thing that really makes life worth living is going on way above and beyond the where the sun is. We build our hope on things eternal and we hold to God’s unchanging hand. The joy of being a Christian is, this race down here is just the beginning. Once we finish this race, there’s an eternal glory waiting for us.
So, in conclusion, I think that’s why somebody created the “verse that doesn’t exist.” Obviously, somebody in the new testament church read back through the book of Ecclesiastes and decided they needed to help King Solomon out. They decided to give him a change of perspective. They wanted to let us know that Jesus has come and that if we believe in Him we will have eternal life, so the race doesn’t end how you think it does Solomon. We’ve decided to go back and re-finish your sentence for you. Yes, solomon, the race is not necessarily given to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but oh Solomon, if you can just endure to the end, — you’ll find that there’s a whole new beginning. Jesus came to give us a purpose for our life that extends beyond the grave. He came to give meaning to our life that goes beyond just striving to get on the fast track to success, or being the strongest one in the bunch, or having the most gold and building the biggest temples. Having an eternal perspective doesn’t necessarily mean every day is going to look successful. In fact, the bible says that many of the people who look like they are first right now, will end up being last, and there are many who are last right now, but they’ll end up being first later. Solomon teaches us that being committed doesn’t just mean hanging in there when the going gets tough, it also means remaining steady when the going is easy. We all know that when everything is going against you, it’s easy to get angry with God, but then when everything is going well it’s easy to forget Him and get preoccupied with the things that are happening “under the sun.” When you feel lonely, it’s hard to find God but then when you have a bunch of friends, you can easily find that you don’t need Him. We can’t be swayed by the vanities of this life – the things that come, and the things that go. The Apostle Paul said, (Philippians 4:11) “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, [therewith] to be content.” God’s got a word for all of the Solomons, and it’s a word for the Potter’s House as well – The most important thing about this race is not how fast you run it, or how many battles you win, or how strong you are, the most important thing about this race – is that you finish! You see, Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, “he that endures to the end shall be saved.” What will you be saved from? Saved from a meaningless life. Saved from the vanity of this world. Saved from death. Saved from the consequences of all of our human errors. That’s about all that’s required. You just have to finish. If you keep reading down in that same chapter of Matthew Jesus goees on to say “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. ” I want to be one of the elect that are gathered up when the trumpet sounds. But to get there, you’ve got to finish down here. You don’t have to be the fastest, to finish. You don’t have to be the strongest or the smartest to finish. All you have to do is keep going. Somebody said “I’m holding on and I can’t let go my faith.” Somebody needed to tell Solomon that if you stay focused and take a long-term view of the situation, you’ll see that after the end of the race, because Christ defeated death, satan, sin and all of sin’s consequences, God will give us a fresh start with a glorified body, an everlasting life, a new heaven and a new earth. The only requirement is that you finish. If you cross it – you will live again. You’re not going to get a special prize if you were able to tithe $50 million dollars, but you will get a special prize if you finish. You won’t get a special prize for being the supreme archbishop of the tristate area, but you will win if you finish. You’re allowed to doubt sometimes, but you’re not allowed to give up. You’re allowed to make mistakes, but you’re not allowed to give in. You may have a bad day, but that’s just a bad 24 hours. Get the mindset of a marathoner and refuse to give up. You may not be able to make things go the way you want them to all the time and you may not be able to control just how everything turns out but when you get frustrated about your current situation, do not give up. There may be times when you don’t know exactly what’s happening, and you fail and fall down and it will seem like everyone else is racing past you and doing better than you are, but do not stop there and look around and get frustrated and dissatisfied. Pick yourself up and get focused on that finish line. Say to yourself, I will still put one foot in front of the other, and be faithful to you and I will remember that everything, yes, even this, is working together for my good. Fred Hammond wrote a song that says “I will find a way to lift up my hands– and I will find a way to worship you Lord, and though my heart is low I’ll find a way to give you praise I will find a way to love you more.” Because we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen [are] temporal; but the things which are not seen [are] eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:18)
This sermon was delivered by Aimée Maude Simpierre at The Potter’s House Church of the Living God in Brooklyn, NYC. Do you have a sermon you are willing to share? Please use our contact us page.