Ecclesiastes Lesson Three

Ecclesiastes Lesson Three: Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 – The Emptiness of Pleasure and Possessions

I said to myself, “Go ahead, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy what is good.” But it turned out to be futile. I said about laughter, “It is madness,” and about pleasure, “What does this accomplish?” I explored with my mind how to let my body enjoy life with wine and how to grasp folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom—until I could see what is good for people to do under heaven during the few days of their lives. 

I increased my achievements. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made gardens and parks for myself and planted every kind of fruit tree in them. I constructed reservoirs of water for myself from which to irrigate a grove of flourishing trees. I acquired male and female servants and had slaves who were born in my house. I also owned many herds of cattle and flocks, more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. I also amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I gathered male and female singers for myself, and many concubines, the delights of men. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; my wisdom also remained with me. 10 All that my eyes desired, I did not deny them. I did not refuse myself any pleasure, for I took pleasure in all my struggles. This was my reward for all my struggles. 11 When I considered all that I had accomplished and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind. There was nothing to be gained under the sun. (HCSB)

In this section, the teacher will tell how the pursuit of pleasure and the amassing of possessions left him feeling empty. In the thousands of years since this was written, mankind still hasn’t changed. Those with money and power still pursue after pleasure and possessions, only to be left feeling unsatisfied and desiring more. The teacher has discovered a valuable lesson that we need to remember today. I’ll split this lesson into two parts.

  • The pursuit of pleasure – verses 1-3.
  • The pursuit of possessions – verses 4-11.

The Pursuit of Pleasure

As we look at these first three verses, we need to think like the original Hebrew readers would have thought. One of the main viewpoints is that the Hebrews correctly believed that God intended mankind to enjoy the blessings of creation.

  • Psalm 104 (entire Psalm).
  • 1 Timothy 6:17 – Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy.

If we consider the different harvest seasons the Israelites enjoyed, we can see how they would have rejoiced as they collected a bountiful harvest. The teacher used the Hebrew word for “pleasure” numerous times in Ecclesiastes. Because of its numerous use, it’s clear God intended us to enjoy the fruits of our labor in conjunction with His will and instructions. If we close our eyes, we can picture Solomon in his banquet hall enjoying life.

  • 1 Kings 10:21 – All of King Solomon’s drinking cups were gold, and all the utensils of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were pure gold. There was no silver, since it was considered as nothing in Solomon’s time.
  • 1 Kings 4:22-23 – Solomon’s provisions for one day were 150 bushels of fine flour and 300 bushels of meal, 23 10 fattened oxen, 20 range oxen, and 100 sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and pen-fed poultry.

However, when the parties were over, and the teacher had time to reflect on the activities, he felt empty. Chasing after pleasure and laughter were temporary emotions and quickly vanished. It’s very likely that the servants envied those enjoying the pleasures of life, but the king wasn’t happy with his experiences. Proverbs 14:13 – Even in laughter a heart may be sad, and joy may end in grief.

When we look at the world today, especially areas of affluence, people have become obsessed and will pay any amount of money to buy experiences to temporarily escape the burdens of life. Let’s consider the idea of seeking fun in greater detail.

  • There is nothing wrong with innocent fun as long as it doesn’t become an idol.
  • The person whose life is built on seeking fun will always be disappointed in the end.
    • Pleasure-seeking is almost always a selfish act.
    • Selfishness destroys joy.
    • Those who live for pleasure almost always exploit others in their pursuit of pleasure.
    • Often, a trail of broken relationships is left behind, in addition to empty hearts.
  • Too often, we forget that people are more important than things and thrills.
  • Chasing pleasure is like taking drugs.
    • Once we get numb to the pleasure created by “things,” we need to increase the intensity of the pleasure to get the same result.
    • Increasing the intensity means going deeper into the habit.
      • For those who drink, it means drinking more.
      • For those who chase money, it means having more money.
      • For those viewing pornography, it means viewing it more often or going to more extreme forms.
      • For those who chase fame and adulation, it means seeking greater attention.
      • The list could go on and on, but the idea is the same. If we aren’t satisfied, we will seek more extreme means to “get our fix.”
  • An ancient example of this is the Epicurean form of hedonism.
    • Epicurus taught that by avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure, people would obtain happiness.
    • Paul encountered Epicurean philosophers when he addressed the Athenians on Mars Hill in Acts 17:18.
    • The main problem with hedonism is that it will consume us and blind us to eternal truth.
  • False pleasure alone can’t bring satisfaction.
    • It appeals to only a portion of our being, not the total being.
    • Shallow entertainment will always leave us empty.
    • Enjoyment, where the “whole person” is involved, brings enjoyment and enrichment.
  • True pleasure brings both delight and builds character. 

The Pursuit of Possessions

The teacher now talks about acquiring possessions of many kinds.

