A time to search and a time to give up (Ecclesiastes 3:6)?

Through fourteen diverging events listed in Ecclesiastes 3:1–8, King Solomon illustrates that God has an appointed time and purpose for every activity and season of human existence. There is “a time to search and a time to give up,” he contends in Ecclesiastes 3:6. This couplet seems to address the times and seasons of life that are beyond our control.

The Bible says there is a time to search for wisdom, knowledge, and understanding (Proverbs 2:4–6). We are to seek the Lord, His strength, and His presence with all of our hearts (1 Chronicles 16:11; Isaiah 55:6; Jeremiah 29:13). There are appropriate times to search for answers to prayer persistently and earnestly: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7–8).

But there is also a time to give up seeking and be content despite our losses (1 Timothy 6:6; Hebrews 13:5). The apostle Paul told the Philippians, “Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7). He had “learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11–13).

When we consider “a time to search and a time to give up,” as it relates to our material possessions and the things we try to hold onto in this life, we can’t help but think of Jesus’ challenge in Matthew 10:39: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (ESV).

The faithful follower of Christ will give up His search for anything and everything that might distract him from his real treasure (Matthew 6:19–21). Like Paul, he will “consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). In “giving up” our earthly search, we find our true worth and purpose; we gain everlasting joy and eternal reward (Isaiah 35:10).

In Luke 15, Jesus presents the parables of the Lost Sheep (see also Matthew 18:12–14), the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son, revealing the relentless love in God’s heart and His steadfast mission to seek and save lost souls. God wants no one to die and be lost for all eternity without Him (Luke 19:10). He desires everyone to repent and be saved (2 Peter 3:9). Yet the sobering truth is, there are times when even God must give up His search. When Judah stubbornly persisted in idolatry, the Lord told His prophet, “Pray no more for these people, Jeremiah. Do not weep or pray for them, and don’t beg me to help them, for I will not listen to you” (Jeremiah 7:16, NLT; see also Jeremiah 11:14).

“A time to search and a time to give up” reminds us that some things in life are within our control while others are not. We may work hard, scraping and saving to buy a home, only to lose it when the housing market crashes. We may wait years to find the love of our life and then lose that person in a tragic accident. Indeed there are times to seek, but there are also times to give up and lose. We must remember to hold everything in this life loosely.

After Job had lost everything, he still trusted God. Of the Lord, Job said, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). As an old man, Joseph looked back on all his losses and saw that not one of them, including the evil done to him, had prevented God’s purpose from being accomplished. While others had meant to harm Joseph, God had used every season of loss to fulfill His good plan (Genesis 50:15–21).

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