7 ways to improve our character
The ways to improve our character are...
In this article we are going to consider the first part of Ecclesiastes chapter seven and the seven character developing things which are mentioned there.
At the end of chapter six, Solomon asked a few questions.
The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun? Exodus 6:11-12
Ofcourse the only being that can answer the questions in the passage above is God. Only He can tell us what is good for this life and what the future holds for us.
But where not just left in limbo with these questions of what is good for us and what does the future hold. Solomon actually gives us answers to the questions. In chapter seven he launches into a discussion on seven "better" things for this life. These seven better things tells us what is good for us and what does the future hold.
If I was to summarise these seven things, I would say that the general theme running through them is that by facing the realities of life, we deepen our character. And once we have this deeper character, it will make our lives a lot more stable. This new stability will be not only good but joyful.
So to summarise, these seven better things are all about improving our character.
So let’s have a look at each of these things to see what advice they give us:
1. It is more important to have a good name before God than men.
This saying comes from Ecclesiastes chapter 7 and verse 1:
A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth. Ecclesiastes Ch.7:1
I have broken this first piece of advice from Solomon into two parts:
a. A good name is better than precious ointment
The first "better" thing is found in the first part of verse one. “A good name is better than precious ointment”.
So basically it is saying that a name of good reputation has a fragrance more strong than perfume. And as we can see in this verse, the writer refers to some ointment.
Now, this good name in God’s eyes is not necessarily the same in our eyes. I say this because sometimes external appearances can be quite deceptive. A person who appears to us to have a good name and reputation may not necessarily be morally strong when you look behind external appearances. For example, the church at Sardis (Rev.3:1) had a reputation amongst the Asia Minor churches for being a go-ahead community, yet to God, they were nearly dead. So sometimes external appearances are quite deceptive. So this verse is talking about a good name in God’s eyes.
To illustrate this point further – think about the name of Adam and the name of God. The name of Adam represents sin, corruption and death. Yet the name of God revealed to Moses speaks of obedience, incorruption and immortality. When we are baptised we are “in” that name of God, and like Jesus we need to manifest the characteristics of that Name.
So to summarise, it is better for us to concentrate on having a good name with God. Focus on living a moral life in full obedience to your Heavenly Father. Build up yourself so you have a good reputation with the God who created you.
b. The day of death [is better] than the day of one’s birth
The second part of the first saying we are looking at is found in the second half of verse one. The day of death [is better] than the day of one’s birth. These words sound a bit morbid on the initial reading so what is Solomon trying to teach us here.
Well he is connecting this second part of verse one with the first part we just considered. There are two days in our lives when our name is prominent: the day we receive our name, at birth, and the day our name appears in the obituary column. What happens between those two days determines whether our name is a lovely ointment or a foul stench.
He is saying that only when life is complete can a reputation be truly assessed. It will be at that point when the person passes away that a true assessment can be made as to whether that person’s name is "fragrant" or not. We all make mistakes in our lives. We sin, we do the wrong thing. But the important things is how do we react when we make those mistakes. Did we seek forgiveness? What did we do to stop those errors in judgment happening again. At the end of our life all these factors will be taken into account to see if our name is one of good reputation.
It is an unfortunate fact that sometimes the true worth of a person is sometimes only appreciated when he or she has passed away. For example, if they were a member of a church, only when we have to find another person to fill the vacant position do we perceive the previous devoted service behind the scenes.
Maybe Solomon was thinking about what the Jew’s thought about life when he wrote this saying in verse one. Birth to the Jews was likened to the commencement of a hazardous journey. They saw it as a pilgrimage into the unknown. They saw death as the end of the journey.
Life for those who know not the Lord is quite often an unhappy adventure, with things like ill health, weariness and frustration. When they go to death this a place of silence and oblivion. However, for the believer, he should see death as the time when the battle against sin is over. His next conscious moment will be at the resurrection, which will bring him into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ to receive everlasting life and hopefully not condemnation.
So in summary, the day of death is better than the day of our birth, because we will be finally freed from the day to day battle against sin and will in our next conscious moment, when we are resurrected, be in the presence of our Master. It will be at this time that our name will be judged to be hopefully one of good reputation.
2. Wise people realise their days are finite and make the most of their time.
The second saying is in Ecclesiastes chapter 7 and verse 2:
It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.