  • He talks about different kinds of projects, each one an attempt to find satisfaction and make life worth the effort.
    • He built houses and his palace – 1 Kings 7.
    • He built cities. 2 Chronicles 8:4-6  He built Tadmor in the wilderness along with all the storage cities that he built in Hamath. He built Upper Beth-horon and Lower Beth-horon —fortified cities with walls, gates, and bars — Baalath, all the storage cities that belonged to Solomon, all the chariot cities, the cavalry cities, and everything Solomon desired to build in Jerusalem, Lebanon, or anywhere else in the land of his dominion
    • Possibly his greatest building undertaking was the construction of the temple. 1 Kings 5ff.
  • Not only did the teacher build great works, but he also had an abundance of workers.
    • He had two types of slaves.
      • Those who were purchased.
      • Those who were born in his household.
    • He also “drafted” 30,000 Jewish men to work on various projects. 1 Kings 5:13-18  Then King Solomon drafted forced laborers from all Israel; the labor force numbered 30,000 men. 14 He sent 10,000 to Lebanon each month in shifts; one month they were in Lebanon, two months they were at home. Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor. 15 Solomon had 70,000 porters and 80,000 stonecutters in the mountains, 16 not including his 3,300 deputies  in charge of the work. They ruled over the people doing the work. 17 The king commanded them to quarry large, costly stones to lay the foundation of the temple with dressed stones.  18 So Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders, along with the Gebalites, quarried the stone and prepared the timber and stone for the temple’s construction.
  • The teacher acquired great wealth.
    • He had an enormous amount of livestock. 1 Kings 8:63  Solomon offered a sacrifice of fellowship offerings to the Lord: 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep. In this manner the king and all the Israelites dedicated the Lord’s temple
    • His monetary wealth was unmatched.
      • 1 Kings 4:21  Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines and as far as the border of Egypt. They offered tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.
      • 1 Kings 10:1-14  The queen of Sheba heard about Solomon’s fame connected with the name of Yahweh and came to test him with difficult questions. She came to Jerusalem with a very large entourage, with camels bearing  spices, gold in great abundance, and precious stones. She came to Solomon and spoke to him about everything that was on her mind. So Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too difficult for the king to explain to her. When the queen of Sheba observed all of Solomon’s wisdom, the palace he had built, the food at his table, his servants’ residence, his attendants’ service and their attire, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he offered at the Lord’s temple, it took her breath away. She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your words and about your wisdom is true. But I didn’t believe the reports until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, I was not even told half. Your wisdom and prosperity far exceed the report I heard. How happy are your men. How happy are these servants of yours, who always stand in your presence hearing your wisdom. May Yahweh your God be praised! He delighted in you and put you on the throne of Israel, because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel. He has made you king to carry out justice and righteousness.” 10 Then she gave the king four and a half tons of gold, a great quantity of spices, and precious stones. Never again did such a quantity of spices arrive as those the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. 11 In addition, Hiram’s fleet that carried gold from Ophir brought from Ophir a large quantity of almug wood and precious stones. 12 The king made the almug wood into steps for the Lord’s temple and the king’s palace and into lyres and harps for the singers. Never before had such almug wood come, and the like has not been seen again even to this very day. 13 King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba her every desire—whatever she asked—besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty. Then she, along with her servants, returned to her own country. 14 The weight of gold that came to Solomon annually was 25 tons.
  • The teacher was the wealthiest and wisest man in the entire world, but he was not happy because these things didn’t bring lasting pleasure.
    • He derived joy while engaged in these projects, “I took pleasure in all my struggles.”
    • Yet once it was finished, there was emptiness, “When I considered all that I had accomplished and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind.”
  • The teacher wasn’t condemning work. Work is a blessing from God. Adam worked in the Garden before the fall. But, the intent of the heart regarding work is what’s important.
    • 1 Corinthians 10:31  Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory.
    • Isaiah 55:2  Why do you spend money on what is not food, and your wages on what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and you will enjoy the choicest of foods.
  • The teacher’s words, as he reflected back on his life, help us to understand why those who achieve great things are often unhappy people.
    • An overachiever is often a person who is trying to escape themself by being a workaholic.
    • The result of being a workaholic is often disappointment.
    • It’s not uncommon for workaholics, once they retire, to feel useless or even die from a lack of meaningful activity.
  • It’s not just the teacher who warns us about the empty pursuit of pleasure instead of pursuing God.
    • Paul warns us about this. 2 Timothy 3:1-5  But know this: Difficult times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people!
    • James tells us to examine our motives for our pursuits. James 4:3  You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires.

One final point of discussion regarding this passage. Read through the passage again and note how many times “I” is used. Now, let’s compare that to the teaching of Jesus and Paul.

  • Mark 8:34-38 – Summoning the crowd along with His disciples, He said to them, “If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it. 36 For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his life?  37 What can a man give in exchange for his life? 38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
  • Galatians 2:20 – And I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
  • Philippians 3:1-11 – Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write to you again about this is no trouble for me and is a protection for you. Watch out for “dogs,” watch out for evil  workers, watch out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, the ones who serve by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh— although I once also had confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless. But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ  Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith.  10 My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.

It should never be “I” or “me,” but always Christ.


  • Evaluate where you find your happiness and fulfillment. If your greatest fulfillment doesn’t come from God, your priorities are misplaced. The things of the world may give us temporary “fixes,” but they will never leave us feeling satisfied or fulfilled.
  • At the same time, we shouldn’t become people who avoid fun or pleasure. Scripture is clear that we should enjoy what God has created. But do it in a way that honors God and follows His instructions.
  • Check to make sure that the things you enjoy doing don’t take advantage of or harm others. Every person is created by God and has intrinsic value. If we hurt them in any way, we harm God’s creation and bring judgment against ourselves. 

Ecclesiastes Lesson Two

Ecclesiastes Lesson Two: The Limits of Wisdom – Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

I, the Teacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to seek and explore through wisdom all that is done under heaven. God has given people this miserable task to keep them occupied. 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun and have found everything to be futile, a pursuit of the wind.

