My last five posts have attempted to answer three questions: (1) “Should we preach Christ in every sermon?“; (2) “Why should we preach Christ in every sermon?“; and (3) “How should we preach Christ in every sermon?” I have attempted to illustrate (3) with a Proverb, a law, an historical narrative, and a Psalm. Now I hope to show how to preach Christ from Ecclesiastes 4:4, a single verse of the Wisdom Literature. Ecclesiastes 4:1-4 says:
Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living. But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun. I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind.
Wisdom Literature in the OT includes Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. Some would add Song of Solomon. Each of these books has a different form, but all of them intend to communicate the wisdom of life. Ecclesiastes relates Solomon’s futile attempts to find happiness in the things of this world. Wisdom, riches, women, drunkenness, building projects, humor, entertainment, etc., can never satisfy the heart. At each point Solomon satiated himself and was disappointed, despairing of any lasting meaning or satisfaction in these earthly pleasures. At the end, in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, he declares: ”The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”
How should Christ be proclaimed from this passage? Christ must always be preached according to “the analogy of faith.” Every passage of Scripture contributes to the overall message of the Bible: that human beings are fallen, that Christ has come to deliver us from the fall, and that life and happiness are only found in Jesus Christ, the supreme revelation of God to humankind. The Bible’s overall message also includes the underlying theology of the covenants expressed in the Law (covenant of works) and the Gospel (covenant of grace). So, how should we interpret Ecclesiastes 4:4 in its immediate context and according to “the analogy of faith?”
Grammatically. The grammar of the passage is fairly straightforward and presents no significant translation difficulties. The word “labor” (“toil, trouble, travail”) communicates the idea that all work is hard and wearisome in this fallen world. The word “skill” (“success, advantage”) refers to the capacity for success in work. “Rivalry” (“jealousy, envy”) denotes the character and motive of working in this world. The conclusion is that this characterization of work in this fallen world is “vanity” (“emptiness”) and “striving” (“grasping after”) after wind. The whole idea of the verse is that all work in this world and the seeking of success above others is motivated by man’s envy and jealousy. It’s ultimately empty of lasting meaning and cannot satisfy.
Historically. Solomon gave himself to great building projects (2:4-11). He built gardens, ponds, stables, and great buildings. He extended his rule even beyond the borders of David. He built the great Temple that God did not permit David to build. Solomon appeared to be the promised “son of David.” But his life shows that he was conquered by his wealth and women. He declined spiritually to such a degree that the veracity of his faith is called into question. Ecclesiastes testifies to Solomon’s wasted efforts, to his depression, and to his failure to seek God’s glory. He died (1 Kgs 11:43) and Rehoboam took his place, which resulted in a divided kingdom of Israel.
Theologically. Finding a man like Solomon in Christ’s genealogy may be somewhat surprising (Matt 1:6-7). But Solomon was part of God’s sovereign plan to bring the seed of the woman into the world (Gen 3:15). This is a testimony to God’s covenant faithfulness throughout the OT, to His promise of a Redeemer to come from Israel, through the line of Abraham and David. Solomon was not worthy to be in Christ’s line. There are no good men of the flesh since the fall of Adam our father. We can see, however, the Law and the Gospel at work in Solomon’s life through what he concluded in Ecclesiastes 4:4. This verse reveals the futility of Solomon’s efforts without God’s glory in his eyes, the fallenness of man seeking the things of this world, and the very opposite of these realities in the glorious work of the Lord Jesus Christ and those who follow Him.
Consider the following preaching outline for Ecclesiastes 4:4:
–The original meaning and joy of labor given to Adam and his descendants.
–The curse of death and toil in the fall of Adam and his descendants.
–The present attitude of labor and business in this world.
–The hope for the Christian to have a life of purpose and meaning.
I. First, the futility of Solomon’s labors for satisfaction under the sun.
–The amazing accomplishments of Solomon’s labor.
–The depressing lack of satisfaction after his success.
–His observation of the fallen world’s motivation in all labor without God.
–His conclusion of vanity.
–Hope for Solomon: Eccl 12:13-14.
II. Second, the futility of all labor for satisfaction under the sun.
–This fallen world cannot fulfill man’s search for success and meaning.
–Man’s own fallen nature breaks God’s Law against idolatry in worshipping pleasure and self-importance.
–Examples of such futility: Eccl 2:1-11; Lk 12:16-21,16:19-31; Matt 16:24-27.
III. Third, the perfect and glorious labor of the Son of God.
–His attitude – Jn 4:34: to do the will of His Father who is in heaven. Matt 26:41-42 – your will be done. He fulfilled the Law’s demand for perfect labor for God’s glory.
–The difficulty of His labor in a fallen world: Heb 12:2ff.; Matt 27:26ff.
–The perfection of His labor: “It is finished,” Jn 19:30; Heb 5:9.
IV. Fourth, the redeemed and glorious labor of the child of God.
–The redemption of all labor unto the glory of God: Col 3:17.
–The hopeful promise of success in all our labor for God’s glory because of the redemption and resurrection of Christ: 1 Cor 15:57-58.
–Our response in all our life and work: 2 Cor 5:14-15.
–All the labor of Solomon was vanity because he was condemned by the Law of seeking his own pleasure instead of God’s glory.
–All the labor of Jesus Christ was successful and perfect because He sought the glory of God.
–Because Christ’s labor fulfilled what Adam failed to do, and because of His success in His person and work for sinners, we may be forgiven of a self-seeking life and live a God-glorifying life that has true purpose and meaning.
–Therefore, let all repent of self-seeking and the idolatry of depending upon the things and people of this world for purpose and happiness. And let all turn to the Lord Jesus Christ for redemption from such sins and a new life lived for the glory of God.