Fulfillment – Can I live happily ever after?
Reading the book of Ecclesiastes is like flying in an airplane. In an airplane you will gain two perspectives. The one perspective is flying below the clouds and subject to weather conditions. It could be rainy and gloomy when you take off. But when the plane ascends beyond the clouds all is different. No more rain or gloom, just beautiful sun shine. On one flight, you get two perspectives. In the book of Ecclesiastes, you learn what life is like below the clouds and what it is like above the clouds.
King Solomon was that author of the book of Ecclesiastes. We are told that he was the wisest person who ever lived. Kings and queens would journey long distances to submit their questions to him. We read in the Bible of the queen of Sheba who after visiting Solomon, seeing his court, his riches, learning from his insight, “she was overwhelmed” (1 Kings 10:5).
The question that we want to answer tonight is that of fulfillment: Can I live a happily ever life in this life here and now?
Solomon was driven by this question: What is the good life? Listen to what he says, “I thought in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good’.” (2:1). We could rephrase his quest by asking what in the world will give us the greatest fulfillment? What gives us the greatest fulfillment is that which is good.
Think about that for a moment. What are you currently pursuing that if you had it, you would say, “This is it! This is good. This is fulfilling. This is what life is all about.” What is that one thing that you are pursuing?
1. The three keys of fulfillment “under the sun”
Whatever your answer is to the question: What is most fulfilling for me? Solomon experienced it. He refers to three places that he went to and that we go to for fulfillment: pleasure, productivity, and proficiency (intellectual supremacy).
Write these down. They are the three “p”s of fulfillment “under the sun”. My pleasure, my productivity, my proficiency.
Incidentally one of the secrets to understanding the book of Ecclesiastes is understanding the phrase “under the sun” (used 28 times in twelve chapters). We would call it “below the clouds”. Under the sun is all that we can observe with our eyes and experience in our living. “Under the sun” is a descriptor for what is within my means and capacity to accomplish. Let’s take a brief look at three keys of fulfillment “under the sun”.
First there is my Pleasure (2:10). “Look at verse ten: “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired. I refused my heart no pleasure.” What is this? This is hedonism. Hedonism is a life given over to pleasure. The driving force of hedonism is craving. Contemporary society tells us that we should pursue and attain all that we crave for. And if the feeling stops, then we should go to the next person or the next experience that would relight that craving. Another word for this craving is what the Bible calls lust.
Solomon jumped into hedonism with both feet. He was the Hugh Hefner of his day, the ultimate playboy. He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (1 Kings 11.3). With all that testosterone you would think he lived the good life. But quite the opposite was true. The Bible tells us that his wives led him astray, away from God (ibid). An in our chapter Solomon, thinking of his sex life said, “everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (2:11).
If you live for pleasure, hedonistically, you will be emptied of life, not full of life. The things that first gave you pleasure become lifeless. And when they become lifeless, you too become lifeless.
We have a situation today, where in Berlin children who are raising themselves on the street have having sex with other children. These are eleven and twelve-year olds who are engaging in sex with their peers. Social workers tell us that their sex is devoid of pleasure. It has become empty, without feeling. If you give yourself to pleasure, you will be reduced to emptiness, not fullness.
But then Solomon moves to the second key to fulfillment “under the sun”. It is productivity. “I undertook great projects” (2:4). He went into real estate, agriculture, wealth management. And his conclusion after a very productive life? “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (2:11).
Productivity is like an addiction: you will never have enough of it. But what you will discover that the more productive you are the less that kind of success truly satisfies your heart. Why is that? Because the heart (the core of who you are) is a vacuum that needs to be filled. But when you fill it with success is remains empty. Why? Because the heart can only be truly satisfied when the ultimate person in the universe resides there. Who is that? God himself. With what are you filling your heart?
But then Solomon goes on to mention the third key to fulfillment “under the sun”. It is proficiency. Proficiency is a fancy word for intellectual superiority. “Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom” (2:12). His intellectual prowess was superior. There was no riddle that he could not solve, no question he could not answer, no area of study where he was not fully proficient.
For many of us in this room this is what we consider fulfillment: intellectual superiority. But then we read of Solomon’s disillusionment with his proficiency: “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What do I gain by being wise? I said in my heart, this too is meaningless” (2:15). If both the stupid and the wise person end up dead, what good is wisdom?
