The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
As Solomon concludes his teaching, he sums up everything he’s been trying to say with these words from verse 13 of chapter 12, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” That’s a stunning statement. Everything we are living for, if it isn’t consciously submitted to God, is a vapor. This is the entire point of the book of Ecclesiastes.
We are prone to give our lives to almost everything but God. In fact, we are so sinful that unless God breaks into our lives and recreates our heart, we will pursue everything the world offers without ever finding lasting satisfaction. Solomon knew this. He lived it. Ecclesiastes is his witness to the reality of how easily we can waste our lives. So, he ends with these words to put us on the right path for fruitful living. After chronicling all of the ways the richest person in the world can chase happiness and satisfaction, he tells us plainly the only way to gain all that we really want.
Life in this world goes fast. It is a vapor. So much of what we do won’t last. We will build things to hand off to others, who may or may not steward it well. We will accumulate things only to see them given away. We will pay for things that rot over time. Everything of this world stays of this world. The only thing we carry around with us that will go with us after death is us. So, what are you living for? That’s the question Solomon raises in this book. What you are living for will tell everything you need to know about who you are. Are you living for God or for the world?
Since life in this world doesn’t last forever, there must be something eternal to live for or you will waste your life. And since few things in existence are eternal, we better be sure that we focus on those few things that are eternal above everything else. Here’s how we do that: “Fear God and keep his commandments.”
This focuses on two eternal realities, the only two eternal realities. God has always been eternally present. We, his creation whom he loves, are eternal from our conception. So we, the creation, must respect God, the Creator. We must fear God and keep his commandments.
To fear God means to worship God as God. Fearing God is giving him the respect, honor, and glory that the Lord of all creation is due. God is God; there is no other (Isa. 45:5). We fear God when we read the Bible and receive it whole, without filtering it down to fit our current construct of him. We don’t want to define God for him. We let him define himself. He sets the rules in our life.
Sinclair Ferguson explains the fear of God this way:
“The fear of God is not terror. Terror of God is the reaction of guilt in the face of his holy power. It desires only to run from him in despair. Through every aspect of his character God means to show us his glory. This he loves to do more than anything else. Moreover, he loves his people so much that he will let nothing stand in the way of them coming to share in this glory. The person who sees this learns what it means to fear God. It means to be filled with a sense of breathtaking awe at his character. It means to realize with shame that although we have been made to live as his image, we have forfeited by our sin our privileges and our destiny. It means also that we have begun to realize the costly way in which he restores that glory to us. The fear of God in some ways defies our attempts at definition, because it is really another way of saying ‘knowing God’. It is a heart-felt love for him because of who he is and what he has done; a sense of being in his majestic presence. It is a thrilling awareness that we have this greatest of all privileges, mingled with a realization that now the only thing that really matters is his opinion. To fear God is to be sensitive to both his greatness and his graciousness. It is to know him and to love him wholeheartedly and unreservedly. To fear God, to trust God, to love God, and to know God – these are really one and the same thing.”
Since God is God, the all-powerful sustainer of life, and since he has given us commandments to follow, we should be very careful to follow them. If God were to show up and tell us this morning how our life would work at its very best, we would pay attention. We would write down every single word he said. We would be on the edge of our seat. We would set our alarm and get up early and be ready for him when he arrives. We wouldn’t waste that time. Well, through his word God has given us that gift. He has told us how life works. More than that, he has told us in every way imaginable. He has given us narratives. He has expressed it in poetry. He has given us songs and proverbs and examples. In Ecclesiastes, he gives us the wisdom that he gave to Solomon. It turns out that Solomon’s wisdom wasn’t for his own use only. It was also God’s amazing gift to us. And the sum of his wisdom, after a life spent chasing everything else, is that we should fear God and keep his commandments.
We can try to live another way. We can pursue everything we think will satisfy us. Or we can listen to a man who went after it all, got it all, and was disappointed in the end. What that man says is that the end of the matter is this, that we should fear God and keep his commandments, because that is the whole duty of man. Loving Jesus for who he really is means we want to keep his commandments without any shortcuts. And that, according to Ecclesiastes 12:13, is the whole of life. We love God and obey him.
The question for us, then, is this: what are you chasing today and how can the grace of God in the gospel of Christ speak to the longing behind that chase?