A time to be humble – Ecclesiastes 3:16-22

As we have seen so far, the book of Ecclesiastes is a book of questions. Solomon’s goal in writing Ecclesiastes was to make people think, and that’s why we see over 30 questions in his book. And believe me, by the time you think through all of these questions, if you take them seriously, it won’t leave you hanging, but will foster in you convictions on how to live and how to think.

The way we answer his first question, “is there gain in earthly labor?” defines much of how we live. By having a right perspective on work, we understand better our place on earth before God. By seeing how short-lived the results of our labor are, we have but one application: to depend on God through faith.

The way we answer his second question, “is there gain in human wisdom?” defines much of our thinking. By understanding how limited human wisdom is, we are drawn to the same application: to depend even more on God and on His revelation.

The way we answer his third question, “is there gain in pleasure?” defines much of our attitude and priorities. As we understand how many diverse pleasures God has given for man to enjoy righteously, we are reminded that our God is good even in the simple things of life, and that excesses are not necessary to find happiness. And so we are lead to the same application again: to be dependent on God and His Word to know what pleasures should rightly be enjoyed and in what measure, keeping in mind what is the most important.

Finally, the way we answer Solomon’s fourth question, defines if we understand the first part of the book or not. This fourth main question, “is there gain in independence?” defines the level of submission and dependence that we will be willing to give. See, Solomon was a king. He thought he could do whatever he pleased, whatever his heart desired. And he did so, only to realize after the fact that all his excesses, all his pursuits, and his mad schemes, were only what were expected from kings. To accumulate riches, to have many wives, to build nice buildings and gardens and to enjoy nice food…that’s what kings do. And he thought he had grasped some kind of freedom only to look back and see that he was caught in a system that was much bigger than him. There was nothing new that he could do. He only had the freedom to do what the system let him do.

You know, gangsters might think there are free in their rebellions. But believe me, when you are a gangster, you do what gangsters are supposed and expected to do. Your rebellion to one system only makes you the slave of another system. Gangsters walk like gangsters, talk like gangsters, and act badly like gangsters. There is no such thing as a freedom of independence. We are all trapped into a system in which we have absolutely no control.

And so the application becomes once again the same: because we are powerless to create our own freedom, we must submit to God to enjoy the real freedom that He has given us.

And this pattern continues through the whole book, and we know there is a common thread because there is a conclusion that ties everything together: to fear God, living by faith and dependence, and to obey His commandments.

So first Solomon starts provoking us with those questions, but then he slaps us with a question even more difficult to answer: if we are not in control and God is in control, then why the world is messed up like it is? That’s a fair question to ask, isn’t?

And so he begins to answer this question in chapter 3. There is a time for everything, he says. God has a plan that is beyond our understanding and that will work for good. And this plan encloses everything, from the best to the worst.

Well, this might sound good, but when you are caught in the middle, what lesson is there to learn? I mean, who cares if a movie has a happy ending if we don’t get what’s happening from the beginning to the end, or if we can’t relate to any of the characters?

And so Solomon pushes the issue. How should we live, knowing that God is in control?    

And Solomon answers: Live with humility. Live with humility because God is bigger than anything you could ever imagine, contain or measure; and live with humility because by yourself, without God, you are more insignificant than anything you can imagine, contain or measure.”

Ecc 3:16  Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. [17]  I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. [18]  I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. [19]  For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. [20]  All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. [21]  Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? [22]  So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?

And as we look at this passage today, we will investigate 3 realities that should lead us to a humble attitude.

I.                    The Reality of God’s Retribution

The first reality is that of God’s retribution. Solomon writes:

Ecc 3:16  Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. [17]  I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. [18]  I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts.

The reality of our world is that often, evil comes from a place that is expected to uphold what is good. Very often wickedness comes from the place where we should expect righteousness. We live in a world filled with injustice.

There are things that are happening now and that happened in history that are unjust and evil.

God has given me a big heart for the country of France, and often when I think about the country, I wonder why God let the evils that happened there take place. 400 years ago there were more believers in France than there are now, even though the population might have been 3 times smaller!

And if you know anything about the history of the Huguenots, it is sobering. When you take into account the massacre of St Bartholomew when the houses of believers where assigned to mobs who killed entire families, thousands of people, in just a few days for political reasons. And the great exodus of the Huguenots happening in France 2 centuries later because of Louis the XIV. Some speculate that the king decided to overthrow the Huguenots after a civil war broke out. A seditious group rose against the king, and the Huguenots sided with the king to protect him. Seeing how strong and powerful they were, after he used their help he saw them as a threat and in one generation the number of believers in France fell from half a million or a one million to one thousand only, according to the king himself.

