The Vanity of Death Under the Sun | Ecclesiastes 9

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Ecclesiastes 9:1 | But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him.

Ecclesiastes 9:7 | Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

OPENING THOUGHT

The book of Ecclesiastes is a brutally honest survey of life under the sun. The Preacher’s observations of life in a post-Genesis 3 world may be a few millennia old, but the insights are just as relevant today. At the heart of the book is the Preacher’s investigation to find what is good for man to do under the sun during the days of his vain life. In other words, he searched for some kind of lasting meaning and purpose that could be found here on earth. And he certainly did search. He gave himself completely over to pursuing pleasure, taking everything that his eye desired and accumulated for himself wealth beyond compare. In many ways, he achieved the American Dream. And yet his conclusion is that all is vanity, as meaningless and futile as chasing after the wind.

In chapter nine, the Preacher turns his attention once more to the topics of death and wisdom. In many ways, this chapter is the culmination of the previous eight. He reminds us again that death is the great equalizer and that wisdom is still worth pursuing even if things don’t work out as planned. In the center of it all, he repeats again the book’s refrain. Enjoy the life that God has given you under the sun.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Ecclesiastes 9 and discuss the following.

  1. Which verses stood out most to you as you read Ecclesiastes 9 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  2. In verse 1, the Preacher reiterates how he laid everything to heart and examined all things during his investigation. How often would you say that you time the time to truly lay everything to heart, considering God and His creation?
  3. Why does Solomon call death evil whenever it happens to everyone under the sun?
  4. Why does Solomon once again command us to enjoy life under the sun? Why enjoyment a crucial aspect of following God?
  5. Why does the Preacher so firmly commend wisdom, even while he admits that wisdom does not always work out in this life?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions about the present text.

  • What has God taught you about Himself?
  • What sin is God convicting or reproving you of?
  • How is God correcting you?
  • How is God training and equipping you for righteousness?
Advertisements

The Vanity of Time Under the Sun | Ecclesiastes 3

Listen to the sermon here.

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Ecclesiastes 3:1 | For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven  

Ecclesiastes 3:11 | He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into mans heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

OPENING THOUGHT

There is no book, inside or outside the Bible, like Ecclesiastes. The Preacher, likely Solomon, writes Ecclesiastes in order to analyze life under the sun for any lasting meaning, joy, and purpose. His answer is that all of it is a vanity, with no more substance than a breath of air. All who live will die. Most will be forgotten, and of those who are remembered, what gain does that remembrance bring them in the grave? If all of that sounds rather depressing, rest assured that Solomon also points us to the hope that breaks into the bleakness of our lives.

Up to this point, Solomon has described his journey to find meaning through wisdom and knowledge. Despite wisdom and knowledge being very good things, Solomon found that they still left him none the more satisfied with life without Divine interference. Then, since knowledge and wisdom failed him, Solomon sought the opposite: folly. In the previous chapter, the Israelite king described how he partied, spent, and lived grander than any man that has ever lived. Yet when the hangovers wore off, when the elaborate monuments were completed, when he had run out of fantasies, Solomon was just as empty as before. His ardent pursuit of pleasure gave his life no deep sense of purpose or meaning. It was vanity.

The third chapter of Ecclesiastes begins with one of the most famous poems of the Bible. This poem muses on the back and forth, give and take nature of time. Good things happen as well as bad things. Some seasons of life are pleasant, while others are bitter. This is simply how life works, and no one is exempt from life’s shifting rhythms of time. The greatest advice that the author can give us, therefore, is to stop battling against the inevitable and start enjoying the lot of life that God has given each of us.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Ecclesiastes 3 and discuss the following.

  1. Which verses stood out most to you as you read Ecclesiastes 3 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  2. Verses 1-8 form a poetic musing on time under the sun. What most resonates with you in this poem? What points does Solomon seem to be making about how we relate to time?
  3. How do verses 9-22 serve as a commentary on the opening poem?
  4. How have you experienced the feeling of having eternity in your heart?
  5. How is eating, drinking, and taking pleasure in our toil different from saying “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die?”

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions about the present text.

  • What has God taught you about Himself?
  • What sin is God convicting or reproving you of?
  • How is God correcting you?
  • How is God training and equipping you for righteousness?

The Meaning Above the Meaningless

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
Ecclesiastes 1:2-3 (ESV)

In these verses, Solomon proclaims that all is vanity. Or using other words, everything is meaningless. That statement is true, but there is a problem.

Saying that everything is meaningless is unavoidably a meaningful statement.

