Lesson for Oct. 9, 2011: Valuing True Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 9:13–10:20)

This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for October 9, 2011) is written by Russ Howard who serves as minister with LifeSpring Westside in Cincinnati, Ohio.


Valuing True Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 9:13–10:20)

By Russ Howard

Some time ago, we invited a young friend to dinner. My wife has a reputation as a great cook, and everyone, it seems, was telling him he was in for a treat.

He arrived at our door with high expectations.

We sat down at the table, prayed, and filled our plates. Fresh vegetables, baked potatoes, and roasted pork. We had just purchased a new roaster, and this was my wife’s first attempt at cooking with it.

Bible background. Pronunciation guide. Real-life commentary. Discussion questions. Find it all in Standard Lesson Commentary

Unfortunately, it was not successful. We took bites of the meat and we chewed and chewed and chewed. It was tough as leather. We glanced sheepishly at each other until my wife graciously acknowledged the cooking misfire. We laughed and made up for it with extra portions of dessert.

Our friend came to our table with high expectations—expectations that were not met. He was disappointed.

It isn’t the first (or last) time he (or we) will experience disappointment. In fact, it’s a cycle common for most. We expected our team to be a contender this year, but they can’t seem to win a game. The movie reviews were promising, but we slept through the second half. We hoped our vacation would be restful, but we’ve come home more frazzled than when we left. We thought changing jobs would improve everything, but life has gotten worse.


Knowing What Disappoints

According to the writer of Ecclesiastes, we have much for which to be disappointed. He chronicles his pursuit of good things, turning them into what preacher and author Tim Keller calls “ultimate things.” Through the first eight chapters of this Old Testament book, the writer has chronicled how power, money, work, and happiness are disappointing as life pursuits.

It is good to know what disappoints. Who wants to waste time in empty, meaningless pursuits? French novelist George Bernanos said, “In order to be prepared to hope in what does not deceive, we must first lose hope in everything that does deceive.”

The writer of Ecclesiastes now seeks wisdom, and there is reason for hope. On the surface, wisdom seems to be a better pursuit—certainly better than foolishness.

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A little foolishness ruins good things, like a dead fly putrefies a good perfume. A life can flip topsy-turvy over just one little foolish act. Exercise wisdom, and things will go better. Do something foolish, and that one choice could have a disastrous effect on the rest of your life.

In recent years, we have seen the careers of politicians who make one careless statement take unrecoverable nosedives. We know tragic stories of people who made one poor decision behind the wheel of a car, and their lives are never the same. In fact, most of us can pinpoint one major area of pain in life and trace it back to a moment (or moments) when wisdom was not exercised.

The writer’s logic is simple and blunt. Wisdom is putting what you know into practice. A snake charmer’s knowledge of how to charm a snake is only good if he puts that knowledge to practice.

If an employer fires you because you didn’t do your job, there is no money to pay the bills. If a child grows into an immature adult because he wasn’t raised in a godly way, there is no profit for the parent or the child. If we don’t put wisdom into practice, the snake will bite us, and we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.


Not the Ultimate

Certainly, wisdom is good thing, but like so much else, it is not substantial enough to be an ultimate thing.

The writer tells about a small city under siege by a powerful king with a mighty army. The outlook seemed bleak until a poor but wise man saved the city. You can imagine the delight and celebrations by citizens who thought their days were done. But the writer adds a postscript, “Nobody remembered that poor man.”

Wisdom can save cities, but in the end, wisdom fails. Under the sun, wisdom disappoints. It is helpful, but limited.

In today’s world, we want formulas. We long for techniques. We want to know the steps to a successful life. But behind these desires is the need to control. We think that if we know the 10 steps to a happy life, and if we put them into practice, our happiness is assured.

We must exercise wisdom to live a good life, but wisdom is no guarantee. A life of wisdom is still fleeting, fragile, and finite. “Meaningless,” says the preacher.

Our dinner guest left disappointed, much like our disappointment in wisdom if we make it our ultimate pursuit. Wisdom is an important ingredient to a godly life, but it is not our goal. For that, we’ll have to remember the words of Jesus, “Seek first the kingdom of God.”


*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©1984.

October 3: Psalm 33:13-22
October 4: Ecclesiastes 4:4-12
October 5: Ecclesiastes 5:1-7
October 6: Ecclesiastes 7:1-14
October 7: Ecclesiastes 10:5-11
October 8: Ecclesiastes 10:12-20
October 9: Ecclesiastes 9:13–10:4



Russ Howard serves as minister with LifeSpring Westside, a multisite congregation in Cincinnati, Ohio. He enjoys being a child of God, a husband, and father of three.

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