And France never recovered from this blow.

Injustice is what defines our history. We look at the last centuries and the world wars, and the millions of killings based on unjust philosophies and ideologies.

Not only history shows us how much injustice takes place, but the reality of our own government.

How can we justify 55 million babies aborted in the US? While justice should rest in the arms of the government, it is often the opposite.

I have a friend who is a cook in the area. He has worked in all sorts of context and has done quite a bit of catering. Once we were working on preparing a meal together for a church event, and I asked him what had been the worst place he ever had to go serve. He told me that the scariest events he ever catered for were for the police, because of the amount of drugs that was consumed and the fact that many used their guns to randomly shoot in the sky. I mean, who breaks the traffic law more than anyone else? The police does it all the time.

Not only that, but the way the government spends money is often an insult to those who pay their taxes.

And it’s the same all around the world. I had a friend in who was working for the government in France. He told me that it would only take him 1-2 hour a day to complete his task. He spent the other 6-7 hours of his time studying the Bible or surfing on the web.

Once I saw him at church and he looked really tired. And so I asked him, “what happened?” He answered, “I got a new boss!” “Does he make you work?” I replied. “No, he snores.” That’s just a joke of course, but too often true of those working for the government.

And not only in the government, but even in the church and within Christian families. So many fathers and elders abuse their authority and give to people injustice instead of righteousness.

And we could keep going, of course. But that’s not too helpful. And we know these things are happening, and as Solomon said, God will judge everyone for these things.

But why does he let these things happen?

Ecc 3:17  I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. [18]  I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts.

God allows these things to happen to keep us humble. To keep us at the right place. At a place of dependence, and of humility. So that we can see with our own eyes that we are but beasts.

Not this is an interesting statement for Solomon to write.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, again and again, Solomon speaks of searching to see what is going on in the world.

Ecc 1:12  I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. [13]  And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. [14]  I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

 Solomon searched to see anything that he could find with his human senses to make sense of this world. You can trace the verbs such as “searching” “seeing” “perceiving” “considering” “seeking”…it’s all over the book. Solomon was on a quest to find out the depth of life. And this is what he finds out:

God has already made plain for us what he wants us to see. Namely that God is testing the children of man that they may see that they are but beasts.

Compared to God, we are but beasts. Compared to His greatness and His glory, we are nothing but insignificant mosquitos, dirty worms, brainless birds and foolish fishes.

Answering the question of evil is not an easy one. But one thing is certain. When we go through suffering, injustice, or oppression, there is one good thing that can always be produced from these circumstances, and it is humility.

This is why the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:71 “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.

But here is the truth: the reason why suffering still exists in our world is because for God, this temporary suffering creates humility. And the height of blessing that comes from this humility is worth it, becomes in light of eternity it makes any well of suffering look like a kiddy pool.

And in the context of Ecclesiastes, the humble person is the one understood as the one who accepts God’s sovereignty and control in obedience, joy and faith.

To be humble is not to be weak and lazy and without conviction like the world often portrays it. To be humble is to live a life fueled and energized by a dependence on God in faith that is not satisfied until God shows up in all His glory. Because when we understand how weak we are and how strong He is, then of course we want to see more of Him and less of us. And that’s what humility does.

II.                  The Reality of our Feebleness

God has planned for man to go through these seasons of life, that there would be a time for everything, because God wanted man to see how little control he had and that humility was the correct path. The reality of God’s retribution points to that, and secondly, the reality of our feebleness points to this.

Ecc 3:19  For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. [20]  All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. [21]  Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?

Solomon reminds us in this passage of the reality of our feebleness. We are made of the same dust that the animals are made of, and the dust that constitutes our frames will all end up in the same place. We are made from dust and we will all return to dust.

Now this is where Solomon as a scientist helps us a little bit. When God created Adam and Eve, He created them out of dust says the Word. But never before was it written that animals were created from the dust. But Solomon has seen enough animals and eaten enough of them to know that they were made of the same stuff that constitutes our beings. Like us most of them have some sort of skin, and blood vessels, and organs, and now with modern science we can even know that the DNA information that shapes our beings is made of the same kind of code.

At the end of the day we are made of the same molecules and the same dust as the animals are.

By constitution we are not that different. And not only that, but our end is also the same. We die just like they die, we breathe just like they breathe, and Solomon eve writes, “man has no advantage over the beasts.”

