Take time to introduce yourselves to one another (over drinks or snacks if possible). Then ask group members to:
(Perhaps it’s attacking the pile of washing up, replying to messages in a busy group chat, watching the bins fill up, or something else…)
Over the course of the coming term, we’re exploring the ancient book of Ecclesiastes. Though Ecclesiastes comes from a very different culture and time to ours, it touches on some of the most profound issues of humanity.
Ask for a volunteer to read Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 to the group, praying a short prayer that, however much they’ve come to know God, they’d know him better as a result of your time together.
You can download this video to watch offline.
Suggested questions to help your discussion.
English translations struggle to translate the Hebrew word ‘hebel’, which appears four times in verse 2 (and throughout Ecclesiastes). Translations include ‘meaningless’ (NIV, NLT), ‘vanity’ (ESV, KJV), ‘pointless’ (CEB), ‘futility’ (HCSB) and ‘smoke’ (Message).
‘Hebel’ literally means ‘breath’ or ‘breeze.’ The Teacher is saying that, like a breath, life is fleeting and insubstantial. You can’t ultimately grab hold of anything or expect it to last. Everything – including our lives – is brief and elusive. For that reason, we cannot expect to control things, as if we were masters of our own destiny; instead, we must live in the light of them.
The Teacher doesn’t mean that everything is meaningless (in the way we might use the word) – as much as it defies control, and never makes the lasting effect we hope for.
The Teacher’s outlook on life looks more pessimistic than other parts of the Bible. For this reason, it can be tempting for Christians to ignore what he has to say.
However, we need to recognise that the Teacher’s convictions about the fleetingness and flimsiness of life are shared by other Old Testament writers (see, for example, Job 28:12-28; Psalm 90:3-6, 103:15-16; Isaiah 40:6-7).
The writers of the New Testament agree. Paul describe creation’s present experience in Romans 8:20 as one of ‘frustration’ (NIV) or ‘futility’ (ESV) – the same word used in the Greek translation of Ecclesiastes 1:2. Jesus makes a similar point to the Teacher when he uses the image of grass, here today and gone tomorrow (Matthew 6:25-34).
It is only in and through Jesus that there is any ‘newness’ worth speaking of. In Jesus we can know new life (see 2 Corinthians 5:17 etc.). Jesus will make all things ‘new’ when he returns (see Revelation 21:1, 5), removing sin and all its effects from the universe. His resurrection guarantees that things done in his name will have lasting effect (see 1 Corinthians 15:58).
Old Testament writers knew about this plan (see Isaiah 65:17-25, Jeremiah 31:31-34), without knowing the full details of how it would be realised.
The Teacher restricts himself to considering things as they feel within the present frustrating world. Whether Christian or not, we need to hear what he says – for following Jesus is as much about faithfully living in the present aching creation (Romans 8:20) as it is about waiting with hope for the new creation that Jesus will bring about (Romans 8:21).
Throughout Ecclesiastes, the Teacher notices that we often strive and work to avoid facing the only true certainty we know that is ahead: death.
Ask someone to pray in the light of your discussions for the group.
Watch this lyric video of The Circle of Life from Disney’s The Lion King, getting ready to discuss these two questions:
Share prayer requests amongst your group. Take time to pray for name for friends who feel a lack of meaning in their lives.
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