Course Module in Preaching - Is Work Meaningful or Futile?
Interpreting and Preaching Ecclesiastes 2&3: Two Different Ways to Assign this Topic
Both of these assignments assume that the biblical text of these chapters will be read and examined. Also that the TOW Commentary on Ecclesiastes will be read and whatever other commentaries and biblical resources the teacher chooses to recommend.
The aim of the first exercise is to get students thinking carefully about how to deal hermeneutically with a portion of Scripture that seems to communicate different, perhaps even contradictory, messages about the meaning of work.
The aim of the second exercise is to get students to explore how the different messages about the meaning of work in Ecclesiastes 2 might help people with very different experiences of work make sense of their working lives.
1. CLASS DEBATE – IS WORK MEANINGFUL OR FUTILE?
The whole class is divided into two teams, one pro-meaningful and one pro-futile. The case for each side has to be built solely around their reading and interpretation of Ecclesiastes Chapters 2 and 3. Everyone is to be involved in examining Ecclesiastes 2 and 3 to see how their case might be argued. Each side appoints 2 speakers to argue their case, with speakers from each side taking turns for a maximum of 5 minutes each. Then a third speaker from each side is given the chance to offer reinforcement or rebuttals of what other speakers have said. After the last speaker, class members vote on who offered the most convincing case.
2. WRITE A SERMON ON “IS WORK MEANINGFUL OR FUTILE?”.
This exercise could be done by all class members following the previous “Class Debate” exercise or completely separate from that exercise.
Your text is Ecclesiastes 2. Your sermon is to be only 15 minutes long. You must try to make it helpful for those who love their work, those who struggle with their work, and those who don’t have paid jobs. Before you finish preparing this sermon, talk with at least one representative from each of these categories and ask for their personal answer to the question in the title “Do you think work is meaningful or futile?” Try to incorporate or at least acknowledge their observations into your sermon in an appropriate way. Assume that they are listening to you preach.
Additional Resources to Get Students Thinking
- Larisa Levicheva, professor of Biblical Studies and of Languages at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, speaks in a short video on “Work with Contentment: Lessons from Ecclesiastes”
- Jeff Haanen of the Denver Institute for Faith and Work explains his conclusions about the contrasting perspectives in Ecclesiastes
- Austin Burkhart offers his perspective on “The Wisdom of Ecclesiastes: Choose to Find Satisfaction in Your Work”
- Other ideas for preachers can be found in the How to Read the Bible with Workplace Eyes resource.