Audio Worship "God's Gift of Time" Ecclesiastes 3.1-22

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1573

February 12, 2023

Ecclesiastes 3.1-22              Click here for Audio Worship

Dr. Ed Pettus (This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)


“God’s Gift of Time”


3.1For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 7a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

9What gain has the worker from his toil? 10I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man. 14I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away. 16Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. 17I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. 18I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. 19For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? 22So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?


  • A Proper Perspective


Ecclesiastes sets us up to look at our lives in a serious manner. Life is short in the sense that our time on this earth is short. Life is but a breath in both the sense of time but also in that life is elusive. We cannot truly get a grip on vapor or on a breath. And yet time is odd because sometimes it seems time slows down. We await the test results from the doctor and it seems to take forever. But that hour with something that is really fun goes by too quickly. Those times, good and bad, when we look back at them, they both challenge us to see our time on this earth with eyes of faith, eyes recognizing the giver of time, God. All of our pursuits in pleasure and all our times in pain as but a flash in the scheme of things. As we grow older those times fly by even faster. We have all said something to the effect, “Oh, yeah, just five years ago this happened,” but when we look back at the calendar it was actually ten years ago or more.

Ecclesiastes invites us to see the whole picture, the span of our lives even if we cannot know when it will end. In chapter three we look over the seasons within the whole. We see that there are certain times that define life. Seasons come and go, not just winter, spring, summer, and fall, and especially not football, basketball, or baseball seasons. But seasons of life that define building a life in our time on earth. Seasons that we sometimes make and sometimes they make us. A season of education is a time to build for our future work and career. A season of illness may invade our plans and in the suffering we might grow to new levels of faith.



  • Seasons of Life


Ecclesiastes 3.1-8 moves us from looking at the whole of our lives and into the seasons within the whole. There is a time for all things. And it begins with the whole of life, a time to be born and a time to die. We are all under this time, some longer than others, but all of us limited in our time on the earth. This section of the chapter is perhaps the most notable in all of Ecclesiastes. It is often read at funerals for believers and non-believers alike. Part of the reason is because of its poetic nature and rhythm that reflects all of life. The opening words, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven,” give us pause to reflect on the seasons and matters of life that come with our years. All who have experienced many seasons and times will often advise those younger about what to expect throughout the seasons of life. This is especially true when that first child is expected and those who have had a season of rearing children will talk about how it changes your life in many ways and brings certain seasons of life to light in new ways.

Verses 2-8 then bring a variety of poles into play. These are the very things that can come between birth and death, between the beginning and the end. We can notice that some are expressed in opposites while others in that one is better than the other depending on the circumstance. Those that oppose one another like a time to kill and a time to heal or a time to love and a time to hate. These are opposed to one another and they could represent a pattern of good times and bad times. They might also speak to each having an appropriate combination, for instance a time to love one another and to hate sin. Love and hate are coupled in a way that demonstrates the tough love we have to sometimes give if we are to truly love.

Other pairs are not as dramatic but find their place in appropriate times. A time to speak and a time to keep silent are not necessarily good or bad, either way, but one or the other may be the best to offer. One question I received often is that of addressing a funeral. People are unsure what to say but feel like they have to say something to those who grieve loss. I encourage that it is okay to remain silent even when we feel we must say something. Sometimes our presence with those who grieve is more important than any words we could possibly offer.

In all these seasons of life we may have to determine what is most appropriate – casting stones away or gathering them up, planting or plucking up, to keep or toss out. These are not good times or bad times necessarily, but wise decisions to make throughout our lives. How many of us have gone through our homes and thought about tossing out some of the clutter? This might be the season! Certainly our children do not want to be burdened with all our stuff that we want to keep but they will toss out after we reach the end of our time.

