part 11 – how much is enough? (Ecc 5:8 – 6:8)
Turn with me in your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 5 and once you get there mark your place. We have been journeying with the Teacher through Ecclesiastes as he makes very thought provoking observations about life under the sun, causing his audience to say hmmm, he’s got a point. I’ve likened him to Jerry Seinfeld in his ability to point out everyday issues, almost with the tone of “So what’s the deal with work? So what’s the deal with injustice?” This morning’s text essentially asks, “What’s the deal with wealth?”
The appeal of wealth is universal. From the California Gold Rush of 1849 to casinos to the lottery, there is evidence that people tend to pursue wealth. If you consider political campaigns, are they not full of promises of increased material prosperity? Why is that? What’s the deal with wealth? In most cases, in the world, wealth or material prosperity is seen as the measure of the good life.
In our text, the Teacher examines wealth, making some more thought-provoking observations, which raises the question: is wealth really the measure of the good life?
This morning’s text is Chiastic in structure. This means that the first point he makes corresponds to the last point, the second point he makes corresponds to the second to last point. The outline is A, B, C, B, A. Look at your bulletins with me. The term chiasm derives its name from the Greek letter Chi, which looks like our X. You can see there the Chi, in the center of the bulletin and the outline on the left displays the points and the corresponding texts.
A. People in pursuit of wealth will not be satisfied (5:8-12)
B. It is a grievous evil when people do not enjoy their lives (5:13-17)
C. People should enjoy god’s daily gifts (5:18-20)
B. It is a grievous evil when people do not enjoy their lives (6:1-6)
A. People in pursuit of wealth will not be satisfied (6:7-9)
Since we are covering so much ground, we won’t read the entire text at once, but we will work it in section by section as we walk through.
Our first point is A – PEOPLE IN PURSUIT OF WEALTH WILL NOT BE SATISFIED.
Ecc 5:8-12 8 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. 9 The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.
Verses 8-9, I believe, communicate the idea that in the pursuit of wealth people do harm to the poor. In a sense, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Don’t be surprised at injustice (we already discussed this in chapter 3 – in the place of justice, wickedness is there). At the local level, there is corruption and they are taking bribes. If you’re poor and can’t fork over some coinage, this case may not go in your favor. This local judge, sends some of the profit to the regional official, who sends a cut, right on up the ladder and the King, who is at the top of the pyramid benefits the most because everybody under him is sending profits his way. TLB “the matter is lost in red tape and bureaucracy.”
So there is corruption in the bureaucracy; the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Why? Because money talks and that’s what these people want; people tend to pursue wealth.
It is believed that wealth adds worth, that greed is good, that riches bring about the good life. But is that the case? The teacher observes next in verse 10
10 Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is [hebel – a vapor]. 11 As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them
He who loves money will never have enough. If you ask most people the question, “Are you satisfied with your income? Are you happy with your wages?” how would most people respond? Who wouldn’t like a raise?
Let’s be clear. Money is not evil. But as it is stated in, 1 Tim 6:10 The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Having money isn’t the issue, but loving money, craving wealth is the issue.
But here is where the problem is. If we love money and crave wealth, attaining more money will not satisfy that craving; it will only intensify it. That’s different from the way food works. If you’re hungry for food, and you eat some food, there is a little satisfaction. If you eat a salad, you say, that helped. Stomach isn’t full, still excited about the main course. They bring out the main course and halfway through, you are perfectly satisfied. You could box up the rest and have leftovers for lunch tomorrow. What happens if you keep eating till the plate is empty? Has your appetite grown? Are you craving more? What happens if you say, bring on the desert? Do you, after eating the desert, now with a full stomach crave even more food and say, bring the menus back out because I just have a craving for a steak? No, you’re more than satisfied. Have you ever eaten too much? I can think of a few times in my life that I ate too much and I was so miserable that I said, I don’t want to think about food, look at food, I never want to eat food again. There is no craving there. When you get too much the craving is gone and it is now almost repulsive.
Now, with money, is that how it works? A man craves money. Gets money. At what point does a man who craves money say, no, no, I can’t stand the thought of more money. I never want to think about or get money again in my life. Whereas with food, the craving is satisfied, and there is a point at which it can become repulsive if too much is consumed, with money, the craving only intensifies with more and it is never satisfied.
Snickers satisfies, but money doesn’t satisfy. Get it, crave it. Get more of it, crave more of it.
