The preacher (i.e. the main character of the book of Ecclesiastes) at the end of his long existential ponderings and theological philosophies arrived at a conclusion; and the conclusion was this: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man…” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
In other words, if you are a human being this message that the preacher brings is for you. The preacher was a very wise man and what he just presented is the reason for human existence under the sun. Therefore, if we want to live in accordance to our purpose we must understand the meaning of his phrase: “..Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man..”
So all of man’s purpose and duty is summed up into two major parts:
(I) Fear God
This can further be divided into two “phases” (as i refer to them).
Phase A: The fear of God that leads to salvation.
Phase B: The fear of God that leads you in the way.
In keeping with phase A of the fear of God, our anchor scripture will be: Psalms 111:10 which says,
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever”.
Phase A makes us know that our relationship and journey with God does not even begin without the fear of God. As a human, the first thing that you must realize is that you were created by God, in the image of God, and for His purpose – by God, to be like God and to be for God.
The implication is that your existence is tied inseparably to the person of God. Thus, the question you must ask is how do i get to know God? The answer would be by developing a relationship with Him but if you were to ask, “how do I begin a relationship with Him?”, a proper response would be “the fear of God”.
God is a perfect and Holy God and He created the universe with a standard of morality which are called His laws. The problem with this standard of morality is that because we as humans are born in fallen state, we are perpetually doomed to continue to break God’s laws because of our fallen desires. This breaking of God’s laws is what we call “sin” and a man who by virtue of this default fallen nature is born with continuity to break God’s laws. Such a human is called a sinner.
The fear of God is what makes a sinner realize he or she has been breaking God’s law from day one (because he was born a sinner) and so he is guilty of judgment from God for breaking His laws. When this fear of God brings the realization that your verdict before God is “guilty”, then you are ready to receive the way out from under God’s wrath.
Before I tell you what the way out “is”, I must tell you what the way out “is not”. The way out from being under God’s judgement “is not” by doing good works to “earn” your way out because according to God’s law anyone who has kept all of God’s laws but has broken just one is guilty of breaking all (James 2:10); and so, all your “good works” outside of Christ are but filthy rags before the holiness of God (Isaiah 64:6).
The way out is by repentance (making a decision to turn from your sinful ways) and by faith in Jesus (believing that His blood has power to wash away your sins), and His resurrection has the power to give you a new life (His very life and nature). For Christ is the only one in the flesh who has obeyed all of God’s laws and broken none.
Phase B: After completing phase A you have been set in the way. The Christian journey is described all through the new testament and in some parts of the old as “the way” (Act 9:1-2, 18:25-26).
Phase A shows us how the fear of God gets us “into” the way but Phase B shows us how the fear of God keeps us and guides our decisions “within” the way.
Philippians 2:12 says,
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”.
The very next verse starts with the phrase “..For it is God..”. This means it is a fear that is rooted in an understanding of God. In this case an understanding that the salvation you have received through Jesus Christ was given and is sustained by God but we have our own role to play in ensuring that what is on our inside produces works on the outside.
So “working out” your salvation in this verse does not mean that we can receive our salvation through good works (only faith in the death and ressurection of Christ can do that). It means that if you have already received salvation, you must be intentional about ensuring that the change which has occurred in your heart begins to reflect outwardly in the things you do out of gratitude to God for His saving grace. I will be explaining in more detail in the next phase.
(II) Keep His commands
The second part of God’s two fold command is above obeying God’s commands. This is possible only through love. Genuine Love for God equals obedience. John 14:15 says,
“If ye love me, keep my commandments”.
The motivation for obedience as a believer must always be love. What love does is that it propels us into a lifestyle of obedience that is also backed by a correct motive: Love.
So we see that the whole duty of man can be further boiled down to:
(i) Fear God.
(ii) Love God.
The reason why we must fear and obey (i.e love) God is stated in the verse following our main text, Ecclesiastes 12:14,
“For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”
It is possible to live a Christian life – A life of holiness and righteousness. This is the whole duty of man.