“The Enigma of Ecclesiastes”

Notes from Richmond-Petersburg Christadelphian Study Weekend led by Bryan Styles (Livonia)


Ecclesiastes is written from the perspective of someone on earth, trying to reconcile where they are today with where they need to be going.

There are at least 30 questions in the book of Ecclesiastes.

The point of Ecclesiastes is to get us to live intentionally.

Two goals:

1) Consider why God’s way is the best for mankind—Reaffirm our understanding!

2) Personal assessment as we examine ourselves in light of the words of the preacher—Recommit our lives!

Intro: Life is an endless cycle of vanity

Executive Summary: this life yields nothing of profit; best to enjoy simple things with thankfulness.

Time: Events of life unknown and outside man’s control; teach men fear of God

Inequities: life is not fair and no way to resolve; focus on sincere worship

Pursuit of Prosperity: pursuit leads to misery; pursue Godliness with contentment

Wisdom: Superior affirmative; see life’s purpose but will not correct inequities

Faith: enables man to see a time when all will be reconciled

Applied wisdom: offers practical benefits

Cycle End: Use energy/opportunities/life to serve God because it will come to an end

Final Exhort: focus on what you can control; fear God and keep his commandments…don’t worry about that rest

Color in opposites (good vs. evil, God vs. man, profit (wisdom) vs. vanity)

Under the sun=living this life as an end in itself

Seeing the sun=one who understands the purpose of life

Solomon wastes no time getting into the dilemma of the book; he drops a bombshell right from the start: vanity of vanities, all is vanity; this is a riddle for the reader to prove or disprove.

While there is a lot of activity in nature, where is the productivity?

Why am I doing the things that I’m doing, and am I going where I want to go?

“Nothing new under the sun” does not mean there are no new inventions; it means that there is still no solution to man’s problems. People don’t learn from the past.

Solomon’s credentials uniquely qualified him for task:

  1. Rich—had material resources to explore all avenues
  2. Wiser than anyone else—had mental resources to contemplate fully
  3. Life’s experience was vast—king/judge—observe all aspects of human behavior
  4. Investigation was exhaustive—leverage all resources to complete study 100%

Solomon was determined to solve riddle with his wisdom!

Enigma of Ecclesiastes if to discover purpose of life

Solomon’s scope is “under the sun;” living this life as an end in itself

We need to avoid escapism in our own lives

We can take nothing from achievements in this life

Don’t always be looking to what’s next

Best to: appreciate blessings, recognize they are from God, take time to enjoy the simple things

Paul identifies solution to vanity of life: 1 Corinthians 15:17-19, 57-58. Laboring in Christ, with a future hope, is the solution.


Why did “time” bother Solomon?

-Everything has a season=appointed time

-Time=short duration to every desire

-Scope is still “under the heaven”

You have to pay attention to what time it is; time dictates what is going to happen, and the best thing you can do is to wisely respond to what is taking place. Man has no control over his life; there is no guarantee that appropriate decisions now will lead to great outcomes later (although it can help).

Solomon himself was a slave of time; for all his wisdom and all his resource, he could not purchase more of it.

Time has a very specific purpose.

In God’s time, he will make it outwardly visible as to how our trials are working for our benefit.

Although many things are outside our control, our response is within our control. We cannot control the circumstances, but we can control our attitude.

Whatever God does is going to last forever; whatever we do is temporary.

Turn your will over to God, knowing that he has a greater plan and purpose.

The aspect of time is meant to drive into us a sense of urgency. Once time is gone, it cannot be recovered. It’s the great equalizer: each day, we have 24 hours; what are we going to do with those 24 hours? God will require it of each of us.

Are we investing our time in things that matter? Yes, we need to make a living and we need to be responsible; but when does working for a living become living for work? Each of us can reflect internally as to what we’re investing our time in.

Paul’s explanation (Romans 8:18-25): How does “time” fit into the enigma of Ecclesiastes?

-Sufferings of present life contrast with future glory

-Earnest expectation of immortality (“God hath set eternity in their heart”)

-Creature is made subject to vanity (“All is vanity”)

-Not pointless, God subjected in hope

-But…the process is painful

-Designed to create hope in us

-We must have patience in God’s process

Patience in God’s hope staves off frustration and despondency

Why did Paul (Saul) understand this so well?

-Saul was one who did not discern the time

-He found himself fighting against God

-Was living under the sun, feeling its oppression

-But…could not behold the sun

-God exercised=humbled him

Result: Saul (“mighty”) à Paul (“small”)

Humility made Paul the greatest apostle to the Gentiles

How does “time” come up in the rest of Scripture?

-Christ expects us to discern the time

-Jews destroyed because they dd not discern the time of visitation

-Time created to make man look to God for something better

-Life can’t be understood without a recognition of God

-God will reveal why thing have happened in his time

-Don’t worry about what you can’t control; do good with opportunities available

-God will judge how we have used our time

Inequities and Prosperity

What is the solution to life’s inequities, and can prosperity bring fulfillment?

Inequities of Life and the better alternative:


-Success and Envy

-Self-serving toil

-Power and Popularity

-Solution: Living with God

Pursuit of Prosperity and the better pursuit:

-Detriment of prosperity’s pursuit in this life

-Solution: Godliness with contentment

-The common pathway and its results

-Reflections of Chapters 3-6

“Observation” leads to a similar conclusion

Pursue relationships ahead of time, so that when things take place, you’ll be able to help each other out

Solomon’s observations only lead to dead ends; each has an evil/vanity and a better alternative

Three actionable pursuits identified:

  1. Sincerity in worship; obedience exceeds sacrifice
    Think about what you are doing when you go to the house of God
  2. Sincerity in prayer; revering God in humility
    Every word that we speak to God must be carefully measured; think about what you say
  3. Sincerity in vows; keep promises, avoid hypocrisy
    “There’s two types of people: those who get results, and those who make excuses for not.”