If your goal in life is to be wealthy, then I have bad news for you; you will never reach the finish line. That is a finish line that just keeps moving farther and farther away. For the person who makes 10K, it sure does look like making 20K is lifestyles of the rich and famous that’s double. What happens when he makes 20K? Is he rich then? No, 40K would be rich beyond his wildest dreams. What happens when he makes 40K? is he rich then? No, he’s barely scraping by and he wonders how he ever got by on 20K. Now 70K is looking like where he would be happy and comfortable and wealthy. What happens when he makes 70K?
He’s never going to be wealthy, he’s never going to reach that goal because that finish line is constantly moving. The checkered flag will never waive. He is chasing after the wind. He will never catch it, never grasp it.
Again, this is hebel. It’s like a vapor. Ah, there it is. I want it. I will get it. But when I grasp it, poof, it’s gone.
Then v11 communicates the idea that when you make more money, you just have more bills to pay. V11 As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them? Now that I have more, I have a higher standard of living and I create more bills for myself and I have to pay more money to more people to take care of my abundance of stuff and things.
TLB renders v11 this way: The more you have, the more you spend, right up to the limits of your income. So what is the advantage of wealth—except perhaps to watch it as it runs through your fingers!
It’s like we are always living right on the edge of what our income will allow. Get a raise, now we can get that new car we wanted. New payments. Not ahead, still living paycheck to paycheck because we found a way to spend that extra money. Get more, spend more. When income increases bills increase. Get another raise. Now we can afford a bigger house. But this is too much to clean and care for, so now we have to hire a maid. And this large lawn is too much to care for, so now we need to hire workers to mow and do the landscaping. Now it’s too difficult to manage my own money and investments, so I need to hire an accountant and a broker to handle those things. Now, with more money, I have to pay more taxes. Now we have so much money, there is more of a threat to my family and me, so I need to hire a body guard or two or three. The more money, the more bills. Money goes right down the drain of increased expenses.
In v12, we see the love of money leads to worry. 12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep.
In the world of the rich is an abundance that does not satisfy. It robs people of sleep. Those with less have less to worry about. The rich worry about their riches, anxious over the safety of their investments, concerned about the shifting of the market, losing sleep due to stress.
In our chiastic structure, we have explored point A) PEOPLE IN PURSUIT OF WEALTH WILL NOT BE SATISFIED in 5:8-12. Let’s look now at 6:7-9, which corresponds to the same point. The supporting point he makes here is that the love of money leaves people empty. Money, material wealth, an abundance of possessions cannot satisfy the soul.
7 Everyone’s toil is for their mouth, yet their appetite is never satisfied. 8 What advantage have the wise over fools? What do the poor gain by knowing how to conduct themselves before others? 9 Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Ever notice that it is often easier for the poor to be content with what they have? Often the poor are able to enjoy their daily bread more than the rich can. A poor person can devour a mcdouble from the dollar menu and enjoy it and appreciate it while a rich man complains about how his steak isn’t cooked quite right.
One commentator states that this is the Teacher’s version of the proverb: a bird in the hand beats two in the bush. Better to have a little and be satisfied than to strive after much and still end up empty.
Enjoy, appreciate and thank God for whatever you do have instead of ungratefully pursuing more, attempting to fulfill an insatiable appetite driven by the love of wealth.
Wealth can be a cruel thief that steals your joy and robs you of contentment. Again, wealth in and of itself is not bad; it is one’s attitude toward wealth. Is one finding his worth in wealth? Is one worshiping wealth? If the answers to either of those questions is yes, then therein lies the problem. Wealth has a way of taking from you more than it gives you.
Back to Ecc 5:13-17 and onward to point B) IT IS A GRIEVOUS EVIL WHEN PEOPLE DO NOT ENJOY THEIR LIVES
13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners, 14 or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when they have children there is nothing left for them to inherit.
This pertains to one who keeps his riches but doesn’t enjoy them. He is hoarding his wealth but not enjoying it.
When I was taking economics classes, I always thought it was interesting that we use the term “goods” to refer to stuff and things. I believe that what we have the Teacher doing here is through observation and philosophical contemplation, raising the question, “Are goods really good?” What do they really add?
First of all: v14 You can’t keep wealth forever. Loving money is loving what is fleeting. It’s loving a vapor. It’s getting excited about and putting a lot of effort and energy into attaining or maintaining something that is there one minute and then poof, gone, the next.
