RIGHT NOW COUNTS FOREVER
Adapted from sermon preached at the Evening Worship Service of PCC on 30 September 2001
"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" (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
The first Bible verse that most Christians would memorise is John 3:16. This is a beautiful verse, which speaks of the great love of God and the way of salvation in Christ. And it is a verse that ought to be committed to memory early. But be as that is usually the case, the first Bible verse which entered my memory was not John 3:16, but Ecclesiastes 9:10, at least the first part of it: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." I memorised this verse even before I became a Christian! I had read it off a gift that my sister was giving to someone and it impressed me. It impressed me because as a young boy I was without direction in my life, and this verse gave me some directions: I must put in my best effort in everything that my hand finds to do! In a way, this became my philosophy of life.
It was much later, after my conversion that I owned a Bible. And one of the first things which I did was, naturally, to turn to Ecclesiastes 9:10. Well, to my surprise and, in some sense horror, I discovered that the verse I loved so much had a second part; and the second part, was as it appeared to me then, not quite that beautiful as the first part.
For a long time, I could not understand why Solomon did not simply stop with the first part: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." You see, it appeared to me in those days that when the second part is added, the verse seems to lose its charm; for if we take the first part alone, it appears to be an ideal which man ought to strive for, but when we read also the second part of the verse, it becomes almost a fatalistic statement: better do what you can today before you enter into a shadowy world of death where there is no reasoning, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, nor enjoyment.
But this is obviously not what Solomon had in mind since he believed that life is not all that we see under the sun, and life does not end with this present life. There is a judgement to come, and this judgement will determine our eternal destinies.
What then does Solomon mean? Let me suggest three things:
(1) The way we live today has eternal consequences;
(2) Death seals our life’s work, and determines the outcome of the judgement day; and therefore:
(3) Man should put in his best effort to living his life in such a way as to secure the highest enjoyment in eternity.
1. How We Live Today Has Eternal Consequences
Notice how Solomon ties together our life with our death. If Solomon really means that at death we enter into a shadowy slumbering state of meaninglessness, then you will realise that his instruction is meaningless. Why should I bother to do anything well at all, if it is true that death ends it all?
The fact is that death does not end it all. The fact is that our souls will live on after death. But it is a fact that where and how we live after death, is determined by how we live today. In other words, how we live today has eternal consequences.
You see, at the day of judgement, we will not only be judged for the major things in our lives. Solomon tells us that we will be judged for every of our work, with every secret thing, whether it be good or bad (Ecc 12:14).
Now, there are those who say that there will be two judgements: one being the Great White Throne Judgement which would determine who are Christians and who are not, then there is the Bema Seat Judgement which is for the purpose of giving rewards to believers. Well I do not think that such a doctrine can stand the test of Scripture. The Scripture speaks of one general judgment, which will occur immediately following the general resurrection of the just and unjust. That is the judgement that is mentioned by Solomon and by the Lord in His parable of Sheep and Goats, of Good and Bad Fishes, etc. And it is the same judgement mentioned by the apostles.
On that day, believers will be judged for every single word, thought or deed that they had in this life. The Scripture teaches us that believers are able to do good works because we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Our good works will be rewarded. What about our sin? I am not sure if our sin will be highlighted individually. I don’t think so. But what I know is that we will be presented as sinners who deserved to be punished, but whose sin has been paid for by Christ. In this way every sin of the believer would be accounted for, though we would not be punished. Instead, we would be given rewards of righteousness in accordance with the good works we do in this life and with the holiness with which we live our lives.
Christians do not really deserve anything good from the Lord because we are slaves of the Lord, redeemed by His own blood. When we have done all that have been commanded of us, we ought to say: "We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do" (Lk 17:10).
Yet, the Lord by His grace promises to bestow rewards upon those who faithfully seek Him and serve Him, and we need not be unwilling to think about these rewards.
So the apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Colossians that we shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for we serve the Lord Christ (Col 3:24). And the writer of Hebrews tells us that God "is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb 11:6).
But the teacher from whom we receive the doctrine of rewards most explicitly and frequently is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In His Parable of the Sheep and Goats, the Lord tells, "And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward" (Mt 10:42). Yes, even little acts of kindness can expect rewards when they are done in the name of Christ. And yes, we can expect the rewards of Christ at the day when He returns with the glory of His Father with His angels. And we expect that He will not delay His return one day more than necessary for all His elect to be gathered into His Church. So He proclaims: "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Rv 22:12; cf. Mt 16:27).
Those rewards, beloved brethren and children, will determine our enjoyment of God in eternity, for though every star will be shining fully, yet one star will differ from another in brightness, and though every cup will be full, yet each cup will have a different capacity. So beloved, do not despise the works that you do in this life. Whatever your hands find to do in the name of Christ, therefore, do it with all thy might.
But if you are an unbeliever, bear in mind that in that day too, all unbelievers will be judged too. And mind you, the Scripture tells us that nothing that the unbeliever does is good in the sight of God. Even their acts of righteousness are filthy rags in the sight of God because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. So for the unbeliever, the judgement has to do with punishment and the degree of punishment will be dependant on the severity of their sins against God.
