The Search for Satisfaction

Series: The Search for Significance, Security, and Satisfaction

Sermon by David Strain on May 21, 2017

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Download Audio

Well, let me once again welcome you tonight. We are very glad that you are here. If you are a visitor, do please know that we have been praying for you and we’re especially pleased to see you with us. You might find that after the service you have some questions and you’d like to talk to someone about something that you have heard in some part or other of the service or in the sermon. Maybe tonight you’d like to simply listen and process as other people ask questions? We do have a light meal after the service available in Lowe Hall, behind me, and there will be an opportunity there for you to ask any question at all that you might have. We would really be delighted if you would consider joining us! The easiest way to get there is just to exit through this door to my left and then turn left and follow the corridor and you’ll find your way very easily. We would love it if you would come and be with us!

Alternatively, if you’re not able to join us but you’d still like to explore the Christian message a little further, you will find a panel in the bulletin that you can fill out. You can tear it off, you can leave it in the baskets at the exits as you leave tonight, and we will get in touch with you that way. Now tonight we are concluding a short series of three sermons looking at some of the things for which the human heart is searching. And so a few weeks ago we considered the search for significance. Do we want to know what we are for? Why are we here? Why we matter? The search for significance. Then last time, we thought together about the search for security. We want to feel like we belong and that we are safe. The search for significance; then the search for security. Now tonight we are considering the search for satisfaction. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones famously sang about it. Didn’t he? Even the younger members of our congregation know this song I am sure. “I can’t get no satisfaction,” he said. That is the confession, I suspect, of very many of us still. Actually, in a 1975 interview for People magazine, Jagger would go on to say, “I’d rather be dead than singing, ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m forty-five.” I think he’s what – seventy-three now? And he’s still singing “Satisfaction!” There’s a certain poetry and irony there! It sort of fits, after all. Satisfaction is elusive, but it is something we all long for. We’re not really that surprised, are we, that Jagger is still singing about it or that his song continues to be popular after all these years. We are still searching for satisfaction right along with him.

And as we consider the theme, I want to ask you if you would take a copy of the Scriptures in your hands and turn to one place where this theme is addressed particularly. Turn with me in your Bibles to page 553 and to the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 1. We’re going to read the first eleven verses of chapter 1, but I want to walk through various sections of the book. Mainly we’ll be in chapters 1 and 2, but there will be a few others places as well, and so it will be helpful to you to have a Bible in your hands and to keep it open as we go through the evening together. Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1 – Solomon’s search for the elusive heart-satisfaction for which his heart and ours are all seeking. Before we read the passage together, first of all, would you bow your heads with me as we pray together?

Father, Your Word is open before us. We pray that our hearts would also be opened by Your Spirit to its truth, that You would give us teachability and receptivity and give to us more. Give us the grace of saving faith, that as we acknowledge and recognize that under the sun there is no satisfaction to be found. And would You draw us to Jesus Christ who alone truly satisfies, who is the Bread of Life, which, if we will come to Him, will satisfy that we might never hunger again? For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

Ecclesiastes chapter 1 at verse 1. This is God’s Word:

“The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

 

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits, the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been, is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.”

Amen, and we thank God for His Holy Word.

Written by Solomon, son of David, King of Israel, he calls himself the preacher there in verses 1 and 2, the book of Ecclesiastes is the search for Solomon’s quest to find satisfaction for the deep longings of his heart. If you read it over – you can do it, it’s not long, you can do it in about twenty, maybe twenty-five minutes – if you read over Ecclesiastes you’ll notice it has almost a confessional air. The band, U2, wrote a song for Johnny Cash called, “The Wanderer,” in which Cash sounds a lot like Solomon. Listen to this. “I went out there in search of experience to taste and to touch and to feel as much as a man can before he repents.” That reads almost as if it had come straight out of the book of Ecclesiastes. It is the confession of a man who has learned the hard way about the empty promises that all the bright, shiny objects of the world’s desire make to us.

And notice how Solomon begins in verse 2. Would you look there with me, please? Verse 2, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” Now that last phrase, “under the sun,” is something of a key. It really helps us understand Solomon’s perspective as he is writing. He is retelling his story of trying to find a satisfied life under the sun. He has set himself to look for satisfaction in a world beyond which there is nothing higher than the sun in the sky, a world where there is little transcendent, nothing more. If this world and this life are all there is, if life is under the sun and that’s all, well then, where can meaning and purpose, satisfaction and contentment be found?

