As finite beings we are constantly aware of the passage of time. As the teacher ponders the seasons of life and the rhythms of time he comes to several conclusions. First there is a purpose to all that takes place. God is overseeing and working through all the circumstances of life and everything that God is doing lasts and has purpose. Unfortunately, what God is doing may not always make sense to us, and although we desire and long for answers and understanding we may not always get it. How then should we live? We should enjoy the good gifts God gives to us and give Him thanks for them and we should trust Him in the difficult and hard times, the times where we struggle to understand what is going on, because He makes all things beautiful in His time.
Work is a gift from God. Human beings were made to find purpose and meaning through work. Work is a good thing, but work is not an ultimate thing and work can’t be the only thing. In the second half of Ecclesiastes chapter 2, Solomon extols the virtues of work and wisdom but also comes to the recognition that they are not enough. He acknowledges that in the end no matter how hard you work or how wise you are that death awaits you.
Since 1989, NBC has run a series of public service announcements called “The More You Know.” The goal of these short segments is to provide a piece of information that will make people’s lives better. We often operate under the assumption that the key to a better life is more knowledge, but is that true? There may not be a better person to explore this question than Solomon, the man who is known by many as the wisest man to ever live. Solomon’s conclusion is this: while wisdom is better than foolishness, it often brings with it its own sorrows and frustrations. At the end of the day wisdom alone is not enough to make life matter or to make life meaningful.
As human beings we have an innate need for meaning. We want our lives to matter, but do they? In the grand scheme of things, where generations come and generations go, where we’re told that we inhabit a universe that has existed for billions and billions of years and is made up of hundreds of billions of stars and planets, what value and meaning do our lives hold? In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon seeks an answer to the question that all of us ask at some point: “What is the meaning of life?” As we travel through this book together the answers will challenge and surprise us, but most importantly, they should lead us to examine whether we are investing our lives in things that truly matter.
In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says that there should be a difference in His followers that radiates out to the world in such a way that people see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven. Our lives should be a walking billboard for the goodness of God and the difference Jesus makes. If we are going to be the type of people who shine bright for Jesus this year there are things that we are going to need to put off and put on: in the way that we speak to and about others, in the ways we go about our work, and in the priorities and passions that drive us.
If we are going to be the type of church that God wants us to be, if we are going to have the type of friendships, families, and marriages that God desires for us to have, it’s going to requires putting off and putting on in the areas of communication and conflict resolution. To love others well we need to be people who put off deception and put on truth. We need to be those who put off resentment and slander and instead put on the boldness to speak directly with others. People who use our words to build up rather than tear down and who replace bitterness and a judgemental spirit with forgiveness and empathy.
In John 14:15 Jesus says to His disciples: “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Loving God evidences itself through changed actions and attitudes. But how does this change take place? Paul gives us the answer in Ephesians 4:22-24 where he calls us to: “Take off our former way of life, the old self and to put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness.” If we are going to grow in our love for God this year it’s going to require that we identify those things we need to take off: actions and attitudes that no longer fit who we are in Christ. We then need to identify those things we need to put on: new priorities and patterns of behaviour that fit our new identity in Christ.
For many people a new year represents a new start. We commit ourselves to changing things, we make resolutions, we set goals, and we tell ourselves: “this will be the year.” Yet, by the time February rolls around, many of us find ourselves in the same place we were when the last year ended. One of the things that frustrates so many of our good intentions is a focus on either stopping something or starting something. In Ephesians 4:17-32 Paul teaches the church that real change requires both stopping and starting. Real transformation looks like putting off AND simultaneously putting on. In fact, Salvation itself reflects this pattern of putting off and putting on where we not only repent of our sins, but we start a new life of walking with Jesus.
On survey after survey when people are asked what they want most the answer they give is “to be happy.” Most of the world spends their lives perpetually searching for the next hit of happiness, but those hits always seem to fade. There is however a joy that is available to us that never ends and never fades. A joy that transcends circumstances and can be had even in the midst of suffering and that joy is found in knowing a God who is good. Good in all that He is, and good in all that He does.
We live in a world wracked by anxiety and animosity by worry and war. In a world like this where can we find true peace? In the knowledge that our God is sovereign. That He is the one who is ruling and reigning over all. The one who is just and merciful and faithful is also the one who is in control of all things, even when it seems like everything is spinning out of control. If you are in Christ, God has chosen you, He lives in you, and He is working out a plan that will one day see you live with Him for all eternity.