It’s like making the claim that there is no objective truth. It is a self-defeating proposition. By being true, it would also prove itself false.

Similarly, the Preacher says something of meaning, even while he claims that nothing has meaning. How do we reconcile this?

The key is the phrase under the sun.

Everything under the sun is meaningless. The things of this life, including us, are fleeting vanities, little more than blips on the radar of eternity.

If this is true (and it is), Solomon is able to utter this meaningful statement only because meaning exists somewhere beyond the sun.

We know, of course, that all meaning flows from the Author of life, Jesus Christ. Paul describes Jesus like this:

Colossians 1:16-17 | For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him and he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Take a moment to allow the sweeping magnitude of those verses sink in.

ALL THINGS were created through and for Jesus, and He holds EVERYTHING together. In other words, the atoms that form my keyboard as I type this are held in place by Jesus.

Existence exists because Jesus keeps it existing.

This means that there is no reality outside of Jesus. If all things are held together in Jesus, then nothing exists away from Him. Everything, therefore, is meaningless without Christ because without Christ there is nothing.

With this understanding, Ecclesiastes’ life under the sun is a myth.

It is a fantasy, nothing more than a day dream.

We cannot actually live outside of God because He is the giver of life. Life without God is a fool’s quest since “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Attempting to avoid God is a striving after wind.

Ecclesiastes, therefore, does not need to be a depressing book. The Bible reveals to us the God who created the sun and gives meaning to all existence. He is the only source of true purpose, meaning, and satisfaction.

We do not have to embrace the meaninglessness of life, the abyss that stares back; we can follow and serve the Creator.

We can exchange the vanity of life under the sun for the fullness of abiding in Christ.

The Vanity of Pleasure Under the Sun | Ecclesiastes 2

Listen to the sermon here.

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Ecclesiastes 2:11 | Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.  

Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 | There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?

OPENING THOUGHT

Often called the most depressing book of the Bible, Ecclesiastes paints for us a brutally honest portrait of this life, a life under the sun. The bleakness of Ecclesiastes is immediately apparent, but it is also real and tangible. This book studies the monotony of everyday life and puts some of those thoughts and feelings into words. It provides a voice to the weariness of life that we all know lurks around each corner.

In chapter one, Ecclesiastes’ author, the Preacher (most likely Solomon), wrote us a poem about the vanity of everything under the sun. He observed the endless repetitions of the sun, wind, and seas and realized that we are same. Like the sea never fills, so our ears never hear enough. Like the sun continues to rise and set, our eyes continue to seek out input. So Solomon calls this life vanity. All of it is meaningless, and nothing more than a mere breath of air.

In chapter two, the Preacher begins to describe his investigation to find meaning and satisfaction under the sun. The first stop in his quest for joy is where many look as well: pleasure. Pleasure naturally makes us happy, so with vast wealth, Solomon thinks that surely he can buy lasting joy through endless pleasure. Alcohol, sex, music, work, and philanthropy, the king threw himself into his search for meaning under the sun. But vanity is all he finds, and ultimately, he concludes that enjoyment can only come from God Himself.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Ecclesiastes 2 and discuss the following.

  1. Which verses stood out most to you as you read Ecclesiastes 2 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  2. Verses 1-11 describes Solomon’s search for lasting joy through uninhibited pleasure. Can you relate to his quest? Have you ever, or do you still, look to things like alcohol, sex, or work to satisfy you? Why is pleasure such a natural pursuit for us? Why will it never fully satisfy?
  3. In verse 17, Solomon admits to having hated life. Is there a time when you have ever hated life? Was it a godly hatred for the brokenness of the world or motivated by self-pity, exhaustion, or sin?
  4. How is true and lasting enjoyment possible? Why is enjoyment in this life a necessity aspect of following God? How can a Christian be called to both love and hate this world?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions about the present text.

  • What has God taught you about Himself?
  • What sin is God convicting or reproving you of?
  • How is God correcting you?
  • How is God training and equipping you for righteousness?

Background on Ecclesiastes

Author

The author identifies himself as the Preacher (or Teacher).

While the book is technically anonymous, Solomon is the most likely candidate.

Theme

Everything is meaningless “under the sun,” and the only source of true meaning and joy is God.

