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Wealth and wisdom (Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:9)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Wealth and possessions

Australians are generally among the wealthiest people in the world. According to one report, Australians in 2021 topped the world rankings for median wealth per person. The same report also highlighted the fact that in Australia almost one in ten working adults are now millionaires .
We have the biggest houses in the world. We overtook the US several years ago. And of course, we need our bigger houses to fit all the stuff that we want to cram in them and even then, when we run out of space, we rent space to fit all the things that we can’t fit in our houses. Growing up I can’t remember anyone paying for storage or even where I would have gone to do so, but now we have self-storage facilities springing up everywhere. It’s a booming business storing all those possessions that we can’t fit in our homes.
Despite Australians being wealthier and having more things and more overseas holidays than previous generations, we aren’t necessarily any more content or happy in life. Today in the book of Ecclesiastes the Teacher is looking at wealth and possessions and the idea of satisfaction or contentment, of enjoying what you have without always hankering for more. In verses 8 of chapter 5 to verse 9 of chapter 6 the teacher again looks at the emptiness or the futility of loving money.

The love of money

The first thing that the teacher makes clear (to put it in the words of the apostle Paul) is that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).

It is the root of all kinds of evil

In verses 8 to 9 the Teacher argues that much of the injustice and oppression that is endemic throughout our world is because of the greed of those in authority.

Ecclesiastes 5:8-9
8 If you see oppression of the poor and perversion of justice and righteousness in the province, don’t be astonished at the situation, because one official protects another official, and higher officials protect them. 9 The profit from the land is taken by all; the king is served by the field.

The teacher writes that we shouldn’t be surprised by what we see going on. Everyone is looking to make some profit. One official is protected by a higher official and all of them are wanting to make a profit all the way up the ladder to the king. Justice gets perverted and the poor of the land get oppressed because people with money are greedy and aren’t satisfied with their income.
The problem isn’t that some people are wealthy, and others aren’t, the problem is the love of money which drives people out of self-interest to oppress the poor or overlook their rights. It is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil. The teacher identifies this as the problem in verses 10 to 12.

Ecclesiastes 5:10-12
10 The one who loves silver is never satisfied with silver, and whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with income. This too is futile. 11 When good things increase, the ones who consume them multiply; what, then, is the profit to the owner, except to gaze at them with his eyes? 12 The sleep of the worker is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of the rich permits him no sleep.

It leaves you unsatisfied

But the loving money leaves you unsatisfied for it doesn’t give you back what you are hoping for. It is like people who love the pokies, they will put far more into them, than they will ever get out from them, and they keep coming back for more. Their love becomes an addiction that chains them to a machine that robs them of what is truly living. It’s like that with loving money, no one who loves money is satisfied with what they have because they think life consists in the abundance of it. The more you have the more you think you need and the more you, and those around you, tend to consume.
I’ve read that over 70% of lottery winners go broke and 30% go bankrupt and end up in worse position than what they started out in before winning the lottery . I don’t really know how correct those figures are but there are lots of stories out there that would seem to suggest that isn’t unusual. I guess, if you haven’t worked for it, you also haven’t learnt how to hold on to it.
You just end up spending until its gone. You buy more but having more things doesn’t give you the satisfaction you think that they are going to give you and you keep on buying. But the teacher says there is no profit or gain in having more except to gaze at the things that you have bought. It doesn’t satisfy and this says the teacher is futile or vapour or breath (hebel). It is merely chasing the wind.
We think having more will be the answer to feeling satisfied, but it isn’t. It doesn’t bring the comfort that we think it will bring, and the teacher concludes in verse 12 that the sleep of worker is sweet whether he or she has a little or much, but the abundance of the rich permits them no sleep. I don’t think the teacher is saying that all rich people don’t find the rest that they are looking for, but rather he is talking about those who love wealth, who think that their life consists in the abundance of their possessions and so they toil labouring always to have more.

The folly of hoarding wealth

Tragically some people live their lives under this assumption and do themselves great harm. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil and that evil isn’t just that which gets inflicted on others. It ultimately harms those who hoard their riches. The teacher talks about wealth kept or hoarded by its owner to his harm. The teacher has seen this and in verses 13 to 17 of chapter 5 and verses 1 to 7 he offers several observations that he refers to as sickening tragedies (literally = a grievous evil) to do with hoarding wealth.