Of course, humanitarian acts by unbelievers will be judged lightly compared to their scandalous sins, but every single distinguishable deed of the unbeliever will be judged.
Oh let none of us be presumptuous as to our spiritual state. No true believer will persist in sin, so anyone who persists in this or that sin and refuses to repent, ought not to delude himself into thinking that all will be well because his sins are paid for. No, no; the true child of God will confess his guilt and repent them wholeheartedly whenever sin is discovered either by self-examination or by the admonition of other believers or by the reminder of the Holy Spirit speaking through our conscience. The true child of God will never be carnally secured. He is constantly abased, and does constantly flee to Christ. He is constantly aware of his faults in his works and deeds of righteousness, and so even as he does with all his might all that his hand finds to do, he prays that the Lord will sprinkle His blood upon all his deeds so that they may be acceptable to God his holy heavenly Father.
Right now counts forever! How we conduct our lives today counts forever. Whether our good works today are acceptable to God counts forever. How we live today has eternal consequences. Therefore whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, but not without seeking the approval and blessing of the Lord you serve.
But to drive the point home, let us consider secondly, that death seals our life’s work.
2. Death Seals our Life’s Work
This is really the emphasis of the second part of Ecclesiastes 9:10, "for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest." We have seen that how we live today has eternal consequences, and now it remains to remind ourselves that the amount of time that we have to live is not limitless. It will end one day. It will end either at the day of our death, or at the day when Christ shall return for His bride—seeing that we live in the last of the last days. But in general, for most men and women who ever live in this world, death is what seals their lives’ work.
Moses says in Psalm 90—"The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away." 70 years or 80 years at the most is our general live expectancies. Well, occasionally someone exceeds that length as Moses himself did, but some others are given only half that time such as John the Baptist; and for that matter many faithful and fruitful ministers of the Lord: John Greshem Machen (56), Jonathan Edwards (55), John Calvin (55); George Gillespie (35); Robert Murray M’cCheyne (29).
How long more do we have before death comes knocking at the door? And if the Lord were to spare us from early departure, we know that when we approach 70 or 80 it is near the end.
The Lord has given us 70 or 80 years at the most to make improvement to our eternal estate. For every child of God, there is as it were, a mansion prepared for us in heaven. This mansion is perfect, but it can be adorned with what will make our stay there in eternity even more joyous. The Lord has given us 70 or 80 years or so to adorn that mansion.
Some of us have almost used up half the time. Some of us have used up more than half the time; and for a few of us our time is almost up. I would ask you: How much of that time has been spent adorning your heavenly mansion?
Some of us became Christians late in life. We have little time to adorn the mansion before death seals our efforts. What will you do in the remaining of your time? Will you spend it to make yourself comfortable in this world, or will you spend your time to bicker over this or that issue to make a name for yourself, or will you spend it to lay up treasures in heaven to adorn your heavenly home?
Some of us in this congregation are still in unbelief. Some are yet in childhood, some are heading for the day of no return. Dearly beloved, death seals our life’s work and determines our eternity. But while there is life there is hope. Solomon says in v. 4, "For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion" (Ecc 9:4). That is to say: While you are still alive, there is hope. Hope for what? Hope that the judgment will turn out well for you. But that hope as we have seen can find fruition only in Christ: only if you turn from your sin and embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord in this life. Now is the day of salvation. Do not wait till tomorrow to regret that it is too late, for death would end all hopes for you if you remain out of Christ at the death bed.
You have not thought about death? It does not bother you? Oh, I plead with you, do not wait till the deathbed to think about death. Listen to what some of the famous or should we say notorious sceptics and unbelievers have to say at their deathbeds.
Thomas Paine, the noted American unbeliever and author who wrote the influential book The Age of Reason:
I would give worlds if I had them, that The Age of Reason had never been published. O Lord, help me! Christ, help me! O God, what have I done to suffer so much? But there is no God! But if there should be, what will become of me hereafter? Stay with me, for God’s sake! Send even a child to stay with me, for it is hell to be alone. If ever the Devil had an agent, I have been that one.
David Strauss, an outstanding representative of German rationalism, who spent many of his years trying to prove that God does not exists:
My philosophy leaves me utterly forlorn! I feel like one caught in the merciless jaws of an automatic machine, not knowing at what time one of its great hammers may crush me!
Sir Thomas Scott, another famous atheist:
Until this moment I thought there was neither a God nor a hell. Now I know and feel that there are both, and I am doomed to perdition by the just judgment of the Almighty.
M. F. Rich, yet another atheist:
I would rather lie on a stove and broil for a million years than go into eternity with eternal horrors that hang over my soul! I have given my immortality for gold; and its weight sinks me into an endless, hopeless, helpless hell.
For each of these unbelievers and many others beside, death was most terrifying because they refused to believe that God exists, and refused to believe in Christ as their only way of salvation. What a contrast is the death of the saints who died in Christ as we may gather from their recorded last words.