15 What is crooked cannot be straightened; 

what is lacking cannot be counted. 

16 I said to myself, “Look, I have amassed wisdom far beyond all those who were over Jerusalem before me, and my mind has thoroughly grasped wisdom and knowledge.” 17 I applied my mind to know wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly; I learned that this too is a pursuit of the wind.

18 For with much wisdom is much sorrow; 

as knowledge increases, grief increases. (HCSB)

We’ll look at this passage as one coherent whole. When we consider what’s written in Ecclesiastes came from the mouth of Solomon in the later stage of his life, and he was widely commended for his wisdom and knowledge, it can be both discouraging and comforting that the acquisition of knowledge has its limits. It can be discouraging because no matter how hard a person tries, they will never understand everything. It is comforting for the same reason; the pursuit of knowledge should not be the goal itself.

Now, let’s take a deeper look at this passage.

  • The teacher sought to attain wisdom and knowledge.
    • The pursuit of wisdom wasn’t just a passing fancy or a whim.
    • Pursuing wisdom was a passion for the teacher.
      • A primary theme in wisdom and philosophic writing is that a life of wisdom is the highest of all callings.
      • Plato believed the work of a philosopher was the purest form of living.
    • 1 Kings 4:29-34 – God gave Solomon wisdom, very great insight, and understanding  as vast as the sand on the seashore. 30 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 He was wiser than anyone—wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, sons of Mahol. His reputation extended to all the surrounding nations. 32 Solomon composed 3,000 proverbs, and his songs numbered 1,005. 33 He described trees, from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop growing out of the wall. He also taught about animals, birds, reptiles, and fish. 34 People came from everywhere, sent by every king on earth who had heard of his wisdom, to listen to Solomon’s wisdom.
    • Why does the teacher call the task of acquiring wisdom a “miserable task?”
      • The teacher is challenging the widely-held view of the time that the pursuit of knowledge fulfills their life and gives them permanent significance.
      • The teacher finds it a hopeless task; he can’t find the answers he seeks.
      • The teacher views life as being under the sovereign rule of God.
      • Philosophers and their work are under the control of God. 1 Corinthians 3:19-20 – For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, since it is written: He catches the wise in their craftiness; 20 and again, The Lord knows that the reasonings of the wise are meaningless.
    • Although some believe verse fourteen pertains to both physical as well as intellectual pursuits, when the context of this section is considered, it makes more sense to interpret the teacher’s focus as being on intellectual pursuits only.
      • All intellectual work done by an individual will disappear with time and their passing. None of it has eternal worth.
      • The phrase “a pursuit of the wind” should be interpreted in the following manner.
        • You can chase the wind but never catch it.
        • Even if you were able to catch the wind, you wouldn’t have anything of substance.
      • The pursuit of wisdom won’t satisfy the heart.
    • Verse fifteen should be understood in two different ways.
      • Not everything can be changed, referring specifically to mistakes made in the past.
        • We can’t undo the mistakes we’ve made in the past.
        • Since we can’t change the past, we should stop worrying about the mistake itself.
          • This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn from the mistake to avoid repeating it.
          • It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t confess and repent of the behavior if it is sinful.
          • It does mean we should move forward and not be weighed down by the past.
      • Even God can’t change the past.
        • However, God has the power to straighten what has been twisted and supply what is lacking.
        • God can change how the past affects people.
          • For the unbeliever, the past is a heavy weight that can drag a person down.
          • For a believer, past mistakes can push them back on the correct path and guide them forward. Faith in the redemptive power of Jesus is the key.
        • Jesus often straightened out the twisted and provided when there was a need.
          • Luke 13:11-17 – a woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for over 18 years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, He called out to her, “Woman, you are free of your disability.” 13 Then He laid His hands on her, and instantly she was restored and began to glorify God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, responded by telling the crowd, “There are six days when work should be done;  therefore come on those days and be healed and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “Hypocrites! Doesn’t each one of you untie his ox or donkey from the feeding trough on the Sabbath and lead it to water? 16 Satan has bound this woman, a daughter of Abraham, for 18 years—shouldn’t she be untied from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” 17 When He had said these things, all His adversaries were humiliated, but the whole crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things He was doing.
          • Matthew 12:10-13 – There He saw a man who had a paralyzed hand. And in order to accuse Him they asked Him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” 11 But He said to them, “What man among you, if he had a sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath, wouldn’t take hold of it and lift it out? 12 A man is worth far more than a sheep, so it is lawful to do what is good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then He told the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out, and it was restored, as good as the other.
          • Matthew 15:29-31 – Moving on from there, Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee.  He went up on a mountain and sat there, 30 and large crowds came to Him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, those unable to speak, and many others. They put them at His feet, and He healed them.31 So the crowd was amazed when they saw those unable to speak talking, the deformed restored, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they gave glory to the God of Israel. 
          • John 6:1-13 – After this, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias ). And a huge crowd was following Him because they saw the signs that He was performing by healing the sick. So Jesus went up a mountain and sat down there with His disciples. Now the Passover, a Jewish festival, was near. Therefore, when Jesus looked up and noticed a huge crowd coming toward Him, He asked Philip, “Where will we buy bread so these people can eat?” He asked this to test him, for He Himself knew what He was going to do. Philip answered, “Two hundred denarii  worth of bread wouldn’t be enough for each of them to have a little.” One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There’s a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish—but what are they for so many?” 10 Then Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, so they sat down. The men numbered about 5,000. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and after giving thanks He distributed them to those who were seated—so also with the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were full, He told His disciples, “Collect the leftovers so that nothing is wasted.” 13 So they collected them and filled 12 baskets with the pieces from the five barley loaves that were left over by those who had eaten. 
        • Solomon was viewing problems from the perspective of “under the sun,” meaning he wasn’t bringing God into the discussion. This is why the problems were insurmountable.
    • The second understanding is a problem that can’t be solved.
      • Some problems are not solvable from a human perspective.
      • Some problems have critical information missing, which would aid in finding the correct answer.
      • More than anyone else, the intellectual understands the futility of humanity. They can’t answer some of the fundamental questions of life.
      • God’s ways are so much higher than ours; we’ll never fully understand some of the questions we have.
  • In the final three verses of this passage, the teacher acknowledges that wisdom and experience will not solve all of our problems.
    • If we try and go through life focused on explanations, we’ll be unhappy for two reasons.
      • There are no logical reasons for some of the things people experience. God is under no obligation always to provide explanations, and if He did, we might not understand anyway.
      • God has ordained His people to live by promises and not explanations.
        • By faith and not by sight.
        • John 20:29 – Jesus said, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Those who believe without seeing are blessed.”
    • The teacher comes to the conclusion that acquiring great wisdom only added to his difficulties in life.
      • Increasing one’s wisdom and knowledge leads to an increase in sorrow and grief.
      • For those who don’t ponder the problems of life, there is an innocence of not having to wrestle with the “why’s” and try to understand God.
    • If we think back to Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan, we have a clearer understanding of this picture.
      • When they sinned, they received an experiential understanding of good and evil.
      • This revelation resulted in their alienation from God.
      • The increase in knowledge only increased their sorrow.
      • This cycle has afflicted mankind ever since the fall in the Garden of Eden.
  • For many people, life is boring and monotonous.
  • For the Christian, life should be an open door and not a closed circle.
    • The believer experiences daily blessings from God.
    • While it is true we can’t understand or explain everything; life is not built on explanations.
    • For the Christian, life is built on the promises of God.
    • God’s Word is full of His promises.
    • As a believer, if your life resembles a closed circle, you need to turn back to Jesus and experience once again the fullness and blessing of living in a close relationship with God.