I mean, think about it. Who works harder, the men and women of this world, or the cats and dogs? Who do you thing has it easy? I can guarantee you there are plenty of dogs in this world that are much happier than you are.

But not only that, Solomon even adds: Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?

So yes, on one side some animals live well and peacefully on earth, but then, do you even know what happens after death? Do you know if the souls of animals go to hell or to heaven or stop to exist? You don’t even know that. But if God welcomes the souls of dead animals, and then on the other side some other humans go to hell, then I can guarantee you that some animals will for eternity be much happier than humans.

And yet we boast! And we are prideful! And we think so highly of ourselves, so much that we often think that our ways are even better than God’s ways! And we can be so prone to look down on others, and to exaggerate our abilities and convince our own minds that we are worth more than what people are ready to pay for.

Do you know how to get rich quickly? You buy a human at his true value and you sell him at the value he estimates himself.

Our frame is so feeble, it’s not even funny. Do you know that the human body starts dying around 18 years of age? It spends less than 2 decades growing, and the rest of the time it is dying and there is no turning back. I mean what a sobering truth. We spend more time dying than growing.

And guess what. God has willed it that way. Because in this fallen world, if we can’t understand what dying is, we will never understand what it means to die to self. Without the reality of that barrier of death, how could we ever understand the immeasurable breach created by sin and the need to get rid of it?

That’s why Solomon says that it is better to go to a house of mourning than to a feast. Because death is one of the best teachers that we have on earth. It is direct, solemn, unequivocal, and universal.

And it teaches this: that we need to be humble. We need to find our place on earth, which is one of submission and dependence towards God, and elevate God with as much energy as possible to give Him the glory due to His name.

Because one thing is certain: if there are many points of convergence between us and animals, there are none between them and God. While our resemblance with animals may suggest that we are feeble, it should also remind us that God is completely different. He is spirit, immortal, invincible, without weakness, in perfect control, and He will reign forever!

III.                The Reality of our Lot

So first: we must learn humility from the reality of God’s retribution, secondly from the reality of our feebleness, and thirdly from the reality of our lot.

Ecc 3:22  So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?

Listen. There are things on earth that you can do and others that you can’t. Some of my friends can play music well enough to make a living off of it. Some others, no matter how much they’ll try, will only make money with music if they start singing when people pay them to stop. God has given to each one unique and diverse abilities, and there are things that we can do and be good at it, and others things we will never be able to do. For me, I know I would never be able to be a good business man. I am horrible at making money, it’s just not my gift.

But God has given to each one to work according to the abilities He has given, and that is our lot. We can accept this lot with resentment, when we are prideful and believe we deserve better, or else we can embrace humility and accept our lot with joy.

Do you know what the hallmark of a humble person is? Solomon tells us here: it is a thankful heart and a joyful spirit.

Being humble and dependent to God does not necessarily make life easier or simpler. But it creates within people a spirit of contentment and joy that this world is incapable of imitating.

And I have already shared this with you, but it is one of the reasons why I respect and admire my wife so much. When I met her she was on a wheel chair and she didn’t know if she could ever walk normally again because of her joint problems. But yet I would see her at church in her wheelchair encouraging people, worshipping with all of her heart, and challenging the younger generation with love and perseverance. And I am telling you, we’ve been married over two years by now and never had a single fight, even when physically things are not easy, because she has learned to accept her lot with joy, even being married to a crazy Frenchman.

But the truth is that we are not really in control of our lot. Who knows whether poverty or wealth will strike? Who knows whether there will be health or illness? Who knows whether there will be fruit or division in relationships? We are not in control of these things. All we can know that there is a season for everything. And if we can accept this with humility, it will create joy.

As a well-known pastor often says, the cheapest package you could ever find is a man all wrapped up in himself.

I mean on a scale of 7 billion men and women walking on earth, where do you think you fall? Even if you were a little above average in terms of intelligence, there could still be another 2 billion people smarter than you in any given area. And as a friend of mine often says, for every gift or ability that you may have, there is a 10-year-old Asian kid somewhere that is 10 times better than you at it.

Conclusion

So yes, because of the reality of God’s retribution, of our feebleness and of our lot, all things outside of our control, we must be humble.

And why does God do that? Why did he make us so close to beasts that we should be so insignificant without Him? Simply so that we would find our significance in Him. And as we depend on Him, once more, we become bearers of His greatness.

Listen. There is no competition between our greatness and God’s greatness. It would be like trying to have a death match between an angry elephant and a sardine out of water. You can fight that battle if you want, trying to be in control of your own life, or otherwise humbly accepting God’s lot for you with joy.