Think about how frustrating it would be to spend a lifetime accumulating wealth, whether through pinching pennies, saving, investing, working hard, sleepless nights, double shifting it, not seeing the family, whatever the means, but procuring goods, accumulating wealth and then losing it through some misfortune.
You never know what could happen tomorrow. You never know when you have to replace your water heater or air conditioner. You never know when your investments could tank. You never know when you might be faced with a lawsuit. You never know when a family member could contract some illness that requires medical attention and with it medical bills. You never know what misfortune could come along and sweep away all of the wealth for which you worked so hard. And if you love money, if you crave wealth, if you find your worth in wealth, how much more devastating a blow. Hebel. It’s a vapor.
This is one of the grievous evils that occurs: sometimes people accumulate wealth only to lose it in some misfortune. So why invest your heart and soul into the love and pursuit of something that is fleeting, here today and maybe not tomorrow? The unspoken conclusion is: Don’t
Now, for those of us who are fortunate and don’t lose it all through some misfortune, guess what, there is still that great equalizer called death that we will all encounter. You and I will die one day and we can’t take our wealth with us. V15 Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands.
We know this from the time we spent in Job. We looked at that in a different context, but the precept is the same. You came into this world with nothing and you will leave it with nothing. You can accumulate wealth, but you can’t keep it forever.
16 This too is a grievous evil: As everyone comes, so they depart, and what do they gain, since they toil for the wind? 17 All their days they eat in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger.
Preoccupation with wealth leads to a miserable life. This is very antithetical to our assumptions. People tend to think more money will make them happy, so they become consumed with the pursuit of it. But the man consumed with accumulating money is never satisfied no matter how much he has. Stressed over the possibility of losing his money. Vexed with frustration, affliction and anger. And when he does lose it, he is sick over the loss as he reflects on what he had but has no longer. Probably regretting this, regretting that. If only I had not invested in that stock. If only I had done it this way.
In our chiastic structure, we are under point B) IT IS A GRIEVOUS EVIL WHEN PEOPLE DO NOT ENJOY THEIR LIVES. We have worked through 5:13-17. Let’s look now at the corresponding point in 6:1-6.
Ecc 6:1-6 1 I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: 2 God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.
3 A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.4 It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. 5 Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man— 6 even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?
In ancient times a measure of greatness was living a long life and having lots of children. We can’t appreciate the force of this observation because we are so selfish today, we only have 1.5 children because we have careers and children cost a lot of money and that would be a great misfortune if we got pregnant because all that we worked so hard for will be spent on diapers and bottles, formula, onesies, not to mention, proms, weddings, and college. And don’t even get me started about the time, energy and effort that will take away from our own hobbies and interests. But when this was written, long life, lots of children, marks of greatness. He says: You can have a hundred children and live a long life, but if you cannot enjoy the blessings that God gives, what good is it.
That’s like letting a child unwrap a game system at Christmas, but not letting him take it out of the box and play with it. He has it, but he can’t enjoy it. What good is it? It would have been better for that child not to have seen the present under the tree, not opened it. Now he has the thing and he can’t reap the benefits or enjoy it. In the same way, the Teacher explains that a stillborn child is better off than the man who has it all, has everything that makes for a blessed life and not having the ability to enjoy them.
You can be rich, but bored. Rich but worried. Rich but empty and depressed. The rich man who does not enjoy his prosperity is worse off than a stillborn child who never lived to drink the bitter cup of discontentment.
And this gets back to the heart of the book, the heart of our text, which leads us to point C- PEOPLE SHOULD ENJOY GOD’S DAILY GIFTS
18 This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot.
Find enjoyment in the common things in life. Eating and drinking and working. Not comprehensive list, but summary of the basics. Find enjoyment in the common things in life. People tend to think in terms of work as being a bad thing and we can’t wait for the weekend so we don’t have to work, can’t wait for vacation so we don’t have to work, can’t wait for retirement so we won’t have to work. We tend to live for Friday afternoon, loathe Monday morning, live for vacation and look forward to retirement, all the while failing to see the reality that work is our lot, a gift from God. We tend to seek the absence of work instead of enjoying the journey of which work is an integral part.
Not only work and not only food and drink. Again, that’s representative of the common everyday elements of life. At the risk of stepping on all of our toes, including my own, I can add some practical items to the list to help drive it home. Men, are we content, are we satisfied with our wives and their beauty or do our eyes wander in attempt to satisfy a craving, a lust that only grows the more we feed it? If you feast your eyes on a beautiful woman for very long, are you satisfied, or does your appetite for such things grow?
