There is a Green Hill

We are now studying the verses of the hymn, “There is a green hill”, for five sessions during Lent. This material is copyrighted and can be reproduced for personal and church use but it is not appropriate to copy it on to the web, so if you want a hardcopy of pdf version of the material please let me know and I will send it to you.

We had an excellent first session yesterday, with 39(!) people at the morning session at st David’s and 20 at the evening session at St John’s. The discussion was wide-ranging and fascinating, so if you want a copy of the material do please let me know.

If you want to join us next Wednesday then it is 11am at St David’s, Craig y Don or 7.30pm at St John’s, Llandudno.

 

 

Ecclesiastes 5:8 – 6:12 What does it take to be content?

This is the last of our Ecclesiastes studies, at least for a while. We’ve actually got another six sections to go but we need to pause now while we do our Lent study series, “There is a green hill”, based on the familiar Easter hymn. These studies are taking place during Lent starting next Wed 8th March, 11am at St David’s Craig y Don or 7.30pm at St John’s Llandudno. There are five sessions, one per verse of the hymn. I may put these up as posts on this blog so keep an eye out from next Thursday 9th if you are interested or, better still, come along to the live sessions!

Anyway, back to this week’s study from Ecclesiastes. Here it is:

If the advertisers are right, we have a lot to feel discontent about. We don’t have enough possessions, and we don’t have them soon enough or up to date enough. Fulfilment is equated with wearing the right kind of clothes, driving the right kind of car, drinking the right kind of beverage. This lifestyle of discontent held similar sway for many of the Teacher’s contemporaries. In this section he challenges his reader to stop seeking satisfaction from accumulating things. Instead he offers an alternative, one that leads to a lifestyle of contentment.

Warming Up to God

In what areas of life do you find yourself least content? Consider Psalm 118:24: “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” For what do you have reason to rejoice today? Praise your God, the Lover of your soul, today before you look into his Word.

Read Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12

 Discovering the Word

  • How does the Teacher describe the nature of wealth?
  • What negative effects does the desire for wealth have in public life (5:8-9) and in personal life (5:10-17)?
  • Note the contrast between 5:18-20 and 6:1-2. What role does God have in the satisfaction which wealth, possessions and honour can bring?
  • Many children and a long life were considered the greatest of blessings in the Old Testament (6:3-6). What does our society define as “the good life”?
  • In 6:7-12 the Teacher uses questions to challenge his readers. How would the questions challenge an unbeliever (see especially v. 12)?

Applying the Word

  • On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being very little, 10 being very much), how would you rate your attachment to the things you own?
  • Give an example of how viewing possessions as a gift from God would help to change your attachment to them.
  • How could you exercise trust in God for an area in which you lack contentment?

Responding in Prayer

Confess any discontent to God and ask him to help you value his goodness and sufficiency.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

As usual, we got stuck into the material. There was some discussion about adverts and how they manipulate us into being discontent with what we have so that they can sell us something else, and how aware we need to be to avoid being pulled in to this sort of thinking. Ads for loans and gambling got us particularly wound up. No wonder discontent pervades our society when our economy works by making people discontent and turning us into consumers wanting more and more… But it seems that even this is nothing new:

“As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?” 5:11

We, as always, were amazed at the up to date relevance of much of the Teacher’s words, and marvelled once again at how God’s Word, written thousands of years ago can still speak right into our situation.

We did question whether discontentment was always inappropriate. Certainly discontent in the sense of distress is not “wrong” because such a person is desperate to be content and at peace. And what we might call “holy discontent” is not inappropriate – if there is an injustice or an abuse of power or suffering then we ought to feel discontent until the issue is resolved. There is no motivation for positive change unless there is discontent with the way things are.

Looking at the early verses of the section reminded us of the dangers and injustice of a situation of “haves” and “have nots”and, in particular, how societies tend to work in a way that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. An increasing gap between rich and poor leads to discontent for everyone.

