Series: Under the Sun: The Book of Ecclesiastes
Vanity of Vanities
July 12, 2020 | John Ewart
Passage: Ecclesiastes 1:1-3
7.12.20 Under the Sun – Vanity of Vanities
Socrates: The unexamined life is not worth living.
When you get to where you are going, where will you be?
Even more importantly, why are you going there in the first place?
Some would say who cares? They simply allow apathy to rule.
Years ago Forbes magazine’s 75th anniversary issue was dedicated to 1 topic:
“Why we feel so bad when we have it so good”
Since that edition, it has not grown better.
Our current context has heightened problems even further.
Remember I told you months ago that this pandemic will not define us but it will put on display who we truly are.
Some simply do not care.
They do not want to have to deal with the difficult questions.
Did you know that in many pre-modern languages, there are no words for boredom?
Isn’t it ironic- we have access to more knowledge and entertainment in the palms of our hands than previous generations combined, a zillion channels on cable and computer, have turned the world into a giant fun factory of individualistic expectations, and yet, many are the most bored it seems?
At least purposeless or directionless, meaningless.
If the word boredom is a modern invention, the search for meaning is not.
In every man there is a growing desire to know what life is all about.
A meaning that goes beyond activity, intellect, fame or wealth.
I believe God has clearly led me to a study of the book called Ecclesiastes.
I believe it will serve us very well in our current context and situation.
It is well suited for our 5G, microwave, instant gratification generation with 12 chapters you can read in 40 minutes.
It asks the question the rest of the Scripture answers: “What is the meaning of life?”
The commentator, Warren Weirsbe, thought this book was so important he began his OT commentary series with it.
RC Sproul says Ecclesiastes was instrumental in his conversion as God used the second half of 11:3 to convict his heart.
Ed Young, pastor of the 20,000 plus member, 2nd Baptist Church of Houston, calls Ecclesiastes the only book of philosophy in the Bible and since the Bible is the greatest book in the world, Ecclesiastes is the greatest book of philosophy in the world
Ecclesiastes asks the question that the Bible answers in 65 more books of prophecy, poetry, history, and narrative.
I believe this is a very important study for us at this crossroads, during this time, as you face huge decisions as a church.
The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
First, let’s meet…
- The Preacher
Almost every aspect of the book is debated including who wrote it and when.
Some call it the most misunderstood book of the Bible.
But I believe years ago a man with more power, money and fame than Michael Jordan asked, “What is the real meaning of life?” and recorded his search for an answer.
His name was Solomon and his book is called Ecclesiastes.
He had the time, the money, and the energy for the journey.
Will you join me in that same journey?
Solomon had the ability and resources to search everywhere under the Sun for the answer.
He was given a blank check by the only One who could deliver, regardless of the sum.
God told Solomon to ask and to receive.
1 Kings 3:5
5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask! What shall I give you?”
Solomon chose and it pleased God
I Kings 3:6-13
6 And Solomon said: “You have shown great mercy to Your servant David my father, because he walked before You in truth, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with You; You have continued this great kindness for him, and You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. 7 Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. 9 Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” 10 The speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. 11 Then God said to him: “Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, 12 behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you. 13 And I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honor, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days.
He asked for wisdom and God not only gave him that He also blessed him beyond because he did not ask for selfish gain.
God always gives more when we focus on Him and others first!
When we love God and love others, that should sound familiar, with all of our hearts, He will bless us.
Maybe not always materially like Solomon, but with a heart focused properly on those right priorities, we will not care.
We will to focused on loving Him with our entire beings!
The son of David and Bathsheba ruled 40 years.
He had a godly heritage.
Though issues of authorship are debated, Jewish tradition asserts that Solomon wrote Song of Solomon, a love story, in his youthful years, Proverbs, full of wisdom, in his middle years, and Ecclesiastes in his later years.
So, it could have been written around 935 B.C.
He began well, wealthy, powerful, wise.
But an erosion process began.
The passion of youth was gone, the practability of his wise years deteriorated.
He had turned to false gods and pagan wives.
He allowed politics to rule and married for foreign alliances.
He even allowed his pagan wives to set up altars to their idols and to make sacrifices to their gods.
Now, it seemed, he was searching, empty for that meaning he likely once possessed.
That is the way the spiral of sin will work.
It will distract us from the true path and distort the way we think we should go and turn until eventually we find ourselves in a desert place full of more questions than answers, more emptiness than meaning, more fear than faith.
8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
Ecclesiastes was a written address
The Preacher= “One who addresses or calls together an assembly” the Qoheleth – the Teacher
The Greek word for assembly, ekklesia, or the one who calls the assembly together from the Septuagint, gives us the book title.
So, we have met the preacher.
Now let’s hear…
- The Problem
2 “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
Life is without meaning!
Think about it.
With immeasurable wealth, power and wisdom at his disposal, he tried everything that life under the sun had to offer and came up empty!
He tried pleasure, philosophy, materialism, education, religion and nothing satisfied.
Vanity is used 38X in the book.
When a word is repeated in Hebrew that means it is important.
Hevel or Hebel is the Hebrew word for vapor, breath, emptiness, fleeting, meaninglessness.
Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; His days are like a passing shadow.
One of my old seminary professors said hevel or hebel is whatever is left after you break a soap bubble.
A wisp of vapor, a puff of wind, zero, zilch!
It is worthless.
It is a waste of time that fails to satisfy.
The word can also mean absurd, full of falsehood, the opposite of valuable.
The word is used in Scripture sometimes in the context of idol worship.
Idol worship is meaningless, empty, pointless.
People are caught in the trap of the absurd and pursue fleeting emptiness.
They build their lives on values that are lies and lies with no value.
Got you attention yet?
This is how Solomon felt before and during his journey.
Why wouldn’t the man who was King, who had such an endless supply of financial resources, find something, anything, that would give purpose?
Sin spirals. It distracts. It detracts. It distorts. Our focus is taken off the only One upon whom it belongs, and we worship the wrong ones, often ourselves.
Solomon couldn’t find an answer because he was lookin gin the wrong places, at the wrong ones.
He had the wrong…
III. The Perspective
3 What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?
Under the Sun is mentioned 29X, thus the title for our series…
It equals under heaven and simply refers to the world.
Things down here.
Earthly things, not eternal ones.
Somewhere along the way Solomon clipped the strand that united him with God above the sun and decided to attempt to find meaning and satisfaction in a life lived strictly under the sun.
We will never understand life by viewing it only from the flatlands.
Horizontal happiness is often unstable and fleeting.
Our earthbound relationships and attitudes change with the topography, with emotions, and with whether another human being does what they are supposed to or not.
Because Solomon seldom looked “Above the sun” to find reassurance, life seemed hopelessly meaningless.
Hear me my friends, share this with two people you know this month, satisfaction in life under the sun will never occur until there is a meaningful relationship with the living Lord above the sun.
This book, this preacher, is a testimony to the truth that life has no meaning without faith in God.
Our meaning will be found as we walk as closely with Him as possible as fruit-producing, reproducing, disciples.
Faith in a holy yet knowable and knowing God is enough to give our lives meaning.
Faith gives us the reason to live and the reason to die.
Profit is mentioned 10X= Yitron= “that which is left over” the surplus, advantage, gain.
It is the opposite of vanity.
For your earthly life to make sense, it is absolutely essential that your eternal life is in proper perspective and order.
The good life, the one that truly satisfies, exists only when we stop wanting a better one.
Savor what is, rather than longing for what might be.
You have right now.
What will you do with it?
We never earn enough, our cars are never nice enough, gadgets are never modern enough, relationships never romantic enough, life is never full enough.
Satisfaction comes when we step off the escalator of desire.
We must say “What I make of what I currently have in my union with the living God is what matters”
No matter how much wealth, education or social prestige you may have, life without God is futile.
You are chasing the wind.
36 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?
When you truly engage with the family of God through faith in the Son of God, when you live the church’s vision in order to join the King’s mission, life is not monotonous, it is a daily adventure that develops you into who you are meant to be and enables you to love others to the glory of God.
Listen to Paul write someone he loved very much…
1 Timothy 6:17
17 Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.
Did you hear that?
God gives to us “richly all things to enjoy”.
That is not some endorsement for a prosperity Gospel.
It is a testimony to the faithfulness of God to give us what we must have in order to live for Him and to serve on His Mission.
In Christ we have all we need for life and death.
1 Corinthians 15:58
58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Our labor is not in vain because we are joining Him in His work.
Solomon didn’t have God’s perspective.
That was because he wasn’t living for God’s purposes and abounding in the Lord’s work.
You know over the years I have seen God do miracles in churches.
I have seen Him raise up churches that were about to die, when His people responded to Him.
I witnessed that when they were “always abounding in the work of the Lord”, when they were focused upon Him and His will and not their own, they were so engaged, they did not have a lot to complain and worry about.
They knew the answer to why?
In every church where I served as the full time senior pastor, we reached the place where people were being saved every week.
We baptized at the beginning of almost every single Sunday morning service as a testimony to Him and what He was doing.
We had so many new believers and then mature believers who would also join us to help, that those people, who in some places had lived in such great fear and conflict over the future of their church, were silenced and humbled.
They knew why?
They knew they had to either get on board or get out of the way.
Solomon asks all of us, for whom and for what, are you living?
1 John 2:15
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
When you live for the world instead of God you begin to see life from the wrong perspective.
You only see, “under the sun”.
Instead of seeking those things above, you trap yourself in the spiral of the things below.
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
Wrong vision leads to wrong values, disappointment, and defeat.
1 John 1:9
9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Life is meant to be is a life-long love affair with the almighty God.
But many of you have never discovered your meaning, your why?
Join me in this journey!
The study of this ancient text that will come to life in our hearts and change our lives today.
Jesus came as the Light of the World.
He made us a light to shine for others.
There are those all around sitting in the shadows, covered by the darkness of their sin and selfishness.
Maybe that’s you.
The meaning of your life seems so distant and difficult to grasp.
You have been pursuing all of the wrong paths and making such bad choices.
I have good news.
Come to the light.
Open your eyes to the Truth.
Allow him to change your perspective.
Look above the sun!