At one point or another in life, we find ourselves in a mad scramble to be what man has deemed a success. We watch television or look on social media, see what someone else has, and then begin envisioning what it would be like for us to have the same things. But as Christians, have we really considered what God has to say on the matter?
Whenever I teach on prosperity, I remind people that God has a different idea of success. We see material, God sees spiritual. We see a piece of the pie, God sees peace of mind. I recently stated on my radio show that success is a relative term. For someone that’s been poor all of their life, it may be money. For someone that’s been sick, it may be health. For someone with an addiction, it may be being clean and sober. All these things matter, and yet, they can seem elusive as well.
When looking at Ecclesiastes 9:10-12, I find that success isn’t always within the grasp of our own abilities. Sure, God has blessed us with said abilities, but we’ve all seen or known of someone that doesn’t seem to have lived up to their capabilities. We’ve all known people that seem to be well short of what they’re able to be. And the truth is, some of us may not be all that our abilities suggest we should be. But know that God wouldn’t give you the ability, without giving you the opportunity to utilize it. As we go through these verses, we will see that God will open the doors of chance, no matter where we are in life.
Let’s analyze the text:
10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest
In its simplest terms, this verse is telling us to work to our strength and ability while we yet have time. The popular phrase is stated “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”. We often assume that we have time to do things, but how is it that we reach this conclusion? How do we know how much time we really have? (We’ll discuss this thinking when we get to Verse 12)
God wants us to know that we can’t do any work in the grave or beyond it. We must use all of the strength (might) that we have now to do whatever work needs to be done. Our earthly abilities have no value after we leave earth. We must take advantage of the life, health, and strength that God is giving us right now.
We often take the strength of our youth and use it to “live”. But as we wind down and aren’t capable of doing the things that we used to do, we then want to serve God from our seats. Well, God needs a youthful and energetic Christian, as well as a seasoned saint that can serve mentally when they can no longer do so physically.
11 I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all
One of my pet peeves with Scripture is misquoting and misapplication. This particular Scripture is one of the most misquoted Scriptures in the Bible, particular because of one portion. If you think about it, we’ve often heard this Scripture quoted in sermons, by people, and most definitely is song as “the race is not given to the swift nor strong”. Now, it seems like a small thing, but we must consider what Scripture is and its purpose before we go rearranging and even leaving out words. Scripture is God speaking to man and telling us through His Word how He expects us to live. Adding or taking away anything can confuse the message.
If I tell you that the “race is not given to the swift nor strong”, you become focused only on the race that you’re running. However, if I tell you, as Scripture states, that “the race is not given to the swift, nor the battle to the strong”, you’re aware that there will be a race and a battle. When this Scripture gets twisted, we’re prepared to run, but not to battle. This is why the devil loves a misquoted Scripture because it keeps us unprepared. You can’t properly apply what you don’t fully understand.
Once we do understand the Scripture in full, we can then apply what it’s saying to us. This 11th Verse keeps us focused on what it is that God has for us. Too often, we’re looking around at others that seem to be moving at a faster pace than we are, or they seem to be in a position of power that we desire for ourselves. However, we must continue to run the race that is before us. We must prepare for the battles that we have to face.
Additionally, people that seem to be faster than we are or stronger than we are, aren’t necessarily doing better than we are. God wants us to understand in this verse that what is for you will be there as long as you’re moving at your designed pace. We are required to do what God has designed us to do, and as long as we stay in that mode, the end of this verse tells us that time and opportunity will present itself. By running your own race and staying in your own lane, you will be prepared when presented with both.
12 For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them
Here, we find a conclusion to the thoughts stated in Verses 10 and 11. We have to remain focused on our task because we have no idea when our last day is upon us. I’ve often taught in Bible class that God gives us as much time as we need, no more, no less. This is why it bothers me when I hear Christians state that God took someone from physical life to death too soon. It’s an emotional statement that suggests that God makes mistakes, that He somehow doesn’t know what He’s doing, or that something is happening that is beyond His control. Death may sneak up on us, but it never will on God.
Also in this verse, death is discussed in unflattering terms. Fishes caught in an “evil” net. Birds caught in a “snare”. The sons of man “snared in an evil time”. This verse reminds us that death is at times unexpected and even unsettling. We’ve all been caught off guard by the way a person dies. This is what causes us to say things like “too soon” or “this isn’t of God”. But what this verse was designed to do is remind us that death can be sudden, and therefore we must really consider Verses 10 and 11.
It concludes that thought that we must live while we can. We must work on whatever gifts God has given us while we can, and do it to His glory. We must work to the level of our own strengths, and not to what we perceive others to be doing, because God will present us with opportunities for success in due time. It doesn’t matter how strong, gifted, intelligent, or financially blessed we are. If we fail to take advantage of the time and opportunity that God gives us to succeed, it won’t matter and we’ll fail to see success that matches what we were blessed with.
Also, we must forgive while we can because Verse 12 tells us that death can come upon us suddenly and we may not have as much time for reconciliation as we think. We must be willing to live in the moment as God has prospered us. Be active in our God-given abilities, not merely spectators of others. Not only is God able, but He’s made us able as well.