Empty Promises!

Ecclesiastes 2:18-23

In an analysis of the composition of a human being the following was discovered.
The human body has:

We are really something aren't we?
Or are we?
When we look at ourselves like that we can understand why we are constantly trying
to find meaning in our lives.

Many people look for meaning in their relationship with others.

This is what some have called, "Muriel's Wedding" syndrome.
That was an Australian film about a young girl who believed meaning in life for her was marriage.
She would go into a wedding dress shop and say that she was getting married so she could
try the dresses on.
And many people that meaning in life is to get married and have children without ever realizing
what is involved.

But there so many things that people throw ourselves into in order to give our lives meaning.
Though things may be slightly different now, they were basically the same that Solomon experienced.

  • Solomon tried pleasure.
  • Solomon tried a variety of pleasures to give his life meaning.

    Ecclesiastes 2:1-11: "I thought in my heart, 'Come now, I will test you with pleasure to
    find out what is good
    .' "
    That proved to be meaningless.

    He asks himself, "What does pleasure accomplish?
    • I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly--my mind still guiding me with wisdom.
    • I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.
    • I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.
    • I made gardens and parks, and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.
    • I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.
    • I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house.
    • I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.
    • I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces.
    • I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well -- the delights of the heart of man.
    • I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me.
    In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
    I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.
    My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.
    Yet, when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve,
    everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
    "

    Its a sort of Hollywood lifestyle in 10th century BC Jerusalem.
    Classic wine women and song.
    I am sure if they had mind altering drugs he would have tried them too.
    But he even pursued great building works, and established beautiful parklands,
    but he found no meaning in them either.

    At age 45 Howard Hughes was one of the most glamorous men in America.
    He courted actresses, piloted exotic test aircraft and worked on top secret contracts.
    He owned a string of hotels around the world and even owned his only airline -- TWA.

    Twenty years later, Howard Hughes still had plenty of money -- $2.3 billion to be exact.
    But the worlds richest man had become one of the most pathetic.
  • He lived in a small dark room atop one of his hotels with all the windows blacked out.
  • His hair and beard had grown unkept.
  • His finger nails were two inches long.
  • His body wasted away.
  • He lay naked in bed, deathly afraid of germs.
  • He spent his days watching movies.
  • He watched his favourite movie, Ice Station Zebra, at least 150 times.
    Finally emaciated and hooked on drugs he died aged 67.

    Like Solomon, Howard Hughes had all the pleasure the world had to offer, but it gave him no meaning.
    Pleasure feels good while it happens.
    Indeed God created us with the capacity for pleasure and gave us the things to satisfy that capacity.
    But pleasure is not an end in itself -- it does not provide a meaning for life.
    To live a life purely in pursuit of pleasure is empty and meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

    And the tragedy is, people often don't realise that until the end of their lives.
    Having spent their life in pursuit off pleasure they realise that it has amounted to nothing
    and there is nothing they can do about it.
    They discover that the promises of pure pleasure were empty.

    But having discovered the meaningless of pleasure, Solomon experimented
    with something else -- the pursuit of wisdom.
    Ecclesiastes 2:12-16: "Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly.
    What more can the king's successor do than what has already been done?
    I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.
    The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness;
    but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.
    Then I thought in my heart, 'The fate of the fool will overtake me also.
    What then do I gain by being wise?' I said in my heart, 'This too is meaningless.'
    For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten.
    Like the fool, the wise man too must die
    !"

    Some people believe the ultimate meaning in life lies in knowledge.
    Some throw themselves into the pursuit of a particular form of knowledge -- anything from
    computers or model trains will do.
    Many eastern religions focus on self discovery.
    That the meaning of life is to reach a full understanding and hence control of yourself.

    But Solomon's realisation was that no matter how much knowledge one gained of the world
    or oneself it was all extinguished when we die.
    Verse 14: "The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness;
    but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both
    ."
    Again there is nothing wrong with wisdom.
    It is certainly better to be wise than foolish.
    But it does not in itself give meaning to life.
    If knowledge promises to give ultimate meaning in life it is an empty promise.

    The next thing Solomon tried was to find meaning in his work.
    Ecclesiastes 2:18-23: "I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun because I must
    leave them to the one who comes after me.
    And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?
    Yet, he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun.
    This too is meaningless.

    So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun.
    For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave
    all he owns to someone who has not worked for it.
    This too is meaningless and a great misfortune.

    What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?
    All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless
    ."

    It would seem Solomon had a strong work ethic.
    He poured himself into his work.
    He worked long hours at his wisdom and his building projects, at his administration of the kingdom.
    He took pride in his work and took it very seriously.

    And you meet many people like that today.
    Some people place enormous value on hard work -- it is their meaning for life.
    One young man said, "I remember one old timer I met who all he ever talked about was how hard he worked.
    I would say about 95% of his conversation was about how good he was at his work
    and how hard he used to work at it and how little use I was because I could not work all day."

    That was an extreme case, but I am sure we all know people for whom their work is the center
    of their lives.
    It is their source of meaning.
    They cast aside all else for is sake.

    But as Solomon concluded, toil is meaningless too because all the benefits of it will pass on
    to some one else.
    " For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave
    all he owns to someone who has not worked for it.
    This too is meaningless and a great misfortune
    ."

    The greatest engineer in the world ultimately ends up on his death bed, and then all the bridges
    he has built to do not mean a thing. He is simply a man facing death.
    Again, this is not to say there is anything wrong with hard work.
    But it is not an end in itself.
    Work does not give us an ultimate meaning in life.

    Pleasure, knowledge and hard work, fine things in themselves, but unable to give meaning to life.
    They are in themselves meaningless.
    They offer only empty promises.

    What then can give meaning?

    Solomon explains in Ecclesiastes 2:24-26: "A man can do nothing better than to eat
    and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God,
    for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?

    To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness,
    but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth
    to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind
    ."

    Our meaning comes from our relationship with God.
    Because God is eternal, through our relationship with him we escape
    the meaninglessness of life under the sun.
    We are like an electric appliance, which unless plugged in might look good,
    but is of absolutely no use.
    But when plugged in to the electricity become useful and meaningful.

    And the great part is that when we plug into God those meaningless things,
    which are a substitute for Him take on a whole new perspective.

    As verse 26 says, "To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness"
    We no longer have to pursue those things because He gives them to us.

    Sermon adapted!