Ecclesiastes 1-3

On first glance, the author of Ecclesiastes appears to be a frustrated soul, but the book of Ecclesiastes presents theology in the context of a sin-cursed world. Life is futile, the teacher argued, apart from fearing God—the God of all human experience. Because life is lived, “under the sun,” (a phrase which occurs twenty-nine times in Ecclesiastes), in an age when the effects of sin are seen in both animate and inanimate spheres of creation, those that attempt to gratify themselves apart from God will be frustrated. In the worldview of the author of Ecclesiastes, humanity functions from desire—and even when fulfilled, humanity’s highest desires only leave them empty if they do not fear God. Thus, the teacher of Ecclesiastes said, “When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (Eccl 12:13-14).

The teacher began by reflecting on the repetitive cycle of life, concluding that since there is no permanence in humanity or nature, everything is vain (Eccl 1:1-11). In Eccl 1:12-2:26, the teacher proceeded to analyze the specific avenues of life one may follow in order to find fulfillment. But wisdom (Eccl 1:12-18; 2:12-17), pleasure (Eccl 2:1-3), possessions (Eccl 2:4-11), and skillful labor (Eccl 2:18-26) he found meaningless apart from God. In Ecclesiastes 3, the teacher proposed that since God is sovereign over the limitations of life “under heaven” (Eccl 3:1), only by fearing God can one find fulfillment in the routine experiences of food, drink, and work (Eccl 3:9-15).

The teacher of Ecclesiastes had a singular argument: satisfaction in a sin-cursed world is reserved for those who fear God. In the argument of the storyline of Scripture, “fearing God” involves trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ—living under His Lordship—by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul expressed the logic of Ecclesiastes when he exhorted the Corinthians to stop seeking worldly satisfaction and embrace God’s wisdom in Christ and the Spirit. Paul wrote:

(1) God displayed His wisdom in Christ’s crucifixion, contra worldly concepts of wisdom (1 Cor 1:18-25). In Paul’s day, criminals and runaway slaves were crucified. The watching world labeled Jesus’ death on the cross as foolishness; for no reason would a divine being allow Himself to suffer crucifixion. For Paul, Christ’s cross was the centerpiece of Christianity, reminding all who would follow Christ that worldly categories of thought would have to be set aside in order to walk in step with God’s wisdom.

(2) God freely gives His wisdom by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:6-16). In order to censure the divisive spirit that had arisen in the Corinthian church, Paul described God’s generous provision of His Spirit and wisdom. The Corinthians were aligning themselves behind various leaders in the church, thinking that certain leaders could give more spiritual insight than others (1 Cor 1:10-13; 4:6-13). Paul would have none of it. The apostle wrote that God’s Spirit supplies wisdom and God has given His Spirit to all believers. Paul said that as an apostle, he spoke only what was of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:13) and that only those of the Spirit could understand his message of Christ crucified (1 Cor 2:1-5, 14-15). “We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, in order to know what has been freely given to us by God,” Paul wrote (1 Cor 2:12). The Corinthians thus had no need for super-spiritual teachers to guide them in God’s ways. In fact, Paul urged the congregation to reject such a view of leadership (1 Cor 3:5-4:5).