Managing Editor: David Sper
Cover Illustration: Stan D. Myers
©1987 RBC Ministries--Grand Rapids, MI 49555 Printed in USA
Why do I feel so empty? What's the point of going on day after day in the same meaningless way? Where can I find a sense of satisfaction? Where can I find a sense of purpose and a reason to go on? Is life really worth living?
In this booklet, Kurt De Haan explores some of the many answers that have been offered to such painful questions. By concentrating on the timeless truths of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, this study will outline the dead-end answers as well as the way to live a truly fulfilling life.
Martin R. De Haan II, President of RBC Ministries
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You don't have to be suicidal
to wonder if your life is worth living.
You don't have to be on skid row
to feel that you're a loser.
You don't have to be locked behind bars
to be imprisoned by your own desires.
You don't have to be a prostitute
to sell your life to others.
You don't have to be a playboy
to be preoccupied with sex.
You don't have to be a drug addict
to exist on an artificial "high."
You don't have to be a millionaire
to be bought by the love of money.
You don't have to be psychotic
to run from the deeper issues of life.
You don't have to be corporate president
to live for your job.
You don't have to be a garbage collector
to think that life stinks.
You don't have to drive a BMW
to try to find joy in your possessions.
You don't have to be homeless
to feel lost and out of place in the world.
You don't have to be stupid
to misunderstand what life is all about.
And you don't have to be a genius
to discover the real meaning of life.
So what's the secret? If the meaning of life is not the private possession of the brilliant scientist or the devoted theologian, who can know and how can the rest of us find out? Why are so many people living with frustration, emptiness, despair, hopelessness, disgust, apathy, or anger?
When they think about the issues, some searchers find that the answers that seem to satisfy others are not adequate for them. Another group of seekers isn't really all that interested in finding answers--at least as long as they are finding some pleasure in life. Still others have given up hope of finding relief to their inner ache for answers. They've escaped into an unreal world of drug- or alcohol-induced numbness to the harsh realities of life. Some, tragically, have even taken their own lives.
Who has the answers and why are so many people still searching if the answers can be found? This booklet will review the search of a man who lived almost 3,000 years ago. It may be hard to believe, but the issues that he wrote about are the same basic issues that are bothering people today. His observations sound like someone living in the late 20th century. The search has not changed. nor have man's desperate attempts to find answers.
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Have you tried to catch a piece of wind lately? Have you ever tamed a tornado or harnessed a hurricane? Well, chasing fulfillment in life can seem just as futile, especially if you're looking in all the wrong places. Listen to someone who learned the hard way.
I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this grievous task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind (Eccl. 1:12-14).
To this author, life "under the sun"
on planet Earth appeared to be nothing but vanity, futility, meaninglessness.
Later in his writings, though, he told us that there is another way to look
at life, from above the sun, from God's perspective. Without God in the
picture, nothing is significant. But with God, everything is significant.
In trying to understand the book of Ecclesiastes it helps to know who the author is and why he wrote his journal. He never identified himself by name. But his self-description as "the son of David, king in Jerusalem," as well as his comments about wealth, power, wisdom, great achievements, and many wives, point to King Solomon (see 1:1,12,16; 2:4-9; 7:26-29; 12:9). If we accept Solomon as the author, then we see in Ecclesiastes glimpses of the dramatic story of a king who began his reign well but got caught up in the superficial glitter of life (1 Kin. 11:1-13). In his old age he discovered his mistake and reaffirmed his true purpose for living.
Our study in this booklet will follow Solomon's pattern of discussing the dead-end answers before revealing the route to true fulfillment. The futile and unsatisfying reasons for living that Solomon talked about include learning, playing, working, and loving.
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"I communed with my heart. saying, 'Look, I have attained greatness, and have gained more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem. My heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge.' And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind" (Eccl. 1:16,17).
What did Solomon learn about learning? In his day, the name Solomon was synonymous with wisdom. In 1 Kings we read that no one before him or after him possessed such wisdom (3:7-12; 10:1-8). He was wiser than all the men of the East and Egypt (4:30). He spoke 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs (4:32). He knew enough to lecture about trees, animals, birds, creeping things, and fish (4:33). People came from all over the world to listen to "Professor" Solomon (10:24).
