Learning Jesus (2)
I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all isvanity and grasping for the wind. Ecclesiastes 1.12-14
Vanity and wind
“Well,” you say, “a lot of good all that learning seems to have done Solomon!”
It’s true that, after years of observation, study, talking with wise people, writing about his studies, making good use of what he was learning, and much more, Solomon concluded that everything he had learned was “vanity and grasping for the wind.” He was burned out and bummed out on learning and on life.
But Solomon’s problem had nothing to do with learning per se. The drudgery and disappointment his life had become was not because of all his learning, but because he learned the wrong things.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, Christians have a twofold calling. We are called to be learners, and we are called to help others become learners by teaching them the things of Christ. Disciples making disciples. It pleases God that we should be wise and reflect the character and will of Jesus Christ in every area of our lives, and that we should teach Him to others. We pray that God will make us wise, but we also need, like Solomon, to take up a course of learning, as hard or burdensome a business as that may seem to some of us.
God will give us wisdom, and fit us to be teachers, but only as we submit to the disciplines of learning with which He is pleased to afflict us.
But if Solomon did that, and it left him with the conclusion that everything is just vanity and wind, why should we take up this burdensome task of searching out and studying and learning?
Solomon’s quest for wisdom was not always vanity and wind. There were many years when, as Solomon increased in wisdom, he became a source of much blessing, both to the people of Israel and the nations all around (cf. 1 Kgs. 3-10). Solomon’s problems with all his learning came because he failed to pursue his course in the way God intended. He turned his zeal for learning into a passion for self-indulgence, as we see in Ecclesiastes 2. In his desire to gratify himself, Solomon lost sight of God and, frankly, he found another deity to love and serve even more.
Wrong turns in the path
Solomon made two mistakes that every disciple of Jesus Christ needs to guard against as we pursue the lifelong quest for wisdom.
First, he took his eyes off the Lord as the exclusive end and focus of all his life and learning. He simply lost sight of the upward calling to seek the Lord in and through all his learning. Solomon had been charged with seeking and searching out all things “under the heavens” – that is, understanding life according to the way God designed and intended it to be lived. True learning occurs as we, grounded in Scripture, devote ourselves and our learning to the Lord, that we might know Him and glorify Him in all we do (Col. 3.23).
But Solomon made room in his curriculum for false gods and fleshly diversions (1 Kgs. 11.1ff). The longer he indulged his lusts and imbibed the false worldviews of his many wives and concubines, the more wisdom slipped from his grasp and learning became a chore and a bore.
At the same time, Solomon neglected to give God the glory for all he had learned and been able to achieve. He became more interested in his own glory and prosperity than the glory of the Lord.
In Ecclesiastes 2, Solomon recounts the record of his achievements – the fruit of all his learning – and they are impressive, to say the least. But right away we begin to sense a problem. The most recurrent word in Solomon’s report is some variation of the first-person personal pronoun: “I, me, mine.” Solomon slipped from pleasing God by gaining wisdom to pleasing himself by gaining pleasure, wealth, and fame. His loss of focus on God and his desire for self-aggrandizement left him with a bad taste in his mouth for learning – and for life.
Solomon began worshiping another god – himself and his passions and delights.
Once Solomon lost sight of the upward calling of God, he turned inward to himself, his lusts and pleasure, and doing only what mattered to him. But once he had taken the place of God in his life, the burden of all his works, and all his learning, began to be too much for him. It was not satisfying, it made him suspicious of the people around him, and he found it to be more of a burden than a delight. And when he lost his way in his calling to follow the Lord, he dragged the entire nation of Israel down with him.
The same can happen to us, if we’re not careful, as we take up the pursuit of wisdom through learning, to keep our focus on following Jesus, serving others with the things we are learning. If we’re just learning to impress others or gratify personal desires, we’re off course from the burdensome but glorious task of learning to which we are called as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Solomon finally came back to his senses, but it was very late in life (cf. Eccl. 12). Let’s learn from his mistakes and not allow ourselves to be pulled from the true course of discipleship by the transitory temptations of the times. In all our learning, let’s continue to follow Jesus, to grow in Him, put to good use that which we’re learning, and teach others the things of the Lord, for the praise of His glory and grace.
1. How did Solomon get off track in his calling? How can we guard ourselves against being thus diverted from following Jesus?
2. How can believers help one another to keep their minds focused on the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus?
3. What might be some cues to suggest that you are starting to stray from your course as a disciple – a learner – of our Lord Jesus?
Next steps - Preparation: Do you think you might be a better learner of Jesus if you had a “study partner” to help you along the way? Find someone else to work through the studies in this series with you.
T. M. Moore
You can download all the studies in this series, “Disciples Making Disciples,” by clicking here.
Listen to Solomon’s account of his falling into self-worship in this reading of Ecclesiastes 2 from The InVerse Theology Project (click here).
Don’t forget to visit our free Personal Mission Field Workshop for this month (click here).
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.