It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting.
Why is Solomon telling us to go to a funeral rather than the place where there is a party? Because he is saying that mourning causes a man to take notice of the realities of life whilst the rejoicing at a feast encourages the man to escape from the realities of life.
We probably all enjoy a party, but how little do we learn about the real things of life at the party. We laugh, have a good time, but these things can take us away from the reality of this life we live.
The reality of life is that you are going to die. Neither jogging, nor cosmetic surgery, nor healthy food can keep people young forever. Death is the destiny of every man and woman. The wise person has come to terms with the brevity of life. He doesn’t live as though life on earth will last forever. Wise people go to funerals and pay attention. Wise people see the Tsunami horrors on the TV news and watch and think carefully. Wise people see the unfortunate cancer victims. Wise people number their days and make the most of their time.
Yet when we think about the sorrows of those that mourn, the facts are brought home to us about our sin-stricken nature. It also brings back into sharp focus how short our lives truly are. So in true mourning we are brought to realize the need for redemption and appreciate the wonderful love of God in giving Jesus for our sins.
So for now, going to a funeral teaches us more about life than going to a feast or party. However, the baptised believer can look forward to participating at a feast in the future at God's promised kingdom. This one will be true feasting and the prophet Isaiah says:
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. Isaiah 25:6
God's future kingdom will be a time of joy. And the main reason of the rejoicing will be that God has taken away the thing which causes sorrow and mourning. He has taken away death. Isaiah goes on to say:
He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. Isaiah 25:8
So this future kingdom will be a time of feasts and great rejoicing.
This is why Solomon tells us that those who go to the house of mourning is better than the house of feasting. He says this because it helps us focus on the realities of life and what the plan of God is truly all about. There will be plenty of time to attend feasts of celebration in the kingdom.
3. We should approach life with a mature and thoughtful mind thinking about life's realities rather than use laughter to ignore them.
The next saying is found in verses three and four of Ecclesiastes chapter seven.
Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. Ecclesiastes 7:3-4
So here Solomon is comparing thoughtfulness and soberness of the mind with vacant hilarity. He is teaching us that facing the realities of life brings a deeper and more enduring joyfulness than ignoring them with empty laughter.
All down the ages and especially now there are pleasure-seekers who have tried to cover their fears with a covering of vacant and empty laughter. What Solomon advises is to face the realities now for then in the future you will have long term joy.
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 1 Corinthians 7:10
Here the apostle Paul is telling us that godly sorrow will bring forth repentance and an acceptance of God’s salvation. It is very different from the casual half-hearted regret of a worldly man.
Just think about Peter. The frame of mind Peter demonstrates in the Acts of the Apostles and in his Epistles would never have developed if he not been of a sober and thoughtful mind. Out of the sorrow for his earlier mistakes, Peter matured; and his writings speak of the thankfulness of a forgiven man. Each of us matures in the mistakes we make in life.
So in this third saying, Solomon is advising us to approach life with an mature and thoughtful mind thinking about the realities of life. This is better than glossing over these facts with hilarity and mirth and not taking these things into consideration carefully.
4. Criticism by a friend is better than praise from a fool.
The fourth saying of Solomon can be read in verses five to seven of Ecclesiastes chapter seven.
It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; this also is vanity. Surely oppression drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart. Ecclesiastes 7:5-7
We all like to be commended for having performed a duty well. For example if we perform a duty well in the church we may belong to. But we may not be as happy when we get rebuked for something we have done. Yet, those in the church who are wise and point out the shortcomings of others, are actually doing a great service.
Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. Psalm 141:5
Who do we really appreciate, the friend who in sincerity and love reveals our faults and therefore helps to improve our character? Or the one who by amusing jokes evades telling us the truth?
Solomon likens the meaningless praise and laughter of fools to “the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot.” This was a comparison that would have been understood in the culture back then but that we now don’t readily understand. Branches of a thorn bush which are thrown on a fire will burst into flame with rapid intensity, providing a burn that is short and hot. If you needed to heat up something quickly instead of preparing a fire for slow cooking, you would throw thorn branches on the fire. Solomon uses his illustration to say that the praise of fools is quick, hot, showy—but gone quickly. It
flames up, dies out, and you need something else to stoke the fire. However, the rebuke of a wise man can change your life forever.
