Dear Friends,

Author and professor Peter Kreeft says that the book of Ecclesiastes is lesson
# 1 for life and the rest of the Bible is lesson #2. If people don’t heed
the message in lesson one, which is that life lived independent of God’s
truth and purposes for our lives is empty and meaningless (even if I get all
I want as Solomon did) they won’t think they need lesson two. So you will
not likely find these kind of people reading the Bible or, more importantly,
obeying God’s instructions in the Bible. King Solomon is one of those
extremely rare men, who though very successful in the world’s scheme of
things, (money, sex and power) admits near the end of his life that he was wrong.
He then exhorts us to not follow his example but to “fear God and keep
His commandments”. (Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14) Since he was also known for
his great wisdom, maybe we should heed his advice.

In Barry Morrow’s book, Heaven Observed, he listed the five
major candidates in Ecclesiastes that compete with God for our passion, purpose
and pursuits in life that Solomon sought and acquired yet still declared “Vanity
of vanities. All is vanity.” (Eccl. 1:2): intellectualism/ wisdom;
hedonism/pleasure; materialism/power and riches; altruism/doing “good”
for others; ritualism/naturalistic religion.
These five competitors
are still luring many away today from “seeking first the kingdom of God”
(Matthew 6:33). Let’s look at them more closely.

Intellectualism/wisdom – “I, the Preacher, have been king over
Israel in Jerusalem. And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning
all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given
to the sons of men to be afflicted with. I said to myself, ‘Behold, I
have magnified and increased wisdom more that all who were over Jerusalem before
me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge.’ And I
set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized that this
is also striving after the wind.
” (Eccl. 1:12-13;16-17) Dr. Swenson
says in his book Margin that when education and technology are up and the quality
of relationships is down, there is a net loss in a society. The modern man may
define progress as increased technology, accumulating information, (internet
addiction) efficiency and productivity, but God defines progress as growing
in our relationships with Him and others. (Matthew 22:37-39) As my associate
Dr. Ken Boa says in his teaching on the book of James, God’s wisdom is
meant to bring order out of moral, spiritual and relational chaos which sin
has produced beginning with our own lives. And the fear of the Lord is the beginning
(starting point) of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10) This concurs with Solomon’s
conclusion at the end of his life. Knowing God through His Word and living in
reverent and loving obedience to Him is true wisdom.

Hedonism/pleasure – “I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will
test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.’ And behold, it too was futility.
I said of laughter, ‘it’s madness,’ and of pleasure, ‘What
does it accomplish?’ I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body
with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly,
until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven
the few years of their lives. I provided for myself male and female singers
and the pleasures of men – many concubines. All that my eyes desired I
did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure…

(Eccl. 2: 1-3; 8b; 10a) We live in a sex-craved culture which has now been greatly
exacerbated by the privacy and accessibility of internet pornography. Dr. James
Houston says that a root problem of sexual sin is that love is wrongly directed
inward toward ourselves rather than outward toward others and God. For example,
the writer C.S. Lewis describes masturbation (and I would add pornography) as
“a hell of self-love, a prison in which is kept a harem of imaginary brides
which makes it difficult to unite with a real woman. This self-love is always
accessible, calls for no sacrifices, and can be endowed with erotic attractions
no real woman can rival. It is self-destructive and leads to self-revulsion,
physical loneliness and a lack of self-acceptance.” We see this in the
woman at the well who had had five husbands and was now living with a man. As
the song says she was looking for love in all the wrong places and never finding
satisfaction for it was inwardly focused. Jesus stirred her curiosity by talking
about her need for living water that would be like a spring of water that would
well up to eternal life and truly quench her thirsty soul. Of course He was
talking about a relationship with Him, the living God, and when she received
Jesus she left her water jar and became an evangelist for Jesus. (John 4:1-30)
The flesh can never be satisfied (Jeremiah 2:13) but Christ’s love can
be like living water and a rich banquet to our hungry and thirsty souls.(Psalm

Materialism/power and riches – “Also I collected for myself silver
and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. Then I became great and increased
more than all who proceeded me in Jerusalem…. and behold all was vanity
and striving after the wind and there was no profit under the sun.

