Question: "What does it mean that there is a time to keep and a time to throw away (Ecclesiastes 3:6)?"
Answer: If you’ve ever sorted through your belongings for a garage sale or yard sale, you can probably relate to King Solomon’s observation in Ecclesiastes 3:6 that “there is a time to keep and a time to throw away.” This statement is part of an extended passage (Ecclesiastes 3:1–8) in which Solomon parallels fourteen positive and negative times and seasons of life. Together they represent the sum of human existence. Ultimately, Solomon concludes that God controls each moment and works out His good purposes through every experience.
“A time to keep and a time to throw away” almost certainly applies to how we deal with our personal possessions. Scripture states that nothing in this life is ours to keep forever: “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Timothy 6:7; see also Ecclesiastes 5:15; Job 1:21). Since we can’t take anything with us when we die, the focus of our existence ought not to be on acquiring things (Psalm 49:17).
The Bible reveals that everything we have comes from God (John 3:27; Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 11:12). Our heavenly Father is generous and blesses His children when they are charitable, too (Proverbs 22:9). Jesus taught this principle of giving: “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back” (Luke 6:38, NLT).
The same rule is applied in Proverbs 11:24–25: “Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed” (NLT).
Even though generosity is the rule, the apostle Paul spoke of an appropriate “time to keep” and not give to one in need. Believers are not obligated to provide for those who are lazy, idle, and unwilling to work. Within God’s family, there should be no freeloading or expecting handouts (1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:10–12).
“A time to keep and a time to throw away” also reminds us of Jesus’ challenge in Matthew 10:39: “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matthew 10:39, NLT). There are times and occasions when getting rid of our possessions is better than keeping them. Sometimes we cling too tightly to our stuff. For this reason, Jesus warned, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).
Instead, Jesus instructed, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6:19–21, NLT).
According to Paul, our heavenly assets are the only ones worth keeping in the bank: “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life” (1 Timothy 6:17–19, NLT).
Just as sailors throw their cargo overboard to save a ship (Jonah 1:5; Acts 27:18, 19, 38), so must we jettison any sinful baggage that might keep us from eternal salvation (Matthew 5:29–30; Matthew 18:8–9; Mark 9:43–47). The devoted follower of Christ will give up anything and everything that might distract him from his real treasure. 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).
Recognizing there is “a time to keep and a time to throw away” means living with an eternal perspective. We may acquire things while on earth, but we must always be prepared to let them go.