And Solomon tells us his conclusion, his answer to that question at the very beginning of his book. Doesn’t he? Here’s what he discovers as he wrestles with that great question. He says, “All is vanity of vanities.” The Hebrew word, vanity, there, “hebel,” it really means something like, it means something fleeting like mist; something insubstantial and inconsequential. It bears no weight! It doesn’t change the landscape. It’s here for a moment and then it’s gone! And still, things go on much as they always have. That’s life under the sun, Solomon says. That’s life in a world where the world is all there is. It’s “hebel;” it’s mist, vapor, vanity, mist. It’s fleeting, insubstantial. And notice the string of illustrations that he uses to drive that point home in these opening verses. In verses 4 to 7, generations, he says, “come and go and the earth remains the same. The sun rises, and sets” and then it does it all over again. The wind blows round and round and round. Rivers flow into the sea, the sea never overflows, the water evaporates, falls on the mountains, and it runs back into the sea. And it does it all over again and all over again – wash, rinse, repeat. That’s life, he says. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Which means, verse 9, that “there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it is said, ‘See, this is new?’ It has been already in the ages past.” Parents of teenagers you have this experience on a regular basis. They think they’ve discovered the latest thing and you have a knowing smile. Do you remember saying precisely the same thing about something that looked awfully similar when you were the same age? And so as he puts it in verse 8, all things are full of weariness. A man cannot utter it. “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” It’s all so very dissatisfying, he says. “The eye isn’t satisfied with seeing; the ear is not filled with hearing.” If my senses, if the material world with which my senses interact is all there is, why am I never satisfied? Why isn’t the material world enough?

It’s as though, he were saying, it’s as though we are built with a thirst for more than life under the sun, more than life under the sun could ever hope to quench or satisfy. Now that’s the problem with which Solomon is wrestling in this book. And really all I want to do in the time that’s left to us tonight is to consider some of the places in Ecclesiastes where he turned in his search for satisfaction under the sun. There are four of them, in particular, I want to mention. And then at the end, I want us to think together about where true satisfaction is ultimately located. Okay, so four places where we often look for but never find satisfaction. And then the only place, the one place where the satisfaction we really need is available to us.

Looking for Satisfaction in Wisdom

So first of all the four places, we look for but never find satisfaction. And the first place Solomon looks for satisfaction is to wisdom. He looks to wisdom. Verse 12 of chapter 1, “I applied my heart to seek out and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven.” But look where it takes him. Verses 17 and 18, “I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceive that this also is but a striving after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” Trying to find satisfaction in wisdom is like chasing the wind. You never can catch it. It always alludes you. All you’re left with, he says, is vexation and sorrow. To be sure, in chapter 2 verse 13, he says “Wisdom is more desirable than folly.” Verse 14 of chapter 2, “The wise person has eyes in his head but the fool walks in darkness.” It’s better to understand how things work, how to navigate the challenges of life with some skill than to blunder blindly along without much thought. That’s true enough!

Wisdom Ultimately Dissatisfying

But look at chapter 2 verses 15 to 17. When he realizes that for all his hard work gaining wisdom, death waits for him just like it waits for the fool, he concludes, “How the wise dies just like the fool, so I hated life because what is done under the sun was grievous to me. For all are vanity and a striving after the wind.” Recently I came across some words written by Leonard Woolf, the husband of Virginia Woolf. He was a publicist and a political theorist and an author. And here’s how he talked about his life’s work looking back over years of scholarship and the pursuit of worldly wisdom. “I see clearly that I have achieved practically nothing. The world today and the history of the human anthill during the past five to seven years have been exactly the same as it is if I had played ping pong instead of sitting on committees and writing books and memoranda. I have, therefore, to make a rather ignominious confession that I must have in a long life ground through between a hundred and fifty thousand and two hundred thousand hours of perfectly useless work.” The pursuit of wisdom under the sun has some practical value, to be sure, but it proves frustratingly dissatisfying in the end.

Looking for Satisfaction in Pleasure

So then Solomon turns, in the second place, to the pursuit of satisfaction in pleasure. First he tries wisdom; next, he tries pleasure. Look back at the beginning of chapter 2 for a moment. “I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure. Enjoy yourself.’” That’s a familiar line for someone in any age, particularly on our own, to tell themselves. Does it sound familiar to you? “Come on, live a little! Enjoy yourself for a while. You deserve it!” Having tried wisdom, now he tries hedonism.

Laughter

And so first of all, he gives himself, verse 2, to laughter. We often say laughter is the best medicine, don’t we, but it can also be cruel. And in the end, while it can offer temporary relief, laughter can’t really heal much at all. Proverbs 14 verse 13, “Even in laughter the heart may ache and the end of joy may be grief.” Haven’t you found that to be true? “Even in laughter, the heart may ache and the end of joy may be grief.” Laughter is a gift of God but it can also become cynical. Proverbs 26:18-19, “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and then says, ‘I’m only joking.’” So Solomon says of laughter, “it is mad, and of pleasure, what use is it.”

