The Whole Duty of Man
Although it may seem like a strange book, Ecclesiastes is more relevant than ever. Many today are looking for satisfaction in possessions, work, family, success, and good things—yet things that don’t ultimately satisfy. At the conclusion of Ecclesiastes, we read of our ultimate satisfaction, “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (12:13)
The Bible uses the word “fear” at least three hundred times in reference to God. To fear God is good. It is a holy fear. It brings wisdom, joy, rest, and life.
“In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.” Proverbs 14:26-27
“The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.” Proverbs 19:23
“Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commands!” Psalm 112:1
To fear the Lord is to be like the disciples who feared for their lives in the midst of a terrible storm at sea. After seeing Jesus calm the storm with just His words, they stood amazed and in awe. “And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?’” (Mark 4:41).
The Bible repeatedly calls people to fear God. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus warned, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
To fear God is to live in the reality of His holiness, His sovereignty, and His judgement of sin. It is to love God, respect Him, adore Him, reverence Him, hold Him in awe, and worship Him.
According to Ecclesiastes 12:13, it is the duty of man to fear God and keep His commandments. It is not possible to truly love God without keeping His commandments. In 1 John 5:3, John tells us that God’s commandments are not burdensome to those who love Him.
Do you find the commandments of God burdensome? Or do you delight in keeping His law? Do you say you love God but then run from obedience?
Jesus tells us four times in John 14 that this love is of such a nature that it results in the keeping of His word.
Verse 15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Verse 21: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.”
Verse 23: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.”
Verse 24: “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”
One thing to notice is that loving Jesus is not the same as keeping His commandments. Keeping His word is the result of loving Him, not the same as loving Him. Loving Jesus is not a matter of doing good or excellent things. It’s a matter of delighting in an excellent Savior. Jesus says doing excellent things (“keeping my word”) is the result of delighting in the excellent Savior. It is a result of our love for Him.
He is interested in what comes out of the heart; our actions will show what is in our hearts. If we delight in the Saviour and keeping His commandments, it will show.
Jesus Christ addressed this in a parable about a servant who does only what his master demands (Luke 17:7-8). Jesus posed this question to His disciples: “Does he [the master] thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:9-10).
Jesus said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). Those two great commandments summarize the ultimate righteousness that God is creating in His children.
This level of love for God and our fellow human beings exceeds what any person is capable of having and fully expressing without the divine help from God through the power of His Holy Spirit. It is a level of love that is in direct opposition to the selfish tendencies of our fleshly nature (James 1:13-15).
Ecclesiastes says “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (12:13) It is our duty to fear God and keep His commandments, and when we truly love God the way we should, it will become our delight and will not be burdensome.