“My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad. My inmost being will exult when your lips speak what is right. Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.” (Proverbs 23:15-18)
I wonder how many times a day we hear the word “hope.” “I hope you will come back.” “I hope you will understand.” “I hope to God…”(whatever that means, probably nothing to do with God). People throw around the word “hope” casually, as if it were an unimportant concept. However, biblical hope is not a casual concept but crucial assurance of our security in Jesus Christ now and in the life to come. (See Romans 5:1-5; 8:24-25; 15:12-13.) Christians are citizens of heaven now and for all eternity; this world is not our spiritual home. In Paul’s brilliant argument about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (v. 19) In Proverbs 23:18 the writer speaks of a future and a hope that is not of this world but is with God. As parents we need to teach and prepare our children for a future with God, to have heavenly hope in their hearts.
Lately, it seems like I am working backward through our passages, as I am today. Perhaps it’s because I am studying Ecclesiastes with “Living Live Backwards; How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End,” by David Gibson. He writes, “The big issue of ‘where am I going with my life?’ tends to be micromanaged inside our heads. Usually it’s simply: ‘How am I doing today?’…the one person I am always acutely aware of is me…The Preacher offers a whole new way of living. He longs to see it absorbed into our bloodstream so that we experience a radical change in the orientation of our hearts and the way we see the world. He gives us a question to free us from ourselves: How are we doing? We, not I.” *
The “We” includes everyone in our lives—our “neighbors”—for this devotion, most particularly our children. But we cannot design, manage, or control our children’s hearts, so joy in our “inmost being” at what comes out of their mouths (v. 16) can only be a result of what God does in their hearts. We are, however, called to teach and influence their hearts, so that “we” are in the best possible position to have a hope and a future with Christ. Teaching them not to envy sinners is crucial for their ability to put their hope in God, not in the world. Many unbelievers and scoffers are successful, popular, and wealthy. Perhaps teaching children from the book of Ecclesiastes will help them realize that their hope in this world is futile. “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind. Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.” (Ecclesiastes 4:4-8)
What would your children say if you asked them, “In what do you hope for your future?” Are you brave enough to hear their answer? Will you pray to God for the courage to ask and also pray for a wise, biblical response?
* Gibson, David, “Living Life Backwards,” Chapter 4 (Ecclesiastes 4), Crossway, 2017.