What is the meaning of life? In this message on Ecclesiastes, Bart Box teaches us to understand God’s Word rightly by fearing God and keeping his commandments. Ecclesiastes warns us about empty pursuits and calls us to labor in the Lord and long for his return.
- Understanding Ecclesiastes
- Hearing Ecclesiastes
- Applying Ecclesiastes
Chapter 22: Vanity and the Divine Design – Ecclesiastes
If you would, take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Ecclesiastes. We’re going to look at the entire book this morning. As I was reading and studying this week, I ran across one commentary that had a footnote at the bottom; it was talking about how you might divide the text up, and how you might preach it. It said, “Of course, you would not want to try to preach the whole book in one sermon.” So, here we go; the book of Ecclesiastes this morning in one sermon, all right?
Several years ago Tom Brady…some of you are familiar with Tom Brady. If you watch the NFL, you know he’s a quarterback for the New England Patriots and has been for a number of years. Has won multiple Super Bowls. He was interviewed on the program, 60 Minutes, and if you remember several years back they were 15-0 at the time; they were preparing to go 16-0. They were undefeated in the regular season. He was in the midst, personally, of an MVP kind of season, and he had just come out of relationship with one actress, and was going into a relationship with a supermodel.
He was making millions and millions of dollars, and this is what Tom Brady said on 60 Minutes. He said, “Why do I have three Super Bowl rings, and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, ‘Hey, man. This is what it is. I reached my goal, my dream, my life.’ Me? I think, ‘God, there’s got to be more than this. I mean, this can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be.’” The interviewer looked at him, and he asked him the question. He said, “Well, what, then is the answer?” Brady responded, “I wish I knew. I wish I knew. “
Many were taken aback by Brady’s response to that question. I mean, how could a man who seemingly has everything that this world can offer…money, and fame, success, celebrity status, all of the things that we saw in that video…how can he ask that question? How can he make that kind of statement: “There must be something more than this.”?
The Question Before Us All…
This morning I want to submit to you that the same question that is before Tom Brady is before every one of us. It is simply this question: What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of life?
On Father’s Day, I think about all of my children. I have four children: an eight-year-old girl, a six-year-old son, a three-year-old daughter, and a 10-month-old son. On an average day, I would say I probably receive about 7,000 questions. “What are we having for breakfast? What are we going to do this evening? Are cowboys real? Where does Cinderella live?” These are a number of the questions that we see in a day, but, you know, some questions are more important than others. All those questions are important because they come from my children, but in reality, some questions are far more important than others, and this is one of those questions that exceeds almost all other questions, “What is the meaning of life?”
We want to know. We want to know. We have one life. You have one life. We have one shot at this whole thing that we call life, and we don’t want to miss this question. Why am I here? What am I doing? Where am I going? What is the meaning of everything on a daily basis? What is the meaning long-term? What is the meaning for eternity? What is the meaning of life? This, brothers and sisters…this is where Ecclesiastes, a book that we often neglect, a book that we quite frankly often don’t know what to do with…this is one of the those places…in fact, a prime place…where the book of Ecclesiastes serves us so well, because we come face-to-face here with this question, “What is the meaning of life?”
Ecclesiastes 22 Helps Us Understand the Meaning of Life
So, with that question in mind…that question before us as we look through the book, what I want to do is you see there in your notes, I want to walk us through just three sort of easy steps of understanding the book of Ecclesiastes. As we sort of see interpretive issues, how do we handle this book? So, understanding Ecclesiastes, letting that lead into a section on hearing Ecclesiastes: what is the message of the book? Then, finally, as we walked away, how do we apply…just a few ways, not all the way, certainly…but how are a few ways that we can apply this book, Ecclesiastes, as we address that question: What is the meaning of life?
We must understand the basic genre.
Look, first, if you would with me, at understanding Ecclesiastes. Notice, first, we must understand the basic genre. We must understand the basic genre. In other words, what kind of literature? What are we reading when we come to the book of Ecclesiastes. David did a great job of walking us through the book of Proverbs and showing us how it’s a little bit different. We can’t approach it in the same way that we approach every other book.
