Ecclesiastes 2:18–26; 5:18–20comment (0)
January 28, 2010
By Kenneth B.E. Roxburgh
Related Scripture: Ecclesiastes 2:18–26; 5:18–20
Bible Studies for Life
Chair and Armstrong Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University
Wrestling With Work
Ecclesiastes 2:18–26; 5:18–20
Biblical scholar Paul Minear once made the comment that “the Bible is an album of casual photographs of labourers … a book by workers, about workers and for workers — that is the Bible!” For many people, their attitude toward work is summed up in a bumper sticker that says, “The worst day of fishing is better than the best day of working.” Yet in the current context of rising unemployment, we have become acutely aware of how important work is, not only to survive but also to find fulfillment as those who are created in the image of God — the Creator — the first worker.
Frustrations About Work (2:18–23)
For some, work is an idol. Yet for many people, work is just sheer “toil,” something they have to do. Once again, the little phrase “under the sun” helps us to see why many find their work, whether it is paid employment or working in the home as a caregiver, to be pointless — they are living and working without any reference to God. To leave God outside of our work is to view it merely as a means of earning money rather than seeing it as having some future purpose. If we only live for the moment, then the concern of verse 21 becomes poignant: “For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it.” Such a viewpoint leaves us with the conclusion that work is painful and filled with vexation that causes sleepless nights.
Fulfillment in Work (2:24–26)
These verses throw a much more positive light on the purpose of work — it can be a means of enjoyment and fulfillment. Notice the three occasions in these verses when God is mentioned. We only find fulfillment in our work when we trace the hand of God in all our activities. It is impossible to discover real joy apart from a relationship with Him.
Swiss theologian Emil Brunner once made the comment that “the Christian community has a specific task … to regain the lost sense of work as a divine calling.” This was the insight of Protestant reformer Martin Luther and his understanding of the priesthood of all believers. For Luther, this not only meant that each person could approach God through Christ for salvation and in prayer but also that each person should view his or her life as a service to God in church as well as each and every day of the week. Even routine work can become very acceptable if you are concerned to do it as unto the Lord; every product that you turn out or every pull of the handle that you are responsible for is done as unto the Lord; it is something He has asked you to do. That is the Christian philosophy of work.
Finding God’s Presence in Work (5:18–20)
One way of discovering the presence of God in our work is to reflect on the way the Bible views Him as a worker. In contrast to the Greek concept of the “gods” who lived lives of divine loafing, the Bible makes it clear that God is celebrated as a worker, something He delights in and takes pleasure from. So at each stage of the creation story in Genesis 1, we discover that God reflected on what He had done and said, “That’s good. … I like that.” As those who are created in the image and likeness of God, we are called to engage in work. God gave Adam a commission to till and keep the garden, as well as to name the animals. Adam had work to do. One of the blessings of creation was that man should work: “Six days you shall work,” God commanded in Exodus, “and on the seventh you will rest.”
And Jesus was a worker. We tend to stress the three years of ministry when He “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed,” and yet He lived for 30 years before that, training as a carpenter and when Joseph died, running the family business, helping Mary bring up his brothers and sisters and putting food on the table. When He entered into His ministry, the Father declared, “This is my Son in whom I have found my delight.” As we discover the gifts God has given us and find an outlet in the place of work, either within or outside the home or in the life of the church and community, we will experience what the preacher discovered in verse 20: God will keep us occupied with the joy of our hearts.