Oppression and Envy

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Oppression and Envy

Sermon by  Thomas Thornhill Jr

Passage: Ecclesiastes 4:1-8



Sunday, January 12, 2020 pm         


Tonight we continue our study of Solomon’s pursuit for meaning in life.   Bear in mind that much of what he says is with the worldly viewpoint that is giving God no consideration.   He looks at life and sees just how messed up it is, and how hopeless it and we are, if all there is, is this life.   In our text, we find socio-economic conflict from the perspective of the vanity of an atheistic viewpoint (not thinking about God).   These verses have some challenging observations, but we shall at least consider them in light of the Christian’s perspective of live and how to pursue it.

I.    The oppression of godless power (1-3)

  1. Then I considered all the oppression done under the sun – in the last part of chapter 3, Solomon notes the value of being content with what you have.
  2. Now he considers the inequity and evil of the oppressively greedy.   These are successful from a worldly standpoint – they may be in powerful positions, either politically or economically, but they have no moral compass. They are driven by greed (see vs. 8) and selfishness.   And most are miserable.
  3. The oppressed are in tears but they find no comforter.   Here is the one who is living in misery.   He is taken advantage of by the powerful and seems powerless to stop it. Whether it be godless politicians and rulers, or business tycoons whose greedy decisions make it more difficult for “the working class” to survive or get ahead, there is misery. With smooth speech some pretend to care about you, but deep down their actions portray them just as greedy and selfish as the rest.
    THEY have no comforter.   NOTE that this section is observing the worldly perspective.   It is not unusual for the oppressed to be as godless as the oppressor. They too can reject God and be bitter at the way things are.   They can have ungodly and ungrateful attitudes.   They can despise the rich and powerful with hateful hearts and possibly even resort to evil behaviors.
  4. On the other side is the oppressors with power – these are the ones who are the corrupt rulers and greedy business leaders. Historically Solomon could have considered King Saul, or some of the leaders during the time of the judges who exploited the common people. He would also have observed the kings, governors and powerful of the godless nations around him (perhaps some of his wives parents who were likely rulers), who thought primarily of themselves.
    They may have been successful materially, BUT…
    THEY have no comforter they have no real hope beyond the empty treasures of this life, which are temporal and can rust and decay (cf. Matthew 6:19-21).
    The Bible speaks regularly of this class.   Israel and Judah both had corrupt leaders – politically, religiously and economically that oppressed the poor and exploited whomever they could. IN the New Testament Jesus spoke of the Pharisees who devoured widows houses and for a pretense made long prayers (Matthew 23:14), Titus 1:10:11- false teachers who for dishonest gain subvert whole households, James 2:6-7 the rich oppress you and drag you into court; James 5:1-6 where the rich are called upon to weep and howl concerning the judgment to come.
  5. 2-3 – Therefore I praised the dead more than the living because they don’t have to put up with this ungodliness anymore.   Better yet, if one had never existed.
    Have you ever heard someone say, “I wish I had not been born”?   Maybe there are times you feel like that.   Job did – Job 3:11-16, while in his misery he speaks like this;
    Jeremiah 20:14-18 also addresses this attitude.
    WE MUST remember our text is approaching this from the standpoint of “if in this life only we have hope we are most pitiable” – it is the vanity and “grasping for wind” of life without hope in God.
  6. BUT when we remember God – APPLICATION:
    1. We do have a comforter – More than likely, we will not be in the place of the powerful, politically and economically (though it is not out of the question, or necessarily wrong – you can be rich and/or a ruler and faithfully serve God – 1 Timothy 6:17-19).
      We DO have a Comforter – Matthew 11:28-30, 1 Peter 5:7, 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, etc..  God is available to all – rich and poor alike – Galatians 3:27 (doesn’t mention economically, but the point is there).   Jesus even noted it is possible for the rich to enter heaven, with the help of God (Matthew 19:26).
      And we have hope of something better that no one in this life can take away from us – an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled (1 Peter 1:3-4)
    2. IS it really better to have never been born? We do not regret the day of our birth – we shouldn’t as Christians.     We should be thankful for the life we have been given.
      It is about perspective – determining to make the best of our situation – Paul and Silas singing in prison (Acts 16:25), Paul writing the letter to the Philippians, his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
      That is not to say there are not times where we grieve or are in misery.   We may face times of sorrow and tears because we have been defrauded or are suffering in some way.   Just don’t let that define who you are (James 1:4 – let patience have its perfect work, Luke 21:19 – Jesus was warning of coming persecutions and then He said, “By your patience possess your souls.”)