We see, though, for example, that Ecclesiastes is located in the wisdom tradition of Israel. You can’t read Ecclesiastes in the same way that you would read an Epistle. You turn to Paul’s Epistles. You turn to Peter. You turn to John, and it says, “Do this.” So, we think, “Okay, we’ll do that.” Or, “Believe this,” and so we believe that, but you can’t do that when we come to a book like Ecclesiastes, really, anything in wisdom literature.
You remember in the book of Job, for example, that you have the narrative of Job and everything that happens in those beginning chapters, and at some point, there are three friends that are introduced into the narrative of Job. You’ll remember that they give Job all sorts of advice; some of it is true, and some of it is junk. So, we have to sort of sort through you find some things are true, some things that are not, and it’s not until the end of the book…Job 38 and following…where God finally comes in, and God speaks out of the whirlwind, and you finally have truth unmixed with error.
It’s the same way when we come to the book of Ecclesiastes. There are many things that we’re going to read, that you would read in the middle of the book, for example, and they are true. Then, you will go another few sentences, another few verses, and you’ll see something that just doesn’t quite line up with everything else that we read. We must exercise great care in our interpretation. We can’t just pick a verse and read it, and say, “Ah, that’s true.”
For example, Ecclesiastes 7:13…and there are a lot of examples we can give, but just listen to Ecclesiastes 7:13: “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?” He says, “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?” If we read that on its face, it seems to say that God is perverse, even that God is making things, or that we are straightening out what God has messed up, but we know that’s not exactly the case.
We must understand the overall structure.
So, we have to take great care. This really alerts us to that next point, that we must understand the overall structure. I think this is important, because we’re not really familiar with this book in the same way that we are, for example, Proverbs and Psalms. So, one of the things that we find immediately is that there are two voices apparent in the text. There are two voices apparent in the text. I want you to see this, and so, first, notice that we have the voice of the Preacher.
Look with me, if you would, in Ecclesiastes 1:12. We have, first, the voice of the Preacher. Now, sometimes he’s called the Preacher. Some translations call him the teacher. Simply, the word in Hebrew really refers to a gathering…an assembly. So, most have thought, “Well, if it’s an assembly, it’s a gathering, and this person that is talking must be the Preacher; he must be the teacher.” So, the ESV, for example, translates in verse 1, as “the Preacher.” Again, there, if you see in verse 12 where he says, “I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.” The Preacher is the main voice throughout the book of Ecclesiastes.
Now, some have thought…in fact, traditionally, this main voice throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, from 1:12 all the way to 12:7…pretty much the whole book…most have thought that this refers to Solomon. He’s referred to as, if you look in verse 1 up there, he says, “The words of the Preacher, the son of David…” So, most have taken that at face value and said, “Well, this Preacher is the son of David. We know who the son of David was; he was Solomon.” A lot of other things fit Solomon in the rest of the book; he was wise, he had riches, he had opportunity, things like that. Others have looked and said, “Well, no, the time period, it doesn’t quite fit, and, in fact, the words ‘Son of David,’ as we know for example, Jesus is a son of David. So, it doesn’t have to be a literal descendant of David to qualify.” Either way, it’s a king. It’s someone who has great authority, and someone who has great wisdom, and he occupies this stage…as I said…all the way from 1:12 all the way to 12:7.
Look back over there if you would, the very end of the book, 12:7. He says, “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Then, you notice there’s a transition there in verse 8: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.” So, in the middle between 1:12 and 12:7, what we find, over and over, is “I the Preacher,” “I saw,” “I found,” “I saw.” Over and over, we see this first-person language of “I, the Preacher.”
However, he is not the only one, and it’s absolutely critical that we see that we have the voice of the Preacher, but we also have the voice of the narrator. The voice of the narrator, and we see the voice of the narrator in, mainly, two places: in the very beginning, and the very end. Look if you would back to the beginning, Ecclesiastes 1:1. “The words of the Preacher, the Son of David, the king of Jerusalem.” Then, in verse 2, all the way down to verse 11, you have really the summary…kind of an encapsulation of the message of the Preacher, but given to us by the narrator. So, the narrator speaks in the very beginning, and then at the very end. We’ll look at it in just a moment. In Ecclesiastes 12:8, all the way to the very end.