Drink

And then next, as he pursues pleasure, he tries drink. Verse 3 of chapter 2, “I searched with my heart how to cheer myself with wine.” Like laughter, the Bible teaches that alcohol is a gift from God to be used wisely in moderation. “Go, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart,” Ecclesiastes 9 verse 7, “for God has already approved what you do.” Or chapter 10 verse 19, “Bread is made for laughter and wine for gladness. Wine gladdens life.” But alcohol can also be a poison and an enslaving tyrant. “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eye? Those who tarry long over wine” – Proverbs 23:29-30.

Some of you know that my own family has bitter and painful experience of the enslaving and destructive power of alcohol. My mother drank herself to death; my father almost did the same thing. And today, you can see in his prematurely wizened frame, the effects of long, secret addiction. We can lose ourselves or we can try to lose ourselves. That’s why some of us drink! We drink to hide from life. We can drink to satisfy a longing we think nothing else can reach. But the truth is, the more we give ourselves to it, the more we discover how much more we still need and the less satisfied we become.

Sex

So Solomon tries laughter, he tries drink, next in his pursuit of pleasure he tries sex. Look at verse 8. He got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delights of the sons of men. He gives himself to the beauty of music and to the illicit joys of sex. 1 Kings chapter 11 verse 3 actually tells us that Solomon had a thousand sexual partners available to him in his harem. Wine, women, and song really is a decent summary of Solomon’s quest for satisfaction at this point in his life. And his approach here isn’t really all that unfamiliar to us. Is it? Sex, in our day, has become a commodity. Like a new pair of sneakers, we can buy without consequence online. We may not have a thousand sexual partners in a harem, but pornography makes the unlimited gratification of sexual appetite a matter just of a few clicks of a mouse. Sex has become a throwaway product, disposable like an empty Styrofoam cup, to be used up and discarded until the next partner.

The Dark Side of Sex

But while Hollywood depicts our sex-obsessed culture as finally enlightened and liberated, there is a dark side. Zack Eswine quotes one woman’s confession. In the course of her search for fulfillment, she had had multiple sexual partners but she lost herself along the way. She indulged in sex with men, she said, listen to this, “wanting it to make me matter to them. Wanting it to make me matter.” You hear the pain in that acknowledgment, can’t you? She learned through sorry experience that sex when it’s torn from God’s purpose and context in marriage does not free us or fulfill us after all. It enslaves us and it leaves us hollow. She was looking for satisfaction and she lost herself.

Looking for Satisfaction in Work

So Solomon sought his satisfaction in wisdom, in pleasure, then thirdly, he turned for satisfaction to work. Look at chapter 2 verses 4 to 6. “I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees.” Notice carefully the plurals – houses, vineyards, gardens, parks, trees, and pools. The scope of his vision is enormous. And he says in verse 10 that, “my heart found pleasure in all my toil. And this was my reward for all my toil.” He worked hard to realize his grand architectural vision and it was all enormously satisfying to him for a time. To paraphrase Solomon’s point, the work itself, as many an artist in generations after him have put it, the work itself is its own reward.

But those of us who enjoy our work and give ourselves to the pursuit of excellence at work will quickly admit that if we’re not careful our work has a way of taking over. It begins to play on our minds. It keeps us on edge. We wake up at night worrying about our work. We go on vacation; we take our work with us. We can’t be away from our phones in case work needs us. That’s our language, isn’t it? “In case work needs us.” I think it’s a revealing way to phrase it? Does work need us? We’ve just confessed we no longer find work satisfying us; instead, we have to satisfy work.

And Solomon knows how you feel. Look at chapter 2, verses 20-23. Chapter 2:20-23, “I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow and his work is a vexation.” This has a familiar, contemporary ring, doesn’t it? “Even in the night, his heart does not rest.” There’s a search for satisfaction here in wisdom, in pleasure, in work. Each of them coming up empty and making him empty.

Looking for Satisfaction in Possessions

Then finally there’s the search for satisfaction in possessions. Look at chapter 2 verses 7 and 8. “I bought male and female slaves and had slaves who were born in my house. I also had great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces.” He was fabulously wealthy. Whether you reckon that wealth in terms of people and livestock or money. And yet, if you’ll turn over to chapter 5 verses 10 to 12, chapter 5 verses 10 to 12, notice what he says. All his riches and all his possessions notwithstanding, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money nor will he who loves wealth be satisfied with his income. This also is vanity. When goods increase they increase who eat them. And what advantage has the owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much. But the fool’s stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.” As Paul puts it similarly in 1 Timothy 6:10, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” It’s fascinating language, isn’t it? A craving. The love of money generating a craving that pierces us with many pangs.