  • Seeking after wisdom for the sake of seeking is wasted time. Education for the purpose of our vocation is not a bad thing unless our motivation is wrong. Follow the path of God’s will for our life and find your wisdom in Scripture.
  • When incidents occur where there is no explanation, don’t try and force an explanation. God’s ways are higher than ours and always perfect. In this life, we may never understand all the things that happen to us. That’s certainly been my experience. Focus on God’s promises and find peace in them.
  • The only wisdom we should chase after is found in Scripture. 
  • Fullness in life is found in Christ, not in anything the world will try and use as a substitute. 

Ecclesiastes Lesson One

Ecclesiastes Lesson One: The Humdrum of Life – Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem. 

“Absolute futility,” says the Teacher. 

“Absolute futility. Everything is futile.” 

What does a man gain for all his efforts 

that he labors at under the sun? 

A generation goes and a generation comes, 

but the earth remains forever. 

The sun rises and the sun sets; 

panting, it returns to its place 

where it rises. 

Gusting to the south, 

turning to the north, 

turning, turning, goes the wind, 

and the wind returns in its cycles. 

All the streams flow to the sea, 

yet the sea is never full. 

The streams are flowing to the place, 

and they flow there again. 

All things are wearisome; 

man is unable to speak. 

The eye is not satisfied by seeing 

or the ear filled with hearing. 

What has been is what will be, 

and what has been done is what will be done; 

there is nothing new under the sun. 

10 Can one say about anything, 

“Look, this is new”? 

It has already existed in the ages before us. 

11 There is no remembrance of those who came before; 

and of those who will come after 

there will also be no remembrance 

by those who follow them. (HCSB)

As we begin our study of Ecclesiastes, the biggest question that is debated is, “who wrote it?” There are two main opinions.

  • Solomon.
    • The traditional viewpoint, based on verse one, is that Solomon wrote it.
    • D. Fredericks found forty-six points in which Ecclesiastes agrees exclusively or primarily with biblical Hebrew over later Mishnaic Hebrew.
    • Fredericks also found six grammatical features of Ecclesiastes that appear dependent on early biblical Hebrew and none dependent on late biblical Hebrew.
    • The Hebrew of Ecclesiastes reflects authentic Canaanite vocabulary, rendering the position of an Aramaic base text unlikely.
    • There is a parallel between the Epic of Gilgamesh, written around 2,000 BC, and Ecclesiastes 9:7-9.
    • This belief prevailed until the rise of historical criticism in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • Non-Solomonic authorship.
    • Linguistic evidence.
      • This is the most important issue when considering non-Solomonic authorship.
      • The language of Ecclesiastes is unusual.
      • It appears to have been written in either very late Hebrew or possibly Aramaic prose.
      • The Hebrew of Ecclesiastes doesn’t fit anywhere in the known history of the language; it doesn’t resemble the Hebrew of Malachi, Esther, or the Chronicler.
      • There are also two Persian words contained in the letter. This hints at the possibility it was written in or after the rise of the Persian empire.
      • By the beginning of the 20th century, the theologian G. A. Barton stated the idea of Solomon being the author of Ecclesiastes was “unthinkable.”
  • The modern opinion is that Ecclesiastes is from Solomon, but was most likely written in the post-exilic period. This would explain the “mixing” of styles from different historical periods.

