Imagine a situation where you, as a mature Christian to whom younger ones look up, are about to say goodbye to a young friend that you aren’t going to see for a while. During your many recent, long conversations, you’ve honestly discussed life. In your heart, you would truly love to see them live a good life in the eyes of God, making right choices while faced with the many decisions that confront us during our teenage and young adult years. As you prepare to leave, you want to give them one piece of brief, yet memorable advice. What would you say?
By the end of Ecclesiastes, Solomon has given a lot of advice on how to live a good life. He has covered many subjects – how best can he summarize it all? Not just as an older man, but as a wise, older man, who wants to see others avoid the traps into which he fell, what should be his parting counsel? “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Eccl 12:13, NKJV). It’s simple. It’s concise. And it’s meaningful. This will do you good for your whole life.
To fear God is to fear doing anything that will displease Him. Not because He will immediately send out a thunderbolt of His wrath upon you, but because He is your God and you love Him. To fear God is to hold God in the highest regard, to respect Him so much that your greatest concern is pleasing Him. Someone that is controlled by the fear of man is always concerned with how to impress or please a fellow man or woman; that’s a snare, according to Proverbs 29:25. Someone who is governed by the fear of the Lord is conscious of pleasing God. To know what pleases and displeases someone requires really knowing that person. To properly fear God you must get to know God, so you must spend time listening to His Word and learning from the whole counsel of God.
The call to fear God and keep His commandments is not cold, harsh, or legalistic. In fact, both concepts are intertwined with love (e.g., John 14:15). Solomon’s journal of Ecclesiastes repeatedly tells us to enjoy life, so he is not now going to summarize his message by advocating drudgery and shallow living. On the contrary, he says “this is man’s all” (the word “duty” is supplied by translators in the KJV & ESV, but aptly left out in the NKJV). This is the abundant life that the Good Shepherd came to provide (John 10). This is a young believer at her best – living beyond the sun, experiencing the good life, enjoying a meaningful life. “Fear God and keep His commandments.” Admittedly, it will involve missing out on some things. But remember Solomon tried all those things and concluded, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Eccl 1:14). So at the end of the road, instead of looking back on life with regret at wasted opportunities and mistaken pursuits, you can look back with the satisfaction of a good life. “Fear God and keep His commandments.”