What Makes Life Worthwhile?
“Fear the true God and keep his commandments.”—ECCL. 12:13.
1, 2. How can we benefit from considering the book of Ecclesiastes?
IMAGINE a man who seems to have everything. He is a renowned statesman, one of the richest men on earth, and the greatest intellectual of his generation. Despite all his accomplishments, however, in effect he still asks himself, ‘What makes life worthwhile?’
2 Such a man really existed—some three thousand years ago. His name was Solomon, and in the book of Ecclesiastes, we find his description of his search for satisfaction. (Eccl. 1:13) There is much we can learn from Solomon’s experience. Indeed, the wisdom found in the book of Ecclesiastes can help us to establish goals that will give true meaning to our lives.
“Striving After Wind”
3. What sobering fact about human life must all of us face?
3 Solomon explains that God created an abundance of beautiful things on the earth—an inexhaustible and amazing source of interest and wonderment that we never cease to enjoy. However, we can hardly even begin to explore God’s creation because our lives are too short. (Eccl. 3:11; 8:17) As the Bible says, our days are few and they pass quickly. (Job 14:1, 2; Eccl. 6:12) This sobering fact should move us to use our lives wisely. That is no easy task, since Satan’s world may well point us in the wrong direction.
4. (a) What does the word “vanity” imply? (b) What pursuits in life will we consider?
4 To highlight the danger of wasting our lives, Solomon uses the word “vanity” some 30 times in Ecclesiastes. The Hebrew word translated “vanity” refers to something empty, futile, meaningless, of no substance, or of no lasting value. (Eccl. 1:2, 3) Sometimes Solomon uses the word “vanity” as a parallel of “striving after wind.” (Eccl. 1:14; 2:11) Obviously, any attempt to catch the wind is futile. Anyone trying to do so ends up grasping at nothing. Pursuing unwise goals will prove to be just as frustrating. Life in this present system is too short to waste on endeavors that leave us empty-handed. Hence, to help us avoid making that mistake, let us look at some examples that Solomon gives of common pursuits in life. First, we will consider the pursuit of pleasure and possessions. After that, we will discuss the value of work.
Will the Pursuit of Pleasure Make Us Happy?
5. Where did Solomon search for satisfaction?
5 Like many people today, Solomon tried to find satisfaction by pursuing a life of pleasure. He reports: “I did not hold back my heart from any sort of rejoicing.” (Eccl. 2:10) Where did he search for pleasure? According to Ecclesiastes chapter 2, he ‘cheered his flesh with wine’—at the same time maintaining self-control—and pursued such activities as landscaping, designing palaces, listening to music, and enjoying good food.
6. (a) Why is it not wrong to enjoy some of the good things in life? (b) In the matter of recreation, what balance is needed?
6 Does the Bible condemn having a good time with friends? Not at all. Solomon notes, for instance, that enjoying a meal in a relaxed atmosphere after a hard day’s work is a gift of God. (Read Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:12, 13.) Moreover, Jehovah himself invites young ones to ‘rejoice and let their heart do them good’ in a responsible way. (Eccl. 11:9) We need relaxation and wholesome entertainment. (Compare Mark 6:31.) However, recreation should not become the primary purpose of our life. Rather, relaxation should be like the dessert at the end of a meal, not the main course. You will agree that no matter how much you enjoy sweet desserts, you would soon tire of them if you ate nothing else, and they would not provide much sustenance. Similarly, Solomon discovered that a life centered on pleasure was “a striving after wind.”—Eccl. 2:10, 11.
7. Why should we choose our recreation carefully?
7 Furthermore, not all kinds of recreation are wholesome. Many are downright harmful—both spiritually and morally. How many millions have plunged their lives into despair just because they ‘wanted to have a good time,’ abusing drugs, overindulging in alcohol, or gambling? Jehovah kindly warns us that if we allow our heart or our eyes to lead us toward what is harmful, we must expect to suffer the consequences.—Gal. 6:7.
8. Why is it wise to reflect on our life course?
8 Moreover, an unbalanced pursuit of pleasure will hinder us from paying proper attention to weightier matters. Remember, life passes by quickly, and there is no guarantee that our short life will always be marked by good health and freedom from problems. That is why, as Solomon further noted, we may derive greater benefit from attending a funeral—especially that of a loyal Christian brother or sister—than from going to a “house of rejoicing.” (Read Ecclesiastes 7:2, 4.) Why is that so? As we listen to the funeral discourse and reflect on the life course of the faithful servant of Jehovah who has died, we might be moved to examine our own life course. As a result, we may conclude that we need to adjust our goals in order to use the remainder of our lives wisely.—Eccl. 12:1.
Will Material Possessions Give Us Satisfaction?
9. What did Solomon discover regarding the possessing of wealth?
9 Solomon was one of the richest men on earth when he wrote Ecclesiastes. (2 Chron. 9:22) He had the means to acquire anything he wanted. “Anything that my eyes asked for I did not keep away from them,” he wrote. (Eccl. 2:10) Nevertheless, he discovered that possessions do not in themselves bring satisfaction. “A mere lover of silver will not be satisfied with silver, neither any lover of wealth with income,” he concluded.—Eccl. 5:10.
10. What leads to true satisfaction and true riches?
10 Despite the fleeting value of possessions, wealth can still exert a powerful attraction. In a recent survey in the United States, 75 percent of all first-year university students described their principal goal in life as being “financially very well off.” Even if they reached their goal, would they be truly happy? Not necessarily. Researchers have noted that an emphasis on materialism is, in fact, a hindrance to happiness and satisfaction. A long time ago, Solomon had already reached that same conclusion. He wrote: “I accumulated also silver and gold for myself, and property peculiar to kings . . . And, look! everything was vanity and a striving after wind.”a (Eccl. 2:8, 11) In contrast, if we use our life to serve Jehovah wholeheartedly and thus receive his blessing, we will obtain true riches.—Read Proverbs 10:22.