And yes, hard times will come, I am sure for many of you hard times are already here, but truth is that you don’t have to be alone. And if you learn to trust the God who is in control, you will find joy, no matter what your lot is.

Is there gain in our labor? – Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Sigmund Freud, the “father” of modern psychology, once wrote concerning the meaning of life: “When we begin to ask questions on the meaning of life and on death, we become sick, for none of this exists in an objective way.”

To his credit, Freud was very true to his worldview. If you believe in evolution and humans being the random result of natural causes, you shouldn’t ask yourself if life has a meaning, because there wouldn’t be such a thing as a meaning for life. In fact, the reality that you would even consider asking yourself the question would just be the evidence that you are mentally sick, unbalanced and in internal conflict.

Because without God, a meaning for the life is just an absurd thought.

Can there be any meaning in this life apart from God?

No, there cannot be.

But then, it make us wonder…if there is no meaning in life without God, how can my life looks so much the same as my neighbor who doesn’t believe in God? Both of us were born in this world the same way, both of us look the same, and both of us spend most of our days doing the same thing, namely to earn our bread, eat it, and rest a little before starting the process again, until both of us die. Of course I go to church and I pray and read the Bible, but still 90-95% of life is still the same as unbelievers.

Is there anything to gain from our toil under the sun? Think about it a second…ask yourself…is there anything lasting and meaningful to gain from all your daily toil under the sun? For working a job? For studying in school? For keeping a house together? For changing diapers?

Well, I’m glad you asked, because I just happen to have come across a book written by the the wisest man who ever lived on earth and who and saturated his mind with a quest to understand this question.

This question, Solomon would ask it six times, once in every first six chapters of the book of Ecclesiastes, where I invite you to turn in your Bibles. And we will look at the first chapter, from verses 1-11.

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.”

Before we even get into the text, this needs a little explanation. Here we have the words of Solomon, son of the most popular king that Israel ever had, was himself king of Jerusalem during its most prominent days, and was known as the Preacher. As the wisest of all men, no doubt Solomon’s “sermons” must have been the best ones you could ever imagine.

Now no doubt Solomon’s personality is confusing. On one side he appears like a megalomaniac lover of money and women and pleasure, on the other side as the most profound thinker and theologian of the old covenant.

How can this be? There is only one thing that can explain this reality. God’s grace.

2Sa 7:12  When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. [13] He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. [14]  I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, [15]  but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.

God had promised David that his steadfast love would never depart from Solomon. And even when Solomon gave himself to folly, he writes that even then his wisdom did not depart from him.

In all of Scripture, this is probably one of the most striking pictures of God’s grace. That God would commit to bless so much someone who would sin so much. He was capable of the best and of the worse, but for the worse he was the best. And although it might be easy for us to judge him and point all his sins and excesses and mistakes, there is a truth that we cannot escape: this book was written by a sinner who had been overwhelmingly covered by God’s grace. Even to the point that after his wanderings into folly he could come back and write some of the most profound truths you will ever read.  

You might wonder why he would not mention his name here but only introduces himself as the preacher. His name, “Solomon” means peace. He failed to do it justice. Instead of peace, his life had been full of toil, most of it being meaningless. And so we read:

Ecc 1:1  The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. [2]  Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. [3]  What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? [4]  A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. [5]  The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. [6]  The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. [7]  All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. [8]  All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. [9]  What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. [10]  Is there a thing of which it is said, « See, this is new »? It has been already in the ages before us. [11]  There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.

 “Vanity of vanities” said the preacher…we’ve heard this phrase many times. But why do you think Solomon said it…to make you feel bad about your day? To help you better understand despair? To make you spend money on a psychologist? To make you empathize with him because he was a loser?

We’re talking about the wisest man who ever lived here…

No, the reason why he states this so bluntly is to provoke you to think about the matter. Because the only way you will ever do anything with his message is if it creates convictions in your heart about what you really believe. Because everyone needs to know what they live for, and how this should flesh out on a daily basis. When I first began to study the book of Ecclesiastes as a teenager, it changed my life. And even to this day, I can say without a doubt that the book of Ecclesiastes has been the book giving me the most hope concerning the meaning of my life on earth.  

The book of Ecclesiastes is a book of answers, just as it is a book of questions. Now, not all the questions in the book have answers. Some of them he throws at us just to provoke us. I mean, the book has over 30 questions that he asks us, such as:

–           Is there such a thing as something new?

–          What is true wisdom?

–          Do animals go to heaven?

–          If you could live 2000 years, would that really make you happier?

–          Is there a benefit of being wise if no one listens to you?