Multitude of business à Dream; Multitude of dreams à Vanity

Too much “business” is the root cause of insincere worship!

This is an age of distraction; never mind the person who’s right in front of us; we need to answer the phone. It’s hard to even have normal conversations that aren’t distracted.

The fool is not stupid, but conflicted. He acts, but never reflects; he knows God, but does not revere him; he speaks much, but accomplishes little.

The love of money grows in proportion to the amount of money possessed. The very thing that people pursue, is what is causing them hurt.

Spiritual heath is the greatest wealth.

The things God has asked us to pursue: 1 Timothy 6:6-12

Wisdom and Faith

Think about how hard it is to gain a good reputation, and it doesn’t take long at all to destroy it.

A funeral is fulfilling because it causes us to step back and consider what we’re doing with the time we have remaining.

Laughter can be nice in and of itself, but pursuing it leads to nothing.

“The good old days are based on bad old memories.”

Even if the past was better, you can’t go back; you have what is in front of you.

When good comes along in life, be thankful, joyful, and content. When evil comes, don’t despair; be reflective; think about what God is trying to teach you.

Solomon’s 2nd appeal to us:

-Don’t be self-righteous à hypocrisy is result

-Don’t be conceited à be humble

-Avoid wickedness/foolishness

-Examine yourself; difficult to maintain right balance

-Fear/revere God; “come forth of them all” à eternity

Fear of God provides proper view of self and confidence in salvation!

What is better?

-Wisdom is the only thing of profit; power to bring eternal life!

-Faith is required; ultimate wisdom unattainable

Faith is divided into two categories:

  1. God will judge at a future time
  2. God’s providence is at work in the life of a believer

Wisdom AND faith are necessary!

We’re not spared from the hardships of life, but God is at work in those things to develop us.

Faith in Providence results in action!

Accept God’s blessing with joy/thankfulness

-God…works à “God has already approved what you do”

-God approves of us joyfully thankfully receiving blessings

But not to consume on our lusts!

-Live righteously à garments white=righteousness

-Fill minds with God’s word à head…ointment

“Enjoy life” with spouse/families that we love

-“Love” is basis and is God’s greatest blessing in this life

-Limited to this life

Do your best because once it’s over…it’s over

Joyfully use God’s blessing to do our best in His service!

Time and chance does happen to anyone who is under the sun, but God uses circumstances to help us.

-Wisdom is the only thing of lasting value

-Wisdom alone cannot fix life’s inequities

-Faith in God needed to bridge gap

-Fearing/revering God results in reward

-God’s providence in life’s event to bring to him

-Live in righteous, enjoy God’s blessings; in anticipation of life to come!

-Results may not align with effort applied; but don’t be discouraged!

-Wisdom is not properly valued in this life

Pursue wisdom, faith, and Godly fear!

Conclusion: Colossians 3:1-4, 23-24

Applied Wisdom

Don’t let it change your behavior when someone else is acting in a way that is not acceptable.

If we’re involved in trying to solve things by ensnaring others, eventually we will be the ones who suffer.

“Hating someone else is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies as a result.”

Speech is incredibly difficult; it is incredibly challenging to tame the tongue.

The bedchamber is the most private room in a house; the most private room in our house is our mind; if we think something, it will come out of us. We may not speak it, but our body will betray us. Deal with the thought at the source.

Don’t focus on what you cannot control; instead, focus on the present opportunity.

There’s always going to be an excuse to not do what needs to be done; do the best you can with what God has provided; there’s always going to be some hardship/trial. Don’t focus on the wind/clouds, but on what we need to do. So often we stop doing things because we’re so concerned about what might happen; go out and put your hand to the plow and do what needs to be done.

We tend to be results-oriented; that’s how our society works. Follow the process and God will make sure that you get the right result.

Solomon wants us to start with the end in mind.

Enjoy your youth, your energy, but channel your energy in a way that is productive, because God will hold you accountable.

“Light is sweet,” but remember coming darkness; rejoice in youth, but know God will judge; therefore, “put away sorrow,” AND “remember Creator NOW.”

Youth is a blessing from God, be joyful/active/positive! But—start with the end in mind…use it wisely!

Solomon opened the book with the cycle of life that would continue on; possible that he saw that his own life was coming to an end; all the vibrancy of youth had turned to silence of death and nothing was left.

With all your anxiety, you are incapable of adding even a moment of life to the span you have now; seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. Seeing God’s righteousness=keeping his commandments

The Conclusion of the Matter

The fear of God is introduced by the contrast between God and man; what God does is forever.

Recognizing the supremacy of God is a good place to start.

Wisdom and fear of God will allow us to have the confidence that God will make things right.

God brings a juxtaposition of good and evil into our lives.

Acceptance at the Judgment Seat of Christ is predicated on having proper reverence of God.

Solomon’s life is broken down into three sections: his early reign, the middle years of maturity and wise rulership and administration, and the older years when he wrote Ecclesiastes as a final reflection of his life’s work.

The book of Ecclesiastes could be the confession of Solomon.

Solomon would have written out his own copy of the law and would have been aware of what he was to do and not do.

Solomon had led a double life, and as a result, everything God had said would happen did happen.

We don’t know if Solomon actually repented, but that may be for a purpose: to make us use our time wisely.

God will forgive us if we truly repent, but what is the legacy we are leaving behind for other people?

If we could see a pathway out of a trial, that is not faith; look at past deliverance and project it forward.

Unlike Solomon, Christ did not need to conduct an experiment to conclude that God was right.

We cannot change the past, but we can use the present to make a better future.

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