Distressing Work

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Distressing Work

Sermon by  Thomas Thornhill Jr

Passage: Ecclesiastes 2:17-26




Solomon, having concluded his search for meaning and finding all worldly avenues to be vanity, he starts giving some of the reasons why this is so. In our last lesson, we talked about how wisdom excels folly in many ways.   Then we began addressing an event that brings all worldly pursuits, including wisdom, to nothing – death.   And as the saying goes, “You cannot take it with you.”

But Solomon’s distress doesn’t end there.   In our text this evening he address the folly of a man’s life’s work. In this lesson we want to notice this text and them make some applications.

  1.   The context
    1. 2:17 – “I hated life” – Solomon said. He realized that all the works he has done “Under the sun” was mere vanity, knowing he would die and all that “stuff” could do nothing for him.
    2. 2:18 – Why? Because I must leave it to the man who will come after me.   An interesting observation!   It wasn’t mere selfishness in pursuits (though that can play a part), but a desire that something good and last come from them.   But then – death enters the picture – and you lose control of what happens.
    3. 2:19-21 – who knows whether he will be wise or a fool.   BUT he will rule over it.
      Remember that the love of money is the root of all (kinds) of evil – 1 Timothy 6:10. It is not money that is evil, but loving it and how you manage it.   Solomon realizes this.
      How often do we hear about squabbles over inheritances?   Money in wills often seems to bring out the worst in people, especially when it is a substantial amount.   Sometimes the dying are selfish and hateful in distribution (and I ask “Why?” because they’re dead), and at other times it is done with no forethought (again, “Why?”).   Regardless, UNLESS the children have been properly raised, it has the danger of making their lives worse – morally and perhaps socially.   Money does things to people.
      Consider Solomon, as one author noted, it took his son less than a year to irreparably damage the kingdom of Israel (it divided – cf. 1 Kings 11:41-12:24. NOTE: Yes it was the hand of God at work, but that doesn’t excuse Rehoboam’s foolish decisions – listening to the young over the elders, etc.).
    4. 2:22-23 – What has man for all his labors? As one labors, striving night and day for success, “putting his heart into his work”, even at night, “takes no rest”, he realizes it is vanity.
      Here is one who has worked with great industry (vs. 21 – wisdom, knowledge and skill). He worked hard and successfully, and there is clear “fruit” for his labors.
      Maybe he worked more than he should, resulting in sorrowful consequences (sacrificed his body, and maybe other things, such as family, friendships, appreciation of life, etc.); his work is burdensome which could mean that even when it was not pleasant, he kept working; and we also read of his sleepless nights – perhaps because he was working, or more like, pondering about his labors.
      IN ADDITION to his physical toil, there is the mental toils – thinking about what he has and how to manage and protect it, and of course the POINT of this text – IT doesn’t matter HOW diligently and long you work – it will still be left to someone. But WHO, and what will that mean?
    5. 2:24 – Nothing is better – this is from God. There is an understanding that hard work has its rewards, even in this life. Solomon even wisely knows that this is from God.
      With this verse, we have a change of direction in the book of Ecclesiastes.   Up to this point the message has been pessimistic and describing trusting in this life without any eternal direction.   No wonder it is “vanity” and “grasping for the wind”.
      But now, Solomon turns the corner and acknowledges that what God gives us is designed to be enjoyed and for our good.
      NOTE: This is not contradictory to what he said previously.   This is about perspective.   If our pursuits are selfishness, and seeking meaning in the stuff of this life, they will be vanity.   But with appreciation for God and godliness in our lives, whatever we have can be a blessing to us and others.
    6. 2:25 – Who can eat, or have enjoyment, more than I? So reads the NKJV.   Certainly, Solomon realizes his blessings from God. He “had it all” at his disposal. And who could understand that more than Solomon.
      The NASB and other versions render this, “For who can eat or who can have enjoyment without Him?”  This is the reading of some Hebrew mss, the LXX, etc.   IF it reads this way, this strengthens the writer’s last statement in vs. 24 about God.   The point being, what we enjoy is a blessing from God.
