Vanity of Vanities;
All is vanity.
Vanity. What an interesting word.
A lady’s make-up dresser is called a vanity, and so is the bathroom sink.
We are all familiar with the magazine called Vanity Fair.
The preacher tells us in the Book of Ecclesiastes that all of life is vanity.
The word vanity is not much in use today except for the magazine and maybe the make-up dresser.
A bit more common is the noun form of the word which is “vain.”
Vain carries the idea of extreme conceit and self-centeredness, as in the Carly Simon song “You’re So Vain.” For most people, that is the definition with which they are most familiar—self-centeredness.
A recent critic has noted that—
“Vanity plagues us all. From lowly selfie-takers pouting at their phones and zapping their images out into the cold infinity of cyberspace, all the way to those occupying the highest offices in the land. It’s unseemly, this desperate campaign to control how we are seen by the world. But it’s also deeply human, something that unifies us all, this lonely pettiness, this struggling against our forever-thwarted egos.”
However, this is not the thought of the preacher in our scripture lesson today.
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities!
All is vanity.
The Hebrew word translated as “vanity” is used 73 times in the OT. Its basic meaning is that of emptiness. It is often used for breath or vapor—something that passes as quickly as it is formed.
So, when the Preacher says that life is nothing but vanity, he is not saying that it is about self-centeredness.
He is saying that it is emptiness, a vapor.
We need to be careful, though and not take this idea too far.
He is not saying that ALL of life is vanity, for that would contradict much of what Jesus said and did.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
It does not require an in-depth reading of Ecclesiastes to discover that Solomon is talking about what we believe is the purpose of life here on earth.
He is talking about our pursuit of pleasure, security, wealth.
He is speaking against the notion that “he who dies with the most toys wins.”
I remember what the ‘80’s were like as we came out of the economic recession.
The mentality of that decade was
Get all you can.
Can all you get.
Sit on the can.
It was all about the pursuit of wealth and financial security.
One of the results of that time was the proliferation of credit. Just about anyone who wanted could obtain a credit card, which allowed them to “buy now, pay later.”
Of course, that grew unabated and without much guidance for the young ones just beginning their life as an adult.
A terrible fallout of all that was the rise in bankruptcies and mortgage foreclosures on their “dream home.”
I was doing home remodeling during that period.
I often went into new, expensive homes in classy neighborhoods where the family was sleeping on the floor and eating at a metal dinette set.
They could not afford the lifestyle they were trying to portray for their neighbors.
If this current economic downturn lasts much longer, we will see the same thing happen again with bankruptcy and foreclosures.
People have been living on the edge of their income with nothing in reserve and the bottom is dropping out from under them.
Making the pursuit of what this life has to offer as your number one goal is vanity.
It is emptiness.
Regardless of how much you may achieve, there is always more to be had.
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money,
nor he who loves wealth with his income;
this also is vanity.
How much is enough?
Just a little bit more!
And it is this fact which keeps people desperately trying to achieve.
This is vanity, and chasing after wind.
One of the mistakes we have made in this country is our emphasis on our right to pursue happiness.
In the Declaration of Independence we have these famous words —
We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
While noble in its intent, that last phrase has caused many a shipwrecked life as people pursue something that can never be caught.
Happiness is a choice, not a destination.
We all know people who have much more than we have, yet they are not happy. We also know folks who have less than we have, and yet they ARE happy.
If your happiness is dependent on outward circumstances such as having the right car or clothing, then you will forever be miserable.
The apostle Paul gives us this example in his letter to the Philippians.
Not that I am speaking of being in need,
for I have learned in whatever situation I am
to be content.
I know how to be brought low,
and I know how to abound.
In any and every circumstance,
I have learned the secret of
facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
We see verse 13 used by people in many different ways, many of which often leave me shaking my head.
This verse cannot be used to help you walk up a wall and across the ceiling.
It must be taken in its context, which is about a secret that Paul learned.
He learned the secret of how to face the ups and downs of life, which is being content.
Contentment is not possible when looking at the circumstances.
Looking at your circumstances will send you on a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs, ins and outs, twists and turns, all trying to shake you from your foundation in Christ.
Recall the verse I shared with you last time from Isaiah.
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
All you have to do to recognize the truth of this promise is to contemplate for just a moment the things that disturb your peace.
High cost of fuel.
Low checkbook balance.
When your focus is on something like these, your peace is disturbed.
Anxiety is your reward.
Happiness is a distant memory in these moments.
Distress and disturbance are ever ready in these times to fill your stomach with enough acid to create ulcers.
But, that is okay.
The choice is yours.
The psalmist also tells us the same thing the preacher has told us.
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
That word “vain” is still the same word in the Hebrew we saw in Ecclesiastes meaning ‘empty’ or useless.
It is a waste of your time to drive yourself always trying to achieve or get ahead.
I have always loved that phrase when people tell me they just want to get ahead.
Ahead of what?
Nine times out of ten there is no satisfactory answer either for themselves or for me.
It is just something we have been lied to about and we have bought into the lie.
We do not need to get ahead of anything or anyone.
Jesus went to the heart of the matter in His sermon on the mount.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be added to you.
He wasn’t talking about the finer things in life, the extras that we try to add for our comfort.
He was talking about the basic necessities of food and shelter.
So, to summarize—pursuing anything beyond contentment is vanity and a chasing after wind.
I will close with just a few of the many verses that tell us what I have been saying today.
If then you have been raised with Christ,
seek the things that are above,
where Christ is,
seated at the right hand of God.
Set your minds on things that are above,
not on things that are on earth.
For to set the mind on the flesh is death,
but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.
For the things that are seen are transient,
but the things that are unseen are eternal.
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
I cannot say any more than these verses tell us.
Peace, contentment and happiness come from only one source.
Misery, heartache, disappointment come from any number of sources.
The choice is yours.