“What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:3)
“Vanity of vanities, says the preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” First, what exactly is vanity? Have you ever looked through your wardrobe only to discover you have clothes you haven’t worn for over a year and yet you still feel the need to keep them? That is one example of vanity.
Herod, having heard of the fame of Jesus Christ regretted his decision to present John the Baptist’s head to the little girl. He only wished Jesus Christ was John the Baptist raised to life. What was the point of wasting someone’s life just to please one’s guests and prove that you are a person who keeps his promise? How much respect did Herod gain by killing John the Baptist? It is vanity when we seek to gain the love and respect of others rather than the admiration of God our maker.
There is a very important question the Preacher asks: “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” The answer to this question is found in a similar question Jesus asked: “What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (Matthew 16:26).
In other words, the moment we take God out of the picture, all our labour and toiling is useless. All our running around and in fact, everything is just a waste of time. Without God, we gain nothing! Without God, life on earth is just an endless circle of pain and intermittent victories; like a rat race – you think you have solved one problem, only for another problem to arise and then comes the next and the next. Before you know it, you have lived 90 years and you wonder how time just flew by.
It is only when we put God into the picture that our lives on earth begin to make sense. It is only when we realize our true purpose on earth (to know God, to love God, to serve Him and happy with Him forever) that we really begin to live. Once we make God the centre of our lives, we stop trying to gain the world. Of course, we can never gain the world – even the richest man on earth still struggles to sleep at night because he has serious troubles of his own – our hearts can never be satisfied from all the world has to offer.
There is a sense of despair that comes upon us when we realize the emptiness of this world. The author of Ecclesiastes must have written out of this despair. He seems to wonder if there is any point at all in being alive. When we read Chapter two, we see how the author indulged in so many things just to find that inner fulfilment and joy but couldn’t find it. He tried laughter, he tried food, he tried wisdom, he even tried foolishness, he turned to riches, ownership of slaves, gardens and parks, great works of beauty, vineyards. He got singers both men and women, he sought after concubines but all to no avail.
At a point, he confessed: “So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). Truly, life on earth is practically useless if we do not live entirely for God. As Jesus puts it: “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25). How much money are you trying to make that someone has not made before? What are you trying to do that has never been done before? Start living for God today; reorder your priorities and everything would start to make sense.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, teach me to live simply and to give away my wants once my needs are met. Amen.Bible Study: Ecclesiastes 1:2-11, Psalm 90:3-17, and Luke 9:7-9)