While attending a religious seminar organized for the youth last week, I got an opportunity to have a clear biblical understanding of the word vanity from the Priests.
I attended this seminar intentionally to get a broader perspective of vanity after one of my students asked me to explain why the bible talks about Jesus coming to give us abundant life but still calls everything vanity.
Although I gave a satisfactory answer to the students, I still wanted to write a detailed article and cover everything about vanity for a wider readership.
I combined my knowledge and that of the priests from the youth seminar and came up with this post. So, what is the Biblical meaning of vanity?
According to the scriptures, vanity means having pride in oneself or having an excessive belief in one’s God-given beauty, abilities, qualities, and achievements. (Ecclesiastes 1:2). In vanity, one is self-absorbed and highly preoccupied with personal issues, problems, anger, and self-exaltation. It is seeking self-attention and avoiding other people around you. If one is in vanity, they are at constant war with the Spirit because Vanity demands every bit of their time and flesh.
So, I encourage you to join me as we try to find answers to the Biblical meaning of vanity, what the Bible says about vanity, how you can avoid vanity and many more.
Keep reading to learn this and more.
What does the Bible say about vanity?
Vanity is worthlessness
The author of Ecclesiastes 1:2 says that Solomon discovered that the world amounts to nothing after exploring it and what it offers. Solomon failed to acknowledge God as the source of his richness: “‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.'”
Instead of using what God had shown him in serving God and the people, he became proud of himself and despised the voice of the Lord.
Further, as seen in 1 Kings 11:4, King Solomon built shrines for other gods against God’s commandments, and as a result, God broke up his kingdom after his death.
As Christians, we learn that going after worldly goals and riches is worthless in the eyes of the Lord.
Vanity is pride
The Bible likens vanity to having pride. As recorded in Psalm 2:2-4, the Bible says that an arrogant man boasts of his cravings, blesses those greedy, and uses his time being in rivalry with God.
Often, pride clouds our judgment. It makes you have an over-inflated idea about yourself or what you occupy. For instance, pride can lead you to chase things without real value with you.
Preoccupying yourself with the pleasures of the world draws you away from God.
The Bible encourages us to use our precious gifts and time to serve God and others. Each one of us has God-given gifts. We must use them in serving God and others as faithful stewards of God’s grace and mercy.
10 Bible verses about vanity
The term vanity has been widely used in the scriptures. Some of the bible verses that speak about vanity include:
- The book of Ecclesiastes 2:1 states that even though we experience pleasure and self-satisfaction, God says all is in vanity: “I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure’; but surely, this also was vanity.”
- According to Job 15:31, God says you should not trust emptiness because deceiving yourself for the same will be your payment: “Let him not trust in futile things, deceiving himself, For futility will be his reward.”
- In Ecclesiastes 4:8, the Bible states that it is all vanity for a man who hasn’t ended up self-satisfaction. There is no reason to accumulate so much riches for yourself, yet you have no one depending on you.
- According to Ecclesiastes 2:21, it is also vanity for a person who has toiled hard with wisdom, knowledge, and skill and leaves everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not work hard for it: “For there is a man whose labor is with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; yet he must leave his heritage to a man who has not labored for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.”
- From Jeremiah 2:5, God asks about the wrong that one’s father found in Him that made him forsake the Lord and find pleasure in worthlessness, thus becoming worthless.
- In Psalm 127:2, the scripture says that it is all vain that you wake up early and sleep late while eating the bread of eager toil because God gives sleep to His beloved.
- God instructs us that wealth found in haste will dwindle, but it will multiply if you gain wealth little by little. (Proverbs 22:8)
- In Psalm 4:2, the Lord asks how long His honor gets turned into shame. He asks how long we must love to listen to vain words and continue seeking after lies.
- The book of Proverbs 16:18 records that pride comes before a fall and a haughty spirit before a fall. We are assured of our downfall once we allow pride to take control of our lives.
- According to 1 John 5:21, the Bible warns us that the desires of the flesh and our pride in life are not from God but from this world. Christians must not be preoccupied with material gain but with service to others.
Four examples of vanity in the Bible
Vanity and King Saul
As seen in 1 Samuel 9:1-2, King Saul allowed vanity to rule his life to the detriment of his destruction. Though Saul was highly gifted and chosen by God, he could lead the people in a manner that justifies God and is aligned with God’s will over His people.
However, King Saul chose to serve his interests and saw himself as more important than God, who had allowed him to serve as King. (1 Samuel 13:8-14).
