Ecclesiastes 12:13 (ESV) … “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
We don’t own our lives, because life is the gift of God (Acts 17:24–28). We are stewards of our lives, and one day we must give an account to God of what we have done with His gift. Some people are only spending their lives; others are wasting their lives; a few are investing their lives. Corrie ten Boom said, “The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration but its donation.”
Fear God (v. 13). Ecclesiastes ends where the Book of Proverbs begins (Prov. 1:7), with an admonition for us to fear the Lord. (See 3:14; 5:7; 7:18; and 8:12–13.) The “fear of the Lord” is that attitude of reverence and awe that His people show to Him because they love Him and respect His power and His greatness. The person who fears the Lord will pay attention to His Word and obey it. He or she will not tempt the Lord by deliberately disobeying or by “playing with sin.” An unholy fear makes people run away from God, but a holy fear brings them to their knees in loving submission to God.
“The remarkable thing about fearing God,” wrote Oswald Chambers, “is that, when you fear God, you fear nothing else; whereas, if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.” The prophet Isaiah says it perfectly in Isaiah 8:13, and the psalmist describes such a man in Psalm 112.
Keep His commandments (v. 13). God created life and He alone knows how it should be managed. He wrote the “manual of instructions” and wise is the person who reads and obeys. “When all else fails, read the instructions!”
The fear of the Lord must result in obedient living, otherwise that “fear” is only a sham. The dedicated believer will want to spend time daily in Scripture, getting to know the Father better and discovering His will. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7).
The last phrase in verse 13 can be translated “this is the end of man” (i.e., his purpose in life), or “this is for all men.” Campbell Morgan suggests “this is the whole of man.” He writes in The Unfolding Message of the Bible, “Man, in his entirety, must begin with God; the whole of man, the fear of God” (p. 228). When Solomon looked at life “under the sun,” everything was fragmented and he could see no pattern. But when he looked at life from God’s point of view, everything came together into one whole. If man wants to have wholeness, he must begin with God.