|Volume 19 Number 6 June 2017||
“The day of one’s death is better then the day of one’s birth” (Ecclesiastes 7:1).
I suppose that most of us would prize birth and abhor death. With a birth there is optimism and anticipation. Death is bleak, depressing and mysterious. So, why did Solomon say that death is better than birth?
First, death brings an end to a life well lived. Solomon noted in Ecclesiastes 7:8 that the “end of a matter is better than its beginning.” In the Parable of the Talents, when the master returned, he noted with two of his slaves that they had done well (Matthew 25:21, 23). Paul looked over his life with satisfaction, knowing he had lived well (2 Timothy 4:8). Obviously, death is not “better” if the life was lived for self, but if it was lived for God, death is a “victory” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
Second, death brings rest and the end of suffering. Solomon frequently bemoaned widespread oppression and injustice (Ecclesiastes 3:16; 4:1; 5:8; 7:7). It is a sad state of affairs that men continue to mistreat others. With death, one no longer has to deal with mistreatment. Solomon said, “better… is the one… who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 4:3). However, if one is evil, death will be no escape whatsoever (Matthew 10:28), but for the righteous, death brings rest (Hebrews 4:1; Revelation 21:4).
Frequently at funerals there are many tears and much sorrow. Yet, considering Solomon’s words, death can be better than the day of birth.
The Book of Ephesians is a fascinating discourse on the exclusive nature of the church established by Jesus Christ and bought with His blood. The first three chapters are an exposition on what God has done for us; the last three chapters are an explanation of what we must do because of what God has done for us. God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). At the top of the list of these blessings is that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Ephesians 1:4). The idea of being chosen has been coopted, unfortunately, by false teachers. The concept, along with the predestination taught in Ephesians 1:5 and 11, has been misconstrued to mean that God pre-selected certain individuals to salvation and pre-condemned others to damnation. This falsehood fails to account for the knowledge that God is no respecter of persons; He is not partial (Romans 2:11; Acts 10:34-35). It fails to account for all the “whoever” passages (Mark 16:16), and it purposely negates the freewill of man, taught since the beginning of time (Genesis 2:16-17).
Rather than such a paralyzing doctrine of helplessness, the doctrine of being chosen and predestined is actually a call of the Christian to worth, value and hope! Gentiles who were receiving this letter had often felt like second-class citizens in the Lord’s church. The Jews had the Gospel preached to them first (Acts 1:8; Matthew 10:5), as had been predicted (Isaiah 2:3). Students of early church history will remember what an incredible feat it was to get a Jewish Christian, Peter, to go to the household of a Gentile, Cornelius, to preach to him the Gospel (Acts 10)! Even after the elders at Jerusalem were convinced this move was from God (Acts 11:1-18), some refused to preach the Gospel to anyone but the Jews (Acts 11:19). Paul wrote Ephesians, in part, to let the Gentiles know that they were always in God’s plan! Before the foundation of the world, God had devised the means to bring salvation to a people that would sin (1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8; Titus 1:2). The Gentiles were a part of that plan. They were not an afterthought to God; they were in the original design.
Therefore, they would have available to them the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7), an inheritance (Ephesians 1:11), and a guarantee (Ephesians 1:14), along with those Jews “who first trusted in Christ” (Ephesians 1:12). They “also trusted” (Ephesians 1:13) and were given all the same blessings.
It might seem unfathomable that God could work such a wondrous feat, to bring all together in Christ (Ephesians 1:10), but the rest of chapters 2 and 3 elucidate the point. Reconciliation to God, after being separated from Him in their sins, is the theme of Ephesians 2:1-10. Reconciliation to one another is the theme of Ephesians 2:11-22. The Jewish-Gentile division (Ephesians 2:11-12) was taken out of the way when the “middle wall of separation,” the “law of commandments contained in ordinances,” was broken down (Ephesians 2:14-15). Thus, the body of the church was established (Ephesians 2:16; 1:22-23). No longer separate from one another, they all now had access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18-22).
Thus was laid the foundation for the church to be the body in which people from every race, socio-economic class and both genders could unite (1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28)! This has huge implications for today’s world! Racial division still plagues a post-slavery and a post-civil rights era in a country claiming to be a melting pot. People are divided over finances and matters in political realms. Further, the Jewish-Gentile division is at the heart of all the conflict coming out of the Middle East. The more things change, the more they stay the same—tragically.
The means for overcoming racism, nationalism, xenophobia and every other curse that separates one man from another is in the church! In the church, all believers have been “born again” into the only kingdom that matters—God’s (John 3:3-5; 1 Peter 1:22-23; John 18:36). It is a spiritual kingdom that gathers believers and teaches them the ways of peace (Isaiah 2:4).
The application of this goal seems at times, hopeless, for men still divide over other, lesser loyalties, such as family (Luke 14:26). Yet, there is hope, for the God who established it all is able to sustain it all. After all, it is not and never was in man’s power to do this. It was always the case that all power belonged to God. It still is the case. Those first three glorious chapters of Ephesians end with these words of praise, reminding believers of His power. “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”