“Prosperity” – Ecclesiastes 5:8-17

December 8th,  2013

Ecclesiastes 5:8-17

“Prosperity”

 

Bible Memory Verse for the Week: No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.  — Matthew 6:24

 

Background Information:

  • Emily Dickinson described the art of poetry as “telling truth slant.”  Solomon is a master of the form.  So many of his remarks are directed at Rehoboam–his vision of what he will be and have when at last he is king–but they are also “glancing blows” and have enough of generality to them to have wider applications.  Look at these two verses like this:  Verse 8–How great is the king’s responsibility?  Whatever goes wrong in remote provinces ultimately comes back to him.  (T. M. Moore, The Christian Worldview Journal, June 2, 2011)
  • These verses continue a kind of “under the heavens” mode as Solomon is trying to get Rehoboam to think in a larger perspective than the merely self-interested one he seems to be adopting.  By writing to his son in this indirect manner he invites him to think carefully about his words.   (T. M. Moore, The Christian Worldview Journal, June 2, 2011)
  • (v. 7) It is hard to be certain exactly which kind of injustice Ecclesiastes has in mind, but even the uncertainty helps prove the Preacher’s point.  There are so many kinds of injustice in society that we should never be surprised by sin.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 130-31)
  • (v. 8) High official,” which translates a word meaning “lofty” or even “proud” (Isa 2:15; 5:15), confirms this bureaucratic setting.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 136)
  • (v. 9) Eccl 5:9 is the most textually problematic verse in the book.  About 20 different possible interpretations can be made as to how the Hebrew actually reads.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 77)
  • (v. 9) So which does it mean?  I’ll give you what I think is the best solution.  Verse 8 alludes to evil men having to answer to a higher power–eventually, God.  They’re not sovereign.  They’re not free.  Somebody will deal with them.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 77)
  • (v. 13)Evil” (harm, misfortune, disaster; see at 2:21) is itself a very strong word for the harsh effects of misguided conduct.  Yet “severe” (“sick,” “sore”) (grievous – NIV), both here and in verse 16, pushes “evil” beyond its normal range and suggests a calamity of excruciating proportions–a total disaster.  “To his hurt (harm of its owner- NIV) underscores how personal and painful the damage was.  Even more agonizing is the hint in “kept (or “guarded”) (hoarded – NIV) by their owner” that he hoarded funds to invest that otherwise his family might have enjoyed, and his whole plan of frugality boomeranged.

Misfortune” (v. 14) is literally “bad business” and rubs salt in the bankrupt person’s wounds by reminding him of his responsibility for the unsound investment.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 145-46)

  • (v. 17)  We see what this man’s wealth cost him.  Darkness (cf. 2:13-14) symbolizes his misery.  Preoccupation with wealth led to a gloomy life.  Sickness (Affliction – NIV) points to the physical strain.  Vexation (frustration – NIV) indicates the cares and frustrations that tore at his mind and heart.  Wrath (Anger – NIV) tells of the times he was enraged over thwarted ambitions and schemes.  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 103)
  • Everything that Solomon says about money is beautifully paraphrased by Randy Alcorn in his book The Treasure Principle, under the heading “Chasing the Wind.”  Alcorn quotes each of Solomon’s insights in Eccl 5:10-15, and then adds his own paraphrase:

v. 10: The more you have, the more you want.

                v. 10: The more you have, the less you’re satisfied.

v. 11: The more you have, the more people (including the government) will come after it.

                v. 11: The more you have, the more you realize it does you no good.

v. 12: The more you have, the more you have to worry about.

v. 13: The more you have, the more you can hurt yourself by holding on to it.

                v. 14: The more you have, the more you have to lose.

v. 15: The more you have, the more you’ll leave behind.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 135)

  • Wouldn’t it be great if we could glean Solomon’s experienced perspective on the pursuit of affluence?  And indeed we can, by examining what he says in Eccl 5:8-20.  Here he tells us some of what he learned about money and its abuse by the money-mad.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 54)

 

The question to be answered is . . . What is Koheleth trying to tell us in the wake of encouraging us to worship?

 

Answer:  Real power and real prosperity cannot be found in mammon (status, riches or things).  In fact, more often than not, they create more problems and obstacles to real life.  Choose carefully the object of your worship.

 

If the advertisers are right, we have a lot to feel discontent about.  We don’t have enough possessions, and we don’t have them soon enough or up to date enough.  Fulfillment is equated with wearing the right kind of clothes, driving the right kind of car, drinking the right kind of beverage.

