What it means to be truly human, or the whole duty of man

In our Urbanova congregation, we memorize a Bible verse each week. For this twenty-fourth week of 2019, our verse is Ecclesiastes 12.13. I also used it as the text for my message June 9.

This month at Forthright Magazine, we highlight the theme of duty. So I’d like to share the points I mentioned in my message yesterday from Solomon’s great conclusion to his book.

He wrote in verses 13-14:

Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion: Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole duty of man. For God will evaluate every deed, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Heard everything. Solomon may be referring to the reading of the book. Or his hearing might apply to all that he experienced in his life. He often refers to man’s life “under the sun,” or leaving God out of consideration. After all the possibilities of a godless life, or at least, where God is not at the center, and after all the possible ideas that man might ponder, one needs to get to the end of it all. Reach your conclusion. A reluctance to embrace the conclusion might just be a flight from the reality that the author is presenting.

This conclusion. Two phrases sum up the book’s teaching. The author went through all his experiences and through the various ideas that occurred to him during his career. Now he reaches the real point of his narrative. We ought to learn from his experience and reach even faster the real meaning of life.

Fear God. The one who thinks life is complicated, who sees the futility of the whole range of activity, who is bothered by the injustice and violence in the world, ought to run toward God and show profound reverence to the Creator, Sustainer, and Sovereign. His person, his nature, contains the satisfactory outcome of the great questions of life. Fear of God is the realization of who he is and the proper response to his desire to establish a relationship with his favorite creature.

Keep his commandments. Fear “translates into obedience,” as a Brazilian version renders it. Fear is not mere trembling, but hearing and obeying God’s commandments. These principles of fear and obedience do not belong only to the old covenant, but the New repeats and reinforces them. (See, for example, Matthew 7.21; Hebrews 5.9.) Humble submission to God’s guidance is a necessary condition to knowing and loving him.

The whole duty of man. The word “duty” is supplied by the translators. Many versions follow the KJV by inserting the word, since the original sentence is something like this: “For this is every man.” A number of recent versions try to make sense of the phrase, as it stands.

  • “for this applies to every person” (AMP)
  • “because this is for all humanity” (CSB)
  • “This is what life is all about” (CEV)
  • “for this is what it means to be human” (ISV)
  • “because this applies to every person” (NASB)
  • “For this is man’s all” (NKJV)

It’s true that our relationship with God, characterized by fear and obedience, defines what it means to be human. This is the objective of life that ought to be sought out. Ignoring this demeans and defaces humanity.

God will evaluate every deed. Solomon’s conclusion is all the more valid and urgent because of God’s ultimate judgment of our lives. We must answer to him, Hebrews 4.12-13. There will come a moment when our eternal destiny will be determined and announced by whether or not we have feared and obeyed God.

In these two verses, the author uses the Hebrew word for “all” four times. He’s telling us, this is it, folks. Here’s the bottom line.* You might want to make this your mission declaration. Make this your base.

So let us be truly human by doing our whole duty so that we might know God now and be unafraid on the day of judgment.

*NET Bible notes.

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