Ecclesiastes 7:1–4 (NKJV)
1 A good name is better than precious ointment, And the day of death than the day of one’s birth; 2 Better to go to the house of mourning Than to go to the house of feasting, For that is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart. 3 Sorrow is better than laughter, For by a sad countenance the heart is made better. 4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, But the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
The last couple weeks have brought me face to face with death and given me several opportunities to go to the house of mourning. Yesterday I officiated a memorial service for Andrea Lundgren’s mom who passed away suddenly last week and this week I travel to Pennsylvania for the funeral of my friend Gregg Strawbridge who died suddenly of a heart attack at age 57.
Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes that as difficult as it is to face the death of loved ones and friends, there is a great deal of wisdom to be gained in the house of mourning. “Better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting,” he writes. It is the one who takes time to consider his mortality who will grow in wisdom. So he writes that, “Sorrow is better than laughter for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” As challenging as facing death is, facing it imparts to us wisdom – and Solomon offers two central pieces of wisdom in this text.
First, the house of mourning reminds us that our character is more important than our comfort. “A good name is better than precious ointment,” he writes, “And the day of death than the day of one’s birth.” It is far better to seek character than comfort, better to have endured hardship and become wise than to avoid discomfort and remain a fool. At the end of our lives, all our comforts are gone. But what remains is the testimony of our character. Consequently, Solomon tells us, “the day of death [is better] than the day of one’s birth.” At the beginning of our race, when we are born, it is impossible to tell what sort of person we shall be. But when the race is over, when we rest in our graves, then our lives reveal what we valued and what type of people we were.
So what of you? How will you be remembered? Have you been scrambling to get comfortable and neglecting your character? Have you been obsessed with your own cares and oblivious to the needs of others? Have you neglected the worship and service of your Creator? Have you decided to give up on your marriage oaths and divorce your spouse? Have you been consumed with bitterness and anger and frustration? Have you driven others away from you because you are so ungrateful? Then take heed: your character is far more important than your comfort.
Second, the house of mourning imparts wisdom because it reminds us that death is the end of us all. Millions of men and women have preceded us and millions more will follow; we shall all die. So why is it important to take this to heart? There is one simple reason: when we die, we will stand before our Creator and be judged for what we have done here on earth. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “It is appointed unto men to die once and, after this, to face judgment” (Heb 9:27). And the sober reality is this: none of us has character sufficient to face that judgment. We could spend every day in the house of mourning and never become holy enough to stand before God. Why? Because we have sinned, and our sins have separated us from God. Your sins, your character deficiencies, have separated you from God. Your greed, your lust, your anger, your covetousness, your selfishness, your bitterness, your worship of other gods – these things have separated you from your Creator and no matter how diligently you develop your character it will never be sufficient to deliver you in the day of judgment.
Your only hope, therefore, is a Savior. You need Someone to deliver you from judgment, Someone to endure the consequences of your sins so that when you die, which you certainly shall, you may be accepted by God rather than judged by Him. And now, hear the Good News: God has sent His only begotten Son to be that Savior. He has sent His Son, Jesus, to live a perfect life and to endure the punishment that we deserve in order that we might be reconciled to Him. The Bible declares that God “made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21).
The house of mourning, therefore, is the house of wisdom. Through the death of loved ones and friends, God our Creator reminds us that character counts far more than comfort. But He also reminds us that our own character is deficient and that the only way we can face death and judgment with hope is if we place all our hope in the flawless character and sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Sorrow is better than laughter, For by a sad countenance the heart is made better.” Reminded of these things, let us kneel and confess our sins, acknowledging our need of God’s mercy that we may have hope in the face of death. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the public confession found in your bulletin.