Ecclesiastes 7:8-10 ASV - Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof; and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry; for anger resteth in the bosom of fools. Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this.
We often look at what Solomon writes in an individual manner. What does this practically mean for the local church? There is much we can learn and incorporate into our work. When I mention our “work” within a congregation, that includes the work of elders, deacons, preachers, as well as individual members. Each one must do their part to make the local church what it is.
The Patient sees things to their end
Patience is needed to bring a project to its completion. Any work we enter into may not go the way we desire, yet that does not mean that we dismiss the value of doing that work. The same is true with our work in Christ. The Preacher writes, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in Sheol, whither thou goest.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10 ASV).
Certainly, there are matters that are beyond our direct control. Sometimes our work in a congregation ends not because of our own fault, but because a situation simply becomes impossible to work with. However, we must honestly look into our hearts and decide whether we are making this choice out of convenience or conviction. If we reach the end of our life and look back at a series of times where we simply “gave up” instead of worked through a problem as best we could, there is ultimately no benefit. The proud man gives up and leaves because things are not as he would desire them to be; the patient man waits upon the Lord, and when the Lord tells him to leave (according to his proper study of the scriptures), he leaves because there is no other alternative left.
The Patient is not quickened to anger because of the situation
If one works in retail, it does not take long before one notices that some people simply have “short fuses”, and are pushed quickly to anger over seemingly small offenses or inconveniences. In the world, we notice this and accept it. But such should not be so among the church. Paul wrote, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice:” (Ephesians 4:31 ASV).
Our attitude matters in situations that come up in the church. Attitude does not determine truth, yet it is obvious that hostility and tension do not help us in our Kingdom work. Quite the opposite, they will often destroy our relationships with others, and foster distrust and bitterness.
Yet someone says, “what I said was right!”. Let us assume that such is so. Is raising our voice against a brother in a disrespectful fashion that is dismissive of patience and tolerance truly going to help the cause of the Kingdom in the soul of that brother? There are indeed times when someone needs to be “snatched from the fire” (Jude 23), but let us also consider the need to be patient and careful with the truth (2 Cor. 6:4, 12:12; Col. 4:6). The word is a sword (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12); we should not wield it without caution. The proud man lashes out with quick, fierce anger; the patient man gives deference and only reacts with intensity when it will be a true help to the listener.
The Patient is not caught up by nostalgia
“Why aren’t churches full like they used to be?” “Why are younger generations giving in more and more to worldliness?” These questions push us to look at the past with “rose-colored glasses” and envision an ideal that may not even be fact. For example, many of the Victorian era did not tolerate their children defying their authority. Yet, it is often noted that they might have been too harsh and perhaps even abusive in their corrective measures. This does not mean that corporal punishment is wrong, but we might look back at such days and remark that children need to be handled in a similar fashion. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” has a biblical foundation (Prov. 22:15, 23:13,14), but many even today punish their children with such harshness that it provokes bitterness and resentment in the child.
While previous generations often have positive examples we can emulate, we need to have a generous amount of caution. Many Christians might even idolize the churches of the 1940s and 1950s. Certainly there is much good to emulate: Bible Authority, Church Discipline, and Reverence of God are all wonderful traits. Yet many in the churches of the 1940s and 1950s were also portraying spirits of intolerance, racism, and “party loyalty”. The solution to this is simple: appreciate what was good not because of who these people were - appreciate it because that good comes from God’s word!
Thus, the Preacher exhorts us to not hold to “better” days - it may be something I want for the church, but it may not be what is best for the church! Such is never wise, and betrays a spiritual immaturity. The proud man resists wisdom by dragging up the past as an ideal; the patient man trusts in the Word to do its work today, and while he may appreciate the good of previous times, he knows that the Scriptures can still work wonders today. -Steven McCrary