This lifestyle of discontent held similar sway for many of the Teacher’s contemporaries.  In this section he challenges his reader to stop seeking satisfaction from accumulating things.  Instead he offers an alternative, one that leads to a “lifestyle of contentment.”  (Bill & Teresa Syrios, Ecclesiastes, Chasing after Meaning, 27)

 

The Word for the Day is . . . Status

 

What does Koheleth want us to see in Ecclesiastes 5:8-17?:

I.  Status, prosperity & power easily breed greed and injustice.  (Eccl 5:8-10; see also: Ps 12:5; 62:10; 1 Tm 6:9, 17-19; Jas 2:5-6; 5:1-6)

 

All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  —Lord Acton

 

Bertrand Russell once said, “It is preoccupation with possession more than anything else that prevents man from living freely and nobly.”  If the object of your life is a great getting–of prestige, wealth, power–you are the victim of an ever-increasing appetite which can never be satisfied.  (Lloyd . Ogilvie, The Communicator’s Commentary: Luke, 275)

 

People who joy in evil show that some wire has gotten crossed in them; their moral polarity has switched.  Such corruption climaxes, as the Roman historian Livy says in a famous statement, in the transforming of human love from a benevolent disposition to a fatal attraction.  Livy is describing the debauchery of the last century of the Roman republic, but he might just as well have been describing the hunger that makers of slasher films are trying to feed.  What Livy describes is the inevitable destination of uninterrupted human evil.  “Of late years,” he says, “wealth has made us greedy, and self-indulgence has brought us, through every form of sensual excess, to be, if I may so put it, in love with death.”  (Livy, History of Rome 1.1 as quoted by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 50-51)

 

Love to God will expel love to the world; love to the world will deaden the soul’s love to God.  “No man can serve two masters”:  it is impossible to love God and the world, to serve him and mammon.  Here is a most fertile cause of declension in Divine love; guard against it as you would fortify yourself against your greatest foe.  It is a vortex that has engulfed millions of souls; multitudes of professing Christians have been drawn into its eddy, and have gone down into its gulf.  (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, 56)

 

Andrew Carnegie once said, “The almighty dollar bequeathed to a child is an almighty curse.  No one has the right to handicap his children with such a burden as great wealth.  He must face this question squarely:  Will the fortune be safe with my child, and will my child be safe with my fortune?”  (Howard Dayton, Your Money Counts, 110)

 

Walls asserts that the center of Christianity is always migrating away from power and wealth.  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 125)

 

Rule your desires, lest your desires rule you.  —Publius Syrus

 

Religion is the major reason the West rose to become the most prosperous civilization in the world.  In the Middle Ages, Europe was like a modern Third World country, with little education, widespread poverty, and recurring famine.  Medieval Christians thought of holy living as something required only of a spiritual elite–just as the Bible belonged only to an elite, the priests and monks.  The common people felt little moral imperative to be honest or industrious.

But the Reformation changed that.  The Reformers taught that all believers are called to live holy lives–just as all may read the Bible.  Every vocation can be a calling, a way to serve God and the human community.  As a result, the Reformation stressed in ethic of honesty, diligence, and thrift–what has been called the Protestant work ethic.  It had a profound effect economically.  Modern business practices became possible, prosperity blossomed.

Today we have nearly forgotten that the foundation of our economy lies in the Christian moral vision.  And as a result, we are seeing our economy dragged down by dishonesty and fraud.   (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace, 305)

 

When prosperity is our focus and our goal it breeds sinful selfishness and injustice.  But, when love of God is our focus and our goal it breeds prosperity.   —Pastor Keith

 

Remember:  the most perfect machinery of government will not keep us as a nation from destruction if there is not within us a soul.  No abounding of material prosperity shall avail us if our spiritual senses atrophy.  The foes of our own household will surely prevail against us unless there be in our people an inner life which finds its outward expression in a morality like unto that preached by the seers and prophets of God when the grandeur that was Greece and the glory that was Rome still lay in the future.  (George Grant, Carry a Big Stick: The Uncommon Heroism of Theodore Roosevelt, 192)

 

As William Wilberforce once said, “Prosperity hardens the heart.”  (Francis Chan, Crazy Love, 90)

 

When people make wealth or power the single pursuit of their lives they are in danger of destroying their character in the process.  Even if they achieve these goals, they may find themselves enslaved by a way of life that does not satisfy them.  Finally, they may suddenly lose their position and money through some misfortune, after which they are likely to go through the rest of their lives feeling bitter and resentful.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 91-92)

 

Power over another leads to corruption of self.

Seek no power;

claim no authority.

What you own ultimately owns you.

