Worked to Death! | Ecclesiastes 2:12-26
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Ecclesiastes 2:12–2:26
Christopher Rich – September 27, 2015
The Pursuit | Week #4 | Worked to Death! | Ecclesiastes 2:12-26
Good morning! This week we are continuing our series of Ecclesiastes called The Pursuit: Chasing Meaning Under the Sun. Where do we go to find wisdom, meaning, and purpose? What is the point of all our accomplishments? Where is our hope when we life is met with failure or even simple toil and boredom? Is this all there is to life? In life under the sun all seems to be vanity as we struggle to find our purpose and meaning apart from God. “Fear of God will turn a vain, empty life into a meaningful life including enjoying God’s gifts.” – Greidanus. The message of this sermon of Ecclesiastes isn’t all of life is meaningless and nothing matters; it’s because of God as the source of all meaning, and goodness, as we live the life we are given EVERYTHING matters! Our pursuit in this series is to mine the wisdom of The Preacher in the hopes of seeing and understanding the world, our lives, as they truly are, as accurately as possible. Chapter one asked us “What’s the point of life? What are we pursing when life seems to be unsatisfying cycles that lead to our end? What is the outcome when we attempt to understand the world comprehensively apart from God? More knowledge and more wisdom only seems to lead to greater sorrow and pain. Where can we find refuge and meaning in world like this? These three weeks the preacher is going to take us down three paths he went down pursuing meaning “under the sun” and shows us where they eventually lead. The first two weeks were wisdom, and self-indulgence, this week is work.
Ecclesiastes 2:12-26 12 So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. 13 Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. 14 The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. 15 Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. 16 For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! 17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind. 18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23 For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. 24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
Verses 12-17 | Wisdom and Folly Redux
The Preacher has spent time in the library of wisdom and knowledge and only found grief and sorrow. He then shifted to the laboratory of self-indulgence, experimenting with entertainment, achievement, partying, sex, wealth, and possession. All of this study and experiments came up empty. All striving “under the sun” apart from God is a pursuit as profitable as chasing after wind. So before diving into any other experiments he goes back to see if anything was missed in his pursuit of wisdom over folly. “Maybe if I just flip the pillow to the other side (rather than get out of the bed) I’ll finally have some satisfying rest.” He knows people after him will face the same questions and he recognizes he has a unique opportunity to explore the human experience because of his uncommon wealthy, wisdom, and authority. So he wants to make sure he has engaged with different ways to pursue meaning and purpose with an exhaustive depth because those after him may have objections. What he finds is equal parts encouraging and discouraging.
Yes, there is some gain under the sun to wisdom when compared to mad folly. Wisdom received and applied has it’s benefits in this life. It is better to live wisely then like an immoral foolish idiot. One has vision to navigate this world the other is blind. The preacher sees the simple truth that if wisdom is a light unto a path; then mad folly is the same as stumbling around in the dark. You might be able to make some progress down the trail but eventually you’ll trip over something, fall and get hurt. With wisdom you can avoid a lot of pain on the trail and have a better opportunity to actually enjoy the path. That’s good news! Given a good day on the trail or hitting our head on a branch we’d all take the former. The problem is the path of the wise and the fool lead to the same destination. Death. Wisdom isn’t valueless; it is just not valuable on its own to lead to lasting salvation. We will see through-out Ecclesiastes wisdom leads to joy, preservation, and strength. But it has it’s limits, it cannot save. So what if you enjoyed your walk on the trail more than a blind fool and experienced less pain, if in the end you’re both fall into the pit of death.
