November 5, 2017 Series: Ecclesiastes
Topic: Expository Passage: Ecclesiastes 5:10-20
Good morning! Please turn to Ecclesiastes 5:10-20. My proposition this morning is simple: “Don’t live for money.” That’s a piece of advice that all Americans need to hear regularly, especially around this time of year! Of course, perhaps the most telling symbol of American materialism took place last week. What is it called? (Black Friday). Has anyone else gotten the impression that Black Friday is turning into “Black Weekend”? The sales start so early and end so late these days that in order to keep up with it all, you practically have to skip Thanksgiving! What drives Black Friday? There are basically two forces behind the event. First, you’ve got the consumers and their fascination with shiny new objects. Second, you’ve got the retailers, who will do just about anything to make a buck. When you bring them both together, that’s an explosive combination. In fact, it’s so powerful, that it’s very easy for us to get sucked into the materialism. So I think the Lord certainly had his hand in this, for orchestrating events so that this particular passage of Scripture came up today. Let’s read it together (Eccl 5:10-20).
Today, I’d like to discuss eight reasons not to live for money. But before we do that, let’s pray.
Eight Reasons Not to Live for Money
Because money will never satisfy (v. 10)
For the person who loves money, no matter how much he has of it, it’s never enough. According to some historians, John D. Rockefeller was the wealthiest man in human history. And yet when asked by a reporter how much money is enough, Rockefeller reportedly responded… “Just a little bit more.”
How can you be the richest man in the world—perhaps the richest man in human history—and yet not be satisfied? Solomon tells us: “He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver”; the ironic curse for loving money is that money will never make you happy. Solomon says, “This also is vanity.” The illusion of obtaining happiness through wealth is like a vapor that you can never grasp.
Because additional income brings additional expenses (v. 11)
This is a fascinating verse! Solomon may have been thinking of the “moochers” that tend to hang around rich people. Or he may have been thinking of all of the slaves he had to feed in order to maintain his estate.
But I think his statement points to a broader principle, and that is that larger incomes tend to come with larger expenses. I’m sure we all know what it’s like to get a raise only to figure out your budget or come to the end of the month and wonder where it all went! That’s just life. But Solomon turns it into a challenge. He says, “If getting rich is just about more money passing through your hands, is it really worth it?” After all, the only real benefit to you is watching it go by! Like, “There goes my money!” Of course, the understood answer to that question is, “No, it’s not worth it.”
Because money causes insomnia (v. 12)
People will pay ridiculous amounts of money for a good night’s sleep. If you don’t believe me, just walk into any mattress store! But the fact is that regardless of what the mattress store tries to tell you, you can’t buy a good night’s sleep, just like you can’t buy happiness.
How many of you have ever worked a manual labor job, or maybe you still do work a manual labor job, raise your hand? Do you remember that feeling of falling into your bed at night, utterly exhausted from a hard day’s work and sleeping like a baby all night long? Solomon says, “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much.” Even if he can only afford beans and rice, he’s going to sleep well! But what about the rich man? His abundance [or the idea there is “overabundance”] actually diminishes his ability to sleep! Maybe it’s the rich foods that he’s eating. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s always anxious about protecting his investments. But whatever it is, he doesn’t sleep well. So ironically, he works like a dog to store up wealth; but in order to do so, he is forced to forfeit something that money can’t buy—a good night’s sleep. What a tragedy!
TRANSITION: Next, Solomon moves from proverb to story. He tells the tragic story of a man who made riches his life’s pursuit (vv. 13-17). The first lesson we take from this story is that materialism is bad for you. Don’t live for money because materialism is bad for you.
Because materialism is bad for you
Solomon refers to this story as a “severe evil.” That word for “severe” comes from a word meaning “to be sick.” The misfortune Solomon is about to relate is so terrible that it’s sickening. It makes him ill to think about it. So what happened? Well, there was a man who “guarded” his riches—that’s the meaning of the word for “kept.” This guy was a regular Scrooge, and he certainly paid for his actions.
First, Solomon tells us that his materialism was bad for him. Perhaps it was bad for his health. Perhaps it was bad for his relationships. Perhaps it made him cranky. Maybe it ate away at his time. Probably all of those things were true. But the bottom line was that his materialism was bad for him.
By the way, the harmful effects of materialism have been noted by Christians and non-Christians alike. I did a brief web search on the topic yesterday and found articles on the subject in The New York Times, Blomberg, and The Guardian. One author cited in the health section of the New York Times compared the growing body of data on the harmful effects of materialism to what we have learned about the harmful effects of smoking. It’s simply not good for you.
TRANSITION: But many of us are willing to put up with bad consequences if we know that our sacrifice will be worth it in the end. But materialism does not offer that hope. That brings us to the next reason not to live for money: because it could all be gone tomorrow (v. 14).