What Kind of Work Brings Genuine Satisfaction?
11. What do the Scriptures indicate about the value of work?
11 Jesus said: “My Father has kept working until now, and I keep working.” (John 5:17) There is no doubt that Jehovah and Jesus derive satisfaction from work. The Bible indicates Jehovah’s satisfaction with his creative work when it says: “God saw everything he had made and, look! it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31) The angels “began shouting in applause” when they saw all that God had done. (Job 38:4-7) Solomon likewise appreciated the value of meaningful work.—Eccl. 3:13.
12, 13. (a) How do two individuals express the satisfaction they gain from honest work? (b) Why can secular work sometimes be frustrating?
12 Many humans understand the value of honest work. For instance, José, a successful artist, says, “When you are able to paint on the canvas the picture you have in mind, you feel as if you had conquered a high mountain.” Miguel,b a businessman, notes: “Work gives satisfaction because it enables you to provide for your family. It can also give you a sense of achievement.”
13 On the other hand, many jobs are monotonous and offer few opportunities to be creative. Sometimes the workplace itself is a source of frustration and even the scene of injustice. As Solomon points out, the lazy one—perhaps because he uses his connections with people in power—may reap the reward of the diligent worker. (Eccl. 2:21) Other factors may also lead to disappointment. What starts out as a so-called wonderful business opportunity may end up in failure because of an economic downturn or unforeseen occurrences. (Read Ecclesiastes 9:11.) Many times, the person who struggles hard to succeed ends up bitter and frustrated, realizing that he has kept “working hard for the wind.”—Eccl. 5:16.
14. What work always brings genuine satisfaction?
14 Is there any kind of work that never disappoints? José, the artist mentioned earlier, observes: “Over the years, paintings may get lost or destroyed. That is not the case with the spiritual things we produce. By obeying Jehovah in preaching the good news, I have helped to build something permanent—fine God-fearing Christians. That is priceless.” (1 Cor. 3:9-11) Miguel likewise says that preaching the Kingdom message brings him far more satisfaction than his secular work. “Nothing can replace the joy you feel when you share a Scriptural truth with someone and you sense that it has touched that person’s heart,” he says.
“Send Out Your Bread”
15. What makes life really worthwhile?
15 In conclusion, what really makes life worthwhile? We feel true satisfaction if we use our brief time in this system of things to do good and to please Jehovah. We can build up a close relationship with God, we can pass on spiritual values to our children, we can help others to know Jehovah, and we can forge lasting friendships with our brothers and sisters. (Gal. 6:10) All these endeavors have permanent value and bring blessings to those who achieve them. Solomon used a very interesting comparison to describe the value of doing good. He said: “Send out your bread upon the surface of the waters, for in the course of many days you will find it again.” (Eccl. 11:1) Jesus urged his disciples: “Practice giving, and people will give to you.” (Luke 6:38) Furthermore, Jehovah himself promises to reward those who do good toward others.—Prov. 19:17; read Hebrews 6:10.
16. When is the ideal time to plan our life’s course?
16 The Bible urges us to make wise decisions while we are still young regarding how we will use our life. In that way, we will be able to avoid frustration in later years. (Eccl. 12:1) How sad it would be if we were to waste the best years of our life chasing the attractions of the world, only to find that they are no more substantial than the wind!
17. What will help you to choose the best way of life?
17 Like any loving father, Jehovah wants you to enjoy life, to do good, and to avoid unnecessary heartache. (Eccl. 11:9, 10) What will help you to do that? Establish spiritual goals and then work hard to reach them. Nearly 20 years ago, Javier had to choose between a promising medical career and the full-time ministry. “Although a doctor’s work can be satisfying, nothing could compare with the joy I felt when I helped several people to come to know the truth,” he says. “Full-time service has enabled me to enjoy life to the full. My only regret is that I did not begin earlier.”
18. Why did Jesus’ life on earth prove so worthwhile?
18 What, then, is the most valuable thing we should strive to possess? The book of Ecclesiastes says: “A name is better than good oil, and the day of death than the day of one’s being born.” (Eccl. 7:1) Nothing illustrates this better than the life of Jesus. He surely made an outstanding name with Jehovah. When Jesus died faithful, he vindicated his Father’s sovereignty and provided the ransom sacrifice, which opened the way for our salvation. (Matt. 20:28) During his brief time on earth, Jesus provided the perfect example—one that we strive to imitate—of a truly worthwhile life.—1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Pet. 2:21.
19. What wise counsel did Solomon give?
19 We too can establish a good name with God. Having a good reputation in Jehovah’s eyes is for us far more valuable than having riches. (Read Matthew 6:19-21.) Every day, we can find ways to do things that are good in Jehovah’s eyes and that will enrich our lives. For example, we can share the good news with others, strengthen our marriage and our family, and deepen our spirituality by personal study and meeting attendance. (Eccl. 11:6; Heb. 13:16) So, then, do you want to enjoy a truly worthwhile life? If so, keep on following Solomon’s counsel: “Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man.”—Eccl. 12:13.
b Name has been changed.
How Would You Answer?
• What should move us to think seriously about our goals in life?
• How should we view the pursuit of pleasure and possessions?
• What kind of work will bring lasting satisfaction?
• What valuable thing should we strive to possess?
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What place should recreation have in our life?
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What makes the preaching work deeply satisfying?