|LESSON 5||*January 27 - February 2|
|More Life Under the Sun|
Read for This Week's Study:
|"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2).|
|As we begin this week, you'll perhaps
notice something interesting, something that commentators have written about
over the ages. Ecclesiastes starts to sound more and more like the book of
Proverbs. Proverbs is often a series of short little sayings that deal with
practical knowledge about daily life, though not always necessarily in an
order that is easy to follow.
Take, for instance, Proverbs 6, which begins with some thoughts about work, such as "Go to the ant, thou sluggard" (Prov 6:6), followed by words about a "naughty person" (vs. 12), to a warning about the six things "that God hates" (vs. 16, NKJV), to words about obeying parents (vs. 20), and finally to a warning about the dangers of wanton women (vss. 24-35).
We can see some of this same style in Ecclesiastes 4, where Solomon covers a number of issues, everything from the oppression that many people suffer from to the meaning of life, to the issue of envy, then to questions about the purpose of work, and finally to ideas of community and fellowship. Though oftentimes his sentences are sharp, to the point, very poetic, and without much elaboration, they touch on larger themes that can be explored in a number of ways that have relevance to us even today. Let's take a look and see what the Lord is saying to us here.
*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, February 3.
Read Ecclesiastes 4:1-3. Rewrite in your own words what Solomon is saying.
Solomon is, again, looking at life from a worldly perspective, from "under the sun." These words, though, are somewhat interesting when you consider who is writing them: the king himself. It would be one thing if a slave were bemoaning his fate at the hands of his or her masters or if a poor person were lamenting his or her fate under the oppression of the rich. But in this case, you have the richest and most powerful leader in the nation complaining about injustice and oppression.
We tend to think of oppression usually in the context of politics or wealth. There are, though, other ways people can be oppressed. What about husbands and wives, or parents and children? What about religious oppression, the use of religion to oppress and exploit others? Or what about employers and employees? Or sexual harassment; is not that a form of oppression? What other kinds can you think of? Could someone be an oppressor without even realizing it? Look up the following texts. What principles are found there that, if applied, would protect someone from falling into that role, even unwittingly? Mark 10:43, 44; 1 Cor. 9:19; Phil. 2:3; 2 Tim. 2:24; 1 John 3:16; 4:11.
Power can be a subtle thing. Used correctly, it can be a great blessing, for with power one can guide, even command, others in the right direction. It's also a very easy thing to abuse. As has been said, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Most of us, in one way or another, have power over others. The crucial question is how do we use it?
|Look at yourself. What kind of power do you exert? How well are you following the principles expressed in the texts for today? What changes might you need to make in order to make sure you're not abusing that power?|
Is Life Worth It?
"Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun" (Eccles. 4:2, 3).
"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy."Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays (New York: Vintage Books, 1955), p. 3.
However differently phrased, both quotes touch on a similar question: Is human life worth the bother? Considering all the pain, suffering, and disappointment that go into living, and we still die anyway-is life worth it?
The answer, ultimately, depends upon your view of what the meaning of life is. If one takes the position that our life here is capped and culminated at death and that nothing comes after, you will have one view. If you believe that this life is only a temporary stop on the way to something better, something eternal, then you will have another view. Thus, in many ways, the answer to the question Is life worth it? depends, ironically enough, on the question
Write out your answer to the question Is life worth it? Give a yes or no answer and then defend your position the best you can, using whatever Bible texts you deem necessary. Bring your answer to class on Sabbath.
Solomon here is on a real roll. After saying, basically, that one is better off not to have ever been born than to live and see all the oppression "done under the sun" (Eccles. 4:1), he then delves into another theme, envy (vss. 4-6). Fair enough; after all, it's a worthwhile topic to look at from a biblical perspective. Even one of the Ten Commandments deals, at its root, with the issue of envy (Which one?). Solomon, though, takes it to another level: All toil and all skillful work is nothing but a person being jealous of a neighbor. That's a cynical attitude, to be sure, and though there's some truth to it, he certainly pushes the problem of envy to an extreme.
Nevertheless, envy is a human problem. In fact, it's more than a human problem. It was, indeed, the original sin. "Satan was envious and jealous of Jesus Christ. Yet when all the angels bowed to Jesus to acknowledge His supremacy and high authority and rightful rule, Satan bowed with them; but his heart was filled with envy and hatred."Ellen G. White, The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, p. 18. Thus, when we start manifesting envy and jealousy, we are reflecting the character of Satan.
Find three accounts in the Bible of where envy played a big role in the unfolding story. Write out the nasty results that this envy brought. What lessons can we learn about the fruit of envy?
|What has been your own experience with jealousy and envy in your own heart? What steps can you take in order to help subdue this beast? Think through the life of Jesus. How, by dwelling on Him, can you, through God's grace, destroy this sin before it destroys you?|
Labor for Whom?
"I have shewed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).
Read Ecclesiastes 4:7, 8. After attacking all work and skill as nothing but envy, Solomon, in verses 7 and 8, takes another spin on work: What do people work for? In this case, he is talking about someone who is alone, who has no children, no one either to support or to pass on the fruits of his labor. Is he doing all this only for himself? If so, what's the purpose?