Now, let’s begin our study of this first section of Ecclesiastes.

Many translations use the term “vanity,” but the HCSB uses “futility.” When read in the context of the beginning of the letter, futility makes more sense and is better understood in modern society. The teacher uses the word quite often throughout the letter, underscoring its importance to understanding what he is writing. Now, let’s dig deeper into this passage.

  • Although the letter was written at some period before the birth of Christ, we should understand it in light of the difference between worldly living and Christian living.
    • Living the way the world says does lead to futility.
      • We’ll never have enough.
      • We’ll never be satisfied.
      • We’ll always be chasing after the next “dream” or the next “new toy.”
    • Living for Christ leads to abundant living.
      • John 10:10b – I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.
      • 1 Corinthians 15:58 – Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work,  knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
    • As we progress through the lessons connected with Ecclesiastes, always remember this contrast. It will distinguish between Christian and worldly living.
  • As was discussed above, we don’t know who wrote the letter, but the one who spoke these words identifies themself as a king in Jerusalem.
    • Someone of this stature wouldn’t be lacking in “things.”
    • They would be respected and honored.
    • They would have the “pick” of whatever they wanted.
    • Yet, they understood that everything was futile.
    • None of it would satisfy.
    • No matter what we do or accomplish, there is no gain for their efforts “under the sun.”
      • This phrase repeatedly occurs throughout the letter.
      • It means to view things from a human perspective and not from a heavenly perspective.
      • At the end of his life, the author acknowledged that there was something “above the sun.” The world no longer mattered. It was the eternal that mattered.
    • The word “gain” means a surplus and is the opposite of futility. 
    • The word “labor” means to work to the point of exhaustion and not experience fulfillment in your work. It also contains the ideas of grief, misery, frustration, and weariness.
  • As we review the theme from the first three verses, we see the following points.
    • Living for “worldly” aims is futile and will leave us feeling empty and exhausted.
    • Living to please God and align with His will leaves us feeling satisfied and rested.

Now that we’ve looked at the first three introductory verses let’s take a closer look at verses four to eleven.