How did Solomon "wise up"? Solomon found out that all his accumulated knowledge about life meant nothing if he did not know the Creator of life. He learned this truth the hard way. As he grew older, he chose to forget what he knew about God and began to worship false gods (1 Kin. 11:1-13). His knowledge could not fill the emptiness he felt.
So I said in my heart, "As it happens to the fool, it also happens to me, and why was I then more wise?" Then I said in my heart, "This also is vanity." For there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool forever, since all that now is will be forgotten in the days to come. And how does a wise man die? As the fool! (Eccl. 2:15,16).
Solomon eventually recognized that he had gotten off track. He experienced a new humility before God and a renewed intimacy with Him. He had found that earthly wisdom didn't satisfy.
Is it okay, then, to be ignorant? No. Solomon also knew the emptiness of an empty head. Ignorance is not a virtue. Solomon never promoted foolishness or stupidity. In fact, he said, "I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. The wise man's eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness" (2:13,14).
It is good to gain knowledge. The more "Solomons" we have in the world the better. But remember, the pursuit of knowledge just for the sake of knowledge will leave you empty. The more you learn the more you will realize how little you actually know. You will end up in despair if your hope of fulfillment is to learn enough facts (1:18).
What is the proper place of knowledge? A billboard advertisement for a large research hospital proclaimed, "Knowledge Heals." That's partially true. It's true when research results in a cure or the prevention of a disease. But knowledge about genetics, germs, or gastric juices cannot heal a broken heart. Knowledge about thermodynamics, astronomy, geology, neurology, or meteorology cannot provide a purpose for life. Knowledge about our world can describe life, but it cannot explain the why of life. It cannot provide values or morality.
This has become very apparent in our present-day attempts to alleviate teenage pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Knowledge alone is not the answer. What we need are values! Knowledge without values is like a ship without a rudder.
Solomon preached balance. It's good to try to be smart, but don't think that being brainy will satisfy your heart's deepest desires. Knowledge of life on the horizontal level--the physical here-and-now world that we walk and talk in--doesn't give us all the knowledge we need. We can't afford to neglect knowledge of life on the vertical plane--our relationship to the Creator of our world.
Thinking It Over. What did Paul say about human wisdom in 1 Corinthians 3:18-20? How smart do you have to be to understand the gospel? According to Jeremiah 9:23,24 and Philippians 3:7-11, what knowledge is most important? How can you grow in your knowledge of Christ? (2 Pet. 3;18).
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"I said in my heart, 'Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure'; but surely, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, 'It is madness'; and of mirth, 'What does it accomplish?' I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine, while guiding my heart with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the sons of men to do under heaven all the days of their lives" (Eccl. 2:1-3).
Solomon had the means to pursue just about any pleasure imaginable. He followed the philosophy of the advertising slogan, "You only go around once in life, so grab all the gusto you can get." Solomon tried it. He grabbed for all the pleasures of life. But after some time he realized that the "gusto" was less fulfilling and didn't taste so great.
Solomon said in 2:1-11 that his efforts to find purpose through the enjoyment of food, sex, music, and pretty places was like grasping for the wind.
How can you feel empty with a full stomach? Solomon was a connoisseur of fine wines (2:3) and the best foods were available to him (1 Kin. 4:22,23; 10:4,5). But even though he sat at tables loaded with culinary delights, his soul was malnourished.
He said, "All the labor of man is for his mouth, and yet the soul is not satisfied" (Eccl. 6:7).
Why did sex lose its appeal? Solomon's quest for pleasure surely wasn't hindered by a lack of sexual partners. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kin. 11:3). Linguistic studies have suggested that the phrase "musical instruments of all kinds" in Ecclesiastes 2:8 would he better understood as referring to a harem, a group of concubines. Such a translation would certainly fit Solomon's situation.
Things haven't changed much since Solomon's day. We are living in a sex-saturated and sex-sick society. But Solomon learned that sex promises much more than it can fulfill.
Why did music sound flat? Solomon enjoyed the melodies of great singers (2:8). He didn't need a tape player with earphones to have music wherever he went. He could afford to have a traveling band to follow him all over the palace and all over the countryside. But beautiful music didn't solve the ugly issues of injustice, suffering, or cruelty. Music didn't offer answers of purpose; it only offered a diversion, a tranquilizer to get through another day.