You can’t hold on to it

The first example of this is a man who lost what he had through some misadventure or misfortune so that he was left with nothing to pass on to the next generation. It’s also true of generational family wealth. I’ve read that after the first generation makes the money, that 70% of wealthy families will lose their wealth by the second generation and 90% by the third .The problem with loving money is that wealth is fleeting, and it can be fickle. It can leave you when you least expect it. You can be left with nothing despite all your efforts have been to hold on to what you have.

Ecclesiastes 5:14-15
14 That wealth was lost in a bad venture, so when he fathered a son, he was empty-handed. 15 As he came from his mother’s womb, so he will go again, naked as he came; he will take nothing for his efforts that he can carry in his hands.

The teacher goes on to say that this too is sickening tragedy that not only affects the man who lost his wealth in a bad venture or through some misfortune, but everyone when it comes to money. As we come into this world, so we will all go from it in the same way. We all come naked from the womb with nothing in our hands and for all our efforts to make a difference that is how we will go.

Ecclesiastes 5:16-17
16 This too is a sickening tragedy: exactly as he comes, so he will go. What does the one gain who struggles for the wind? 17 What is more, he eats in darkness all his days, with much frustration, sickness, and anger.

Death renders all our efforts and labour to have more futile for everything is ultimately taken from us. A long time ago I read the story of a minister who after a funeral of wealthy parishioner/church member a man came up to the minister curious to know just how wealthy the man was whose funeral it had been and so he came up to the minister after the funeral and asked something like, “How much did the man leave behind?” The minister being much more quick-witted than I would been in the same situation, said to him, “He left all of it. He left it all behind”. We all ultimately leave it all behind no matter how hard we have worked for it.

Not being satisfied with what you have

The second tragedy that the teacher observed is found in verses 1 to 7 of chapter 6. The other tragedy that he has observed with the wealthy is never being satisfied with what you have. The Lord can give someone riches and all he or she desires so that they lack nothing but not allow them to enjoy these things while they have them. Instead, someone else ends up enjoying them.
The Lord Jesus gave a perfect example of this that has been recorded for us in chapter 12 of the gospel of Luke. The Lord was responding to a squabble between two brothers who were fighting over an inheritance. Instead of telling them what to do, he took the opportunity to warn people to guard against greed because life isn’t found in the abundance of possessions.
He told the story a farmer who was already rich and wealthy and whose fields were extremely productive. They were so productive that as season came along where he was doing so well that his barns were just not big enough to store the abundance of crops. Now instead of thinking of all the good things that he could do with that abundance all he could think of was himself and how he could store away all that abundance for himself so that one day he could sit back and take it easy, eat, drink, and enjoy himself (Luke 12:19). But Jesus said that God called this man a fool. God said, “You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared – whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20) The Lord Jesus concluded “That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21)
This is the folly of those who love money and store up treasures for themselves and are not rich toward God. They don’t regard what they have as a gift of God but act as though life is about the abundance of their possessions and storing up things for themselves. This is what the teacher would refer to as “wealth kept by its owner to his harm”. When a person is not satisfied with what they have and doesn’t enjoy the good things the way that God intended them to do it doesn’t matter what they have or how long they live the teacher says this is a sickening tragedy, a grievous evil. He says that they would have been better off to have died at birth than to have totally wasted the life that they were given by just chasing the wind.

Ecclesiastes 6:3-7
3 A man may father a hundred children and live many years. No matter how long he lives, if he is not satisfied by good things and does not even have a proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 For he comes in futility, and he goes in darkness, and his name is shrouded in darkness. 5 Though a stillborn child does not see the sun and is not conscious, it has more rest than he. 6 And if a person lives a thousand years twice, but does not experience happiness, do not both go to the same place? 7 All of a person’s labour is for his stomach, yet the appetite is never satisfied.

The teacher compares the man who lives 100 years and even 1000 years twice over with a still born child not to minimise the tragedy of a still born child, but through this shocking comparison to emphasize the tragedy of life that isn’t lived with the satisfaction and joy that only our Creator can give . To have been given life but to have total wasted it, all of it, just chasing the wind is a sickening tragedy.

Wisdom and wealth

But how is it possible for someone to enjoy what God has given them? Well, while describing the sickening tragedy of those who love money the teacher has also observed what is good (5v18to20) and told us what is better (6v8to9). I take it that there is wise way to live with wealth which is better and a foolish way which is just chasing the wind.

