'The Whole Duty of Man'
“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, KJV).
The last part of this verse has been a challenge for translators. In Hebrew it would literally read, “this is the whole of man.” Not surprisingly, various Bible versions have differed slightly in rendering the sense of the phrase. And a brief look at how they render it leads me to three observations about the need to “fear God and keep His commandments.”
A Purpose for the Whole of Mankind
In some translations, to “fear God and keep His commandments” is expressed as “the duty of all mankind” (ESV margin, ASV margin), something that “is for all humanity” (HCSB) or “applies to every person” (NASB).
Every person has the duty to acknowledge God and do His will. And every person will answer to God for either embracing or rejecting that duty (Ecclesiastes 12:14). The New Testament underscores this by stating that God’s plan of salvation is for everyone. Jesus died for “the whole world” (1 John 2:2). God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). No matter who you are, you need to serve God. No matter who you are, your Father wants your love. It is why He created you. Which leads to a second thought…
Man’s Whole Purpose
A majority of translations read, “this is the whole duty of man” (KJV, ASV, RSV, NIV, ESV). Even better is the NKJV: “this is man’s all.” “Fear God and keep His commandments” sums up what life is all about. It answers the question, “Why are we here?” It expresses our very reason for existing.
You were made in God’s image to have fellowship with Him. No matter what you may accomplish in life, if you aren’t serving the Lord, then you have missed out on the main thing. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37).
Serving God is our whole purpose. If we fail to grasp that, then our lives will be spent wandering aimlessly in search of meaning. Which leads to one more thought…
A Purpose That Makes Man Whole
I don’t think this is the precise meaning of our text, but it is certainly one of the messages of the book of Ecclesiastes. Wise, powerful, wealthy Solomon tried everything under the sun to find happiness and fulfillment. He found that, apart from a relationship with God, it was all pointless. Unless a man serves God, he is less than what he was meant to be. He is not whole. Something is missing. That missing element makes all the difference in life.
Ray Stedman wrote:
The secret to wholeness is to “Fear God and keep His commandments.” It is to discover the secret of being a whole person. Who does not want that? We desire to be whole, not broken, fragmented, easily upset, erratic, going off in all directions at once. But we want to be stable, controlled, balanced, whole people. Here is the secret of it. (Is This All There Is To Life? p. 186)
“Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.” Moffatt’s Translation reads, “that is everything for every man.” Is it everything to you?