–          What is next?

–          Will you always find someone to answer questions of things that are beyond your understanding?

–          Can you improve or correct God’s creation?

–          Do you know if anyone has the authority to have the final say in an interpretation?

But the main question remains: Is there any gain in our toil? And the answer is: yes, there is gain, there is infinite gain. And today we are going to look at 4 realities concerning our toil that should make us toil even harder. 4 realities concerning our toil that should make us toil even harder.

[Now bear with me. Solomon uses the power of opposites and of contrasts. So don’t get depressed in the beginning. The good stuff will come at the end when we wrap it all up.]

I.                    Earthly Toil Defines our Lives (vv.1-3)

The first aspect of our toil that we see here is that earthly toil defines our lives.

Ecc 1:1  The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. [2]  Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. [3]  What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?

The reason why Solomon asks this question about the meaning of our toil is because it is the reality of our lives. All that we do is toil. There is nothing on earth that is done that doesn’t require effort. As a result, the sum of our lives is really the sum of our efforts.

And without God it is all vanity.

The term “vanity” is actually a pretty good term to define our lives. It comes from a Hebrew term that comes from a root meaning “vapor” or “breath.” And just like breath, most of what you do will pass without being seen. Like a breath, your life will pass without leaving anything of itself behind. It will pass and be gone forever from under the sun. Like a breath, your life is one among billions and is insignificant in comparison to the scope of this world. A breath is meaningless. It cannot be grasped, cannot be seen, cannot be measured, it doesn’t last, it comes from nowhere and goes nowhere, and it is not worthy to be remembered. And yet, that’s all that we got.

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” 

Without God, there is absolutely nothing that we can contribute to this world. In and of ourselves, we are absolute nothingness. That is our identity, and the reality of everything that we do. We are but empty vessels.

And so Solomon asks, rhetorically,

“What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?”

I mean, doesn’t just asking the question make you tired? “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” Doesn’t that just want to make you exhale “pfffiu!” Isn’t it tiring just to think about all the things that you need to get done? 

But Solomon gets the guts to ask: If we are nothing, and everything that is done is nothing, then why do we keep on doing it?

His answer throughout the book seems even more fatalistic: we do it because God made us to toil, and there is nothing we can do about it. This is the lot given to men. Adam was given work in the Garden, it became harder after the Fall, but that’s basically our story. We were created to work and since the first day of creation we’ve been busy working. That’s pretty much the unifying factor of all of humanity. Hard-working people have worked hard, and lazy people have worked the system so that they could be lazy, but even that is work. There is no such a thing as a break. There is no such a thing as a vacation, we all know those require even more work and rarely do they make us actually rested.

We work because we’re humans and that’s what humans do.

II.                  Earthly Toil is Powerless (vv.4-7)

So first earthly toil is what defines us, secondly, earthly toil is powerless.

Ecc 1:4  A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. [5]  The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. [6]  The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. [7]  All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.

Here we see four different images from nature that show to us how powerless we are as humans to change anything in the world in which we live.

There is the earth that remains forever, there is the sun that remains forever, there is the wind that reminds forever and there are is the sea that reminds forever.

Simply put, we live in a world in which we cannot change the rules of the game. We are creatures of limited power in a world of excessive power. And even though we crave for power, no matter how much little power we can attain in our limited state, we will never be able to change anything with the forces that set this world in motion. The laws of nature cannot be altered, slowed down, broken or changed. And if our existence was to find meaning in us making a difference in this world, we would be doomed to total despair.

The earth, the sun, the wind, the sea…all trump us.

As Newton would say, “Gravity of gravities, all is gravity.”

And it doesn’t matter that we understand some of those laws of nature more than our predecessors. There is still that pull that is stronger than us which will always get the best of us, and there is nothing we can do about it.

And the truth is that all of the efforts of humanity will never change how this world is ran. You can combine all the generations that ever lived and all the toil ever sweated on the face of the earth…there is nothing that we can do that can actually truly change what humanity looks like, needs and depends on. We’re always going to need to breathe, to sleep, to eat, and to wish for good weather.

And what is humbling about all of this is that entities of nature that are much bigger, much older and much stronger know no change. So if those great things don’t have the ability to alter their course, who are we to think that we can?

We simply can’t. We will never be able to improve humanity with our cunning, resources, and toil. We are powerless to make this world a better world. At the end of the day, mankind we still remain as depraved, as needy, as wicked, as weak, as limited and as powerless as it has been since the Fall.

