Ecclesiastes - Purpose in life

Background

A common view among scholars is that Solomon was the author of the book Ecclesiastes. The author was blessed with much wealth, wisdom and glory. From this pinnacle, he surveyed life and judged it to be vanity. Since life is vanity, what then is good? The author goes on to describe only two things in life which he thinks to be worth living for.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, we will study what the Bible teaches to be the appropriate purpose in life. If we learn this early in life, we would be saving years of wasted effort. People move around hastily, driving quickly just to save a few minutes every day. But these same people will not stop to think if they are living their lives correctly so as not to waste years.

Some people feel that the purpose of their life is to have a good career. Yet on their dying bed, nobody would say, "I wished I had spent more time at the office". People would only say, "I wished I had spent more time with my family", or "I wished I had put in more effort serving God". Therefore let's not wait for the final moment before we look back at our lives and regret how we had lived. Let's learn early in life what the appropriate purpose in life is and start living it.


Before we proceed with the lesson, lets do some evaluation and ask ourselves:

How are we living our lives?
Which areas are most important to us?

  From the way you are living your life, how important are these areas? (Rate 1 for very important and 5 for not important) Why are you attributing this level of importance to this area?
God
 
Family/Love life
 
Friends
 
Career/Studies
 
Possessions/Wealth
 
Pleasure/Entertainment
 
Rest/Sleep
 

What are some of the vanities in life? Why are they vanities?

The word vanity occurs 38 times in the book of Ecclesiastes alone. Sometimes as many as five times in a single verse!

(Ecclesiastes 1:2 KJV) Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

What is the meaning of this word? The NIV translates this to mean meaningless. One interesting fact is that many times when the writer used the word vanity, he follows with the expression chasing after the wind. This phrase gives us a more graphic understanding of what the author meant by vanity. What do you accomplish when you try to chase after the wind? Can you catch it in your hands so that it can run no further? No! When we chase after the wind, all we get is a feeling that it is meaningless. No matter how hard we try, we can never find satisfaction or fulfillment. This is the picture the author wants us to have when he tells us that the many things in life are vanities.


Work is meaningless

(Ecclesiastes 2:4-6 NIV) I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. {5} I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. {6} I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.


(Ecclesiastes 2:11 NIV) Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

Reasons

We cannot bring our accomplishments to the next life.

(Ecclesiastes 2:18 NIV) I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.

Excessive work gives us stress and deprives us of rest.

(Ecclesiastes 2:22-23 NIV) What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? {23} All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless.


Wealth is meaningless

(Ecclesiastes 5:10 NIV) Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.

Reasons

It does not bring contentment.

(Ecclesiastes 5:10 NIV) Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.

It brings along stress.

(Ecclesiastes 5:12 NIV) The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.

It may be lost through misfortune.

(Ecclesiastes 5:13-14 NIV) I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, {14} or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him.

It cannot be brought to our next life.

(Ecclesiastes 5:15 NIV) Naked a man comes from his mother's womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.

Project : Go back to the first worksheet you did. In the light of what the Bible teaches, write down how you are going to live your life differently for the various aspects.

Pleasure is meaningless

(Ecclesiastes 2:1 NIV) I thought in my heart, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good." But that also proved to be meaningless.

Reasons

It accomplishes nothing. People who do nothing but going to pubs and discos end up going through life without accomplishing anything. This is not to say that moderate dosages of recreation is bad.

(Ecclesiastes 2:2 NIV) "Laughter," I said, "is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?"


What are the things in life that are not vanities?

Moderate enjoyment

(Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 NIV) I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. {13} That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil--this is the gift of God.

Some Christians go through life thinking that God wants them to suffer all the days of their lives. Nothing could be further than the truth. God wants us to enjoy our life here on earth. The ability to enjoy life is a gift from God.

When Jesus was on earth, he lived with a sense of mission. He did a lot of things for His Father. Yet it never prevented Him from having a good time. In fact, He often had such good times that the Pharisees accused Him of being a glutton and a drunkard!

(Matthew 11:19 NIV) The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." '

How to enjoy life without sinning?

We can all follow Jesus' example and have fun in our lives. Notice that while Jesus had fun, He never sinned. We can all have good clean fun without having to resort to drugs, extra-marital sex, alcoholism, dirty jokes, etc.

While Jesus had fun, He never put them as more important than His work. He never had so much fun that He forgets what He came to earth to accomplish. There is something terribly wrong if we make enjoyment the number one priority in our lives.

Why is enjoyment necessary?

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy". Jesus, being truly man, knew that if He were to work Himself without any recreation, He would indeed work His earthly body to exhaustion and burnout. That may be why pastors are so prone to burnout. Their passion for God is so strong that they end up working non-stop without time for recreation. Although they may accomplish a lot in the short run, they will suffer in the long run. That is why it is better to proceed at a sustainable pace.

Another reason why enjoyment is necessary is because if Christians go through life without enjoyment, it paints a wrong picture to the outside world that the Christian God is against enjoyment. Who then would want to be Christians if they think that after becoming Christians they have to go through the rest of their lives without any fun.


Obedience to God

(Ecclesiastes 12:13 NIV) Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

After having surveyed all the vanities of life, the book comes with a climax with the conclusion of Solomon. Our number one priority in life must be to obey God and keep His commandments. Are we obeying God's commandments in terms of our devotional time with Him, serving His people, evangelizing to non-Christians, praying for others, helping those in need?


Personal evaluation
In the light of what the Bible teaches about life's vanities, how can we live our life differently to better reflect God's values. Write down our intentions but more importantly translate them into specific, measurable goals.

I intend to make these changes.Sub-goals (Goals which are specific and executable)
​God​Eg I intend to spend time communing with God and serving Him. ​Eg I will spend 20 minutes a day in Bible reading and prayer. I will serve in my local church by being a Sunday School teacher. 
​Family/Love life​Eg I intend to spend more time with my family. ​Eg I will set aside the weekend to bring the family out. 
​Family/Love life​Eg I intend to spend more time ministering to my friends. ​Eg I will set aside two times a week to meet up with my friends so that I can be in a position to minister or evangelize to them. 
​Career/Studies​Eg I intend to spend less time at the office ​Eg I will put a maximum of 50 hours at work per week. 
​Possessions/Wealth​Eg I intend to put less emphasis on accumulating wealth for myself. ​Eg I will set aside 10% of my income every month apart from my tithe for charitable organizations. 
​Pleasure/Entertainment​Eg I will not spend so much time watching TV. ​Eg I will spend a maximum of one hour a day watching TV. 
Rest​Eg I will not spend my idle time sleeping and lazing. ​Eg I will endeavor to sleep not more than 10 hours during weekends and put the extra time to better use, like reading.