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Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:26 “What is the Meaning of Life?”

How many of you are looking forward to when you can finally enjoy life? Some of you are looking forward to retirement and a life with less stress and less work. Some of you are already retired but you're still looking forward to the same thing. Many people who look forward to retirement slave away at their job for years so that one day they can enjoy life. And of those that are already retired, many have the same mindset of trying to get everything all in order so that "someday" you can finally relax and enjoy everything you worked so hard for.

An American poet once said retirement isn't all it’s cracked up to be. "Retirement is being tired twice...first tired of working, then tired of not.”

Many people think the meaning of life is to work really hard, putting off enjoyment, so that one day they can have time enjoy everything they worked so hard for in the future.

But the teacher of Ecclesiastes would disagree with them. He’d say this isn't the meaning of life at all and he even conducted 4 tests in order to prove that he's right.

The Teacher Tests What is Gained by Wisdom

12 I, the Teacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13a I applied my mind to examine and explore through wisdom all that is done under heaven.

But he comes to the conclusion that...

13b God has given people this miserable task to keep them occupied.

God is like that teacher who gives you assignments that have no other meaning than to take up your time. The reason he comes to this conclusion is because....

14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun and have found everything to be futile, a pursuit of the wind.

Examining and exploring with wisdom is like trying to catch the wind. All you end up with is empty hands. It's like trying to fix what's wrong with the planet...

15a What is crooked cannot be straightened;

The creation has been suffering since the Fall of Adam. There are earthquakes, hurricanes, mass shootings and death all around us. We can try to fix what's crooked, but our only real hope is to wait for when, as Paul says in Romans 8 "creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children."

In addition the pursuit to find meaning in wisdom is like trying to count what you don't have...

15b what is lacking cannot be counted.

"You can't count your chickens before they hatch." There's no point in trying to count what isn't there.

Furthermore...

16 I said to myself, “See, I have amassed wisdom far beyond all those who were over Jerusalem before me, and my mind has thoroughly grasped wisdom and knowledge.” 17 I applied my mind to know wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly; I learned that this too is a pursuit of the wind.

Trying to amass more and more wisdom and knowledge is a pursuit of the wind because the world we live in just doesn't make sense sometimes. It's like trying to figure out the motives of the shooters in Las Vegas, Texas, and now California. We may learn some but we will never have satisfactory answers apart from God.

The more we try the more sorrow we end up with...

18 For with much wisdom is much sorrow; as knowledge increases, grief increases.

The more time we spend trying to fix what can't be straightened, count what can't be counted, and know the unknowable the more our grief will increase. We should feel sorry for those constantly looking for conspiracies, spending hours and hours on the Internet trying to find meaning to their lives. We main may increase our knowledge, but our sorrow and grief increase, too.

The Teacher Tests What is Gained by Pleasure

2:1 I said to myself, “Go ahead, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy what is good.” But it turned out to be futile.

It's important to understand that the pursuit of pleasure is not evil. The problem is that the Teacher was seeking it "under the sun" or apart from God. Pleasure, apart from God, is also futile.

In verse 2...

2 I said about laughter, “It is madness,” and about pleasure, “What does this accomplish?”

Trying to find meaning in life through pleasure is a futile effort. Specifically, there are four pleasurable things he checked out the pleasures of wine, achievements, art, and sex. First of all wine...

3a I explored with my mind the pull of wine on my body—

3b my mind still guiding me with wisdom—and how to grasp folly, until I could see what is good for people to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.

He wasn't trying to get drunk, he just was trying grab a hold of "that little bit extra" that would help bring meaning to his life. But it didn't work so he tried to find it in the pleasures of achievements...

4 I increased my achievements. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. 5 I made gardens and parks for myself and planted every kind of fruit tree in them.

6 I constructed reservoirs for myself from which to irrigate a grove of flourishing trees.

7 I acquired male and female servants and had slaves who were born in my house. I also owned livestock—large herds and flocks—more than all who were before me in Jerusalem.

8 I also amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces.

But the pleasures of achievements didn't satisfy. So he tried the pleasures of art...

8b I gathered male and female singers for myself,

and the pleasures of sex...

8c and many concubines, the delights of men.

The pleasures of wine, achievements, art, and sex all fell short. After all of this the Teacher's conclusion is...

9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; my wisdom also remained with me.

10 All that my eyes desired, I did not deny them. I did not refuse myself any pleasure, for I took pleasure in all my struggles. This was my reward for all my struggles.

11 When I considered all that I had accomplished and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind. There was nothing to be gained under the sun.

Even Solomon, with all his wealth and power came to the conclusion that seeking pleasure, apart from God, is a wasted effort. It's futile and a pursuit of the wind. It doesn't matter how much one struggles, or achieves, there is no meaning apart from God under the sun.

Seeking wisdom and seeking pleasure have left the teacher without anything so he comes up with a 3rd test. It's as if he doesn't want to completely shut the door on the value of wisdom. What if there is meaning to be found in wisdom comparatively with folly?

The Teacher Tests the Benefits of Wisdom over Folly

12 Then I turned to consider wisdom, madness, and folly, for what will the king’s successor be like? He will do what has already been done.

Solomon hopes to decide once and for all if there is any benefit to wisdom over folly. He didn't think anyone would ever come along and improve upon his experiment. And at first he comes to the conclusion that there is a difference...

