By Brandon Lemons
The book of Ecclesiastes is a valuable resource when searching for meaning in life.
Oftentimes, the search for meaning is an individualistic process: I am seeking to find my meaning in life. What will satisfy me? What is best for me? What will make me happy? But here’s an important question: What if the focus on “me” is actually undermining my search for meaning?
Ecclesiastes 4 highlights the importance of healthy relationships that focus on “we,” not just “me.”
Verses 1-8 illustrate that if I focus on “me,” I will hurt myself and others. Four reasons why self-centeredness is detrimental are: it inhibits me from sacrificing to help others (4:1); it poisons my heart with envy (4:4); it breeds laziness toward things that really matter (4:5); and it fuels personal ambition that leaves me empty (4:7-8). Not only do each of these damage relationships with others, but they also undermine a person’s search for meaning and even their sense of personal vitality.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 shows that if I focus on “we,” I will benefit myself and others. A “we” focus prioritizes meaningful, caring relationships. There’s a togetherness that brings tremendous mutual benefit, including a greater sense of meaning in life. In general, a major part of our meaning in life ought to involve benefitting others, serving others, blessing others. This is illustrated by Jesus’ second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
We all face a challenge in that sin makes us inherently self-centered. Sin says to God and others, “I will do what I want.” “Not your will, but mine be done.” This self-centeredness even seeps into our unconscious motives. Because self-centeredness is rooted in sin, it can’t be fixed by trying harder. We need a heart transformation – shaped by the Gospel, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:13-26 provides a great example of the transforming work that the Holy Spirit can do in us as we surrender to Him: He will remove the self-centeredness that hurts ourselves and others, and He will replace it with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
I encourage you to take a few minutes to reflect on some questions based on Ecclesiastes 4. As you reflect on these questions, you might find it helpful to write out your thoughts and responses. It’s important to take your time and be honest. Also, it would be good to talk with God about your responses.
Who in my life is a true encouragement and blessing to me?
Philippians 2:3-5 says: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” What is an area of my life where I am prone to looking more to my own interests than to the interests of others?
How can I build others up today? What needs do I see that I can help meet?
If the topics and questions during the Ecclesiastes series are troubling for you, you’re not alone! We are diving into some difficult emotional and spiritual territory. In the upcoming weeks, we will continue to discover the meaning God has for our lives; however, if at any time you feel overwhelmed or depressed over these topics, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or another staff member.