We agreed that perspective is everything when it comes to wealth and possessions. Someone who knows themselves to be accountable to God and that everything they have comes from him realises that they need firstly to be thankful and secondly to be a good steward of the resources they have been given by God. There is no grasping after more because they are secure in their relationship with the Lord.

But how does someone who has no faith in God think? What are they working for? What is the point or their grasping after wealth “except to feast his eyes” on what they have?

We found 5:19 and 20 particularly helpful when compared with 6:1-2: a person who has wealth and possessions and everything his heart desires is never satisfied because his heart always desires more, and in the end it all goes to someone else anyway. But a person who is grateful for what God has given him will be happy with what he has and not grasp after more. Furthermore he will find his life occupied in serving God through his work and so be satisfied. This is true contentment.

“There is nothing better for people than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in their work – that is the gift of God.” 3:12-13

 

 

Ecclesiastes 4:4 – 5:7 What attitudes should we embrace?

I was more sensible this time. I didn’t try to push the group to complete two sections and that was the right thing to do. We needed to spend time pondering the issues raised by this one section. Here it is.

“The church is full of hypocrites!” Christians often hear this from those outside the church. We like to respond by saying, “Yes, but if you think they’re bad now, you should have seen them before God got hold of them!” One way or another, when it comes to how faith should change a person’s life, expectations are high. And rightly so. We become like those we live around, and if that includes the Lord, then we will see our lives begin to reflect his. In this passage the Teacher explores some everyday values and attitudes that a relationship with God should influence.

Warming Up to God

Consider your usual approach to life. If you could remove one negative attitude that you struggle with, which one would it be? What difference would it make in your life if you turned this negative into a positive?

Read Ecclesiastes 4:4-5:7

 Discovering the Word

  • What are negative consequences of the two extreme attitudes described in 4:4-5?
  • What irony concerning the workaholic’s efforts is spoken about in 4:7-8?
  • What are the benefits of partnership (4:9-12)?
  • Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 outlines a “rags to riches” story. What, however, is the ironic twist to its ending?
  • Contrast the two approaches to God described in 5:1-7.

Applying the Word

  • On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being lazy and 10 being a workaholic), how would you rate yourself? Explain.
  • In terms of your need for other people, are you primarily a dependent or an independent person? Explain.
  • How does the Teacher’s wisdom challenge you toward growth in interdependence with others?

Responding in Prayer

This passage ends with the words “Therefore stand in awe of God.” Pray quietly to the Lord for a few moments, allowing yourself to stand in awe of him. Humbly be silent before him who made you and is making you into his child.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

We spent quite a while considering various negative attitudes and approaches to life, raising things like judging people before we know them, taking things at face value, leaping in to speak before listening or engaging our brains. We considered the importance of self-awareness as a means to spot these negative attitudes and discern the effects they are having on our lives and the lives of those around us, and so learn how to counter them with more positive approaches.

The Teacher clearly considers that all labour and achievement spring from a person’s envy of his neighbour but perhaps there may be other, related, negative reasons such as fear of failure or the judgement of others (positive or negative.) At the other end of the scale is the fool who folds his arms and does nothing. The implication of v6 is that a middle way of being satisfied with enough is the way of contentment. As chapter 3 verse 13 told us, “That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God.” The workaholic is in a bad place – he works harder and harder to get what he wants but when he gets it he is still not satisfied. He has no concept of being content with what he has. He can never be a peace.

We loved verses 9-12 – at last the Teacher is being positive about something – living and working together has benefits for all – not only is there likely to be a more constructive outcome by working with someone else, but there is also companionship and support along the way.

The next bit was quite puzzling – it sounded as if it had some personal testimony in its “rags to riches” story. Perhaps this is so if the Teacher is Solomon himself. But again, there is scepticism about the meaning of anything. Even if you get followers because you have a good story to tell or because you are better than the one before, that does not mean that you will ultimately be lauded for your leadership in later times. No one can please everyone and no one knows how they will be remembered by history if at all. “It’s all meaningless” once again!

