A SEARCH FOR LIFE'S PURPOSE
Man has long wondered about the purpose of life: "Where did I come from? What am I here for? Where am I going?" We live in social turmoil, people striving frantically to "get ahead," to "make an impression," or to "look out for number one!" Yet in this franetic maneuvering no real satisfaction, no real sense of accomplishment is found. Trying to "out-do" others leaves us with an empty and worthless feeling. What is life all about, anyway?
Solomon was a rich and powerful king, yet he was plagued by the same questions that bother us. His search for life's purpose is recorded, with God's guidance (2 Pet. 1:20,21), in the book of Ecclesiastes. And he recorded some answers. This man who was "granted wisdom and knowledge" (2 Chron. 1:7), the richest and most powerful man of his time (2 Chron. 9:13,22), is certainly worthy to be heard.
WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE ARE EMPTY GOALS
Because God blessed him, it is written of Solomon: "Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt" (1 Kgs. 4:30). Those who came with hard questions to "prove" him, were amazed at Solomon "Behold, the half was not told me; thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard" (1 Kgs. 10:1,7). He was a psychologist (1 Kgs. 3:16ff), biologist (1 Kgs. 4:32), architect (1 Kgs. 5:5ff), ruler (2 Chron. 9:26).
If life's purpose is found in wisdom and knowledge, Solomon surely found his purpose. But look at what he wrote. "I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow" (Eccl. 1:17,18). Faced with life's problems, and events that plague us all, he wrote, "As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity" (Eccl. 2:15). That purpose of life demands living it to the fullest is Solomon's conclusion: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest" (Eccl. 9:10).
The educational degrees may help to prepare one to live, but they can never satisfy man's inner needs. If one gained all the wisdom the world had to offer, he would still be empty if that is all he had. Paul warned, "Guard that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and opposition of science falsely so called: which some professing have erred concerning the faith" (1 Tim. 6:20,21). It takes more than all the wisdom of the world to satisfy man's need for purpose.
RICHES DO NOT BRING LASTING SATISFACTION
The Bible declares, "So king Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth for riches and for wisdom" (1 Kgs. 10:23). His personal annual income in gold alone would be worth more than $200 million today! (1 Kgs. 10:14,21). Could riches make his life meaningful? "I gathered me silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces...Whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them...Behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun" (Eccl. 2:8-11). Riches weren't enough!
Solomon learned the truth that riches often create problems: "The sleep of the laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep. There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt" (Eccl. 5:12,13). Jesus warns, "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth" (Lk. 12:15), and again: "Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out...For the love of money is root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Tim. 6:6-10). Really, how much money would it take to buy happiness? Jesus puts it in perspective, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matt. 16:26). Riches cannot satisfy man's real needs.
HONOR AND PRESTIGE ARE FLEETING AND VAIN
Solomon was world-renowned, "There came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all the kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom" (1 Kgs. 4:34) Again, "All the earth sought to Solomon, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart" (1 Kgs. 10:24). The most famous man on earth? In his day, that was Solomon! Yet his fame could not satisfy.
Solomon wrote, "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud" (Prov. 16:18,19). When he looked at his life, with all of its power and wealth, he said, "Many seek the ruler's favor" (Prov. 29:26), and realized the truth: "As it happeneth unto the fool, so it happeneth even to me...And how dieth the wise man? as the fool. Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of the spirit" (Eccl. 2:15-17). He had power and prestige, but it wasn't enough. Jesus warned about seeking "the chief seats" and "salutations in the market places" (Matt. 23:6,7). The praise of men is both fleeting and uncertain. It cannot satisfy.
PLEASURE WITHOUT PURPOSE IS ALSO VANITY
Solomon had it all. he "loved many strange women," had "seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines" (1 Kgs. 11:1,3). He wrote, "I said in mine heart, God to now, I will prove thee with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure; and, behold, this also is vanity. I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? Is sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine...I made me gardens and orchards...I made me pools of water...I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house... And whatsoever my eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy...And, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit" (Eccl. 2:1-7,10). Pleasure was not enough.
Most of us would have to agree that Moses found purpose in his life. But it was not found in seeking after pleasure: "By faith Moses...choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season" (Heb. 11: 24,25). There is a key phrase: "for a season." The pleasure of sin does not last. As Paul wrote in 1 Tim. 5:6, "She that giveth herself to pleasure is dead while she liveth." There are far too many empty lives in our society today, seeking after a life of fulfillment and purpose, but vainly trying to find it in pursuit of pleasure.
YOUR ETERNAL PURPOSE IS FOUND ONLY IN CHRIST
We can never know life's purpose until we know its sourch: "God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...So God created man in his own image... The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 1:26,27; 2:7). There is some- thing of man that is not found in any other of God's creation, and Solomon wrote of it: "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who give it" (Eccl. 12:7). Man, formed from the dust, dies and returns to dust; but that is not true with ALL of man! The "spirit returns to God." Your purpose, and mine, is different from that of dogs and cows and others of God's creatures. Our purpose is clearly stated, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man" (Eccl. 12:13). That is the purpose of life.
The apostle wrote, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace" (Eph. 1:3-6). Before the world was, God had a purpose for your life, and that purpose is found "in Christ." God created us, gave us life, so that we might bring glory to Him, "According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 3:11). That is the reason Paul writes that wen we are "baptized into Jesus Christ, baptized into his death," we are then "raised to walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:3,4). Only in Christ do we find the meaning and purpose for which God created us in His own image and gave us life.
When Jesus was about to depart from earth, He told the apostles, "I go to prepare a place for you" (Jno. 14:3). Paul looked forward to that place (Phil. 1:21; 2 Tim. 4: 6-8), and so should we. Our purpose in life is not to be found in the transient things that perish. As Paul expressed the hope of the Christian, "Wherefore we faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day... While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor. 4:16-5:1). True purpose and fulfillment can never be found with our lives centered in this world. Only when we look beyond this life, and the grave, can real meaning for life be found.
Knowledge of this world, no matter how vast, can never satisfy man's soul. We must know Christ, and His power: "The word of the cross is to them that perish fool- ishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18). Riches cannot buy happiness nor contentment, this can come only when we have the "unsearchable riches of Christ," for "Godliness with contentment is great gain" (Eph. 3:8; 1 Tim. 6:6). Those who "love the praise of men more than the praise of God" (Jno. 12:43) are doomed to misery both here and hereafter. Lasting joy and pleasure is found only in Christ. When the eunuch was "baptized into Christ" (Gal. 3:27), he "went on his way rejoicing" (Acts 8:39). The Philippian jailor, baptized into Christ, "rejoiced greatly, with all his house, having believed in God" (Acts 16:33). Christ is the answer. Only He can give meaning and purpose to your life and grant you the peace and eternal joy for which your soul hungers: "Rejoice in the Lord...And the peace of God, which passeth understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:4-7).
Clem Thurman, in Gospel Minutes, Vol. 30, No. 32, August 7, 1981.
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