This leads to a difficult question many of us have asked ourselves at different points of our life. What is the point of living or working wisely if it is still going to lead to our death? What gain to do we truly have in wisdom if our fate is equal to the fool? Shouldn’t we simply eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!? Shouldn’t we “live like we are dying” or chase a big legacy. Solomon looks at some answers “under the sun” to see if he is missing something. Surely living wisely can and does have a lasting impact on the world. So if you apply wisdom well and it leads to positive impacts on the rest of humanity there is lasting gain. Maybe if I work hard and live wisely when I am remembered I’ll have a positive legacy; the greater I work the greater the legacy. That sounds really great but there is the reality of humanity’s collective memory loss. In the days to come neither the wise nor the fool will have an “enduring remembrance” (eternal). So you might have a life that booms through our modern history but it isn’t a faint echo into real eternity. Under the sun the greatest and wisest are as forgotten as easily as the mad fool. This seem to be a great injustice to those who see themselves as wise and moral.” I live selflessly but suffer the same fate as the one who lives selfishly so why be selfless?” Tension and frustration in the preacher grow as he finds the pursuit of wisdom over folly under the sun have led to a hatred of life. You resent it so much; but yet it is so precious. Woody Allen – “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve it by not dying.” We have advanced much in technology and health care, yet while our life expectancies have grown by years but they are but an eyelash length in the scope of history. Our wisdom can never overcome death, and so it cannot answer our deepest questions or solve our problem of meaning in life.
“If one fate comes to all, and that fate is extinction, it robs every man of dignity and every project of its point.” Derek Kinder We can hate life, but not when it’s good. Specifically we hate it when it’s…..toil.
Verses 18-23 | Work to death.
Solomon has done it all, achieved it all, pursued it all, and had it all. And while he has a real dissatisfaction with life he has a special place of frustrating for work. Work has such huge place in our lives, it can often become our source of identity. We always ask each other “what do you do” as if that is who we are; so we struggle when we don’t have work to know our purpose and place. Solomon always had something to do and motivation to do it. We all have motives for our work, usually they are pretty self focused at worse and family/community focused at best. However, regularly we have moments or even seasons of doubt that the work we do has any real meaning or value. Millennials are the current whipping boy generation that is often characterized by wanting all their work to “mean something!” and have little appetite for work that isn’t seen to have a great purpose behind it. Solomon had great purposes in the work and achievements he pursued both for his own glory (houses, gardens, infrastructure) and great works for God’s glory (building the temple) and yet he has come to a place in his work that seems meaningless.
Most of us don’t have the big dreams or mission of Solomon, but we can still easily become frustrated with work. When have you gotten to a place in your work where you have hit a wall? When did you start to settle and believe all your dreams of childhood will not be realized? How did you respond when you came to the understanding what you thought was a temp job has turned into your career?
We have to remember Work is not a result of the fall. Indeed Adam and Eve are called to work and tend to the garden well before sin enters the picture. What has happened because of sin is work that was supposed to be purposeful and joyful has been come painful toil. Because of our own sin and the toil of work we make two errors in how we engage with work. We over value how work can satisfy and we become workaholics OR We undervalue how God has called us to work and we become slothful and purposeless. Which one have you struggled with most?
We work and we work and at first we have a motivation to build up something for ourselves, but at a certain point we come to a realization that all we create, amass, or produce will be given over to someone else to enjoy. Wait, I have to hand this all over? What if he wastes all that I have accomplished? This is beyond just stressed out, this is seeing the injustice of how your work is going to be enjoyed and used by those who did nothing to earn it. In the summers I’d spend at Lake Tapps during the week I’d see dozens of $90k boats (some parked on the docks of Million $ homes. And I thought what a waste. Then, it was worse when I’d see the boats full of drunk high schoolers/college age kids and I thought someone is slaving away at their law office, or hospital so these guys can act a fool during the week. For Solomon, the consequences were a lot worse than wasting a ski boat. In 1 Kings 12 we see what happens after Solomon dies and his son Rehoboam takes over. His foolishness leads to rebellion and disintegration of the nation as 10 of the 11 tribes with territory break away from his leadership.
John Harvard, was a pastor and “a godly gentlemen and a lover of learning.” who founded a little school in Massachusetts was by all accounts a devout Christian and left his money, property with the hope of education leading to greater appreciation of God and furthering of the gospel. I don’t think any of us would claim Harvard today is exactly a bible college today or the center of Gospel Living. Did John Harvard live a life any less glorifying to God because the school of his namesake is not faithful?