We found the final section very heartening too – two positive sections from the Teacher in one study! He must have been in a good mood that day when he wrote that section (hmmm…does that mean that our attitudes to life are so directly affected by our mood and our outward situation – if so, that really does mean that a lot of our thoughts about life are pretty meaningless or at least extremely subjective and changing with the wind… I think I am turning into the Teacher…)

In this last section the Teacher refers to God at least six times – most unusual when considering the whole book. Why does the Teacher do this? Because he is telling us to compare ourselves God.

“God is in heaven and you are on earth so let your words be few.”

What do we know anyway? God is the only one who truly knows.

As the final sentence says, “Shut up and stand in awe of God” (my paraphrase.) Or, as it says elsewhere in the Bible,

“Be still and know that I am God.”

 

 

 

 

Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 4:3 Who is really in control?

Well, I expected us to get through another two sections at today’s meeting but we didn’t. We had far too much to discuss about this one section. Here is the study:

“Why do the innocent suffer?” is a question that has plagued the conscience of humankind. And we wonder, “Why do the unrighteous prosper?” Both of these questions can lead to despair, suggesting that life is indeed meaningless. But this famous chapter of Ecclesiastes poses a solution for life’s apparent dilemma. The solution hinges on how one answers a third question, “Who is in control?” If humanity is in charge, then life is a game of chance whose rules are controlled by the most powerful among us. But if a just and loving God is in charge, then life becomes a set of ordained appointments which open the windows of eternity to us.

Warming Up to God

What was a situation in which you felt as though your life was out of control? Write down a few words to describe your feelings at that time. Now speak to the Lord about them, and leave your fears and frustrations in his hands.

Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-4:3

 Discovering the Word

  • Describe the Teacher’s view of time in 3:1-8.
  • What negative and positive things does the Teacher say about time in 3:9-15?
  • What observations does the Teacher make in 3:16 and 4:1-3 about human wickedness?
  • In the future God will bring judgment (3:17). For the present, however, God brings us a test (3:18-22). What is the test and its desired results?
  • What kind of perspective results from seeing wickedness from a temporal viewpoint (4:1-3)?
  • What kind of perspective results from looking at wickedness from an eternal viewpoint (3:17)?

Applying the Word

  • How would you live your life differently if you believed God had no control?
  • How do you struggle with the tension of knowing God is in control and yet seeing wickedness in control?

Responding in Prayer

Praise God for setting eternity in our hearts, and thank him for being unchangingly faithful in the midst of life in a paradoxical world.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Well, there it is. Why did we spend so long on it?

We spent some time thinking about situations where we have felt out of control, how occurrences such as illness or sudden events can knock us off balance for considerable lengths of time, how we so long for the feeling of having control of our lives when in fact no one has control at all, not really. After all, who knows what will happen tomorrow?

We discussed whether the Teacher believed in an afterlife. He says he does not know (v21) and yet elsewhere he clearly states that there will be judgement (v17) and that God has set eternity in the hearts of humanity (v11.) In general, Old Testament writers say very little about the afterlife. Not until Jesus’coming do we find any level of detail about this. And even the New Testament has different ways of describing it. (Compare the gospels comments about heaven, hell, paradise and judgement with comments elsewhere in Paul’s letters and in the book of Revelation.)

We also pondered the age old question of why the wicked are allowed to prosper and why God allows suffering. But again we came to no solid statement we were fully content with.

But perhaps that’s the point. The Teacher is goading us to realise that not everything can be sewn up neatly and that we cannot expect to understand everything or hope to control everything about our lives. We cannot even control our behaviour day by day! The good we want to do we do not do – we mess up again and again. That’s why we need a forgiving God to be in charge rather than us.

