“To everything – turn, turn, turn; There is a season – turn, turn, turn; And a time to every purpose under heaven.” Such are the words of a popular song from 1965 by the Byrds. Yet, these words are sourced from the Bible (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).
I believe that these words though well-known, are often misunderstood. Many believe that the Bible is teaching that everything on the list is approved of by God, if the time is right.
Such is not the context. Watch the words “under heaven” or the equivalent “under the sun”. These words occur some 32 times in the book. The meaning is: these are things which take place on this earth. John Waddy commented, “The words of (Ecclesiastes) 3:1-9, often quoted by poets and songwriters, must be interpreted in light of the conclusion in verse 9, ‘What profit hath he wherein he laboreth?’ The answer is none of a permanent nature. The constant changing cycles of life are illustrated by 14 common examples from daily life. In this passage he neither recommends or condemns any of the practices. Rather, he only stresses the one fact – that today’s positive act will eventually be balanced by tomorrow’s negative” (Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, p. 22). My friends all that is being said is that these are things which take place upon this earth.
1. Some will be born today, and some will die. Such is life. The natural order dictates that everyone who’s born will die. Our physical existence is not permanent.
2. Man plants plants and man plucks up what is planted. The cycle of life is not just upon man, but all living things (cf. Genesis 8:22).
3. Man kills and heals. At this moment someone somewhere in the world may be killing an animal either to put it out of its misery, or to use for food, or clothing. Someone else may be healing an animal back to health.
4. A time to break down and a time to build are also a part of this earth. Man builds building, but nothing is permanent (cf. Luke 13:3). Sometimes things need to be razed for safety reasons, or to build a more functional structure.
5. There is both weeping and mourning (John 11:35; Acts 8:2), and laughter and dancing – Joy, if you will, in this world (Job 21:11-13; Luke 15:25-27). I’ve noticed while headed to a graveside: the sadness of those who’ve suffered the loss of a relative,but outside the car window people laughing, going fishing, and enjoying life.
6. Man somewhere today may be casting away stones, maybe to clear a field or to prepare to build (Isaiah 5:2; Jeremiah 1:10); Somewhere else others may be gathering stones for use in a fence, landscape, or stone house. Man in many places are busy with “purpose”.
7. Some at this moment are taking time to embrace (cf. Acts 20:36-38); still others are refraining from embracing, perhaps because there are things to do (cf. Acts 21:1), or even out of anger. These things are likewise “purposed under heaven”.
8. There is a time to get, and a time to lose. In modern language we might say that there is “a time to buy and a time to sell” (And in any transaction someone is doing one, while someone else is doing the other).
9. There is a time to keep, and a time to cast away. Someone might hold on to something, “just in case he needs it” or for sentimental value; while another wouldn’t think twice about discarding it. “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”
10. There is a time to rend and a time to sow. Somewhere someone is toiling to make a garment (Proverbs 31:19, 21-22, 24; Mark 2:21; Acts 9:39). Someone may also be renting (Matthew 26:65; 27:51).
11. There is a time to speak, and a time for silence. Jesus spent 3½ years teaching, but then there was time for silence (Matthew 27:13-14). Why? The answer is partially found in John 12:27; It was time for His death. Also, the Jewish leaders’ hard hearts were not going to change (Matthew 12:14; Mark 11:18). Some speak when they should listen and say nothing when the should speak. A wise man will seek to reason with the reasonable, but not waste his breath on the unreasonable (Proverbs 9:8; 15:12; Matt. 7:6).
12. There are on this earth times of love and peace between people; But there are also times of war and hatred. God’s people are to strive to be peaceable people (Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14). But there are also troublemakers and warmongers in this world. [Note: Waddy listed 14 things. My list has only 12, because I combined 2 in my point 5; and I combined 2 in my point 12].
Time for Every Purpose
“Time: It is the stuff life is made of” (Ben Franklin). “Since thou are not sure of a minute, throw not away an hour” (Ben Franklin). “Our greatest danger in life is permitting the urgent things to crowd out the important” (Charles E. Hummel). “God has blessed us with time. This is why it is called the present” (Unknown). There are 7 days in a week, or 168 hours, or 10,080 minutes. Each day there are 24 hours or 1,440 minutes.
We can accomplish various purposes “under heaven”. How are we using our time? What are the things we purpose to do on this earth? Are we remembering what is eternally important? Read: Psalm 90:12; Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5.
1. There is nothing permanent “under the sun”. Read carefully and with meditation: Matthew 6:19-20, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal.”
2. While man finds time for his “purpose (desire – B.H.) under the sun,” remember that God also has time for His. Look at Ecclesiastes 3:16-17, “Moreover, I saw under the sun: In the place of judgment, wickedness was there; and in the place of righteousness, iniquity was there. I said in my heart ‘God shall judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every purpose’” (NKJV). See the connection: Man finds time for what he desires; But remember God will also find time to judge (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
3. While the things man plants, builds, makes and creates are not enduring, the things of God are. Look at Ecclesiastes 3:14, “I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever… Man should fear before Him.” Eternity is coming. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every good work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).