God is Greater Than… Series Conclusion: After considering the traps of pleasure, wisdom, work, and wealth here are the conclusions of King Solomon’s search for meaning: Fear God and obey his commandments. What does this mean and how might this lead to lasting significance? God is greater than all. Recorded on May 29, 2022, on Ecclesiastes 12, by Pastor David Parks.
This message is part of our “God is Greater Than…” sermon series. There are several common traps that human beings have fallen into for thousands of years. Traps of believing that certain pursuits are satisfying enough to take the place of God in your life. But in the end, these pursuits reveal themselves to be ultimately meaningless and lead to a hollow and deeply unsatisfying life. Our series will examine the traps of pursuing pleasure, wisdom, work, and wealth before coming to the conclusion that God is greater than all.
All year, we’re focusing on, The Greatness of God. And today, we’re finishing a sermon series called “God Is Greater Than…” from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. And in this series, we’ve said that there are several common traps that human beings have fallen into for thousands of years. These are traps of faith, of believing that certain pursuits are big/important/satisfying enough to take the place of God in your life. But in the end, these pursuits lead to a life of hebel, the Hebrew word translated as meaningless; ultimately, these pursuits lead to a life that is hollow and deeply unsatisfying. Next week, we’ll start a new sermon series on the book of Jonah called Sovereign to Save. But today, we’ll consider the conclusion of King Solomon in his search for meaning. In some ways, it’s a very simple solution. But, in light of everything we’ve covered so far, I believe it is rooted in real wisdom, which, if we listen, will help us not only avoid these traps but will lead us to a life of lasting meaning and significance. If you have a Bible/app, please open to Ecclesiastes 12. We’ll break this chapter down into three sections. So part one, v. 1.
Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 (NIV), “1 Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”— 2 before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain; 3 when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim; 4 when the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades; when people rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint; 5 when people are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets; when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags itself along and desire no longer is stirred. Then people go to their eternal home and mourners go about the streets. 6 Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, 7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. 8 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless!””
Let’s pause here. What is going on here? Well, commentator Duane Garrett interprets vv. 2-5 as a poem describing the steady decline of the human body in old age, and I think he’s right. The trembling keepers of the house are the trembling of hands, the strong men stooping is the bent posture of a weakened back, the grinders are teeth that have fallen out or cannot easily eat anymore, and those looking out the windows are the eyes that have trouble seeing. v. 4 describes a declining ability to hear when sounds fade and the bird songs grow faint. v. 5. refers to a lack of strength and mobility and the fear and disorientation that that can bring. Fear for safety in falling from a height, for example, or fear of physical safety, perhaps of being attacked in the street. Desire no longer stirred, probably refers to waning sexual desire. All of these poetic images are signs of strength and life coming to an end. But what happens then? “Then people go to their eternal home and mourners go about the streets.” This is the end of every person, every human being both great and small, male and female. No one is exempt. But why is this slightly depressing fact part of the conclusion of this quest for meaning?
Well, let’s think about where we’ve come from in this series. King Solomon explored the hedonistic life. A life of pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain, honestly the life that many people today aspire to. And then, he explored the intellectual life. A life of pursuing more and more wisdom/knowledge/understanding. And then, he explored the productive life, a life of climbing the ladder of career and working to achieve more and accomplish more. Finally, he explored the materialistic life, a life of earning and saving and seeking to accumulate more and more money, wealth, and possessions. But what is the nagging fact of life about all these various ways to live? The truth is it doesn’t matter how many wonderful, pleasurable experiences you had, or how many things you knew or how wise you were, or how many things you accomplished in your career, or how much money you made. One day, maybe soon, or maybe years from now, but one day every life will come to an end. So the repeated conclusion to these common traps which tempt us to turn to them to replace God in our lives is found in v. 8. Meaningless. They are hebel. They are here today and gone tomorrow. But if these different ways of life are hebel, then we might nihilistically conclude that we are hebel, we are meaningless, we are little nothings, here today and gone tomorrow. We’ve run the experiment countless times and come back with nothing. What more can we ever hope to experience in this life under the sun? But wait. According to the Bible, we don’t live in a world that is only defined as life under the sun. We do not live in merely a material or physical world. The heavens and the earth have come from something higher and greater, someOne outside of time and space, someOne who transcends over all of this hebel. Solomon calls us to “Remember your Creator” before the end of life, in the days of our youth, and even today! Don’t forget, you are not your own. We are not stuck with a meaningless life under the sun. There is a God who made us and sustains our every breath and one who knows our names and can count the hairs on our heads. He is not far off and removed from our existence as the deists thought. But he is imminent, he is near, and he has and is and will interact with his creation in meaningful ways because he loves us and knows how he designed us to live. So the true path to wisdom and pleasure and productivity and wealth is found in him. The true life of meaning and significance is found before the face of God. Whatever we do with our lives, whoever we might marry, wherever we might live, whether or not we have kids and when, or whatever we hope to achieve must be done in light of this God-given God-infused reality. Every other way is a vapor, a breath, it will not last or bring us the satisfaction/fulfillment/wholeness we long for. Let’s continue with v. 9.
