Sermon on Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:18-26
Text: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
2:18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.
24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
In 1988, Bobby McFerrin released a song called “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” It was a catchy song. In it, he mentioned various things in life that might be troublesome such as your rent is late, you have no friends and no money. Yet, for each of these things, the listener was encouraged, “Don’t worry be happy.” He sang that “cause if you worry, your face will frown and that will bring everybody down.” When you worry, it makes everyone else sad. So, don’t worry. Be happy. That was a nice sentiment, but how practical is it? Is there really a way that you can do this? The fact is that there are many things that cause stress and concern. You can’t just wish them away. However, I want to encourage you and say DON’T WORRY – BE HAPPY! The truth of the matter is 1. The World Offers Nothing But Worry And Anxiety. 2. Only God Gives You Meaning In Life.
The first verse of our text gives the theme for the entire book of Ecclesiastes. “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (1:2) The word translated as “meaningless” comes from the idea of a breath or vapor. It is here for a moment, but quickly disappears. In other words, nothing lasts. It all vanishes as a vapor disappears into the atmosphere. It is often felt that King Solomon wrote this book near the end of his life. He had had everything. He had fame and wealth. While he began his reign with wisdom and following the true God. However, as he married foreign women, he also began to worship them, too. Now, looking back over his life, he realized that all of the pursuit of the things of this world was meaningless. He had returned to the wisdom that came from above, the worship of the true God. Throughout this book, he shows that the things of this world are really meaningless.
In our text for this morning, Solomon chronicles the meaninglessness of pursuing the things of this world. He wrote in verses 18-21, “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune.” Solomon wrote about working so hard to accumulate the things of this world. At the end of it all, he realized that this was a meaningless effort. After all, as the old saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.” You can work and work to accumulate more things and better things, but when you die, they are left behind. Solomon offers another realization that you leave your things to someone else. You may have worked hard to get those things and built up your business, but when you die, you leave them to someone else and who knows how they will take care of it? It may well be that the ones receiving it will continue to have it grow and prosper. It may also be that they will not take care of it and it is soon gone. There are many instances of people who built up a business only to have it all fall apart after they were gone.
Closely connected with this is the thought expressed in verses 22-23, “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.” Solomon shifts his focus from leaving the things that had been accumulated to others to the hard work that went into accumulating them. First of all, this is not to say that hard work is a bad thing. After all, after God created the world, he put Adam to work in the Garden of Eden. However, after the fall into sin, work wasn’t always productive. God told Adam that thorns and thistles would infest the ground and he would eat his food by the sweat of his brow. We see this in our work today. Things don’t always work out the way that we would like them to. There are problems in the office. The crops or herds don’t produce the way that we would like them to. At times, all of the hard work that we put into something comes to nothing. We should have been able to accumulate the things that we wanted. However, in spite of the hard work, we can’t get what we wanted.
In addition, when you accumulate things, how long is it before you want something else. Think of the child who begs and begs their parents for something for their birthday or Christmas. When they open their gifts, there it is. At first, they are thrilled. However, the toy doesn’t live up to the hype. The electronic gadget quickly becomes obsolete. Soon, they are longing for something else. Unfortunately, that trait doesn’t necessarily fade as the years go by. Even as adults, we long for something. We think that it will bring us happiness. However, not long afterward, our eyes are looking for something else. It quickly becomes clear that the pursuit of all of these things is meaningless.
This is a good reminder for us. It is so easy to get caught up in the acquisition of things. At times, this comes at the expense of our relationship with God. We are so eager to get things that we might cut a corner here or there. We get so busy trying to get things that we have removed any time that we might have to be with God in Bible reading or worship. As Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” We could expand that thought to include any of the material possessions that we pursue. The fact is that each of us has put other things in the place that God demands. As such, he would have every right to eternally condemn us for all eternity. This ungodly pursuit would give us every reason to worry and not be happy. The truth of the matter is, all the world can offer to us is worry and anxiety. In spite of all of the advertizing, this pursuit gives us no purpose in life. It will only leave us empty.
Where, then, can we find meaning in this life? It doesn’t come from a big bank account or all of the toys. It only comes through our relationship with God. Solomon wrote in verse 26, “To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness.” God gives this to “the person who pleases him.” This is nothing that we can do on our own. There is nothing that we can do, by ourselves, that would be pleasing to God. Rather, we are made pleasing to God through the work of Jesus Christ. This is why he came to the earth. He came to make us pleasing to God. He did so by living for us. As he walked this earth, his pursuit was pleasing his Father. He wasn’t distracted by the power that was his. He could have made his life an easy life, by giving himself whatever caught his fancy. He could have been distracted by the crowds that were gathered around him, even the time when they intended to come and make him their king. Rather, he, resolutely, pursued that which was pleasing to his Father. This pursuit would lead him to a cross where he would be punished by his Father for the sins of the world. His resurrection shows us that God’s demand for justice was satisfied. Now, when God looks at those who have been brought to faith, he is pleased with them and wants to give them blessings and meaning in this life.
Out of thankfulness for all that he has done for us, we now have another pursuit in our lives. We pursue doing those things that please God. This is what gives meaning to life. It is not the acquisition of more and more things. It is taking advantage of all of the opportunities that are placed in front of us every day to show our love for God for the fact that we have been saved and eternal life is ours.
Because this is true, we have a different outlook on the things of this world. Solomon writes in verses 24-25, “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” Solomon is not espousing the attitude of the rich fool in our gospel lesson, “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” (Luke 12:19) There, the rich man was saying that he might as well enjoy today, because he might be dead tomorrow. Rather, Solomon is highlighting the fact that we enjoy all of the physical blessings that we have because they come from the hand of God. Instead of looking at all that we don’t have and what everyone else has, we thank God for all that we do have. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we are truly blessed. While we might not have the latest or the best or the fanciest, we have all that we need to live and, oftentimes, quite a bit more. Even if the Lord should see fit to have us struggle, at times, we still can see that he continues to bless us. Ultimately, then, we can be content with what we have because we already possess the greatest blessings of all in the forgiveness of sins, salvation, eternal life, etc. While all of the things in this world are wonderful and God gives us what we have for our enjoyment, yet nothing compares with having this relationship with him. It is he that gives us a meaningful life. This is where we find our complete happiness and satisfaction.
Have you ever watched a game of tag, where the one who is it is far younger than all the rest? They will run after this one, but can’t catch them. They chase another, but they can’t quite touch them. This goes on for a while, until the little one is exhausted. They may even give up chasing anyone. They see that it is fruitless for them to continue. They aren’t going to be able to catch anyone. Quite honestly, that is what it is like if we continue to chase after the things of this world. True happiness, true contentment will always be just out of our grasp. All the world has to offer is worry and anxiety. We thank God, who has given us everything that we need. He has given his Son to be our Savior. He has given eternal blessings, which are of far greater worth than anything that we might be tempted to pursue. In addition to the eternal blessings, he continues to bless us with all that we need for life. He even gives our lives meaning in the pursuit of living to thank him. Because of all that God has done for you and has given to you, he comes to you and say “Don’t worry – Be happy.” This is more than just a nice thought. It is a gift that he has given to us. Amen.
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