Ecclesiastes 4:4; 5:8–13,17,19–20; 6:1–2comment (0)
July 27, 2006
By Doug Wilson
Related Scripture: Ecclesiastes 4:4; 5:8–13,17,19–20; 6:1–2
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Assistant Professor of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
What’s Wrong with Wanting Wealth?
Ecclesiastes 4:4; 5:8–13,17,19–20; 6:1–2
Life is often full of pointless pursuits, leaving people unsatisfied. Such was the life of Howard Hughes. As a young man, he desired to be rich, a famous movie producer, a famous pilot and a great golfer. He succeeded in three of the four yet died empty and alone.
Readers discovered last week that the Teacher’s assessment of accumulated property did not satisfy the desire of his heart. Ecclesiastes addresses chasing after everything the world has to offer and finding it meaningless. A relationship with God is what each of us needs, not a growing bank account or a house and garage full of stuff.
Wealth itself is not the problem. When Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy, he said that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10). Jesus said you cannot serve God and mammon (accumulated wealth).
Serving, pursuing and loving wealth are empty activities.
Perpetuates Envy (4:4)
Chapter 4 speaks to a number of issues in life. Oppression was and continues to be a problem within any culture. In a materialistic society, envy leads to hard work, which leads to more envy as we compare ourselves with others. The problem with working hard in order to keep up with others is that we never keep up. The Teacher also addresses loneliness. Two friends are better than one individual, and three who rely on each other benefit all of them. Envy leads to a lonely life.
Leads to Corruption (5:8–9)
“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This axiom conveys the sentiment of these verses. The Teacher instructs that injustice and denial of rights are found in all levels of civil authority. As one rises to ever-higher positions, the temptation for abuse of power becomes greater.
In the time of Moses, the establishment of the judicial system required finding trustworthy men. Their qualifications were simple: they feared God, were trustworthy and rejected bribery. The judge who does not acknowledge God’s absolute law practices arbitrary law. One who cannot be trusted in personal matters has no right to serve in civil government. A court decision given by a corrupt judge is injustice.
(5:10–13, 17, 19–20)
The more wealth one gathers, the more responsibilities emerge. If you love money, you will never be satisfied with what you have. As you gather wealth, others will gather around you to take it from you. An honest laborer can find satisfaction whether he has little or much. By contrast, a miserly millionaire finds misery, not joy, in his riches.
God brings peace to those who recognize that whatever they have is a gift from God. Even the satisfaction that they find in the work of their hands is His provision. The person who has found true peace with God does not spend much time contemplating his life; he lives it, satisfied by God.
Deprives Us of Joy (6:1–2)
Why is it people can work hard, earn plenty of money, buy everything they ever wanted and then die without being able to enjoy those things? Where is the justice in that? Is it fair of God to let this happen? These are the questions posed by the Teacher in this passage.
First, a biblical perspective on life teaches us that wealth is temporal and our satisfaction is not to be found in it. Second, God is the great Lawgiver and the standard of fairness, so His creatures have no right to call His fairness into question.
Perhaps the most significant parable the Lord Jesus gave relating to accumulating wealth was that of the foolish rich man (Luke 12:16–21). The man intented to tear down his barns to build bigger ones for his plentiful crops. The problem was that his focus was upon his wealth and not his relationship with God. Jesus said that this is the end result of all who store up wealth but are not rich in the things of God. There is no eternal joy in pursuing temporal gain.