And just as there is nothing wrong with money. Money is not the root of all evil, but the love of money, the craving for money, so also, there is nothing wrong with pinterest or craigslist. But, are we content and satisfied with what we have or do we find our hearts constantly craving the next home improvement in attempt to satisfy a craving, a desire that only grows the more we feed it? The longer we look at better homes and garden, does that make us content with what we have or does that drive us to covetousness and discontentment with our own home and garden?
There is nothing wrong with making home improvements within our means and even finding satisfaction in those things, for they are part of our toil, the work of our hands to be enjoyed. I think that if we are to make application of our text here, the Teacher is warning against the empty discontentment and lack of fulfillment that is perpetuated when our hearts have an unhealthy fixation on what we do not yet have, when we covet our neighbor’s wife, husband, home, garden, furniture, pool, boat, car, stuff and things.
Enjoy the common things in life. This is how we escape the boredom, the misery, the discontentment. This is how we escape the constant craving for more and achieve the satisfaction we cannot find in the chasing after the wind. This is how we see the checkered flag waiving every single day because this is a goal that is attainable. This is achievable. This is something we can do on a daily basis and the finish line is not continually moving out of reach.
V19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. 20 They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.
Whereas the one consumed with wealth is afflicted and angry, looking back on his life in regret either regretting that he spent time and energy accumulating wealth only to lose it or regretting that he spent time and energy accumulating wealth instead of on his family, the one who enjoys his lot in life seldom reflects on his days, [doesn’t look back in regret] because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.
So back to the question: Is wealth really the measure of the good life?
I believe that based on our text, the answer is no. In fact, it leads to some counter-cultural conclusions:
First, because riches often lead to restlessness, in reality, rest is more of a mark of the good life than riches. That is part of the role of the Sabbath for ancient Israel. Israel was to rest on the seventh day as God worked six days and rested the seventh. In the Kingdom, we don’t observe a literal Sabbath, but our Sabbath is to rest in Christ, who finished the work on behalf of his people, but the principle of rest is more than applicable here, for it is rest for our souls.
Rather than the restlessness wrought by riches, let us rest. And by rest, I don’t mean, take life easy and be lazy and don’t work. I’m saying what Solomon says in Proverbs 23:4-5 4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich; do not trust your own cleverness. 5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.
Don’t wear yourself out to get rich, choose rest over riches. Why? In the Kingdom we don’t confuse wealth and worth. We recognize what is really worthwhile and what is hebel, what is simply a vapor that will disappear in but a moment.
The world system, at large promotes greed as a virtue. From the movie Wall Street. Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas: “Greed for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed in all of its forms. Greed for life. For money for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.” While the world says greed is good, the gospel says God is good. In our upside down Kingdom, greed is never promoted as a virtue.
While the world says it is fitting to have and to hoard, the Lord says it is more blessed to give than to receive. You and I could suffer the same frustrating fate of the one observed to hoard his wealth only to lose it in some misfortune, or we could be a blessing to others, be a giver, be generous with our wealth.
The relentless pursuit of wealth can become an act of worship. Jesus warned against this in the sermon on the mount. Matt 5:19-24 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Don’t forget that you and I are rich. Recognize that what you have is a gift of God. When you go home today, I want you to go around your house and take inventory (not with paper and pen) but mentally, and take it all in. Feast your eyes on all that stuff and recognize that it is all a gift from God. Thank him for it and find contentment and satisfaction in it all the while recognizing that he is the giver. I believe a God-centered perspective with regard to possessions is a safeguard against making an idol of our things and worshiping wealth.
To summarize the counter-cultural conclusions:
- Rest is better than riches
- Wealth does not define worth
- Greed is not good
- It is better to give than to receive
Our text gets right at the matter of the ability to enjoy life, which I believe is the theme of the book of Ecclesiastes. Life is a gift from God that should be enjoyed. Whether one has much or little, he should be satisfied with it and enjoy his lot that God has apportioned.
You can have it all: long life, lots of children, lots of wealth, but if you don’t enjoy it what good is it? No good. If you work so hard, long hours, lots of stress so that you can have more, but when you’re with your family, you aren’t pleasant and you don’t enjoy them what good is it?
The good life is not bound up in the abundance of money, goods, stuff, material possessions, wealth. The good life is a life of contentment, in which one enjoys what he does have, whether it is much or little – a life of joy and satisfaction with God’s provision.