It is not us who is in control, it is God, and that is where our faith lies. Our satisfaction and security come from knowing we are safe in God’s hands whatever happens and that our lives are part of his overall purpose for creation.

In the same way, though we cannot say much about what the afterlife is like nor when is the last moment available for anyone to choose for God, what we can say for certain is this: God is in control of our ultimate destiny and the destiny of the whole of creation, and in Jesus he has assured forgiveness, reconciliation and eternal life for all who accept his gift and put their trust in him. Also, whatever heaven is like, we know there is going to a really big party when the faithful arrive there!

See you there I hope…

 

 

 

 

 

Ecclesiastes 2:17-26 What is the value of work?

This is the second section we managed to do in our group this week. You can tell from the introductory illustration that the original material is American (hurrah for the NHS despite all its problems!) Anyway, here it is:

Gary hates his job. The tasks are repetitive, his boss is a grouch, the other employees bicker. The job, however, pays better than anything else he could find, and his son has a medical condition that would make him uninsurable if he changes companies. Gary feels trapped. Nothing can be quite as frustrating as work. And while most of us can’t fully identify with Gary, many of us can readily understand something about his predicament. In this section of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher will look back at his own life’s work. If anyone had a great job, he did. Even so, he asks, “Does it really amount to anything significant?”

Warming Up to God

Do you feel more like God’s dutiful employee or his valued friend? Explore your perspective and tell him your heart. Remember that he is your most patient listener and he’s eager to hear how you’re doing.

Read Ecclesiastes 2:17-26

 Discovering the Word

  • How would you describe the Teacher’s emotional state as a result of his quest for meaning so far?
  • The phrase “under the sun” appears often throughout Ecclesiastes—five times in this passage (vv. 17, 18, 19, 20, 22). Describe the “under the sun” mentality.
  • What does the Teacher say about work (vv. 21-23)?
  • What shift do you see in the way the Teacher views work (vv. 24-26)?
  • Describe the contrast between seeking pleasure (vv. 10-11) and finding enjoyment (vv. 24-26).

Applying the Word

  • When have you experienced the kind of satisfying enjoyment described here?
  • If you were to view your work as a gift from God to be enjoyed, how could that change your attitude about it?

Responding in Prayer

Commit your work to the Lord and ask him to give you a heart that desires to glorify him in that context.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

As I said at the end of the last post, the Teacher does seem to get a bit depressed sometimes.

The Teacher at first suggests that work is meaningless because it achieves no lasting reward for the worker (v21-22) nor does he/she know whether the one taking on from him/her will build on the work done or trash it (v19). For some reason(!) we thought immediately of the actions of the new President of the US here…

We also recognised the Teacher’s anguish caused by worrying about things even at night when he would be sleeping if he could (v23). Which of us does not recognise this situation?

But is it all meaningless as the Teacher keeps goading us to ponder? He has a sudden change of thought in v24, and God at last gets a positive mention.

This is how Ecclesiastes works – we mustn’t expect clear statements of faith line after line after line. We have to work for them, be goaded into considering them and find them in among the pondering and heart-searching. There are no platitudes here. Every positive statement comes after the effort of working it through to its conclusion.

So the Teacher comes to a conclusion about work and the pleasures of food and drink. Work as drudgery may indeed by meaningless but if we see it as being part of our life for God the whole thing is changed. “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too is the hand of God, for without him who can eat or find enjoyment?” Our satisfaction and enjoyment in life come from knowing we are part of God’s plan for the world and that what we do we do for him however menial or difficult it may be.

“To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God.” (v26)

I am reminded of two helpful hymns:

Teach me, my God and King,
in all things thee to see,
and what I do in anything
to do it as for thee.

A man that looks on glass,
on it may stay his eye;
or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
and then the heaven espy.

All may of thee partake;
nothing can be so mean,
which with this tincture, “for thy sake,”
will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
makes drudgery divine:
who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
makes that and the action fine.