That to which you cling strangles you. (5:7-8)  (Rami Shapiro, The Way of Solomon, 47)

 

Preacher considers the frustrations of oppressive bureaucracy with its endless delays and excuses, while the poor cannot afford to wait, and justice is lost between the tiers of the hierarchy.  At this point the Preacher offers no remedy; this is what human nature is like.  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 101)

 

A million dollars is more than any mortal should have to bear.  —Cornelius Vanderbilt

 

The argument is very simple:  do not be astonished and bother at injustice.  God has set up higher officials who may correct oppression when they become aware of it.  But even if they do not, there is One yet higher.  He is aware, and He knows what He is doing.  Recognize that there is good in government.  It has been well said, “Even bad government is better than no government at all.”  We cannot live in anarchy.  Even the worst kind of government is better than no government, so value it.  Such an attitude will greatly help in dealing with the problems of life.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 74)

 

Koheleth shrugs his shoulders and says, “Don’t be surprised:  it is the system and you can’t beat the system.”  It is the price you pay for bureaucracy.  The official you meet may be sympathetic, but he has got a higher official sitting on his shoulder.  He must be consulted and satisfied.  And there is a top man keeping an eye on them all.  Not only does the buck get passed up the line, but in many societies, ancient and modern, at each stage someone is out to line his own pocket.  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 37)

 

The more you have, the more people there are only too willing to sponge off you.  You suddenly find that you have a lot of good-time friends, only too anxious to help you to spend what you have.  Such a swarm of hanger-ons, warns Koheleth, can prevent a man from enjoying what he has:  and what is the point of having it, if you cannot enjoy it?  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 38-39)

 

Because of his love, God gives the earth for man’s use.  “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate–bringing forth food from the earth” (Ps 104:14).  But instead of cultivating the earth with thanksgiving and sharing its crops in love, sinful man has seen the land as a means for selfish ends.  A poor man works the land.  Someone over him collects taxes, while another higher official makes sure that he also gets a cut of it.  And so on up the line.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 52)

 

Too often the struggle for power brings suffering for the underdog.  Each shows servility toward the man above and waits to take his place while lording it over those below him.  The Teacher does not say that this always happens.  On the whole he sees an advantage in a supreme ruler truly concerned for the welfare of the land.  One hopes for a wise person at the head of the country or a business or an institution–one who has both ability and humility.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1169-70)

 

The love of money increases in proportion as money itself increases.  (Adam Clarke, Holy Bible Commentary and Critical Notes, Vol II, 488)

 

The failings of governments are nothing more than the failings of men.  Why should we expect government to be any different from other segments of society since all are populated and overseen by sinners?  Anyone who puts his hope in the government is surely bound to be disappointed.  That doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the righteous things government does.  It just means that our ultimate hope for protection and salvation is in a God who never disappoints.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 118)

 

The King himself is served by the field.  He is more dependent upon the laborer, than the laborer is on him.  He has more need of the laborer’s strength, than the laborer has of his royal crown.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 112)

 

The “perversion of justice” takes place not in spite of the government officials but because of them.  They are supposed to be checking on each other to make sure that the law is upheld and the rights of the citizens guarded.  Instead, they are protecting each other, covering up for each other, which is what “watches” seems to mean here.  The evil has permeated the system so that each tier of the administration is free to work injustice–taking bribes, browbeating the defenseless, extorting higher taxes than called for, confiscating property and goods, demanding special favors, and commandeering people to work for them–because each official is supported in these crimes by his superior.  “Do not marvel” suggests that this was a pattern so endemic in Jewish society under foreign domination that it could virtually be taken for granted.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 136-37)

 

Why the lust for wealth, the almost universal lust for wealth?  Probably because wealth is viewed as power.  Some see it as the power to create more wealth.  How often we greet the news of a successful investment with the response, “It takes money to make money.”  For others wealth means the power to get your own way.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 143-44)

 

Solomon’s admonition moves smoothly from false views of religion to false views of power and influence to false views about wealth.  Each of these things is good in themselves–Solomon will get around to saying this at the end of chapter 5.  However, as ends in themselves, they are deceitful, destructive, and even diabolical.  Our own age has been described as an age of materialism, relativism, narcissism, and superficiality.  The manifest lack of happiness and peace, evident in so many ways, serves to confirm the wisdom in Solomon’s warnings to his son, and makes Ecclesiastes all that much more an important and timely book for our day.   (T. M. Moore, The Christian Worldview Journal, June 3, 2011)

 

An abundance of money frequently brings its possessors a greater degree of power and prestige.  And this often leads to their gaining control of more money, land, and enterprises.  Many times, wealth will even help place individuals in political offices where they can establish laws that favor their own economic advancement.  In situations like this, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 54)

