Sermon Transcript/Article: What is the Meaning of Life? (Ecclesiastes)
What is the Meaning of Life?
Most of us have asked that question. And there is variety of answers that people come up with.
Well author Joseph Campbell says that - “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”
Author Henry Miller puts it this way - “Life has to be given a meaning because of the obvious fact that it has no meaning.
And I was really surprised by this one. It’s a quote from Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip. “I don't know the meaning of life. I don't know why we are here. I think life is full of anxieties and fears and tears. It has a lot of grief in it, and it can be very grim. And I do not want to be the one who tries to tell somebody else what life is all about. To me it's a complete mystery.
The last quote that I’ll read is from Max Lucado, a pastor and Christian author. He said “Philosophers can debate the meaning of life, but you need a Lord who can declare the meaning of life.”
Well according to the Bible in Isaiah 43:7 our purpose, the meaning for our lives, is for God's glory. It’s all about God. He wants our love. He wants our praise. He wants our worship. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. And He wants us to live a life of service that accomplishes His will.
King Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes which is found in the Bible. It’s a short book. It only takes about a ½ hour to read. And the whole point for his writing this book was to express that life is meaningless apart from God.
Apart From God – Everything is Meaningless
At one time or another, everyone thinks – If only (fill in the blank) then I would be so happy and my life would be wonderful. If only I had a different job, a better house, a new car, and much more money. Solomon begins his book of Ecclesiastes by reflecting on his past and noting how he has changed. Like all of us, Solomon wanted to be happy. And he had it all. He got the different job. He was the king of Israel. He got the better house, actually it was a palace. He acquired so much money and material possession. He had over 700 wives and over 300 mistresses. He even had great intelligence. He was a genius. However, despite all of his accomplishments and material possessions – Solomon realized that His life was absolutely meaningless. He wrote Ecclesiastes to warn others so that they could learn from his mistakes.
He says in chapter 1 “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!” What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now. (1:2-4, 9-11 NLT)
So… in the future, most people really aren’t going to be impressed with what he own or what we have accomplished. Like Solomon, we will discover that more money, fame, or power won’t make us happier. But the world tells us to demand happiness, do all we can to attain it, make personal satisfaction our chief goal. Well, Solomon had attained everything the world thought he needed to guarantee happiness and fulfillment. But as he reflected back on his life he discovered that his power, his position, all of his wives, his wealth, and his accomplishments never made him happy or brought meaning to his life.
The Bible contrasts the world’s view, it says that true happiness and meaning is when we live for God’s glory. We can use our accomplishments and possessions to please Him. We can use them to be a witness for Jesus, to show compassion and hospitality. We can be generous with money and use it to serve God by helping others in His name and supporting Christian ministries. When we use our stuff in ways that worship God – then we will find true meaning and importance in what we have.
The Disappointments of This World
Something else that Solomon wrote about was the several disappointments he had observed in the world and he wondered why they had to exist. In chapters 3 and 4 he pointed out 6 apparent contradictions in the world.
The first contradiction is that wickedness rules where justice should. He says in 3:16 “In addition, I have also noticed that in this world you find wickedness where justice and right ought to be.” (Good News)
This is true for us, too. Wickedness does rule where justice should. According to the International Justice Mission - 30 million people are currently being held and used as slaves. 2 million children are exploited through the commercial sex industry. Hundreds of millions of the poorest people in the developing world are abused by corrupt police who extort bribes and brutalize innocent citizens. All of that is injustice.
2nd - People created in God’s image end up dying just as the animals do. Chapter 3:19-20 – Solomon writes“The same fate awaits human beings and animals alike. One dies just like the other. They are the same kind of creature. A human being is no better off than an animal, because life has no meaning for either. They are both going to the same place—the dust. They both came from it; they will both go back to it.”
As Christian believers, we know that this is not true for us. Our death is not just like the animals. If we’re followers of Jesus, we have a confidence that we will spend an eternity with Him. John 3:16 promises us that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (Jesus). Whoever puts his trust in God’s Son will not be lost but will have life that lasts forever.
His 3rd contradiction is - No one comforts oppressed people. Chapter 4:1 - “Then I looked again at all the injustice that goes on in this world. The oppressed were crying, and no one would help them. No one would help them, because their oppressors had power on their side.”
It is unbelievable how many people are actually repressed, persecuted, or abused in this world. We even have oppressed people in our own communities and in our churches. For example: It is estimated that 1 in 4 women experience physical abuse within their lifetime. Every day in the US, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. Another example is that people all over the world are being persecuted and killed for their religious beliefs.
4th The reason that many of us work is because we envy what others have. Solomon said this in 4:4 - “I have also learned why people work so hard to succeed: it is because they envy the things their neighbors have. But it is useless. It is like chasing the wind.”