(Eccl. 2:8a; 9a; 11b)) A note from an unsuccessfully successful prospector on
display at a Wild West museum in South Dakota says: “I lost my gun. I
lost my horse. I am out of food. The Indians are after me. But I’ve got
all the gold I can carry.” And many a man has lost his wife, family, friends
and health all for the “deceitfulness of riches”. (Matthew 13:22;
Luke 8:14) History and our present times are filled with the laments of rich
and powerful men yet miserable men. “I have made millions, but they have
brought me no happiness” said John D Rockefeller. We hear similar comments
from Andrew Carnegie, John Jacob Astor, Elvis Presley, Howard Hughes and King
Solomon. “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever
loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.

(Solomon, Eccl 5:10) With such bad advertisement, why do so many still chase
after the bucks? Jesus had a way of getting to the bottom line when He spoke
and He said it was because of the “deceitfulness of riches”. People
think accumulating money will bring them peace, contentment, joy, etc., all
the things God wants to give us for seeking Him. “Godliness with
contentment is great gain.
” (1 Timothy 6:6; Also see 1 Timothy
6:6-11; 17-19) Paul had learned the secret of contentment by learning the sufficiency
of Christ’s power and provision to accomplish God’s will and purposes
through him “whether he had plenty or was in want
(See Philippians 4:10-13) The Lord will always provide all we need to do His
and often give us more than we need. Willfulness, pride and lack
of trust on the other hand will drive us to seek and accumulate money.

Altruism/doing “good” for others – “For there is
no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the
coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die.
Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I labored under the sun, for
I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he
will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over the fruit of my
labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity.

(Eccl. 2:16; 18-19) Though altruism is better than narcissism both the “do-gooder”
and the “grabber” die and the “good” they did for their
children or succeeding generations may cease and thus the remembrance and recompense
of their good acts has no lasting benefit for them or others “under the
sun.” But, more importantly, as Barry points out in his book, who gets
to define “good”? Ted Turner invests millions of dollars toward
world peace and ecology, both of which are good things but neither of these
have any eternal value for people, eternal beings, doomed for an eternal hell
apart from God’s salvation through Jesus Christ. Even Christian ministries
that build schools, hospitals and orphanages and reach out to the poor are not
doing the best thing if the gospel, the good news, is not being
shared with the people they serve. When asked what is the greatest commandment,
Jesus answered the question of what is ultimately “good” –
to love God with all our being and love our neighbor through evangelism and
discipleship.(Matthew 22:37-39; 28:18-20) And this command “to go and
make disciples” applies to all Christians, in every arena of our lives.
Whether we’re at home, work or play, our lives and our lips are to proclaim
the “good news” – John 3:16.

Ritualism/naturalistic religion – “I have seen everything during
my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in (spite of)
his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in (spite
of) wickedness. Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why
should you ruin yourself? Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool.
Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp one thing and
also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both
of them.
” (Eccl. 7:15-18) This difficult passage has several
important points for us. Solomon was saying that the understanding that God
rewarded the righteous and punished the wicked in a one to one relationship
(Divine retribution) does not hold true “under the sun”. This was
the error of Job’s counselors and unfortunately many people try to use
“religion” almost superstitiously. They go to church, give money,
etc., to try to avoid punishment and earn blessings. Even those who have a true
relationship with God through Jesus Christ, may think they can manipulate Him
this way rather than totally trusting Him and yielding their whole life in obedience
to Him even when the temporal blessings aren’t coming (the prosperity
gospel, etc.) On the other hand, the wicked may wrongly think their sin has
no consequences since they seem to be getting by with it. Solomon says that
the right perspective is to fear God and obey Him because the blessing of obedience
and the consequences of sin will ultimately come on judgment day (Eccl. 12:13-14)
if not on this side of eternity.

Until He Comes,

Len and Kristen

This entry was posted in Monthly Teaching Letter. Bookmark the permalink.