Because King Saul disregarded God’s command, God removed his divine blessings and Spirit from Saul. As a result, Saul’s remaining reign as King was filled with jealousy, murder, and great discord. (1 Samuel 16:14, 18:10-11).
Vanity in the Garden of Eden
Vanity stood out in the fall of man in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1); Adam and Eve chose to have personal interests despite God providing them with all they needed to live while obeying God’s words.
After turning away from God’s command and serving their interests, Satan took over them and led them astray. Full of Vanity, Eve saw that the forbidden fruit looked tasty and appealing.
She let her desire for pleasure control her and ate the forbidden fruit.
As a result, God cursed all that He had made. (Genesis 3:17-19). Adam and Eve were chased out of the Garden of Eden, and God punished them for sinning against Him.
The Book of Romans 8:20 teaches that He subjected His creation to vanity because of God’s curse.
Vanity between God and the Israelites
Because of vanity, the people of Israel abandoned God to seek their ambitions (Exodus 9:29, 19:5). They deviated from their calling and mission and began to practice idolatry.
Though God provided for all they needed, such as leadership, food, and winning battles against their opponents to the Promised Land, they started making images in the name of God.
God chose the city of Israel with whom He was to be glorified and exalted. However, the Bible states that God regrets that He labored in vain and spent His strength for nothing and in Vanity (Isaiah 49:3-4).
Because they mistrusted God’s words and promises, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years, a journey that could have taken them a few months to the Promised Land in Canaan.
Vanity and Solomon
The author of Ecclesiastes likens Vanity to King Solomon. Although King Solomon was powerful, mighty, and with many wives and concubines as he wished for, he ultimately saw nothing essential to live. In the end, there is no gain in rewarding self-pleasure.
It isn’t very worthy. If God has blessed us with more, then God expects us to utilize it in serving others. If it’s in this way, more blessings will come our way.
What are the dangers of vanity, according to the Bible?
We learn from the scriptures that vanity results in:
Sinning against God
Vanity leads us into sin against God. When we think so highly about ourselves, we lack the knowledge to understand that God is our creator and source of life.
Just like King Saul turned his back against God, then he started sinning against God. (1 Samuel 9:1- 2). When we allow vanity to control our lives, God stands against us.
Imagine fighting against God Himself.
That is a battle that has been lost even before it got started.
When we live in vain, we hurt others through our thoughts, words, and actions. Hurting others might involve disrespecting other people, being jealous of their achievements and living in denial that others can also be better than you, secluding others, and only associating with people of your class.
Romans 12:15 reads, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
We must be able to clap for others when they’re winning and help those who are less fortunate in our societies to uplift themselves—providing them a platform where they can also fend for their needs.
By remembering God’s words on vanity
James 4:6 records that God favors those who are humble but oppose the proud. The Bible encourages us to remain humble, kind, and compassionate with others.
Vanity leads us away from God. When we allow ourselves to be ruled by vanity, we are called for a fight with God because God fights for the humble and brings them to victory.
How can you avoid vanity, according to the Bible?
We acknowledge that, as human beings, we always fall short of God’s grace and mercy. From Psalms 8:4-6, we learn that all is for God is the creator of the entire universe.
We must be ready and willing to confess our sins whenever our hearts are heavy and in bondage. We must always make a perfect confession to God so that He rejuvenates our lives, pardons our sins, renews our graces, and shows us a new path.
Ensuring that we have constant communication with God helps us avoid vanity. God is the source of all life and creation.
Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”
He knows our every weakness.
God has our heart’s intentions before we think, say, or act. When we ask anything from God, He answers our prayers. We must ask God for the grace to grow ourselves in great humility.
Christians must pray to be free from jealousy, pride, fear of judgment, and perfectionism.
By submitting ourselves to God
As Christians, we should surrender our lives to God and accept Him. Proverbs 3:5-6 states that we must trust the Lord with all our hearts and acknowledge God in all our ways: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.”
It is God who straightens our paths. More than relying on our strengths or that of our friends is required to avoid vanity. God is so powerful, so mighty.
We cannot lose any battle that God leads us into. We must allow God to show us the direction of our lives.
As a Christian, I have always been passionate about sharing God’s word with young people. This inspired me to pursue a Certificate in Christian Education, an Undergraduate degree in Religious Studies, and a Graduate degree in Theology. My knowledge in school and experience from dealing with the youth made me an expert at discussing Christian-related topics. I feel privileged working as the Coordinator of the Christian Youth Ministry at Christian Faith Guide. You can read more about me on the about us page.