Too Much Pain, Too Little Gain

What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?
–Ecclesiastes 1:3

The supposed meaninglessness of life has been a constant refrain throughout history. In his poem “Choruses from ‘The Rock,’” T. S. Eliot asked, “Where is the life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.”

More recently, writer Bryan Appleyard typified the kind of despair many people feel when he said, “We are a thin film of thought confined to a narrow band around an undistinguished planet orbiting a pretty average star.” Appleyard was simply echoing what Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon said life on this earth is meaningless, and to try to find purpose in life apart from God is like chasing after the wind. That is the theme of the book of Ecclesiastes.

Last week, we saw that in Solomon’s early life, he was very devoted to God. But he allowed money and pleasure to lead him away from God, and he spent his life following after worthless pursuits. At the end of his life, he came to this conclusion: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (1:2). The Hebrew word for “vanity” actually means “vapor” or “breath.” Commentator Derek Kidner described this word as “a wisp of vapour, a puff of wind, a mere breath–nothing you could get your hands on; the nearest thing to zero.”

According to Solomon, life is meaningless, the nearest thing to zero. But remember, you have to add the phrase “under the sun,” because that is the perspective Solomon was writing from: a human vantage point. It is only when we get to chapter 12 that we look at life from above the sun–that is, from God’s perspective.

Solomon stated his conclusion that life apart from God is meaningless, and starting in Ecclesiastes 1:3 he gave us evidence for his conclusion: “What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?” In the Old Testament, that word translated as “advantage” is unique to Ecclesiastes. It literally means “profit.” Solomon was a bottom-line kind of guy, so he took the business concept of profit and applied it to life under the sun. He was saying, “Is there really any profit that comes from living? Do the good things really exceed the bad things in life?” And he seems to imply that the answer is no–at least, not under the sun.


Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Too Much Pain, Too Little Gain” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2009.

T. S. Eliot, “Choruses from ‘The Rock,’” in “T. S. Eliot: The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909-1950” (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1971), 96; Bryan Appleyard, “Nature in Its Infinite Power Asks an Awkward Question,” The Times, January 2, 2005,; Derek Kidner, “The Message of Ecclesiastes,” The Bible Speaks Today, ed. J. A. Motyer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984), 22.

Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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