The Whole Duty of Man

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"Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

In chapter 1, Solomon essentially states that life, in general, is meaningless. He then goes on to discuss and debate various issues about life and comes to an end where he just says - let's just pull everything together and conclude with this summary of the whole matter: "Fear God and keep his commandments", that is our appointed duty. Then he gives us a good reason why we must do this. "For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil."

So what does the phrase "The whole duty of man" mean? When he became King of Israel, Solomon asked God for wisdom in how to govern his people. God was pleased that he asked for this rather than earthly riches like fame and glory for himself. His God-given wisdom caused him to write in this book. To tell us to look at our lives as a whole, and to figure out what is the point of it all - What is the point in our existence? I remember thinking this in my teens before I became a Christian. Why all the studying? Why do I need to get a job? I expect in the future I'll get married and have kids, etc. etc. I guess some reading this may have had the same thoughts, or have this on their minds even now.

Solomon is stating very dogmatically that, despite all what men may say, there is a clear purpose for life. The concepts of materialism, fame and fortune do not drive God's purpose for us in this world. As he says earlier "For man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 8:15) This is the view which many people hold, but Solomon was not advocating this lifestyle. He was debating about what men thought - living a life with no view to eternal issues and God. His conclusion was an emphatic NO.

What do you think is our purpose in life?

There are many verses in the bible that sum things up in a similar way to Solomon. But who better to turn to than the Lord Jesus Christ himself, someone far grander than even Solomon in all his glory! In Luke, Jesus was asked by someone in the crowd to tell his brother to share his inheritance with him. Jesus replies to him “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” and he said to them (the crowd) “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable..... " (Luke 12:14-15)

The parable is a story about a successful businessman and farmer who amasses more crops than he knows what to do with. The man decides to tear down his barns and build larger ones, telling himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry”. We might say he wanted to retire early and enjoy his savings. Jesus concludes by adding these sober words, "But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Jesus is saying instead of accumulating wealth to spend on earth, we should be gaining riches towards God for our eternal lives sake. But why should we do that? Solomon tells us it's because God's judgement on mankind is coming. "For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:14)

This is something that man simply doesn't want to hear these days. Man would rather believe God does not exist, or if he does exist, that he will accept everyone into heaven regardless of what they've done. This is not what the bible says. It is consistent and agrees throughout. The Apostle Paul said this "We make it our aim to please him (God)." Why? "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of (Jesus) Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil." (2 Cor 5:10)

Again, the book of Hebrews says this "It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). These verses echo the exact words of Solomon - a judgement is coming.

The bible says these things only to warn us, our lives will be judged. That there is a heaven to be gained and a hell to be avoided. It tells us we are all sinners, and unless we turn to God in repentance we will perish. It tells us in no uncertain terms, so on that day, we will be left without an excuse. The good news is this, if we repent of our sins and believe in Jesus Christ and his atoning death and sacrifice on the cross, we will be saved on that day. The same portion of Hebrews goes on to say this "so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him." (Hebrews 9:28)

Solomon said to  "Fear God and keep his commandments" That's an Old Testament way of saying fear - beware of the coming judgement of God. Believe his word and trust in his salvation through and in Jesus Christ. This is his command for all of us today.  What are you looking for in life? Is it only to please self, or to seek after God? Know this as fact, the judgement is coming. Are you prepared for that day?


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This wonderful book looks at the person and work of Christ, from his preexistence and eternal Sonship, through his incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension, to his return. It considers and applies the theological significance of all this, looking especially at how all our salvation and life is found in Christ.

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J I Packer's modern classic on how we can know God. This book is normally in the top 10 list for all true bible believing Christians.

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In true Christianity God’s revealed truth is believed, it is lived out, and it is felt. It impacts the soul. If we forget this we will eventually lose biblical religion altogether.

Prayer - Experiencing awe and intimacy with God Timothy Keller

Keller begins by giving a theological underpinning of what prayer actually is - both conversation and encounter with a personal God - before describing how we can learn to pray, and then deepen that prayer.

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The ESV Study Bible, Personal Size compresses all the features of the award-winning ESV Study Bible into a smaller size for easier carrying.


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Gerard Hemmings was born in London and was raised a Roman Catholic. He was saved at the age of 17. He graduated from university with a degree in Biology.

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