Most of us work for the money – not just to pay the bills, but to get stuff. And it isn’t just Americans; the rest of the world is becoming very materialistic, too. But what if we made the focus of our work about representing Jesus well in our workplace? What if we asked Him daily how He wants us to serve Him and love others while we work? That would make our vocation much more meaningful.
His 5th contradiction is that people are lonely. 4:7-10 “ I have noticed something else in life that is useless. Here is someone who lives alone. He has no son, no brother, yet he is always working, never satisfied with the wealth he has. For whom is he working so hard and denying himself any pleasure? This is useless, too—and a miserable way to live. Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. But if someone is alone and falls, it's just too bad, because there is no one to help him.”
So, people are lonely. They sure are. And people are lonely for all sorts of reasons: death, divorce, being isolated at home or in a nursing home, not having a family or group to belong to, losing connection with neighbors or friends.
And #6 - Fame doesn’t last – Solomon said in 4:15-16“ I thought about all the people who live in this world, and I realized that somewhere among them there is a young man who will take the king's place. There may be no limit to the number of people a king rules; when he is gone, no one will be grateful for what he has done. It is useless. It is like chasing the wind.”
Yes. The important people of politics will be replaced soon by someone new. And the famous celebrities are always changing. For a time, they are well known and on the front of magazines, but it doesn’t last long and people are interested in following someone else.
Solomon’s 6 disappointments are still disappointing people today. We have a lot of disappointments in our modern world. And usually we don’t really understand why these disappointments exist. Why does God allow them? Many of the questions of life won’t be answered to our satisfaction because we lack the ability to understand the answers. The answers do exist. And one day, when we are beyond this earthly world, living a perfect life with Jesus, we will get our answers. In the meantime, we have to trust God and not lose faith in Him.
Also, we don’t have to just sit back and helplessly observe the injustices and disappointments in the world. We can visit and comfort oppressed and lonely people. We can speak out against injustice. We can support the ministries that help meet the physical and spiritual needs of people. We can tell others how to live an eternal and perfect life beyond death. There is so much that we can do. And if you don’t know where to start - just ask God. If you truly want to serve God and make a positive difference in this world, just ask Him, and wait for the answer. He will give you the opportunities when you ask.
Solomon’s Conclusions and Warnings
(The key verse of Ecclesiastes is 10:19. A party gives laughter, and wine gives happiness, and money gives everything! (NLT) No. I’m just joking.)
The (real) key verse of Ecclesiastes is 2:11 – But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.” This is true for us today. If we had everything that we wanted, we would still be dissatisfied. We would find meaninglessness in it all.
Solomon concluded his book with these words.” Now, what should we learn from everything that is written in this book? The most important thing a person can do is to respect God and obey his commands (another version says to fear God), because he knows about everything people do—even the secret things. He knows about all the good and all the bad, and he will judge people for everything they do.” (12:13-14 ERV)
So, now we know that life just from a human perspective is meaningless. Solomon does point us to the answer of how to have a meaningful life. He tells us that we need to fear God. That doesn’t mean that we need to be afraid of Him. It means that we respect Him, stand in awe of Him. We recognize Him for who He is – our Creator, our sustainer of this earthly life, the One who can give us eternal life. Also, Solomon says to keep His commandments, to obey Him. One day we will face God and He will judge us for how we lived our life and how we used the blessings that He gave to us.
Solomon gave a similar warning in 4:9 - Follow the impulses of your heart. If something looks good to you, pursue it. But know also that not just anything goes;
You have to answer to God for every last bit of it. (Message)
God wants us to desire Him, and that means keeping our focus on Him. And when we do this we deflate sins such as self-importance, pride, and selfishness. When our focus is on God, even on our worst of days, we can find meaning, purpose, and joy.
Chris Esty, on his website The Bible Post said this about Desiring God:
Desiring God is more than wanting to receive good gifts from Him, it’s a lifelong journey in which we pursue all that He desires of us. We will rely on His wisdom instead of leaning on our own understanding. We will maintain a prayerful life. We will expect the coming of Jesus with joy—welcoming opportunities to share this blessed hope with others. In short, we will follow the example of Jesus who expressed desire for God at all times. Furthermore, desiring God means we will see His way as the only way by which to live aright. It means we will want to be holy because He is holy. God’s commands will govern our lives. And we will serve Him with gladness every step of the way—knowing that each step we take will draw us closer to our eternal reward.
I’ll end with these song lyrics written by artist Jessie McClure:
As I came, surely I will go. What have I gained at the end of the road? Anything that I can touch will soon go back to dust. And I will follow suit. My heart belongs to who I can’t see. But soon I will see you face to face. Looking in your eyes, I’m no longer chasing the wind. I’m chasing You.
I encourage you to chase after God. Desire Him. He is our only satisfaction. He is our true purpose. God is the meaning for our life.