  • As we look at this section of Scripture, one theme stands out. Life and the world are cyclical in nature.
  • As we look at verses four to seven, we see that nothing changes.
    • The earth is unchanged. It has existed for thousands of years.
      • From a human perspective, the earth is the most permanent and durable “thing” we can envision.
      • The laws and dependability of nature are the basis for modern science.
    • Man is transient.
      • Our time on earth is a tiny blip on the timeline of eternity.
      • We are pilgrims on the earth.
      • The author introduces a theme that is prevalent throughout Ecclesiastes; life is short, and death is certain.
      • Individuals come and go.
      • Nations and empires rise and fall.
      • The world doesn’t change, but the “actors” on the stage do change.
    • The author now moves from the cycle of birth and death to the cycle of day and night.
      • Each day the sun rises, and the sun sets.
      • The author uses the term “panting” to illustrate the sun’s daily journey. The sun is eager to reach the “sunset.”
      • But nothing changes. Each day is the same; the sun rises, and the sun sets.
    • The author then describes the wind.
      • He isn’t giving a lesson in atmospheric physics.
      • The wind is in constant motion, following cycles that man can’t understand.
      • John 3:8a – The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.
      • The author’s point is that the wind is constantly moving and changing directions, yet it is still the wind.
      • We can hear it, feel it, and see its effects, but over the life of the earth, it hasn’t changed.
    • The author now describes the water cycle, which sustains life on the earth.
      • According to scientists, 97% of all the water on the earth is in the oceans.
      • The interaction between the sun and wind makes evaporation possible, leading to the transport of moisture and circulating the water.
      • But the sea never changes. Rivers and rain send water into the oceans, but they remain the same.
    • When we consider the earth, sky, winds, and waters, the same conclusion is reached. There is motion, but nature doesn’t change.
      • This is the first point in the author’s discourse that life is monotonous and not worth living.
      • But that is only true if you look at life “under the sun” and leave God out of the equation.
        • When we do that, we see a closed system that is uniform and predictable.
        • It’s a world with no answers to prayer and no miracles.
        • A God in this kind of world can’t act on our behalf because He is imprisoned inside the “laws of nature.”
      • But we know that God does exist “under the sun.”
        • He hears and answers prayers.
        • God has acted “inside” nature to alter the normal physical laws.
          • Joshua 10:12-13 – On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the Lord in the presence of Israel: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” 13 And the sun stood still and the moon stopped until the nation took vengeance on its enemies. Isn’t this written in the Book of Jashar? So the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed its setting almost a full day.
          • Isaiah 38:7-8 – This is the sign to you from the Lord that He will do what He has promised: I am going to make the sun’s shadow that goes down on Ahaz’s stairway go back by 10 steps.” So the sun’s shadow went back the 10 steps it had descended.
          • God opened the Red Sea and the Jordan River for Israel; Exodus 14 and Joshua 3-4.
          • God turned off the rain for Elijah – 1 Kings 17.
          • God turned on the rain – James 5:17-18 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.
          • Jesus (God the Son) calmed the wind and the waves – Mark 4:37-41 – A fierce windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking over the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But He was in the stern, sleeping on the cushion. So they woke Him up and said to Him, “Teacher! Don’t You care that we’re going to die?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still!” The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 Then He said to them, “Why are you fearful?  Do you still have no faith?” 41 And they were terrified  and asked one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey Him!”
          • God will use the forces of nature to bring terror and judgment to people – Revelation 6.
        • When we come to faith through the sacrifice of Jesus and become part of God’s spiritual family, we no longer live in a “closed system” of endless monotony.
          • We can joyfully sing, “This is my Father’s world.”
          • God meets all of our needs. Matthew 6:25-34 – This is why I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? 27 Can any of you add a single cubit to his height by worrying? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? Learn how the wildflowers of the field grow: they don’t labor or spin thread. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these! 30 If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t He do much more for you—you of little faith? 31 So don’t worry, saying,‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. 34 Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
          • As Christians, we live in this world as pilgrims, not as prisoners. Therefore, we should live with joy and confidence.
  • Looking at verses eight through eleven, we see that there is nothing new.
    • This may not have troubled the original readers of this letter. However, in the context of our modern world, where we believe there is constant “change,” this revelation may jolt us.
      • Modern science has provided us with electronics, medical advancements, wonder drugs, and extraordinary means of travel.
      • Advancements in education have also uncovered many hidden truths.
    • In this section, the author stopped being a scientist and transitioned to the role of a historian.
      • Man desires new things.
        • The world ultimately brings boredom, and people desire new things to distract or deliver them.
        • They are like the Athenians in Paul’s day, spending time either telling or hearing new things. Acts 17:21 – Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new
        • Yet, this still leaves people unsatisfied.
        • The entertainment industry thrives off of this desire for “newness,” and takes advantage of it to reap a great profit.
        • As Augustine prayed, “our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”
        • Matthew 11:28 – Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
      • The world provides nothing new.
        • A quote from Dr. H.A. Ironside, a longtime pastor at Chicago’s Moody Church, says, “If it’s new, it’s not true; and if it’s true, it’s not new.”
        • If something is purported to be new, it is actually a restructuring of something old.
        • Man can’t create anything new because we are a creature and not the Creator.
        • Thomas Edison said his inventions were “bringing out the secrets of nature and applying them for the happiness of mankind.”
        • Only God can create new things.
          • When we enter God’s spiritual family. 2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.
          • We walk in newness. Romans 6:4 – Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life.
          • We sing a new song. Psalm 40:3a – He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
          • We enter God’s presence through a new and living way. Hebrews 10:20 – by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh).
          • We will enjoy a new heaven and earth. Revelation 21:1 – Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed.
          • God will make everything new. Revelation 21:5a – Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.”
        • The author wrote about the basic principles of life and not methods. A simple saying reflects this concept. Methods are many; principles are few. Methods always change, but principles never do.
  • As we look back on this passage, we should realize that it is not a contradiction to the Gospel but rather a call for it.
    • The world is in bondage.
    • Humanity is not able to explain, be satisfied, or change it.
    • Only Jesus, who came from “above the sun,” can give understanding and escape.
      • Jesus has done a new thing.
      • He has created a new covenant.
      • He has given a new birth and life.
      • He has given a new commandment.
    • Everything else is old and passing away.
  • The sum of futility in placing our hope in the world is captured in Matthew 16:26a – What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life?


  • Don’t chase after “worldly” goals or items. As the author of Ecclesiastes writes, it’s all futile. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work; Scripture commands us to work. But our work is a means to glorify God and not pursue materialism. 
  • Don’t chase after fame or recognition. Live a life of obedience to God and His commands. A person may be famous or infamous but live a life of unrighteousness and spend eternity in hell. It may not satisfy our human wants, but living a life of anonymity, and after dying, hearing the words, “well done, good and faithful servant,” should be our goal.
  • Our only satisfaction and fulfillment in this life are found in being an obedient follower of Christ. John 10:10b – I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance. A life outside of obedience to Christ is a life that will leave us unfulfilled and frustrated.

3 John Lesson

3 John – Praise for Faithful Service and a Warning About Prideful Action

The Elder: 

To my dear friend Gaius: I love you in the truth. 

Dear friend, I pray that you may prosper in every way and be in good health physically just as you are spiritually. For I was very glad when some brothers came and testified to your faithfulness to the truth—how you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 

Dear friend, you are showing faithfulness by whatever you do for the brothers, especially when they are strangers. They have testified to your love in front of the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God, since they set out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from pagans. Therefore, we ought to support such men so that we can be coworkers with the truth. 

I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have first place among them, does not receive us. 10 This is why, if I come, I will remind him of the works he is doing, slandering us with malicious words. And he is not satisfied with that! He not only refuses to welcome the brothers himself, but he even stops those who want to do so and expels them from the church. 

11 Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. 12 Demetrius has a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. And we also testify for him, and you know that our testimony is true. 

13 I have many things to write you, but I don’t want to write to you with pen and ink. 14 I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. 

Peace be with you. The friends send you greetings. Greet the friends by name. (HCSB)

I’ll divide this lesson into four parts.

  • John’s greeting – verses 1-4.
  • John’s commendation of Gaius – verses 5-8.
  • John’s condemnation of Diotrephes and commendation of Demetrius – verses 9-12.
  • John’s farewell – verses 13-14.

John’s Greeting

The basic theme of this section is: When believers walk in the truth, they bring joy to Christian friends and mentors.

