Ecclesiastes: A great man without a God-honoring purpose

INTRODUCTION. A post based on the Preacher in Ecclesiastes, who accomplished impressive things with his life, but approached the end of his life with depression and regret. How does a God-honoring purpose answer the questions that the writer of Ecclesiastes asks?

THE IMPORTANCE OF PURPOSE

Each disciple of Jesus Christ should be able to answer this question: “How will my life bring glory to the Lord?” And in answering this question, the critical component is PURPOSE or MISSION. The person who has a settled, clearly defined God-honoring Purpose for their life and who is living in light of that Purpose is very difficult to discourage and is difficult to stop.

Therefore, one of the disciple’s most urgent goals in his discipleship is to discover and develop the unique Purpose (or Mission) for which God has created him and called him.

Because this idea of Purpose is so foundational to joy and fulfillment in the life of the believer, I hope to write more about it in an upcoming blog, and it will certainly be covered thoroughly in my book on Discipleship (targeted for late 2022). For this blog post, however, I want to show how a lack of purpose results in a miserable life.

VANITY UNDER THE SUN

The writer of Ecclesiastes (probably King Solomon) refers to himself as “the Preacher” (Eccles. 1:1, 2, 12), which in Hebrew translates to “Qohelet,” which is how I will refer to him. In my reading of Ecclesiastes, I see Qohelet as a man in late middle age or even old age, who is looking back over a full and productive life and assessing the value of what he has done with his life and seeking to determine his legacy.

But here’s the problem: it is impossible to assess value without a God-honoring purpose. How can you assess the value of accomplishments that were arbitrarily chosen and were absent of any enduring purpose? The fact is that there can be no meaning to a meaningless goal.

Speaking of which: We are getting ready to recycle some old National Geographic magazines, and there is one in the current stack for recycling that just caught my eye. The cover of this November 2016 issue has a picture of Mars, the red planet, and the article about it is called, “Race to the Red Planet.” Here is surely a classic picture of fallen man pursuing a meaningless, godless goal that can have no purpose. I have not (and will not) read this article, but the goal is evident. Some group of over-funded, egotistical people are prepared to spend billions and billions of dollars and risk people’s lives to be the first to land on the planet Mars. Ecclesiastes has a word for this: Vanity. This is what man does when he has vast resources and lots of ego and ambition and no God-honoring purpose.

Qohelet is a man of wide learning, vast material resources, formidable intelligence, and great energy. He appears to be a man who has all the ingredients for huge success as he pours himself into life. He has made great building projects and enjoyed all manner of sensual pleasures and has contemplated the complex riddles of life, but he lacks a God-honoring purpose. He has lived his life to please himself and to impress others, but now, as the end of his life draws irresistibly nearer, he realizes the vanity of it all. It is striving after wind. All is vanity, all is meaningless and futility under the sun. And death swallows it all.

Our hero lacks a purpose that has enduring value. He lacks purpose not because he is a fool and not because he is overtly wicked, but because he is a fallen human who does not know the LORD. This is the common problem of all fallen man since Adam. All of us come into this world without a God-honoring purpose. We have ambitions and goals and desires and energy, but we have no God-honoring and God-given purpose toward which we can channel all our desires and energy. And so we “strut and fret our hour upon the stage and then are heard no more.” Ours is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing” (from “MacBeth”).

Most people live and die without ever giving much thought to the purpose of their existence. Their life has no more influence, no greater legacy than that of a passing cloud. “As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer” (Ps. 103:15-16). Then there are a few who seem to have a mission of sorts for their lives. They are ambitious and energetic and they strive to do great things and to make a difference in the world. Of those who thus strive, a small percentage succeed. Qohelet is a standout, a giant in this small percentage, and he serves as a spokesman for those who are unusually successful “under the sun.” And what does Qohelet have to say about being successful “under the sun?” “So I hated life” (Eccl. 2:17). “Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun” (2:18). It seems that the reward for those who successfully strive after the wind is that they eventually hate life.

Although he cannot articulate it, Qohelet acutely senses his need for Purpose. He desperately tries to conjure up a satisfying reason for his existence by chasing purposes “under the sun,” but these earth-bound, death-ended purposes all fail.

There is a classic scene in the movie “Chariots of Fire” as Harold Abrams, a Jewish runner competing for England in the 100 meters in the 1924 Paris Olympics, makes his final preparations for the 100 meters gold medal race. He is talking to his trainer, but more to himself, as he contemplates the significance of this race. In his musing, we can sense how conflicted he is. His entire life has been lived for this moment, for this one event. To win this race has been his life’s single-minded obsession, but only now has he really considered the worth of his obsession. His rival, Eric Liddell, had refused to run on Sunday without the slightest regret, knowing that he (Liddell) served a greater King and lived for a God-honoring purpose. Liddell had thrown away the 100 meters final as if it was of no importance and he continued to be perfectly at peace, but Abrams, now in the race because of Liddell’s default, was distraught and desperate, for he knew he would not have peace even if he won this race. And so, he contemplates these things and finally says of the race, “Ten lonely seconds to justify my entire existence.”

Abrams ran fast to justify his existence, and Qohelet strives to accomplish great things to escape from a life of vanity, but the Preacher knows that all his grandest achievements are rendered meaningless by physical death. His finest accomplishments simply give death more opportunities to taunt him. For Qohelet, all his personal purposes are futile because death trumps man’s purposes. In his worldview, death reigns. No matter which path he takes, death is the master. Death has the final word.

GOD-HONORING PURPOSE TRUMPS VANITY AND DEATH

But the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ declares that Christ has conquered death and Jesus gives to His disciples His purpose for their lives. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” “You shall be My witnesses to the ends of the earth.” “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The disciple of Jesus Christ has a God-given, God-honoring Purpose for this life, and then has a promised eternity in heaven as we enjoy worshiping our conquering King forever.

SDG                 rmb                 6/28/2022                   #549