 

There is profit to be got out of the earth, and it is for all; all need it; it is appointed for all; there is enough for all.  It is not only for all men, but for all the inferior creatures; the same ground brings grass for the cattle that brings herbs for the service of men.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1009)

 

The king himself is served of the field, and would be ill served, would be quite starved, without its products.  This puts a great honor upon the husbandman’s calling, that it is the most necessary of all to the support of man’s life.  The many have the benefit of it; the mighty cannot live without it; it is for all; it is for the king himself.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1009)

 

No man ever gets enough of worldly wealth.  The appetite grows faster than the balance at the banker’s.  That is so because the desire that is turned to outward wealth really needs something else, and has mistaken its object.  God, not money or money’s worth, is the satisfying possession.  It is so because all appetites, fed on earthly things, increase by gratification, and demand ever larger draughts.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, 2 Kgs – Eccl, 357)

 

 

II.  Rest in the truth that more loot does little for the owner except attract more looters, anxiety, and insomnia.  (Eccl 5:11-12; see also: Ps 37:16; 49:17; Prv 13:22; 14:20; 19:6-7; 23:4-5)

 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be truly content?  To be eased of the burden for more accumulation, and to be at peace with where we are in life?  Why do we make ourselves miserable over what has no track record of satisfying?  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 48)

 

Don’t grasp or base your identity on things you can’t hang on to.  —Steve Brown

 

Don’t try to make permanent that which is transient.  —Steve Brown

 

People in every society consistently seek the wrong things.  Some look for money, fame, and power.  But these things cannot satisfy us.  As Solzhenitsyn said about his time in a Soviet gulag, “Bless you, prison.  Bless you for being in my life, for there, lying on the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity, as we are made to believe, but the maturing of the human soul.”  (Charles Colson, The Good Life, 58)

 

One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give and so fail to realize your need for God.  If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent upon God.  —C. S. Lewis

 

Wealth can lead to over-indulgence (v. 12).  The “surfeit of the rich” should probably be taken to mean over-eating.  Such over-indulgence undermines health and leads to sleepless nights, a sad contrast to the workman with modest means who enjoys a good night’s sleep.  It is one of the ironies of life today in our affluent Western society that having eliminated many of the crippling diseases associated with poverty, our killer diseases are now the diseases of affluence:  coronary attacks, lung cancer, liver failure.  We over-indulge and then spend millions on diet control and low calorie foods.  We purchase our exercise machines to tone up the body we have been neglecting and undermining.  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 39)

 

The rich man tosses and turns on his bed, worrying about what will happen to his wealth.  An alternate understanding of the last part of verse 12 might be that the rich tend to overindulge in the good things of life, and this can be unhealthy.   (T. M. Moore, The Christian Worldview Journal, June 3, 2011)

 

“The more you have, the more you have to defend.”  This is true not only of things.  It is true of feelings, opinions, and ideas as well.  The more invested we are in what we have, the more defensive we feel a need to be.  And being defensive makes us nervous, anxious, and fearful.  (Rami Shapiro, The Way of Solomon, 158-59)

 

The rich man suffers from insomnia.  Either his physique or his cares keep him poorer, finds that both his daily work and his freedom from care enable him to sleep soundly.  The Preacher asks:  whose position is preferable?  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 102)

 

During his life this man’s wealth did him no good.  The reader is left to imagine the price that was paid–be it moral decadence following ill-gotten gain or physical deterioration following restless nights (cf. 5:12).  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 102-03)

 

If one lives for wealth or power, then suddenly loses them, he has nothing to live for.  Think of what such a person must endure!  Every time he eats a meal, he remembers the lavish table he used to spread when he invited large numbers of people to be his guests.  Every time he sees a picture of the magnificent home in which he used to live, or drives past the houses of his erstwhile friends, he is overwhelmed with feelings of envy, bitterness, and anger.  If he had never had money in the first place, he would be far happier now.  Yes, one of the grave perils of wealth and position is the bitter unhappiness that follows if they are lost.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 96)

 

You think that wealth will make you free.

But I say this:  Freedom is not bought, but seized.

Freedom is not the last step, but the first.

You never have enough money.

You never have enough possessions.

