Ignorant Words–Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

I’m fairly confident that nobody, upon reaching the time of their retirement, strokes their chin and thinks, “I wish I’d gone to more meetings!” Yesterday, I thought of this as I sat in a room packed with several hundred of my colleagues at a faculty meeting.

Without boring you completely on the details, let’s just say that our academic commander has been tasked with creating a better system for sharing decision making with the faculty. Various people have various ideas for how that might be achieved. Imagine that: academics with multiple opinions. The problem yesterday was that not everybody was particularly nice about how to share their ideas.

The commander took some criticism. His superiors, the president and board of trustees, received a good dose of blame. The leadership, current and past, for committee A was criticized as was the leadership of committee B. It was what my friend Nathan terms, a “big day in preschool.” I’m not sure what that means precisely, but it’s what I think of when I read today’s text.

Don’t pay attention to everything people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you, for in your heart you know that many times you yourself have cursed others.

Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

The Blame Barrage

I’m also reminded of God’s opening salvo against Job: “Who is this who obscures my counsel with ignorant words?” (Job 38:2). People have about ten pieces of criticism for every complaint-worthy act. When I start classes on Monday, I will undoubtedly meet students who will blame me along with their family, their friends, President Trump, their high school teachers, society as a whole, and a host of other factors for whatever failures they produce.

So what’s a person to do when the blame missiles are flying thick and heavy across the battlefield of life? I’m kind of surprised by the advice that is given in this text. The teacher does not advise us to listen carefully to all of the criticism, weighing it to determine its merits before thoughtfully acting on what is learned. No, he just says “don’t pay attention.”

My daughter works on a customer service phone line for a credit card company. Every day she hears people criticizing and blaming, her favorite being, “I hope you’re proud of yourself. You’re ruining Christmas!” So how does Olivia succeed and keep from being depressed by this steady stream of blame and criticism? She doesn’t pay attention to it. She does her best to wade through the nastiness in order to discover what she can or cannot do to make the customer happy.

Getting in Tune

We can keep from listening to those who obscure our counsel with ignorant words when we realize that we do the same thing. When we realize the ignorance of those words we can refuse to either let them get us down or allow them to provoke us to equally ignorant responses. And just maybe, in that realization, we can see our own ignorant words for what they are and make them fewer.

A Hard Tune to Hear

Ecclesiastes 7:5-6

Let me play a song for you. Here are some of the lyrics:

We have to conceive it on the inside before we’re ever going to receive it on the outside. . . . You must conceive it in your heart before you can receive it. In other words, you must make increase in your own thinking, then God will bring those things to pass.

Okay, it’s hard to imagine those words to a tune, but they are a sort of song, mentioned in today’s text.

It is better to listen to rebuke from a wise person
than to listen to the song of fools,
for like the crackling of burning thorns under the pot,
so is the laughter of the fool.
This too is futile.

Ecclesiastes 7:5-6

Prosperity Foolishness

If you didn’t recognize the words of the “song of fools” above, they came from a book by Joel Osteen, a man who guides his church to pledge their allegiance to the Bible just before he preaches a message that directly contradicts the plain meaning of the Word.

Without belaboring the foolishness of the Osteen passage above, let’s just consider which of these biblical figures conceived in their heart what they later received: Abraham or Moses? Gideon or Samson? Peter or Paul? I could go on, but you get the picture. When we’re limited to receiving only what we can conceive, then we’ll never see the best from “him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

What if Simon Peter had read a copy of Joel’s book before Jesus came strolling down the shores of Galilee? He might have envisioned himself as the greatest fisherman on the lake. He might have conceived piles of fish and a fleet of boats. He might have imagined scores of employees. And we would have never heard of him.

The Wise Rebuke

Do we think that Simon Peter ever sat there in a quiet moment in the boat and dreamed of helping to feed 5,000 people? Did he envision healing his mother-in-law? Did he conceive in his mind the Transfiguration or the vision on the rooftop or bringing the gospel–what gospel?–to Gentiles? These were all things that were “beyond all that we ask or think.”

But in the course of experiencing all those things, Simon had to hear some unwanted words:

  • Truly I tell you, a rooster will not crow until you have denied me three times.–John 13:38
  • So, couldn’t you stay awake with me one hour?–Matthew 26:40
  • Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns.–Matthew 16:23

If Simon had not opened himself to the things that were beyond all he could ask or think, if he had not gone beyond the song of fools, then he would have remained forever Simon and never Peter. The rebuke of the wise made him a rock on which Christ could establish his church.

Getting in Tune

And so the question that I need to ask myself today and that you should ask yourself is, what words to you heed most readily? Do you welcome the rebuke of the wise, or do you sing along to the song of fools.

The song of fools is much more pleasing to the ear. It will tell you that you should have all those possessions and liberties that you really want. It’ll assure you that you’re just great the way you are.

The rebuke of the wise hurts. It tells us that we aren’t “all that.” It points out our vanities and selfishness. It grates on the ear in a way that the smooth sound of the fool’s song doesn’t.

But only those rebukes will help us to grow to be more like Jesus. I surely don’t have to tell you what the song of the fool will help you grow toward.