This is the famous stone
that turneth all to gold;
for that which God doth touch and own
cannot for less be told.

sweep

Fill Thou my life, O Lord my God,
In every part with praise,
That my whole being may proclaim
Thy being and Thy ways.

Not for the lip of praise alone,
Nor e’en the praising heart,
I ask, but for a life made up
Of praise in every part:

Praise in the common things of life,
Its goings out and in;
Praise in each duty and each deed,
However small and mean.

Fill every part of me with praise;
Let all my being speak
Of Thee and of Thy love, O Lord,
Poor though I be and weak.

So shall no part of day or night
From sacredness be free,
But all my life, in every step,
Be fellowship with Thee.

 

Ecclesiastes 1:12 – 2:16 Where can we find fulfilment?

Yesterday we held our second session on Ecclesiastes. Again, there were nearly 20 people there, though not all the same people as last time. If they all came together it would be a big crowd! It is wonderful to know that everyone is there because they have a hunger and thirst for God’s word and want to apply it to their daily living.

We managed to do two sections of our study this week. I will post the second as a separate post later on. Here is the first. :

Imagine a total plunge into hedonism, following every possible avenue of self-seeking pleasure and satisfaction. Now let your imagination grow further, having the political and financial means to indulge yourself to the fullest possible extent. Imagination turns to reality in this section of Ecclesiastes, surely one of the most colourful passages in the Bible. Here is one person’s attempt at something many only dream about.

Warming Up to God

If by some sudden shift in perspective worldly pleasure suddenly became your overriding goal, what would you likely do? With what results? Talk to God about your deeper desires to forsake short-term self-indulgence for the long-term gain of knowing him.

Read Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:16

Discovering the Word

  • How does the Teacher describe himself and his quest?
  • Why does the author call his search for wisdom “a heavy burden” (1:13)?
  • Describe the various avenues the Teacher tested in his quest for fulfilment (2:1-16).
  • In 2:12-16 he outlines two approaches to discovering meaning in life. What are the advantages and limitations of these two approaches?
  • What prompts his change of perspective (2:14-16)?
  • In the first six chapters the Teacher repeats his thesis that “everything is meaningless” 21 times. How does he show that life is meaningless in 1:12—2:16?

Applying the Word

  • How have you been convinced of the meaninglessness of living outside of Christ’s lordship?
  • What would help you turn your desire for meaning in life into a wholehearted pursuit of God?

Responding in Prayer

Matthew 7:8 promises that all who seek shall find. Knock on Jesus’ door right now and ask him to give you a hunger to find meaning in life through knowing him better each day.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Once again, the words of the Teacher got us going, goading us into responding to his argument for or against.

What fascinated me is how the Teacher, in some senses, speaks like a scientist or certainly an academic – he puts forward a hypothesis, “Everything is meaningless” (1:2-3) then debates the arguments for and against. He also makes clear his methodology for examining his hypothesis, which is wisdom. “I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven” (1:13).

In this study we see him exploring (using wisdom) whether there is meaning in pleasure, but he discovers that it is all “a chasing after the wind.”

He realises that pondering the meaning of life using wisdom is a double edged sword. The Teacher points out that wisdom is better than folly because the wise man can see and understand what is happening in the world rather than blunder around in darkness as the fool does (2:13). However, if we are willing to allow ourselves to reflect on the state of the world and consider its meaning then we are likely to be exposed to things that will bring great sorrow and grief (1:18). To put this another way, if the news comes on the TV I can choose to switch off or just treat it as entertainment, or I can choose to engage with what is happening in the world and so open myself up to hurt and anguish.

The Teacher also hits a problem with his methodology, finding that not only folly but also wisdom is meaningless, as even the wise must die and they and their wisdom be forgotten (2:14-16). However, as the group pointed out, he is too pessimistic here – after all, his words are being studied by us thousands of years later and found to be of value, so wisdom does stand the test of time.