Why did the beauty of the gardens begin to wilt? "I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. l made myself waterpools from which to water the growing trees of the grove" (2:5,6). The king surrounded himself with beautiful sights. He tried to please his eyes with rows upon rows of flowers, trees, and shrubs.
But while the gardeners were tending the plants, Solomon realized that his inner being was overrun with the weeds of confusion and self-serving pleasures. Something was wrong (2:11). Just as sin corrupted the first garden (Gen. 1--3), Solomon learned that sin could destroy the beauty of life.
How do people today try to find pleasure? We haven't changed very much since Solomon's time. We're still grasping for fun and ending up with a fistful of emptiness. Our society is preoccupied with sex. Some of us are obsessed with music. Many seek fulfillment through food and drink. Others put all their energies into making their home a beautiful place. Still others pursue pleasure through drugs, which blind them from seeing how their lives are being destroyed.
Whatever the pleasurable pursuit, the end result is the same--it doesn't give lasting fulfillment. The thrill, the high, the excitement, and the laughter lack staying power.
Thinking It Over. How can you imitate Moses' attitude toward the "good life"? (Heb. 11:24-26). How did Paul describe mankind's rebellion against God in the last days? (2 Tim. 3:4). What happens when you are motivated by a desire for pleasures? (James 4:1-4). What pleasures are hindering your relationship with God?
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"I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind. Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me" (Eccl. 2:17,18). Solomon's feeling of exasperation with the endless cycle of work is something we all can identify with. A mother of small children may spend half her day washing clothes, only to see the children spill and smear food on themselves or "accidentally" fall into the only mudhole within 300 miles.
A businessman may work all day or all week on a new proposal, only to have it "shot down" by his superiors. Or a man may spend all day washing and waxing his car, only to have a "fender bender" later that same day.
What if you went through your entire life with the attitude that all you ever accomplished was worthless, meaningless, empty, and futile? That's how it can seem if you're trying to make something of your life "under the sun" without God. As Solomon looked back on his life, he realized that he had emphasized his own achievements too much.
What had Solomon achieved? First Kings 1--11 reveals his many accomplishments. He was incredibly rich (4:22-28; 10:14-29). The borders of his kingdom extended from the Euphrates River to the edge of Egypt (4:21). He had gained an international reputation as an author and a scholar (4:32,33). He built a magnificent temple for the Lord (6:1-38), and his own palace was a masterpiece of beauty (7:1-12). Even foreign kings paid taxes to him (4:21; 10:14,15). Yet when he reflected on his own work and the work of others, he said:
For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? For all his days are sorrowful and his work grievous; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity (Eccl. 2:22,23).
When are possessions too possessive? Many people today would love to have just a fraction of the wealth that Solomon possessed. Lotteries and sweepstakes attract people who are hoping for the one-in-a-million chance at the big money. Men and women on television game shows scream and act silly over their efforts to win money or big prizes. But as Solomon reminds us, "He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity" (5:10; see also vv.15,16).
What is the right attitude toward possessions? Solomon said, "As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor--this is the gift of God" (5:19).
Contentment will escape the person who is always desiring more than what
he has in his hands. Solomon also knew that contentment would escape the
person who looks only at what he has in his hands if his heart is empty.
The key to contentment is an underlying satisfaction in the all-sufficiency of God's supply for all our needs (Phil. 4:11-13,19).
Why is it futile to work your way to the top? Many individuals spend all their energies climbing the ladder of success. But Solomon pointed out that the man who rises to the top doesn't stay there forever; he is forgotten when someone else takes his place (Eccl. 4:13-16). Fame, prestige and power are short-lived and fail to fulfill the heart's desires. Besides, Solomon knew something that we should realize too: Power and fame don't necessarily come to the most deserving (10:5-7).
What, then, is the worth of work? Solomon lets us know that work can be a good thing--if you don't give it too much importance. Solomon reminds us of God's view of work and the true purpose of life in 2:24,25. Verse 24 states:
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.
Then, there is substantial evidence to suggest that verse 25 should read, "For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment without Him?" As such, it is a clear reference early in the book of Ecclesiastes to our need of God if we are to find fulfillment in life.
If we get our priorities "out of whack," then we are working against ourselves. To try to find fulfillment without God is like trying to play tennis without a racket, or like trying to play golf without any clubs.
