If a fulfilling life is a degree of success and a certain standard of living why are those that have achieved this still unhappy? It seems that the more happiness is pursued in itself, the more unhappy people become. Moments of happiness can be elusive. It’s clear that meaning and purpose are necessary for a fulfilling life–something that is higher than ourselves. It cannot be merely self-defined. But unless that ultimate purpose is the right one it will not truly fulfil our reason for living. How can we know?
Our ultimate authority for answering this must be in God’s Word, which is Truth (John 17:17). Ecclesiastes is the Bible book that deals most with true and false approaches to meaning and purpose for life. There is a contentment in outward things that goes along with the soul enjoying good as coming from “the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25).
He goes on to speak about other gifts that God gives to the man who is good or pleasing in His sight. These include wisdom, knowledge and joy (Ecclesiastes 2:26). Only those who are freely pardoned and made righteous in Christ are pleasing and acceptable in God’s sight. These gifts of wisdom and joy do not just relate to outward things of this life but spiritual things also. Spiritual joy flows from being accepted in Christ. But those who neglect God and rebel against Him continue seeking true happiness in the wrong way and the wrong things. For them there is unsatisfying toil and an absence of meaning and fulfilment.
In the following updated extract James Fergusson draws out the implications of this for a fulfilling life as defined by God.
1. A Fulfilling Life is Found Through Understanding God’s Ways
Everyone should be moved to choose God’s way of seeking after happiness when they consider how He gives this freely and abundantly to His people. This description of God’s generosity in giving such blessedness to His own is intended to be a motive for others to seek His way to happiness. God gives wisdom, knowledge and joy to those who are good and pleasing in His sight.
The blessedness of God’s people and the misery of others are best seen when they are compared together. One is illustrated by the other here in terms of God giving wisdom, knowledge and joy to those who are accepted in His sight but futility and lack of meaning to the sinner (Ecclesiastes 2:26). (The word “sinner” is used here in contrast with those who have been declared righteous by God in a similar way to 1 Peter 4:18).
2. A Fulfilling Life is Found through Acceptance with God
Before someone can expect that full and satisfying provision which God gives to His children they must first be made good in God’s sight. This is only by reconciliation with Him, having Christ’s righteousness imputed, and the renewal of their nature. This is necessary so that they may aim at what is well pleasing in the sight of God.
3. A Fulfilling Life is Found through God’s Free Grace
Whatever the best of men receive from God has not been procured by them or merited by any goodness they have. It is all a free gift. This is true even of these who are accepted as righteous in His sight and whose character and way are most sincere. For even those who are good in God’s sight are given wisdom. Every further degree of grace is a new gift to such a person.
4. A Fulfilling Life is Found through the Wisdom Given by God
There must be wisdom and knowledge before there can be true comfort. People must see their misery and peril together with the remedy provided and how to make use of it. They need to understand their duty and how to fulfil it. They may then be sure that joy will result from such practical knowledge which affects the heart. There is a relevance in the order in which these gifts are mentioned: first wisdom, then knowledge and joy.
The wisdom and knowledge God gives relates not only to spiritual things but also the ability to manage outward things aright. It is not confined to the first saving grace received, it includes the principles of all grace and every act of grace. It does not just include the things that bring comfort and joy, but joy itself, or the ability and desire to take joy and comfort. These things are a free gift of God. The wisdom, knowledge and joy here include all kinds of approved wisdom, every degree of knowledge and grace. It includes God’s gift of the ability to take comfort in what we know to be true. This provides reasons for rejoicing.
5. A Fulfilling Life is Found through Fellowship with God
People will never find what they are seeking for in earthly things, even though they weary themselves in the pursuit. These things are only truly found in God. Solomon has shown before that during his estrangement from God he was seeking satisfaction for his mind in the study of wisdom. After this he was seeking it in an abundance of earthly pleasures. But he declares that he has been disappointed by all of this. He did not find satisfaction till he came back to his first love, who gives him (and promises to others who choose His way) wisdom, knowledge and joy.
6. A Fulfilling Life is Not Found in Outward Things in Themselves
Those who seek happiness in earthly things may have success in getting an abundance of them: we are told here that they do gather and heap them up. Yet they are still as far from satisfaction as they were before. They are constantly toiling in gathering and heaping up but never attaining to contentment.
The great toil in obtaining worldly things, the great agony of spirit which results from seeking happiness in them and the great disappointment of not enjoying true satisfaction in them should draw our hearts away from them. This way of life, labouring to gather and heap up, is condemned as futile. It fails to deliver that which those who are accepted before God enjoy.
Those who seek their happiness in things other than the Lord imagine themselves the only free men and that they have much joy in their way of life. But the truth is they are merely slaves to Satan and their own lusts and lack true comfort. The travail or task they have literally means the work and affliction of a slave.
We must not settle for anything less than the fulfilling life that God holds out to us in the Scriptures. When we seek first His kingdom and righteousness all other things will also be added. It does not guarantee a trouble-free life not does it guarantee prosperity. But it supplies the only meaning and purpose that makes life worth living.
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