What we want in life #6
"I want my life to have meaning"
Ecclesiastes 2:10 & Luke 10:25-28
1. Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz spent the entire summer driving 10,000 miles
across America in a rented car. In 30 states they interviewed 1,000 people
asking them just one question: What is the meaning of life? Those they
asked were amazingly responsive and willing to talk. They ranged from young to
old, blue-collar workers to CEOs, residents of Boston, Atlanta, Chicago,
Portland and a whole lot of other places in between. The answers became the
basis for their very readable book, Search for the Meaning of Life (Bruce
Bickel & Stan Jantz, Search for the Meaning of Life, Nashville: Word
2. The answers were not always what might be expected. Virtually no one
defined the meaning of life in terms of money, possessions, power or success.
Those who did were careful to say that all these things were to be used to
benefit others not ourselves.
3. There were many people who just didnít know. They did not have
meaning to their lives. Interestingly, the interviewers found that those who
didnít know were pretty evenly divided between religious people and
non-religious people. Maybe itís just that some people arenít good at
answering questions but it does seem that being religious doesnít necessarily
mean that you can articulate why you are alive.
4. One interview was with the owner of a successful high-tech business in
Portland, Oregon. The interviewers said, "There was intensity and
pressure in the air throughout the office as deals were being made and business
was transacted. But behind the closed door of his private office, this business
owner was still and somber. We had just asked him this question: ĎWhat is the
meaning of life?í" (Bickel & Jantz, page 204).
At first this businessman refused to answer the question. Then he told what had
happened to him a week earlier:
"I was having my annual physical. Just when I
thought the doctor had finished, he said he had one more question for me, ĎAre
you doing what you were put on earth to do?í I couldnít give him an answer.
I just cried."
5. We all want our lives to count for something. We want to live for a
reason. We want to matter. We want to make a difference. On the day we die we
want our lives to have meaning.
6. If Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz had interviewed you, how would you have
answered the question: What is the meaning of life? More
personally, what is the meaning of your life?
I. Solomonís frustration Ecclesiastes 2:10
1. We donít get much help from one of the wisest men who ever lived.
His name was Solomon and he was a very frustrated wise man.
2. Solomon lived about 3000 years ago. He was the king of Israel when that
nation reached its economic and political peak. Because of the military
successes of his father David, Solomon ruled during a period of peace. His army
was strong enough to protect the nation from any aggressor. It was a period of
enormous prosperity when Solomon became one of the wealthiest men in the world.
He was a renaissance man long before the Renaissance. He was into art,
literature, botany, philosophy, politics and religion. He was renowned for his
wisdomóphilosophers and monarchs traveled the world to come and hear what he
had to say. Relationally he was a major polygamist with a thousand wives and
concubinesómost acquired as a way to seal political treaties with other
Some would say that he "had it all." Fame. Fortune. Culture.
Relationships. Sex. Power. If anyone should easily answer the question about the
meaning of life Solomon is our man.
3. Solomon wrote a philosophical treatise that found its way into the Jewish
Old Testament and therefore into our English Bible. It is called the book of
Ecclesiastes. It is Solomonís long answer to the meaning-of-life question.
There should be a sense of anticipation because his answer should be the final
word. Hereís what Solomon wrote:
The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: "Meaningless!
Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is
4. To document his perspective on the meaninglessness of life he wrote a
chapter on each meaningless pursuit of his life. If you have a Bible like
mine it contains short subject headings. Take a look:
Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 Everything is meaningless
Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 Wisdom is meaningless
Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 Pleasures are meaningless
Ecclesiastes 2:17-26 Toil is meaningless
Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12 Riches are meaningless
5. What a total bummer! This guy had it all and tried it all and summed
up everything as zero. He is like some modern superstars who get everything they
are after and end up deeply disappointed with life.
6. All of this is to say that the search for meaning may not be satisfied by
looking in the usual places. Have you ever really wanted something and then
been deeply disappointed when you finally got it? At least from Solomonís
experience, all the big successes of life donít make life meaningful. He tried
it all and came up empty. There must be a better answer.
II. Lawyerís question Luke 10:25
1. A lawyer once asked the meaning question in a different way.
2. Luke 10:25
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.
"Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal
3. It sounds like this lawyer was less than sincere. It was a testótesting
and tricking more than asking and seeking. Thatís okay; some people are like
that. In most ways, it doesnít much matter. At least he was talking to Jesus
and at least he was asking. It was a good question regardless of his motives.
4. When he asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life it sounds like he was
trying to get himself written into Godís will so he could live forever. But,
thereís more to it than that. The original words in the New Testament for
"eternal life" literally mean "the life of the ages." Itís
true that eternal life lasts forever but that is not its main feature. The main
feature of eternal life is that it is the life of eternity. Itís the
"good life; the meaningful life." It is much more about quality than
Compare this to a foreigner seeking to become an American. I have
talked with many citizens of other countries trying to get a visa, a Green Card
and eventual citizenship. It is the American way of life they seek. The visa,
Green Card or citizenship are really the means to seek and seize the opportunity
America affords. Here are jobs, freedom, affluence, education for children and
more. It is the quality of America they want. When they say they want
America they donít mean an American prison with a life sentence; they mean the
very best America has to offer.
5. When the lawyer asked Jesus how to get eternal life he didnít mean
living forever in hell. He meant getting the good life of heaven. He wanted
the life of God. He wanted a life that meant something.
6. While he used different words than those used by the two researchers who
traveled America he could have asked Jesus the same question: What is the
meaning of life? Either way, Jesusí answer would be the same.
