Open: The third chapter of Ecclesiastes describes the combination of opposites in our experience. Throughout this chapter the idea is introduced that there is an appropriate time for all of life’s experiences and changes.
Text: “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 silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 )
Comments: There is an appropriate time for everything, the good as well as bad experiences. This is not merely a description of what happens in life; it is a description of what God sends. Many people think Ecclesiastes is a book of gloom and pessimism because of the findings based on the writer's limited view of those things “under the sun,” the visible things of life. But that is not the message of the book. God intends us to have joy, and His program to bring it about includes all these opposites.
If you look carefully, you will see that these eight opening verses gather around three major divisions that correspond, amazingly enough, to the divisions of our humanity: body, soul, and spirit.
The first four pairs deal with the body: “a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2 ). Notice how this applies to the physical life. None of us asked to be born; it was something done to us, apart from us. None of us asks to die; it is something God determines. So this is the way we should view this list of opposites, as a list of what God thinks we ought to have. It begins by pairing birth and death as the boundaries of life “under the sun.”
Then the Preacher moves into the realm of the soul with its functions of thinking, feeling, and choosing—the social areas—and all the interrelationships of life that flow from that. Verse 4 tells us there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” All these things follow closely, and they are all appropriate. “No one is going to escape the changes, hurts and sorrows of life” is what he is saying here. God chose them for us. In a fallen world it is right that there will be times of change, hurt, sorrow and weeping. The last six of these opposites relate to the spirit, to the inner decisions, the deep commitments. There is “a time to search [for work, marriage, new friends] and a time to give up” (Ecclesiastes 3:6 ). There comes a time in life when we should curtail certain friendships or change our jobs, for instance, and lose what we had in the past. It is proper and appropriate that these times should come.
All of this is God's wonderful plan for your life. The problem, of course, is that it is not our plan for our life. If we were given the right to plan our lives we would have no unpleasantness at all. But that would ruin us. God knows that people who are protected from everything almost invariably end up being impossible to live with; they are selfish, cruel, vicious, shallow, and unprincipled. God sends these things in order that we might be taught. There is a time for everything, the Preacher says.
-Excerpted from raystedman.org
Explore: What is one “pearl of wisdom” you would like to pass on to your grandkids? Why? In the list of opposites, is the Preacher describing what is, or prescribing what one should do? Why do you think so?
Get it: Who was the “Preachers” target audience? What motivated him to write to them? Why does this make sense? Do you think we should be doing the same? If yes, what does it look like for us?
Apply: Life changes are inevitable. What life change are you currently facing and how are you handling it?