TODAY IN THE WORD
In his book Leap Over a Wall: Earthy
Spirituality for Everyday Christians, author Eugene Peterson writes of the
spirituality of work. He points out that as important as sanctuary is for
our spiritual life, it isn't the primary context that God uses for our
day-to-day spiritual development. “Work,” Peterson observes, “is the
primary context for our spirituality.”
This may come as a shock to some of
us. Many believers have asked the question raised in verse 3 of today's
reading: “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under
the sun?” Thankfully, the answer is found throughout the Scriptures. Men
and women were created to work because they were created in God's image
and God is a worker. The wonders of creation are called the “works” of His
hand (Ps. 8:6). That's not all—according to Jesus, God continues to work
“to this very day” (John 5:17). Clearly, work itself is not a consequence
of sin, since we find God Himself embracing work.
Jesus, too, was no stranger to the world of work. Prior to beginning His
public ministry, the Savior submitted Himself to the daily grind. Jesus
did not merely dabble in work—He became so proficient in the vocation of
His earthly father Joseph that others knew Him as a carpenter long before
they knew Him as a rabbi (Mark 6:3). The dignity of work is seen in the
fact that our Lord didn't think it beneath Him to work for a living.
The apostle Paul also worked, supporting himself as a tentmaker during his
apostolic ministry (Acts 18:3; 1 Cor. 4:12). What is more, Paul commanded
the church to follow his example. Believers are to work so that they will
not have to steal and will have something to share with those who are in
need (Acts 20:34-35; Eph. 4:28)
Trusting God's unfailing love for us means trusting Him to know the best
way to respond to our prayers. At times God's best answer may be to refuse
our request. Take a few extra minutes to read the following passages:
Deuteronomy 3:23-28; Matthew 26:38-46; and 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. What is
the nature of the request in each case? How does God answer? Why do you
think He responds in this way? When you are finished, spend some time in
prayer thanking God for His unfailing love. Thank Him for loving you
enough to say “no.”
TODAY IN THE WORD
What does man gain from all his
labor at which he toils under the sun? - Ecclesiastes 1:3
In one of the first scenes in The
Lion King, Disney’s biggest hit movie of the 1990s, the king of beasts
teaches his son that a good king must show respect for every creature,
from the ant to the antelope. His son inquires, “But, Dad, don’t we eat
the antelope?” His father replies, “Yes, but let me explain. When we die,
our bodies become the grass. And the antelope eat the grass. And so we are
all connected in the great Circle of Life.”
New Age philosophy? Certainly. But
the author of Ecclesiastes would likely have dismissed this
twentieth-century thought as “nothing new” and “meaningless.” Today’s
reading takes us through the Teacher’s summary observations and
conclusions, and he doesn’t seem to think the so-called “circle of life”
is such a great thing. He categorizes the cycles of the earth as “utterly
meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2) and “wearisome” (Ecclesiastes 1:8). Take
particular note of the description in verse 6, as the phrase “chasing
after the wind” is repeated often throughout the book. Ecclesiastes paints
the picture of life as a frustrating, circuitous course that ends right
where it begins.
The rhetorical question about the profit of a man’s labor (v. 3) and the
hopeless conclusion about man being remembered after his lifetime (v. 11)
bring a sobering poignancy when applied to the events that followed
Solomon’s life. His projects were astounding and his rule was the greatest
Israel ever knew. But after his death, Solomon’s legacy became almost
immediately irrelevant when his son, Rehoboam, rejected his father’s
advisors in favor of the counsel of his younger friends (1 Kings 12:8). It
wasn’t long before the throne of Israel was no longer his (1 Kings 12:20).
This is a good place to remind ourselves that our purpose in studying
Ecclesiastes is not to judge the life of Solomon–we want to turn the light
of God’s Word onto our lives and into our hearts!
TODAY IN THE WORD
For with much wisdom comes much
sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief. - Ecclesiastes 1:18
Growing up on the Mississippi, the
mystery and wonder of the river enthralled Mark Twain. In his book, Life
on the Mississippi, Twain notes that after realizing his dream of becoming
a steamboat pilot and learning to read every detail of the river and its
banks, the mystery faded. He compares this loss of wonder to how a
physician would see a beautiful woman.
“Are not all her visible charms sown
thick with what are to him the signs and symbols of hidden decay? Does he
ever see her beauty at all, or doesn’t he simply view her professionally,
and comment upon her unwholesome condition all to himself? And doesn’t he
some-times wonder whether he has gained or lost most by learning his
Solomon’s field of expertise was life. He studied “all the things that are
done under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). So if it’s true that much study
yields a bland familiarity–a steamboat pilot can’t see the beauty of a
river sunset and a doctor can’t appreciate the beauty of a woman’s
face--then Solomon, an expert in everything, should be pitied above all,
for he can’t see the beauty of anything!
