Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Meaningful Life, Ecclesiastes 2:18-26

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.

Those are the kind of things you expect to think after a rough day at work, and you probably tell yourself you’re just having a bad day, and all you need is a “pick-me-up.”  Does it surprise you to find those thoughts in the Bible?  Maybe what you thought was just a bad day is actually a sobering reality check, and if so, what’s wrong?
It was probably King Solomon who wrote those words, and he was, humanly speaking, one of the richest and most successful men ever.  His name is remembered today, 3000 years after he died.  The Bible says that his yearly income was more than 25 tons of gold.  Kings traveled from everywhere to ask him questions because he was that famous.  He himself wrote that could have anything he wanted.  Good food, good drink, beautiful things, and beautiful women—lots of beautiful women.  He had 700 wives.  I don’t think I have to tell you that Solomon wasn’t happy.  Many of you tell me that one wife is plenty.  Even aside from being sinful, I’m sure having 700 wives did not make him happier than one wife would have.
King Solomon looked at all he had and said this is meaningless.  To summarize his words in our text, he had to work really hard and didn’t enjoy it, after he died he couldn’t keep all his stuff, and someone else would probably waste the wealth that he had worked so hard for.
So what do you think?  Was King Solomon just having a bad day when he said, “I hate my life, this is meaningless?”  I think he was looking at life without God in the picture, and “Meaningless” is the reality of it. 
Even if you believe in God, and Solomon did, you might be looking at your life without considering how he fits in to the picture, and it will seem meaningless.  That’s because with no God in the picture, our sinful hearts take over, and our sinful hearts will never be happy with what we have.  We will work ourselves to the bone because we never have enough.  We will work so hard that we don’t time to enjoy what we have.  We will worry about we don’t have, and worry about all the ways that we might lose what we do have.  Only God can give true happiness.  Only God can make your life meaningful.

Listen again to what Solomon said about the meaningful life that God gives:
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?
The happiness comes when you recognize that none of this good stuff we want is here by chance.  The beautiful flowers and mountains and streams, the good food and drink, the job—God has given us all of that only because he loves us.   Every little thing is a meaningful gift from God.
Most people don’t notice God’s love for them in all those little ways though, not until he opens their eyes.  Solomon wrote, “To the one who pleases him God gives wisdom, knowledge, and happiness.”
It pleases God when, instead of continuing to try to make it on our own, we confess those sins of forgetting about him.  It pleases God when we trust in our Savior for forgiveness, because our Savior Jesus pleased God.  He pleased God by dying for those sins.  He pleased God by giving us the gift of forgiveness and eternal life.  Do you see where this is going?  Jesus pleased God by making us pleasant to God.
That big act of love opens our eyes to all the little ways that God shows his love for us too.  Here comes the wisdom, knowledge and happiness that God promised through Solomon.  God could have given us hell for our sins, but instead he gave us a Savior.  He could have given us hell, but instead he has given us a beautiful, sun-shiny day, with birds singing and good food to eat.  He could have given us hell, but instead he has given us useful things to do with our lives.  Even if there is nothing useful that we can do, God could have given us hell, but instead he has given us a day to praise him and encourage each other.  We can also see God’s love in the things we don’t have—he could have given us hell, but he wants us in heaven, and so he doesn’t give us everything that we want.  After all, in Jesus’ story the rich man forgot God and went to hell.  A meaningful life comes from knowing that everything comes from God’s love.

Conclusion:  It’s a shame that so many people will never notice all of God’s love for them.  Their lives are truly meaningless.  Their wealth will perish with them.  Not us, though.  We have a meaningful life of knowing our Savior and his love, and seeing all the ways that God blesses us besides that.  When we die, that all continues.  God’s love for us continues in eternity, when he takes us to live with him.  What we enjoy now is only the beginning of God’s love for us, and that makes this life truly meaningful.  Amen.