Ecclesiastes 12:9-12 (NIV), “9 Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. 10 The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true. 11 The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd. 12 Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.”
Remember, throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon took on the role of the Teacher or Preacher, one who sought not only to discover the path of wisdom to life but one who wanted to share that with others. This section was likely written by the editor of the King’s proverbs and wisdom. Their conclusion is found in v. 11. “The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd.” Goads were sticks used by farmers or shepherds to poke their animals to walk along the right paths, not to turn to the right or to the left, but to stay on the path that would lead them to safety and life. Wisdom is like that. When you lack wisdom, you wander all over looking for the path. Without wisdom, you might wander over the paths that many others have tried and found to be unsatisfying/unfulfilling or even dangerous/destructive. But true wisdom, no matter where it comes from, ultimately is given by one Shepherd, that is God, the good shepherd. It is the Lord God Almighty who is the source of wisdom. Can non-Christians be wise? Anyone can gain wisdom and knowledge, but the real source is God. However, no one can truly be wise if they forget their creator. “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”” (Ps 14:1). It is for this reason that I believe the editor ends this section with a warning. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to the wisdom that comes from God. There is always a temptation to think that the latest book, study, or research will lead to a new conclusion about the meaning of life. This is simply not true. There is nothing new under the sun. But does this mean that Christians shouldn’t be about scientific research or innovation in technology? No! These things are wonderful ways to glorify God in better understanding the universe that he has made and finding ways to help other people or make this life under the sun a little better. But does this mean that our science and tech will lead us to a different ultimate source of wisdom? No. Be warned. The experiment has been run, countless times in fact, and you don’t have to run it again for yourself. You can learn and gain wisdom from this ancient king. You can find meaning and significance in life that lasts even beyond death. The challenging conclusion to all of this is found in the final two verses of the book. Look back at v. 13.
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 (NIV), “13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
Here is the conclusion. Here is the place to find lasting meaning and significance in life. Fear God and keep his commandments. But what does that mean? Does that mean we should be afraid of God? It would make sense to be afraid of God. After all, if he is our creator and we are his creatures, but we have lived or functionally lived as if the only part of life that matters is this secular life under the sun, wouldn’t you think that would make God angry? Maybe we should be afraid of God. In fact, most cultures and religions in history have envisioned god or the gods as a source of fear in this sense. So religion almost universally has been about sacrificing important parts of our lives or our wealth or even our children to god to placate his wrath against us. It’s fear of punishment that drives this behavior and religious expression, not love, not grace, not good news. But along comes the God of the Bible. No one else has envisioned God as he has revealed himself to us through his word. The God of the Bible is indeed the creator of the world and has many commandments that people, his creatures, are supposed to obey. But not out of a fear of punishment, out of a heart changed by the grace and mercy of God, by the love of God. And where do we see the love of God? Nowhere more than at the cross of Christ. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:16-17). God knew that sin had broken and corrupted all of life under the sun. And he knew that death was the ultimate end to every human life, and would render all other paths to take through life including the hedonistic life, the intellectual life, the productive life, the materialistic life, and every other potential path through life as meaningless/hebel. So God did something about this in Christ. This is why the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:16–17 (NIV), “16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” The life we find by faith in Jesus is the life of meaning and significance that we long for and that we are all trying to find. Solomon didn’t know how God would finally deal with the problems of sin and death, so he had to live by faith. Fear God and keep his commandments. He will find a way. He will judge what is right and wrong. Even if we don’t understand everything. Even if we don’t like some of the commands of God. Even when life gets hard. So Solomon lived a life of faith in God and obedience to God and found the meaning of life in him. How much more can we, having seen the fullness of the plan of God to deal with the problem of sin and death through Jesus, should we live a life of faith in God and obedience to him? This is the great blessing of living today, on this side of the cross and the resurrection. But finally, this means that for us, to fear God, to fear the Lord, cannot mean to simply be afraid of him and obey him to placate his wrath. But to fear God in light of the gospel means something more like developing a reverent awe of God. To see God for who he is, infinite in wisdom, power, and goodness. Supremely God. Transcendent over all. But also as a loving Father who was willing to give up everything in order to rescue and redeem us in Christ. In all of this we see the great love of God, and “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” (1Jn 4:18). In Christ, we have no fear of punishment. He paid the price himself on the cross, the price demanded for all of our wanderings, all our imperfections, all our sin. Do you want to have a life of meaning? Do you want to find significance that lasts beyond the grave? Turn to Jesus, follow him, worship him, and serve him, not out of fear of punishment but in the reverent awe that he deserves. To him be the glory, honor, and praise both now and forevermore. Amen. Let us pray.