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Ecclesiastes 2:48; 5:1016comment (0)

January 21, 2010

By Kenneth B.E. Roxburgh

Related Scripture: Ecclesiastes 2:48; 5:1016

Bible Studies for Life
Chair and Armstrong Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University

Wrestling With Stuff
Ecclesiastes 2:4–8; 5:10–16

The movie hit of 2008 for many people was “Mamma Mia!,” with its haunting song “Money, Money, Money.” The temptation to make the accumulation of possessions the most important aspect of one’s life is a theme that the Bible warns against over and over again. Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13), and Paul warned that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:16). It’s easy to try to water down these passages of Scripture and rationalize our consumerist mentality, arguing that money in and of itself is not evil. The temptation to covet what others have and make the accumulation of things the be all and end all of life is too strong to ignore.

Focus on Stuff (2:4–8)
Solomon had the reputation of being one of the wisest, as well as one of the wealthiest, individuals of his time. These verses indicate the extent of what he had achieved through his life — houses, vineyards, gardens, parks, silver and gold and many concubines. It seems that there were moments, perhaps many of them, when he hoped that “things” would bring a sense of meaning and happiness in life. Yet he would discover that property, produce, wealth and sex do not bring ultimate fulfillment.

The key to the problem with these verses is the number of times that the personal pronouns “I” and “my” are used. Solomon focused upon his own achievements and accumulated wealth, with no reference to God or the way He had provided for him. As Paul reminds us, “God has given us all things richly to enjoy,” but human possessions and pleasure must be put in their proper context. In verse 5, Solomon talked of his “gardens” and the word used in its Greek form is “paradeisos,” the same word used in the New Testament where Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Where do we place our ultimate hope — in the pleasure and possessions of this life or in the eternal hope of heaven?

Desire for More Stuff (5:10–14)
The irony of possessions is that if you do not have them, then you are tempted to be jealous of those who do and when you have achieved a certain amount of prosperity, which should make you feel secure, you never feel that you have enough. These are exactly the issues that are dealt with in these verses. In verse 10, we are reminded that wealth never satisfies, and in verses 11 and 12, we discover that our possessions never bring security and peace of mind. We are anxious that we will lose them, either through taxation, theft, variations in financial markets or the ultimate threat of death. In 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” The wisdom of Job is more appropriate here: “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away — blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Perspective on Stuff (5:15–16)
With many of the frustrations the preacher deals with in this book, a proper perspective on possessions can only be discerned when we stop living as if this world were all there is to our lives. John Wesley, in his sermon “The Use of Money,” made the comment “Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” He continued by urging his hearers to remember that “[wealth] is an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends. In the hands of His children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked,” a means to the end of serving God and ministering to the needs of others.

A recognition that comes out in verse 18 is the key to understanding a proper attitude toward possessions. In that verse and the next, we read about “the few days of the life God gives us … all to whom God gives wealth and possessions … this is the gift of God.” In all that we possess, we need to be careful not to speak of what “I” have accomplished or “my” possessions but to recognize that who we are, what we are and what we have is all because of the generosity of a God who gives good gifts to His children and expects us to be wise stewards of His grace in being generous toward others. The concluding challenge of these verses is to consider how our online shopping and check stubs would indicate the priorities of our lives.

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