Passage: Ecclesiastes 11:1-6
Guide for Group Discussion or Personal Reflection
We live in a world marked by time, chance, and randomness—a world where our best work can be wiped away by circumstances outside of our control. In Ecclesiastes 11:1-6, the Teacher helps us come to grips with this world, and navigate our way through it.
Throughout the passage, the Teacher highlights our own lack of certainty in the face of this world’s seeming randomness: “we do not know what disaster may happen on earth” (vs. 2), he reminds us, neither do we know “the work of God” (vs. 5), nor “which (of our own works) will prosper” (vs. 6). Not only do we lack knowledge; we also lack control. There are many events about which we simply have to say, “if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen” (vs. 3). This is a serious challenge to our own desire for a sense of control and predictability. But the sooner we can come to grips with—and not be naïve about—the reality of the world’s randomness, the wiser we will be.
In the face of this randomness, the Teacher exhorts us not to be anxious, or to hold back, but to invest ourselves—consistently, and liberally—in good work. It is precisely because of—not despite—our lack of knowledge, that we should give ourselves to many good endeavors, even as we wait to see what will prosper in the end. One thing is certain: if we wait around for the perfect circumstances before “sowing”, then we will never reap (vs. 4).
In the end, the Teacher rooted his guidance in common sense. We should learn from him and follow his exhortation to “cast our bread upon the waters” (vs. 1)—not only out of common sense, but because we have the example of Jesus and the hope of the gospel. Jesus is the perfect example of not being naïve about this world—he knew full well “what disaster would happen on earth” (his death)—and yet he sowed himself into the heart of our broken world, giving himself away in love to us. Jesus compared his death to a grain that would fall into the earth and die, but eventually bring about great fruit. His substitutionary death absorbed all the randomness of a broken world, and was itself the seed from which a new creation was being birthed. All who rely on Jesus are not only invited into that future creation—where all our work will be indestructible, where nothing is wasted effort—and we are given the incredible promise right now, that “in the Lord, our labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). That is true gospel hope, and it will liberate us to work hard in an uncertain world!
• The Reality of Randomness (11:1-6; 9:11)
• How to Live in Light of It (11:1-2; 6)
Group Discussion & Personal Reflection Guide
Re-read the passage(s): Ecclesiastes 11:1-6
The Reality of Randomness (11:1-6; 9:11)
Q) Re-read Ecclesiastes 11:1-6. How does the teacher highlight the unpredictability, randomness, and uncertainty that characterizes life under the sun? What are some of the things he says that “we do not know”?
Q) Read Ecclesiastes 9:11. What is the teacher saying here about the nature of life under the sun? How does it complement what he teaches in chapter 11?
Q) When have you personally experienced the randomness, or unpredictability, of life? What happened, and how did you respond?
Q) In the sermon, Ben said that the passage speaks to the question, “How do we live for God in a world where randomness threatens all of our work?” Related to the question above, have you ever experienced something you worked hard at being destroyed because of events outside of your control? How did it make you feel? How did you relate to God in the experience?
Q) Re-read Ecclesiastes 11:3. In the sermon, Ben said that this verse describes the reality that there’s nothing we can do to avert some events from happening—that “if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen”. Is there an area in your life right now where you need to remember this truth? What is the danger of forgetting it?
Q) In the sermon, Ben said that because we are generally not comfortable with the truth that many things in life are outside of our control, we do little things to help us maintain the illusion of being in control. Have you ever noticed this tendency in yourself, or in others? What are some things that you or others do to make yourself feel more in control than you actually are?
How to Live in Light of It (11:1-2; 6)
Q) In the sermon, Ben mentioned some of the unhelpful ways of responding to the randomness and the unpredictability of the world. As a review, some of them were:
- We can live fearfully and timidly (because we’re constantly thinking of all the things that “could go wrong”)
- We can become cynical (we’ve been “burned” enough times by randomness, that we don’t get our hopes up about anything anymore)
- We can hold back from really investing in anything (because we don’t know how things will turn out)
Why is each one of these an unhelpful response? Do you notice one or more of these tendencies in yourself? Which one(s)? How does that manifest itself in your life? (I’d recommend not rushing this question. What might the Lord be calling you to repent of? What might he be calling people to do?)
Q) Re-read Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 and 11:6. What does it mean to:
- “cast your bread upon the waters”? (vs. 1)
- “give a portion to seven, or even to eight”? (vs. 2)
- “sow your seed…withhold not your hand”? (vs. 6)
Q) Is there an area where you’re feeling called right now to “cast your bread upon the waters?” What would this look like? What, if anything, has kept you, or is keeping you from doing so?
Q) Re-read 11:4. What does it mean to “observe the wind” or “regard the clouds”? What are the effects of doing so? Is there an area of your life where you’ve been held back from sowing, because you’ve “observed the wind” too much?
Q) How is Jesus the perfect example of being clear-eyed (not naïve) about the world, while also not holding back from investing in it? How can we follow his example?
Q) Re-read 1 Corinthians 15:58, which Ben referenced at the end of the sermon. What hope does this verse give us today, as we seek to “cast our bread upon the waters”?
Additional Application Questions
Q) How else would you like to engage with God this week?
Q) How can you tangibly care for those in your community this week, both inside and outside of the church?
Spend time praying for yourselves, our church community, the North Shore community, and our nation and world—particularly those most vulnerable.