Ecclesiastes 2:17-26: Work
October 3, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
We come now then to the next “experiment.” Remember the “teacher” is seeking to find out whether it is really true that all of human experience “under the sun” (that is, without reference to eternity and God) is indeed truly meaningless. In order to discover this, he is going to explore a wide variety of possibly fulfilling lifestyles to see if by his own experience they are indeed fulfilling. He will come to the conclusion (in chapter 12) that the meaning of life is to follow God (that is, to live “above the sun”).
This experiment we are looking at today is: work. A lot of people who do not give themselves to pleasure or riches instead give themselves to achievement. Why not see if it is true that if you work hard, with wisdom and effectiveness, you do not find that you can do something and become someone that is truly meaningful. Look at the great achievements of humanity down through history: the political achievements, the artistic achievements, the military achievements, the business achievements. Look at the Rockefellers, the Pharaohs, the Bonapartes, the Mozarts. Ask yourself, did they live a life that was truly meaningful?
The conclusion of the teacher, by his own experience, is that this giving yourself, through extensive hard work, and even if done with “wisdom” and success, does not mean anything “under the sun.” Why not? Because “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.” In other words, you may build something impressive, but after you are dead and gone, who knows what is going to happen to it? Some fool may inherit your position and ruin all you worked for. There is no ultimate way to stop this from happening. And therefore, all you worked for becomes pointless.
The “teacher” is not saying that hard work is not worth doing—even “under the sun.” Indeed, “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil.” The satisfaction that some people find in their work is also “from God”—part of his creation goodness. But nonetheless, “under the sun,” it is an experience that is filled with the “thorns” of the fall and is ultimately “meaningless.”
What is the application of this then for us today? We live in a world where, for some people, work can become an idol. They give themselves to achievement, they work themselves to the grave, and they think that by this they will find ultimate meaning. It is a fool’s errand: there is no ultimate meaning to be found in work (“under the sun”). Instead, 1 Corinthians 15:58, our work “in the Lord”—that is for God and for the advance of his kingdom—is not meaningless, is not “in vain.” By all means work hard, but do your work for God’s glory, and for his glory means doing it in a way that he would want it done and using your gifts and expertise and opportunities for the advance of his kingdom. It also means that ultimately, what matters is not your work, and certainly not work when it is not done for God’s glory, when it is “under the sun.” What ultimately matters is knowing God, enjoying God, following God.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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