Friday, November 10, 2006

Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:16 - I can’t get no satisfaction

What really satisfies you? Is it work, or food, or friendship, or your car?

The thing is, like many people find, when you get what you want, it has a hollow feel to it, it doesn’t really satisfy, and if you think different just ask yourself how you feel when they bring out a new model?

Like U2's lyric many would say – "I still haven’t found what I’m looking for."

From the tail end of Chapter 3 and all of chapter 4 Solomon points out 6 things that make life unsatisfying, and we will see how they find their ultimate answer in Jesus.

Life doesn’t satisfy
Now some people would disagree with that statement straight off. They would say that they are very satisfied with life – but I would want to ask them, “Are you satisfied with sickness, are you satisfied with unfairness that happens at school to your kids, are you satisfied with the pain you have in your hip because although you have everything, your body is getting old and falling apart, are you satisfied that there are people in parts of the world working in sweatshops so that you can enjoy simple pleasures in life?”

And unless we bury our heads in the sand or live in some sort of isolation chamber we have to face the reality that life is ultimately disappointing.

Solomon sets out six areas which make life unsatisfying


v16-17 “And I saw something else under the sun: In the place of judgment—wickedness was there, in the place of justice—wickedness was there.”

Early Friday morning 3 Christians in Indonesia were executed. According to news reports it was for masterminding a series of attacks on Muslims.

Their execution had been postponed three times, then the government removed the police chief who gave the stay of execution and replaced him with a hard-liner who favoured their deaths.

Evidence pointing to their innocence was ignored and death threats made against their legal representatives, and a bomb was planted at the house of one legal advisor.

The three Christians were evacuating children under attack in a church school. Militants burnt the school to the ground. No Muslims have been brought to justice.

According to Jeff King, President of International Christian Concern: 'In the attacks from 1998 to 2003, there were approximately 10,000 Christians murdered, 1,000 churches and 80,000 homes burned down. In that orgy of violence against Christians, the only individuals the government chose to convict were these three Christians - this is a glaring injustice.'

There’s something in us that knows instinctively what justice is and wants it done.

But the great failure of this world is that justice doesn’t always happen and sometimes, worse happens and the innocent are punished because the wicked are in power. And it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

So how do you live in an unjust world?


Death and the prospect of death leave a bitter taste in the mouth. Life gets cut short, we don’t know when this invading force will step in an out lives will be over, and there is something deeply unnatural about death – something in us cries out against it. It doesn’t seem a good enough answer to life.

It’s like staying up late to watch the end of a film and it just finishes abruptly with so much left unsaid, or like reading a book and finding that the last ten pages are missing.

And it doesn’t seem right that conman and Christian, nuisance and neighbour, each so different just come to the same end.

In a sense we all live in a death row cell. And we can enjoy life, but we still live on death row. And there is something in us that cries out for it to be different.

And then as Solomon looks around he sees something else that creates in us a longing for something more, a hunger that there has to be more to life than this. Oppression. Injustice is when the judge has found in favour of the guilty, that’s injustice, but Solomon sees oppression as well – its just the fact that bad stuff is happening, not in the courts but everywhere, people are taking advantage of anyone less fortunate than themselves. Tim Keller reminds us that “only a small number of people in the world have lived in relatively safe conditions, and we are part of that privileged minority.” We can’t allow our western comfort to mollycoddle us from the harsh realities that our fellow human beings live under.

And when you watch the news and you see people starving in Africa because rich countries can’t be bothered to use their resources to take their excess. That’s oppression. And when you see people dying in shantytowns in flash floods because those in power have spent all the money on palaces and country retreats. That’s oppression. And it doesn’t stop when the powerful get what they want – they don’t turn around and start to help the needy – power is on the side of the oppressor and the poor still have no comforter. And when you see that, your heart should cry out – there’s got to be more to life than this. The one life that people have is made misery – that’s not right.

Work – dissatisfaction with what we do and get
Solomon turns to the dog eat dog world of work, where envy drives people to get up early, stay late, to get more, to be one step ahead, to have what the neighbours have, to have what they don’t yet have. And when you get what you wanted, you don’t actually enjoy it because the motive for getting it is tainted, and so then how can the fruit satisfy?

Or where work becomes an end in itself, and the endless chase of perfection and excellence comes to dominate all. And even when we get things to where we want them, we aren’t able to slow down because we have worked ourselves into the habit of work.