Whatever the immediate context, these verses raise an important question regarding humanity. Oftentimes the most miserable of all human beings are the most selfish, the ones who live only for self and who care only about themselves. Whatever the immediate gains, after a while, as they see how small they are, how fleeting life is, how little they matter in the scheme of things "under the sun," such people find so little purpose, so little meaning, to their existence. As human beings we were not meant to live only for ourselves; on the contrary, the whole purpose of selfless love, as exemplified in the life of Jesus, is to live in order to help others. There's a sense of fulfillment, of joy, of purpose when one gives of oneself for others. And the good news is that you don't have to be married or have children in order to do this. As long as there are human beings around, there will be people to whom you can be a blessing, and by blessing others you receive a blessing for yourself.
Look up the following texts. What message do they have for us, as followers of Christ, in regard to issues raised in today's lesson? Matt. 25:31-46, Mark 10:45, Acts 2:43-45, Heb. 13:1-3.
|What are your priorities? How much time do you spend thinking only about yourself and your own needs, in contrast to others and the needs of others? Be honest. How well are you fulfilling the Bible call to live not just for yourself but for others?|
The Cord and Community
Solomon, in verses 8-12 of Ecclesiastes 4, has moved toward another thought in a fairly logical progression: from living only for oneself to the advantages of community. Though he's talking in a very poetic manner and uses a few specific examples of how much better two are than one, the general point is important: As human beings, we were made for community. We were made to live in contact with others. We were made in a way that we need others.
In 1998, a landlord entered the Bonn, Germany, apartment of Wolfgang Dircks when rent invoices to Dircks's bank stopped being paid. The landlord found a skeletona skeleton!in a chair in front of a television set that, though broken, was still on. Just as incredible was that Christmas lights on his tree were still blinking; near his chair was a TV program guide from December 5, 1993. He probably died that day, and nobody, for at least five years, missed him. Talk about the need for others!
Corinthians 12. What point is Paul making that is, basically, the same
point that Solomon is making in these few verses in
In the same sense that there is no established "one-man or one-woman physics," there is no "one-man or one-woman Christianity." Of course, Christian faith means nothing unless a person has a one-to-one relationship with God. That is crucial. But it's directly out of that vertical relationship, that human-to-God relationship, that a person is also established in a relationship with a community, a church.
It's common to hear people say "I want nothing to do with organized religion." Well, what do they want, disorganized religion? No, of course not. Instead, that line is often a cover for people who don't want the commitment or responsibility or even the submission that comes from being part of a group that's bigger than themselves.
How well do you relate to your local church community? What can you do to be a more active participant, using your gifts to help those who don't have what you do? At the same time, how willing are you to go to the church and seek help for something that you can't do on your own?
|Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6,
pp. 261-265; Testimonies to Ministers,
pp. 29, 30.
The writer Kurt Vonnegut once said: "What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured."
Koinonia is the Greek word for "fellowship." As humans we were created for community, for fellowship, for human interaction. But not just any kind of interaction. After all, if you want human interaction you can go to a bar or to a football game and interact with others. No, the biblical idea is human interaction of a different kind, an interaction arising out of a community of people who, out of their love for God, have covenanted to love and care for and help each other. People sharing common views, common goals, common dreams, and a common purposebut most of all, people who care about each other and who are dedicated to helping each other, regardless of their needs. That's what Christian community should be about.
| As a class, discuss this important question: How well does
your local church function as a community? How well does it work together
to meet the needs of its members, whatever those needs are? Assess the areas
where your church is strong and where it is weak. What can you all do, as
a class, to help your local church fulfill its role as a community of believers
grounded in love for God and love for each other?
Discuss more this question of power and how power is wielded. In what subtle ways can someone abuse power; at the same time, what problems can arise when someone doesn't use the power they have been given?
|I N S I D E Story|
|The 17-Year Effort
Wani and Wai are two villages located on opposite sides of a lagoon on the coast of Papua New Guinea. Adventist missionaries came to Wani and raised up a church. After several years they felt led to visit Wai and teach the people there that Jesus was coming soon. They hired a boat and set out across the lagoon to Wai.
The believers from Wani played hand-cranked cassettes of Christian music for the people of Wai. The local elders allowed the people of Wani to hold a meeting that day to share their faith. The people of Wani told the people of Wai that Jesus was coming soon.
The people of Wai were Christians and invited the Adventists to return on Sabbath to share their beliefs with them. Most of the two hundred people who attended the Sabbath meeting were children, so the villagers from Wani geared the meeting toward them.
The Adventists helped build houses and worked in the gardens on Wai. The people of Wai appreciated the friendship and the help; but except for the children, they were not interested in listening to their message of hope. After a year, the leaders on Wai told the people of Wani, "We have our own church. Don't try to convert us."
The people of Wani knew that a few people in Wai wanted to learn what they taught, but if the local elders refused to let them preach, they could not preach. Sadly the people of Wani stopped going every week to Wai.
Tautin was an old man living in Wai. He had listened to the Adventist message, and he believed. When the Adventists stopped coming, Tautin found a boat going to Wani and rode along. "Please," he begged the Adventists, "come back, visit me, and teach me God's truth."
Gladly some believers from Wani returned to Wai to teach Tautin and his family about God. Sixteen years later Tautin asked to be baptized. But he did not come alone. He brought six of his children with him, and they all were baptized.
Today 30 or so people worship on Sabbath in Wai. Seven have been baptized, and others are preparing for baptism. It took 17 years, but the village of Wai at last has a congregation of believers. They plan to build a chapel on Tautin's land. In the meantime, they hire a boat and worship with their brothers and sisters in Wani.
And what did the 17-year effort do for the believers in Wani? Their church grew so much that it cannot hold everyone who attends. That happens when believers catch the spirit of mission. Catch the spirit of mission each time you give your Mission offering in Sabbath School.
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