A Lot Of Funerals Lately

Someone lamented to me the other day that it seems like he has been attending an inordinate number of funerals lately. While it may seem true, we need to remember that funerals are not just opportunities to mourn, but to learn and mature. Death serves a grand purpose, meant by God to elucidate the truth of our mortality, the brevity of life, and the ultimate judgment that comes upon every person. So if I must attend funerals, how can I walk away from the experience a better person? The writer of Ecclesiastes had much to say on this in chapter seven.

Remember your reputation

“A good name is better than a good ointment” (7:1). There is much to be said about having a great name. A name can be, first of all, the sign of your reputation, which precedes you into every situation. Having an honest name in business or in politics is beneficial in advancing status or prestige. One commentary says, “Odorous unguents were very precious in the mind of an Oriental, and formed one of the luxuries lavished at feasts and costly entertainments. . . It was a man’s most cherished ambition to leave a good reputation, and to hand down an honorable remembrance to distant posterity” (Pulpit Commentary, Vol. IX, W.J. Deane, 156). “And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.” This phrase is meant to tell us that on the day we die, there is a remembrance of all the great things we have done in life, whereas our day of birth is filled with no such recollections. A newborn has none of the accomplishments of an elder saint who leaves a good name behind.

Funerals are a learning experience

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart” (7:2). It is often stated that funerals help us appreciate life more. Indeed, when we spend time with those who are mourning the loss of a loved one, it teaches us in the most poignant way to value life and not waste it with frivolity or grudge-holding (Ephesians 5:15-16).

“The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure” (7:4). If it is more fulfilling and worthwhile to mourn, than a wise person is found in the house of mourning. Only fools spend all of their time playing, laughing, and engaging in senseless frivolity.

Your end is better than your beginning

“The end of a matter is better than its beginning; patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit” (7:8). The end of a matter is better because of its perspective. When all has been said and done, and all testimony given, it is at this point that accurate judgments can be made. In almost every facet of life it is better to be patient and let things naturally run their course. Resistance to this truth leads only to vanity and heartache.           

Don’t waste life on bitterness

“Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools” (7:9). Anger leads us to do irrational things – usually what we will later regret. This is why Paul put it so eloquently when wrote, “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth” (Colossians 3:8).

“Do not say, ‘Why is it that the former days were better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this” (7:10). Miserable people always think the days before were better that present. What a person like this fails to realize, though, is that every age has its ups and downs. The past was never as perfect as he remembers it, and the present is probably not as bad as his pessimistic attitude perceives it. We need to be careful not to dwell too much on “the good ol’ days” because those days are gone. Instead of dreaming about what was, we have an obligation to improve what is and, most importantly, to press on to what will be (Philippians 3:10ff).