Or where you work so hard, but don’t have time to enjoy the fruit of your work v8.

And something in us says, “There’s bound to be more to life than this?”

Solomon moves on to something that increasingly is becoming a feature of 21st century life. Loneliness. As big a problem in 10th century BC as in the 21st century AD. The world is becoming smaller, we can communicate globally, but people are becoming increasingly isolated. In America

Social Changes in America over the Past 25 years
  • the number of restaurants is 25%, snack places is down 50%, but fast food outlets are up 100%
  • family dinners are down 33%
  • having friends over to your home is down 45%
  • from 1980-93 America’s #1 participant sport, bowling, was up 10% but bowling leagues were down 40%
In a world where communication abilities have increased incredibly actual communication has decreased. And people are lonely, and here is another factor that leaves an unsatisfactory taste in the mouth – is this what life is about?

Solomon looks then at a scenario in v13ff. He describes a young man who comes from disadvantage to rule a country in the place of a foolish king. People follow him with enthusiasm, but as time goes on the mood changes and his popularity goes. There is a fickleness in politics and in people, where opinions seem to change at the drop of a hat, and you are left wondering “What happened there?”

To be let down by friends or family, or people we have worked with or for is part of life, yet when it happens it leaves a bitter taste in our mouth – and it is just one more area where we find life deeply unsatisfying.

And that is what Solomon is wanting us to see that no matter where we look in life there is a bug in the system, something that prevents us from finding complete satisfaction. He knows that we are apt to ignore it, and just focus on our own little lives, hoping that we will find satisfaction, but then when problems arise we are surprised because we think that an easy life is our right. Solomon says, that isn’t the way it is.

And what he is showing us is that there is a deep set of longings inside us that long for satisfaction that is beyond the scope of this life to produce.

We have an innate hunger for justice, for life, for comfort, for satisfaction, for companionship, for stable relationships. And what Solomon is doing is highlighting all these things so that we will see the collective force and be dissatisfied with life and look for more. Because all these are good God-given longings. And so what people claim as objections to God, or proof that God doesn’t exist are actually given by God to point us to him – to show us that we should make gods out of things, but rather seek him. And Solomon in his own ways provides pointers to God as he goes, but what I want us to see this morning is that all these longings find their ultimate satisfaction in Christ. Now we’ll not find Jesus’ name in Ecclesiastes, but Ecclesiastes is a book of questions that don’t find their ultimate answers until Jesus comes.

Finding Satisfaction in Jesus
As in the ancient Roman Empire all roads led to Rome, so it is in Christ that we find the iultimate answer to these dissatisfactions.

And Jesus is the answer in two ways – first he is the answer because he provides the solution to all these longings, and second, he is the answer because he has stood in each of these places and felt the injustice, and oppression and loneliness and the hollowness of work, and fickleness of the crowd. So when we come to him, not only has he the answer, but he knows how we feel, and the answer comes from the depths of his experience. And that is comforting.

Let me show you how Jesus is the answer to each of these problems. Some of you are still looking for satisfaction in yourselves or your work, remember the Rolling Stones, and U2 “I can’t get no satisfaction” and “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”. I want you to see that Jesus far surpasses all of them. There is nothing that satisfies like Jesus, and his is a multifaceted satisfaction. Some of you are have found peace and forgiveness in Jesus, but its all too easy to replace him with other things when it comes to finding satisfaction.

Jesus will bring justice
Too many of life’s stories end untidily, unless of course this is not the end. That’s what Solomon tells us here in v17.
“I thought in my heart, “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed."

So in Luke 18:7-8 Jesus says:
7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.”

It will be a profound justice, every wrong will be righted. And the person who comes to Jesus has the burden of injustice done to them lifted because they know that Jesus will deal with it. He will either deal with it by bringing judgment or bearing it. He will judge those who have not asked him to bear their judgment. And he will bear the judgement deserved by those who have asked him to bear it.

But there will be justice. All loose ends will be tied up. Death doesn’t mean that justice has been escaped, but rather than justice is now guaranteed.

And that gnawing hunger for revenge, or the bitterness of resentment is taken away.

And for those smarting under the feeling of injustice, in Jesus you will find one who knows exactly that feeling – accused and tried for crimes he was innocent of, by men who were desperate just to kill him, and who broke every law in the land to get him killed. You can take your injustice to him, and find one who knows where you are coming from, and will provide the strength to live with it util you see him come.