Background

In the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, the author identifies himself as the Qoheleth (the Preacher or Teacher). Thus, strictly speaking, the book is anonymous; however, the Preacher does give us a hint as to his identity. He is said, in the first verse, to be the “son of David, king in Jerusalem.” The Hebrew word for “son” can be used to mean either a literal son or a descendant of, so the author technically could be simply a descendant of David (Hezekiah is, therefore, a possibility). However, the argument for Solomon’s authorship is quite clear. Many of the actions that Solomon describes in this book mirror the sort of accomplishments that are recorded of Solomon in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles. In addition, the Preacher makes many claims to great, vast wealth and unparalleled wisdom, which is recorded in detail in the two books previously mentioned. Once we come to accept Solomon as the author, we then must ask when it was written. According to Jewish tradition, Solomon wrote Song of Songs in his youth, compiled Proverbs in his middle years, and wrote Ecclesiastes near the end of his life. If that is true, then this book is of near infinite value because it is the final reflections of one of the wisest men to ever live (1 Kings 4:29).

Purpose

If it is true that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes near the end of his life, then it can be interpreted as Solomon’s return to the faith. We are told in 1 Kings that Solomon was led astray from the LORD by the false gods of his wives (1 Kings 11:4). Thus, Ecclesiastes could be Solomon’s final reflections on life and whatever conclusions he has made. Even so, why should we care? Why were the dying words of Solomon important enough to be considered Scripture?

Primarily, we can believe that Solomon’s words are recorded here to show us that wealth, success, and prosperity do not ultimately satisfy. Many Christians read Job with amazement. Job was a man that had everything going for him. He loved God, loved his wife, loved his kids, and God blessed him with plenty of wealth. However, in one day, Job loses it all. For centuries, people have read Job’s story, not because in the end his wealth is returned to him, but because even in the midst of horrendous circumstances, Job remains faithful to God. The message of Job is that even when we have nothing, God is everything. But what about the converse? What if we are given everything? Does God then become useless?

Ecclesiastes is the answer to that question. Solomon was a man to whom God had given everything. He was the epitome of the American dream. In terms of political power, Solomon was greater than the President of the United States. In terms of religious authority, Solomon had more than the Pope. In terms of intelligence, Solomon had more than Einstein. In terms of wealth, Solomon surpassed Bill Gates. In terms of women, Solomon was the original Hugh Hefner. We are told that the daily provisions for his personal staff were enough to feed 35,000 people (1 Kings 4:22-23). That’s 35,000 servants that waited on him, hand and foot. Solomon had it all. In addition, God granted Solomon a peaceful reign on the thrown of Israel for forty years (1 Kings 11:42). That is the longest time of peace that Israel has ever seen! Not only did countries not attack Israel, but also during Solomon’s reign, they came from all across the globe just to give him money.

So one would think that Solomon lived the good life and died the happiest man alive, but then we get Ecclesiastes. His final words to us are that “all is vanity.” Everything is meaningless “under the sun.” Ultimately, Solomon’s goal is to simply show us that a life without God is a life without purpose. Solomon records numerous times in the book that “there is nothing better” than for a person find his or her enjoyment in God. “Apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” If everything “under the sun” is meaningless, then let us find our meaning from One is above the sun.

Misunderstandings

I have rarely spoken with anyone about this book who did not find it at least a little depressing. I have even heard people claim that it was their favorite book because it reminds them just how futile life really is. To an extent, these things are true. Ecclesiastes is not the happiest book that one may read, true. It does a great job of describing the futility of life, also true. However, I do not find Ecclesiastes depressing, nor do I believe that it is one gigantic downer. Instead, Ecclesiastes is one of the world’s first philosophical works. Many people, including myself, would call it the greatest work of philosophy ever written. In fact, it appears to me that what most people call depressing is actually the presentation of life’s difficult questions. No other book calls us to face the reality of our mortality and depravity like Ecclesiastes. It addresses the human condition in such a way that Solomon is attempting to give words to experiences that are beyond words. Ecclesiastes is not an easy book, and it will not be content with simply being a “good read” or an interesting book. This book does not need to be depressing, but if we study it well, Ecclesiastes will cut through any shallowness in our souls, leaving behind a desperate need for God to provide our lives with meaning, satisfaction, and joy.

The Unity of Ecclesiastes & Philippians | part four

We have now arrived at the Source of a content life. We have discovered that God alone, through Christ, is able granted us the satisfaction that our souls desire. However, if we stop merely at the Source of our satisfaction, then I believe that we will miss an opportunity to see the glory and goodness of God at work.