Between the start and the finish of our lives, there are seasons of life that last a short time or a long time. Seasons that may return off and on. Seasons that require discernment and through them all a call to faith and hope as we navigate all the seasons given us. These seasons are also tied to relationships we share and cherish as we relate to one another in the context of family or friendships or fellowship with other believers. These seasons reflect times to celebrate in those relationships as well as times to grieve with one another. The seasons also show us that life is filled with ups and downs, with beauty and with flaws. Life is not a monotonous steady flow, but has its peaks and valleys. At the heights are planting, building up, healing, dancing, laughing, but on the other end of the spectrum are the valleys – plucking up, mourning, weeping, losing. This is our life, filled with the good and the bad, with righteousness and sin, with wholeness and frailty. There is a time for all things and yet, as David Gibson writes, verse 9 gives us a sucker punch – What gain has the worker from his toil?



  • God’s Gift of Time


What gain has the worker from his toil? What is the purpose of it all? Some have seasons that tend to weigh heavier on the negative side while others toward the positive. Nothing is equitable. It just isn’t fair, this life we are given. Even worse when the Psalms recognize that the wicked seem to get all the goodies while the righteous suffer through life. We read those first eight verses at a funeral but you will probably never hear from verse nine. What gain has the worker from his toil? What gain is there lying in the coffin? It is true, you cannot take it with you.

But we read on and see that Ecclesiastes is moving us beyond this life on earth, beyond the seasons that will one day end here. Ecclesiastes is telling us that theses seasons are not all there is. There is a time to come and it is actually a good time even when we call it a time of judgment. Verse 17, I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work.” Yes, there is a time to be born and a time to die, and between those times are the seasons of life, but there is more to come. More after death. More to come, because while our lives are bound by time that is limited on this earth, the good news is that God is not bound by time. God is not limited to time as we are. God has set another time to judge what happens between our birth and death. Life may be but a breath, but what we do and what we say and how we live matters beyond this life because all will be judged on that day, the day of the Lord.

God has set something in motion that is beyond our comprehension. And we see that through these latter verses in Ecclesiastes 3. Things like verse 14, “I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.” God is not limited as we are, for what God does endures forever. When our lives are over on this earth, nothing of this earth will go on, but whatever God does endures forever! And God has put this very understanding within our hearts, verse 11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” There is within all who trust in God a sense of eternity but there is also the mystery of what God has done from beginning to end.

All of this has been revealed to us in God’s time. God’ gift of time has been given through the seasons of life that we might do what is right and good and blessed and loving in our time. He has given us time through Jesus Christ. And speaking of time, Romans 5.6, For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” At the right time! In God’s timing, Christ died that we might live. That we might live the seasons of life in righteousness and in hope for the time to come when we will be judged through the blood of Christ who died for us and our sins. We do not have the same vision as God, from beginning to end, but we have a yearning in our hearts for what God has given us, the timing of salvation in Christ, the gift to redeem our time as Paul writes,

(Ephesians 5.15-17) 15Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Ecclesiastes is pointing us toward this kind of life, that understands our limits in time, to make the most of the limited time we have and to spend our time in the will of God and in the things that truly endure, because, life is short, life is elusive, and there is nothing new under the sun. Therefore, live for Christ. We know that we have little if any control over the seasons of life. Times come upon us for good or bad and we have no control. But Ecclesiastes reminds us time and time again that there is more to come, more beyond this life, and even more in this life because God, at the right time, gave His Son to die for us that we might know more than this life, more than the toils of our labor, but to know life in eternity. And the gospel reveals that the kingdom of heaven is not just beyond this life or only in heaven, but near, at hand, even Jesus Christ Himself.

God has given us time, the seasons of life, as well as the promise of life eternal through Jesus Christ. The perspective of Ecclesiastes is just that, one that sees life as a time to be born and a time to die, a time for many things under the sun, but also a sense of eternity in our hearts. God is bigger than our limitations of time and God has established much more for His people than the good times and bad times that we experience here. Let us set our hearts and minds toward God’s timing, with the vision of more to come. And may that vision drive us to tell others of Jesus and what God has done at the right time, that Jesus died on the cross and was raised to life so that we too might live, in the seasons of this life and in eternal life. That is the good news of the gospel and the good news of Ecclesiastes. Amen.


*This sermon series reflects the work of David Gibson in his book Living Life Backward.