Eccl. 11:7-10; 12:12-14
Bobby Braswell, Associational Missions Strategist
Middle Baptist Association, Sylvania
Obedience to God is the key to a meaningful life.
John Mayer is a super talented guitarist, insightful song-writer, and world-class philanderer. His womanizing rivals Wilt Chamberlin (and Solomon). By contemporary standards people would look at his life and think he has everything. But his journey could probably be summarized in the lyrics of one of his songs: “Something’s missing, and I don’t know how to fix it.”
Similarly, Solomon tried everything to extract meaning and purpose from life, and even though he came from a world of comfort and privilege, he didn’t find contentment in his hedonistic excesses.
Our cultural belief is that stuff, sex, and being unencumbered with traditional norms is the pathway to happiness. But if that’s true, why are so many people empty and unhappy? Obedient submission to God is the only way we can find meaning, purpose, and joy in life. Solomon serves as a cautionary tale, but ultimately he pointed to God as the source of what he needed and desired.
The Bible Meets Life
Ecclesiastes describes accurately the tension that people will experience when they attempt to practice their faith in the world. Philip Yancey, wrote about Ecclesiastes in his book “The Bible Jesus Read.” He talks about his early brush with existentialist authors like Albert Camus. What Camus wrote sounds familiar to anyone who has read Ecclesiastes: “It makes little difference whether one dies at the age of thirty or three score and ten, since in either case, other men and women will continue living, the world will go on as before” (“The Stranger”).
Yancey summarized the empty query of the existentialist, “What difference does anything make, really? It matters little whether you get up or stay in bed, whether you love life or hate it.” Or, as the writer of Ecclesiastes put it, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” The literary style of Ecclesiastes is out of step with our expectations of Scripture. We usually want the Bible to deliver quick, pithy, life truths that we can stick on a magnet or a t-shirt. But Ecclesiastes deviates from that pattern. It permits the writer (and consequently the readers) to reflect on the seeming absurdity of life.
Study the Bible
Eccl. 11:7-10. Life is wonderful! There is so much to enjoy! And yet freedom has parameters. God has established truth and meaning in life. Gal. 5:13 might be seen as giving a New Testament commentary on this passage: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (NIV). While following Christ ought not to create joyless automatons, neither does it sanction us to be lawless libertines. Given that each follower of Christ will give an account to God of the things done in the body (2 Cor. 5:10), our experiences should be characterized by holiness.
Eccl. 12:12-14. As we age, we become “the distilled essence of what we are.” We become the accumulation of our choices and decisions. Of course God’s grace is powerful and His mercy is tender. But we should hear this caution: A person who approaches life with no restraint might very well collect numerous irrecoverable regrets. Author and pastor John Phillips called the book of Ecclesiastes “a wail of despair over a misspent life.” Historically, we know that Solomon’s promiscuity invited tragic consequences and tarnished his legacy. (For the New Testament perspective see John 14:21, 23).
Live It Out
Sunday School and small group ministries are one of the primary ways that churches are trying to make disciples of people. Therefore, a teacher might ask, “Is the content of this lesson likely to produce changed lives?” Asking open-ended questions to stimulate interaction helps a leader understand where people are along a continuum to maturity. Here are a few examples from Daniel and Jonathan Akin’s commentary on Ecclesiastes:
1. In what ways do we try to ignore old age and escape aging?
2. Do you find yourself living life looking to some future when you can really be happy? What keeps you from being happy in the present?
3. Why did the Holy Spirit inspire such a “depressing” book to be written? How is the book of Ecclesiastes actually “good news/Gospel”?
From “Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Ecclesiastes”, page 121