III. Jesusí answer Luke 10:26-28
1. Luke 10:26-28
"What is written in the Law?" Jesus replied. "How do you
The lawyer answered: "ĎLove the Lord your God with all your heart and
with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mindí ; and,
ĎLove your neighbor as yourself.í"
"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you
2. Do this and life will have meaning.
3. The lawyer asked a follow-up question. He was treating Jesus like a
witness in a courtroom. He was digging into the technical definition of a
"neighbor" because there were some very religious people in
Jerusalem who taught that your neighbor is only someone who is like you. There
were Jews who were willing to love other Jews but no one else. Some people
take the same approach todayóthey are willing to love people they like but
hate the people they donít like.
Jesus answered with the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. You can
read it for yourself in Luke 10. From that story Jesus taught that real love
is best demonstrated when we are dealing with the least lovable people not the
most lovable people. Think of someone hard for you to love. Thatís who Jesus
had in mind.
4. But letís not play the lawyerís game and get bogged down in
definitions and technicalities. Letís grasp the main point to Jesusí
answer. The meaning of life comes from loving God and loving others.
® The meaning of life is not in living for
ourselves. It is in living for others.
® There is a mystery here. If we live for
ourselves life will lack meaning and satisfaction. If we live for God and
others life will have meaning and satisfaction.
Comparison: When people move to northern states like Minnesota we try to
explain to them how to safely drive on slippery roads. One of the basic
lessons is to turn into a skid. It is counter intuitive. All your experience
and instinct tells you that if the car is skidding to the right you should
turn the car hard left. It is the worst thing you can do. Turn into the skid
to get control of the car.
There is a technical explanation that you and I may or may not understand but
the bottom line is that it works.
Itís the same logic and reality with finding meaning in life. Our instincts
tell us to turn into ourselves and take care of ourselves and then life will
be meaningful and good. It is the worst thing you can do. Turn into God and
into others and you will have meaning in life. There are theological
explanations that you and I may or may not understand but the bottom line is
that it works.
5. Letís consider a "sidebar." In magazines, sidebars are
those columns inside of articles that tell you a sub-story or give you a
relevant and related nugget of information.
The sidebar is that Jesus called us to "Love the Lord your God with
all your heart and with all your soul and with all your
strength and with all your mind.." In other words, each of
us is different. Some of us live out the meaning of life and love God as
parents, others as singles. Some are laborers, some are educators, some are
artists and some are professionals. God has individualized us all. Just as we
have physical DNA in all our cells we also have individual DNA in our souls,
strengths and minds. You and I need to be who God designed us to be and love
God and others out of our distinctiveness.
Wayne Gretsky is nicknamed "The Great One" because of his amazing
ability to play hockey like no one else. Some say that he is the greatest
hockey player in the history of the sport. Did you know that when he was
growing up his desire was to be a baseball player? Fortunately, he was smart
enough to play the sport God designed him to play rather than the one he
wanted to play.
Each of us needs to ask God who we are and what God wants us to do well and
then live out the love of God by being us. Donít try to be Wayne Gretsky or
Bill Gates or your cousin Pete. Be youóand love God and others with all your
soul, your strength and your mind.
One more sidebar. We are all tempted to compare ourselves with others
in our quest for meaning in life. Sadly, we make the comparison on the basis
of gender, profession, title and societyís rankings of success. Thatís all
wrong. The comparison is not in what we do but how we do it. Be the best
gardener, astronaut, author, job seeker or disabled person you can be for God.
Live out the love of God and others in whatever you do.
6. So, how does all this give us meaning in life? Loving God and others
has a long list of benefits: 1.) God is loved and pleased; 2.) Our neighbors
are loved and benefited; 3.) We have satisfaction of our hearts, souls,
strengths and minds.
Last Wednesday marked the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks of
September 11, 2001. Many of the public speeches and the follow-up
headlines quoted from Lincolnís Gettysburg Address saying that those who
died did not die in vain. In other words, their deaths had lasting meaning.
Thatís what happens to us when we love God and love others in our lives. Our
lives have lasting meaning. We are not living in vain. "Vain" means
"empty" or "meaningless." The key to a full life, a
meaningful life and an eternal life is to "ĎLove the Lord your God
with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with
all your mindí; and, ĎLove your neighbor as yourself.í"
7. How are we going to do this? It begins with a personal commitment of
life to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Itís like becoming a citizenóyou
deliberately declare your life and allegiance to something new. It will change
your identity, how you live, what you say and even the taxes your pay. Life
will never again be the same. Become a Christian with that kind of a life
commitment to Jesus. Then, be who you are designed to be only be that person
for God and others more than for yourself. Got a heart? Be passionate for God
and others. Got a soul? Be spiritual for God and for others. Got strength? Be
strong for God and for others. Got a mind? Be thoughtful for God and for
1. Back to Solomon. When he came to the end of writing his frustrations
in Ecclesiastes his intelligence and wisdom finally kicked in. Despite all the
pessimism of most of his twelve chapters, he finishes with some very different
words (which is probably the only reason his writing made it into the Bible).
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.
2. At the end of life the last page of our individual biographies will be
written and God will read and review our stories. May God put down your
volume and say that your life fulfilled what he put you on earth to do. May
God be pleased with all your life means to him and may your neighbors, friends
and families cheer and affirm Godís delight. Then and now . . . may your
life have meaning, for Jesusí sake. Amen.
September 14-15, 2002 Wooddale Church
© Leith Anderson 2002