III.                Earthly Toil is Wearisome (v.8)

So first, we saw that earthly toil is what defines us. Secondly, that earthly toil is powerless. Thirdly, we see that earthly toil is wearisome.

Ecc 1:8  All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

Earthly toil is wearisome. It is tiresome. It makes you sweat, it makes you hungry, and it empties you of your strength.

Life is a constant investment of self. There is nothing that you do that does not require a part of you: whether it is your time, your energy, or your resources. Man is constantly losing his most precious possession which he calls life, to never get any of it back.

All things are full of weariness, so much that we cannot describe it. Because everything requires effort, to describe effort makes effort, and so the weariness will always outbalance its explanation. Labor is a competitor that can never be out-bided. It will always trump you in everything you do. No human being able to talk will ever be able to describe all the efforts that they had to do to live on earth.

But is even more deplorable about this is that even though everything takes effort, there is no reward for it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. It is as if the human’s soul is bound to a formula in which all satisfaction is measured by the amount of toil multiplied by zero. How can you win when you multiply by zero? You can only lose.

Can wealth bring happiness?

Do you guys realize how wealthy Solomon was?

The weight of gold that he made every year just from the profit in Israel was 666 talents of gold (1 Kings 10:14), which is the equivalent of 25 tons of gold every year. You are talking about a massive cube of over 6 feet on each side, which in our day, since one ounce of gold is worth between $1700-1800 and there are over 35,000 ounces in a ton, would be about $1.5 billion. $1.5 billion every year…and he was king for 40 years. That’s 60 billion dollars too spend.

But he writes concerning money:

Ecc 5:10  He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.

Can pleasure bring happiness?

Ecc 2:10  And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. [11]  Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

 Ecc 6:7  All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied.

You can desire pleasure, you will never get enough…

And it is sad, but a lot of people start life thinking that they are the new Christopher Columbus on board of his brand new vessel, ready to explore seas of pleasure, only to eventually become stranded with no land in the horizon, no direction, and no hope.

And the list continues…Solomon tried to find satisfaction through human wisdom, through human success, through romance, through power, through fame, through the search of human perfection…all failed. And it didn’t matter how many excesses he had…it was always multipled by zero.

I mean we know it…one episode does not satisfy. That’s why we watch the next one, and the next one, only to finish a series and to start another, always on our hunger. Same with video games. One level is passed, then the next, then the next one, then what? The eyes are never satisfied. All that the world gives us is salt water. It is made of the same stuff that satisfy, but it just never gets there. It only makes it worse.

But again, that’s just how man is made. We are made to toil, we are made to be limited in power, and we are also made to have holes in our heart that longs for something bigger than ourselves, for something infinite and eternal.

IV.                Earthly toil is Meaningless (vv.9-11)

First earthly toil is what defines us, secondly it is powerless, thirdly wearisome, and fourthly it is meaningless. Earthly toil is meaningless.

Ecc 1:9  What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. [10]  Is there a thing of which it is said, « See, this is new »? It has been already in the ages before us. [11]  There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.

Listen to this story: Workmen in Rome, digging gravel for ballast, were instructed to dig from one central pit so as not to spoil the site with too many holes. They unearthed an ancient plaque inscribed in Latin, which turned out to be a sign intended for workman digging ballast for Roman ships. It instructed them to dig from a central pit so as not to spoil the site with too many holes.

Do things really change? There is nothing new under the sun. Mankind is and will always be made of the same mold. And we might like our Steve Jobs and our Einsteins and our pop stars, but eventually it all passes like a breath, and all is forgotten.

Now, when Solomon says there is nothing new, we must understand the context. It’s not that man cannot makes inventions, but about the incapacity to change who we are and what makes us happy. The 20th century is a great testimony of that, as it showed that technology does not improve man’s morals or well-being…while some might have enjoyed lives a little more comfortable, tens of millions have perished in world wars and weapons created by our “new” technologies for mass destruction.

There is no such a thing as a new source of pleasure, there is no such a thing as a new message of wisdom, there is no such a thing as a deeper and better definition for the meaning of life.

Think about the life of Solomon.

In Ecclesiastes 7:15 he writes, “In my vain life I have seen everything.” Now don’t you think that someone who has seen everything could give you a deeper sense of what this world is all about?

Well, listen to his last words…

Ecc 12:13  The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. [14]  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Now listens to the last words of his father, king David,

1Ki 2:2  « I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, [3]  and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn,

Is it really different? Here they are with the same message: if you want to be a man, fear God and obey Him, because He is the only who can truly bless you.