Some have thought that the narrator really is the same voice as the Preacher. So, the Preacher, whoever he is…if he’s Solomon, or if he’s another king…that he is simply speaking in first-person in the middle, but on the ends he’s speaking in third-person. It’s possible to read it that way; I think it’s more natural to read this as a narrator speaks, sets up the book, sets up the message, summarizes the message of the Preacher, then we have all of the Preacher’s quest, all of his wanderings, all of his experiments, all of his wisdom, and then at the end, the narrator comes back in again and explains or summarizes his quest and his viewpoint…namely, the viewpoint of the narrator.
Either way you look at it here in your notes, the key to understanding Ecclesiastes is found in the beginning and the end. In the beginning, we have the Preacher’s basic message. If you want to write out beside that, verses 1 through 11…Ecclesiastes 1:1 –11…we have the Preacher’s basic message. We’ll look at that in just a moment. Then, in the end, we have the narrator’s final assessment. If you want to write out beside that, Ecclesiastes 12:8 –14, the very end. Ecclesiastes 12:8 –14.
Either way you look at it, it’s easy to get lost in the back and forth. It’s easy to get lost in the middle, saying, “Why does he say this?” Or, “Why does he say that?” However, it kind of clears the fog away, if we can kind of just step back and say, “Okay, the beginning and the end.” If you get that, I promise you, we’ll get the message of Ecclesiastes.
We must understand two key ideas.
One last thing: we must understand two key ideas. We must understand two key ideas, namely: first, the idea of “vanity.” Now, some translate it “meaningless.” In the ESV, for example, it translates it as “vanity.” Thirty-five times in twelve chapters, we hear this idea of vanity. Now, when we hear vanity, we often think of beauty, or we think of some kind of aesthetic value, but vanity refers in Ecclesiastes to meaningless, to futility, to pointlessness. Say that again: it refers to meaningless, futility, or pointlessness. It really derives from a word that it means “vapor.” So, it’s just something that’s transparent. It’s here for a moment and then it’s gone. So, we have to understand this idea of vanity. In fact, he says in verse 2: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
Everything the Preacher sees, he says…everything that he sees is vapor. It’s meaningless. It’s thin. There’s nothing to it.
There’s another key term that we have to see, and it’s one that begins in verse 3, found throughout the book. It is this term “under the sun.” It occurs 29 times in twelve chapters. So, you see, just the frequency of those terms. Thirty-five times vanity appears in twelve chapters. Twenty-nine times this phrase “under the sun” appears. Oftentimes, they are linked together. It does not denote, as we would think…”under the sun”…oftentimes we would think physically, or we would think geographically. So, it’s just a matter of under the sun…directly “under the sun.” In fact, “under the sun” in Ecclesiastes denotes life without reference to God. It’s not a physical idea, although it’s at least that. It’s not just a physical idea, though, it is an idea of life without reference to God.
The Writer of Ecclesiastes 22 is not an Atheist
You can think about it this way now: the writer of Ecclesiastes is not an atheist. He believes in God, but it is significant that every time the word “God” is used in Ecclesiastes, it is the word “Elohim.” It is not the word “Yahweh.” Now, both of those, obviously, are used throughout Scripture…Elohim and Yahweh…but oftentimes Elohim has referenced more to do with Creator; whereas, the word “Yahweh” has more to do with a relationship, has more to do with an intimacy from and by God. So, we see over and over, the writer of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher, refers to God as Elohim, as if God were distant; as if God were not involved in the day-to-day. We have to understand that, when every time we see that phrase, “under the sun”, we have to recognize that he is referring to life without reference to God. If we don’t see that then there are going to be some things that we read in Ecclesiastes that we will think are confusing, perplexing, or maybe even wrong.
Think about this verse, Ecclesiastes 10:19. Ecclesiastes 10:19: “Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life…” Then, listen to this, this is what the Preacher says, “Money answers everything.” You may have heard a preacher say that before. Maybe that’s nothing shocking. He says, “Money answers everything.” Now, what if we just take that verse…we just pull that out and say, “Well, see, this is what the word says, ‘Bread is made for laughter; wine gladdens life, and money answers everything.’” It sounds like he is saying that money can buy happiness. Then, we hear Jesus saying, “You can’t serve two masters. Either you will love the one and hate the other, or you will despise the one and love the other. No one can serve both God and money.”