Jesus defeats death and brings life
Death is not natural. Our longings know that, and that is why Jesus promises in John 10:10:

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

“our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel”

Here is the promise of a life that will not be interrupted, which will not be cut short. But it is also a promise of a way of life here and now in which death is no longer an ominous threat. The sting of death has gone, and death becomes a doorway into this wonderful new existence for all those who come to Jesus now.

And he has stood there, he has seen loved ones die, as a boy his father died, as a man his friend Lazarus died. He knows the pain of death as a bereaved one. And he says to the bereaved, let the ache of bereavement and the dissatisfaction that it brings, bring you to me, so that you may find life and have it to the full.

Jesus brings comfort to the Hurt
Solomon makes the statement that it would be better not to have been born than to face the hurt of this life. And many of us think that’s ridiculous, but that’s because our lives haven’t hurt as much as others. Listen to these words of a friend of mine after writing that his mother shouldn’t have been allowed to have children:

“I know that going by this standard I would not exist - I have no problem with this - I honestly believe that my mother should have been forced to abort me.”

How do you identify with someone who has borne so much suffering? I can’t. And it would be patronising to attempt. But can anyone say to one who bore in his body all the sins of his people and the punishment that he can’t know their pain? He has seen all hurt in close up technicolour detail, and experienced the awfulness of it as it was laid on him.

And now he says, “I will wipe away every tear from their eye”. He is the father to the fatherless, the defender of the widow and the orphan, he came to release the oppressed.

And he does so by giving us a hope that nothing in this world can take away, and he does it by taking all our hurt, and turning it into a trowel with which he builds his kingdom. Through our hurt he reaches to others who are hurting so that they can come and find healing and completeness. In all these things we are more than conquerors.

Jesus brings contentment in a world of envy
Solomon’s observation is that it is a dog eat dog world which doesn’t actually satisfy. When we get what we want, we find we want more. That is because we are wired in such a way as to know that somehow somewhere there is more to life, but like little boys without a compass we don’t actually know how to find it, or what it is we are lacking.

Yet what Jesus does on the cross is to purchase for his people everything they will ever need, so that they can say:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack no good thing”
“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

So we know that if it is good for us to have something, God will give it to us. We don’t need to get into the rat race. For what’s the point of being top dog in a death row cell. Jesus liberates us from the cell and says, “I’ll give you all you need for this life.”

And then he gives us a task that is born, not out of envy, but out of compassion. “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” And when you succeed you know that it will last forever.

Jesus is the friend who sticks closer than a brother
Solomon acknowledges that friendship is the cure to loneliness, but in Jesus we find a friend who says, “I will never leave you or forsake you” And why does he make that promise? Because he knows the awful pain of being forsaken by his friends, being despised and rejected of men, and he knows what it is to be forsaken by his father.

And not only that, what Jesus does on the cross is to purchase a welcome into his family and the community of his people for anyone who comes to him.

And loneliness, even the loneliness of being in a crowd of people and still being lonely, is a signal in our hearts that our hearts are still looking for one who will never leave us.

And so to all the lonely Jesus comes and says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:18

Jesus is unwavering and faithful
In a fickle and changing world where people change and let us down, when we rely on people only to be disappointed we need one who is unchanging, and who will never drive us away. And so it is only in Jesus that we can find that rock, because even a faithful friend will desert us at death, but here is one who is there for us continually in life and in death.

“whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37)

James describes God as “one who does not change like shifting shadows” – James 1:17

And to those hurt by the changeable opinions of others, Jesus says, I too know what it is like. What musts it have been like to hear your closest friend say, “I never knew you” or to see 11 of your closest friends turn and run, or to be betrayed by one with whom you had shared meals.

He knows and because he knows he is able to bring satisfy those who are hurting because of the fickleness of others.

So in all these areas where life can let us down we find one who never lets us down, one who provides for us in a deeper and more lasting way than anything this life can offer. Every hunger is satisfied.

A life that satisfies

Not found in things but in a person.
We want to finish by applying this. How then should we live?

Put your trust in the one who satisfies
If your stomach is sending out hunger signals you don’t eat chewing gum – although it might suppress the hunger pangs for half and hour or so, it doesn’t solve the problem. You get something that fills you.

