Would You Look At the Time?

The Meaning of Life Series
  • What happens when we seek ultimate meaning outside of relationship with the Creator God? What happens when we're desperate for the answers to life but can't seem to find any? What happens when our souls get wearied from the constant pursuit of pleasure and possessions? These are enormous questions of life and meaning that Ecclesiastes grapples with in the timeless complexity and messiness of reality. In the end, the ancient philosopher recalibrates our hearts, minds, and lives to pursue meaning in the Ultimate God because God alone holds the key to the meaning of life.
4. The Reason for the Season (Ecclesiastes 3:1-22)
  • Can we find meaning in life even though life seems repetitive and cyclical?
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text?
  • God is in control of time and circumstances; we are to control our response as we discern the times. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
  • We are made to search for ultimate meaning, but we can't find it on our own. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
  • No matter what the times bring, God will judge in the end; but for now, He has given us every day to enjoy. (Ecclesiastes 3:12-14, 17, 22)
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking?
  • What is it about times and circumstances that, though they may seem repetitive and cyclical, you can conclude that God is in control of all of it and live accordingly?
  • Do you want to find ultimate meaning in life? Why can't you?
  • Can you say, “I will be joyful and do good as long as I live.” Can you say, “I will eat and drink and take pleasure in all my toil, for this is a gift from God.” And then can you live that way?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide
  • Interpretation – What is the text telling/showing us?
  • What does it mean that for everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven?
  • What do the things listed in verses 2-8 mean in general? Compare the contrasts in the listing. What do the specific things listed mean?
  • What does it mean to have “eternity” in your heart?
  • Why is it impossible to find out what God has done from beginning to end?
  • What is God's relationship to time? (Hint: read Ecclesiastes 3:14 & 15)
  • What is meaningless about finding wickedness in place of justice and righteousness?
  • What is the same about mankind and beasts?
  • What is the Preacher's answer to the meaninglessness that seems to derive from live?
  • Implementation – What should the listener’s response be?
  • How do you discern the times in your life, and how do you respond to them?
  • Go through the things in verses 2-8 and make a list of times in your life that correspond to those things, and how you have responded.
  • What is your response to the apparent repetitiveness and cyclical nature of life?
  • Do you have “eternity” in your heart? How so?
  • How and where have you observed wickedness in place of justice and righteousness?
  • How do you compare yourself to the beasts of the field? How are you the same? How are you different?
  • What is God's gift to you in terms of living life? How can you live life and find meaning in each day?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation – What’s generally going on in this area of Scripture?
At the close of the Notes for the 3rd installment of this Series, we noted that in the face of meaninglessness, the Preacher “seems to say that the answer is not fatalism, but is found in the God who is the giver of good things.” In other words, while one can neither find nor fathom meaning and purpose in this life from human wisdom alone, there seems to be light in the darkness from the hand of God. In chapter 3, we will find further support from the Preacher for the conclusion he reached in the prior chapter.

The Preacher begins chapter 3 with the bald statement, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Then the Preacher begins the familiar listing of various times appointed by God, a listing made famous in the 1960s by the musical group, the Byrds, in the song, “Turn, Turn, Turn” written by folk singer Pete Seeger years before and taken from this very passage. Verses 2 through 8 are beautiful poetry, even in the English translation, but they seem to be saying that times just come and go, that there's this and there's that, all of which happen at certain times, and that things seen repetitive and cyclical. So there's birth and death, planting and harvesting, weeping and laughing, etc. The implied question from the Preacher is, “Where's the meaning in all that?” If these times are indeed from God, the Preacher writes, we have no ultimate control over them, and their meaning is still incomprehensible and undiscoverable.

So, is the Preacher saying, then, “Just live with whatever comes?” Perhaps. Yet if we combine these verses with what came before in Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, a more accurate conclusion is that the Preacher is saying that life each day comes from God as a gift, and each day brings whatever it will bring, but in God's time and in His control. We humans may not understand it all, even if we want to, but we can live each day seeking to discern and to do what is right for each circumstance that unfolds that day. Thus, in the right situation, it is time to weep, or time to laugh, or time to mourn or to dance, and so on. Such a life would be in contrast to one that simply despaired of any purpose and therefore didn't care about any of these things. Notice that the listing is a series of contrasts; one could say of good times and bad times, or of opposites almost. So, for example, there is a time to be silent but there is also a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7); or, there is a time for killing but also a time for healing (Ecclesiastes 3:3). In short, no matter which end of the respective spectrum one is at, that time, and everything in between, is from God, so one should and can discern such and respond accordingly … and there is meaning in that alone. Notice also that the Preacher is making no judgments about the things in the list; he is just saying that they all have their times as appointed by God.

Verses 9 through 15 seem to underscore the foregoing conclusion. They confirm that there is meaninglessness in toil and it is a burden (Ecclesiastes 3:9 & 10), but state again that God has made “everything beautiful in its time” and even put the longing in man's heart to know and understand life, to make sense of it all even though it is not possible from the human perspective (Ecclesiastes 3:11). So rather than despair at the impossibility of gaining a full understanding of the whole of life, man should be “joyful” and “do good” basically at all times; they should take pleasure in the good things given by God to enjoy including food, drink and even work (Ecclesiastes 3:12 & 13), because everything is appropriate in its time.  Moreover, man can stand on the truth that God sees things from the perspective of eternity, from outside of time, and thus we should be in awe of and before God, accept what is, what has been and what will come, as all and everything is from Him. (Ecclesiastes 3:14 & 15) Such an approach to life does not move a person into a relationship with God; but it does move a person away from meaningless and despair to a place where life can be lived for what it gives, and at least there is meaning in that.

But just when it appears that ere are rays of hope, the Preacher points out another observation which suggests meaninglessness, namely that in the place of justice and righteousness is found wickedness (Ecclesiastes 3:16). Yet, the Preacher says, though this is what is present on earth, God, whom he has just indicated is outside of time and the earth, will judge at the right time (Ecclesiastes 3:17). The implication, of course, is there is not much we can do about injustice and wickedness on earth, so we should leave it up to God. In fact, the Preacher goes on in the next verses to point out that on earth, humans are no different than beasts in that as created beings, they all have life on earth and they all die, dust to dust, and who knows where they go when they die, whether it is “upward” or “down into the earth.” (Ecclesiastes 3:18-21) Ouch! Meaninglessness again; humans are no better than animals. Are we at the point of despair again? It would seem so. Yet the Preacher returns to his prior conclusion: no matter what things seem and how pointless they may be, live life in the now, enjoy it, rejoice in one's work; and don't worry about the future because you cannot know it anyway (Ecclesiastes 3:22. Cf. Matthew 6:25-34).

In all, the Preacher continues to confront the frustration of not being able to find meaning from the human perspective, instead finding contradictions, meaninglessness, repetition and endless cycles, justice and righteousness turned on their respective heads in wickedness, and commonality between humans and animals. And the frustration is exacerbated because God has “put eternity into man's heart” meaning that humans want to know and to find meaning and purpose. But in this frustration and his search, the Preacher keeps landing on the conclusion that meaning is somehow found in God, if only in the sense that God has provided life for mankind to live and there is enjoyment in life, even if not all the time. So there is vanity of vanities, and chasing after the wind; but yet there is God in the midst, and God has not left His creations without anything but despair; rather, He has left them with life itself and all the good things that there are in life to enjoy, including good deeds, creative work, food and rejoicing, all of which can and should take on meaning in light of God and eternity, and the true goodness and beauty of Christ, the ultimate meaning.  The wise man will do well to live in light of such reality.