You become enslaved to owning

and suffocate beneath a mountain of debt and fancy debris.  (5:9-11)  (Rami Shapiro, The Way of Solomon, 48)

 

Treasure cannot buy security, nor power lay siege to permanence.  (Rami Shapiro, The Way of Solomon, 28)

 

Even in the common comforts of life–is not the balance often in favor of the poor?  Having little to lose, they have but little fear of losing.  Their sleep is therefore the natural fruit of weariness without care; whereas the abundance of the rich is often a sleeping weight.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 115-16)

 

Abundance” is literally “satisfaction,” a noun related to the verb used in verse 10.  This is an ironic choice of words:  the lavish possessions which ought to satisfy have the opposite effect.  Fancy parties, rich food, high living, risky investments–none of these is conducive to relaxation.  The overindulgence which wealth makes possible and the stress which fame and attention produce all work against sleep.  And where “sleep” flees, hardly anything else in life can truly be enjoyed.  Insomnia is much more likely to occur in the fancy houses on the hilltops than in the small cottages in the valley.  Wealth may bring frustration in many forms.  And sleeplessness is surely one of the more vexing.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 141)

 

As individuals grow wealthier, they usually find themselves surrounded by an entourage of people who draw pay from their riches.  A contemporary writer described this phenomenon rather bluntly: “When man’s possessions increase, it seems there’s a corresponding increase in the number of parasites who live off him:  Management consultants, tax advisers, accountants, lawyers, household employees, and sponging relatives”  (William McDonald, Chasing the Wind, 47).   (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 55)

 

The essence of his message is this: You can’t lose what you don’t have.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 129)

 

His labor is healthy exercise.  He is without possessions, and without cares; his sleep being undisturbed is sound and refreshing.  (Adam Clarke, Holy Bible Commentary and Critical Notes, Vol II, 488)

 

III.  Prosperity and status promotes “grievous evils”:  1)- Wealth spoiling the owner  2)- Wealth lost through misfortune  3)- And wealth left behind for eternity.  Therefore, carefully evaluate what you acquire and leave for an inheritance (Eccl 5:13-17; see also: Job 1:20-21; Ez 29:19; Jas 1:10-11)

 

Rarely will there be great return on investment without great risk.  Stock market, commodity exchange, and real estate investment all demonstrate this.  Wealth drives us to acquire more wealth.  That was the Preacher’s closing argument in his Words of Advice (5:10-12).  Now pointedly he has coupled that with his story about the dangers of loss.  We are pushed to make more, he has told us, yet that very push puts us in jeopardy of losing everything and of leaving our family as paupers and ourselves as embittered derelicts.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 146)

 

The failed circumstances rot the spirit of the broken man.  The last line of verse 17 pictures his pathology.  First, “much sorrow (frustration – NIV) (see on 1:18; 2:33) suggests a combination of grief and anger; the man is inwardly outraged at his plight and in mourning over it.  Second, “sickness(affliction – NIV)  (see 6:2) implies a failing of both body and spirit in the mysterious mix of psychosomatic illness.  Third, “anger” speaks of fierce indignation coupled, perhaps, with incensed feelings of self-righteousness.  A parallel use of the Hebrew word in Est 1:18 attributes such feelings to the noblemen of Persia when their wives are tempted to emulate Vashti’s disobedience of her husband, Ahashuerus.  Such is the lot of a person whose ego is defined by material possessions.  Take them away, and he loses his total reason for being.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 147)

 

It is not scientific doubt, not atheism, not pantheism, not agnosticism, that in our day and in this land is likely to quench the light of the gospel.  It is a proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity. (Frederic D. Huntington, Forum magazine)

 

The crumbs of the Gospel are infinitely richer than the dainties of the world.  But this is man’s common delusion–to suppose that happiness is the creature of circumstances.  If, therefore, he is disappointed in one course, he will seek it in another.  Little does the self-deluded victim know that he carries the principle of his misery in his own bosom.  Far, indeed, is he from his object.  What he wishes is one thing.  What he really needs is another.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 28)

 

After wealthy John D. Rockefeller died, his accountant was asked how much he left.  The accountant responded, “He left it all.”  Job said it this way, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there” (Job 1:21).  Paul wrote, “We have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either” (1 Tm 6:7).  (Crown Financial Ministries, Crown Biblical Financial Study, 146)

A rich person should leave his kids enough to do something, but not enough to do nothing.—  Warren Buffett

 

There is nothing wrong with people possessing riches.  The wrong comes when riches possess people.  — Billy Graham

 

Here is the root of your suffering:  chasing permanence.

It is a race for the wind, and you drop exhausted from the chase.

You thought to make something of yourself

and to leave something behind.