Martin Luther, the German Reformer: "Our God is the God from whom cometh salvation: God is the Lord by whom we escape death."
John Calvin, the theologian of the Reformation: "Thou, Lord, bruisest me; but I am abundantly satisfied, since it is from Thy hand."
John Knox, founder of Presbyterianism: "Live in Christ, live in Christ, and the flesh need not fear death."
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement: "The best of all is, God is with me."
Adoniram Judson, missionary to Burma: "I go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from school. I feel so strong in Christ."
Samuel Rutherford, Scottish minister and member of the Westminster Assembly: "I am in the happiest pass to which man ever came. Christ is mine, and I am His; and there is nothing now between me and resurrection, except—Paradise."
Dearly beloved brethren and children, how will your death day be? Will it be like that of unbelievers and atheists, or will it be like the testimonies of these saints who are now living in glory. Now is the day of hope and of salvation. Now is the day to turn away from your sin of unbelief and to begin to live the Christian life, to begin to lay up treasures in heaven, to begin to adorn a heavenly home. Today is the day of preparation for death and eternity. When death comes, no more preparation will be allowed. Death puts an end to our preparation, "for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest."
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." This is the only reasonable response for us in the face of the reality of death. But in the face of the reality of judgement and eternity, we realise that not all things should have our equal attention. How then should we live?
In a word, we should live with eternity in view. This is our third proposition based on this view.
3. We Should Live for Eternity.
In view of eternity, in the first place, we must flee from sin, and combat sin vigorously in our lives. This exercise is needful not only for believers but unbelievers as well. The Word of God teaches us that without holiness, no man shall see the Lord (Heb 12:14), so no one who professes to be a Christian should delude himself that he shall see the Lord if he does not hate sin and fight sin. At the same time the Scripture teaches us that punishment in hell is of different degrees. The Lord teaches us that "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Lk 12:48). From this we may infer that God will recompense justly. Criminals will be punished more than ordinary unbelievers; and an ordinary unbeliever more than one who lives an externally moral life or is seeking the Lord.
So I would urge you, even if you are not sure about faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, to flee from sin. And seek the Lord by reading His word, and attend frequently to the means of grace. Hear the word of God preached at every opportunity and pray that the Lord will change your heart and open your eyes, and call upon others to pray for you.
In the second place, living with eternity in view means that we should not put priority to our lives in this world to the neglect of our souls. The Lord says: "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mk 8:36).
When we leave this present world, we will only leave with our soul, and with the preparation that we have made during our lives on earth. If our preparation does not include faith in Christ, we will lose everything. Our souls will not die. So we will not literally lose our souls. He who goes to the bar of judgement in unbelief will suffer eternal torment, in a kind of living death, in which he would rather plead to be annihilated.
So let us put our best efforts to seeking Christ and to earnestly living our lives in such a way as to secure the highest enjoyment in eternity. The Lord Jesus puts it most graphically when He says:
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Mt 6:19-21).
And again He says:
"33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (Mt 6:33-34).
Yes, we must do well in all that our hands find to do including our studies and our works. But no, we must not fail to put Christ first in all that we do. One of the best evangelical commentaries on Ecclesiastes 9:10 is given by the apostle Paul in Colossians 3:23-24—
And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.
Therefore in everything that you do, consider Christ. Consider if His name will be magnified. Consider if His cause will be advanced. Is there a conflict of interest with respect to the use of our resources and time? The child of God weighs carefully and seeks to do what is most suited to seeking first the kingdom of righteousness, to advancing the kingdom of Christ, and to laying up treasures in heaven.
Sometimes obedience to Christ can be very costly in terms of material benefits such as pay increments and prospects of promotion. But the child of God will rather pay temporal prices for eternal goods. He will choose in the words of Jim Elliot, "to lose what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
This is what it must mean to obey the call of Solomon: "Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do with thy might." Time is short. We have little time more to do what is required and profitable before we are called to give an account of our lives. Will you not put Solomon’s charge to practice immediately?
And you children, you have great advantage because, if Christ does not return soon, most of you will have much time to adorn your heavenly home. Oh do not procrastinate, do not waste your time away. Time is precious. Do not think that you have a lot of time because it will go so quickly. If the Lord does not take you earlier (and you may be taken earlier than you expect), in no time, you will be at the half-way mark and in no time, you will be near the end. Begin today to seek the Lord with all earnestness.
Take heed to the words of Solomon—
"Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment" (Ecc 11:9).
Oh beloved children, whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might—but pay special attention to the things which will change your live in eternity. This life is very short when compared to eternity. So spend much time to read the word of God, to hear sermons, to worship God and to pray and to think about godly things. Do not waste too much of your time playing childish games.
"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."
May the Lord grant us that this beautiful verse will not only be etched in our memories, it will transform our lives—not only as an earthly philosophy to do our best in all that we do, but as a spiritual philosophy of living today for eternity with Christ. Amen.