All of that simply to say there is no satisfaction, not ultimate, final satisfaction to be found in our possessions. And so at the end of his quest, Solomon writes over all of these things, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity! It’s a chasing after the wind. A life lived under the sun, seeking satisfaction when this is all there is, is such an empty thing.” Haven’t you found that to be true in your pursuit of these things – wisdom and pleasure, wealth, possessions, work? The more you devote yourself to getting them, the more they seem to take from you. The more you look to them to find your satisfaction. The more you find you are seeking to satisfy them and they are leaving you empty.

Some of you will have read Douglas Adams’, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In one scene, Adams tells us about the supercomputer, Deep Thought. It has been working on one very specific problem in the storyline. It’s been working on a problem for seven and a half million years. It is the answer to life, the universe, and everything. And after seven and a half million years of careful calculation and checking his answers and computations, the computer Deep Thought finally spits out the answer. Here it is. The meaning of life, the universe, and everything. It says, “Forty-two.” “Forty-two!” someone yells at the computer. “Is that all you’ve got to show for seven and a half million years of work?” “I checked it very thoroughly,” Deep Thought replies, “and that, quite definitely, is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never really known what the question is.”

The Problem With Looking for Satisfaction Under the Sun

Isn’t that insightful? That is the issue Solomon wants us to face. When you look for satisfaction under the sun, you’re looking in the wrong place; you’re asking the wrong question. No wonder the answers fail to satisfy. And while, if you read it through, you will see that Ecclesiastes does hint here and there at the right place to look for satisfaction, in the end, we really do have to look elsewhere in the Bible for the full picture. For example, the prophet Isaiah helps us a little in the fifty-fifth chapter of his book. We read it together as our call to worship at the beginning of our service. God speaks to Israel in language that sounds almost like He was answering Solomon’s fruitless search for satisfaction in Ecclesiastes very directly. Listen again to Isaiah 55 at verse 1, “Come everyone who thirsts,” God says, “Come to the waters and he who has no money, come buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk without money and without a price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me,” God says, “and eat what is good. Delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear and come to me.” You see what He’s saying? Satisfaction can be found. You can find satisfaction after all but not under the sun. It is found, rather, in the One who put the sun in its place.

The Ultimate Source of Satisfaction

But there’s more. In John’s gospel, chapter 6 verse 35, Jesus picks up on God’s language through the prophet Isaiah that we’ve just been reading together as God offers Israel truly satisfying bread – that is, a relationship with Himself. And Jesus, picking up on that language, makes an amazing claim. Are you listening to this? John 6:35, Jesus says to those who were before Him, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to Me shall not hunger. And whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” That’s stunning, isn’t it? Stunning. Jesus, like Solomon, is the son of David. He is David’s heir. But with Jesus’ coming, as He Himself puts it in Matthew 12:42, a greater than Solomon is here. You see, unlike Solomon, Jesus is also the one who spoke through Isaiah. He is the Lord who invites us to come to Him and to eat the bread that truly satisfies and drink the water that will quench our soul thirst forever. Jesus knows where you can find satisfaction after all. He says you can find it in Him. “Whoever comes to Me shall not hunger. Whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.”

Here’s the point! It’s not hard to see. If your heart is hungry and thirsty, Jesus is addressing you. He’s calling you! Has life left you empty? Wisdom and learning haven't done it. Pleasures can’t do it! Wealth leaves you hollow. The truth is, you’ve been looking in all the wrong places, haven’t you? It’s all as meaningless as “forty-two.” “Vanity of vanities; chasing the wind.” Isn’t it time to look elsewhere, not under the sun anymore? But instead, to look to Jesus Christ. He is satisfaction! He is the Bread of Life. Get Him and never be hungry again! “Whoever believes in Me will never hunger. Whoever comes to Me shall never hunger and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst. Believe in Me!” He’s saying to you tonight. “Believe in Me! Trust Me! Trust Me and I will satisfy. You will never thirst again!”

We’re all on a quest for satisfaction. We’re all built for more than life under the sun can ever possibly supply. We are built, we are built, you are built to know Jesus Christ. He is the missing piece without which you will always feel hollow and empty. He alone answers your heart need. He satisfies. Come to Him. Let’s pray together!

Our Father, many of us can identify with Solomon’s search. We’ve looked in all sorts of places to try to find satisfaction and sometimes we think we’ve found it. And for a season, our hearts are full. But then after a while, the cisterns from which we have been drinking run dry and we are left as thirsty as ever we were. We know we’ve been looking for satisfaction under the sun. Would You help us to give it up as a fruitless quest? Instead to hear You coming to us with satisfaction, not under the sun but satisfaction offered in the hands of the One who placed the sun in its place in our skies. Would You help us to come to the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Bread of Life that we may feast on Him, take Him for ourselves, find Him to be the only truly satisfying, eternally satisfying answer? So we come to Him. We bend our knees to Him, and we ask that for His sake You would look on us in mercy and receive us. For we ask it in His name, amen.

© 2017 First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.