The Teacher does get a bit depressed at times!

 

 

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 – Is it all meaningless?

Today we started our study of Ecclesiastes with the group that meets at St John’s. I don’t know exactly how many turned up because I lost count! We had to keep adding tables and chairs. It must have been about twenty, which made it quite hard for me to manage. I felt a bit like an orchestra conductor at times!

We had an amazing discussion nonetheless. As well as pondering “Introducing Ecclesiastes” (see post below) we also did the first study. Here it is:

The water in the glass measures exactly at the halfway point. Now comes the classic test to determine whether you are a pessimist or an optimist: Do you consider the glass of water to be half-empty or half-full? If you answered half-empty, you will find Ecclesiastes’ author, the Teacher, a fast friend. If you answered half-full, you may find it harder to relate to him. But either way, realize he is delivering pessimism with a purpose. In his introduction he answers a question before he even raises it. The question is, “Can meaning in life come outside of a God-centred universe?” The answer? Well, hang on for some of Scripture’s most brutal language.

Warming Up to God

Draw or imagine a line with pure pessimist on the left and outrageous optimist on the right. Where would you place yourself on the continuum? Regardless of your response, what gives you hope today?

Read Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Discovering the Word

  • How do you react to the theme (or thesis) of the book which the Teacher states in verses 2-3?
  • How do examples of nature support his thesis that “everything is meaningless” (vv. 5-7)?
  • From verses 9-10 describe the Teacher’s view of history.
  • What might he say to a person who believes that educating people will eventually solve humanity’s problems?
  • How does human mortality (vv. 4 and 11) bring the Teacher’s argument to a climax?

Applying the Word

  • According to verse 8, seeking new experiences will not bring lasting satisfaction. Give a personal example to illustrate this.
  • As a Christian, on what basis would you seek to refute the Teacher’s thesis?
  • What is one area in your life that has recently seemed futile or meaningless?

Responding in Prayer

Reflect on ways you sense that your life lacks meaning or purpose. Ask God to help you draw on his resources to resist meaningless living and pursue his purposes.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Well, there it is. I hope you found it helpful. We certainly did this afternoon.

One of the people in the group had looked at Ecclesiastes once before but had been put off by its style and attitude. However, having discussed why “the Teacher” has the approach he does, this person felt very much better about approaching the book.

“The Teacher” certainly has quite an attitude about him. We decided that he wasn’t so much a pessimist as a cross person. The words towards the end of the book give us a clue to his purpose and why he takes the approach he does: “The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails.” Ecc. 12:11. I discovered that I had written in my Bible alongside these words at some point in the past: “The purpose of Ecclesiastes is to prod, annoy, make us react and think.”

I hope “the Teacher” prods you into thinking further about life and whether it has meaning.

When we started reading this afternoon, the first reader read the first two verses then stopped and exclaimed, “That’s wrong!”

That is exactly what “the Teacher” is aiming to do – get a response that makes us decide for or against something being proposed. Is life ultimately meaningless? And, if not, where we do get our meaning from.

For this afternoon’s group at least, we were very clear about our response – meaning in life comes only from being in relationship with God and living for his purposes.

Feel free to chop in with your thoughts on this session by leaving a comment on the blog.

Rev Bev

 

 

Introducing Ecclesiastes

Most of the material in this discipleship study is based on an online IVP bible study series, which you can find at http://www.ivpress.com/bible/eccles/

This post is simply the introduction to the study series. The next post will begin the study itself. Meanwhile, let me know if you are planning to follow this blog.

goldfish

Like an apple tree in the middle of an orange grove stands the book of Ecclesiastes among the other books of the Bible. At first glance, it just does not seem to fit. What place does a book which flaunts the daring assertion “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless” have in Scripture that intends to reveal the saving work of God?