Because it could all be gone tomorrow
Not only is living for money bad for you, it’s also a very risky gamble. The word “misfortune” in v. 14 could also be translated, “a bad activity” or “business.” The idea seems to be that a bad business venture or investment or a downturn in the economy strips this man of everything. It reminds me of what we saw happening all around us in 2008 and 2009. I had an uncle who was all into the stock market, and was doing quite well, but after the recession, everything changed. Fortunately, he didn’t lose everything, but his lifestyle certainly got a lot simpler, as much of his wealth evaporated. Did you know anybody like that? Did you know that could happen to you? Even the savviest investor with the most diversified portfolio cannot escape the effects of things like worldwide recessions, war, or natural disasters. We are all vulnerable.
Not only does calamity strike this individual, but it strikes him at what we might call a very inopportune time. This man had fathered a son. No doubt he had illusions of leaving that boy a huge inheritance. Maybe that was even one of his excuses for pursuing wealth: “I’ve got to provide for my family.” But after everything had come down, there was nothing left to give him. The boy went empty-handed.
Have you managed to accumulate some wealth in this life? That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it might just mean that you worked hard and planned wisely. Just remember, your riches could be gone tomorrow. Proverbs 23:5 says, “…Riches certainly make themselves wings; They fly away like an eagle toward heaven.”
TRANSITION: But even if you manage to maintain your wealth throughout all your lifetime, there is a point in which you will leave it all behind. Don’t live for money because you can’t take it with you (vv. 15-16).
Because you can’t take it with you
In context, vv. 15-16 apply specifically to the man in Solomon’s story. But the point they make is also true for all people at all times: you can’t take it with you when you die. In v. 15, Solomon is actually paraphrasing another bible author. Do you know who that is? (Job) Job 1:21 says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there.” My dad used to tell a joke about a man who made his wife promise that when he died, she would bury him with his money. After the funeral, a family friend said to the woman, “I can’t believe you didn’t honor your husband’s wish! There wasn’t any money in the casket!” “Oh, I did,” she replied. “I gathered all the money into my bank account and then wrote him a check.” You can’t take it with you. And even if someone was crazy enough to bury you with your money, it wouldn’t do you any good. Just ask the pharaohs buried in the pyramids.
Of course, all of that means that the value of money is limited. True, you can do a lot with it during your 80-some years on this earth; but do you realize? That’s just a tiny fraction of your overall existence! I was trying to think of a good illustration for this. Spending all of your time and effort on accumulating wealth in this world is like exchanging all your money for tickets at Chucky Cheese’s that are only redeemable in the restaurant. You’re spending everything on something that only holds value within a very limited context. It just doesn’t make sense.
Again, Solomon refers to this dynamic as “a severe evil,” or “a sickening misfortune.” Not only that, but he returns to a couple of his favorite negative phrases. He calls living for money, “laboring for the wind.” It’s a futile, frustrating endeavor, just like chasing the wind. Even if you do get rich, you will never find what you’re looking for, and that’s ultimate satisfaction. Instead, you will always be frustrated, coming up empty. Solomon asks, “What profit” is there in that lifestyle? Of course, the understood answer is “none.” To live with a realistic view of death is to recognize the limited value of money.
Because it’s miserable to be a miser
If you can’t take money with you, is it at least fun to have along the way? Not if you’re a miser (v. 17)! I wonder if Charles Dickens got some of the ideas for his character Ebenezer Scrooge from this verse. Can you see any similarities? Scrooge keeps the fires in his fireplace very low in order to save money. He also has no friends. So even though he is filthy rich, he finds himself planning to spend Christmas Eve alone in a dark, cold room. Some life, right?
Solomon says that the miser eats in darkness. A humble person should at least be able to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, like a good meal, but not the miser! He can’t enjoy anything because he’s always thinking about how much this stupid meal cost, or why his stocks have gone down, or how the IRS ripped him off, etc. He has no joy. He isn’t even healthy. He has only sorrow, sickness, and anger.
TRANSITION: All of that brings us to the alternative Solomon gives to living for money, and that is a life of humility, contentment, and joy.
Because there’s a better way to live (vv. 18-20)
One of the commentaries I read this week says, “The glory of a God-centered life stands out all the more brightly for having been contrasted to its gloomy opposite.” And that is definitely true of this passage. After wading through the gloom in vv. 10-17, vv. 18-20 come as a welcome relief. Solomon describes a way of life that he says is both “good” and “fitting.” Another translation for the word “fitting” would be “beautiful.” It’s the same word he uses in 3:11 to say that God makes everything beautiful in its time. When a person lives out vv. 18-20, it’s a good and beautiful thing to see!
Now, this is Solomon’s fourth statement of what has become a familiar theme in the book of Ecclesiastes. So let’s review a little. Solomon says that it is good for a man to eat and drink. Is that talking about literal eating and drinking? No! It’s talking about being satisfied with food and drink. It’s about being content with what you have vs. always craving another taste or experience. The blessings that we have as a result of hard work are God’s gifts to us, so we ought to enjoy them. The problem is that most people are unable to enjoy the simple pleasures in life because they try to invest those things with ultimate value, and nothing but God Himself can possibly hold that weight.
