Read: Matthew 6:19-24
What one sets his eyes on, that he will desire. And what one desires, so there his heart will be. This truth is plainly evident in the lives of so many people. Jesus notes this in the middle of two sayings concerning wealth. In the first, Jesus encourages his hearers to accumulate heavenly wealth and the second teaches that one cannot serve both money and God. A similar teaching to what Jesus is saying can be found in Ecclesiastes 5:8-18. As the Preacher reflects back on his life, he realizes that the one thing that makes life worth living is his relationship to God. The warning though that the pursuit of wealth or anything else for that matter as an end in and of itself or as way to find meaning results in the emptiness – and this is what the Preacher calls “vanity”. While wealth is not inherently evil, it can be evil. The Bible does neither condemns or condones having money. But it does instruct that money should be used for good (1 Timothy 6:11-21, Proverbs 3:9-10) rather than evil (James 5:1-6), but the pursuit of money for the sake of being wealthy is shunned (Proverbs 23:4-45).
The crux of the matter, as is with most all of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, has to do with the condition of one’s heart. A hear that his focused on the accumulation of wealth or anything other than the pursuit of God is really one’s other master. It is for this reason that Paul encourages Christians to be be content with what one has (1 Timothy 6:6-8, Philippians 4:11) but never satisfied with where one is at in his struggle against sin. The Bible unequivocally affirms that that it is better to be righteous than wealthy (Proverbs 15:16-17, Proverbs 16:8).
For the Christian contentment can only be found in Jesus. When one finds contentment on Jesus then one can rightly pursue the other things in life. Proverbs 3:5-6 and Psalm 37:3-6 affirm that when one trust God in all things then in this God can direct one’s path. The key though is first trusting and delighting in God. Jesus himself later says, “Seek first the kingdom…” (Matthew 6:33) In doing so, God will become one’s passion and his will will be the believer’s desire too. This is why the promise of the Psalms and Proverbs is that God will give the desires of the heart and direct the path.
Lord, fill my eyes with visions of you!
Read: Ecclesiastes 4:4-6: Laziness and Overwork
The Preacher in his day was undoubtedly devoted to his pursuits, which were many, the found the time to accumulate wealth and wisdom and complemented it with pleasures of all sorts (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). In all his pursuits, he said that they were meaningless like one chasing after the wind. In light of that, the Preacher has a healthy appreciation concerning work, saying that it is right for man to work and enjoy the fruits of his labors (Ecclesiastes 3:11-12). The preacher does disdain two things: laziness and workaholism.
To laziness, the Preacher says that a fool folds his hands – that is he does nothing – and this leads to ruin. This is consistent with the rest of wisdom literature and the Bible in general. Proverbs is replete with verses about laziness. Here are a few: Proverbs 19:15, Proverbs20:4, Proverbs 21:25, Proverbs 26:12-16. 2 Thessalonians makes a sting remark concerning those that do not work, saying they should not eat. The passages continues, speaking about busybodies – those that full their lives with fruitless endeavors and have the appearance of work, but they themselves are not working at all.
To workaholism, the Preacher says that it better to have one handful and be tranquil than two with toil. In other words, one should not work overwork himself so he or she can have two handfuls when one is enough. The Preacher speaks to the matter in Ecclesiastes 5:12, saying that the sleep of a worker is satisfying, but the one who is wealthy cannot sleep. That is, he cannot sleep because he is consumed with the acquisition of wealth. 1 Timothy 6:6 and Philippians 4:11 speak to the matter of contentment too. Paul had struggled in life having plenty and not having anything at all. He says that he learned to be content in all things when there was abundance and when there was not.
Overworking and laziness are nothing new. They existed in the day of the Preacher and they exist even now. Psalm 127 is a word to how one should orient his or her work. The Psalm says that unless the Lord builds a house, then the builder labors in vain. All the toiling and hard work is of no purpose unless they are for the purpose apart from God. The Psalm also teaches that children are the “heritage” of the Lord and a blessing from him. The warning against work for purposes other than those that are Godly purposes goes against the true blessing of the Lord serves as a warning to those who work: don’t forget the blessing, namely the family that God has given. Work for purposes that are in accordance with the Lord, and one will find contentment in this!
Lord, you build my house!
Read: Ecclesiastes 2:1-11
The writer of Ecclesiastes — that is the “Preacher” – had tried wisdom and concluded that the pursuit of wisdom for wisdom’s sake was empty and meaningless. In the same manner, the author pursued pleasure that came in many forms: alcohol, money, and wealth, women, and pleasures of all sorts. At the end of this pursuit he says that it too is vanity, meaning that it is empty and void of meaning. It, like wisdom, did not satisfy his longing and left him weary. The Bible has much to say concerning the things the writer pursued:
- Alcohol – There’s no direct prohibition against the consumption of alcohol in the Bible except for priests and Nazarites, but there is a prohibition against being intoxicated (Proverbs 20:1, Proverbs 21:17, Ephesians 5:18, 1 Peter 5:8).
- Money and Wealth – Money has its uses, no doubt. The Bible does not condone having money but that it should be used for good (1 Timothy 6:11-21, Proverbs 3:9-10) rather than evil (James 5:1-6), but the pursuit of money for the sake of being wealthy is shunned (Proverbs 23:4-45, Matthew 6:19-20). The Bible teaches too that contentment is good (1 Timothy 6:6-8, Philippians 4:11) and that it is better to be righteous than wealthy (Proverbs 15:16-17, Proverbs 16:8).
- Women – Having a wife is a good thing and should be celebrated (Proverbs 18:22 Proverbs 5:15-23, Proverbs 19:14, Song of Solomon, Proverbs 31:10-31) but having relationships with women for pleasure is condemned (Matthew 5:27-28, Romans 13:13).
- Pleasure – Licentious living is most certainly condemned in the Bible (Proverbs 14:12, 2 Timothy 3:4, 1 Timothy 5:6, 2 Timothy 2:22). But enjoying the fruit of one’s labor is the right of every man who works (Ecclesiastes 3:13, Ecclesiastes 2:24, Psalm 128:2).
All the things that the author of Ecclesiastes pursued have their place a right and proper use. Like wisdom, these things are not inherently meaningless, but as an end in and of themselves, they are. If one pursues any one of these things, ultimately one will be left wanting more. Jesus in Matthew 8:36-37 that it is no good for a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul. When one pursues Christ and righteousness, he shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6, Psalm 4:6-7). When one is satisfied with God and content in his or her circumstances, then it is here that one will find meaning and be filled, but not in by any other means. Jesus in Matthew 6:25-34 says that the Lord takes care of everything, and that the Christian should seek first the kingdom of God, and not obsess over the things of the world.
Lord, help me to find contentment in you and you alone!