We begin a new study as we look at the book of Ecclesiastes. Written by King Solomon, the wealthiest and wisest man on the face of the earth he seems to be in conflict referring to all life as meaningless and yet celebrating life as well. We’ll look at this conflict in depth as we consider a few fundamental questions during our study, such as what does it mean to prosper, what is the meaning of life, and where do our material blessings fit within God’s plan for our life?
Solomon will bring us face-to-face with the priorities in our lives and cause us to take a long and hard look at success, prosperity, material wealth and our view of each of them.
Before we actually begin a look at the book, Ecclesiastes, let’s consider some fundamental background information and begin to set to the foundation for our study of this most unique book in God’s Holy Word.
You will quickly notice that as you read Solomon’s writings he uses the word "vanity" over and over again. For example, in verse 1 of chapter 1 he writes "The words of the Preacher, the son of David, King in Jerusalem. ‘Vanity of vanities’ says the Preacher; Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." We can read the word "meaningless" into the use of the word "vanity." In summary, Solomon begins his writing by declaring that all of life is empty of happiness and all attempts at achieving happiness are meaningless. Solomon addresses mankind’s quest for finding happiness in what we could call the four p’s: power, popularity, prestige and pleasure.
However, having declared all is vanity we can also find the opposite view by Solomon in numerous verses, Chapter 2:24 is one example, "There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God."
So let’s begin to look at this tension within the book. Is everything in life "vanity" or meaningless, or is it good and why would Solomon have two views?
- Let’s consider first a fundamental question, what does it mean to prosper? Read the following verses, what observations can you list that tell us what it means to prosper? Should we indeed have the intent to prosper or is that intent in and of itself evil? If we are to prosper, what does that mean? Read the following verses and see what the Lord reveals to you about being prosperous.
- Jeremiah 29:9
- Deuteronomy 29:9
- Psalm 122:6
- Isaiah 55:11
- I Kings 2:3
- I Chronicles 20:23
- Joshua 1:7-8
- Genesis 39:13 and 39:23
- As you consider prospering, and the fact that God wants us to prosper, we then also need to consider what it means to be prosperous. Consider the following people, do you believe they were prosperous?
- Mother Theresa
- Billy Graham
- If we assume, as I do, that all of the people mentioned above were prosperous it would not seem to align with perhaps our definition. For example, Mother Theresa lived a life of extreme poverty with the very poor and the very sick, yet she prospered greatly. How can I say that, what do you think the word prosperous means?
- How can we prosper as God would have us? Re-read the verses in question 1 and consider Christ’s instruction in Matthew 6:33 and see what conclusions you arrive at—how do we live a prosperous life as followers of Christ?
- What happens when a Christian has prosperity as the world defines it. Successful career, children who do well, material wealth and possessions, are these things evil, are there any people you can think of in the Bible who have had worldly prosperity and yet lived a life pleasing to God? What can we learn from looking at them?
- In managing our material possessions, indeed in trying to live a life truly pleasing to God what teaching does God give us in Malachi 3:10? Why is this instruction so important?
- Do you worship God when you tithe or are you simply fulfilling a requirement? When we tithe out of love and an acknowledgement that all we have and all we are comes from God we worship Him and demonstrate what priority our material possessions have in our life. Prosperity can only be seen as having meaning in our lives if it comes through God’s eyes, through living a life pleasing to God. What does Solomon tell us about enjoying the many blessings God gives us? How are we to react when God prospers us in mighty ways? Read Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 and write down all the things God reveals to you.
- Solomon sums up his reflections in Chapter 12:13-14. What is his conclusion?
In summary, Solomon came to see that all of his wealth, all of his intelligence and all of his great works—his writings, his buildings, his successes—had no meaning if he was doing them just to find happiness. But, when he viewed his life through God’s perspective and focused his energies on accomplishing God’s will he saw that that was true prosperity. In the lessons ahead, we will study his writings closely and look at ourselves, what are our priorities, what is our perspective on our material things, what do we see as the important things in our lives, and what meaning do these bring to our life? In the end, when Christ calls us home, all of our material world stays behind. What then is important, and how are we to live in this material world as God works out His plan for us in this life?