II.    Envied by his neighbor (4-8)

  1. Again, I saw that for all toil and every skillful work a man is envied by his neighbor.
    Solomon observes class envy here.     He is dealing with the “have nots” who envy those who “have”.       When one is jealous of a neighbor because he has something you don’t have, that is not good or productive.   It too is the perspective of the world, something we see far too much around us. We are living in an entitlement society where those who are materially successful are villainized and made to feel guilty (never mind the fact that they worked for what they got).   This is class envy and Solomon called it “vanity and grasping for the wind”. I call it sinful and a danger to society (as much as the powerfully selfish).   We CANNOT pick and choose which sins are acceptable!
  2. The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh – Solomon here has reference to the sloth. This is one who doesn’t want to work, but expects others to take care of him.   It is an attitude that garners very little respect from anyone.   Solomon spoke often about it in proverbs – Proverbs 6:6-11 – go to the ant you sluggard… a little folding of the hands will produce poverty. QUESTION: If your lifestyle decision is to be slothful, do you really have the right to envy those who are prosperous?
  3. Better a handful with quietness, than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind. Solomon’s conclusion is one of contentment with enough to take care of yourself. If it is possible, enough to be comfortable.   Again, Solomon wrote about this.   Proverbs 15:16-17, Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, Than great treasure with trouble. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, Than a fatted calf with hatred.   Proverbs 16:8, Better is a little with righteousness, Than vast revenues without justice.
  4. Then I returned and saw vanity under the sun, there is one alone, without companion… He is alone and has no one, but still he is consumed with his work.   We call this the workaholic.   Some who are greedy have no family or lose their family and friends because they become consumed with their work and wealth.   This was the plight of Ebenezer Scrooge.
    Solomon describes this one as never satisfied with what he has.   No matter HOW MUCH he has, its never enough!   Yet he is foolish because he doesn’t ask, “For whom do I toil and deprive myself of good?” The point is, what good is anything in this life if you can’t enjoy it? Again this comes back to moderation.   Consider Proverbs 30:8-9, Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches— Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, And say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God.   Give me enough!
    • Contentment – We have noted that there is NO virtue in wealth OR poverty!   Money and stuff is morally neutral (unless it is outright sinful). It is about perspective and how you manage what you have.   Many times (but not always), what separates the successful from failures (and thus the rich from the poor) is a willingness to work.     That is why we must all learn to be content – 1 Timothy 6:6-8, Philippians 4:11-12 – I have learned to be content whatever state I am in.
    • Sloth is just as sinful and evil as greed.   If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat – 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12; Proverbs 18:9, He who is slothful in his work Is a brother to him who is a great destroyer.   We are to work and be busy.   We are to do our best to provide for our needs.   That is what God wants.
    • Envy is sinful, no matter who is doing it. 1 Timothy 6:9-10 – those who desire to be rich fall into a trap.   1 Corinthians 13:4 – love “does not envy.”   There is no place for jealousy of others in the life of a Christian. It is worldly and destroys societies and relationships – James 3:13-16.

As noted at the beginning, just prior to this section, Solomon observed that we ought to enjoy what we have.   That is a blessing from God.     God wants you to enjoy life and whatever prosperity you have been blessed with. He just wants you to remember Him as you appreciate what you have.   That is why in this study we continually return to “the conclusion of the whole matter” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.   How blessed are you with material gain? Is God pleased with your attitude? Think about it.