Meaning in Life?
A sermon preached on Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:18-26 by Pastor Michael Johnson at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Sioux Falls, SD on August 25, 2019.
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless… What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest…To the man 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. – Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:22-23
Does your life have meaning? Does your life mean something amazing? Solomon was already impressive at birth. He was the son of David. He was designated as the next king of Israel.
Solomon showed incredible wisdom as he became king and followed his father’s advice on what to do at first. You see a lot of his exploits and splendor in the book 1 Kings. Those Old Testament books labeled 1st and 2nd often are tempting to glaze over, but it’s filled with amazing things about Solomon.
Solomon began his reign with many strategic moves, wiser and more cunning than Game of Thrones. He made an alliance with Egypt and married Pharaoh’s beautiful daughter.
Then God appeared to him. He told Solomon – ask me anything and I’ll give it to you. And Solomon responded: God, I’m just a child compared to ruling your great people. There’s so many of them. “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours” (1 Kings 3:9)? And God was pleased with his request so God said: “I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings” (1 Kings 3:12b-13).
More than that, God allowed Solomon to build the temple for the Lord his father never got to. 1 Kings tells us that while he was king, the people of Israel were as numerous as the sand on the sea shore. Solomon had no equal in his understanding and knowledge. He spoke 3,000 proverbs and wrote over a thousand songs. He taught about plant life and animals. He had an amazing life!
There’s not enough time to speak even about half of Solomon’s splendor. One story can show how much splendor Solomon had. The Queen of Sheba, a distant country, had heard of his greatness and wisdom and she just had to see it for herself. She came with great fanfare and sat with him asking him questions all day and listening to his answers. And you know what? Solomon exceeded her expectations. She was so overwhelmed she gave him gifts of precious stones, gold, and more spices ever given. Just the gold alone would have been around 72 million dollars. 1 Kings sums up Solomon’s splendor: “King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth” (1 Kings 10:23).
Tell me if Solomon didn’t have a life that meant something! He had power and riches. He had a beautiful wife – the daughter of Pharaoh! But he wanted more. The Bible says he had a thing for foreign women. He went and married the daughters of five more rulers like Moab and Edom. And he kept going! He stopped at 700 wives. He had 300 concubines too.
Somewhere along the way, Solomon had forgotten what gave his life meaning. It was never his career that gave his life meaning. It wasn’t who he called his friends, where he lived, or his grandkids that gave his life meaning. It wasn’t that he was in choir, or served on any boards for church.
If there were ever a man who knew if meaning could be found in wisdom – it was Solomon. If there was ever someone who could know if meaning could be found in wealth – it was Solomon. If there ever was a guy who knew if meaning could be found in sex – it would be Solomon! He had more opportunity for all those things than any man ever.
Yet, he looks out over everything that he had and did and he says “meaningless.” Literally, he calls it vapor – breath that just blows away. He says it even stronger. In Hebrew, if I want to say something is the absolute – I might say something like – the best song is the song of songs. I could call someone the king of kings. You get the idea.
Solomon looks out over more than anyone had – more women, more money, more everything – he looks over it all and you know what he calls it? Vapor of vapors. It’s all meaningless vapor, here one moment and gone the next.
What gives your life meaning? I’m terrified to answer that question. I look at my own life sometimes and I act like what gives my life meaning are my kids and their activities, or entertainment, or my social status. I’m willing to bet there are some here like me.
In the Gospel of Luke this morning, Jesus said that a man’s life – my life, your life – our meaning doesn’t consist in the abundance of wealth or things we can count. In his parable he said God could demand some or all of our stuff at a moment’s notice. He could demand our life this very night. How meaningless it is if we have stored up and determined that the things around us are what give our life meaning.
If the Lord takes those things away from you, does your life have less meaning? If your child grows up in a way you don’t approve of, does your life have less meaning? If your child grows up in a way you approve of, does your life have more meaning? In the Gospel, Jesus tells the man he’s talking to it’s foolish. It’s foolish to be rich toward yourself and not rich toward God. Then your life is a vapor of vapors.
Does your life have meaning? Solomon talks about the one with whom God is pleased. Jesus talks about being rich toward God. How do I live a life rich toward God? It’s seeing that the true meaning of life is not tied to my career, my accomplishments, even my children. It’s seeing I can’t please God on my own. I’m born a sinner, unable to please God. Rather, I see meaning in life when I see the sinless Son of God nailed to the cross for you. Our meaning flows from the blood that flowed from his wounds and covered all our sins. The love of Jesus gives your life meaning.
After all, Jesus is the one person that lived a life that wasn’t meaningless on his own. He never once was distracted by meaningless things. And you can see the love of Christ for you, because he saw you from the cross. He saw your entire life. He saw what you did in secret. He saw everything you have done and will do and he stayed on the cross to pay for it. And that makes God delight in you. That gives your life meaning.
So how do we live a life of meaning? Living a life of meaning is living in the blood of Jesus that covers you and laboring to store up treasures not for yourself but treasures that will last. When you see the amazing love and forgiveness Jesus has won for you – you can’t help but tell someone. And the best way to show God’s love to them…is to love!
You’re showing the love of Christ when you patiently pick up the toys in the living room for the fifth time that day and then have a Bible story with your kids. You’re showing the love of Christ when you’re now caring for the one that used to care for you when you were young, even when it’s not pretty. You’re showing the love of Christ when you put God first and bring your family to church…even when there are other things you would like to do or it’s embarrassing when the kids don’t behave. That’s a life of meaning. That’s leaving a legacy that points others not to yourself… but to Christ.
Your life has meaning – not because of those things you’re doing in thanks. Your life has meaning because of the amazing love of God he has shown you in Christ. That love gives you meaning now and forever. And because of that love, you can find satisfaction and joy in all your labors, no matter what stage of life you’re in. You can find joy wherever you are, no matter what’s beating down on you – good days and bad. That’s a life full of meaning.
In Christ, we get to live knowing that when this breath or vapor of a life is over, we will see treasures beyond understanding in heaven. So be rich toward each other. Show the love of Christ and tell them about him. Tell your kids about him, even when they think they’re too old to be told. Invite your neighbor struggling with loss to a Growth Group this fall. Let God show his love through you. That’s laboring for treasures that last.
Your life has meaning. Live in the love of Christ and labor for treasures that last. Amen