    7. 2:26 – God gives us wisdom, joy and knowledge, especially to the good.   Ultimately, “the sinner” will gather and collect to give to him who is good before God.
      Consider in this, the godly will USE wisdom as they attain what they have and manage it likewise. Whatever they obtain, they will contently enjoy realizing its blessings.
      By principle (and of course there are worldly exceptions), he will do better with WHATEVER he has, than “the sinner” who without wisdom – gathers and collects – often just enough to get by and in time will fail. And perhaps he will find himself in a circumstance where “the good before God” rules over him.
      In the life, the ungodly may prosper, and often does.   AND, the godly may suffer and have very little of this world’s possessions. It seems the opposite of what Solomon says here, BUT note that God is still in control and things have a way of turning around.   Typically, the ungodly do NOT prosper.   BUT, even if this life never yields comforts and great prosperity, we know that in the end, God will reward us AND them accordingly (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10)
      Consider that overall, God created this world for good to prevail.   His ways are the right ways.   Failure is because of man’s corruption and blatant disregard of His ways.
    8. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.
  2.   Lessons to consider:
    1. Labor is not something we can avoid, and we have noted its blessings. God expects us to be busy.
      We have noted, even in Ecclesiastes, that we are expected to be productive and work.
      2 Thessalonians 3:10-13 is a clear reminder of this.
      Busyness is good in so many ways, just keep it in its proper perspective!
    2. Are we concerned about our heritage?
      Solomon was grieved consider what might happen after he died.
      Do we worry so much about what’s going to happen that we stress over it and live in misery?
      Here’s a good example of dwelling on something you don’t have total control over.
      Instead, if our head in spiritually straight – we will not worry, even as Jesus taught (cf. 6:25-34); we will be content with what we have; we will humbly share; we will live without fear of what happens when this life is over – STUFF IS STUFF!   Our treasure will be in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).
      What happens to our stuff after we die? We don’t care about that AND we are not fearful of what others will think of us at that time.
    3. Are we concerned about our heritage?
      The other side – Are we doing what we can to strengthen the chance of a good legacy? What are we leaving our children? Have we trained our children so that whatever they receive will be used wisely? Will we make arrangements for good works we have started and supported to continue, at least for awhile?
      Proverbs 13:22 A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, But the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous.
      What Solomon says is so true, SO OFTEN, but with wisdom we CAN have some control, or at least make the valiant effort, and then it is up to the one who receives it.
    4. What we have is from God and to be enjoyed (godly of course) – James 1:17, Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
      Christians understand that no matter the circumstance, we have learned to be content (cf. Philippians 4:11-12).   But whatever we are given, we will seek to use it in a good and pleasant way.
    5. The folly of accumulating wealth for this life – throughout our study of Ecclesiastes we have seen this.
      1 Timothy 6:17-19 – the rich are commanded not to trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God.
      God is still in control.
      Those who rely solely on worldly possessions are continually in danger of having nothing. One thing we must learn about life: You NEVER know what is going to happen to it!
      That’s what the parable of the rich fool was about (Luke 12:13-21).   James 4:13-14 – don’t leave God out of the picture – our life is a vapor (sound like Solomon).
    6. You must still prepare for death – It doesn’t matter what happens to you in this life – whether you achieve wealth or not – what matters is how you prepare for the next one.
      1 Peter 1:24 speaks of how flesh is as grass that withers and falls away. So is man.   Again James 4:14 – your life is a vapor…

The ultimate point of this whole study is to understand that our purpose in this life is to prepare to meet God.   When will you meet Him?   Will it be now, while He can save you?   OR, will it be then, when it will be a hopeless judgment.   You will have lost everything you accumulated in this life, AND worse yet, your eternal soul.   And isn’t that what Jesus was warning about? Matthew 16:26.   Think about it.