But there is nothing to make and nothing to leave.  (5:12-15)  (Rami Shapiro, The Way of Solomon, 49)

 

CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: What answer does Christ bring for the issues Koheleth brings up?:

A-  For those “In Christ” we look forward to a time and a place where we so trust in Christ we will never again be abused or tempted by prosperity, status, and power. (Dt 6:10-12; 8:10-18; 31:20; 32:15; 2 Chr 12:1; 26:16; 32:25; Jer 5:7; Hos 4:7; 13:6; Mt 6:19-33; 13:1-9; 19:16-29; Mk 4:1-9; Lk 8:4-18; 12:13-34; 14:33; 16:13; 18:22; Acts 4:32; Rom 12:1-2; Col 3:2-4; 1 Tm 6:6-19; Heb 12:1; 13:5; 1 Jn 2:16; 3:1-2)

 

The closer you are to God, the less important are worldly pleasures and treasures. ~Whitson Seaman

 

God gives us not only the gift, but the ability to enjoy it:  the food and the mouth to eat it; the art and the mind to appreciate it; the beautiful earth and the feet to run upon it.  Every component of life, down to the smallest molecule, is part of His gift.  But we cannot enjoy any gift properly without reference to the Giver.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 49)

 

Here the life of faith in future grace is pictured as a light burden and an easy yoke.  Can it be both hard and easy?

Yes.  Faith in future grace is intrinsically easy.  What could be easier than trusting God to work of you (Isa 64:4), and take care of you (1 Pt 5:7), and giver you all you need (Phil 4:19; Heb 13;6), and strengthen you for every challenge (Isa 41:10).  In one sense, faith is the opposite of straining.  It is ceasing from the effort to earn God’s approval or demonstrate your worth or merit.  It is resting in the gracious promises of God to pursue us with goodness and mercy all our days.  Faith is intrinsically easy.

But this ease of faith assumes that our hearts are humble enough to renounce all self-reliance and self-direction and self-exaltation.  It assumes a heart that is spiritual enough to taste and delight in the beauty and worth of God.  It assumes that the world and the devil have lost their power to lure us away from satisfaction in God.  If these assumptions are not true, then living by faith in future grace will not be as easy as we might have thought, but will involve a lifetime of struggle.

It’s like the monkey with his hand caught in the jar.  It would be easy for him to slip his hand out of the opening except that he has his fist clenched around a nut.  If he loves the nut more than he loves freedom from the jar, then getting his hand out of the jar will be hard, even impossible (as Jesus said in Mk 10:27 about the young man who had his fist clenched around his wealth).  But what could be easier than dropping a nut?  The battle that Paul and Jesus are talking about is the battle to love the freedom of faith more than the nut of sin.  (John Piper, Future Grace, 313)

 

High and lofty as the oppressors of the Church may be, let us look upward.  “The Lord reigneth.”  Here is our present stay.  (Ps 66:10; 47:1, 2; 146:7, 10).  “I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and the right of the poor.”  (Ps 140:12).  His angelic messenger–higher than the oppressors–may be the swift invisible instruments of vengeance.  (Ps 103:20; 54:4, with 2 Kgs 19:35; Acts 12:20).  The Lord cometh–Here is our “blessed hope.”  He will assert his own sovereign right, and remove all inequalities.  (Ti 2:13; Mal 3:5; 4:1-3).  “Rest” to the oppressed will be the joyous consummation of that day (2 Thes 1:7).  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 111)

 

He who makes a god of his pleasure, renders to this idol the homage of his senses.  He who makes a god of his wealth, renders to this idol the homage of his mind; and he therefore of the two is the more hopeless and determined idolater.  The former is goaded on to his idolatry by the power of appetite.  The latter cultivates his with willful and deliberate perseverance, consecrates his very highest powers to its service, fully gives up his reason and his time, and all the faculties of his understanding, as well as all the desires of his heart, to the great object of a fortune in this world.  “Thou, O man of God, flee these things”  (1 Tm 6:11).  For when our desires are running before our wants, it were far better to sit down content where we are, than where we hope to be in the delusion of our insatiable desire.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 114-15)

 

B-  Christ desires for us to make wise investments.   He encourages us to invest in capital that is secure forever, gives exponential increase and will be bring satisfaction and contentment to our lives and the world rather than frustration, affliction and anger.  (Ps 73:12-18; Prv 11:4, 28; 15:6, 16-17; Isa 9:6-7; Mt 6:19-33; 19:29; Mk 8:36; 10:21; 12:44; Lk 12:13-21; 16:13; 1 Cor 3:10-15; 2 Cor 6:10; 9:9-15; Eph 1:3, 18-19; 3:18-20; Phil 3:8; 4:11-12, 19; 1 Tm 6:6-19)

 

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. — Jim Elliott

 

Whatever you are into right now, if it won’t matter 100 years from now, stop it.  It is not worthy of your time and investment or resources. — Keith Porter paraphrase of Steve Brown

 

