Meaningless Religion & Meaningless Riches

The Meaning of Life Series
  • What happens when we seek ultimate meaning outside of relationship with the Creator God? What happens when we're desperate for the answers to life but can't seem to find any? What happens when our souls get wearied from the constant pursuit of pleasure and possessions? These are enormous questions of life and meaning that Ecclesiastes grapples with in the timeless complexity and messiness of reality. In the end, the ancient philosopher recalibrates our hearts, minds, and lives to pursue meaning in the Ultimate God because God alone holds the key to the meaning of life.
6. Meaningless Religion & Meaningless Riches (Ecclesiastes 5:1-6:12)
  • Can we find meaning in life through worshiping things and money?
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text?
  • To approach God in other than humility and reverence is meaningless religion. (Ecclesiastes 5:1, 7)
  • Chasing after riches in whatever manner is meaningless and will not satisfy. (Ecclesiastes 5:10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17; 6:2, 7)
  • It is best to accept one's life and what God provides as a gift from Him. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking?
  • What is the proper way to approach God?
  • Is it the riches that yield meaninglessness or the attitude towards riches?
  • How does one accept the place one is in life as a gift from God?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide
  • Interpretation – What is the text telling/showing us?
  • Why is it better to listen when approaching God than to talk?
  • What does it mean to “utter a hasty word before God?”
  • What is a vow? Should one make a vow before God? If one does make a vow before God, how should one then proceed?
  • How are wealth and oppression of the poor connected?
  • Why is there no meaningful advantage in increasing wealth and income?
  • How can riches hurt a person?
  • What is it that the pursuit of riches does to a person? What is the end result of pursuing riches?
  • How should one treat wealth and riches?
  • Why might it be better to have been still born than to pursue headfirst after riches?
  • When one does not know one's future, yet God is in control, what should be one's attitude?
  • Implementation – What should the listener’s response be?
  • What approach do you take to worship? Do you presume on God and expect His response because of your situation?
  • How should you approach God?
  • Do you even make vows? If you do, how do you act on the vows before God?
  • Do you see a connection between oppression of the poor and wealth? What can you do to help alleviate those connections?
  • Do you seek after more riches and income to the exclusion of other, more important things? What things have you neglected in the pursuit of more riches and income?
  • How can you be satisfied with your present circumstances? Why should you be satisfied with your present circumstances?
  • In what ways has the pursuit of riches hurt you? Hurt others?
  • Where has the pursuit of riches gotten you? Will it get you anywhere?
  • How are what you have and what you earn a gift from God?
  • How should you deal with the reality that you do not know your future? Does that not knowing bother you? Do you feel as if your future has been predetermined?
  • What is the way out of the trap of riches?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation – What’s generally going on in this area of Scripture?
The first seven verses of chapter 5 seem to offer an extension of the conclusion of Ecclesiastes 3:22 that we can accept life even if we don’t understand it, and live the life God has provided, finding enjoyment in it for what it is. In that context, the Preacher says in these seven verses that the life not bound in meaninglessness draws near to the true God, listens to Him, does not seek to presume upon God with words focused on one’s self, is careful to keep vows made, and fears God since He is in ultimate control and knows all. Good counsel, to be sure. The flip side of the foregoing is that worship which approaches God from the self and selfish perspective is not only meaningless, it is worthless. Such worship comes to God with alleged sacrifice which is in actuality an attempt to “bribe” God: “Lord, I make this sacrifice, expecting Your response in my favor based on what I have given.” Such sacrifice comes not from the perspective of humility and exaltation of God, but from the perspective of presuming upon God and even ignoring the evil and sin on one’s own life. Jesus commented on this type of approach in the parable He told as recorded in Luke 18:9-14 in which He compared the different approaches of two worshipers, one of which presumed on God and the other of which reflected true humility. The former worship and approach to religion is indeed meaningless and takes no mind of the reality of who God is and that a proper approach to Him is that he is to be feared (Ecclesiastes 5:7).

