Robert Leroe on Ecclesiastes (Mentions Thomas Aquinas, Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, King Solomon, King Rehoboam, Eugene Peterson, Chuck Swindoll, and John Newton.)

Ecclesiastes 1

Published on Sep 4, 2012

Calvary Chapel Spring Valley | Sunday Evening | September 2, 2012 | Pastor Derek Neider

_____________________

I have written on the Book of Ecclesiastes and the subject of the meaning of our lives on several occasions on this blog. In this series on Ecclesiastes I hope to show how secular humanist man can not hope to find a lasting meaning to his life in a closed system without bringing God back into the picture. This is the same exact case with Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Three thousand years ago, Solomon took a look at life “under the sun” in his book of Ecclesiastes. Christian scholar Ravi Zacharias has noted, “The key to understanding the Book of Ecclesiastes is the term ‘under the sun.’ What that literally means is you lock God out of a closed system, and you are left with only this world of time plus chance plus matter.”

Let me show you some inescapable conclusions if you choose to live without God in the picture. Solomon came to these same conclusions when he looked at life “under the sun.”

  1. Death is the great equalizer (Eccl 3:20, “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.”)
  2. Chance and time have determined the past, and they will determine the future.  (Ecclesiastes 9:11-13)
  3. Power reigns in this life, and the scales are not balanced(Eccl 4:1)
  4. Nothing in life gives true satisfaction without God including knowledge (1:16-18), ladies and liquor (2:1-3, 8, 10, 11), and great building projects (2:4-6, 18-20).

You can only find a lasting meaning to your life by looking above the sun and bring God back into the picture.

___________

Robert Leroe

“Vanity” Ecclesiastes 1:2-3 & 2:1-11 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts

Ecclesiastes is perhaps the most puzzling and misunderstood book of the Bible. It’s been called “the mystery book of the Old Testament” (Ray Steadman). Few sermons are preached from its pages. We may wonder what it’s doing in the Bible; it seems out of place. Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon, who had ample opportunities to observe and experience life thoroughly. He wrote this book after he had plunged into materialism, sensuality, even idolatry. He got lost following his desires and saw his life evaporating into insignificance. Now repentant and nearing the end of his days, he writes a philosophical book for unbelievers, exposing the secular mind/worldview. The title of the book refers to an “assembly”, Solomon’s students. He calls himself “the Teacher” and conveys the logical and tragic outcome of regarding life as a cosmic accident. Solomon offers his class only two options–a life of hopelessness, or trust in God.

The quote we’re most familiar with comes from verse 2, “All is vanity”. This word has been translated many ways. Your Bible might read “futile”, “empty”, “pointless”, “momentary”, or “meaningless”. The word literally means “breath” or “vapor”. The only other place this word appears is (appropriately) in Job. The Message translates vs 2, “There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.” In the NT, James picks up on this when he asks a rhetorical question, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (4:14). James and Solomon weren’t existentialists, denying any purpose or meaning in human life; they were rather saying that life is empty, fleeting, transitory, and nothing matters–without God. Solomon exposes the insignificance and absurdity of life IF life were nothing more than what is seen “under the sun”.

While participating in a REFORGER, major field exercise in Germany, my Chaplain Assistant and I spent a lot of time on the road in our CUC-V, visiting various units comprising the 3rd Armored Division Support Command/DISCOM. At one location we arrived too late; our grid coordinates were correct, but all that remained was some evidence of maneuver damage. The battalion stayed at the site only 2 days, then left. That is how life appears without God—here briefly, and little remains when life is over.

In verse 3 Solomon ponders, “What do people gain for all their hard work under the sun?” I’ve heard many soldiers ask, “What’s the point of all we’re doing?” In a life lived without God, there’s no gain, no advantage, no meaning. Verse 11 of chapter 2 states, “there is no profit under the sun”; in other words, during one’s lifetime. Imagine reaching the end of your days, only to conclude that you accomplished nothing of value! Solomon could afford anything he desired, but discovered to his frustration how nothing he could buy brought happiness. Thomas Aquinas wrote that, “No man can live without delight, and that is why a man deprived of spiritual joy goes over to carnal pleasures”. We need to appreciate pleasure as a gift, not a god. Solomon never said “no” to himself; he gave in to every impulse, devoted to “the pursuit of happiness” -only to discover he was “chasing after wind” (1:14). He was materially rich, yet spiritually bankrupt.

