Audio Worship "The Gift of Life" Ecclesiastes 11.1-6

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1578

March 19, 2023

Ecclesiastes 11.1-6     Click here for Audio Worship

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


“The Gift of Life”


1Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.
2Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.
3If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth, and if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.
4He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.

5As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.

6In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.


  • Our World View


It seems over the last few decades, maybe longer, there has been a lot more talk about having a world view. Maybe it has been around forever, but I’ve noticed it more in the last 20 or so years. I think about two perspectives in relation to world view. One is the general or overall perspective of a Christian view of the world or a non-Christian view of the world. It is a broad view of the world. It certainly affects our perspective on all issues, everything from how we see politics to how we relate to food. In that sense I think of only two choices, Christian or non-Christian, at least that’s my world view! Others may have a different world view on the world view. It may boil down to republican or democrat, some world views are dominated by climate change, others may only view life through sports or entertainment. Whatever general world view is held, it also affects how we view the details of life.

This second perspective is more detailed, call is a micro-view. It involves how we might view at different periods in our life. It involves views on particular items like food, sports, career, and so forth. The perspectives we hold are influenced by how important we might think each item is in relationship to our broader perspective of the world. So let’s take one example, the fashion industry, as in clothing. To those who see through a worldly lens, fashion is critical to one’s success. One might consider living by the slogan that fashion is life. An opposite view would be something along the lines of Matthew 6 where Jesus talks about not being obsessed with what you will wear. Not to say that you cannot be a believer and have some sense of fashion! But I am giving an example of extremes, like the movie The Devil Wears Prada. The character Miranda Priestly is certainly obsessed with fashion. It is her life. (I’m curious if the movie creators realize the irony of the devil figure is named Priestly.)

But there is an exception to the world view affecting details as I have observed some folks who might have a conservative view on one thing and a liberal view on another. Some might even hold firmly to a biblical view on certain topics and then toss the Bible out on others. I guess that speaks to our sinful nature making all of us inconsistent on our views. Or maybe it is just how things develop in us over time.

All of this is to say that we all have a particular vantage point of seeing life and the world and the Bible and God. It is a perspective that may need to be examined and scrutinized from time to time to see if we are truly holding to the Christian world view or biblical world view. Even in biblical vision, too many of us are divided on some issues while united on others. The early church faced the same kind of divisions, an issue Paul addressed to the Corinthians and today speaks to the church universal. Little chance we will come together on all things before Christ returns!

Ecclesiastes invites us to look at life, to have a world view with the perspective of death. One day we will cease to exist and we have to ask ourselves how to live in light of that reality. Most of the world lives as if they will live forever on this earth. But we know better, and we know what comes after death, so that our world view can indeed be informed from the biblical awareness of life and death, and life to come.



  • I’ll Take ‘Things Nobody Knows’ for 100, Alex


There are things nobody knows. It’s true. Some of those things include predicting the future, how to do things only God can do, and how to guarantee we will not fail at any given endeavor.


Predicting the future:

The first two verses in chapter 11 speak of the future. Casting our bread into the water is probably a reference to shipping grain and other goods across the sea. It was a huge risk and sometimes took a long time to show a profit. We cannot always know what is going to happen in the future, but risks are taken and commitment is necessary in things like selling commodities across the sea. So too is our commitment to the Lord. We do not know the future, but we go “all in” because, in our reading of Ecclesiastes, we know that life is short and most of all we know that serving God is worth any risk!

The second verse speaks to our capacity for generosity because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. Give, and give again, is the exhortation, for tomorrow is not given to us. We are to trust the Lord with all our life and in this verse with our financial matters. We might look at it as investing in the kingdom of God, casting all our bread into the kingdom waters. Investing in the kingdom is about giving cheerfully and generously. It is, after all, more blessed to give than to receive. It is wisdom to treasure the things of heaven above the things of the earth and to entrust all to God.


Things only God can do:

Verse five is our target here. 5As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. We cannot know how God does everything! We can set our sails on the sailboat, but only God can bring the wind. We can look at images of the baby in the womb, but only God forms the child. In the Hebrew language it is only God who creates. We can make things, but only God creates. We use the word create loosely when talking about art or inventions, but only God creates and we do not know the intricacies of His creation. We can form clay into a shape, but only God creates the clay itself. We cannot do the things God can do. This was akin to the lie of the serpent in the garden of Eden who told Adam and Eve that they could be like God. We cannot never create something out of nothing. We cannot even know how God does that! The good news is that when we do not know, God knows.