Even though he admits in verse 16 that his knowledge and wisdom exceeded
that of all the rulers Jerusalem had ever known, today’s reading shows the
limited boundaries of the wisdom to which Solomon refers. It’s the phrase
that’s repeated over and over throughout Ecclesiastes: “under the sun” or
“under heaven.” Solomon knew that he could not know God with the same
comprehensive wisdom with which he understood life on earth. During his
dedication speech for the temple, Solomon acknowledged that God exceeded
the confines of even the highest heavens (1 Kings 8:27). So he understood
that the world “under the sun” did not encompass the full glory of God.
When examined in small portions, Ecclesiastes might give us a snapshot of
wisdom that appears blurry or confusing. To take in the full impact of the
wisdom of this book, it’s best to read it through in one sitting. Pay
attention to the emotions in the words as you read. Have you ever felt the
way the Teacher does about life? Think about what Christ adds to the
picture, and how these perspectives and emotions might change. As you go
through the day, consider how your outlook on life resembles or differs
from the mindset of Ecclesiastes.
TODAY IN THE WORD
Everything was meaningless, a
chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. - Ecclesiastes
Epicurus was a Greek philosopher
born in 341 b.c. Pleasure was the key word in his thinking. He defined
philosophy as “the art of making life happy” and said the purpose of life
was personal happiness. He did advocate the pursuit of virtue and reasoned
that right behavior brought people the highest pleasures.
Despite the noble goal of virtue,
“epicureanism” now means “a refined and calculating selfishness, seeking
not power or fame, but the pleasures of sense, particularly of the palate,
and those in company rather than solitude.”
The author of Ecclesiastes could have taught Epicurus a thing or two about
pleasure (see the May 2004 issue of Today in the Word for a detailed study
of Ecclesiastes). We’ve been examining biblical principles concerning
beauty and creativity, but in the area of leisure we need to scrutinize
pleasure as well. We’ve already learned that God is the creator of all
true pleasure and that pleasure is His gift--now we must ask how sin
affects this truth.
Ecclesiastes tells the story of the search for meaning and purpose in
life. In today’s reading, we read an account of experimentation: “I
refused my heart no pleasure” (v. 10). There’s a description of various
forms--partying with his friends, delightful projects such as parks and
orchards, and accumulating possessions. The latter included pleasures such
as music and sex. In short, he enjoyed all “the delights of the heart of
man” (v. 8)--the pleasures of sex, wealth, nature, and achievement.
But it wasn’t enough. Inspected under the light of wisdom, these pursuits
proved “meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained” (vv. 3,
11). As ends in themselves--as experiences sought for self-centered
reasons--these pleasures failed to satisfy. They were inadequate to meet
life’s deepest needs.
Is your neighbor or co-worker an “epicurean”? Do they seem to be consumed
with the pursuit of pleasure in a world that doesn’t include God? American
culture being what it is, probably each one of us knows at least one
person like this.
Ecclesiastes 2:1-12, 24-26
TODAY IN THE WORD
To the man who pleases him, God
gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness - Ecclesiastes 2:26
In A Complete Guide to Managing Your
Money, Larry Burkett writes, ""According to our attitude, wealth can be
creative--it can be used to spread God's Word, build hospitals and
churches, feed the poor, or take care of orphans. Or it can be
wasted--spent on frivolous activities, lavish living, gambling or other
foolish activity....The importance of money to God is that for this small
sliver of time in which we are living He wants us to use it to help
determine our usefulness to Him throughout eternity.""
Burkett lays out the opposite ends
of the spectrum pretty clearly when it comes to the use of wealth. Our
goal is to use wealth creatively, the way he describes. The fact is that
even if we suddenly decided to pursue lavish living, very few of us would
have the finances to accomplish it.
But Solomon didn't have that limitation. This king, who was famous for his
wisdom and his wealth, decided to use his wealth to increase his wisdom.
The path Solomon followed ""to find out what is good"" (v. 1) was
pleasure, self-indulgence, and great accomplishments--and he left nothing
off the list. The king did everything he could to pursue ""the delights of
the heart of man"" (v. 8).
The Holy Spirit inspired Solomon to share his experiences with us. When
we're reading the book of Ecclesiastes, we have to be careful not to jump
to conclusions too quickly, because we don't have Solomon's final word on
life until we've read the last verse. Life is not a futile, meaningless
chasing after wind when we look to God.