Thinking It Over. Why did God instruct the people of Israel to reserve one day for rest? (Deut. 5:12-15). How can setting aside a day for worship be helpful in keeping a right attitude toward work? Where should work fit into your list of priorities?
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"Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun" (Eccl. 9:9).
Although Solomon promoted marriage, he knew that life's meaning and purpose were not wrapped up in a human relationship. He used the words vain and vanity in 9:9 to emphasize that his advice to find joy with one's spouse is advice that may make life more endurable even though it doesn't explain life's meaning. He knew from his own experience that the companionship of marriage wasn't the answer to his heart's greatest need. Solomon tried marriage--700 times! And he even had an additional 300 unofficial wives (1 Kin. 11:3). But Solomon knew that he could never fill his palace with enough wives to replace his need of God.
Solomon also saw the value of companionship in general. He noted in 4:8-12 that the person who has a friend to go through life with is better off than the loner who lives only for himself. The person who has a friend has someone who enables him to be more productive (v.9), helps in troubled times (v.10), makes the harsh times more bearable (v.11), and adds strength against enemy attack (v.12).
Is companionship enough to live for? Being shipwrecked on a desert island may be more bearable if another person is stuck there with you. But the friendship won't get you off the island or answer your questions about life back home.
Even though Solomon extolled the virtues of loving and helping others (see also 11:2), he did so with the realization that simply showing love for others does not give purpose to an otherwise purposeless life. That is why throughout his discourse he points to the need for a recognition of God's part in this life and the life to come (2:24,25; 3:13,14,17; 5:1-7; 7:13-18; 8:12-17; 11:7-10; 12:1-14).
Many people, though, don't recognize God's role in life. They talk as if they have no worry of a coming judgment. They're not concerned about showing love to God. They believe that their purpose for living is to love people and make this world a better place to live. They reason that if all of us are stuck on this planet together, we may as well try to get along and help each other. For example, one student described his reason for living by saying, "I try to live for a general positive influence. l try to be a good person. I'm not living for God, I'm trying to live for others."
What is more important than loving people? Humanitarian efforts are noble and commendable. In fact, you can find many Scripture verses that encourage loving human relationships. Jesus said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." He emphasized the need to love others when He told the great story about the humanitarian Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
But we have to remember that Jesus encouraged love for one's neighbor as an evidence of one's love for and devotion to God (John 13:34; 15:9-12). Prior to the story about the Good Samaritan, He said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind" (Luke 10:27). In another situation, Jesus said that love for God was the first and greatest commandment (Matt. 22:37). Love for your neighbor is noble but inadequate, a "grasping after the wind," unless you first love the one true God.
When can our love have lasting significance? In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon spoke of the folly and destructiveness of not loving others (4:8, 7:9; 9:18). Even though he encouraged his readers to find enjoyment in human relationships, he pointed to the need to give our primary attention to our relationship with God (12:13). And in order to strike home his point, Solomon spoke of the despair of living only for this life on a human level.
Without a knowledge of God, we would have to conclude that human life is no better than animal life (3:18-21; 9:2-4). We wouldn't know that the human soul lives on and faces God in a life to come. Humanitarian efforts would have no eternal value.
The great love chapter of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, proclaims the greatness of love. But this love is possible only among those who know what it means to be loved by God and to love Him.
Loving others, as good as it is, falls short of giving the foundation on which to build our lives. We need a reason to love that goes beyond this life, a love that is rooted in the love of God (1 John 4:7--5:3).
Thinking It Over. How much time do you devote to your friendships or marriage, and how much time do you devote to your relationship with God? How can the right kind of love for others be a direct reflection of your love for the Lord? (1 John 4:20,21). Read Philippians 3:7-11 and think about how much you desire to know and please Christ. How can you increase your desire to know the Lord?
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Solomon learned the hard way that he could not live as if there were no God. Although he hints at the final answer at earlier points in Ecclesiastes (2:24,25; 3:11-14,17; 5:1-7,18-20; 7:16-18; 8:12; 11:8,9; 12:1), his strongest statement of the purpose of life comes in the concluding two verses of the very last chapter.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it is good or whether it is evil (12:13,14).
That's it. Our ultimate purpose, our all, is wrapped up in our relationship to the God who made us. If we have thoughts about trying to get away with being self-serving, Solomon reminds us that each of us is headed for a day of accountability before God.