I remember seeing a photo of Princess Diana meeting Mother Teresa. You couldn’t possibly pair two different people. Princess Diana lived in Kensington Palace, enjoying a luxurious life. She wore designer clothes and jewels; she was famous, young and beautiful. Mother Teresa was old and bent-over. She lived in the slums of Calcutta and spent her time working among the diseased and homeless outcasts of society. She wasn’t surrounded by paparazzi. Both women died around the same time. Which one of these two you suppose was the happiest?

Solomon wanted to disillusion his readers against material goals, as an end in themselves. More importantly, Solomon wanted to drive his readers to despair and then to God. Before we’re ready to hear the Good News, we need to understand the “bad news”. Our efforts to obtain happiness are futile, and our earth-bound goals are meaningless, apart from God.

The Bayside Expo held a car show last weekend. I heard of someone who went there, whose car broke down on the way home. They probably were wishing they had gone home in one of those cars on display! I’ve been to boat shows, car shows, technology shows–and it’s tempting to think that a life of material prosperity might make me happy. For many people, life is simply the pursuit of pleasure, which ends with one big let-down. Like Mick Jagger they end up admitting, “I can’t get no satisfaction!” Apart from God, nothing will satisfy. Jesus said that gaining the whole world means nothing if God isn’t a part of our lives. To quote another pop song, without God “all we are is dust in the wind”. Solomon pursued wealth, sex, power, adventure and knowledge…and came up empty.

Chapter 2 records Solomon’s projects: houses, vineyards, parks and reservoirs–none of which are standing today. Have you ever wondered, “What will it matter a hundred years from now?” I recall a TV commercial where a stock broker rose at 4:30 in the morning to check the London and Frankfurt stock exchange results and then drove himself ragged through the day, skipping lunch. At the end of his life, what has he really accomplished? What have we done that will achieve any lasting profit or eternal significance?

Perhaps some of Solomon’s despair came from his disastrous legacy. After four decades of peace he handed over his kingdom to his son Rehoboam, who rejected the advice of the wise and sought counsel from immature upstarts—the result was civil war and a foreign invasion. It’s likely that Solomon foresaw tragedy in the life of his unprepared, impulsive son. All he’d accomplished was undone by the next generation.

In chapter 3:18-21 Solomon says that if there’s no God, we’re no better off than animals. I heard that a philosophy teacher who really believed this would warn his students not to take the logical steps of anarchy and suicide. I had such a teacher when I was working on my Doctoral degree, a theology professor who was an atheist. He wasn’t happy having an Army Chaplains in his class, and stated that he was against war, particularly the nuclear arms race. I asked him, “If there is no God and no meaning in life, what does it matter if we blow ourselves up?” He replied that it would matter to him. I countered by saying, “If there is no God, and therefore no purpose in life, it doesn’t matter what you may prefer.” He wasn’t too pleased

with my remarks, but I managed to pass his course!

Life apart from God has plenty to despair about. Many people suffer from anxiety and depression, and if they are unbelievers, they have good reason to be troubled! Solomon wants to take such a person from despair to trust in the infinite, personal God.

We learn from Solomon that God is free to be mysterious, free to not work as we might expect, free to be unpredictable at times. Eugene Peterson comments, “You live in a world ruled by the God of Exodus and Easter. He will do things in you that neither you nor your friends would have supposed possible. He is not limited by anything you think you know about Him.”

Chuck Swindoll suggests that, “if there is nothing but nothing under the sun, our only hope must be above it.” Solomon is describing a worldview without any Higher Power. Life will remain devoid of meaning until we seek out God. Ideals without God are nothing more than empty optimism, wishful thinking.

Although this book was written for unbelievers, Ecclesiastes helps us appreciate where we once were, and reminds us of the anguish we went through. We can say with John Newton, who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace, “I once was lost but now am found; was blind, but now I see.” God gives meaning, purpose, and direction to our lives. When we discover the Kingdom of God we begin to comprehend the visible kingdoms of earth. We see that this is not a random world governed by chance. We feel at home. When we know God, life begins to make sense. Faith keeps us alive because God has taken us from sand to solid ground.

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