Question: "What does it mean that there is a proper time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)?"
Answer: Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 is a well-known passage that deals with the balanced, cyclical nature of life and says that there is a proper time for everything:
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.”
In this passage, the Preacher says that there is a time for every matter in life. He illustrates this truth by juxtaposing opposites: fourteen pairs of contrasting activities as examples of how life is comprised of various seasons. A straightforward reading of the passage reveals several concepts:
First, the timing of our activities is important. Killing someone (Ecclesiastes 3:8) is generally considered evil and a crime, but that may change during a time of war, when defending one’s country can be considered a noble act. Dancing (verse 4) may be appropriate during a time of celebration, but it would not be appropriate for a funeral. Both our actions and the timing of our actions are important to God.
Second, these seasons in which certain pursuits are proper are appointed by God. His plan for life involves a variety of experiences and activities. Weeping may be part of life, but life is not all weeping; laughter has a place, too (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Construction is good in its time, but sometimes deconstruction is necessary (verse 3).
A key to this passage is found a few verses later: “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The proper activity at the right time, bringing about God’s purposes, is a beautiful part of God’s overall plan. A tapestry, viewed from the back, seems a chaotic and unlovely work; but the maker of the tapestry has a wise purpose for the placement of each thread.
Third, Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 serves as a bridge between the first two chapters and the section that follows. People are to accept each day as a gift from the hand of God (2:24–26). Why? Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 explains it is because God has a reason and a time for all things. People may be ignorant of God’s timing (3:9–11), but they are called to enjoy life in the present (3:12–13) and trust in God’s sovereignty (3:14–15).
God offers much wisdom in the saying, “There is a time for everything, / and a season for every activity under the heavens.” God is sovereign. Our activity in this world is meaningful as we rely on His wisdom, His timing, and His goodness.