Ecclesiastes | Life Under the Sun 6.3.18
“The Heavenly Vision” is a hymn written in 1918 by Helen Lemmel. Most of us know the song by the first line of its chorus, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.”
Let me read to you the second verse:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
I think what I’m about to say is controversial – I’m not sure King Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, would agree with Helen’s chorus.
Solomon is advocating for the enjoyment of life; the enjoyment of the things of earth, which is something we’re not very good at as Christians. We either don’t enjoy the things of earth enough, or we enjoy the things of earth divorced from God. We fall of the fence – either into ingratitude or idolatry. So we have some dangerous truth today and I’m excited to go through it with you.
Now, before I preach this sermon, we should pray together.
Open your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 5. If you’re using one of our church Bibles, (which you’re free to take with you if you don’t own a Bible), you will find today’s text on page 357.
The title of this sermon series is “Life Under the Sun.” That’s where we are, living under the sun, and that’s what this book is about. The author’s description of life under the sun is this – It’s vanity, which literally means “life is mist.”
Life is fleeting. Life is monotonous. And its events and their timing are inscrutable. Whether you have a lot or a little; whether you’re rich or poor; whether you’re healthy or sick, life is vanity.
That’s Solomon’s description. But he also offers a prescription – and his prescription is this – enjoy it. So the experience is – life is vanity, and the exhortation is enjoy it. The reality is – life is vanity, and the response is enjoy it.
In one sentence, here is the message of Ecclesiastes so far – All of life is vanity and yet, those who fear God (those who desire to please God out of reverent gratitude) are able to enjoy it, as they know and trust in the greatness (sovereignty) and goodness of God.
Now, that two-part message is on full display in our text today – the description and the prescription; the experience and the exhortation; the reality and the response. There are two sections here – The first section (vv8-17) will describe a reality and the second section (vv18-20) will prescribe a response.
So let’s begin with some hard reality. These are all things he’s talked about before, but he revisits them here. We’ll take this first section one paragraph at a time (vv8-9, 10-12, 13-17).
8 If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. 9 But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.
Solomon has seen, and most of you have seen, wicked government. And he describes it here. You have a “province,” or a city or county or region, and then over those people is a “high official,” not an elected official, and then over him is another ruler, and over him is another ruler, and so on. And beneath these officials, justice is violated and people are oppressed. And this because the king could care less about “cultivated fields,” he’s after power and wealth. This is happening all over the world today; it is a difficult and sad reality.
But what does the Professor say about it? Verse 8: “If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter.” In other words – Don’t be surprised. Don’t be shocked.
This is one of the differences between someone with a secular worldview and someone with a biblical worldview. When someone with a biblical worldview sees bad in people, he is not surprised – Wherever you find sinners ruling unchecked over sinners you’ll find oppression (4:1-3) and injustice (3:16-17). It’s always sad, but never shocking to those who understand the sinful nature of mankind.
Okay, next paragraph, 5:10-12
10 He [“he,” we’re moving from a province to a person; from the national level to the personal level] …He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. Verse 11, 11 When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 12 Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.
Solomon is talking about the love of money; the love of stuff. He described it on a national level in vv8-9, and here on a personal level. As human beings, we have this natural desire to acquire things, but it’s never enough.
John D. Rockefeller was one of the richest men in the world, if not the richest, and he was once asked “how much money was enough?” He famously replied “Just a little bit more.” It’s never enough, because money doesn’t satisfy.
I don’t watch ‘The Simpsons,’ but apparently Homer Simpson once said to his boss, Mr Burns, ‘You’re the richest man I know.’ And his boss said, ‘Yes, but I’d trade it all for more.’ It’s never enough, because money doesn’t satisfy.
That’s what the Professor says in verse 10, and then he lists a couple reasons why money doesn’t satisfy. First, v11, if you have it, other people want it – “when goods increase, they increase who eat them” – and second, if you have a lot of wealth and possessions you don’t sleep as well; you have more to worry about – “sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.”
One more little paragraph describing some of the hard realities in this vain life, 5:13-17
13 There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, [he’s giving an example now of the evil of the love of money] 13 There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. This rich man gets caught up in a bad deal and loses everything, leaving his family destitute. That’s a sad story. But here’s the reality, Solomon goes on to say in verse 15 – if he didn’t lose it then, he’ll lose it eventually, when he dies… Verse 15:
15 As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? 17 Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.
Job understood this. He said this, after losing everything, in Job 1:21, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” And the Apostle Paul understood this; he wrote in 1 Timothy 6:7, “…for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” You can’t take it with you. When you die, look around, you will leave it all behind.
Okay, That concludes the first section, leaving one more paragraph. Solomon has reminded us of some of the harshest realities of this vain life, and now he gives an unexpected exhortation.
18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.
Life is Vanity. The book makes this clear. Our experience makes this clear. Our first section today (vv8-17) makes this clear.
And how should we respond? Enjoy it. Not endure it; enjoy it! Some commentators have assumed sarcasm here, but Solomon means exactly what he is saying. Verse 18:
18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment…
Verse 19: 19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice…
Verse 20: 20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.
“Find enjoyment” Solomon says. “Rejoice” he says. Whether you are rich or poor; have a lot or a little; whether you’re sick or healthy; good relationships or bad relationships; good job or bad job – find enjoyment. “Toil” he says – enjoy it. “Wealth and possessions” he says, enjoy it.
Now, a good Christian might get uneasy at this point and say “Hold on, does this glorify God?” We’re not hedonists, after pleasure. We’re Christians, after God. And that’s true. So let’s make sure we add something here, that Solomon of course assumes – Enjoy life to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Enjoy life and all that is in it to the glory of God. That’s the response; that is what Solomon is advocating.
“I have nothing. My life is too painful. It’s too hard. I don’t have what others have. I’m not enjoying my life.”
“I have everything. I have so much. But I’m not enjoying my life.” You’re like Solomon was in chapters 1 and 2.
“I have so much, and I am enjoying my life. Sort of. But I feel guilty for having so much and I feel guilty for enjoying my life. I feel like I should get rid of what I have. Then I feel guilty for feeling that way. I should go on a mission trip.”
“This is the best sermon ever. I’m nailing it.” Are you? Is God being glorified? Your enjoyment is disconnected from God.
Okay, the answer to all those thoughts and questions is right here. Let’s read vv18-19 again and ask the question “How do I do this?” “How do I enjoy this life and all that is in it to the glory of God?” “How do I enjoy the things of earth?”
Here’s the answer: Receive this life, and all that is in it, as a gift from God.
18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. (toil, food, drink – all a gift from God)
19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions (wealth and possessions – gift from God. You don’t deserve them, and you wouldn’t have them apart from him).
You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.
17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
1 Timothy 6:17-19
17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
Don’t be proud; Don’t set hopes on gifts, but enjoy them! And thank God for them.
“It’s entirely appropriate, when confronted with tremendous gifts, to periodically compare love for the gifts and love for the giver. It’s good to be reminded that the giver—God—is ultimate. But then, once the supremacy of the giver is settled, the right and fitting response is to dive back into the pumpkin crunch cake and enjoy every last bite” (102).
Life is vanity. Enjoy it. All of life is vanity, and yet, those who fear God are able to enjoy it, as they know and trust in the greatness and goodness of God, receiving this life and all that is in it as a gift.