June 17, 2018 INTRODUCTION – As we jump into Ecclesiastes ch. 4 today, I want to direct my thoughts primarily to the working folk among us, because that is what most of this chapter is about.
Thinking back to Genesis ch. 2 if you would for a moment, soon after God created Adam and Eve , He set them to work in this beautiful and most likely quite expansive garden in a place called Eden. The living God is a God who loves to work. He never dreams of retiring. He enjoys and takes great delight in working and creating and accomplishing and healing and redeeming things on the earth. And part of being created in His image is having a mind and capacity to not only work, but to enjoy it.
But ever since Adam and Eve chose to listen to Satan’s lies and disobey God, much of the enjoyment of our work has become diminished. Now we not only have our own sinful nature to deal with, but we have to deal with everyone else’s, and we have to deal with Satan and his demons to boot!
So one of the reasons the Holy Spirit led Solomon to write the book of Ecclesiastes is to help those of us in the work force who have come to know God through Jesus Christ to regain some of that enjoyment and sense of purpose in our work, and to avoid the sense of futility and emptiness that so many experience from day to day.
As I’ve meditated on this chapter it seems there are four major truths that we need to give some attention to, all of which can enhance our ability to experience God and His presence and ways in our work. But before we look at the first of four principles or truths regarding work, the author opens this chapter with some thoughts about oppression in the earth. Here is how I would sum up what he seems to be saying in these first few verses.
I. Experiencing the evil of oppression is one of the greatest sorrows known to man – vs. 1-3 The grief and sorrow of being severely oppressed by the powerful and ruthless on the earth, with no one who can or will truly comfort you while you are experiencing such oppression is so grievous and so sorrowful that in a very real sense it would have been better not to have been born than to have to go through that misery. Especially when you are in the midst of such oppression, it is very normal to feel this way.
Job felt this way about the suffering he endured at the hands of Satan (and ultimately God), and he expressed it in ch. 3 of his book, when he said, “Why did I not die at birth, Come forth from the womb and expire?”
Elijah the prophet felt and expressed this kind of utter hopelessness due to the death threats he received from Queen Jezebel for obeying God and speaking the truth to all the false prophets in the land.
While there is certainly injustice and oppression at the hands of evil men (and sometimes women) in our society, sometimes even from our bosses or supervisors, in general this experience is far more prevalent and severe in other nations. And when you are in the midst of it, and your oppressors seem to rule the earth, or at least rule over you without restraint or any repercussions, and there seems to be no help or comfort or justice in your present experience, then it truly often feels like it would be better to have never been born, than to have to go through such oppression and injustice alone and without any defense.
I’m not exactly sure how these first 3 verse relate to one’s work, but I would hope that we could at least this morning recognize that this kind of despair is very real, and needs to be responded to with compassion and empathy, not with trite religious quips.
BTW – The word “EVIL” that occurs in vs. 3, occurs 20 times in 18 verses in the book of Ecclesiastes. It occurs 57 times in 53 verses in Proverbs It occurs 11 times in 11 verses in Job These three books are the primary books of wisdom in the Bible, and this frequent reoccurrence of the theme of evil tells me one thing: We cannot perceive and walk in wisdom until and unless we can see the awful reality of evil in our society and in us, though this passage speaks more of societal evil rather than personal evil.
OK. Let’s move on. The first principle or truth that clearly speaks to our work is this:
II. Because we live and work in a fallen world we must learn to work hard and rest well. Because we live and work in a fallen world where the best of motives in the marketplace or work force are mixed, we must work hard, but also learn when to rest, how to rest, and how to let God cleanse and restore us as a way of life from the ill effects we often experience in the work place– vs. 4-6
A. Solomon, after a long life of overseeing all kinds of work projects and industries, and dealing with other nations with these things, observed that the evil motive of rivalry, competition and one up man’s ship pretty much fuels or at least touches every business and every industry. His observation is that “every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry….” Vs. 4
B. Because of this realization some have chosen to opt out of work. “The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh.” (vs. 5) They would say, “The work force is not fair, no one appreciates my gifts, I didn’t have the opportunities that others have had growing up, my bosses are corrupt and self serving, so I’m just going to enjoy my weed and guzzle my “805”, play my video games, and leave that corrupt work force to others.”
Wisdom says this is a foolish and destructive response to the reality of rivalry and godless ambition and ruthless competition in the workforce. Opting out of work is not the way to handle the challenges that come with work. Far better to experience the injustices in the work force, than to experience the self destruction that comes from refusing to work. As Proverbs 19:15 says, “Laziness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle man will suffer hunger.”
C. So while opting out of work is not an option, and while even just kind of coasting through one’s work life and not really exerting one’self is not an option, neither is getting all wrapped up in the rat race and working ourselves endlessly to the bone an option. At least for those who would seek to walk with and please God. Wisdom will lead us to incorporate times of rest and renewal into our routines. Wisdom will lead us to routinely step back from the fight, and realize it will go on without me, and for me to not be unduly affected by the perverse spirit underlying it all, I must take times to get physically and spiritually and relationally refreshed and renewed. “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind.” (vs. 6)
So what might this “hand full of rest” look like? Well obviously physical sleep when necessary, and it is necessary on a daily basis. But I would say beyond that whatever restful practice that leaves you tender and responsive to God, and whatever restful practice that restores hope and vision and compassion and a righteous sense of priorities to your soul.
