This week, we’re continuing through Under the Sun, our series on Ecclesiastes and the search for a meaningful life. Last week, we looked at how the only thing that can truly give our lives meaning is God’s divine purpose. This week, we’ll look at how King Solomon continued to attempt to find meaning in his life through the pursuit of pleasure. Before we do that, let’s take a step back and look at the book of Ecclesiastes as a whole.
Question: Ecclesiastes is very different from the other 65 books of the Bible. Why do you think this book is in the Bible? Do you agree or disagree with the following quote, and why? “Ecclesiastes is God’s revelation about what life is like without God’s revelation.”
Read Ecclesiastes 2.1–11.
Solomon continued his search for meaning by attempting to pursue pleasure, in all its forms. In this passage, we see him chasing after every kind of pleasure to find some kind of meaning for his life. He tried pursuing laughter, power, the arts, retail therapy, creativity, alcohol, and sex. But in the end, even after all of this, he concludes that everything is vanity. Nothing satisfied him, and he found it all to be useless and meaningless. Even though the things on this list are “supposed to” leave us happy and satisfied, they had the reverse effect on Solomon. We can learn three things from this:
1. We learn what pleasure promises.
Ecclesiastes 1 is Solomon’s account of his journey to find purpose and meaning. When he doesn’t find it, he turns to pleasure in Ecclesiastes 2. He’d tried to do something meaningful with his life, and came up empty. For Solomon, pleasure promised (but did not deliver) a relief from a life of unanswered questions and unfulfilling purpose. This can be true of us today, as well. When we pursue purpose and meaning on our own and come up short, we turn to material things, often the things in which we find temporal pleasure.
Question: What are the ways in which you’re most tempted to pursue what feels good outside of God’s divine purpose for your life?
2. We learn why pleasure fails.
When we pursue the path of pleasure and are left unsatisfied, it’s easy to assume that it’s because we simply don’t have enough pleasure. We try to find bigger and better things to bring us more and more satisfaction through more pleasure. Pleasure fails us because, without purpose, it’s temporary. Pleasure is temporary because:
- It fails to distract us. In Ecclesiastes 2.3, Solomon says that even as he pursues pleasure, wisdom was still guiding his heart. No matter how hard he tried to stop thinking, he kept being convicted because wisdom activates our conscience. Conscience and conviction is a killjoy to pleasure without purpose.
- It fails to satisfy us. We saw Solomon left totally unsatisfied and unfulfilled by his pursuit of temporal pleasure. Only by focusing on Jesus as our primary source of fulfillment and pleasure will we find true satisfaction.
Question: Has there been a time in your life where you’ve turned to temporal pleasures in your search for meaning? What did you turn to? Did it satisfy you?
3. We learn how pleasure points beyond.
Skipping ahead a little, in Ecclesiastes 3.11, Solomon says that God has put eternity into man’s heart. This means that God has put a desire for eternal beauty in our hearts—a desire to see and tangibly experience the beauty of God and His creation. This isn’t just seeing God at work in other people’s lives, it’s feeling Him at work in our own lives. This points to the difference between religion and relationship when it comes to followers of Jesus:
- Religious people find God useful, while Christ-followers find Him beautiful. They follow Jesus because they love Him, delight in Him, and find Him irresistible, rather than optional.
- Religious people follow Jesus to avoid pain. Christ-followers follow Him to experience divine pleasure.
Finding pleasure in God and His purpose means that there is always hope and meaning for our lives. It means that we serve a God of the impossible, who can lift us up when it seems that our problems and questions are insurmountable. By finding meaning in God’s divine purpose for our lives, we experience true and lasting pleasure through pleasing God.