Solomon himself drew some preliminary conclusions at various points in the
book, and this is one of them. He tried it all in search of the so-called
good life, and it all left him empty. Therefore, according to Solomon, we
can scratch pleasure, indulgence, and achievements off the list of things
that, in and of themselves, have the power to satisfy us and please God.
For people who want to be good stewards of God's gifts, this is valuable
information. Let's take the advice of someone who went to the extreme and
came back to tell us about his experience. Real enjoyment is a gift only
God can give.
Life really does boil down to two basic choices. We can live either to
please ourselves or to please God.
God's Word gives us a tremendous
advantage in making that choice, because it shows us the results of each
path. Self-indulgence is a dead-end, but living to please God produces the
gifts listed in today's verse. In fact, when you open your Bible every
day, you have the secret to finding these gifts. How are you doing in
keeping your daily appointment with the Lord?
TODAY IN THE WORD
I denied myself nothing my eyes
desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. -
Estimates of Bill Gates’s net worth
range upwards of $30 billion, his house has about one and a half acres of
total living space, and he continues to work feverishly to improve his
business–Microsoft dedicated $6.8 billion this fiscal year alone for
research and development. Who can imagine being so wealthy, let alone the
prospect of getting richer! If we were to compare any of our lives to Bill
Gates’s life, we probably wouldn’t expect to find much in common.
And that can be our reaction when we
read today’s passage as well. It’s easy to imagine the life of a king as
some distant, fantastic dreamland that bears no resemblance to our own.
But a closer look at this passage reveals a striking similarity to the
life of a typical, everyday person . . . just carried out to an extreme
Verses 1–3 summarize the search for the good in life through selfish
measures, and verses 4–8 show the details of the three main categories of
the search: projects, possessions, and pleasures.
The projects described here don’t seem to resemble an ongoing job or trade
as much as leisure projects. The house-building, tree-planting, and
reservoir-constructing in Ecclesiastes might correspond to a new shed,
some tomatoes, and a sprinkler system in your backyard--on a grander scale
than we’re used to, certainly, but the intended result of personal
enjoyment is the same.
Although we can’t identify with the amount (or even the nature) of
possessions listed in Ecclesiastes 2:7–8, everyone at one time or another
has bought something with the hope that it would make life a bit more
Can you say, as Ecclesiastes 2:9 does, that your wisdom has stayed with
you through it all? It’s far too easy to use up our leisure time without
thinking seriously about what we’re doing.
TODAY IN THE WORD
My heart took delight in all my
work, and this was the reward of all my labor. - Ecclesiastes 2:10b
Sixteen people working at an elementary school in Holdingford,
Minnesota–fifteen lunch ladies and one custodian–hit the jackpot with a
winning lottery ticket last year, collecting about $2 million each. Only
two of them retired. Serving food to little children, and cleaning up
after them, may not be the most glamorous work, but these women love what
they do too much to quit. One of them said that the main drawback of
winning the money was that “you get more headaches.”
Imagine that–they love being
surrounded all day by hundreds of kids, but millions of dollars make their
Solomon could have appreciated that attitude. He says in Ecclesiastes 2:10
of today’s reading that the main reward of his labor, even more than the
vast luxury his work produced, was the delight he got from working. He
essentially repeats that sentiment in verse 24, noting that such happiness
comes from God. But the rest of this passage reveals the far less
optimistic conclusion that, in the end, there is no lasting earthly reward
for all man’s labor (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
This view, though, produced more than a headache. He sees that although a
wise man is better than a fool, death awaits them both (Ecclesiastes
2:12-16). He then calls attention to the end result of great
accomplishments, that a man must pass on his work to a successor with no
assurance of its continuation (Ecclesiastes 2:18–21). This seems like a
fitting attitude for someone who knew his kingdom would be stripped from
his son (1 Kings 11:11–12). Solomon, it seems, finds no lasting reward for
a life of painful, restless labor (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23). Ecclesiastes
2:17 stands out as a particularly harsh conclusion. What more could one
man ask for than the life Solomon had enjoyed? If he “hated life,” what
does that say about the worth of earthly pleasures?
Are you satisfied? If not, ask God to adjust your attitude and obedience.
In verse 24, the phrase is “find satisfaction in his work,” not “find
The rich get richer and the poor get
poorer—and it seems that compound interest would virtually guarantee it!
Not so, according to investment counselor David Dreman. Writing in Forbes
magazine, Dreman noted that most large fortunes diminish and sometimes
disappear in only two or three generations. He observed, “Why most nest
eggs dissipate over time is a major problem...” (Today in the Word)