It’s then that we remember the outlook of this book, that the preacher is viewing life without reference to God. This is life under the sun, and that is what makes this book so timely, and so relevant for each and every one of us, because we live in a culture that lives as if there is no God, that lives without reference to God. So, without reference to God because our culture does not take into account a God outside of this world things like money, and sex, and power, and knowledge are suddenly of ultimate significance. Every day, radio and T.V. and Internet are pounding that idea into your head, that we have all of these things, and if we could but know them, if we could experience them, if we could just have all of these things, then we would be happy. That’s where this book…if we will but hear the message; if we will listen to what God is telling us here and throughout Scripture, we will see the folly, we will see the bankruptcy, we will see the emptiness of life under the sun.
In the Old Testament context …
So, let’s look as we go through hearing the message of Ecclesiastes. First, in its Old Testament context here, and then as we move across into the church context, into the New Testament. Notice, first, that the Preacher observes two problems. The Preacher observes two problems. Read with me, if you would, in Ecclesiastes 1…hope you have it there…Ecclesiastes 1. We’re going to read just a few…obviously, we can’t read the whole book, and we can’t look at every verse, and so I want to just try to pick some of the more clear passages that communicate what the Preacher is telling us.
Listen, this is what the narrator says is the message. These are the findings of the Preacher. Notice verse 2: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does a man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” There you see it again. So, notice, again, we’re not talking about life in reference to God; life without reference to God. Verse 4:
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.
First problem he sees is that what we see “under the sun” is permanent. What we see “under the sun” is permanent. Generations come; generations go, but the earth remains forever. Then, he walks through, more than likely I think, the four elements…the four basic elements from a Hebrew worldview…earth, wind, fire and water. So, he says, “The sun goes in its circles; wind goes in circles; water goes in circles; we see all of this movement, yet nothing changes.” Then, he takes that principle…looking at the created order, looking at the sun, looking at the wind, looking at the rain…he takes that permanence and then he transfers that…notice what he does: he transfers what he sees in the physical world into the human realm.
Look, if you would, in verse 9: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.” That seems strange when you read that. You think about it, in our day, our time, in a day of nuclear physics, and the day of space travel, the Internet, and he is saying that there is nothing that is new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 22 Shows Us That Human Nature Does Not Change
We can think of all sorts of inventions that he knew nothing of. So, yes, there is something new, but I really don’t think he’s referring to inventions. I mean, obviously, we have inventions, but they had inventions, too. I don’t think that he’s referring to inventions. Maybe, kind of the same way that we have picked up on this verse, and say, “You know what, the more things change…” what “…the more they stay the same.” We just see, really, an enduring permanence, to not only the things that we see in the created order, but even to human nature, that the same problems persist; that the same frustrations go on and on. Human nature does not change.
The effect of all this in the mind of the Preacher is frustration. He says, “Nothing is changing. There’s nothing new. I’ve seen it over, and over, and over; the wind, the rain, the earth, human nature, everything is the same.” If that’s the case, then he draws out the conclusion that nothing will ever change. Nothing has changed so far, and so nothing will change in the future. That’s really the idea in verse 8, if you would. “All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.”
What we see under the sun is permanent, but really, there’s an even greater problem. It is simply that what we see under the sun is pointless. In his view, what we see under the sun is pointless. We see all the futility, all the permanence in the world in human nature, and this is the main idea of the book. He sees these things that are frustrating, that are permanent, so he says, “What I’ll do is I’ll give myself to all kinds of avenues; all kinds of ideas; all kinds of things, and then I’ll see if then those things, perhaps, there is meaning to life.”
However, notice what he finds. First of all, he finds that wisdom is pointless. He says, “I’ll give myself to wisdom.”, but what he finds is wisdom is pointless. Look in Ecclesiastes 1:13. There are all kinds of places in this book that we could see this, but notice just in verse 13. He says, “And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of men to be busy with.” Skip down, if you would, to verse 16. “I said in my heart, ‘I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.’ And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after the wind.” The same idea as vanity. Verse 18: “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” The more you understand, the more you know, one, how much you don’t know, and the more you know how much you do not like about the things that you do know. So, he says, “All this is vanity.”