John begins this letter with the same title he used in 2 John, “elder.” We don’t know much about the recipient of this letter, Gaius, but we can infer several things from the context of the letter.

  • John clearly loved Gaius, as he used the phrase “dear friend” four times in the letter. The English rendering of the original Greek weakens the intent behind the phrase. It conveys a feeling of deep agape love that John has for Gaius.
  • From the context of the letter, it is likely that Gaius is wealthy as he is well-known for his hospitality to traveling believers.
  • Since John mentioned in verse four that he receives great joy when his children walk in the truth, it is likely that Gaius was one of John’s converts.
  • Gaius may have been ill since John was praying for his physical health to be as good as his spiritual health.

John now goes on to praise Gaius for his conduct in the church and toward other believers.

  • Gaius was recognized by others for his faithful conduct.
  • He obeyed God’s Word.
  • He walked in the truth.
  • What made Gaius’ life a good testimony?
    • He walked in truth, God’s Word.
    • He meditated on the Word.
    • He practiced it in his daily life.
  • Gaius’ life was wrapped in the truth.
    • True living comes from living truth.
    • Jesus is the truth. John 14:6 – Jesus told him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
    • Jesus is revealed in God’s Word, which is God’s truth. John 17:17 – Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.
    • The Holy Spirit is truth. 1 John 5:6 – Jesus Christ—He is the One who came by water and blood, not by water only, but by water and by blood. And the Spirit is the One who testifies,  because the Spirit is the truth.
    • Jesus teaches us the truth.
    • The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to reveal the Son of God. This, in turn, enables us to obey the will of God and walk in truth.
  • Gaius was faithful in what he believed, and he was faithful in how he lived.
  • Loyalty to Christ and the Gospel marked his life.
  • John then says he has no greater joy than hearing that one of his children is a faithful follower of Christ.
    • This was similar to how Paul talked about his converts. 
    • Anyone who has led a person to Christ is joyful when they hear the person is continuing to walk in faith and not drift away.

John’s Commendation of Gaius

The basic theme for this section is: Extending hospitality toward traveling missionaries brings God’s commendation. Believers should help missionaries work together for the truth.

John’s commendation of Gaius, which actually began in the introduction to this letter, now continues. Let’s take a closer look at why John was praising the actions of Gaius.

  • First, there is nothing to indicate that Gaius was a preacher.
  • It appears that Gaius was an enabler to those who were traveling evangelists.
    • We need to remember that during the first century, lodging was not plentiful, and what did exist was often associated with the darker habits of society.
    • John praises Gaius for his support to brothers who were “strangers.” The Greek term for a stranger would mean someone unknown or from another area; they weren’t native to the place they were visiting.
    • In 2 John, we learned of the importance of Christian hospitality.
      • In that letter, John warned against helping false teachers.
      • In this letter, John commends Gaius for showing hospitality to faithful ministers.
      • Gaius’ actions were an encouragement to both believers in general, as well as to the traveling evangelists.
    • The idea of hospitality is a challenge in today’s world because of violence and false teachers.
      • In the early church, traveling evangelists often carried letters of recommendation from their home church. An example is in Romans 16:1 – I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church in Cenchreae.
      • It is important that we know the background of those to which we may extend hospitality.
    • Not only did Gaius open his home to the evangelists, but he also provided financial assistance to them.
      • The term “send” doesn’t just mean wishing them well as they continue their journey.
      • The Greek term implies aid of some sort, most likely financial aid or food.
      • Gaius proved his faith through his works. James 2:14-16 – What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? 
    • Gaius’ actions also served as a witness to others.
      • Jesus taught that God’s servants deserve support. Luke 10:7 – Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they offer, for the worker is worthy of his wages. Don’t be moving from house to house.
      • However, John points out in verse seven that believers are to provide support, not pagans.
      • Consider Abraham’s response when the king of Sodom made an offering to him. Genesis 14:21-24 – Then the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people, but take the possessions for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand in an oath to Yahweh, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will not take a thread or sandal strap or anything that belongs to you, so you can never say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing except what the servants have eaten. But as for the share of the men who came with me—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre—they can take their share.”
      • Many churches make it clear at offering time that gifts from unbelievers are not expected. 
    • Gaius’ actions displayed obedience to God.
      • Those who receive spiritual blessings from those who preach should share their material blessings with the preacher. 1 Corinthians 9:11 – If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it too much if we reap material benefits from you?
      • Believers can support ministry endeavors outside their local church, but they should contribute a portion of their offerings to their local congregation.
    • Gaius was a coworker with the traveling evangelists.
      • Gaius received the truth.
      • Gaius walked in the truth.
      • Giaus was a coworker and helper to those spreading the truth.
      • Walking in the truth is the same as walking in love.
  • Unfortunately, not everyone in the church is a Gaius.

John’s Condemnation of Diotrephes and Commendation of Demetrius

There are two themes for this section is: 

  • Prideful people who slander and spread gossip oppose Christian hospitality.
  • We can recommend a person to other churches for hospitality and ministry when that person’s life supports God’s truth.

John now turns his attention to another church member, Diotrephes, who is the opposite of Gaius.As we take a deeper look at Diotrephes, I want us to think about how that looks in the church we attend, or maybe you’ve seen this same behavior in a previous church. Regardless of when or where you saw it, the behavior is an example of someone who operates on pride and wants to be the “boss,” often leaving a wake of bodies behind them as they go. Sometimes it can be the pastor, but often it is someone in a lower level of leadership within the church or a lay member who is trying to “empire build.”