Wealth is to be accumulated strictly for doing works of mercy and spreading the kingdom.  Wealth is not to be stored up “for yourselves (Mt 6:19-21).  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 72)

 

The secularists of Jesus’ day summed up their philosophy like this:  “Eat, drink, and be merry.  For tomorrow you die.”  Contrast that with Jesus’ words:  “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”  Think in terms of eternity.  Think of the long-range implications.  This touches us most directly, not simply in how we handle our bank accounts, but at the level of how we invest our lives.  Life is an investment and the question that modern man has to answer is, “Am I going to invest my life for short-term benefits or for long-term gains?  (Lifeviews By: R.C. Sproul 37)

 

“When I reach the end of my days, a moment or two from now, I must look backward on something more meaningful than the pursuit of houses and lands and machines and stocks and bonds.  Nor is fame of any lasting benefit.  I will consider my earthly existence to have been wasted unless I can recall a loving family, a consistent investment in the lives of people, and an earnest attempt to serve the God who made me.  Nothing else makes much sense.  — James Dobson

 

We all build castles in the air, but Solomon warns us not to get too carried away.  It’s all an illusion, he says, no matter how it appears–and today’s magazines and TV cameras can make it appear pretty lovely!

Solomon wants us to understand that the deepest desires within us are for heaven, and that they’ll never materialize on earth through the paper paradise of wealth.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 123)

 

And when life goes wrong, we look first to the financial remedy.  Her marriage fails, and she wonders if a bigger house would have made the difference.  He faces depression, so he goes out and buys an expensive sports car.  They’re losing their kids, so they shower them with gifts.  Very simply, wealth is not the answer.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 48)

 

Jesus is not against investment.  He is against bad investment—namely, setting your heart on the comforts and securities that money can afford in this world.  Money is to be invested for eternal yields in heaven—“Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven!” (John Piper; Desiring God, 165) (10 pt bold red font Pastor Keith)

 

The poorest artisan in Rome, walking in Caesar’s garden, had the same pleasures which they ministered to their lord.  The birds made him as good music; the flowers gave him as sweet smiles; he there sucked as good air, and delighted in the beauty and order of the place, for the same reason, and upon the same perception as the prince himself: save only that Caesar paid for all that pleasure vast sums of money, the blood and treasure of a province, which the poor man had for nothing.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 115)

 

As we shall have occasion to see presently, there is a permanent element in the most material work, and if in handling the transient we have been living for the eternal, such work will abide; but if we think of the spirit in which a sad majority do their daily tasks, whether of a more material or of a more intellectual sort, we must recognize that a very large proportion of all the business of life must come to an end here.  There is nothing in it that will stand the voyage across the great deep, or that can survive in the order of things to which we go.  What is a man to do in another world, supposing there is another world, where ledgers and mills are out of date?  Or what has a scholar or scientist to do in a state of things where there is no place for dictionaries and grammars, for acute criticism, or for a careful scientific research?  Physical science, linguistic knowledge, political wisdom, will be antiquated.  The poetry which glorifies afresh and interprets the present will have lost its meaning.  Half the problems that torture us here will cease to have existence, and most of the other half will have been solved by simple change of position.  “Whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away”; and it becomes us all to bethink ourselves whether there is anything in our lives that we can carry away when all that is “of the earth earthy” has sunk into nothingness.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, 2 Kgs – Eccl, 360-61)

 

A Christian man’s works are perpetual in the measure in which they harmonize with the divine will, in the measure they have eternal consequences in himself whatever they may have on others.  If we live opening our minds and hearts to the influx of the divine power “that worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure,” then we may be humbly sure that these “works” are eternal; and though they will never constitute the ground of our acceptance, they will never fail to secure “a great recompence of reward.”  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, 2 Kgs – Eccl, 362)

 

Sometimes we would rather thumb through a mail-order catalog than listen to what God has said in his Word.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 129)

 

The contemporary author Jessie O’Neill has diagnosed this spiritual problem.  She calls it “affluenza,” which is “an unhealthy relationship with money” or the pursuit of wealth (O’Neill, The Golden Ghetto).  Most Americans have at least a mild case of this deadly disease.  Even if we are thankful for what we have, we often think about the things that we do not have and how to get them.  This explains the sudden pang of discontent we feel when we realize that we cannot afford something we want to buy or the guilt we feel because we bought it anyway, and now we are in debt as a result.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 132)

 

Worship point:  Realize what a great wealth counselor Jesus is!   Investing in His prospectus is eternally secure, pays exponentially great dividends, and benefits all of humanity while working to reward you as the investor.   What is there about Jesus not to worship?