Wisdom and Pleasure are Pointless
So, wisdom isn’t the answer; “Wisdom is pointless, and so let me give myself then to pleasure.” What he finds is that pleasure also is pointless. Look with me, if you would, in Ecclesiastes 2, the beginning, verse 1 through 11. This is really one of the most gripping passages in all the book to me, particularly how it speaks to our culture. Listen to Ecclesiastes 2. Think about it in our day; think about all the things that bombard us; all the things…if you can have this, you’d be happy. Listen to what he says.
I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine – my heart still guiding me with wisdom – and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven…”
Verse 4: “I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards…” Verse 5: “I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees.” Verse 6: “I made myself pools from which to water…” Verse 7: “I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house.” Also, “Had great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers [music], both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.”
He has it all! However, notice what he says in verse 9: “So I became great and surpassed all those who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.” [“Anything I wanted, and not just anything I wanted to look at, but anything I looked at I had.”] “I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.”
Why Does Ecclesiastes Talk About Things Being Pointless?
Then, here’s the bottom line: “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.” How many in our own day could utter those very same words? “I tried everything, and nothing satisfied.” He said wisdom was pointless. Pleasure was pointless. He goes into labor and finds that it also is pointless.
Ecclesiastes 2. We won’t spend a lot of time there, but just look in verses 20 and 21. He gives himself to hard work. “So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill [listen to this] must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.” Bottom line: “I worked for all this stuff, and then somebody else gets it.” Doesn’t make sense. Labor…pointless.
We could go through avenue after avenue. He looks at money. He looks at religion. He looks at sex. He looks at power. He looks at prestige. Until all the ways we drive forward in the book, we kind of come to a culmination…really, a climax in all of his pursuits, in Ecclesiastes 9. If you would, just flip over to Ecclesiastes 9. It’s the last pursuit that we’re going to look at, where the preacher finally comes to the conclusion: Yes, wisdom: pointless; pleasure: pointless; labor: pointless; money, sex, power, prestige: pointless. Finally, driving to this last conclusion, that life itself is pointless as well. That life itself is pointless as well. Read the despair…hear the despair in his voice.
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. [And listen to this: All the spectrums that you see] It is the same for all, since the same event [namely death] happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. There is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event [death] happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of men are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. But he who is joined with all the living has hope [And this is one my favorite lines], for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 22 Reminds Us That Wealth, Status, and Prestige Won’t Save Us From Death
The bottom line is this: He says you can go through all these things…you can get money, you can get power, you can get prestige…you can get all of these things, because it doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not, good or evil, it doesn’t matter if you sacrifice or not, eventually, here’s what going to happen: you’re going to die; they’re going to put you in the ground; they’re going to take some of your stuff, and they’re going to take the rest of it to the thrift store. Happy Father’s Day to you!
Now, notice the conclusion, and don’t miss this. Notice the conclusion that he draws from that in verse 7: “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved of what you do.” There it is! You’re going to live. You’re going to die. So, what you might as well do, you might as well eat, drink, and be merry. Have the woman of your choice. Have the life of your choice. Go after…do all of these things, because there is coming a day when every single one of us will simply go down to the grave.
It’s the same conclusion. It’s the same line that people in our culture, today…some people in this room…are living right now. That there is no God; there is no afterlife; there is no eternity. So, what I might as well do, I might as well eat, drink and be merry. There are people here, people in our culture, people all over the world, indeed, that are living as if there is no God.
Brothers and sisters, hear me. The Preacher’s word is not the last word; indeed, it is not the right word. There is another reality under the sun, because there is a God who is above the sun. There is a God who is holy and just and righteous. There is a God who is full of grace and full of mercy. There is a God who has created us not for things, but for Himself. There is a God who has created us not for money, sex, power, and privilege. There is a God who has created us for His glory, and gives Himself to us for our good. On that basis, the narrator steps in, and he offers two conclusions for us to take away, and they’re found at the very end of the book. It’s the sum of the book.
