Wisdom: All Is Vanity

Sermon from CCM:City Centre


This sermon was preached by Tom O’Toole at the CCM:City Centre site of Christ Church Manchester on Sunday 2nd February 2020.



This message was part of the ‘SERIES NAME’ series, preached at Christ Church Manchester’s church in Fallowfield in EARLY/MID/LATE YEAR. The full series included the following sermons:


This sermon was based on Ecclesiastes 1.

All Is Vanity

1The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
4A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
7All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
8All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
10Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already in the ages before us.
11There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.

The Vanity of Wisdom

12I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

15 What is crooked cannot be made straight,
and what is lacking cannot be counted.

16I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.

18For in much wisdom is much vexation,
and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.


Work that Never Stops

  • Life without the fear of God at the centre ultimately frustrates.
  • Money, Holidays, Growth of the company,the service you provide –  Not to say these things don’t have merit – they do, but ultimately you are fighting against a tide and you can’t stop it.
  • The idea is that history goes round in cycles … sun rises and goes down, the winds blowing south and north, streams running to the sea. It is humbling, depressing … So the conclusion – Vanity of Vanities. All is Vanity.

Consumption That Never Satisfies

  • Talking about what we consume – what the eye sees and ear hears. We are saturated with consuming whatever we want to and with pleasure generally.
  • “I thought it would be good to be rich and famous. It would be good to have stuff. It would be good to have money and be invited to the party… Well, I’ve been invited, and I’ve been in, and we’re having this chat in this swish private men’s club in East London. It’s super cool. There are bare brick walls, and everyone is double good-looking. I’ve been inside now. I’ve seen the other side of the looking glass, and it ain’t flippin’ worth it! It ain’t flippin’ worth it! It doesn’t feed your soul. I still feel empty inside.” – Russell Brand
  • We think we feed ourselves through consumption – and yet it never satisfies.

Achievement That Never Lasts

  • There is nothing new and there is nothing that lasts. Nothing will even be remembered. Think of a family tree … there’s a dilution of knowledge and remembrance the further back you go.
  • School Project … Ozymandias by Shelley
    • (Traveller in the desert finds two trunkless legs and a pedestal) –
      “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
      Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
  • So many of us do this … we give our lives for a particular legacy.  We sacrifice truly important things to build something … And for what? – No wonder there is a weariness to things.

Wisdom That Never Works

  • Solomon had applied himself to seek and search wisdom. Those of you who have been to uni will know there always seems to be that one person. They have done all the courses. Learned all that there is to learn. In every field. This was Solomon’s approach (Literally in his day).
  • The myth that an increase in learning will bring fulfilment and purpose and joy, sociologically this is just not true.
  • In much wisdom is much vexation – The more pieces you see the more you know you don’t know.  Old wool loom … on the reverse side – an absolute mess. All these components and things you are learning about – none of it adds up.

Ecclesiastes undermines a life under sun. It is a damning critique of the futility of life when the fear of the Lord is missing as a centrepiece. And it is an invitation to look beyond the stars and this life. To find the meaning we were made for.



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