This week we begin our study of Ecclesiastes. In Ecclesiastes 1 we find that all is vanity, under then sun (vv.2-3), and that nothing is new under the sun (v.9). If all there was, was under the sun—if there was nothing above it, then you and I would have to subscribe to the philosophy of nihilism. Nihilism, in its essence is a belief that life is meaningless. Nothing has meaning. Now if the preacher’s sermon ended here, we would deduce that he was no better than our modern-day nihilists: the philosopher Nietzsche, the author Franz Kafka, the playwright Samuel Beckett, and the satirist Douglas Adams who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He would be no better than they. But the preacher’s sermon doesn’t end here. Hang on to the phrase ‘under the sun,’ for now. The Preacher wants you to know what life is under the sun, apart from whatever might be above it. He’s chipping away at our self-reliance—at our earthly reliance—until we come to the end of ourselves and of this world.
When will we come to that end and see that life under the sun has no real meaning? We tend to look at life as “What’s in it for me?” “There’s got to be a payoff or I’m out.” One commentator says, “Without exception, all people who live merely to gain earthly goods will find that those goods are ultimately meaningless. And when goods are the sole object of one’s toil, the toil itself becomes equally meaningless. While humankind dwells on human efforts, Scripture tells us to ponder what God has done. While the sinner looks for value in what he can get, his gracious Lord sees value in giving himself for and to the sinner.” The only toil that was not in vain was that of our Lord. Christ died and rose again to give you and I new life—a life infused with meaning and purpose. And when our identity is hidden in Christ, then our toil under the sun also has meaning, for it is done for One above the sun: Christ Jesus our Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:58 tells us to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” You’ve got to do it for the One above the sun, if it’s going to have any meaning here under the sun.