Some of you are trying to satisfy yourselves with the chewing gum of life instead of the steak of Christ. Like being in a top class restaurant see menu – all paid for, all you want the lollipop by the till

You need to come to the one who satisfies ultimately and completely. Because sooner or later in life you will find that all the others let you down, the only problem is that often it is too late to change, because you have convinced yourself that they really satisfy, and like a homeless man who has the offer of a house but who is so used to sleeping outside in the gutter that he has convinced himself that it is better.

You need to come to Jesus and ask for forgiveness for putting your ideas of what is important in the place of him. And you need to ask him to come and transform your life so that you can see what is important.

Live like Satisfied people
All this doesn’t mean that life suddenly takes a turn for the better and that you no longer experience injustice, death, loneliness, or envy, or being let down by friends. But it does mean that you have a way of looking at all these problems. You look at them from the perspective of someone who has hope.

We need to keep finding our satisfaction in Jesus and not in our circumstances.
  • With regard to injustice we can leave it all in his hands – we can look beyond and live beyond the injustice done to us.
  • With regard to the uncertainty of life – we know that we will go at exactly the right time, when our saviour calls us home, when our work here is done.
  • With regard to hurt caused by others to us – we can learn to live with gratitude to the one who took hurt and was oppressed so that we wouldn’t be. And if being hurt by others is a consequence of following Jesus, well, surely we can take a few shots for the one who took our hell.
  • With regard to the continuous pursuit of more in life – we can learn to life with contentment because we have a saviour who provides everything. And so we can trust the shepherd to provide for his sheep, whatever happens – illness, or farming, business disaster.
  • With regard to loneliness we need to learn to cultivate our relationship with Jesus, to develop our relationship with him, so that when we find ourselves lonely we turn to him. Develop our relationship with Jesus’ people.
  • With regard to the fickleness of people – we need to realise that people will always let us down, but that Jesus will never. We need to learn to build our self esteem not on others view of us, or even our view of ourselves, but on what Jesus thinks of us. Because no matter what has happened to us, or what we have done, or what we think of ourselves, Jesus tells us that if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation. They are his child, they are precious. It is when we build our satisfaction on others that we find dissatisfaction, because only Jesus can sustain the weight of expectation – only Jesus knows how bad we are and is prepared to completely overlook it.
Christ is the only one who will satisfy all our needs. But if we were to stop there we would be wrong.

Ecclesiastes isn’t just about us, it is about living in this world. And so if we are to live like satisfied people we will want others to see that it is Christ that makes the difference, therefore:
  • With regard to injustice, we need to be people who encourage justice, and who deal fairly, and who stand up for those who have been dealt with unfairly. Solomon writes that God allows man to behave in such a way so that man will see the animal likeness of his actions and be shocked. But we are not to be like that. Christians are to stand out for how they treat others.
  • With regard to the uncertainty of life Solomon tells us that we need to live in such a way that people can see that the shadow of death doesn’t hang over us – we are to enjoy all that God gives, family, food, friends, relishing the gifts of God. Also we are to be people that make it clear to others that there is a difference between man and beast.
21 Who knows that the spirit of man rises upward and that the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?"
  • We are to be people who stand up for the oppressed, who seek to make life easier for others. That may mean being like our saviour in living sacrificially – putting yourselves out for the sake of those less well off, so that they will see Christ in us.
  • With regard to work, we need to learn to take Solomon’s advice to heart – better one handful with contentment, than two handfuls with toil and a chasing after the wind. In a world where everyone is encouraged to seek advancement, which means that you have more work heaped on top of you, and more responsibility, the Christian will draw the line and say – this is as far as I want to go. Or of circumstances permit they will say, I can go further. That may mean cutting back on work so that we can enjoy the relationship that God has given to us. It gives us a right perspective on our work. It isn’t the be all and end all of our lives – it comes after our relationship with God, and our family, and our church. We will seek to avoid the rat race.
  • With regard to loneliness we will seek to draw near to others, to befriend. In a world of loneliness, those who have been befriended by Christ should be reaching out to those who are alone. We will also invest in friendship.
  • In a world of fickleness we will seek to mirror Christ’s acceptance, and steadfastness in friendship, even when we are let down.
When Adam and Eve cut the tether that bound all of life to God that had a knock on effect in every area. Life needs to be tethered to God, nothing else provides a solid enough basis. Solomon’s counsel to us is to look to God rather than things for satisfaction in life, because all else will fail, but God will fail you never.

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