Ecclesiastes 4-6: Introduction – Letter 13 – 4 Ways Men Seek Meaning in Labor

Let’s briefly get back into perspective with the whole book as far as we’ve studied it.


(“The Preacher”)

Theme:  Search for Meaning in Labor and Life

CHAPTER 1: Introduction

CHAPTERS 2-2: Personal Experiences

CHAPTERS 4-6:  Counteracting Errors

As the outline shows, this third section is the one in which Solomon attempts to counteract various errors which people have.  Solomon never tries to counteract every single possible error; that would be impossible.  People seek for meaning in an endless host of pursuits.  Rather, he takes samples from four main areas of life and from here on we can take the principles which he gives us and apply them anywhere else in life.  These four areas of life are enough to teach us not to seek for meaning in life apart from God.  If we haven’t caught the message by then, we never will!

People try to find meaning in labor and in life in four main areas, apart from God.  We’ll write one introductory paragraph on each area.

First, many people labor with the goal of PLEASING PEOPLE, of seeking their approval.  This seldom, if ever, works, does it?  Most people are, by nature, out for themselves, and so they seldom approve of other people unless it “pays” for them to approve of the other.  Yet the error of seeking meaning to labor in this way is so common that Solomon gives four examples of it to show how vain this way of life is.  His four examples are:

Example 1:  People who live under OPPRESSORS and who can find no comforters.

Example 2:  People who labor well but with the goal of PUBLIC APPROVAL.

Example 3:  People who live SELFISHLY.

Example 4:  People who seek HIGH OFFICE.

We’ll study these four examples one at a time in our next four letters.

The second erroneous area of seeking meaning seems at first to be in recognition of God, but as we learn on closer study, is rather in service of an IDOL GOD, a false god of one’s own making.  Because their god is of their own making, not the true God, they actually still labor “under the sun,” apart from God.  Their error is in seeking to manipulate God to serve their own secular goals rather than in fearing Him for what He really is.

The third area of error is in laboring for SOCIAL POWER.  Solomon will illustrate how futile this is by showing that it fails due to two weaknesses: (1) people are fickle and easily change allegiances; and (2) the person seeking power also changes once he gains the power and loses the abilities which originally brought him to the office.

The fourth foolish area of seeking meaning apart from God is the most common of all:  laboring to be RICH.  Solomon thoroughly slashes riches as a goal, showing that they never satisfy, they often do real harm to the person, they cannot be enjoyed, and they are fleeting at their very best.  He does point out, too, that material things have a proper place and that we may use with pleasure what God gives us if we use them for God, not out of love for riches themselves.

The last three verses of chapter six draw us to the only conclusion which this section as well as the whole first half of the book has taught us:  labor wherever you will, nothing will satisfy apart from God and you had better not attempt to ignore or refute God!

May God help us never to set our goals on any earthly attainments apart from Him, but rather to walk one step at a time, by faith, wherever He leads us.

“Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go;

Anywhere He leads me in this world below!

Anywhere, without Him, dearest joys would fade.

Anywhere, with Jesus, I am not afraid!”



  1. What is the first erroneous way of seeking meaning in life without God (Chapter 4)?
  2. What is the second erroneous way of seeking meaning in life without God (Chapter 5:1-7)?
  3. What is the third way (Chapter 5:8-9)?
  4. What is the fourth way (Chapter 5:10-6:9)?