Wisdom is better than folly

We know from the early chapters that the teacher believes that wisdom is better than folly (2:13). Although the same fate comes to all of us in the end, for none of us live forever, the teacher said that the wise person at least has eyes in his head, while the fool walks around in darkness (2:14). While sometimes the Teacher might despair because wisdom ultimate doesn’t resolve the problem of death, he still think that avoiding the way of folly is better. That’s how I take verses 8 to 9 of chapter 6 where he asks the question about the advantage of the wise person over the fool.

Ecclesiastes 6:8-9
8 What advantage then does the wise person have over the fool? What advantage is there for the poor person who knows how to conduct himself before others? 9 Better what the eyes see than wandering desire. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.

Some might take these words to say that there is no advantage, but I think the teacher always thinks wisdom is better than folly. He not only said that in chapter 2, but at the start of chapter 5 he said that it is better to fear the Lord than offer the sacrifice of fools. I believe that he is saying here that the wise poorer person who knows how to conduct himself in this life has the advantage over the fool who loves money and is not content with what they see in front of them. Their wandering desire always has them chasing for more. This is futile and is like chasing the wind.

The better way

The better way to live is described in verses 18 to 20. The teacher has described what he has seen to be good.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20
18 Here is what I have seen to be good: It is appropriate to eat, drink, and experience good in all the labour one does under the sun during the few days of his life God has given him, because that is his reward. 19 Furthermore, everyone to whom God has given riches and wealth, he has also allowed him to enjoy them, take his reward, and rejoice in his labour. This is a gift of God, 20 for he does not often consider the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with the joy of his heart.

The teacher in verse 18 addresses everyone and then in verses 19 to 20 he narrows his words and focuses on the wealthy.

Firstly, whether we have little or much, whether we are rich or poor, we are to enjoy our lives (our eating, our drinking, and our labouring) for this is the lot that the Lord has given us. We are to be content and satisfied in what we have been given, knowing that the Lord has given us these things to enjoy.
We aren’t to pursue wealth and possession as though having more and more of them is the answer to life. But we are to appreciate what we have as those things that God has given us to enjoy. It’s by our enjoyment of them as his gracious gift that we acknowledge the giver.
Furthermore, if God has given us an abundance of good things so that we are comparatively rich or wealthy and then also given us the ability to enjoy them then this too, says the teacher, is gift from God. It should lead us to not chase the wind always looking for more but to be rich towards God. It’s God who not only gives us more than what we need but also the ability to enjoy what we have and find satisfaction rather than spend our lives chasing the wind and totally wasting our lives. The wise person sees all of this as a gift of God.
But who receives this gift of God? Who is it that finds contentment? The teacher has already explained in chapter two that is the one who is pleasing in God’s sight that God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy (see 2:26). As we saw two weeks ago, it is the one fears the Lord and listens to him and obeys him that is wise. You can only enjoy the blessing of God if you acknowledge the one through whom all blessings come. It is the one who is rich towards God who doesn’t just delight in things but in God as the giver and the one who sustains their lives. The apostle Paul is an example of this.

Philippians 4:12-13
12 I know how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.

As we saw last week when we looked at chapter 1 of Paul’s letter to the Philippians for Paul to live was Christ. He could rejoice even when he was in chains and in prison because for him life was about exalting in Christ, honouring him. It was in knowing Christ that Paul found the secret of contentment, of finding joy whether he was in abundance or in need.
Paul wrote to Timothy echoing the words from Ecclesiastes about coming into the world with nothing and leaving it with nothing arguing that the real gain in life is godliness with contentment. It is great gain. Listen to what Paul wrote…

1 Timothy 6:6-10
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. 8 If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Money isn’t the problem, but the love of money is. Paul argues those who want to get rich fall into a temptation, or a trap and he argues that by craving money (pursuing wealth) some had wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. What Paul believes is great gain for the believer is godliness with contentment. That’s what we are to crave and pursue in life it honours the Lord Jesus.
The love of money will steal away your heart from the love of Christ. That’s why the Lord Jesus said that you cannot serve two masters. You can’t serve God and money. You will either hate one and love the other or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. If you love money that’s what you end up devoting your life to, you will spend all your life chasing the wind, trying to have enough. We are not to be eager for money, but eager to please the Lord enjoying what we have as gift from him. If we are eager to please him, we will find our joy and our delight in doing so.
Money doesn’t provide us with what we hope it will. It doesn’t satisfy. It doesn’t bring the security that we think it will. For some of us it might be time to stop chasing the wind and think about what it might mean for us to be rich towards God. We might need to find out what pleases him. We might need to reorientate our lives around pleasing him and let God occupy our hearts with his joy. He is the only one who can satisfy the longing of our hearts.