What does it mean to "fear God," and what does it mean to "keep His commandments"? Let's take time to explain the terms.
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Many people react negatively to the idea that they should fear God. They believe that God is loving, kind, and gentle (which He is). They emphasize that for the Christian, God's wrath against his sin has already been taken by Christ on his behalf, So is Solomon's advice good only for the unbeliever or for people in Old Testament times? No, because Solomon is speaking of the need for all men to fear God and because the call to fear God is emphasized in the New Testament as well.
What does it mean to fear God? People who have irrational phobias--fear of heights, small places, crowds, elevators, telephones, water, darkness, or bugs--often seek out psychological help to overcome their unnatural and debilitating fears. The fear of God, though, is not an irrational emotion. It makes logical sense when you understand the facts about who God is and what He is like.
The biblical concept of the fear of the Lord involves a recognition of the power, greatness, authority, and holiness of God. It is a healthy fear. It means we respect Him, shudder at the thought of His judgment against our sin, hold Him in awe, reverence Him, recognize Him as absolute Lord, and honor Him. The right kind of fear, the fear of the Lord, drives us to the Lord--not away from Him!
What are some biblical examples? Many men and women in Scripture are described as those who feared the Lord. Others were specifically challenged to fear Him. Here are a few examples.
Why does God want us to fear Him? As Solomon said, fearing and obeying God is the whole purpose of life. When we fear, reverence, and honor the Lord, we show that we recognize Him for all that He is. We therefore stand in the proper relationship to Him as a creature before the Creator. To fear the Lord shows that we take Him seriously and we desire to please Him with all that we do and say. It demonstrates that we realize we are accountable to Him for how we use every minute of every day.
A fear of God will cause a nonbeliever to seek forgiveness of sin through Christ. And fear of the Lord will cause a believer to produce the fruits of faith and to be commended at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:9,10; 7:1,11).
How is fear related to worship? Fear of the Lord and worship are closely related. In Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, Solomon discussed going to the house of God. Verse 2 states, "Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few." And then in verse 7 he adds, "For in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity. But fear God." A proper attitude toward the Lord, therefore, is essential to meaningful worship of Him.
Does anyone fear God today? In a letter we received at RBC Ministries, one woman wrote, "What do people do who do not trust in God? I have never understood that. l need Him every hour of every day. They do too, but why can't they know?" She understands what it means to stand in awe and humility before the Lord. She recognizes her dependence on Him. She is concerned that she live for Him.
Many of us today, however, don't have the same attitude. Some people are outright atheists. Others are outwardly religious--at least they go to church every week. A vast number of men and women profess to believe in God but give Him little if any recognition throughout the day. Though claiming to believe, they live as unbelievers. That is one reason the Bible is full of reminders to fear the Lord.
It is easy to forget our need of God. It is easy to get wrapped up in our own ideas of the purpose for living and forget the real reason God has given us breath. He wants our loyalty, our affection, our companionship, our worship. He wants us to make the most of our lives so that when we stand before Him, He will be able to say, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:21).
Thinking It Over. What are you afraid of? If you have the proper fear of God, what will you not have to fear? (1 John 4:17-21). Why is the fear of the Lord the foundation of all wisdom? (Job 28:28; Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 15:3).
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Whether you're going to bake a cake or build a skyscraper, your success will depend on your ability to follow instructions. You wouldn't expect a cake to be delicious if you used the wrong ingredients. And you should not attempt to construct a tall building without an adequate foundation and sturdy materials. So why do we think we can throw away God's directions for life and still find fulfillment? Too often we think we know better than God what we should do.
Solomon got carried away with feelings of his own importance and the greatness of his own wisdom. He forgot that God was far smarter than he was or ever could be. He deluded himself into thinking that the pleasures of earthly life were much better than the joys of living for God. He fell into the trap of making short-term investments and ignoring the eternal.
But Solomon learned from his mistakes. He said at the conclusion of Ecclesiastes that the key to finding meaning in life is to "fear God and keep His commandments" (12:13).
What does it mean to keep His commandments? To keep God's commandments means that we obey whatever God asks us to do. For Old Testament believers like Solomon, that included the Ten Commandments as well as the hundreds of other laws concerning private, social, and religious life. For us today, to keep God's commandments means that we obey the timeless principles of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament principles for life under the new covenant of grace (Heb. 8).