Now, don’t you think it would be humbling for Solomon to write this as his conclusion? The man was the wisest man who ever lived before Christ. Not only that, but he experienced all the excesses and the depths and heights of human life…and yet he couldn’t even improve or add anything to what had been passed down to him.

So here we are in our quest of defining the meaning of life: man is a creature that is made to toil, that is incapable of changing his nature, that is condemned to suffer weariness and pain, and who longs for something bigger than himself of which he will taste out of his own toil.

Conclusion

So, well…thank you for listening, now you can go home and cry, lament, quit your job, and curse the day of your birth

Well, God would not have placed the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible if that’s all it did.

But before we get to the “good” stuff, don’t move away mentally from the feelings that this provoke in you. I mean, when we read and study this stuff, it should create unrest in our souls, because we all know that this world must be full of meaning, that there must be a sense for all of our toil.

While Solomon asks 6 times, “why do we toil?” Seven times he answers, like in Ecclesiastes 2:24:

Ecc_2:24  There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, [12]  I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; [13]  also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

Solomon’s answer to our question is simple: mankind is the way it is because God has willed it this way, and it is a blessing; not because mankind is glorious, but because God is with mankind. His hand is directly involved.  He is there with us, even in the mundane. He alone brings meaning, because when we live by faith, He works through us, anywhere, anytime, in whatever situation.

And here it becomes super awesome. Without God, all we can do with our toil is take the pleasure that is given to us and multiply by zero. But when God is on our side, He takes these things ad multiply them by infinity.

Ecc 3:14  I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.

 The works of man don’t last. But whatever God does endures forever. And God has made man to be a vessel of His very glory and of His very works. And he makes everything beautiful in His time (Ecc 3:11).

I mean…can you imagine multiplying your bank account by infinity? Wouldn’t that rock your world? Well, that’s what happens in heaven with our reward, every single time we depend on God. 

And what becomes so meaningful is that anytime we depend on God, we wait on Him, we obey His commandments, we live with the fear of His presence, He transforms those opportunities into works that are eternal and of eternal rewards.

When you go to work with God in your mind, you don’t go to work like unbelievers do. You go to work bringing God’s peace, God’s joy, God’s blessings and God’s love with you. And you know that when you live humbly and by faith, you will get a reward that is beyond your understanding. When you go to school with the fear of God, you go to school with hope, with purpose, because you know that God is watching you and is there to help you at any time. And when you do those math homework with faith, you get an infinite reward in heaven that earthly words cannot even fathom. When you stay at home with God in your soul, doing mundane things or raising kids with a heart of submission to God and of praise, you do for an eternal reward that will never be taken away from you.

So why do we toil? Why do we have to wake up early tomorrow go to work or to school or to take care of a family?

Because God has made us this way. To be so needy, so useless, so insignificant, that we would live with a constant understanding of our need for Him, and as we do so, to give Him the opportunity to work through us.

And so, what do you think, how much should we work? How much should we toil?

Ecc 11:1  Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. [2]  Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.

 Solomon’s conclusion is clear: work your tail off. Give yourself to others. Sweat like God cursed you to do. Work hard with your family. Work hard at your job. Work hard at church. Be human as humans should be, tired, weak, needy, but always filled with joy because when you have faith God is with you everywhere you go, to bring eternity in action through the mundane of life.

Without God, all the pleasures of life are multiplied by zero. With Him, they are multiplied by infinity. If this isn’t meaningful, I don’t what is.

 

 

Poème de Dieu – Poem of God

Mer de Galilée.

« Car nous sommes son ouvrage, ayant été créés en Jésus Christ pour de bonnes œuvres, que Dieu a préparées d’avance, afin que nous les pratiquions. » Ephésiens 2 :10

Derrière chaque œuvre d’art, derrière chaque ouvrage, se cache une histoire.

L’une de mes préférées est celle associée au chef d’œuvre de Michel-Ange, le David, en exposition à Florence. De trois mètres de haut et pesant plus de 6 tonnes, la sculpture est une vraie merveille artistique. David, le jeune berger, est armé de sa fronde et prêt pour la bataille. Bien qu’il se tienne debout, son corps est légèrement incliné du côté gauche, donnant à la statue un air de mouvement et une certaine vie.

Selon certaines sources, l’histoire de la statue aurait commencée un siècle plus tôt, avec l’import d’un bloc de marbre de Carrare. Un premier sculpteur fut commissionné à faire une statue de David, mais il du abandonner son projet après l’avoir raté en cassant un large morceau de marbre sur le flanc. Pendant plusieurs décennies, le grand morceau de marbre inutile fut exposé aux intempéries, en restant dans la cours de l’atelier.

