Ecclesiastes 5 • Finding Satisfaction in Life


Paul states in Philippians 4:11-13, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” The point is that satisfaction is something that transcends meeting a temporary physical need and can really only be found as a by-product of our walk in Christ.

Read verses 1-7

Q: How would you summarize the teaching in these verses?

A: It’s advice for living this present life.

Q: What does it actually mean to “guard your steps”?

A: This is a way of saying to make sure that you follow God’s ways exactly, never deviating from His path, never stumbling due to disobedience or sin. It’s a call to a committed, righteous lifestyle.

Q: What is more important than the sacrifices, than following biblical rituals?

A: Listening to God. The sacrifices were supposed to be the END of the process initiated by a changed heart. Those that think their sin is removed simply by making a sacrifice are in reality accomplishing nothing since they demonstrate that they’re NOT listening to God by committing sin over and over again.

Q: What is the basic teaching of v.2-3?

A: Think before you speak to God.

Q: How would you apply the discourse on vows in v.4-7 to our present life?

A: Follow through with every commitment made to God. Although we don’t go through a formal, ritual process of making vows as they did back then, it’s enough that our “yes” be followed through, and not hastily given to begin with.

But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.

― Matthew 5:37

Q: How do these four pieces of advice work together to build Christian character?

A: It’s the control and submission of one’s actions, heart, and mind to God. If we’re focused on guarding our steps, listening first, thinking things through before we speak our mind to God, and following through with our commitments to Him, we’re allowing ourselves to be shaped by Him, to live this life according to HIS pleasure and will.

Point: Do these points of teaching sound familiar? They’re very much the basis for Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7). It shows not only the consistency of Scripture throughout the entire Bible but the basic requirements for Christian living that have never changed.

Application: For this present life, guard your steps, listen to God, think before you speak to God, and follow through every commitment made to God.

Read verses 8-9

Q: What is the nature of the behavior observed here?

A: Injustice at the hands of government. While it is good on one level that a government (or king) is interested in making the economy work, there appear to be a lot of inequities that come with the bureaucracy. In other words, satisfaction in this life is not realized through human institutions.

Application: Satisfaction in this life is not realized through human institutions.

Read verses 10-12

Q: What is the nature of the behavior observed here?

A: The pursuit of satisfaction from one’s work. What is assumed to satiate one’s hunger for life’s satisfaction actually increases the appetite to the point of never achieving that satisfaction.

Application: Satisfaction in this life is not realized through one’s work or profession.

Read verses 13-17

Q: What is the nature of the behavior observed here?

A: Planning long-term security for one’s self and family through the establishment of personal wealth. It’s the short-sightedness that, first of all, doesn’t account for the unexpected misfortunes that come to every life, and second, can’t provide anything for the life hereafter; it’s extremely volatile and short-lived. This does not provide satisfaction in this life either.

Q: How do the above three items fit together to provide a picture of the world’s wisdom for attaining satisfaction and security?

A: Many believe it can be achieved either through government institutions, a strong personal work ethic, or the drive to provide for one’s family. They all ultimately fail to provide security because they’re all limited to this temporary life with no real provision for the next life, and fail to even provide satisfaction in this life because of the lack of peace and stability that they bring to those solely focused on this life and its inherent obstacles and injustices. One tends to actually be consumed by them.

Application: Satisfaction in this life is not realized through long-term financial planning.

Read verses 18-20

Q: What is the one word mentioned here that is missing from the above three scenarios, which also makes a difference in whether one is satisfied or not?

A: God. Satisfaction in this life begins with attributing to God all that has been given in this life, not by living and planning independently from Him.

Q: What is the defining difference in the quality of life of the person who attributes all he has and does to God as opposed to those that become exclusively obsessed by these things?

A: “For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart.” (v.20) In other words, such a person can enjoy what has been given in this life without worrying about their life because everything is held in its proper perspective. For this person, the present life is most likely held in the proper context of all eternity so that they can be satisfied that what occurs in the present will provide for both the present AND the future. He’s not afraid that whatever he’s doing is not enough or worried about unforeseen circumstances bringing his plans to ruin. It’s the difference between faith in God versus one’s self

Application: Satisfaction in this life comes from dependency on God, not living and planning independently from Him.

Overall Application

The contrast of v.1-7 versus 8-20 is our interior life from the heart and our exterior pursuit of life. In both cases, the difference is the degree to which they are in submission to God and His ways versus the world’s and our own.