So what is the answer? Where do joy and contentment come from? We see in v. 19 the same thing that we learned in those other passages—joy and contentment are gifts from God. The physical blessings themselves are God’s gifts, and the capacity to enjoy those blessings is also God’s gift (v. 19)! Ironically, there are people like Solomon to whom God has given great riches, and yet they find themselves unable to enjoy those things. So Solomon says that not only the riches themselves, but the capacity to enjoy them is God’s gift.
Which is more valuable? The gift of riches or the gift of joy and contentment? Joy and contentment are much more valuable! In fact, they can even help to mitigate some of the vanity associated with living in this fallen world (v. 20). When Solomon says, “He will not dwell unduly on the days of his life,” he probably means, “He is not preoccupied with his own mortality.” The brevity of life is like the haunting theme in the background of this book. It’s like Solomon whispers over and over, “You’re going to die. You’re going to die. Very soon, you’re going to die.” And certainly, there is a sense in which it is healthy for us to number our days, as Psalm 90:12 says. The man who enjoys joy and peace from God does not ignore death. However, he also doesn’t dwell on it “unduly,” as the NKJV puts it. He’s not fearful, nor does the reality of death ruin his life. Why not? He doesn’t have time to focus on that because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart. Isn’t that a fabulous statement!? What a promise! As I get older, I want to be like that. “I don’t have time to be anxious about death. I’m too busy being happy with what God has given me.” Does that statement characterize you?
Perhaps you find yourself this morning either living for money or overly anxious about death, maybe both. What’s the way out? I’d like to close this morning with three simple applications about how to live “the good life” as Solomon lays it out.
First, be good. Do you want to live the good life? Then be good! We find this simple instruction implied in 2:26 (2:26a). Remember, God does not bestow contentment and joy indiscriminately. He gives them to the one who is good in His sight. That’s Old Testament shorthand for the regenerate person, who is walking in fellowship with God. We find this same idea again in 3:12 (3:12). This should be our prayer for our children—that they would do good and be happy. Remember, this isn’t about moralism, because Solomon says in 7:20 that there is not a just man on the earth who does good and does not sin. So the point here is not that we are to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps; I think Solomon would recognize that’s impossible. The good man is good, not because of his own works, but because God makes him good. But that doesn’t minimize the importance of the instruction to walk with God. So, number one, if you want to have joy and peace, be good. Be saved and walk with God.
Number two, be content, knowing that the best gift is God Himself. Similar to what I just said about goodness, contentment is also both a gift and a command. Only God can give it, and yet elsewhere in Scripture (and I think implied here) is the command to be content. Solomon says, “Instead of always living for more money, be content with what you have.” Does that sound familiar? In Hebrews 13:8, Paul says, “Let your conduct be free from covetousness; and be content with such things as you have.” Why? “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” You see, contentment is not a magical feeling that God zaps us with. Each of us has a void within that must be filled somehow. But the way it works is that when we are walking in fellowship with God, He fills that void. And when He fills that void inside us, everything else becomes bonus. So if my stocks go up, great! That’s exciting! But if they go down, well, that’s okay too. Because I’ve got Jesus, and that’s really all that matters. Do you see how that works? I’ve been trying to eat healthier lately. And one of the revelations I’ve had is that you have to eat a certain number of calories, one way or the other. So the trick is to fill up on the good calories so that you don’t get a craving late at night and consume a huge bowl of ice cream! The same is true in the Christian life. You and I are spiritually hungry beings; we can’t get around that. We will turn to someone or something to satisfy that hunger. The question is, “Will that someone be Jesus?” That’s why in my life, I put such a high value on the simple habit of getting up early to read my Bible and pray. Because I realize, if I’m not filling up with God, I’m going to fill up with something else, and it’ won’t be good for me.
So number one, “be good”; number two, “be content”; and number 3, “be happy”. Be humble and happy. Remember that most of Ecclesiastes 2 is dedicated to proving that you cannot achieve ultimate satisfaction by means of your own effort. You can never work hard enough, you can never be smart enough, you can never have enough or do enough to make your life count. The only thing that makes life worth living is grace! Satisfaction is a gift that comes only from God. The trick is, to admit to that takes humility. A person has got to come to the end of himself in order to admit, “I can’t do it. I need God.” And that’s why some people are never happy. They have never been willing to humble themselves before God and admit their desperate need of grace. But that, according to Solomon, is the only way to happiness. Maybe you’re here this morning, and you’ve just gotten too big for your own britches. You’re all caught up in retirement plans, and investments, and this, that, or the other, like somehow you control all that stuff. And this morning, you just need to heed the call to step back and recognize that no matter how much you like to play make-believe, you do not control your own destiny. Maybe what you need to do today is just to put on humility like a garment and then to soak up grace like a sponge. I guarantee, you will be a much easier person to live with because of it. And not only that, but you will also enjoy your own life more.
This Christmas season, don’t live like Scrooge. Instead, be good, love God, and be humble. If you do, you’ll enjoy the peace and happiness that only God can give.