5. Listen to the whole of the matter under discussion before making one's own observations.
The firth saying is found in verses eight to ten of Ecclesiastes chapter seven.
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools. Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”. For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. Ecclesiastes 7:8-10
So Solomon’s advice in this fifth saying is to listen to the whole of the matter under discussion before making one’s own observations. In other words, don’t push in before the speaker has finished. Mature judgment in a matter requires patience. As it says in verse eight, better is the end of the word than the beginning – in other words, wait until the other person has finished before giving your judgment on the matter.
People have no need to be hasty or angry in their discussions around the
Word of God, and yet how often have these traits been seen if you think back over classes or discussion groups you may have attended. When it happens it must surely be to the displeasure of God. It is a sad fact that when conflicting ideas occur upon a particular subject, some get angry and instead of looking objectively at the subject and checking the Bible, make attacks upon the other person.
So the lesson here is – in order to exercise judgment on a particular thing you must be patient and listen to the end of the story. Do this rather than being hasty and cutting short the other person in their explanation.
In verse ten, we can see Solomon talking about the older generation and how some say that the past times are “the good old days”. Let read that verse again:
Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. Ecclesiastes 7:10
Solomon is saying that it is not wise to refer to past times as “the good old days”. The reality is that there have never been any really good days since the fall of Adam through sin. It won’t be until sin and death are removed that there will be good days in which the whole creation in every moment gives God pleasure. All generations have been wicked, in the past it was perhaps restrained or hidden away whereas today it is more in the open.
6. Wisdom is superior to money because it guides one through difficult times whereas money vanishes in hard times.
The sixth saying is found in verse 11 and 12.
Wisdom is good with an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun. For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it. Ecclesiastes 7:11-12
In these verses, Solomon is asking the question – what is the use of wealth if a person does not have the wisdom to use it correctly? Some people have acquired or inherited huge amounts of money, but by not using it sensibly they wished in the end it had never come their way.
Both wisdom and money can act as a protection in our day to day lives. For example, money pays for food, it pays for a roof over our heads, it pays for warm clothing. It helps us live day to day. But it is only wisdom that will truly preserve the life of the person into the long term.
So, prosperity can be a good thing, if the prosperous person behaves wisely. Solomon states that both prosperity and wisdom are literally “shadows” that offer protection. The superiority of wisdom, however, is that it guides one through difficult times and thus preserves life. Money, to the contrary, often vanishes in hard times. So prioritise biblical wisdom, which Solomon says, elsewhere, is “the fear of God”.
7. Adversity is not necessarily a evil, but rather a way to develop our character.
The seventh saying is in verses 13 and 14 of Ecclesiastes 7:
Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. Ecclesiastes 7:13-14
The message from these verses is that God’s work is unalterable. Prosperity and adversity are part of our lives and we should accept both of them in an understanding spirit. When we read the book of Job we find that this is very similar to what Job did.
To take this point further we should see adversity as not necessarily evil, but rather as a way of developing our character. So ideally we should accept prosperity with joy and adversity thoughtfully. For as it says in verse 14 prosperity and adversity are set again each other.
But the important thing is that when we have adversity in our lives we cannot blame God. In other words, when going through a difficult period we cannot start thinking about God’s ways and then go on to find any basis for criticising God’s action. As Job discovered, we cannot sit in judgment on God.
God does not waste sorrow or adversity. He knows there is a purpose for which we go through tragedy and sorrow. It is for our good, and the good of His kingdom.
We have considered in this article the seven better things from Ecclesiastes chapter seven. They teach that life is like a beautiful diamond, character is formed by pressure and polished by friction. A person doesn’t wake up one morning as a man or woman of character. Character doesn’t evolve out of osmosis. Character is developed by adversity or what many have called “the school of hard knocks.” Indeed, there is no education like adversity. Yet, adversity has the potential to create greatness in a person. Therefore, Solomon says, “Adversity is better than prosperity.” How can this be? Why is adversity better than prosperity? Well we have seen in Ecclesiastes chapter 7:1-14, that Solomon gives two reasons.
Let us then mould and shape our character so that we may come ever closer to the perfect pattern set by Jesus Christ.
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Last Updated: Sunday, 08 March 2015