Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind (Ecclesiastes 4:4 NLT).
The writer of Ecclesiastes is looking at life “under the sun.” He is excluding from his discussion heaven and hell. He concludes that “all is vanity” and life has no meaning. All our pursuits in life, even our good ones like our religious activities, can become “like chasing after the wind.” We can do all the right things for all the wrong reasons.
The Futility of Life
Remember Solomon is writing about “life under the sun.” He is expressing a worldly view of existence. There are three themes in Chapter 4; oppression (v. 1), envy (v. 4), and loneliness (v. 7). All three of these are the results of self-centeredness. He realizes that the world is a cruel place with mean people in places of power. He observes that we try to put people down to lift ourselves up. And we compete with others to get one more of everything when we have no real friends with which to share it. If we leave it right here, we too would say “all is vanity.
The Meaning Of Life
Ecclesiastes is not a stand-alone book. It is meant to be read with the rest of the Bible which gives us a perspective not just on “life under the sun” but about our eternal existence. We need to bring into the discussion the one who came to give life meaning, Jesus Christ. He taught us how to live. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too (Philippians 2:3 NLT). We are simply not to be selfish. We are to quit trying to impress others which leads to envy being the pivotal motivational factor in all our pursuits. Someone once said, “People do not care how much you have as long as it not more than them.” It is a comparison game.
Jesus challenged the self-centeredness of fallen nature. He exposed the tendency of our hearts to believe that the universe revolves around us. C.S. Lewis said, “humility is not thinking less of yourself, its thinking of yourself less.”
The Way Up Is Always Down
William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was a man that knew how to instill the proper meaning of life in his cadets. On one occasion a promising cadet arrived in England from the United States. The cadet had formerly been a pastor of a very influential church in the states. He was known for his powerful preaching. The first job General Booth gave to this recruit was to go to basement and “blacken” the boots of the other cadets. As he started to shine the boots, thoughts pervaded his mind like, I used to preach to thousands of people, what am I doing shining these boots? Just at the point that the thoughts were starting to effect his work, he saw an image in his mind. The vision was of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. He pondered for a second, and then said to himself; If Jesus could wash feet then I guess I can “blacken” boots. He finished his chore and the story goes that when General Booth stepped down, this was the man that replaced him. The way up is always down.
Success can only be fulfilling when our motivation to please Him transcends self-fulfillment. “Life under the sun” can only have meaning when Christ is King.
Ken Barnes, the author of “The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places” YWAM Publishing