The Preacher now turns to riches again, and the approach of those who seek after wealth through whatever means, whether planning and working hard, or through oppression of others. Either approach yields meaninglessness, as the love of money will not yield satisfaction (Ecclesiastes 5:10) and its result often goes to others (such as the king; Ecclesiastes 5:9) Striving after riches and ever-increasing income yields only restlessness and fitful sleep (Ecclesiastes 5:12b) in contrast to the laborer who accepts what he or she has and as a result sleeps peacefully (Ecclesiastes 5:12a). The love of money is an insatiable desire that warps one’s character (Ecclesiastes 5:13), leads to disappointment and loss (Ecclesiastes 5:14), ignores what is important in life such as one’s own children (Ecclesiastes 5:14), leads to frustration and anger (Ecclesiastes 5:17), and in the end leaves one with nothing at the time one dies (Ecclesiastes 5:15b, 16).

So what is the conclusion of the Preacher as it relates to the meaninglessness of riches? It is the same as the conclusion reached in Ecclesiastes 3:22, namely that one should accept what God gives, live with enjoyment in that gift of God, not continually strive for more, and live out life to its end (Ecclesiastes 5:19 & 20). Thus, the Preacher says there is value in work and possessions for what they can provide for the living of life as opposed to the vanity of chasing after more and more to no end. While one may not understand from the purely human perspective how everything works and what God has in store, one can nevertheless live in light of what is given by God for the living of life and find basic satisfaction in that, not worrying about the future (Ecclesiastes 5:20. See also Matthew 6:31-34). While there may not be ultimate meaning in such a life, it will be a life that at least finds contentment.

Chapter 6 confirms the conclusion already reached in chapter 5 that meaning is not found in riches. The Preacher seems to draw a contrast between the one to whom God has given riches but who accepts them as His gift (Ecclesiastes 5:19) and the one to whom God who has given riches but who chooses not to enjoy such blessings and instead seeks after more (Ecclesiastes 6:2). Jewish thinking considered having many children and a long life as a blessing from God. Thus, even if the individual of Ecclesiastes 6:2 was blessed beyond measure with a hundred children (Ecclesiastes 6:3) and a life of long years (Ecclesiastes 6:3, 6), if he leads a life that doesn’t see enjoyment in such, it would be better for him if her were stillborn (Ecclesiastes 3:b). The end of it all is death in any case, and the rich man is no better off than the fool neither of whom is satisfied with life (Ecclesiastes 6:7 & 8), or the poor man who accepts his lot (Ecclesiastes 6:8). It is all “vanity and a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 6:9b) Moreover, there is no new argument to make in response to this conclusion, as all such arguments have been made and in any case, it would have to be made to the One who is stronger, namely God Himself who is in control of everything (Ecclesiastes 6:10 & 11). This seems to suggest fatalism which would say that one’s future is determined and that God is uninvolved if He even exists. That is not what the Preacher says. No; he concludes that God is involved, but chooses not to give us all the answers. So, the Preacher’s conclusion stands: God does give us good things to enjoy in the now even while we do not know the future (Ecclesiastes 6:12).

What have we seen? That empty and self-focused religion and worship are meaningless, as are riches and possessions. The approach to life outside of God continues to end up at meaninglessness. Yet again, the Preacher has found that one can nevertheless live and enjoy life by treating it as the gift of the true God, accepted with a trust in that God even if what He has in store for the future and one’s future cannot be known. There is life, and there is meaning in the mere living of it. And of course, to the Christian of today, all of this points to Jesus Christ in whom is found fulness of meaning in life as He is both the now and the future, and the means to a relationship with the God who does give us all things to enjoy. And He is the One who specifically tells us not to lay up treasures on earth (Matthew 6:19), that we cannot serve both God and riches (Matthew 6:24), and that we should trust in God for our provision while we seek after righteousness (Matthew 6:25-34). In short, in Christ is life, not in riches. So despite the seeming meaninglessness pointed to by the Preacher, indeed all is not lost!