For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so does the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 3:19—NKJV)

From a maudlin thought comes a very practical and timely message. The verse is written from the perspective of all physically observant men (saved or unsaved; polytheistic, monotheistic, or atheistic). Any self-reflective man will readily observe that all earthbound life dies. It is what one does with that thought that shapes the meaning of one’s life. The prospect of death is the “one thing” that causes a man to focus his life.

Solomon does not stop at the similarities between human and animal death. He builds upon this observation of death with critical thinking. He discerned that there is a difference between human life and animal life—evidenced by the fact that he writes to men and not to beasts. There is meaning to human life that animal life simply does not have. In general, mankind is conscious of an eternal existence while animal life has not the slightest hope or thought of any such thing. Solomon’s thought is that because death is so readily observable, it must be a certainty for all mankind (you have heard the axiom “nothing in life is certain but death and taxes”). His practical application is the necessity for every man to live out this short life by packing it with eternal meaning. His closing words to the book bear this out, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:13–14).

There are other “one thing” verses in the Bible which enlarge Solomon’s application. The first to which I would like to draw your attention is 2 Peter 3:8–10, “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will com….” One thing to know is that God can take a thousand years to do a day’s work, and He can do a thousand year’s work in a single day, but He will mete out justice, of this one thing have no doubt. Both ideological and practical atheists seem to be forged by the perception of “injustice” in the happenings of this world. Don’t be fooled—God will mete out justice in all things, and to all people, including you, as He promises.

The fact of approaching death and God’s perfect justice leads an awakening soul to seek shielding from the wrath of God and acceptance before God through the efficacy of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. When God saves a man, He opens his spiritual eyes, much like the illustration of the blind man to whom Jesus restored his sight: “One thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). The Apostle Paul knew what it was to have his sight restored as well, and he lived a valuable principle found in Philippians 3:13–14, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s one consuming goal was to press forward in knowledge and service for Christ until he was called heavenward.

A similar lesson was lost to the ears and heart of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:21, “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’” The young man was distracted by temporal priorities crowding out the real priority of life.

Martha needed to learn a similar lesson about distracting priorities while Mary did not suffer from the same malady. Luke 10:41–42 tells us that Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

David sums it all up with these words, “One thing I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple” (Psalm 27:4–5). Based on these “one thing” admonitions, what one thing in your one life is God pointing out for you today? Do you know your consuming, “one thing” priority? Trust and obey.