He says in Ecclesiastes 12:13 –14. He says, “Here’s the matter; here’s the sum.” He offers two guidelines. He says this: “The end of the matter…” there’s no verb to it. The end, the sum, the conclusion “all has been heard.” In other words, he’s gone down every avenue, the Preacher has. He’s tried every single thing. “This is the end of the matter. Since all these things do not satisfy…” listen to this brothers, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
Ecclesiastes 22 Calls Us to Fear God
The first guideline is simply this: fear God. Fear God. Reverence God. Live a life in constant awareness that there is a God who is holy and just, and He rules from heaven above. Stand in awe of God. Do not stand in awe of stuff. Stand in awe of God, not in awe of trash. Fear God, and second, keep His commandments. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, with all of your mind, and all of your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
This is the sum; this is the whole matter: “Fear God and keep his commandments…” why? Well, he gives us the reason in verse 14: “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret theme, whether good or evil.” There is coming a day, when everyone in this room…myself included…when everyone in this room will stand before a holy and just God, and we will all give an account of our lives. Every public deed, and every private thought will be exposed. Everything will be brought to bear on that last day, and we…all of us…we will come before God having lived in one of two ways, and only two ways: having lived for ourselves, or having lived for God. We will come before God, as if God never mattered, or as if only God mattered. We will come before God having said, with all of our thoughts, with all of our deeds, we will come before God having lived as if the world is good, or having lived as if God is good. Everyone of us will stand before God. You can try all these other things; they’re dead-ends, they’re bankrupt; they’re pointless; they’re vain. Or we can fear God, and keep His commandments. This is what the book of Ecclesiastes teaches us.
In the New Testament context …
Now, on the surface we just hear that: Fear God, and keep His commandments. That can be a frightening prospect, because as we go into the New Testament context, and we think about those things…fear God and keep His commandments…the truth is, we don’t do those things. I mean, isn’t that was Romans 3 says? If you would flip there just for a moment. As we move into the New Testament context, the sum of Ecclesiastes: fear God, and keep His commandments. Fear God, and keep His commandments. Now, look at Romans 3. Paul indicts all of humanity in Romans 1 and 2. He comes to Romans 3:10 and following. I won’t read all of it, but just keep those two in mind. Remember: fear God, and keep His commandments. What do all men do? Precisely this, verse 10: “’None is righteous, no, not one.’” In other words, nobody does the word. Nobody keeps His commandments. “‘No one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they become worthless; no one does good, not even one…There is no fear of God before their eyes.’” Did you read that last verse? Verse 18: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “Fear God.” In the New Testament, we read the indictment that no one fears God. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “Keep His commandments.” We know of Romans 3:23, just a few verses later, that there is no distinction, Jew nor Greek, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are told to fear God, and keep His commandments, but we know that we do not fear God, and we do not keep His commandments. The reason is what we’ve seen all year, as David has worked through the storyline of Scripture, that all of us live under the curse.
What we’ve seen all along the way is that all of us live under the curse of Almighty God, so that we see confusion; we see frustration; we see despair, emptiness, heartbreak, depression, longing, pain, bitterness, death…we see all of these things, and we agree with what the Preacher has found. We know these things in our hearts, but the same things that he finds in all of his pursuits, we know simply by living, that there is evil in every single handle.
What I want to remind you of this morning, from Ecclesiastes…from the Word…is simply this: that this curse that we all experience, that we all live under, that this curse is by divine design. That this curse is by divine design, and that for two reasons: first, the curse alerts us to the problem of sin. The curse alerts us to the problem of sin. This is a divine design. God does nothing by accident; everything by intention. So, He comes in the garden, and He curses Adam and Eve; He curses the ground, and that very curse alerts us to the problem of sin. In the same way that when we have symptoms, it alerts us that there is something deeper at stake, there is something deeper at root, and the symptoms are just that; they tell us that there is something deeper.