13 And I realized that there is an advantage to wisdom over folly, like the advantage of light over darkness. 14 The wise person has eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness.

Being able to see where you're going seems like a big advantage...

14b Yet I also knew that one fate comes to them both.

The wise and the fools both die. Everyone dies. From the point of view of those without God death is the end of the line and it makes no difference whether you're wise or foolish.

15 So I said to myself, “What happens to the fool will also happen to me. Why then have I been overly wise?” And I said to myself that this is also futile.

There's no lasting benefit to being wise and if you're starting to think about the benefit of a good reputation the teacher shoots down this glimmer of hope, too.

16 For, just like the fool, there is no lasting remembrance of the wise, since in the days to come both will be forgotten. How is it that the wise person dies just like the fool?

Life without regard for God just leads to despair...

17 Therefore, I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me. For everything is futile and a pursuit of the wind.

So far the Teacher has sought meaning in wisdom, in pleasure, in wisdom over folly but hasn't succeeded. Now there's one more test.. What if we work really hard and accumulate lots of stuff and then give it to your kids? Isn't there some meaning in doing that? Let's see...

The Teacher Tests the Gain of Accumulating Possessions

18 I hated all my work that I labored at under the sun because I must leave it to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will take over all my work that I labored at skillfully under the sun. This too is futile.

There's no guarantee anyone that you leave behind your possessions to is going to do anything good with them. It's a futile effort to try and find meaning to life in that.

20 So I began to give myself over to despair concerning all my work that I had labored at under the sun. 21 When there is a person whose work was done with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and he must give his portion to a person who has not worked for it, this too is futile and a great wrong.

If you're trying to find purpose in life in what you leave behind for others you're chasing after wind.

22 For what does a person get with all his work and all his efforts that he labors at under the sun? 23 For all his days are filled with grief, and his occupation is sorrowful; even at night, his mind does not rest. This too is futile.

What does a person get for all his effort, under the sun, apart from God? Nothing!

Now, the Teacher has put his theory to the test four times and each time it has proven to be true. He rests his case. There is no meaning to be gained in seeking wisdom, pursuing pleasure, being wiser than a fool, or in gathering possessions.

What then? Is there absolutely no point to living? Yes, there is.

The Teacher's Final Advice

24 There is nothing better for a person than to eat, drink, and enjoy his work.

Eat, drink, and enjoy your work while you do it. Take joy in the present moment.

You waste your life if you don't find enjoyment in your everyday activities. Don't keep differing enjoyment for the future because the future may never come.

So pursue happiness, right? No. That's not the Teacher's point.

24b I have seen that even this enjoyment is from God’s hand, 25 because who can eat and who can enjoy life apart from him?

The joy, is a gift. We receive it. If you want to spend your life trying to gain it will be just like striving after the wind. Instead, we receive God's joy as He gives it to us.

Here's the Teacher's final conclusion for this section...

26 For to the person who is pleasing in his sight, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy; but to the sinner God gives the task of gathering and accumulating in order to give to the one who is pleasing in God’s sight. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.

Those that please God are those that acknowledge His gifts. They are thankful and to them God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy.

But the sinner, even though he may be morally upright, is the one who has missed the point, thinking all his effort actually counts for something. Instead of joy, he gets a workaholic life with nothing to show for it in the end. Even what he earns is taken away and given to others.

In Luke 19:26 Jesus told a parable about ten servants who each received ten talents. The master went away and then rewarded each according to how much they had gained. He took the talent away from the servant who hadn't earned anything and gave it to the one who had the most. When the people complained He said, "I tell you, that to everyone who has, more will be given; and from the one who does not have, even what he does have will be taken away."

So, the point is that since all efforts apart from God are futile we ought to find enjoyment in what He gives us each day. In our eating, our drinking, and our working...in all of life's daily activities we should find enjoyment. Savor the moment. Stop and smell the roses.

Sadly, many people put off enjoying God's gifts until it's too late. Many people hate their jobs and are only living for the weekend. They don't see work as a gift. They see it as a curse. Many spend lots of money on the lottery hoping to be able to quit work. Others can't wait for retirement.

Even Christians get caught in this mentality only looking forward to the future joy of heaven and not appreciating the daily gifts God gives.

Even though Jesus knew there would be a future time without "mourning and crying and pain will be no more" (Revelation 21:4) Jesus taught us to enjoy God's gifts in the here and now.

In Matthew 6:25-33 He taught...

Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing?

26 Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?

27 Can any of you add one moment to his life-span by worrying? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? Observe how the wildflowers of the field grow: They don’t labor or spin thread.

29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these. 30 If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t he do much more for you—you of little faith? 31 So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

Don't be like the Gentiles, the sinners who keep striving after the wind to gain what they can't keep. Instead, seek God's kingdom, be content, and enjoy, with thanksgiving, the food, the drink, the clothing, and all the gifts God provides.

In fact, live your whole life grateful for God's daily gifts. Colossians 3:16-17...

16 Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Every day, and especially this Thanksgiving Day, we should thank God for His wonderful gifts. And we should enjoy on a daily basis what He gives us. If we don't enjoy them and just bury them in the ground, like the unprofitable servant did, then we thumb our noses at the one who gave them.

Since all worldly endeavors are futile, find enjoyment in God's daily gifts of food, drink, and toil. Don't postpone enjoyment to some future time but savor God-given joy in the present moment.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 “God Sets the Times”

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 “The Futility of Life”