  • It’s apparent from the context of John’s letter that Diotrephes was prideful.
  • We don’t know the position Diotrephes held, but it’s likely he was an elder because of the level of influence and control he had over the congregation.
  • What is clear is that Diotrephes shunned fellowship with one of the apostles, John.
  • Why would Diotrephes do this?
    • As previously mentioned, Diotrephes was a prideful and selfish individual.
      • These are two of Satan’s favorite tools to disrupt the church.
      • If John challenged or removed Diotrephes, then Satan would be the loser.
    • He placed himself before the preeminence of Christ.
    • John challenged his dictator-like actions.
    • John was a threat to the “authority” of Diotrephes in that local congregation.
    • John knew the truth about Diotrephes and was willing to expose his ungodly actions.
  • Diotrephes also lied about John.
    • He slandered John to the other church members.
    • It’s obvious from the context of the letter that Diotrephes had a circle of followers; otherwise, the congregation would have removed him from his position.
    • There are some people who will believe anything they hear about others without verifying whether it’s true or not.
    • This example reminds us of why we need to carefully weigh what others say and act on truth and not lies.
  • Not only did Diotrephes shun John, but he also rejected those associated with John.
    • Diotrephes treated John’s associates as “guilty by association.” 
    • It’s true that, as believers, we shouldn’t associate with certain groups of individuals.
      • Apostates – found in 2 Peter.
      • Alliances with unbelievers – 2 Corinthians 6:14-15.
      • Those who hold doctrinal positions that don’t agree with Scripture – Romans 16:17-19.
    • At the same time, there are doctrinal matters which don’t undermine the Gospel. We shouldn’t let those differences create discord in the body of Christ. Two examples:
      • The method of baptism.
      • Church government. 
    • We need to agree on the “majors,” the basic tenets of Christianity, and extend grace on the “minors.”
  • Diotrephes even went a step further than just rejecting John and his associates.
    • He disciplined those who disagreed with him.
    • Even though Diotrephes didn’t have the authority or the biblical basis for expelling those who disagreed with him, he still did it.
    • Scripture does contain instructions and examples of church discipline, which should be followed.
    • But church discipline is not a tool for a dictator to use to protect themself.
    • Church discipline is a tool for a congregation to use to promote purity and glorify God.
  • Diotrephes wanted to be served and not serve others.
  • It’s not difficult to identify church dictators.
    • They like to talk about themselves and what they’ve done for the Lord.
    • They have a habit of judging and condemning those who disagree with them.
    • They put labels on others and put them in categories.

John then switches the focus of his attention from Diotrephes to Demetrius. What a contrast between these two church members. Let’s take a closer look at Demetrius.

  • John warns his readers to imitate what is good, not to imitate what is evil.
    • Diotrephes represented evil. Those who practice evil don’t know God.
    • Demetrius represented good. Those who practice good belong to God.
  • We might ask if it’s ok to imitate a human leader. The answer is yes, as long as they are imitating Christ.
    • We can’t see God.
    • We can see God at work in the lives of His children.
  • Those who live a godly life dedicated to serving the Lord are an encouragement to fellow believers. Hebrews 10:24 – And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works.
  • Demetrius was a man worthy of imitating.
    • He had a good testimony from everyone.
    • He was well known.
    • He was well respected.
    • He was loved by the believers around him.
  • Not only did Demetrius have a good testimony from the believers in the church, but he also had a good witness from the truth, the Word.
    • Just like Gaius, Demetrius walked in truth.
    • He obeyed God’s Word.
    • Neither was perfect, but they were consistent in their lives by seeking to honor God.
  • Demetrius also had a good testimony from John.
    • John knew Demetrius had a good testimony from the church.
    • This aligned Demetrius with John, which would make Demetrius an enemy of Diotrephes.
  • Once John traveled to this church, there would be quite an alignment against Diotrephes.
    • There would be authority figures both from outside and inside this church to confront the actions of Diotrephes.
    • We don’t know the outcome, but the best solution is that Diotrephes would receive the rebuke, repent, and become a productive member of the congregation.

John’s Farewell

The theme for this section is: Personal friendship can be expressed through written means, but it is better expressed face to face.

John now concludes this letter in a manner similar to 2 John. It’s possible the format John used was the standard way to end letters in John’s time.

  • John planned to visit the church soon.
    • There is no indication of what “soon” might mean.
    • But it was likely an encouragement to both Gaius and Demetrius, as well as a veiled warning to Diotrephes.
  • John preferred to discuss things in person rather than through a letter.
  • Considering the turmoil that Diotrephes was causing in the church, John’s use of the phrase “peace be with you” must have been encouraging.
  • Those associated with John also sent their greetings.
  • John encouraged them to greet each other by name.


  • Open your home and assist others in ministry when you are able to do it. This can be challenging and uncomfortable at times, maybe all the time. However, Scripture instructs us to help one another in doing God’s work. When we assist others in ministry, we also receive a blessing in aiding their work.
  • When we do help others, don’t look to people for a reward. Our reward comes from God. Be content that what you are doing is “Kingdom work,” and don’t do it for public recognition.
  • Be careful that pride and temptations don’t cause you to fall away from the truth, especially if you occupy a position of leadership or influence. Our actions affect those around us, both positively and negatively.