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Ecclesiastes 1:12, 1617; 2:1, 34, 11, 24, 26; 3:1617comment (0)

July 20, 2006

By Doug Wilson

Related Scripture: Ecclesiastes 1:12, 1617; 2:1, 34, 11, 24, 26; 3:1617

Explore the Bible
Assistant Professor of Christian Studies, University of Mobile

What’s Life All About?
Ecclesiastes 1:1–2, 16–17; 2:1, 3–4, 11, 24, 26; 3:16–17

In a world of competing values, experiences and worldviews, many people either assume or are taught that all values are equal.

According to the Scriptures, Christian faith has no equal. The Lord Jesus said He is the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father apart from Him (John 14:6). Peter explained that there is no other name under heaven by which a person can be delivered from sin; only Jesus’ name will suffice (Acts 4:12). Philippians 2:5–11 declares that Jesus’ name is greater than every other name and that all will bow and all will confess that He is Lord.

Different people have different ways of measuring success, including affluence (accumulating things), influence and hedonism (access to pleasures). All of these are vain pursuits, which bring temporal satisfaction without eternal significance. This concept was just as true 3,000 years ago as it is today. 

Gathering wealth is one of the vain pursuits in life, according to Qoheleth (often translated “Teacher” or “Preacher,” see Eccles. 1:2). Knowledge for its own sake, sexual satisfaction, adrenaline rushes, personal fame and celebrity and pleasure seeking through alcohol and drugs are some of the unsuccessful ways people try to fill the emptiness in their life. The writer of Ecclesiastes, traditionally acknowledged to be Solomon, writes from personal experience that these pursuits are in vain and that a significant life is lived according to God’s plan.

Does Knowledge Guarantee Success? (1:1–2, 16–17)

Every school or university has students who are extraordinarily gifted academically. Many of them have a thirst for knowledge. Is there a benefit of gaining information simply for its own sake? You may do well playing Trivial Pursuit, but the Teacher’s conclusion is exactly that: the desire for more and more knowledge is trivial, a waste of time, like chasing after the wind.

Having said this, one must recognize that we all benefit from knowledge. We would not experience spiritual growth, meaningful relationships or information necessary to allow us to make a contribution to our families, our churches, our communities and the world around us without knowledge. 

The recurring theme of Ecclesiastes is the utter meaningless existence of life when it is lived apart from God. On numerous occasions, the phrases “under the sun” and “nothing new under the sun” are used to describe a life of temporal goals. Hollywood demonstrates this truth with this year’s “X-men 3” and “Superman Returns” movies.

Does ‘the Good Life’ Equal Success? (2:1, 3–4, 11)

The Teacher pursued the pleasures of the world and found them unsatisfying. Getting drunk and playing games only accentuated the emptiness of such pursuits. Filling his days with projects related to his real estate also led him to see that this did not provide his life with meaning. Read the entire book to discover that all of the ways in which the world valued (and still values) success are empty, vain pursuits apart from God.

True Success Comes from Pleasing God (2:24, 26; 3:16–17)

Eat, drink and find satisfaction with your work. These are gifts from God. If these words have a familiar ring to them, then you may recall that Jesus used similar language in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said not to worry about our food, drink or clothing. Instead we are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33).

Ecclesiastes 3:11 states that God has placed eternity in the hearts of individuals but that people cannot understand what God has done. Blaise Pascal described it as a God-shaped vacuum, which only Christ can fill. Verses 16 and 17 speak of judgment by which God distinguishes between what is righteous and what is wicked. The world needs to know what God has done through Jesus and the reality of coming judgment, and Christians have a responsibility to tell.

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