Outward acts of righteousness cannot hide from God an empty heart. It may gain us applause, but it will not be the applause of heaven. Following the Lord requires vigilance and careful examination of our motivations, as well as our actions, as Solomon’s words remind us.
Living With Purpose and Joy
I once came across an artist’s rendering of Satan. He was portrayed as riding on a donkey, holding a stick just in front of the donkey with a carrot dangling from a string. In pursuit of the carrot, the donkey was moving closer and closer to the edge of a cliff.
As we arrive today at chapter 6 of Ecclesiastes, Solomon is going to describe what amounts to chasing a carrot on a stick and, ultimately, the wasted life that results. He gives three warnings to us all today.
The first warning is this: Your life can be full while your heart remains empty. In verse 7 Solomon writes, “All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied.” Hard work provides for the body’s needs, like food, but it doesn’t satisfy the soul. What Solomon is saying is that people can be wrapped up in everything that satisfies their flesh without allowing God to satisfy their soul.
Here is the second warning: Being promoted in life does not mean you are succeeding in life. Solomon now asks two rhetorical questions in verse 8 to prove his point:
For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what [advantage] does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living?
So, who has the advantage—the smart man over the foolish man, or the poor man over the rich man? Solomon says, “Neither one!” No matter what end of the spectrum they are on—educated or uneducated, wealthy or poor—if they are living merely to satisfy their physical appetites, they are like that donkey chasing a carrot on a stick. They are never going to reach fulfillment and satisfaction. In fact, they are going to fall off some cliff, so to speak, as they waste their lives without God.
Here is the third warning: Don’t focus your attention on what you don’t have. Solomon teaches that truth by delivering a proverb here in verse 9: “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.”
“You want to chase after the wind? You want to end your life empty and resentful and joyless? Well then, let Satan tempt you into chasing after things you want while refusing to enjoy what you already have.
Beloved, life is not about some carrot that grabbed your attention. Life is about following Jesus Christ. A fulfilling life is all about the Holy Spirit transforming our minds and hearts and giving us purpose and meaning as we focus on Him.
Now in chapter 7, we find one of the most misunderstood passages in the book of Ecclesiastes. Verse 16 says, “Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise.”
“Overly righteous” here describes religiously arrogant people. One author calls them “sanctimonious saints.” They are self-righteous; they present themselves as always having it “together.” Just listen to them, and you will be convinced their marriages are always wonderful and their children are always superior.
Solomon is telling us not to present ourselves to others as if we have already arrived. First of all, that is dishonest, because we haven’t arrived; and second, it is discouraging to everybody else.
Solomon delivers another warning here in verse 17: “Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?” In other words, a wicked life is probably going to lead one to the grave a lot faster than a godly life.
So, don’t be overly righteous—that is, self-righteous—and don’t be overly wicked. To choose either is to walk unwisely.
Now in chapter 8, Solomon writes about some puzzling mysteries of life down here under the sun. One of the more common mysteries is recorded in verse 10:
Then I saw the wicked buried. They used to go in and out of the holy place and were praised in the city where they had done such things. This also is vanity.
Solomon must have been to a funeral, and the implication here is that the deceased person was well respected in the community and praised for his deeds; but Solomon evidently knew the man was a hypocrite. He stayed one step ahead of the law, and then he managed to die without being exposed for who he really was. Solomon wonders why God lets hypocrites get away with it—I think we all do.
I could not help but think of a man who lived in Chicago during the Great Depression. He was a wealthy man and was generous to other people. He considered himself blessed by God. During the Depression, he provided free food that fed literally thousands of people in Chicago. The newspapers referred to him often as “Mister Good-deed.” It was only near the end of his career that the law caught up to why he was so wealthy. His name was Al Capone—he was a gangster and a killer. He was a hypocrite of the worst kind.
Now if you expect the world to punish all the wicked people instead of giving them nicknames like Mr. Good-Deed, you are going to be disappointed. Solomon says, “This also is vanity [an empty hope].” Then he goes on in verse 11: “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.”
They are getting away with it; justice seems to be moving so slowly. Well, Solomon ends this thought in verse 13 by reminding us that while the justice of God might be slow, it is sure. Judgment will be delivered in the end.
The subject of coming death seems to be on Solomon’s mind as we enter chapter 9 in his private journal. The first six verses deal with the reality that death is coming for the believer and unbeliever alike. Solomon writes in verse 2, “The same event [death] happens to the righteous and the wicked.”
My friend, a graveyard is totally impartial. It is unprejudiced and unbiased. And let me add this: it is absolutely inevitable. If you have not yet put your faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sin, I urge you to do that today. You have no idea how much time you have left before it is eternally too late.
But I want you also to listen to what Solomon has to say to those who follow the Lord. He writes here in verse 7, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” If you are walking with the Lord, you have His approval to live your life—and to live it with joy! In fact, don’t hold back.
Solomon adds in verse 8, “Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.” He’s referring here to the white garments and oil people put on in those days for weddings, festivals, and family reunions. They represented joy and fellowship with God.
We are told that one day we are going to be dressed in white garments in heaven (Revelation 3:5; 19:14). That does not mean we are supposed to wear only white clothing now and that we will wear only white garments in heaven; this is an expression that communicates living life to the fullest today—as we will in that eternal day in a never-ending reunion and festival of joy. Solomon is saying here that you don’t have to wait for heaven to enjoy living.
More than a hundred years ago, Evangelist D. L. Moody got the sense of Solomon’s wisdom here when he wrote, “Why shouldn’t [a believer] play baseball or … tennis? … Don’t imagine you have to … live in a cave to be consecrated. … Whatever you take up, take it up with all your heart.”
As you walk with the Lord, get out there and live life to the fullest. Joy ought to be the advertisement of the Christian life, so live your life today with joy!