A wise older preacher once advised me to pay very close attention to Solomon‟s words in Ecclesiastes 12:9-12. As a young man eager to receive such advice, eager to learn the best way to succeed in a life dedicated to studying the Scriptures and relaying the fruit of those studies to others, I found the great king‟s words to be helpful indeed. So, it has been my goal to emulate “the Preacher”.
“In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly. The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.”
I would like to suggest to you that you don‟t need to be in my company—in the company of any other „preacher‟ or minister or evangelist—to be preached to. Time spent with an open Bible is time spent with “the words of wise men”, to be certain. Many men who publicly proclaim the gospel may strive to resemble this self-portrait that Solomon provides for us, and in truth there is a need for all Christians to be ready when needed, to “go into all the world” (Mark 16:15), to “save others, snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 23). However, it is impossible to reach that point without first receiving the proper instruction; one must learn before one can teach.
Therefore, what is the student‟s responsibility as he delves into the Book? What goal did Solomon (and other writers) have in mind when leaving behind such words of wisdom?
We begin at the logical starting place—Solomon hoped to teach the people knowledge. At the most basic level, we must actually be engaged in learning when we devote ourselves to study of God‟s word. Are you reading for content? Are you reading with comprehension? Are you remembering what you‟ve read? A bad habit I formed during college was „cramming‟ (actually, I believe I turned it into more of an art form than a habit by the time things were said and done). You‟ve probably taken tests in that way before—a few hours of study before the exam, a few minutes more to complete the exam itself, and then a lifetime to never again remember what it was you were just tested over. That is learning without knowledge. The serious Bible student retains the wonderful information presented to him, information which originated in the mind of God Almighty. When you search the Scriptures, absorb the knowledge found therein.
The Preacher then pondered and arranged many proverbs. Proverbs are useful because they are practical, applicable, and memorable. When you are committing portions of Scripture to memory, you don‟t need to find the most difficult, lengthy, and obscure passages—there is not a thing wrong with starting small. Latch onto that which is useful in your daily life. Do not stunt your own growth in knowledge of the Word, but be aware that there is a great deal to be gained by understanding that which is easily understood. Additionally, however, make sure that your studies cover broad ground; Solomon searched out “many” proverbs—he had wisdom for every occasion and situation. Involve yourself in similarly voluminous studies, and you will benefit.
Also, Solomon found delightful words of truth. Never apologize for „enjoying‟ a Biblical story simply for its content, for appreciating a certain psalm because of the beauty of its language. Just take care that, in all things, you see all the way to the truth of what is read. One of the true joys of the Scriptures is that they are satisfying on so many levels—beautifully written, historically accurate, interesting in content, and truthful to the very last letter. Learn the truth “correctly”, and allow yourself to be thankful for the delightful words you read.
The Preacher had a specific result in mind, however; he intended his words to act as goads or well-driven nails. God‟s word isn‟t light reading, the kind that entertains for a moment but can be quickly forgotten. We have an obligation to respond to what we study, to be driven by those expertly-aimed nails written down by God‟s chosen vessels in times past. Read with a mind towards action! Let the picture of hope and the warning of judgment that is carried throughout the entirety of Scripture spur you on, and inspire growth, responsibility, and zeal.
Finally, the wise king warns that endless devotion to other knowledge is harmful. Solomon points out the folly of constantly pursuing the world‟s wisdom, reading (or writing) as many books on as many different scholarly subjects as possible. This simply wearies the body, and can potentially damage the soul. Instead, there is one thing to which we should devote ourselves, and one source of true wisdom—“Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). The Bible I use most often has just slightly over 1000 pages; it is a fairly small volume when we consider that it contains everything necessary for the salvation of a man‟s soul.
This week, spend some time with the Preacher—spend some time with the Word.
By Drew Jones
Drew Jones is a young man preaching the gospel in Alabama.