Ecclesiastes 22 Highlights the Problem of Sin in the World
It’s the same way with the frustration that you feel, with the despair, with the hopelessness, with the emptiness, with the depression, all of these things point us, they alert us to the problem of sin. Number two, by God’s grace and the gospel, these…the curse points us to Jesus. The curse points us to Jesus. Don’t miss this. The extent of the curse is not simply meant to reveal the ugliness of sin, but also the glory of the Christ who triumphs over it. The extent of the curse is not meant simply to reveal the ugliness of sin, but also to reveal the glory of the Christ who triumphs over it, so that in strife, in Christ, we are pointed to a day when there will be peace. So that in Christ, when we hear of the cancer, we are pointed to a day when there will be no more disease. So that in Christ, when we see, and experience, and know, and hate the problem of racism, we are pointed to a day when there will be a people gathered from every people, language, tribe, and nation gathered around the throne of God worshiping. When we stand, brothers and sisters, at a casket, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Why? Because in Christ, even death itself points to a day when death shall be no more; when He will raise our bodies up from the dead; He will transform our bodies from lowly bodies to glories bodies like His. Why? How? Simply in this: Because Jesus redeems us from the curse of God.
Galatians 3:13 –14 says that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming the curse for us.” He didn’t do it just by brushing it aside, or by speaking it away. God sends His very own Son in the Messiah…in Jesus Christ…to take our sins…to take our sins upon Him. He becomes the very curse of God. Everything that God hates, He pours out upon His Son, and Jesus liberates us from the curse of God, so that now, in Christ, there is something new “under the sun.” There is something new under the sun. There is a new kingdom, under a new covenant, and a new law, populated by people with new hearts, who have been born again, who await new bodies, in a new heaven, and a new earth.
God says, in Revelation 21: “Behold, I am making all things new…”, so that, in Christ, no longer is anything vanity. Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, not junk, not trash, not the things that the world would provide. I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” Fear God, and keep His commandments. Jesus does them both, and so redeems us from the curse.
Be warned about empty pursuits.
So, how do we apply? Just very quickly, let me walk you through three ways, just so quickly, as we finish. First, be warned; be warned about empty pursuits. The devil sets before us a table; all kinds of worldly pleasures. Hear the Preacher who says, “They will not fulfill; they will not satisfy; they will not last.” Better yet, hear Jesus: “Do not labor…” John 6:27: “Do not labor for the food that perishes…” “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life.” Of course, He is talking about Himself.
On this Father’s Day, I think about in my own home, and in my family and my life, and in this church, oh God, I pray, that by His grace, I would set the tone in my home of pursuing with everything that I have Christ and not the world. Someone has said of preachers, they said, “They will listen to your sermons, and then they will imitate your life.” The very same thing I think holds true for us as fathers. Our children, they will listen to what we say, but in all likelihood, they will imitate what we do. So, God give us grace. God give us grace, not to pursue all that the world sets before us. Be warned! Brothers and sisters, hear…read the book of Ecclesiastes. Read the beginning; read the end; read the pursuits, and know that they are bankrupt, and they are a dead-end. That only Christ satisfies.
Labor in the Lord
Be warned about empty pursuits. Number two, be laboring in the Lord. Be laboring in the Lord. The Preacher says, “It’s all vanity.” If he were in our context, he’d say our preaching, our praying, our going, our serving, our giving…it doesn’t matter. Why? We’re going to die. With our wisdom, we will still die. So just eat, drink, and be merry, and sometimes it’s easy to get discouraged, is it not?
“Why am I doing? Why am I serving? Why am I going? Why am I doing all of these things? It doesn’t matter. It’s not making a difference.” Hear Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brothers…” listen to this “…be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” It may seem like it’s in vain. It may seem like it’s making no eternal difference, but that’s why we do not live by sight, rather we live by faith. Know, brothers and sisters, that your labor, it is not in vain.
Long for His return
Number three, be longing for His return. Sometimes we experience frustration because we live in an already/not yet. The kingdom is here. The new covenant is here…the new law; the new heart; the new birth, it’s here, but we don’t experience it in all of its fullness. So, our temptation is to go the way of the Preacher. Satan would love nothing more than for us to be discouraged; for us to be in despair; for us to be hopeless, and to feel an emptiness in our soul, but that’s why we must long for the return of Christ. There is coming a day…Revelation 21:4 says…there is coming a day when He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more. There shall be no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Behold, He is making all things new, and to that I say, and we say, “Come, Lord Jesus!”