Ce ne fut que longtemps plus tard que les yeux perceptifs de Michel-Ange se reposèrent sur ce morceau de marbre rejeté mais plein de potentiel.  De son marteau et de son génie, il transforma l’objet abandonné en un ouvrage sans pareil. Le morceau manquant inspira Michel-Ange a donné à la statue sa forme unique, et ce qui était considéré comme inutile devint un chef d’œuvre.

Il est en de même avec Dieu. «   Mais Dieu, qui est riche en miséricorde, à cause du grand amour dont il nous a aimés,  nous qui étions morts par nos offenses, nous a rendus à la vie avec Christ (c’est par grâce que vous êtes sauvés) »  (Ephésiens 2 :4-5).

Malgré nos imperfections et nos péchés, Dieu, petit à petit, nous façonne à l’image de Jésus Christ, prenant nos défauts et nos difformités et nous donnant les contours de la beauté divine et de l’immortalité.

En effet, le mot pour « ouvrage » vient du Grec « poiema »  ayant donnée le mot poème. En Christ, nous devenons le poème de Dieu, fruit  de la main la plus accomplie et du plus riche esprit.

Le thème du poème, c’est l’Evangile. Le poème parle de l’histoire la plus merveilleuse jamais racontée, celle de la résurrection spirituelle d’hommes et de femmes jadis morts dans leurs péchés.

L’auteur du poème n’est autre que Dieu, Lui qui créa l’univers et qui le soutient dans la paume de sa main. Celui qui plaça les étoiles dans la nuit lumineuse, qui inventa la structure de la cellule, et qui donne le souffle de vie. Ce même auteur de génie, créatif et illimité en puissance, fait de nous Son œuvre d’art.

La beauté du poème, c’est celle de Jésus Christ. L’ouvrage est « en Christ, » elle est identifiée avec un standard de beauté et de grandeur qui sont divins. En tant que poèmes de Dieu, nous ne sommes pas placés dans un recueil secondaire, mais sommes créés en Jésus Christ.

Finalement, la vitalité du poème, est celle du Dieu Tout-Puissant. Les vers et refrains qui marquent et définissent le poème sont écrites par la puissance de Dieu, mais au travers de nos propres mains. En étant dépendants de Dieu, nous devenons ambassadeurs de Sa gloire, reflétant Ses œuvres à Lui.

Poiema – Lyrics + Translation

“ For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

Behind every piece of art, every workmanship hides a story.

One of my favorites is the one associated with Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the David, exhibited in Florence. 9 feet tall and weighing over 6 tons, the sculpture is a true artistic marvel. David, the shepherd lad, is armed with his sling and ready for battle. Although his body is erect, his legs are slightly tilted to the left, giving to the statue a sense of movement and life.

According to some sources, the story of the statue would have begun a century before, with the import of a block of Carrara marble. A first artist was commissioned to make a statue of David, but was forced to abandon the project after his chisel broke a significant slice of the marble on the side and ruined his design. For several decades, the large piece of marble remained outside, exposed to the elements in the yard of the workshop.

Only many years later did the perceptive eyes of Michelangelo rest on this cast-out piece of marble full of potential. From his hammer and his genius, he transformed the abandoned object into a workmanship without equal. The broken piece on the side inspired Michelangelo to give to the statue its unique design, and what was counted as useless became a masterpiece.

It is the same with God. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5)

In spite of our imperfections and our sins, God, progressively, fashions us according to the image of Jesus Christ, taking our defects and our deformities and giving us the designs of divine beauty and immortality.

In effect, the word for “workmanship” comes from the Greek “poiema” which gave us the word poem. In Christ, we become the poems of God, fruit of the most skilled hand and of the richest mind.

The theme of the poem is the Gospel. The poem speaks of the most amazing story ever told, that of the spiritual resurrection of men and women who were dead in their sins.

The author of the poem is no other than God, He who created the universe and who upholds it in the palm of His hand; He who placed the stars in the luminous night, who invented the structure of the cell, and who gives the breath of life. This very author, unmatched, creative and unlimited in power, makes His masterpiece.

The beauty of the poem, it is that of Jesus Christ. The workmanship is “in Christ,” it is identified with a standard of beauty and of greatness that are divine. As God’s poems, we are not placed in a secondary collection; we are created in Christ Jesus.

Finally, the vitality of the poem is that of God Almighty. The verses and refrains that mark and define the poem are written by the power of God, but also through our very own hands. By being dependent upon God we become ambassadors of His glory, reflecting His very own works.