Summary: A sermon introducing a series on Ecclesiastes (Outline and material adapted from Eugene Peterson's book, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, chapter 4 The Pastoral Work of Nay-Saying)


There’s a guy who's looking for the meaning of life, and he goes to India to finds a guru, and he climbs the mountain, and there on the top in his cave, sitting cross-legged, is the guru, and the man says, "I've come from America to ask you the meaning of life." The guru says, "Ah yes, the meaning of life. The meaning of life is a rutabaga." The guy says, "A rutabaga? I came all the way from America to discover the meaning of life, and you tell me it's a rutabaga!" The guru says. "Well maybe it's broccoli?"


Listen to what Shakespeare said in MacBeth about the meaning of life: Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.

There is one book in the Bible that clearly tackles the meaning of life and it is a curious book called Ecclesiastes. Although some dispute this, Solomon wrote this book. Solomon reigned over all of Israel and more from the river of Mesopotamia to Egypt after the death of his father David. The Lord gave Solomon wisdom beyond any other man until Jesus Christ. Solomon engaged in many building projects including the temple. Solomon was rich. Probably he was the world’s first billionaire. Solomon had many wives and these wives eventually lead him astray into worshipping idols. This happened when Solomon was older. Ecclesiastes was written after this. Evidently Solomon repented not long before his death and he writes about his search for the meaning of life. The Bible does not talk about Solomon’s repentance but maybe Ecclesiastes is Solomon giving his testimony after he came back to the Lord. Ecclesiastes literally means the preacher and what better preacher than Solomon to tell us both sides of life, worldly vs. godly. Both Ecclesiastes and much of Proverbs are written from the perspective of an elderly man.

Many complain that this book should not be in the Bible because it is so pessimistic, fatalistic, skeptical, cynical, and materialistic. I like it because it is most realistic book in Bible

No book of the Bible has been so misunderstood, misquoted and misinterpreted. To correctly understand and interpret this book we must look at “The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails--given by one Shepherd.” Ecclesiastes 12:11, NIV.

Goads- Long stick with a pointed end. Used to prod livestock or to control their direction

Nails- long spikes or tent stakes. Driven deeply they would hold something securely.

Explanation and interpretive key to Ecclesiastes:

The goads represent the disturbing reflections of men as they ponder life. These futile and fatalistic thoughts prod man’s conscience. These prodding are painful because it hurts when a person sees the emptiness of their lives.

The nails represent stability, solidness, and an anchor for the soul. The nails are truths that come from God through special revelation, the Bible. God is the one Shepherd.

The goads prick our minds and consciences to find answers for our meaning, purpose and existence. Only the solid facts of God’s revelation provide the stable anchor for the soul.

We must carefully distinguish between “Goad” passages (mankind’s wisdom), and "nail" passages (God speaking.)

The goads show that life without God is a dead end street. The nails of God’s revelation point the way to abundant and everlasting life.

Thesis: To give us a taste of Ecclesiastes we will be talking about select phrases or verses from Ecclesiastes

For instances:

Meaningless (begins in 1:2)

Other translations- vanity, futility, pointless, no purpose, useless, emptiness. Ecclesiastes used this word 40 times.

This smashes overconfident wisdom. We do not have everything figured out.

Even those of us who are Christians, we do not have everything figured out because we are not God. From talking to some Christians, we might get the impression that they know the mind of God better than God himself. The Pharisees were like that. They had a solution for every problem, an example for every situation, an answer for every question. This is why Jesus Christ infuriated them so much is because they could not figure him out.

Ecclesiastes is a John the Baptist kind of book. It functions not as a meal but as a bath. It is not nourishment; it is cleansing. It is repentance. It is purifying. We study Ecclesiastes to get scrubbed clean from illusions and mushiness.

Under the Sun (begins in 1:3)

This phrase is used about 30 times.

The purpose of the book is to expose the insignificance and uselessness of life from only what man observe in this life. The purpose of the book is to make our mouths dry, our stomachs empty, and our hearts hungry for something more to cling to than what is found in our temporary life under the sun- SUN

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