You see, part of the glorious nature of God’s gift of contentment is the means by which it is given. God, being God, could easily have granted us a form of contentment that offered no level of pleasure. He could have simply given us the ability to be completely satisfied with our lot in life, while also being quite unhappy. Yet, this is not how He chose to operate. God Himself is the Source of our contentment, but joy is the vehicle, the mode, through which His gift is given. This thought gives heart to what was discussed at the beginning: joy leads to satisfaction, which we know now to be because God ordained it as such.

In bringing the ideas of joy, contentment, meaning, satisfaction, pleasure, and happiness full circle, we may once again turn toward Ecclesiastes’ and Philippians’ persistent mentioning of joy and its derivative words.

Solomon continually reinforces that the only means of lasting value is enjoying life via the free gift of God.  Paul pleads throughout for the Philippians to rejoice in Christ, even in the persecution that they were experiencing. Thus, over the span of a thousand years, Paul and Solomon both urge, through radically different writings and lives, that finding enjoyment and rejoicing in God are the only means to achieving lasting contentment and satisfaction in life, and enjoyment and rejoicing can only come from God Himself.

Therefore, God is the Source, the Receiver of the means, and the Objective that we hope to arrive upon. In short, joy, contentment, and meaning are only in God the Father through Jesus Christ. The circular quest for purpose has but one answer: the One who is, in and of Himself, the Beginning and the End. He is the summation of the very purpose of our lives.

Thus, we enjoy and rejoice because He is good and sufficient, and in Him, we are completely satisfied. It is this biblical line of thinking that inspired John Piper to form this condensed description of his theology: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Being satisfied in Him necessitates enjoying and rejoicing in Him.

All of this is to say that the chief end of both Ecclesiastes and Philippians is that immeasurable joy can only be found in God, which will lead to a content and satisfied life, and a life that is completely joyful in Him will be supremely glorifying to Him.  Let us, therefore, glorify Christ Jesus along with Solomon and Paul, for His glory will also become our greatest joy.

The Unity of Ecclesiastes & Philippians | part three

Yet even if hedonism and religious legalism are both truly dead ends, we are forced to ask once more why people pursue these ends.

Why do we relentlessly chase after the pleasures of hedonism to the degree of ignoring our God-given conscience?

Why practice the asceticism found within religious legalism so that precious little happiness and pleasure is left in life?

Both roads are meant to accomplish the same end: contentment. A satisfied, fulfilled, and purposeful life is the goal to which almost every philosophical outlook aims. Most of us seek to live a life that is full of meaning, a life that has not been wasted.

Solomon, with all of his divinely granted wisdom, was no exception. Ecclesiastes is the Israelite king’s reflection on all of the various quests that he explored to find this contentment, this meaning in life. Though he pursued many possible means toward that end, the thesis of Ecclesiastes is that he only found one path that leads to true meaning and satisfaction in life.

In the twelfth and thirteenth verses of chapter three, Solomon states simply that there is nothing better than for us to “take pleasure” in all of our toil. He would rephrase this idea later by saying that we would do well to accept our lot in life. Thus, we have to wonder if such is the extent of Solomon’s wisdom. The wisest man to ever live, at the end of his life, reaches one conclusion: to find contentment and satisfaction in life, be content and satisfied with life.

Is the answer to the question truly the content of the question itself? Fortunately, Solomon grants us more to guide us than the advice of simply being content. Instead, Solomon reveals to us the Source of contentment. He concludes the verses mentioned above with this tell-tale phrase: “this is God’s gift to man.” From whence can such contentment and purpose in life come? According to Solomon, it can only come from the hand of God, gift to humanity that He alone can give.

Paul’s letter to the Philippian church is not without its parallel in this matter.

Given the apostle’s circumstances, it would be difficult to imagine how he could find complete and total satisfaction with life. He was locked away in prison, knowing that he could be executed at any moment. And this is after most of his missionary journeys, which saw him shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, and flogged. Luke the physician likely stayed by Paul’s side primarily out of necessity. After such difficulties and sufferings, is it possible for Paul to write about having contentment and satisfaction? Amazingly, he does!

In verse eleven of chapter four, Paul declares that he has learned “to be content” in any situation. Even so, this claim will inspire nothing but envy within us unless Paul is able to disclose the Source of his contentment. The thirteenth verse of the same chapter is one of the most famous and quoted verses of the entire Bible, and it is there that the answer is found. It is through “him who strengthens” that Paul finds the ability to be satisfied within difficult circumstances. We understand from the context of the letter and chapter that the “him” is Christ.

Therefore, Paul is making the same claim that Solomon made 1000 years prior. They have both found the same conclusion to one of life’s greatest questions, and the answer is that only God can give us contentment and satisfaction with life.