Jesus told His disciples, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). Also, in 1 John we are told, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (5:3). In John 15:9-11, Jesus said that those believers who obey His commands will experience great joy.
What are the most important commands? Every word of instruction from God is something we should do, but some commands are more basic and all-encompassing than others. For example, to begin to please God, a person must become one of His children. All who turn to God, acknowledge their own disobedience before Him (Rom. 3:23), recognize that Christ died for them (John 3: 16), and personally accept God's free gift (Rom. 6:23) will be taking the first essential step of obedience to God. When some people asked Jesus what they should do to please God, Christ said, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:29).
Two other commands are cited by Jesus as being the most important. Jesus summed up the Law and the Prophets by saying that we are to love God and we are to love people (Matt. 22:36-40).
What happens if we don't obey? To try to find fulfillment while disobeying God is like trying to start a fire with water. It just won't work. You can't swallow a deadly dose of cyanide and expect to survive. You can't plunge your bare hand into boiling water without getting scalded. And you can't disobey God without serious consequences.
In the last verse of Ecclesiastes, Solomon pointed out our accountability to the Lord. He said, "For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it is good or whether it is evil" (12:14). No one will ever get away with any disobedience (3:17; 8:12,13; 11:9).
The person who never takes the initial step of obedience and puts his trust in Christ will face God unforgiven and condemned (Rev. 20:7-15). The believer in Christ will stand before God and give account for his life and be rewarded accordingly (1 Cor. 3:10-15; 2 Cor. 5:10).
How can our obedience help a searching world find purpose in life? In the apostle Paul's letter to the Philippians are several clues as to how we can show the world that true fulfillment comes through knowing and obeying God. When we are able to say, "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (1:21) we will be showing the world what is worth living and dying for. When we are united with other believers we will show God's enemies that their purposes will not prevail (1:28). When we look out for the interests of others (2:4), we will demonstrate what it means to live a selfless, Christlike life. When we live blamelessly, we will shine like stars in the middle of a dark world (2:15). When we live for heavenly purposes, we will contrast those who are controlled by their fleshly desires (3:17-21). When we are content whether rich or poor (4:11-13), we will show that we are not looking for significance in material possessions but in our spiritual relationship with God.
Thinking It Over. Why do children disobey their parents? Why do adults break the law? Why did the men and women of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11 choose to obey God? When do you struggle with obedience to God? When does it seem irrational to obey Him? Ask God to show you areas in your life that need to be placed under His lordship.
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The purpose of your life and mine, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism of Faith, is to "glorify God and enjoy Him forever." That statement is founded on many verses in the Bible that encourage us to live so as to bring attention to the greatness of our Lord. To glorify the Lord means to honor Him, to worship Him, to give Him the praise He deserves. Here are a few of the many verses that speak of giving glory to the Lord.
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The following questions are listed here for you to use in teaching or discipling others. We suggest that these questions be discussed prior to studying the specific point--as preview questions.
|Grasping For The Wind|
|Finding Life's Purpose|
|Know Who's in Charge|
|Follow His Directions|
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The founder of Radio Bible Class discovered new purpose for living while close to death. On a hospital bed he examined the course of his life and decided to head in a new direction. His decision transformed him from a doctor of the body to a physician of the soul. --by James R. Adair
It is well known that when some people face death they see their past deeds flash before them. There's no written record of what transpired in the mind of 30-year-old Martin R. De Haan, M.D., as he struggled for his life in October 1921 in a Grand Rapids hospital. But it is known that he did considerable thinking about his past--and about his future.
For all of his 30 years he had been identified with the church. As a boy he had attended regularly and was even faithful while in medical school. But his life hadn't been counting for God as it should have. God's finger was pointing at certain sins in his life. He felt condemned, though as a 12-year-old boy he had presumably settled his relationship with God.
Nurses passed silently in the hallway outside his room as a transaction took place in the heart and life of the patient from Byron Center. He never made a point in telling and retelling the experience. But in 1929 he wrote, "I was born in 1891 of the flesh, 'a child of wrath even as others.' After a life of sin for 30 years I was born again of the Spirit in October 1921. Since then, my only hope and aim is to exalt Him, to whom be all glory forever and ever (Eph. 1:7)."