Notice on last thing on the three “p”s of fulfillment; they are all about me: MY pleasure, MY productivity, MY proficiency. As along as fulfillment in life is centered on me, myself and I, I will never truly live an abundant life. Why is that? Because I am too small, too weak, too corrupt to give myself lasting fulfillment. The good life is not self-generated.
2. The integrated life is the life we have always wanted “under and beyond the sun”
After what I just said you could be thinking that pleasure, productivity, and proficiency are bad things. No, they are not. Solomon goes on to tell us that what is lacking is a bigger picture of these pursuits. If there is living “under the sun”, then there must be something akin to living above the clouds; like flying above the clouds. And there is. Solomon now goes on to tell us that what is lacking in our striving to live the good life is integration.
You were meant to live an integrated life. We live in a universe. Most of us graduated from a university. Both universe and university mean the same thing: one verse. If you reject God in your quest to live the good life you are not living “universally”, you are living for the lesser – something is missing.
Solomon goes on to tell us of his great discovery: God is the key to fulfillment. Write it down: God is your key to fulfillment. He is calling you to Himself and as you respond to His calling you discover that the good life is integrated living: Connected to God above, engaging with the things under the sun below.
All enjoyments in life guide us to God as our supreme enjoyment. “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?” (2:24-25). Your pleasures are too weak, your productivity is too shallow, your intellect is too uneducated – if you leave God as your supreme joy out of the equation.
Solomon tells us that God has made us for eternity (3:11). We were made for more than what we see and do and think. We are eternal beings made by an eternal God, who wants us to be in love with Him eternally.
And do you know what? Eternity starts now! The eternal God made you, via your parents. But He made you! And he made you not to live in isolation to Him, but to live in relationship with Him.
For the fact of the matter is that God will have the last word. Listen to how Solomon ends the book of Ecclesiastes. “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (12:13-14).
One day you will stand before God and He will judge your life. He will not be impressed with your self-gratification, nor with your accomplishments, nor with your intellectual superiority. What He will want to know is this: Did you love me? Did you know me? Was I ultimate in your life? Did you live an integrated life?
Why not live your life from the moment of future judgement back to this present time? What could be your response? Solomon tells us it should be a double response: 1. Fear God and 2. Keep His commandments (12:14).
Fear does not mean “to be afraid of”, but “to reverence, to make special”. What better way to respond to the One who created the universe and you than to reverence Him, to put him first in your heart, above all other loves and pursuits!
If you did that then you would want to live a life that gives Him pleasure. You would seek to keep his commandments. And do you know what you would discover? The Good Life! The joy that living exclusively under the sun could not give you. The joy in the God who is your one-verse, universe.
3. The Key to living a life of fulfillment is Jesus
If we travel over to the New Testament and look at Jesus and the reason for His coming to earth, we will see him saying the same thing. For in John’s gospel Jesus says, “I have come (into the world) that they may have life and have it to the full” (10:10).
Jesus wants nothing less than to give you an abundant life; the good life, full of joy, productivity, wise use of your intellect. And where do you get this abundant life?
From Jesus Himself! In John chapter ten Jesus uses an analogy. He talks about sheep who to survive, need a good shepherd. The shepherd is the one so loves the sheep to the point of risking his life for them.
Then he says something that only people living the Middle East in an agrarian culture would understand. Listen to what he says, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep . . . whoever enters through me will be saved” (10:7-9).
In the evening the shepherd would call his sheep and lead them into a pen, often made or branches or rocks. After the last sheep entered the pen, the shepherd would literally lay down in the opening. He would literally become the door to the safety of the pen.
This is our way to fulfillment – to come to Jesus. To run into his arms. To let ourselves be loved by the one who gave Himself for us to free us from ourselves and our sin.
In a short while we will be celebrating the Lords Supper with one another. The Lord’s Supper is the Good Shepherd inviting us to come to Him to be our greatest love and desire, and in so being adjust all the other aspects of life.
Yes, we can live a happily ever after life We read fairy tales to children, why? Not to delude them. We read fairy tales to children to excite and to delight them. Fairy tales tell us that greater significance is waiting for us. They tell us that we were meant to live happily ever after.
Finding fulfillment is living a life of trusting and obeying Jesus who is life. This life is no fairy tale, but a reality that God wants each of us to experience daily – until eternity. Live in the university you were meant to live in!