Question: "What does it mean that there is a time to break down and a time to build up (Ecclesiastes 3:3)?"

Answer: King Solomon points out that human existence is a progressive cycle of beginnings and endings, births and deaths, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. Through a series of fourteen contrasting times and seasons of life, he concludes that God is sovereign over them all (Ecclesiastes 3:1–8). God deliberately designs each moment to create the beautiful tapestry of our lives (Ecclesiastes 3:11). As believers, we must trust Him to mix the fibers and strands according to His good purpose (Romans 8:28).

Paired with “a time to kill, and a time to heal” is “a time to break down, and a time to build up” (Ecclesiastes 3:3, ESV). In the original Hebrew, the words translated “break down” mean “to cause to fall or collapse, tear down, pull down.” The contrasting term “build up” refers to “develop, enlarge, construct, or increase by degrees or in stages.”

Solomon’s “time to break down” and “time to build up” refer to the processes of destruction and reconstruction. As a master builder and developer of ancient architectural wonders, Solomon would have been well acquainted with the need to tear down and remove old, crumbling buildings before rebuilding new structures in their place. In the construction process, there is an appropriate time for both breaking down and building up.

In the Old Testament, Jeremiah’s prophecies forecast the breaking down and building up of peoples, nations, and kingdoms (Jeremiah 1:10). He foresaw a future time when God would rebuild and plant so that His people and their land could be restored (Jeremiah 31:27–29).

In a spiritual sense, believers experience seasons of breaking down the old way of life and building up the new. Christians are to “put to death” or destroy the flesh—the “earthly nature.” We must do away with or tear down our old way of life and “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:5–10, ESV). God has given us spiritual weapons “to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4–5, NLT).

The process of sanctification involves the Holy Spirit working within us to rebuild and reshape us according to the pattern and image of Christ (Romans 8:29–30). The apostle Peter describes the process: “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God” (1 Peter 2:5, NLT).

Those who are lifted up with pride are destined to endure seasons of breaking down: “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18, NLT; see also Proverbs 18:12). The Bible speaks of a broad highway that leads to destruction for those who do evil (Matthew 7:13; Isaiah 59:7; Isaiah 28:22). “Give them the punishment they so richly deserve! Measure it out in proportion to their wickedness. Pay them back for all their evil deeds! Give them a taste of what they have done to others. They care nothing for what the LORD has done or for what his hands have made. So he will tear them down, and they will never be rebuilt!” declares Psalm 28:4–5 (NLT).

Being torn down and destroyed is the destiny of the ungodly, but building up is the ministry of the body of Christ, the church (Ephesians 4:11–12, 16; 1 Corinthians 14:12). God gave His servants authority not to tear each other down but to build one another up (2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10; Romans 14:19). The words we speak ought not to be “unwholesome” but instead “helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). Paul taught, “Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11; see also Romans 15:2).

There are times when God must break up the fallow ground of sin in the believer’s heart (Hosea 10:12). He often uses painful seasons to discipline us and bring us back to Him in repentance (Proverbs 3:11–12; Hebrews 12:5–11). He does this because He loves us. James says that the result of the Lord’s discipline is stronger, more steadfast faith (James 1:2–4), as well as the breaking down of sin’s hold over us (John 8:31–36).

Just as there is a season for every matter under heaven, there is a time to break down and a time to build up. In times when you feel torn asunder, when everything seems to be falling apart, remember and trust that God is rebuilding your life on the firm, unshakable, and everlasting foundation of Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:24–27; Luke 6:46–49; 1 Corinthians 3:10–17; Ephesians 2:19–22).