Yesterday evening I had the privilege to preach on the text found in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes. We kicked off a six month study through this book in our evening worship service. For many, Ecclesiastes is just an old outdated book located near the middle of the Bible. What could the book of Ecclesiastes possibly teach a modern audience about life?
A few years ago, a caretaker at a nursing facility in Los Angeles, California named Jim went into a woman’s room in order to change out some medical equipment. Jim knew this elderly woman well, her name was Elizabeth. As he entered her room, he could tell each time he was there that her room was different. Rather than watching endless hours of FOX News or CNN or some worthless television program, this woman’s room had a calm and serene atmosphere. He always saw her Bible opened, and as a Christian he liked to look to see what she had been reading and studying. As he glanced at her opened Bible on this particular day, he noticed it was opened to the book of Ecclesiastes. He asked – “Ms. Elizabeth, do you find this old book of Ecclesiastes relevant to our culture?” She responded, “O, Mr. Jim, if you would just look out the window onto the streets of LA, you will see Ecclesiastes in action.”
The fact is, Ecclesiastes is a book full of wisdom, and as one author said, “It’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes than to make them yourself.” Ecclesiastes is a commentary on life by Solomon, the son of King David. He refers to himself as the Preacher – (קֹהֶלֶת) and his sermon is worthy of our attention. Written with a keen eye on life, he points out the emptiness of life that’s disconnected from God. He seeks to make the point that as the wisest man in history and a man of great privilege as the son of a king who eventually became a king – everything in life is vanity of vanities unless it’s lived out for God.
It seems that from the beginning, the key word in Ecclesiastes is vanity. Much like the key word in D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers is the word abomination, therefore many have charged Solomon with being a killjoy or religious pessimist. Today’s evangelical church is so weak that anything written in the negative is looked upon as ill-natured and offensive. Perhaps that’s why so many people today know so little about Ecclesiastes. Contrary to popular opinion, the negative tone of Ecclesiastes is driving us to discover true and lasting joy in God.
We live in a culture that is filled with meaninglessness. When we have a massively popular website dedicated to bouncing cats where people will go and waste precious minutes and hours of life, there has to be some meaningful message in life worthy of our time – right? That is exactly what Solomon is trying to teach us. A life lived apart from God is vanity of vanities. It’s like the pattern of the sun, the circuits of the wind, and the endless flowing streams – it seems meaningless.
Millions of people on planet Earth are starting off their Monday without hope in God through Jesus Christ. They are going through their morning routines and looking at their calendar which merely keeps them between the lines in this rat race of life. Their life is like the wind, it’s here today and gone tomorrow. They search for meaning in the temporal successes of life, but once they achieve their goals, they realize it was merely temporal and then it’s gone. The only hope for a ruined humanity is Jesus Christ. He is the only One who can provide newness to this monotonous cycle. In Christ there is true meaning and suddenly the life that appeared as vanity has lasting purpose and true value.
What is the chief end of man? According to the catechism, it’s to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. A life lived in search of money and wisdom will end in vanity. A life lived for God is a life worth living.
Psalm 73:25-26 – Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.