Avoiding Extremes


So don’t be too good or too wise! Why destroy yourself? On the other hand, don’t be too wicked either. Don’t be a fool! Why die before your time? Pay attention to these instructions, for anyone who fears God will avoid both extremes
~Ecclesiastes 7:16-18, NLT


A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.
~Winston Churchill

As we mentioned yesterday, Solomon is so bright that some of us have a hard time understanding what he means. How can anyone be too good or too wise? Is Solomon just being cynical? As we look deeper into scripture, we generally find a deeper meaning. Ray Stedman who understands Hebrew reflexives verbs says Solomon is warning us that we should be careful not to believe we are righteous a part from God or in the N.T. sense, Christ. Augustine believed, as do I, that extreme asceticism leads to extreme self-righteousness. In other words, we must not become proud of our goodness. There are lots of good Baptist but they are good for nothing: their self-righteousness disqualifies them from ministry. Their better-than-thou attitude makes them very unattractive to a lost and hurting world. In other words, their self-righteousness cuts them off from the very people who Jesus came to save. So maybe Solomon meant “too good” in the self-righteous sense. Like being too good to carry out the garbage, too good to wash feet, too good to help the outcast or too good to give preference to someone else.

The Rule

So what Solomon is doing is showing both extremes: the opposite extreme of asceticism is antinomianism which is a philosophy of over indulgence. The body is condemned to die anyway so why be concerned about the body. We are saved by grace so why not enjoy the pleasures of life and live it up. Don’t worry about the law or morality, that is Old Testament. Jesus loves sinners and His blood cleanses from all sin so live it up. Solomon’s point is both extremes are very dangerous.  Solomon may be refuting an ancient Jewish myth that a good moral life guarantees long life. This is exactly what Job’s friends believed and this belief was very popular among the Jews. In 7:15, Solomon says, I have seen everything in this meaningless life, including the death of good young people and the long life of wicked people.” This is an anomaly, a fact of life that no one can figure out. Good people die young. Abel is the first example and Jesus is the greatest. Thirty-three is not old. Morally speaking, Josiah was Judah’s best king and he died at the age of thirty-nine: Manasseh was so cruel and vicious that he filled the streets of Jerusalem with blood and he lived to be an old man. I can give you a long list of good men who died young and I nor anyone else can give you a good answer as to why. We all know that generally speaking, smoking is hazardous to your health. I had a brother and a nephew die before their time due to smoking but there are exceptions to the rule as you see illustrated in the two pictures.

The Exception

Solomon’s point is this: don’t be too self-righteous but neither should we be unrighteous. A good moral life doesn’t guarantee happiness or long life but a wise person understands that living clean ups the odds.  In other words, be humble and respect and obey God’s laws: He gave them to make our life better, not bitter. His law does not hurt us, it helps us and it certainly adds to the quality of life. Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” The word ‘Abundant’ means full and meaningful.


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