Along with the book of Job, Ecclesiastes reminds us that God is bigger, and our life in this world more unpredictable, than we might think. The book invites us to take a realistic tour of life. The sightseeing stops will likely leave those who enjoy nice tidy answers a bit perplexed, if not downright frustrated.

Our guide for this adventure is introduced by the Hebrew title qoheleth. The title, which translated into Greek is ekklesiastes, comes from a Hebrew word for assembling. It suggests a type of office-bearer. Thus we have such translations as “the Preacher” (KJV, RSV, NASB), “the Speaker” (NEB), “the Philosopher” (TEV) and the one used in the NIV, “the Teacher”. The Teacher identifies himself as “son of David, king in Jerusalem” (1:1). Such an identification naturally links him with the wisest of all Israel’s sages, King Solomon. Many commentators, however, believe that the Teacher was not actually Solomon but someone who wrote in the tradition and from the perspective of Solomon. The depth of insight found in the book would certainly argue for an author endowed with the kind of wisdom God granted to Solomon (see 1Ki 3:5-12). If the Teacher was not actually King Solomon, he surely qualified as a star disciple of this master sage.

As a wise man, the Teacher represented a group whose influence and prestige grew to virtual equality with Israel’s prophets and priests. Israel’s wise men closely observed the inter-workings of nature and human experience. From this storehouse of wisdom they made general pronouncements concerning life’s most perplexing issues and counselled people who faced difficult decisions. The three most notable works of Israel’s wise men include Ecclesiastes, Job and Proverbs. Their mark on Old Testament literature may also be seen in the Song of Solomon, Lamentations and a number of the psalms (such as 1, 37, 49, 73, 127, 133). This body of writing, called wisdom literature, has a strong influence on portions of the New Testament. Jesus frequently quotes proverbs and uses wise sayings. Paul often talks about the wisdom of God (see 1 Co 1:18—2:16 as an example). And the book of James provides counsel in a style similar to Old Testament wisdom literature.

The Teacher’s message seems particularly aimed at the secularists—those who seek to find life’s meaning outside of a practical faith in God. With despairing perception, the author explores a grim reality he calls “life under the sun”—life outside of God’s control and goodness. He addresses some of life’s most sensitive questions: Where can we find satisfaction? Who is really in control? What does it take to be content? How do we live wisely? Much of the time God is left out of the discussion. But when he is introduced, everything changes. “Life under the sun” becomes “life from the hand of God.” Chasing after meaning is transformed into the pursuit of God. This exploration of life’s meaninglessness outside of knowing God thus becomes an invitation to know him. In its own unique way, Ecclesiastes is ultimately an introduction to the One who “came that we might have life abundantly”—Jesus Christ himself. It highlights the dilemma voiced by Peter but faced by all of us: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68).

Understandably, then, Ecclesiastes warrants special study by anyone in a formative period of life. These study times will help you plunge into the pessimism of Ecclesiastes in order to see the hope of a God-centred lifestyle. May the Lord use your study of Ecclesiastes as an encouragement to follow him closely in this unique and perplexing adventure we call life.

Small Group Bible Studies

goldfish

Hi. Welcome to this blog.

Small group meetings have always been important to the Methodist movement. Right from the earliest days John Wesley encouraged such groups to form in order to offer Bible study, encouragement and challenge for anyone wanting to grow in faith. The discipleship groups across St David’s and St John’s Methodist Churches in Llandudno are continuing that approach, knowing it to be one of the most fruitful ways of enabling disciples of Christ to grow to maturity in him.

As we start 2017, several of the discipleship groups are studying a book from the Bible, Ecclesiastes. If you are unable to attend one of our groups in person then perhaps this on-line version will at least enable you to take part wherever you happen to be. If you want to, you can also join in the conversation by responding to posts with comments.

I hope you find this a helpful way of taking part in our discipleship groups. Please let me know if you find this a good way of being part of what is going on.

Rev Bev, Minister of St John’s and St David’s Methodist Churches