 

Loving God is not a mere decision.  You cannot merely decide to love classical music–or country western music–much less God.  The music must become compelling.  Something must change inside of you.  That change makes possible the awakening of a compelling sense of its attractiveness.  So it is with God.  You do not merely decide to love him.  Something changes inside of you, and as a result he becomes compellingly attractive.  His glory–his beauty–compels your admiration and delight.  He becomes your supreme treasure.  You love him.  (John Piper, Think, 87)

 

If you feel the government should be doing a much better job of governing the people, what about the job you are doing governing your life?  Are there integrity issues?  Health issues?  Effective use of time and resources?  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 44)

 

Spiritual Challenge:  Look long and hard at your life to understand what there is about your heart and mind that is resistant to trusting in the Lord with all your heart so you might make the kind of whole hearted, all-encompassing investment for which Jesus is calling.

 

One of life’s greatest experiences of masochism is to have our hearts in the wrong place.  Deposit them in the bank, invest them in the stock market, wrap them in the deeds to real estate holdings, and you commit a massive act of self-torture.  Put your treasury in heaven invested in love for God, deeds of kindness to others, and commitment to the advance of Christ’s kingdom, and your heart will be there too.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 142)

 

The line dividing good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either–but right through every human heart. — Alekandr Solzhenitsyn

 

But never, never expect utopia to come to a Capitol near you.  Heaven on earth cannot be established at the ballot box, but only through the hearts of men.  One day we will see the descent of the New Jerusalem, and there will be at last, one Governor before whom we’ll bow, with no more use for intermediaries; one Party to serve, with no more use for debate or dissension; one Lord, one faith, one baptism into the world that has always been our destiny as His divine constituency.   (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 122)

 

The reason physical sacrifice often results in spiritual renewal goes back to a principle Jesus taught in the gospel of Matthew.  As your treasure goes, so goes your heart.  Jesus said it this way: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21).

Your heart and your treasure are linked.  If you want to know what you are really committed to, look at your checkbook and credit card statements.  There is your heart, plain and simple.  There is no clearer reflection of your priorities and values.  The way you handle your money is an indicator of where your heart is.  (Andy Stanley, Visioneering, 138)

 

Your vision has not truly captured your heart until it captures your wallet.  For this reason, at some point along the way, God is going to call upon you to make a financial sacrifice for the thing he has put in your heart to do.  He knows that when you commit your treasure to the vision, your heart will follow.  When you take those first sacrificial steps to act on your vision, your heart moves with you and attaches itself to the vision.

When we loosen our hands from around our treasure, he loosens the world’s death grip from our hearts.  When you apply your hands to a divinely ordered vision, God begins a reordering of your heart as well.  (Andy Stanley, Visioneering, 138)

 

When God’s people start to decline spiritually, one of the first places it shows up is in their giving. “For where you treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21).      (Warren Wiersbe, Be Determined, 146)

 

Where your pleasure is, there is your treasure; where your treasure is, there is your heart; where your heart is, there is your happiness.  —St. Augustine.

 

Your heart follows your money and your efforts.  — Steve Brown

 

 

In Jesus Christ, says Paul (who formerly resisted the idea with all his considerable powers), we find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  He is the Wise Man, and in him alone is true wisdom to be found.  He is the Poor Man whose impoverishment leads to untold riches for those who trust him.  (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Pundit’s Folly, 59)

 

Quentin Massys appears to have learned this spiritual lesson.  We know this from a striking detail in The Moneylender and His Wife.  Remember that in this masterpiece both husband and wife turn away from God to focus on their money.  On the table between them, Massys cleverly painted a small round mirror, which reflects a little scene that is taking place just outside the frame of the painting.  If we look at the image in the mirror closely, we see the dark lines of a window frame intersecting to make the form of a cross.  We also see a small figure reaching out for the frame, as if to hold on to the cross.  His face is familiar to art historians: it is Massys himself.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 138)

 

Quotes to Note:

Without him (God), riches are poverty, power is impotence, happiness is misery, glory is despised.

This is life’s greatest paradox.  Solomon does not know its positive half, but he knows its negative half better than anyone.

Surprisingly, this is also the message of the most famous and adamant atheist in 20th century literature, especially in his first and greatest work.  The writer is Sartre, and the work is Nausea (La Nausēe), and the title tells it all.  We cannot be too thankful to the great atheists; they show us the shape of God by his absence more clearly and starkly than believers do by his presence–like a silhouette.  They show us what difference God makes as death shows us what difference life makes.  You never fully appreciate a thing until it is taken away from you. (Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life, 28-29)

. . . Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . .

— Matthew 6:20a

                  

Christ:

Our Greatest

Treasure? or !

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