All of us have Solomon’s concern what is going to happen to this world when we are not in it. We have a high view of our own self-importance thinking that once we no longer have engagement and influence with this world anything positive will happen or that we are the ones holding it together in the first place. Both are wrong, but come from a place apart from trusting in God and His will over the world. We have to be able to work in this world under the sun and be ok that what we’re doing now will either be undone later or not stewarded wisely. This is not a sermon you preach during pastoral or leadership transition if you want to set the next guy up for success. Be more focused on your mission today than your legacy tomorrow.
At some point anything accomplished at Damascus Road Church will be handed over to other leaders or another generation. We better be ok with being a church that knows it’s own limitations and continues to focus on mission at hand over the legacy we hope to leave. When you are consumed with legacy you will be constantly discouraged. When have you been at a point of wanting to give up striving?
Solomon, had it all and it lead to the greatest depths of despair. All that we do cannot be kept because we will die, it will not be remembered because human memory is short, and we cannot guarantee it will even be stewarded well in our growing absence. So we land in place of despair and pessimism. Everyday is toil, moving the needle is meaningless. Life becomes something we hate rather than embrace. Yet we have to keep working only now it creeps into other places in our lives. Have you ever had work so taxing and so stressful it kept you up at night? Oh that is so painful when you’re tired and work has become so all-encompassing that sleep is your only tangible escape and even that eludes you. You know you have to get up and preform in the morning and engage with your work in meaningful ways and you’re flopping in your bed like a fish out of water. The minutes tick and you’re doing the math of how many hours of sleep you’ll get if you could just fall asleep….now! | Jesus is a man of such peace he can sleep in a storm, he gives that peace to his disciples. When I am in those places of sleeplessness and restlessness I know it is because I am disturbed and not rely on Jesus. Under the sun we are in restless toil marked by futility and sorrow.
Psalm 39:5-75 Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah 6 Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather! 7 “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.
Verse 24-26 | Glimpse of the Sun
The storm clouds of life have begun to part and sun beams of God’s glory are beginning to shine into this sermon. The preacher has driven home his point of the vanity (futility) of our pursuits under the sun and now he can begin to pain the picture of what our lives look like with God. We’ve been toiling away in our dark basement laboratory of our own self-focused work and now someone has ripped the curtains back. Without God life is dark drab basement, but the curtains have been opened up and now there is light. Old things are seen new light. Where wisdom and knowledge are seen as vanity when only tied to skill and life under the sun; now they are paired with joy and are counted as a blessing from God. Food and drink are now great gifts to enjoy. There is a great affirmation of contentment in this life. (not merely waiting for the next). This word in verse 24 for Enjoyment actually equals “Make his soul see good” That is sweet!!
1 Tim 6:6-8 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.
The preacher begins to see how great life, even work, can be with God given purpose and clarity. But we cannot stop thinking we are Solomon thinking we’re the great worker giving an undeserved inheritance. We are all the mad fools who have done nothing to deserve the inheritance of a great kingdom because of our sin. Jesus take our sin and goes to work and toil on the cross in our place. Where the works of our lives never seem completed and have no enduring value even for ourselves Jesus work on the cross has eternal value and Jesus says of His work “It is Finished!!” for all who repent of sin and trust Jesus as Lord. That is the Gospel. The Preacher says life under the sun leads to certain death for all so our work is vanity. The Gospel says we are spiritually dead and God has made us alive preparing good works that we should walk in them. Because of the new life in the Gospel what we do in the here and now is not in vain but rings into eternity.
I Cor 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
The Preacher say the sinners work is for naught and will be taken from him and given to the righteous. The Gospel is the righteous work of Jesus on the cross is absolutely successful and is given to the sinner for his joy and the glory of Christ. Because of the Gospel, we can work knowing the fruits of our labor will be given to those who do not deserve it because we recognized the grace we’ve received from God we did not earn either. Before us are two ways of life one with God and Joy the other with ourselves and toil; Temporary happiness or eternal joy, meaningless toil and meaningful work. Stop working for yourself, trust the work of Jesus in your place, and live a new life serving Him in all that you do.
Colossians 3:24-24 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
More in THE PURSUIT | Ecclesiastes
January 3, 2016Season Finale | Ecclesiastes 12:1-14
December 20, 2015Bridled Joy | Ecclesiastes 11:1-10
December 13, 2015Farmers Market of Foolishness | Ecclesiastes 10:1-20