It may be one of the most difficult things for us to admit and say “I don’t know”. I do not know how God created all things. I do not know how Jesus turned water into wine. I do not know how the Holy Spirit regenerates the heart of men and women. I do not know why bad things happen to good people. I can speak to all these issues, but in the end, I do not know all the intricate details and we do not know. Non-believers who challenge us on things not knowable think they got us when we admit that we do not know. They think that the Bible and faith do not have all the answers and therefore is of no value, but what they fail to see and admit is that there is a God who does know. As I have said many times, we do not have to know everything, for we walk by faith and not by sight.


Guarantee no failure:

Look to verse six, 6In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good. We do not know if something will succeed or fail. If you have ever planted a seed, you know this truth. Every year I sow seeds for vegetables and hope they will all succeed. I do everything I know to do to increase the odds, but in some seasons, things just do not produce. We simply cannot know and cannot guarantee that we will not face failure in the future. But, on the bright side, failure is a great teacher. We can learn from our failures and grow to make better plans and better decisions, but even then there are no guarantees.

These are some of the things we do not know, but Ecclesiastes does reveal what we do know or should know..


  • What We Do Know (or Should Know)


Oddly enough, we start back at verses 1-2. Cast your bread and give a portion. Since we do not know if we will receive a return on a venture, we are taught to give generously and cast our goods on the sea so that we will know the wisdom of viewing life and possessions as gifts to be given and not something we can truly own. David Gibson reminds us in his book Living Life Backwards, that Jesus taught this same lesson in Luke 12.16-21,


16And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”


Jesus had a copy of Ecclesiastes as well! Eat, drink, be merry. But what Ecclesiastes and Jesus warn against is seeing the things of the world as the most important things. What we do know is that it is more important to store up treasures in heaven than treasures on earth. That can be a hard lesson to learn and can be difficult to live by, but the Bible tells us over and over about the things of heaven and the things of earth and the wisest perspective toward both. Ecclesiastes is teaching that life is short, so you might want to consider giving over possessing. This is true of possession as well as life itself. It is what Jesus teaches about losing our life for the sake of the gospel in order to save it (Mark 8.34-35)! This is wisdom. This is life. This is that which brings glory to God. Knowing that tomorrow is not guaranteed, what shall we consider on all things and on life itself? The answer according to Ecclesiastes is to cast your bread on the waters and give to the nth degree.


The second thing we would be wise to know is that neither success nor failure are the ultimate goals in life. Success is not the only thing in life and failure is not the worst thing in life. We look again to verse six about sowing seeds. We certainly aim for success in sowing seed, but one of the possible lessons here is to not put all our eggs in one basket, don’t make sowing those seeds the only thing in our lives. Don’t make work your only goal. It leads to being a workaholic. Don’t make this or that your only endeavor. Live life fully because tomorrow is not promised. Life is a gift to be lived, not to be limited to success or failure on the earth or to be hampered by the inevitabilities or random occurrences of life. We do not have control over all things. We can only know that wisdom is not in the successes or failures, but actually wisdom is its own reward.


The final analysis may lead us to see that it is not necessarily in the end product, but in the journey itself. All is gift, the work, the toil, the relationships we have, the to-do lists, everything is gifted to us to see that God has given us a life to live as a gift.


  • The Gift of Life


God has given us the gift of life to enjoy every aspect of it. We get tied up in what we consider the mundane aspect of living and we set our sights on the highest experiences as if those are the only worthy times in life. But not so, says Ecclesiastes. See all things as a gift from God, and be thankful. We might be amazed when our world view turns from dreading some things in life to giving God thanks for all things in life. We might be deeply moved to have our world view transformed by seeing through the lens of the Bible and even catch a glimpse of how God sees us, a people loved and cherished and gifted with life that only God can give. This life has been given us through the life, death, and resurrection of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ and we now experience that life by the love and grace known in the Holy Spirit. We can honor God and bring glory to God by enjoying the gift of life and the gifts given in this life. We might do so by not only cheerfully proceeding through our to-do lists day by day, but also pursue that bucket list that might never happen because tomorrow is not promised. What might we do in this life knowing the end will one day come? What new perspective might we gain in seeing life as Ecclesiastes sees it, that life under the sun is filled with vanity, but that life with God, wise living is filled with gifts and joy and wisdom?

If Ecclesiastes has done nothing else for us, it certainly invites us to reflect on our life and particularly on our life in Christ. Its words invite us to consider our perspectives on life by looking at the wisdom of seeing life through knowing we will not live forever under the sun, but will live forever in God’s kingdom. That is where we shall seek to store our treasures. In that is wisdom and life. Amen.



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