Dr. De Haan's wife Priscilla, who learned of his spiritual experience when she talked with him shortly after it happened, recalled that as he talked about it afterward he mentioned that he questioned whether or not he had met God at age 12. The hospital experience was a spiritual struggle not unlike Jacob's, who wrestled with God until dawn before he received a new touch and blessing from the divine hand. "Spare my life and I'll serve You," Dr. De Haan pleaded with God. And evidently he meant it with all his heart.
As the weeks passed, he talked with his wife--and with God--about the kind of Christian service he should do. Preach? Become a missionary? He wasn't sure. He talked about going abroad as a missionary, but friends pointed out that he could continue his practice, be God's man on the job, and at the same time support a missionary. For a time he thought perhaps this was the answer.
The matter continued to burden him increasingly, until finally, one day in early spring of 1922, he came in from house calls and said, "I can't go on any longer." In an act of finality, he slid his medical bag across the kitchen floor and said, "This is it!" After selling his practice, his home, and his office equipment, the young doctor made plans to enter nearby Western Theological Seminary.
The transformation that had occurred in his life continued to amaze Dr.
De Haan to no end. As he read and studied his Bible, he was overwhelmed
with God's grace. In later years he was to make a careful study of the grace
of God, and pen these words:
"Like electricity, light, and life, we know only what it [grace] does, rather than what it is. Why God should choose the meanest, basest, most unworthy individuals with absolutely nothing to commend them at all to God, except their miserable, lost condition, and then exalt them to become the sons of God, members of the divine family, and use them for His glory, is beyond all reason and human understanding. Yet that is grace."
That he saw himself as the object of God's grace is illustrated in an incident that he related:
"Some time ago on my way to Colorado, I stopped off to visit my son Marvin on Chicago's North Side. After parking my car, I took a shortcut to the apartment through an alley. There, amid the dust, the refuse, the filth, and the rats, I encountered one of the most pathetic sights I have ever beheld.
"There, beside a leaking barrel filled with garbage and black with flies, stood one of society's outcasts, a man about 65 years old. Only the rim of his tattered hat was left. His shoes were tied on with rope. His coat was in shreds. His trousers were in tatters. His hands were black with filth. His hair was matted together, and his beard even worse. I watched him as he pawed about in the garbage. Finding a whiskey bottle with only a teaspoon of its poison left, he lifted it to his lips. He found another drop or two in another bottle, and then he fished out a crust of garbage-sodden bread and placed it in his mouth with his filthy hands. As I stood there, I. . . said to myself, 'O God, O God! That's me! That's me, apart from Thy wonderful grace.' . . . Under similar circumstances of birth, environment, and opportunity, I would have been no different, and no better. What a humbling truth grace is!"
In experiencing God's grace, M. R. De Haan had been born from above. He found himself not merely a sinner redeemed from hell and on the way to heaven, but he began to discover that God had imparted His very own life deep within. Yet, he was still as human as ever, and subject to temptations as before. But his new God-implanted life made a world of difference. He had a ready source of victory: the indwelling Holy Spirit, a mighty Savior and Friend, Jesus Christ, and an omnipotent heavenly Father.
In a real sense, 2 Corinthians 5:17 was being worked out in his experience: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."
Table of Contents
Excuse me, but your purpose is showing. That's right. The way you live reveals your real reason for living. Actions do speak louder than words.
Test yourself. Look at the following list of goals for life that we have
discussed in this booklet. Take a long hard look at your life and evaluate
where your energies are being spent. Are you trying to:
Do your responses to the following questions support your answer above? How do you spend your time? Do you know God's Word so you know how to obey? Can you honestly say that you are living in full obedience to the Lord? If not, why not? Do you enjoy life? What are your greatest frustrations in life? To what are you looking for satisfaction? What are you doing that has eternal benefits? If these questions make you uncomfortable, maybe you need to see, as Solomon did, the waste of living for anything less than God's intended purpose.
If you've never taken the first crucial step of trusting Christ to rescue you from God's judgment against disobedience, accept His offer of forgiveness right now. He will forgive, and He will give you new purpose and power for living (John 3:16; Rom. 5--8). Ask Him to help you to make the most of the new life He's given to you. Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).