This week we begin a new series called Under the Sun. Throughout the summer this series will take us on a journey through the book of Ecclesiastes and will help us to live our lives with meaning. We will have the opportunity to see just how relevant this book can be for us in this day and age.
Question: If you were surveyed, what would you say is “very important” for your life (making enough money, a successful marriage, having a nice home, finding a great job, etc.)?
When scientists from John Hopkins University surveyed 8,000 college students from forty different schools about this question, the results were surprising. The typical answers we would expect, like those listed above, were nowhere close to the top. Seventy-five percent of the students answered “finding a purpose and meaning for my life.”
Before we get rolling in our study of the book of Ecclesiastes, let’s take a look at the book’s author, King Solomon.
Read 1 Kings 3.5–14.
Early in his life, God promised Solomon that He would make him the wisest, most discerning man that had ever been or would be. God also promised that Solomon would be blessed with great riches and a long life—and he was. The Bible tells us much of Solomon’s wisdom and wealth. But Ecclesiastes was written in his old age, after he had allowed his heart to be drawn away from God by his many wives and his pursuit of material pleasures. We find in Ecclesiastes that he sought to answer life’s greatest questions through his incredible, yet human, understanding.
Read Ecclesiastes 1.1–17.
Solomon gave himself to observing, listening, tasting, touching, and experiencing as much of the world as he could, and yet he came up empty. He describes his attempts as futile, like trying to capture the wind. Through all of his efforts he discovered the truth of a life void of meaning.
Question: What have you pursued in life, only to find it was meaningless?
In Ecclesiastes 1, we see what it looks like when we attempt to make sense of this life using our limited knowledge and understanding, and apart from the revelation of God. These are the tragic consequences of living a life void of God-breathed meaning and purpose.
1. Life seems worthless – “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (verse 2).
In another book of the Bible, Solomon writes, “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.” We see here in Proverbs 29.18 that God’s revelation and meaning leads to blessing, or even happiness. But when our worldview is limited to our human understanding, we will find it very difficult to grasp a picture of a better tomorrow. Without God’s vision for the future we won’t find meaning.
2. Life seems tiresome – “All things are wearisome” (verse 8).
We live in a decade of fatigue, where the most common answer to the question, “How are you doing?” is “I’m tired.” Too often we are simply too busy. Not just with a short season of busyness, but with a rhythm of busyness. We don’t take the time to just “be still” with God. And when we do, we find ourselves thinking about all the things we should be doing, rather than hearing from Him. We are exhausted because we are wearing ourselves out chasing after things that are meaningless.
Question: What are you doing that tires you out, yet doesn’t even have eternal meaning?
3. Life seems unfulfilling – “The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing” (verse 8).
Solomon says that he’s tried it all, and with all his material possessions and hundreds of wives and concubines he’s not exaggerating. But despite it all, he was still unsatisfied. This is true for us as well. We spend our lives going after everything we can possibly imagine to make us happy; people, pleasures, possessions, or position. But after we get it, do it, achieve it, consume it, or drive it; we find it still doesn’t fill the void. Even worse, we probably hurt, lost, or destroyed something or someone in the process. It’s all an unfulfilling trap!
4. Life seems hopeless – “What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.” (verse 15)
We begin to look at our lives and realize that we’ve already dug ourselves into a hole. We’re already in debt. Or we’ve already ruined our careers. Maybe we feel our marriage was a mistake, or we’ve already ruined our relationships. The mistakes are already made and we can’t see how it can ever be corrected.
But it’s all a lie! There is a way out. We have an eternal purpose. We have strength for today, hope for tomorrow, and meaning for our lives. This is the truth, and this truth is found in Jesus. The meaninglessness found in Ecclesiastes is the result of Solomon’s human reasoning, knowledge, and experience. It is not the result of God’s revelation, revealed in Jesus’ life, death on the cross, and resurrection from the grave. The power to redeem our meaninglessness is only found in Him.
Read 1 Peter 1.13–21.
Jesus redeemed us from our empty ways of life, and now our faith and hope are in Him. In light of this incredible fact, there are three ways we can live into our new hope.
1. Find our true identity and value in Christ.
When we’re tempted to believe that the life we’re living is worthless and empty, we only need to remember the value God placed on us and the price He paid to redeem our lives from eternal death. We are His children. And no one has more value than a child of the King.
2. Discover our God-given purpose.
Living with a God-given purpose takes the weariness out of life. We only need to ask Him and He will reveal His plan for us in our vocation, parenting, friendships, finances, whatever. In everything and every season, we have a purpose. We have been redeemed, which means we have been made new, restored to our original purpose.
Question: How has God uniquely crafted your personality, gifts, and experiences to be used by Him to accomplish your God-given purpose?
3. Live our lives in view of eternity.
When we discover God’s purpose for our lives, we will also find that our purpose goes beyond this life. It will have an eternal impact on others. We can be satisfied, fulfilled, and even happy in this life, because we know that our lives are not meaningless, but instead have eternal importance. We won’t find meaning in the perishable things of this life, but in our relationship with God and the purpose He has for us.