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When Common Sense Is No Longer Common

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Ecclesiastes 10; 11; 12:1–8

Solomon warns his readers of the dangers of foolishness, the greatest of which is ignoring God. Speaking from experience, he urges all to put off sin now; and to those still in their youth, he says trust the Lord now. This is only common sense.


When Common Sense Is No Longer Common

Ecclesiastes 10:1–12:8


I have heard it said that common sense is no longer common—that you just cannot find much of it around today. And I believe that. But I also believe that common sense has never been common to man. And in this Wisdom Journey in the book of Ecclesiastes, we will find out why.

Here in chapter 10, Solomon is going to use the terms foolish, folly, and fool nine different times.[1] All three terms describe someone who is lacking common sense and lives apart from God.

Solomon opens this chapter with an illustration that might strike us as a bit odd today. He writes in verse 1, “Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor”—or an honorable reputation.                                     

Now you might think that back in these ancient days, nobody wore perfume. Well, we have discovered today that in the ancient world the making of perfume was a highly skilled science. In the prophet Daniel’s generation in Babylon, the wise men, the magi, were the ones in charge of protecting the best formulas for perfume. Royalty during the days of Queen Esther had merchants scouring the known world, looking for the latest fragrance, the latest cologne, the best perfume.

Of course, the most expensive bottle of perfume could instantly become worthless if some insect got into the formula and fouled the whole bottle. Solomon is making a connection we do not necessarily like to make, but common sense tells us it is true. Just as a little dead fly can ruin expensive perfume, so a little foolishness can cast a shadow over a good reputation.[2]

Let me put it this way: small sins can foul up a godly reputation. Just a little lie, just a little padding of the expense account, just a little exaggeration on the resume or on social media, just a little folly, a little foolishness, can add up to some big problems for somebody’s reputation.

We see it happening among leaders in the world today—and unfortunately in the church. All of a sudden, some sin is brought to light, and what was once an aroma of integrity and dignity suddenly starts to stink with hypocrisy and deception.

I have visited people in prison—and we get letters here at Wisdom International every week from inmates—who tell their story of how it all began with just one little step of folly and foolishness.

Back in 1859, Charles Spurgeon, the famous London pastor, preached a sermon entitled “Little Sins.” In it he said this:

[Wise people] have always been afraid of little sins. … a world of iniquity [is] hidden in a single act, or thought, or imagination of sin; and hence they have avoided it … little sins lead to [big] ones.[3]

Let me warn you, beloved, now is the time to do that heart check to make sure you are as far away from folly as possible. That little fly buzzing around your mind and heart is going to ruin your life unless you deal with it.

Now let me remind you that in his later years Solomon repented of his foolish, sinful decisions. We know that from his private journal here, the book of Ecclesiastes, which Solomon is writing primarily for his own son. Solomon is now concerned for his son Rehoboam, who will soon be crowned the king of Israel.

So here in chapter 11, Solomon writes to his son in verse 9, “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth.” Again, Solomon is not trying to ruin his parade; he is encouraging his son—and all of us—to have a joyful spirit in life. In fact, learning to rejoice wherever God has you today is one of the best ways to battle those little flies of discontent and despair. 

You might be thinking, How do I do that? Well, what can you thank the Lord for right now? Make that kind of thanksgiving a daily practice. Start with something small, then work your way up! Ask the Lord to give you eyes to see His gifts, little ones and big ones. And decide, right now, that you are going to make the most of today.  

Solomon goes on to write here in verse 9, “Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes.” You could translate this, “Follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes.”[4] You’re thinking, That’s going to be dangerous. You are right, but Solomon adds this qualifier: “But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.”

In other words, Solomon is saying, “Remember that your freedom has a fence around it. There are boundaries of right and wrong, created by God. Something might be fun, but it might also be folly or foolishness. Your liberty comes with accountability. So, make sure your happiness does not violate holiness.  

Solomon then writes in verse 10: “Remove vexation from your heart; ‘vexation’ means anger and rebellion[5], and put away pain from your body [pain here refers to sin], for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.” Sin and rebellion must be removed because eventually they will lead to an empty life.  

Now as chapter 12 opens, Solomon writes from his own personal testimony:

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.” (verse 1)

Solomon is saying something some older believer might have said to you: “Before the evil days come”—a reference to the troubles and regrets of old age—“make sure you are following your creator God.” You are going to get old, and you are going to start forgetting things, but remember your Creator.

You might enjoy this story somebody sent me some time ago, about some college friends who decided they would have a reunion every fifteen years in order to stay in touch. So, fifteen years later, when they turned thirty-five, they decided to meet at the Glowing Embers Restaurant because it was conveniently located. Fifteen years later, when they were fifty, they discussed where to meet and eat a meal together, and they decided to go to the Glowing Embers Restaurant because they liked the menu. Fifteen years later at sixty-five years of age, they again met and discussed where to go eat. They all agreed on the Glowing Embers Restaurant because it was quiet and relaxing. After another fifteen years, and now at the age of eighty, they talked about where to meet, and they decided to go to the Glowing Embers Restaurant because they had never eaten there before.[6]

Well, we do tend to forget a lot of things when we get older. Solomon is telling young people that while they are still young, they need to carve into their memory some powerful truths:

  • Remember that God created you. You were planned and crafted by God with your unique abilities and even your disabilities.
  • Remember that no matter who you are, you are accountable to God, both now and at the end of your life.
  • Remember, you only have one life, so don’t spend it in folly and foolishness. Don’t spend your life chasing flies that will only spoil the aroma of a godly reputation.

“Remember . . . your Creator in the days of your youth.” The word Solomon uses for “remember” here in verse 1 means more than simply recalling something—bringing something to mind. It carries the idea of making a commitment or decision that leads to action.[7] So, no matter how old you are, dedicate your life today to walking with God—that is the most commonsense decision you will ever make!

Join me in our next study as we close out this private journal of Solomon and learn from his final words of wisdom.

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Satisfied (Victor Books, 1990), 115.

[2] Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge (Insight for Living, 1983), 99.

[3] Quoted in David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth (Integrity Publishers, 2004), 251.

[4] William D. Barrick, Ecclesiastes (Christian Focus, 2011), 190.

[5] Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge (Insight for Living, 1983), 117.

[6] P. J. Alindogan, “Communicate and Relate,” The Potter’s Jar blog, March 25, 1999.

[7] John D. Currid, Ecclesiastes (EP Books, 2016), 147.

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