Anne and I have found over the last year that daily walks in nature, are crucial for us in that regard. They have become the green pastures He makes us lie down in, though we don’t typically physically lie down in Sweet Springs or Montano De Oro. One of the reasons we over the last year have pretty much cut out TV, movies and social media is because I finally was willing to admit and able to see that these things mostly drain us rather than refresh us. Entertainment and rest are two very different things, and must never be confused as being the same. One study I read on NPR.com said stress in the work force in America is at an all time high. But it is not because we have any lack of entertainment in America. It is rather because we have a lack of rest.
Jesus knew we would hit the wall with exhaustion at times. I believe there were times when He did. One of the many things that set Him apart from His contemporaries, when He walked the earth was He knew how to rest. And thus He invites us to learn from Him, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest….”
Second truth regarding our work:
III. It is vanity to work endlessly for one’s self. Ultimately/ideally there should be some generational blessing and legacy attached to our labor. Vs. 7, 8
Labor in God’s eyes was always meant to help provide for the laborer’s needs, but it was never meant to just meet that need. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give rather than to receive.” And one of the joys of working and making money is the opportunity it gives us to bless others. If you have children or siblings or perhaps nephews and nieces, or cousins, then they should be first in line to be blessed from your hard earned estate. If it is not obvious to you, who that person or persons should be, then the Holy Spirit will be glad to make that clear to you if you ask Him in faith.
Working for riches alone will never satisfy anyone, as many who have achieved great wealth have testified to over the years.
Can I add here that if you are still in your teens or twenties or even older and not yet married, when you get married, you will probably note in our society – there is a growing conviction that children are not necessary, and actually get in the way of one’s career and pursuit of success. Buying into that lie is one reason even in Solomon’s day why probably mostly men can be found living to work for no greater purpose than to acquire more money and more things, but sadly never finding satisfaction from that money and those things.
When and if you get married young people – if you are able physically or biologically to have children…….. There is a reason why God spoke to Adam and Eve about having children before He spoke to them about their work. See the latter part of Genesis ch. 1 for the order of His commands to them.
IV. It is wise to yoke with others in our labor. Quite foolish to labor alone. vs. 9-12
Because of rivalry and fierce competition; because of the rat race; because if you yoke with someone else they may have different ideas of how the work should be accomplished, because of a lot of things, it is easy to want to just work or labor alone. But in the end two or three heads are always better than one, no matter how brilliant and gifted and hard working the one head may be.
I am convinced that my ministry here in my first 23 years would have been much more effective if I had aggressively and consistently pressed into my wife and sought her input and partnership wherever possible. Because I had more of the traditional mindset that her job is in the home with the kids and then with her mother, who has lived with us for the last 10 years, and my job is here, and because of other reasons or factors that I now understand and see, I didn’t seek to involve Anne in my work like I could have. Once I saw this about a year ago, we and especially I have made some significant changes to ensure that we labor together – respecting and appreciating each other’s differences and complementary contributions, and being willing to take the extra time necessary to hear each other out and weigh each other’s perspectives.
It is never too late to change. We certainly do not want to be like the king in the last four verses who had position and power, but no real influence because he couldn’t receive instruction and correction. We will look at that in a minute.
Singles – when God brings you a mate, cling to them for all you are worth, and refuse to allow separate careers to separate you. Refuse to allow your significant differences to separate you. And of course part of your preparation for that day is to become the kind of person today who is so secure in your worth and value in Christ, that you can be vulnerable and not defensive, you can gladly honor your spouse’s strengths and perspectives, instead of being threatened by them, and you can gladly receive their input and correction. One of the many reasons married couples do not truly become one in everything they do and are about is because pride and defensiveness keeps them from it.
Singles – far more important than getting your degree or getting established in your career – is becoming an increasingly secure in Christ and humble person. May the Holy Spirit give you faith and persistence in your pursuit of those precious qualities!
Fourth and last principle or truth regarding one’s work and wealth
V. Age, wealth and power does not insure wisdom, especially if one is unwilling to receive instruction vs. 13-16
Wisdom always trumps power and position. And one necessity for leaders who would lead in wisdom is that they are teachable and correctable. This young man experienced poverty and prison, but evidently was a great learner. And it was his ability to receive instruction, correction and this word translated “instruction” can even mean warning – – it was this ability that opened the door for him to rise from poverty and the shame of prison, to the royalty of being a king.
It is important to note here though that even if wisdom lands one power and position, one’s hope cannot be placed in the people’s appreciation of your wisdom. Their appreciation is as fickle as the wind! One minute they love you. The next they are signing recall petitions. Ultimately you have to rule the people under you as unto God and get your strokes primarily from Him. Ultimately it is His assessment of your fruitfulness, not theirs that matters.
Surely one of the most helpful scriptures, principles, or truths for happily laboring in the work force is Col. 3:23,24, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” He is the only one sometimes that is please able. And when your primary motive for your work is to please Him, you can be absolutely assured He will reward you for your efforts.
CONCLUSION – There are a lot of miserable people in the work force in America today. You do not have to be one of them. Jesus Christ, through whom everything that has come into being has come into being including work, endured horrible suffering culminating in crucifixion on a criminal’s cross so you could be brought into a daily intimate relationship with God. He died so that you might live, and the fullness of life that He offers you includes the ability to enjoy your work and to keep it in righteous perspective. Pray for workers and dads